Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Blurbs, Ads, and Buying Books -- Readers Sound Off

So I'm one of those people who's often quite skeptical about anything relating to advertising. I don't like to be sold things, and there are few things as off-putting as obnoxious ads. Anything that makes a product unappealing, or makes it difficult for me to purchase a product I do want, drives me crazy.

Naturally, I don't want to do this to my readers. So, I interviewed a few readers about their habits when it comes to buying books and their feelings about methods of advertising, purchasing, etc. These are their answers.

[Note I’ve included the occasional sidebar in brackets to clarify information, as well as inserting links for various external sites that readers have referenced]

All statements and opinions are those of the reviewers and may not necessarily reflect the views of the author of this blog.

QUESTION: How do you usually find out about new releases? (Author mailing lists, publisher mailing lists, browsing retail sites, etc)

Jaime: From goodreads, reviews by Jessewave and I will browse retail sites.

jayhjay: Usually I find out about new releases from reviews on various blogs I follow (Dear Author, Smart Bitches Trashy Books, Jessewave, etc). I also follow several publishers on Twitter and get their new release tweets. I also follow some authors on Twitter as well as author blogs, so sometimes I hear directly from authors when something new is coming. I also often check an author’s web site if they are a favorite and see what is upcoming, especially if I know about a sequel/series. I keep a list of what I want to buy and try to note when it is coming out.

Megan: If it’s an author that I like then I might know about a new release from their website otherwise I would only know about them through publisher sites or if I’m browsing a bookstore and see it on the shelf.

SKadlec - I follow several author blogs and author tweets. I browse my favorite publishers (e.g., Silver Publishing) regularly and follow their tweets as well. I routinely look at all the recommendations from Amazon, which usually number around 200. I have several authors that I automatically purchase any of their new releases. I spend most of my time online looking at authors/books/publishers because I am addicted to reading.

Kathy B - Browsing Publisher Sites, Publisher Mailing Lists

QUESTION: Which sites do you generally use to purchase ebooks? Do you buy directly from the publisher, or prefer sites such as Amazon, AllRomance, Fictionwise, etc?

Jaime: Directly from the publisher.

jayhjay: I buy from a wide range. I have a nook so I can purchase from multiple sources and I always price compare. If I get a good coupon that will usually be incentive for me to buy at least one thing (kobo and fictionwise often have big ones). I also look for sales at various sites, especially publishers who do new release discounts. So if there is a sale/coupon, I may just buy something from my “to buy” list b/c there is a good deal. If I am looking to buy a specific book and there is no sale or deal, I will do an online search for the cheapest price and buy there.

I have a book library in Calibre so I can actually give you a more specific idea of where I shop if you want it (I have a field for purchase location in case I ever need to go back and redownload the book). So at the risk of overburdening you with info (you did ask for detail!), here it is. Out of 250 books:

All Romance (60) – I like to buy from them b/c they have great service and I like that they are a smaller site. But their prices aren’t great and I usually won’t buy from them w/o rebates/specials unless everyone has the same price.

Publisher sites (amber allure, dreamspinner, loose Id, lulu press, mlr press, samhain torquere) – I often buy right from publishers if they have new release discounts or are running sales. They often have books on their own sites first so sometimes I buy from them for that reason. I also like that you know the quality of the digital copy will be good when you buy right from the publisher.

Barnes and Noble (40) – I have a nook so I sometimes buy from them but a lot of my B&N books are freebies. They have terrible service and often really awful digital conversions but their prices are good so I sometimes can’t resist.

Fictionwise (46) - I used to buy from them all the time when they had those rebates but now their prices aren’t really competitive (I’d rather buy from ARe all things being equal). I only buy now from them if they have a good coupon out.

Other sites: books on board, Borders (only if there is a really good coupon), ereadable, kobo (they often have great coupons), smashwords

Megan: I only purchase ebooks through two publishers directly (dreamspinner press and Amber Allure) all other purchases would be made through Amazon (kindle form) allromance or in a paperback form through retail stores.

SKadlec - I generally purchase from Amazon, mostly for their free shipping, as I prefer paperbacks to e-books, which I read on my laptop, so it is not as convenient as paper for me. I purchase from the publisher when they run specials, or Amazon does not have the book yet.

Kathy B - Rainbow eBooks, Loose Id, Amber Quill, Ellora’s Cave, Samhain; If the Publisher site discounts their books or runs a special, I buy directly from them. Otherwise, I shop where I get the best price. I purchase a TON of books, and I want to get the biggest bang for my buck =). I do shop Amazon as well as All Romance and Fictionwise on occasion.

QUESTION: What are your biggest pet peeves when buying books (ebook or paperback) online?

