Why do you buy the books you do?

Wouldn’t every publisher, agent and writer want to know the answer to that one?

I’ve been on the Goodreads site, rating the books I’ve read. Analysing my own behaviour as a reader, I’ve been surprised by what I’ve picked out: historical fiction, adventure, romance, thriller, literary, fantasy, young adult, psychological, crime, contemporary, epic, speculative/science fiction, mystery. You name it, I’ll try it. My significant other groans when I announce I’m going on a buying trip in a bookshop. I’ll come out with a dozen or more books whose choice has baffled the bookseller, and him.

Why I pick the book up: attractive cover with dramatic figures, historical setting, intriguing font, colour impact, guns, uniforms, badges, symbols, classic painting or landscape or stylised design, and a strapline or testimonial that pulls my interest.

Next, I read the blurb and reviews: an intriguing dilemma, possibly related to something I know about or which I can identify with, different timelines (a favourite!), a ‘what if’ or setting far away from my own one, some snippets about the main character(s), some urgency/deadline, the impact of the plot on others or the characters’ world and their world on them. Oh, and if it’s Romans in any shape, form or reference, that gets extra points of attractiveness.

Then I read the first paragraph, followed by the remainder of the page. If I’ve reached  page five without realising, that’s a very good sign. I’ll glimpse in the middle, but I won’t be tempted to look at the ending or I’ll spoil it for myself.

The other main reason I have books on my shelves is a recommendation: by a friend, a magazine/newspaper/radio programme, a bookseller, a bookblog or Twitter. But I’m choosy about whose recommendation I pick up. Not all recommenders are equal.

Next post, I’ll look at what elements are common to books that are currently selling well.

But first, what makes you stretch out your hand to pick up a particular book?


Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers, INCEPTIO, and PERFIDITAS. Third in series, SUCCESSIO, is now out and Book 4 is in the editing process!

Find out about Roma Nova book progress, news, writing tips and info by signing up for my free monthly email newsletter.

6 comments to Why do you buy the books you do?

  • Aren’t you methodical!!

    I am drawn to writers I already know, or new writers who have been well reviewed or recommended by friends. Good blurb on the back is vital for me – I don’t get as far as the first page if that hasn’t grabbed me. Then I need to wander around for a bit, maybe have coffee, telling myself I’m thinking – but it’s actually more a question of letting thoughts wander a bit. Then back again – and by now I know what I want though I’ve no idea how the decision is made. (Only that I like to take a long time ‘thinking’ – it’s oddly disappointing to go into a bookshop and find the most marvellous book in the first minute!)

    And is second-hand bookshops – anything by authors I know that I haven’t read.

  • Interesting question! I tend to go for covers and titles to begin with, nothing involving shiny foil and nothing too obvious! Then it’s authors I know and like, titles I’ve seen reviewed and books that are displayed alongside others I’ve enjoyed.

  • Alison

    Jo – great description of the buying process. I check in my favourite authors’ sections and then on the table or in the shelves near them. Afterwards, I head for the tables/displays at the front and the new titles, and afterwards it’s a general wander around. But I apply the process I described above to each part.

    Two hours later, my DH comes into the shop with a search party…

  • Alison

    BucksWriter – I don’t mind silvery stuff, especially if it’s swirly and curly. But I’m not attracted by allover shiny background. Given my penchant for thrillers, crime, historicals and quirky, I think my eye is generally for less abstract covers.

  • It’s a fascinating topic. I pretty much know what I’m going to buy before I walk into the book shop. I have a book in mind that I’ve heard about, or the next book by a preferred writer.

    But this year has been an interesting experiment for me because I’ve been a panel member on a book club radio program in Australia and have only had a say in the choice of every third book, which means I’ve been buying a lot of books chosen by others.

    It’s a lottery as a concept, and there have been a few strike outs, mainly involving Hemingway. But there have also been some amazing reads I wouldn’t otherwise have read, such as Anna Funder’s ALL THAT I AM and Julian Barnes’ THE SENSE OF AN ENDING. Fantastic books chosen for me by others.

    It showed me I was perhaps set in my reading ways and not really experimenting.

  • Alison

    Chris – what a perceptive comment! I get prompts from the BBC Radio4 book programmes – A Good Read, Open Book and Book at Bedtime. I *am* selective, but like you find this a route to books I would never otherwise have touched.