What Makes a Reader Pick Up a Book By a Debut Author?

By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

If you're like me, you probably have a handful of tried-and-true authors that you adore. We only have to see their name and we rush out to buy their book. We don't have to look at the back cover blurb or even know what the book is about. We trust that author will deliver.

And if occasionally one of their books starts slow or doesn't necessarily appeal to us, we keep reading those authors anyway. They've proven themselves to us. And with busy lives and limited time, why not stick to authors we already trust and love?

That kind of loyalty is awesome. And I for one appreciate that my readers come back to my books time and again. On one of my readers said this in her review: "I always preorder her books and will continue to do so based on the strength of her name on the cover alone." (Emphasis mine)

Established and experienced authors can attract new readers based on strong reviews, the numbers of books written, and loyalty of current fans. But it's tough for debut writers to get noticed.

Not only are debut authors competing in an increasingly crowded marketplace, but they're also trying to gain the attention of readers who may have their night tables stacked high with authors they love or authors who have already made a name for themselves.

Of course some new authors DO get noticed. Some debut authors DO gain readers. I was once a debut author, and I've gained many readers over time. As the saying above implies, people who love to read, are always looking for new books to devour! 

But what are the factors that make a reader willing to take a chance on a debut author? Why does a reader pick up the book of one new author and not another?

Here are just a few of the things that influence whether I pick up a book by a new author (in order from most important influences to least):

1. Word of mouth praise. THIS is the NUMBER ONE factor for me. If I hear numerous people talking about a book and how good it was, I'm likely to go over to an online bookstore and check it out. I'll read the reviews, and if they're largely positive, I'm likely to buy the book at some point.

2. The number of reviews on Amazon or Goodreads. If a book only has 15 reviews and has been released for five months, I'll probably wonder what's wrong with the book that more readers haven't left reviews. It's not too difficult for a debut author to generate the help of friends and family members for those initial reviews. But it's much harder to get reviews beyond that.

So if the book is lacking in reviews, I'll assume that those first reviews are mostly by friends and family. And I won't trust them as much. Whereas if a book has a hundred reviews or more, I'll believe what people are saying and consider buying the book.

3. Traditionally versus self-published. I hate to admit this, but it's true. For debut books, I almost always check if they've gone through a traditional publisher. If a new author has passed through the various "tests" and persevered to make it through the "hoops" of traditional publication, and if agents and editors believe in the story, then I'll be more willing to put out my hard-earned cash on a debut book.

Because let's face it, anyone can throw anything out there nowadays and call it a book. If I know a book has faced the rigors and screening of the traditional publisher route, I'm more likely to give the new author a try (fair or not). (When experienced authors self-publish, that's a completely different story.)

4. A pleasing cover. I know we're not suppose to judge a book by its cover, but if a book cover looks cheesy or cheap, I may assume the quality inside will follow suit. But if a debut book has a stellar cover, if it catches my attention, I might give the book a try.

5. If the book is written by a friend. Yes, I'm more likely to buy a debut book from a friend than a stranger. My problem is that I've made connections with so many wonderful writers, that I'm no longer able to keep up with all the books friends are publishing, and so before purchasing I often have to resort to the above tests even for friends. But I would still say that overall I'm more willing to buy a debut book from a friend¬especially a closer friend.

Now, YOUR turn! What factors influence you the most when deciding to buy the book of a debut author?

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