Jaime: Not knowing how many pages there is.

jayhjay: In general, I would say bad or confusing web sites where it is hard to find things or to track down your library or purchase history, figure out how to download, etc. Or where buying a book is a multistep process (for example, Samhain had (or has?) a site where you leave one site and move to another in order to buy). [Lori's note: this is no longer the case with Samhain]

Specifically for ebooks, I go crazy at sites that have really bad digital copies. B&N and Borders are terrible about this. I have had books that are totally illegible and both have terrible customer service. I avoid purchasing from B&N almost completely at this point b/c I can’t trust the quality of their books. And I will only buy if I can get a good enough sample to see the quality of the conversion first.

Megan: If it’s a paperback I don’t like it if it’s damaged in some way, even if it’s a really small bend, and it’s the only copy. I don’t really have any pet peeve with ebooks, although I don’t like it when you can only buy it in one format (ie allromance).

SKadlec - Since my local Borders closed, I’ve had to do my entire book purchasing online. I miss the environment of a brick-and-mortar bookstore. Overall, my online book-buying experience has not been bad.

Kathy B - Retailers who do not maintain a virtual bookshelf for ebooks and limit the amount of time or number of times to download a book.

QUESTION: Do you visit review sites? If so, which ones and why?

Jaime: Yes. Goodreads and Reviews by Jessewave.

jayhjay: I visit three main review sites daily and generally keep them open on my browser all day (I work from home so I am back and forth to my computer off and on all day):

Smart Bitches Trashy Books – I like this site b/c it has great reviews as well as fun, snarky articles and commentary. I also enjoy the book clubs and the fun chat among the posters. I don’t always buy/read stuff she recommends though b/c it tends to be a lot of historical which I don’t read a ton of, as well as a lot of Harlequin serials which I don’t read at all. But I read her reviews, look at the ads, etc.

Dear Author – I love this site b/c there is a great variety of genres covered. Each of the reviewers has a distinct style so I have a good sense now whether the things they like will mesh with mine. I also like that they review a lot of m/m books, b/c that is primarily what I read. I find that I agree with almost all of Sarah F’s reviews and I would say I probably read 90% of the things she recommends. I also really like Jane’s industry commentary and technology information.

Jessewave - I like this site b/c it is all m/m and this is the vast majority of what I read. It covers a lot of authors and I often hear about new books/authors from them. I also like that they have a book giveaway every day which makes me make an effort to check their site daily (free is good!).

In addition to these three, I also often read Fiction Vixen, Amara’s Place, and Smexybooks. I follow them on Twitter so I will usually click over if they tweet about something I am interested in, but I rarely go to the sites otherwise.

Megan: The only official ‘review’ sites I visit are when I’m directed from an author’s site, otherwise I'll google the book and see which reviews come up. I don't have specific sites I go to. The only other reviews I really read are the ones readers post on Amazon or

SKadlec - I don’t visit review sites too frequently, as my tastes don’t line up well with many reviews I’ve read. I do belong to Goodreads and LibraryThing, however, and contribute reviews to those sites, as well as reading reviews there.

Kathy B – No.

QUESTION: How often do editorial reviews influence whether or not you buy a book?

Jaime: Never.

jayhjay: If it is an author I really like or a series, I love I will buy/read a book regardless of the review. And sometimes I will read a book even with a bad review if it really interests me or if the criticisms aren’t things that bother me as a reader (for example, a complaint about not enough plot conflict). But in general, if it is new book/author and it gets a really bad review I won’t read it. And a great review can definitely get me to buy a book (and often does) whether I have heard of the book before or not.

Megan: If it's an unknown author then it can greatly influence my decision. I always check reviews if it's an author I haven't read before. Authors I've read and liked before I rarely check reviews for.

SKadlec - I will occasionally buy a book by an author I’m not familiar with based on an editorial review. This usually happens when the review mentions that the new author will appeal to readers of authors I currently read, especially in the fantasy genre.

Kathy B – Very rarely

QUESTION: How often do reader reviews influence whether or not you buy a book?

Jaime: Sometimes….when I haven’t read anything by an author I will.

jayhjay: I also look at Goodreads reviews before I buy almost anything. I find that for the most part my feelings are in line with their commenters (at least for m/m) and since I have to buy so many of the books I read I like to be sure the recommendation comes from more than just one reviewer. If it is a new book/author I tend to want to see higher ratings from other readers before I buy. But if it is an author I know/like or a book I have seen good reviews for in other places I am less reliant on reader reviews.

Megan: Not as much 'official' reviews but if enough readers say a book isn't good then I won't buy it. I'm much more likely to be influenced in the negative direction than positive by reader reviews.

