Facts About Readers: What People Read and How

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The secret to success in book publishing has always been knowing the market. Diving deeply into current reading habits is just the start, and knowing how and why folks buy is the next step after learning what they read. Understanding your audience is key to building your author platform. Some great data came from a December 2016 Gallup Poll that can help inform our next steps when creating sales and book marketing plans.

Are People Reading?

Short answer? Yes. Here's a high-level look at that Gallup Poll data:

  • 39% of Americans 18+ read more than 10 books last year
  • 91% of Americans read at least 1 book in the last year
  • In the last four years, the percentage of Americans reading one or more books increased from 68% to 85%
  • 27% of Americans prefer reading ebooks (which means 73% prefer print books)
  • Young folks (18-29) read slightly more books than folks over 45 (53% vs. 48%)

According to Gallup, the bottom line is this:

“Despite Americans' ability to access more information, social networks, games and media than ever before, as well as the lingering rumors of the book's demise, Americans still say they are reading books.”

What Are People Reading?

The Guardian released a study last year that gave the top 5 fiction categories by sales dollars as follows:

  1. Romance/Erotica
  2. Crime/Mystery
  3. Religious/Inspirational
  4. Science Fiction and Fantasy
  5. Horror

The American Library Association and Library Journal listed in their last Material’s Survey Report  the top 10 categories by demand.

Library Survey.png      Library Survey 2.png

How Do Readers Get Book Recommendations?

There are also great studies to show how people find out about books. The Pew Foundation conducted a study a few years back that is still incredibly relevant. It revealed that personal recommendations from family members, friends, or co-workers dominate the book recommendation game with 64% of respondents siting these individuals as the ones from whom they get their recommendations. 28% of respondents said they get recommendations from online bookstores or other websites, 23% said they get them from staffers in bookstores they visit in person, and 19% said they get them from librarians or library websites.

Bottom line here: word of mouth sells books.

No matter how many times you tell me your book is amazing, unless we're close or you're a tastemaker in the book publishing industry, I probably won't just accept your word for it. I'll need a bit more proof before I purchase, and if you can get someone I DO know and trust to like your book, you're that much closer to getting me to like it too.

Applying What You've Learned

This is all great information, but how do you actually use it? Here are some quick takeaways from these numbers:

  1. If you don’t have your book in an ebook format, you are losing sales from those who prefer to read ebooks over print books.
  1. Adult fiction is outselling YA fiction. (Don’t let the idea that younger readers read more than older readers sway you.)
  1. Yes, memoir and bio’s are the number one nonfiction category at libraries, but those are almost exclusively driven by famous people who wrote their memoirs.
  1. The religious/inspirational category is also driven by a few, extremely popular personalities.
  1. The effects of recommendations online, by others, and by bookstore and librarian staffers cannot be overestimated.

If you have a self-help/inspirational guide, a business book, or any other nonfiction book consider these steps:

  1. Pick a potential reader and narrow your age range of 10 years in order to focus your book marketing efforts (micro-focus).
  2. Use the data coming out from Gallup, Pew, BISG, Publishers Weekly and Library Journal to determine where that age/gender group shops for books.
  3. Work daily to get your book in front of the influencers who are most likely to enjoy and recommend your book to others.
  4. Spend a little time each day promoting your book onto the shelves of stores, libraries, and online retailers.

Remember, the key is finding, understanding, and using the numbers and data available to all of us. It is too tempting to sit behind what we believe to be true. Many of us are guilty of making decisions based on assumptions. The best way to proceed is with hard data and facts behind your book marketing plans and activities. 

So what is your reader base? Who reads your type of books? Where do they shop? And most importantly, once you have the facts—how do you attract those readers? 

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4 Steps to Attract Readers to Your Book

There are thousands of people out there right this moment who would want your book if they knew about it. How do you go about finding them and telling them about your book?

It all starts with this solid market research plan.

Step One: Find Authors and Books Similar to Yours That Are Selling Well Today

That may sound simple, but let’s break that out.

