From Sarah, With Joy

*Poet * Author * Wanderluster*

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Where do you discover the books you buy?

Yesterday at The Kill Zone, Michelle Gagnon told us the best and worst writing advice she's ever gotten. There were some great tips here, some I've heard before and some I haven't. I definitely think keeping ones day-job is a good idea, for both financial and social reasons, and I've heard several people warn against spending too much on a publicist.

One thing that I'll admit surprised me was the statistic Michelle gave about social networks. She said that only 4% of book sales come from Facebook and Twitter, and probably even less from writer-centered sites like GoodReads and Shelfari. 4% is tiny, insignificant, minuscule, particularly compared to the percent of marketing effort most writers put into these sites.

Assuming that these statistics are correct, here's my question: what other/better options do we poor writers have? If Facebook, Twitter and GoodReads only give marginal results, where are more useful places to put our limited resources? Social networks take a lot of time, but cost nothing and therefore seem like a good choice. I still plan on using them as best as I can, but I want to put my money and time where it will really pay off, so I need some ideas.

I'll admit, I'm not the best at the discovering books from relatively obscure sources thing. This is absolutely something I hope to fix in the future (with the help of my new kindle...eeeeh :), but the majority of my reading picks come from classic lists (Dostoevsky, Austen, Brontes, Dickens, Hugo, etc.) best-seller and critically acclaimed lists (Steven King, Rowling, Kaye Gibbons, Tea Obreht) and recommended from friends and family (Connie Willis, Joan Bauer, Sharon Creech, Louis Sachar). There are many, many fantastic mid-list and indie authors with incredible books just waiting to be discovered. And you have to be discovered before you can become a classic, be put on lists, or be talked about around the dinner table. Since I'm just beginning to dip into this whole new pool of writers, and since for us beginning, un-listed, not-yet-classics, less-talked-about writers doing our own marketing is absolutely crucial, I'm coming to you guys: where do you discover the books you buy? If not Facebook and Twitter, then where?

My two ideas about this are that the most basic thing success in this field requires is great writing, and the second is that as far as marketing goes, blogs have big potential. I'm pretty sure the first idea is correct. I don't think you can really get that far on bad writing, though there are a few exceptions. But what about the second idea? Do blogs really do that much? It seems like Amanda Hocking used blogs and blog tours more than anything else to promote her books, and look where she is now. Of course I could be wrong, but I'm looking for ideas here. I bet a lot of people find books the same way I do, via lists and word of mouth, but what course of action does that leave for us writers, especially if social networking sites don't really help that much? What are the best places and ways to help us get to that listed and talked about point?

Thanks for your ideas, and happy writing!
Sarah Allen


  1. I don't know what to tell you. I keep a seperate blog for my finished manuscript with a posting of character blogs, excerpts and chapter one. I pass out biz cards with my blog address. I'm on Facebook, Twitter, Shelfari, and Goodreads.

    Personally, I've made a promise to read Inies this year and write reviews for them. I believe in writers helping writers. Other than that, I don't know what to tell you. Maybe its a crap shoot.

  2. I still find most of my books the old-fashioned way: book stores, libraries, and used-book markets. I have discovered several new writers through the blogosphere, but none really write in my preferred genre. I think that an online presence helps, but one shouldn't neglect other forms of outreach such as book signings and author events.

  3. Hey Sarah,

    I have to echo your and Anna's sentiments: I find the books I read the old-fashioned way, and I've never (perhaps once) purchased a book I was recommended on Goodreads or Facebook or Twitter or anything else.

    The beauty of blogging (and Twitter, and Facebook, and all the others) for me is not so much marketing, or purchasing, but networking. I've met some lovely like-minded people that have provided inspiration, laughs, and thought provoking discussion.

    4% sounds about right, really. When I release something, however it is released, I will keep this in mind.

    The only exception to this I imagine comes from reviews. These can be acquired and delivered on blogs and other platforms, and I am much more likely to listen to a great review than somebody's recommendation.

    Have a good day :)

  4. I work at a library, so I most often find books as they're being returned. I say "Ooo!" and read the back flap, then take it home and try it out. If I like it, I'll buy it (and probably everything else the author's written). Other than that, I check out the clearance shelf at Half Price Books.

  5. Interesting blog, especially the 4% part. Konrath has said that advertizing means very little as well, so when I hear that the rest is only 4% it gets a little daunting. I think in Hockings case she rode on the coattails (no offense) on the Stephanie Meyer fame, or because YA at the time was huge and before self publishing became such a phenom. One thing not mentioned was conventions. Also contests.

  6. Usually the few books that I do buy come from recommendations made by fellow writers who frequent my blog, whenever I happen to ask for suggestions on new material to expand my horizons.

    So far, they've been spot on with their suggestions.

  7. ...well, i find books via myself... i go in places like bookstores and booksales to look for something really interesting... i actually less consider finding books via words of mouth since i believe we have different interest and opinions that what all may like may not be that likable for you/me....thanks for dropping-by my page and for your appreciation of my poem.... you're always more than welcome to come back anytime. You have a lovely day.(:


  8. For me it's all about the book cover, title, and synopsis on the back. It doesn't matter whether I see it online or at the store.

    Honestly, I think a blog, Facebook, etc. is more for readers to get to know the author after the sale of the book. And hopefully the author will seem pleasant enough (so not the right word, but I'm tired)that the reader will recommend the book to others.

    Great post! Really got me thinking.

  9. I'm with the people who find their books the old fashioned way..we have an independent book store here in town called The Bookman and he has over a million titles..I spend a lot of time and money there! lol! the Bookman is online too..

    Also, I like to watch shows like 'Writers Confessions' and 'Introduction to World Literature'...they introduce me to authors I've never heard of and some wonderful books..

    I agree with Windowlad..I don't often consider books by word of mouth, because we all do have different tastes and opinions and I very rarely meet someone with my taste in books..

    example, the vampire books that are all the rage, I have never read one and would consider it a tremendous waste of time to do so,..but obviously millions of people love those books..that woman is making money hand over fist, so that's great for her!

    Everyone is entitled to like what they like without explaining it..

    I've never ordered a book online, but I would consider ebay as a source for some obscure title..excellent post Sarah!


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