What Makes People Buy Self-Published Books?

In this post, I discussed the findings of a scientifically incontrovertible study (of myself) on the factors which influenced me when buying a self-published book.

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The findings surprised me (which surprised me, because I was surveying myself). I found that I knew what made me buy a self-published book when it was in front of me, but not what put that book in front of me, unless I was browsing by genre (e.g. today I feel like reading a romance set in Ulaanbaatar: therefore I will now search specifically for such a story).

It was still hard to know what put those books in front of my eyes in order to buy them; to quote one of the commenters on that post – this is the thorny issue of “discoverability”. How will we find these books in the first place?

So I did the unthinkable, and asked some other people. I surveyed readers and writers alike, in online groups for different fiction genres of crime, fantasy and general fiction,  and more than a few other people who just like to talk to other people about reading and writing. I asked them what factors influenced them most when buying books – particularly self-published books and any other books which aren’t pushed by the major houses.

Their answers were duly collected and poured into a spreadsheet, one rainy morning when I was in my pyjamas, and can be split into 2 camps. Some answers relate to discoverability; others to what makes people buy a book once it’s already in front of them.

In this sample, there are 72 answers. Some people cited more than one factor they considered before purchasing, so regardless of the order in which they placed these factors, I gave them all equal weight.

Having said that, it’s safe to say that in the vast majority of cases, if the cover was amateurish, or unappealing, the book would never have made it to the 2nd stage of vetting, be that the blurb or the sample.

Here are some lovely graphs with my findings. In case you didn’t know, I LOVE graphs. (Although take it from me, they’re hard to cuddle when you’re trying to fall asleep.)

First, we have the overall results:

Influences upon readers when buying self-published books

Overall, by far the most important factors were cover, blurb and the sample (for some, this was the first few paragraphs, through Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature; for others, the full chapters from the e-Reader sample download).

Your cover might be gorgeous. Your blurb might push all the right buttons for the hungry reader. But if there’s a mistake in your first 2 paragraphs, or the reader doesn’t like your style, then it’s good night, I’m afraid.

How Readers Discovered Books Online

Several of those surveyed said they had bought self-published books because they had seen other examples of the author online – either from their blog, commenting on other blogs, or articles in magazines or journals. They liked what they saw and then went to see what else was on offer. This is precisely what we mean when we talk about online platforms.

In the case of Twitter (which is the platform most likely to drive me mad when authors simply tweet endlessly “BUY MY BOOK!! SPECIAL ### OFFER!! BUY IT NOW ###  TODAY TODAY!!!!!! (hashtag exclamation point))) – a few people said that they liked to get a sense of the author on Twitter, and then maybe look up their book. So it wasn’t publicising the book on Twitter which sold books: it was the author being engaging on Twitter on a more personal level.

Facebook was more likely to remind those surveyed to buy the book of an author they already liked, rather than introduce them to a book for the first time.

Making The Final Book Buying Decision

Finally, it was cover, blurb and sample all the way. Reviews mattered, but in different ways. An interesting point, made by some of those surveyed, was that they looked at the worst reviews first – 1* or 2* reviews only – because they found it easier to ascertain whether they were authentic, and because they felt they got a better sense of the book from people who didn’t like it, rather than the people who said they did. (Or gave it 5 stars because they are the author’s Mammy. See here.)

Price was also an unusual issue. There were 2 distinct views: those who made impulse buys (without reading reviews or a sample) under a certain price, and those who would never bought books under a certain price point, because they had no faith that they’d be any good.

There were also good indicators on what turned readers off  self-published books. Another post will follow on that. I bet you can’t wait.

Time for you to weigh in: if you haven’t already had your say, is there something glaringly missing from the above graphs which makes your buying decision for you?



  248 comments for “What Makes People Buy Self-Published Books?

  1. April 25, 2016 at 3:52 pm

    Reblogged this on Ms. Bird Lady: The Intellectual Blog and commented:
    Great article on the most compelling reasons that influence readers to buy self-published books.

    –Ms. B


  2. October 17, 2019 at 1:21 am

    Great info, Tara! Thanks. Buffering for Twitter and my memory bank.

    Liked by 1 person

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