First, I’m suggesting that you find the authors in your arena, not in your genre. The problem many authors face when they start to find comparable titles and authors is that they get too narrow in their focus. No one has written a book just like yours. But hundreds of authors have written books purchased by your potential readers.girl researching facts about readers

The analogy I use is from the world of sports. Sport arenas will often hold more than one team or even sport. Many arenas host soccer and lacrosse and football. If you go looking for comparable authors and comparable books and only focus on one genre (football) you will miss lots of potential readers.

The other key component to this step is the word "today." Too many authors look at the books on their own bookshelf to come up with a list of comparable authors. That is a fine start, but that does not tell you everything selling today. Most personal bookshelves are filled with books that you purchased years ago. You have to get out of your house and off of your own e-reader if you truly want to discover what is selling today.

And if you did this exercise six months ago? You need to do it again. Identifying and keeping abreast of the books in your arena and the authors that are selling well is a constant activity. Just don’t do it once and then rest on your list.

Start a spreadsheet or open up a document on your computer and go find all of the authors that are selling well today in your arena. I use sites like USA Today Best-Selling Books and Amazon Best Sellers to find the best-selling books in my arena.

But don’t just depend on the internet! Get in your car and go to your local library and bookstore. What sells well on Amazon is a completely different list than what sells well in the bookstore market. If bookstores and libraries are important to you, you can’t just depend upon internet research.

Step Two: Get to Know Your Fellow Authors and Their Fan Base

Stop thinking of all the authors out there as your competition. Your fellow authors are not your competition; they are your community. Making this shift in thinking and embracing your fellow authors as your community will go a long way in helping you reach and appeal to a much larger readership.

Join their newsletters, follow them on social media, Google them and search for their names on Goodreads. Join in discussions with their fans. Make sure that you’re familiar with their books.

Successful authors know that they need to truly immerse themselves in their industry. Successful authors learn everything they can about every element of their genres and their arenas.

Step Three: Use Bestselling Author Names and Best-Selling Titles as Keywords in Your Online Advertising

Amazon, Facebook, Google, Twitter…these and other online venues all offer opportunities for inexpensive advertising. Having a long and robust list of keywords is very important. And the best way to start with keywords is to start with a list of bestselling books and authors. But that’s not enough. You need to go much further. I will often take a bestselling book or author and type their name into online tools like twinword.com/ideas

These are my favorite sites for developing a list of keywords that reaches into the thousands.

researching keywordsIf right now you are freaking out about needing thousands of keywords, it’s OK. You don’t need to find or use them all today. But advertising, marketing, and promotion is a lifelong and ever-changing pursuit. Amazon ads are based on keywords and they ask for 1000 keywords to start. Run the first 1000 keywords in an ad and after a few days it’s easy to spot which keywords are not giving you the attention you deserve. With this huge list of authors and titles, you have lots of words to swap some additional author names.

Also, finding those mid-list titles that may not show up on the bestseller list but are still selling like crazy is a terrific way to find new readers.

How simple would it be to advertise on Amazon to those who bought a particular author? Wouldn’t it save you tons of money to advertise your book only to people who claim to be the fans of a particular genre or a particular author? Doesn’t it make sense to advertise to one fan base for a few days and then switch over and advertise to a different fan base?

Step Four: Use Your List of Authors and Bestselling Titles to Direct Your Promotional and Media Activities

Promoting your book doesn’t have to be pushy or expensive. You can simply Google the bloggers and reviewers who reviewed certain bestselling and mid-list books that you know your readers like. Then reach out to those bloggers and reviewers and offer them a guest post or a review copy of your book.

Sending out just a few of these emails a day will eventually yield great results. But you will eventually run out of people to contact and so you should constantly be looking for new books and new authors to add to your list.

How long do you do this for? You should be offering your book for consideration to bloggers and influencers every day for the next year or two or until your next book is published and you turn your attention to that one.


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Amy Collins

Amy Collins is the President of New Shelves Books, one of the best-known book sales and marketing agencies in the US. Amy is a trusted expert, speaker, and recommended sales consultant for some of the largest book and library retailers and wholesalers in the publishing industry. In the last 20 years, Amy and her team have sold over 40 million books into the bookstore, library, and chain store market for small and midsized publishers.