SKadlec - I look at reader reviews about as frequently as editorial reviews. As reader reviews can be more biased than editorial reviews, I place less weight on reader reviews.

Kathy B - Very rarely

QUESTION: Do you visit author websites, blogs, etc? If so, what keeps you coming back to a particular site? Is there anything that will keep you from coming back to a particular site?

Jaime: Yes. I like knowing when their new stuff is coming out and what they are working on. Personal stuff is fun to read too.

jayhjay: I visit author sites for a variety of things. The two most important are 1) backlists of books (and how they connect if they are series), and 2) lists of upcoming books. Personally I think having these things listed in a clear (and up-to-date way) is very important for authors, although not all of them do this. It definitely bugs me when I can’t figure out how books are related as I am big on reading all of a given series. I really love when authors have free reads on their sites, especially shorts that include characters from their published books. I sometimes read blogs, but more rarely (although I do follow a lot of my favorite authors on Twitter).

Megan: I only visit authors websites/blogs for updates on when their next book/s is coming out and what it's about. I also will go there for book 'extras' that some authors post. I'm turned off an authors website/blog if it becomes too unprofessional being more about them and their lives rather than their work (a little about their lives is good). I also won't return if it's not been updated in a while.

SKadlec - I definitely visit author websites and blogs. I enjoy following the process of a WIP turning into a published book. I don’t like listening to an author constantly complaining in their blog (e.g., Laurell K. Hamilton) and will stop following them completely. I am not particularly swayed by contests or give-aways. I’m in it for the books.

Kathy B - Occasionally. I read too many authors to visit on a regular basis. I tend to go to a new to me author’s site to find out more about their backlist. If an author has not released a book in a while, I will go to see what’s going on. [What keeps me from coming back]: Not updating their site.

QUESTION: Let’s face it, we all judge books by their covers. What types of covers repel you? What kind attract you?

Jaime: I like looking at HOT DUDES! I like when the cover has real models.

jayhjay: I am picky about covers. My biggest pet peeve is when the cover images of the characters don’t match what they look like at all. I can’t stand when the heroine is described as a plump blonde and she is a willowy brunette on the cover. But you see that all the time. Or when the hero has a noticeable attribute (scars, eye patch, tattoo, etc) and the cover model doesn’t. It bugs me b/c I feel like the art department thinks all romances are just cookie cutter and sticking any two random people on the cover will fit any story. But that won’t keep me from buying a book, just get me annoyed with the publisher.

In terms of influencing my decision to buy, covers are less important to me now then it was when I read print, b/c no one sees what my books look like other than me. But I am still turned off by the dramatic bodice ripper, crazy 80s looking historical covers. Bad artwork can bother me too. For example, I loved My Summer of Wes by Missy Welsh but the cover is so bad I almost didn’t buy it (and probably wouldn’t have if it was in print and I had to carry it around). Also, if I am browsing a site that has a sale, cheesy, unprofessional, or over the top covers will probably make me pass a book by rather than stop and read the blurb.

Megan: No covers really repel me although I don't like covers that are too busy or trying too hard. I can't really think what attracts me with covers, I guess unsurprisingly I like simple covers that set the tone of the book.

SKadlec - If there are figures are on the cover, I like them to be realistic, not poorly drawn. I don’t like bodice ripper type of covers for m/f romance. As I prefer m/m fiction, I don’t purchase many m/f romances anyway. I like my men to be interesting looking (e.g., the cover of Man Whore by Pia Veleno). No shirt is always a plus.

Kathy B - Not a fan of some of the cartoonish looking, hand drawn covers but it doesn’t keep me from purchasing the book if the blurb catches my eye. Or if it’s a favorite author of mine. [What attracts me:] Covers that look more like photographs.

QUESTION: When visiting blogs, websites, etc., how often do you click on author/publisher ads? (i.e., a book cover, book trailer, etc)

Jaime: Almost all the time if the cover catches my eye.

jayhjay: Sometimes I will follow links for ads on Dear Author or Smart Bitches, but not too often. More frequently if it is an ad for a discount, but sometimes if the book catches my eye I will click the link.

Megan: I'll click on a book cover if I like the look of it or I know the author, I'd say I'd probably click on at least one cover every time I visit a blog/website that about books.

SKadlec - Actually, I click on the ads quite often in my search for new reading material. I know I am at the extreme end of book buyers, as my friends at Borders told me before they closed. I always click on new material from a known author and intriguing material from a new author, especially from a publisher I like.

Kathy B - Rarely but that’s due to lack of time on my part.

QUESTION: Do book trailers influence your book purchases?

