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Thursday, 15 April 2010

What makes me buy a book?

My book will be out in a month or so, and I want people to buy it. So, I ask myself, what makes people buy a book? Or to be precise, what makes me buy a book?

Well today I was in a charity shop browsing and came out with no books under my arm. This is unusual, because there were definitely books in there I would read. I passed on Melvyn Bragg's The Soldier's Return and Rose Tremain's The Colour, neither of which I have read, and they are writers whose other books I have enjoyed and admired. Well why did I not snap them up? Answer - the covers were dreary. They just did not appeal to me. And when I analyse it, it is not just the image I am attracted to - a large part of the appeal to me lies in the typography on the cover, never mind the image.I am drawn to interesting typography.

So what have I bought recently and why? Well, having thought long and hard about it, there is usually a very personal connection. Apart from the fact that Instruments of Darkness (Imogen Robertson) has a gloriously twining typeface in silver foil, she also happens to have the same agent as I do, so I couldn't just walk past it in Waterstone's. I opened page one, and bingo - hooked, straight to the till.

I read Macmillan New Writers because I have met them or talked via the blog. The latest was The Personal History of Rachel DuPree (Ann Weisgarber) which I am now enthusing about to my reading friends.  My book group reads books which are usually recommended by someone in the group - currently the really racy The Bride Stripped Bare (Nicky Gemmel) which my friend said she had to hide from her husband!

I picked up a book called The Seamstress - a thick blockbuster, because it was about the relationship between two sisters, and my Work in Progress has a similar theme and I was half-terrified of reading it in case it was better than mine and left me feeling inadequate, but I couldn't leave it on the shelf. I bought The Secret Scripture (despite its cover) because I find the borderline between sanity and insanity fascinating. Remarkable Creatures (Tracey Chevalier) because I have a thing about rocks and fossils.

None of this seemed very helpful in giving me a clue how to promote my book.

Online promotion? Well, I have visited a number of historical fiction sites looking for the next big read, but I have to confess, I am not a Kings and Queens sort of reader, and I baulk at wading through the Boleyns and the Eleanors of Aquitaine to find my sort of book. The only books I buy online are research and non-fiction. The rest I buy in actual bookshops where I can browse the shelves looking for a nice typeface! (Check out Remarkable Creatures - classy type!) What I was clear about was that I don't buy books because I have seen them online. I seem to need to see the actual book - a picture of a front cover alone doesn't do it for me - and I have seen  covers of some books online frequently and I am still not drawn to them at all. And although I enjoy the blogging community in general, and reading guest author interviews on book blogs, I haven't yet bought a book because of one. I'll let you know when I do!

I think I am a typical idiosyncratic reader. I have my likes and dislikes, I have pet subjects - I'm currently obsessed by swords and swordsmanship and have a weakness for books about artists -particularly William Blake, and mad scientists. The cover is very important, as if I need to say it.

In short, there is no real consistency to what I buy, so why other people buy the books they do is still a bit of a mystery. In a sense the most important thing for me is the personal connection. I do buy books if someone I know recommends it, or it connects to me in a very personal way. I buy books at conferences from people I've met, and from the nice man in the bookshop (where I'm trying to promote my book) when he tells me, "this is good - its by another local writer."  So what, if it's called The Coffin Trail and looks as though it has been dipped in blood?
And guess what, he was right, it is a good read.

What does this mean? The personal touch is everything. It's the only thing that seems to make much difference to my frankly erratic buying habits. I guess it means I will have to get on the road for that book tour after all.

PS Want to know which historical novels were the best sellers for 2009? All the info is on Reading the Past.


  1. I would never buy a book because I liked the typography - but I would certainly put one back if I didn't.

    Cramped typefaces, narrow margins (particularly the gutter) and loose glueing are important. I don't want to have to break the spine to read lines to the end!

    I'm less fussy about covers. As a long-time reader of fantasy and science-fiction, sometimes you have to put up with some pretty garish stuff, usually at variance with the text.

  2. Thanks Tim.Yes, i guess the cover may be more important to some types of fiction readers than others. I have noticed that generally the American covers have much more space left in the typeface than we do.I certainly agree about the gutter, some books fall apart by the time I've finished them!

  3. I can get past the cover art, but I do flip through and look at the appearance of the pages. If the text is blocky and lacks "white space," I hesitate. If the margins are narrow, the book goes back on the shelf. I know I shouldn't judge anything by such superficial standards, but visual appeal is important to me.

    On a different note, I appreciate your reading my book. Thank you recommending it to others -- the highest compliment.

  4. Thanks Ann. I have been recommending it with a typo though- with a small instead of a big "D" on DuPree. That must be irritating. I'll fix it now!

  5. Hi Dee - just read the bestsellers list and, since neither Karen Maitland nor CJ Sansom are on it, I'm assuming it's a US list? Interesting, though. I read the Deliverance Dane book and, though it was OK, I didn't think it was a patch on, for instance, Sansom's Shardlake books. I wonder if he's not got a publisher in the US yet?

  6. Covers are important to me - no glitzy ones, no sparkly bits, probably no pink. I'm with Ann over the appearance of the text, and if the first page looks long and blocky (good word, Ann) and dull, then I'll probably let it go. Like Alice (in Wonderland), I like "pictures and conversation". Well conversation, anway. I can manage without pictures.

    Rather appropriately, the verification word is "chunk".

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  8. Hello Frances and Alis, I'm just trying to think if the first page of my book looks blocky and dull - I hope not. I think Will and the rest of the editorial team would have spotted it if it did!

    Yes, its an interesting list of best sellers isn't it. It must be a US list I think, but they have definitely heard of Sansom over there because I have mentioned him in conversation with american hist fic fans & everyone knows who I mean.

    Yes - no pink or sparkly bits for me either - but then I guess I don't read much chick lit.

    Have you come across any hist fic sites that are not celebrity hist fic, ie not Kings & Queens, Saints & Heroes?

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