What Makes People Buy Self-Published Books?

I found this interesting post on writer Tara Sparling’s blog. What makes people buy self-published books? There are lots of factors, but who knew the cover played such an important role? It’s a great post. There are handy graphs (I love a good graph) and plenty of interesting comments. So, what do you think? And what makes you buy a self-published book?

Tara Sparling writes

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.

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…

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10 thoughts on “What Makes People Buy Self-Published Books?

  1. A serious reply this time: marketing/advertising is key.

    From my own experience with DEAR MISS LANDAU (DML), myself and Chaplin Books worked like hell to produce the best and most marketable cover, we sweated like crazy on the blurb; and both before acceptance by Chaplin and then at the final design stage, I/we again worked like hell (sound familiar? – there’s a reason!) to make sure DML was up to par.

    It has to attract at first glance, or the reader won’t go for second base!


    1. Hi James, I love the cover of Dear Miss Landau. It’s professionally done and the use of the photo is intriguing. A poor cover will put me off buying a book, but I won’t necessarily buy one if I see a great cover. I go by recommendation first, then a combination of the blurb and reviews. Your blurb is also intriguing. You and Chaplin Books did an excellent job.


  2. I look at books in my genre. The cover might draw me in, though it’s just as likely to put me off, if the clothes are not of an era I favour, for instance, or if the models’ poses are too provocative. What DOES draw me in is a title that suggests it’s right for me. If the title interests me, I’ll look at the blurb. If they catch my interest with the blurb, I’ll look closer. If the price is right, I’ll buy. I don’t even look to see who published the book most of the time.

    Self publishing is a broad church. I’ve read some that are badly edited, complete with bad spelling and howlers in the areas of continuity and fact checking. (She’s going to divorce him for his adultery in the UK in 1837? Really?) But I’ve also read some that are as professionally put together as anything you’ll get from the big houses. So, as long as the book is well written and readable (not full of format faults) I’ll happily give it a go.

    Another thing I’ve noticed a lot of self published authors do: the first in a series is available as an ebook for free. Of course, you download it and read it. Then, having enjoyed it, you want to read book two, which you have to buy… Works for me.


    1. That’s interesting that you should say the title is a big draw for you, Caitlyn. It’s so difficult to think up a good title, especially in genre fiction. And the blurb can take longer to think up than writing the whole book!
      I look to see who the publisher is. If it’s self-published, I read a sample before buying. There’s nothing worse than downloading a book that’s so badly written you can’t get past page one.
      And the free first novel is a good way to hook readers – as long as it’s clear it’s the first in a series. I hate getting to the end and only then finding I have to buy another book to find out what happens next!
      Thanks for all your comments. Interesting to find out how others choose their reading.


  3. I agree with the importance of the book cover grabbing a reader’s attention, then the blurb. But what sells me most of the time is to download the sample on Kindle. That quickly lets me know if I like the writing, voice, etc. I never check to see if the book is self-pubbed or trad pubbed anymore. Ineresting info. Thanks for sharing.


    1. Thanks for your interesting comment, JQ. As a reader, I love the fact that we can download a sample now. Like you I use this facility a lot. As a writer, though, I feel under pressure to make the start of my novel the best ever! I spend far more time on the opening pages than on anything else, because I want the people who’ve downloaded a sample to read on.
      I don’t care, either, if the book is self-pubbed or not. If someone whose opinion I trust recommends it, I’ll buy it!


  4. Hey, Helena. I’ve missed some of your blogs on vaca. This one was certainly interesting. Readers are all different as are we writers. Which is nice, that certainly means whatever it is we like to read or write we should be all right. I go by genre first. I like to read Romantic Suspense. After that I look at the cover. Vampires and dragons and tons of blood there, I skip. :) I do read books my friends have written even if in a different genre. But time is so limited, I don’t do it often. I’ll also check the blurb, but ultimately, will look at first couple of lines to determine if the book is first person, which I really don’t care for. Entirely a personal preference and makes not difference in the quality of the book. Like Caitlyn above, I’ve read self-pubbed books that are brilliant, and I’ve read books by the big guys with errors that made me nuts and vice versa. I hate to read a self-pubbed book that hasn’t been edited properly because it gives all self-pubbed authors a bad name. Not fair. Who the publisher is doesn’t matter to me.
    Interesting post for sure. I’ll share. :)


    1. Hi Marsha, thanks for your comment. Interesting to see how you choose a book. I’m with you on the dragons and vampires. I’m not massively into those world-building type books, although there are some I’ve read that I’ve enjoyed. So I suppose it’s true that the cover does play a big role in how people choose a book, as it’s quite often an indicator of the genre, especially in commercial fiction.
      And you’ve joined the group of us who don’t care who the publisher is. Interesting debate. Thanks for your comment. And I hope you had a lovely holiday! (Vacation!)


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