Jaime: I don’t think I have watched any book trailers.

jayhjay: No, I never watch them.

Megan: I don't watch them and they've never influenced a purchase. I'm sure they can be very awesome but a book isn't a visual medium for me and a blurb or tag line is much more appealing to me than a trailer.

SKadlec - Rarely. So far, my experience is that the trailers do not capture the essence of the written word well.

Kathy B - Occasionally

QUESTION: Which is more important to you: a back cover blurb, an excerpt from the book, or do you prefer to see both? Is the lack of a blurb or excerpt a deal-breaker?

Jaime: I totally need a cover blurb or I will not buy the book and I never read excerpts.

jayhjay: Back cover blurb to get me interested in a book, but an excerpt is great if I am trying to decide whether to buy it or if I want to get a better idea of the writing style since those actually give you an idea of what the book is really like. Missing an excerpt is not a deal breaker though.

Megan: A back cover blurb. I've bought books because they blurb sounded great without reading an excerpt. If I'm a bit unsure based solely on the blurb then I'll read the excerpt. Lack of a blurb is a 100% deal breaker, I can live without an excerpt.

SKadlec - I like the back cover blurb more, as it gives me a sense of the overall plot of the book. If it is an author new to me, the excerpt gives me a sense of the writing style, which helps sell the book to me. The lack of a blurb would be deal-breaker for a new author.

Kathy B - Blurb. I rarely if ever read excerpts. [Is the lack of a blurb or excerpt a deal-breaker?] I would not purchase a book without a blurb.


Jaime opted not to include a bio.

jayhjay:I am an avid reader and average around 15 books a month. I read mostly m/m romance at this point and especially love a good, juicy contemporary. I also enjoy m/f contemporary, historical, and some paranormal. I work from home as a writer/editor for a government IT department, which gives me lots of time to spend with my two girls and keep up with my reading habit! (jayhjay432 on Twitter)

Megan opted not to include a bio.

SKadlec - The first thing I bought with my allowance money as a child was a book. That began a life-long love of books. I read Tolkien in sixth grade and continue to enjoy fantasy/science fiction today. I came across m/m fiction about six years ago and it is now my favorite genre. As can be guessed, I especially like m/m fantasy fiction.

I have over 1600 fiction books in my library, and that is after weeding out about half in order to move cross country.

In addition to reading, I enjoy walking/hiking here in the intermountain west. I am proud to claim the title of cat lady and provide a humane education program for my local elementary schools. (SKadlec on Goodreads and LibraryThing)

Kathy B - My love of reading began as a child and it has been a lifelong love affair. My taste in books is ever evolving and I read a wide variety of books and what I read depends on what I am in the mood for.

You could probably classify me as a tri-reader since I read across most genres. I am addicted to GLBT (mainly m/m, but occasionally f/f) books. I also enjoy ménages, and if there are two men in the book, I want some manlove! I also love some down and dirty het erotica too. When I’m feeling more nice than naughty, I’ll switch back to reading mainstream books including chick lit, some Inspirational fiction, and mysteries. Just to really mix things up, I do enjoy paranormal psychic and ghost stories but no shape shifters, vampires or werewolves though. I enjoy both contemporary and historical books in all the genres I read.

When I’m not reading, you are likely to find me at a rodeo or bull riding event because I am a country girl at heart (and who doesn’t love a cowboy??). I am also an avid quilter, stamper and scrapbooker.

I am also a book reviewer, and I am the review coordinator for two of the sites I review for. On average I review 20-30 books in any given month and when I’m not reading a book for review, you’ll find me reading one for pleasure.

Thank you, readers, for taking the time to answer the questions!


  1. Great interviews and tons of useful info for readers and writers. Thanks! :)

  2. This is fantastic. Thanks so much for taking the time and effort to put this together!

  3. Lots and lots of good information. Thanks for putting it together, and for posting the invite on the author's group to come check it out.

  4. What a great article. Thanks for putting it together. And wow, thank you so much for the mention and link. I'm totally blown away to see my blog in here. :D

  5. Lori,

    thanks for setting up these great, thoughtful readers with some juicy questions. I learned a lot from this post.


  6. Very interesting questions and answers, especially about the importance of a blurb -thank you!

  7. Thank you so much for interviewing readers. They provided a lot of helpful advice.

  8. Great work, Lori! I love it when authors get out there and talk to readers. May I put a link to it on my site?

  9. Great information here. It's always helpful to read what works for most folks and what doesn't.

    Well done!

  10. Interesting how some readers lean on review sites I can't stand. "Snarky" just isn't my thing. I don't purchase based on reviews or cover design because I'm more interested in the storyline.