Utilize reader statistics

The Gallup Poll website is fascinating. Okay, I admit, I’m a geek.

However, it’s also useful in gathering information about the book business, which is important for a writer.

Sometimes the statistics are a bit depressing—about 60% (depending on the house, genre, etc.) of all fiction books don’t make back their advance, for example—but other times, the stats can help writers.

This is the poll that talks about readers. It’s from 2005, but I think it’s mostly up to date—especially because the numbers are not much different from the 1999 stats, which are also presented.

Which of the following is the main way you generally select the books you read -- [ROTATED: based on a recommendation from someone you know, by choosing an author whose books you like, based on book reviews you've read, by browsing a bookstore or library, based on an advertisement you've seen, by browsing an Internet site] -- or do you select them another way?


2005 May 20-22

1999 Sep 10-14



By choosing an author whose books you like



Based on a recommendation from someone you know



By browsing a bookstore or library



Based on book reviews you've read



By subject (vol.)



By browsing an Internet site



Based on an advertisement you've seen






No opinion



Few people choose a book based on book reviews (7%) or by browsing an Internet site (3%), and only 2% say they were influenced to read a book by an advertisement.

Most people, 73%, say the Internet has not affected their reading habits, but 16% say that because they spend more of their free time on the Internet, they are reading fewer books. Just 6% say that the Internet has influenced them to read more, by making it easier to find out about, and purchase, books.

Bottom line:

Create a brand so readers buy simply because you wrote it.

If you think of writers like Nora Roberts, Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Danielle Steel, Debbie Macomber—you know them by the types of stories they write.

You buy them based on the types of stories you like to read.

I don’t like the more intense stories, so I haven’t read much Stephen King or Dean Koontz—the ones I’ve read, I haven’t liked that much.

However, I love Debbie Macomber because her books are light, sweet, and satisfying. Those are the types of books I personally prefer.

You want your readers to automatically buy your books as soon as they come out because they know and anticipate the type of read they’ll get.

Remember that a whopping 30% of readers buy based on the author. Create your brand so that people will buy your books, knowing the kind of story they can expect.

Don’t underestimate the power of word of mouth.

Basically, write a good book so people will talk to other people about it.

There’s also a marketing strategy where you make it easy for people who would be most likely to enjoy your book to get their hands on it. If you haven’t read Pyromarketing by Greg Stielstra, go and get it. Or listen to the free audiobook MP3 download on his website, www.pyromarketing.com.

You target people who’d be likely to like your book, and either give the book to them or give them a portion of it so they want to read more of it.

Those targeted people are more likely to talk about your book to other people, who will go out and buy it.

Also, make it easy for people to describe your book or your brand. My books are Asian chick lit. Robin Caroll is Southern romantic suspense. Cheryl Wyatt is special forces romance. Debby Giusti is medical technology romantic suspense.

Think of how you can brand yourself or your writing to make it easy for people to say, “Oh, I love XYZ author’s books because they’re {fill in the blank}.”

Remember that word of mouth accounts for a huge 27% of people who buy your book. This might be a larger percentage (and the percentage of people who buy based on your name will probably be lower) for debut novelists.

Some of it is not what you can control

Ultimately, there’s nothing you can do to make every Barnes and Noble and Borders bookstore carry your title. That’s up to the corporate offices and your publisher’s sales team.

You have no control over the cover art, even if they give your heroine three arms.

You have no control over the title, most of the time.

You have little control over the back cover blurb, especially if your marketing department has a specific reader demographic they’re targeting with the nature and feel of the blurb.

So while 22% of people buy books because they pick it up while browsing, you have no control over that. Don’t let it keep you up at night. (I’m Christian, so my philosophy is that God’s in control, and that helps when I start getting angsty.)

If you write the best book you can, and work hard to learn how to write even better books, people will start reading your books. That’s really all you can do. And when you get as popular as Diana Gabaldon, then Barnes and Noble will carry an entire shelf of your books.

Use your marketing money wisely.

Debbie Macomber spends about 25% of her book money on marketing. Because she makes a ton of money, that’s a lot of marketing dollars.

But her philosophy holds for lower advances, too—use only 25% for marketing.

Because the poll indicates that only 2% of people buy based on an advertisement, I choose not to spend money on ads.

Because the poll indicates that 27% buy based on word of mouth, I choose to spend more money on book giveaways and contests. People who want to read my book will enter the contests, and some of them will win a copy and hopefully tell other people.

In order to help spread word of mouth about my books (and me), I also spend time making myself available to readers and developing a relationship with them. The internet is great for this, especially blogs. My main blog, Camy’s Loft, is both inexpensive and helps develop a sense of community with my readers. I can also use it to promote Christian fiction and draw more readers to my blog to become part of my community.

My website costs a bit more (design, hosting, domain name), but it’s an easy, relatively inexpensive way for readers to find me. It’s my business card on the web, and people can explore me and my books on their own time, in their own way. They can decide if my novels might interest them, if they want to buy them.

I also am very careful about what types of promotional items I buy to give away.

While Post-It notes are useful, people use them and they’re gone. Pens are done by almost everyone, and I myself have thrown away a number of author pens because we don’t have the space for them. I’m not sure how many people actually use promotional keychains, and while there are lots of other really neat promo items—flashlights, bags, water bottles, etc.—they don’t always fit well with my brand and my novels.

Bookmarks have been handy for me because they’re inexpensive and many readers will actually use them. I also had my mom create some beautiful ribbon bookmarks with a special charm I custom-ordered that has my website on it—people are less likely to toss the ribbon bookmark, and hopefully they’ll use it, be reminded of me, and want to get my next book.

I might get other promotional items depending on demand or on any special events my publisher plans for me. For example, I ordered custom-engraved chopsticks to give away at my booksigning at the International Christian Retail Show. They were a bit pricey, but worth it because people remembered me and even went to stand in line in order to get the chopsticks (in addition to my book).

So think about how you want to spend your marketing money. Like I did with the chopsticks, try to find something unique—and hopefully usable—that people will keep and remember you by.

If you have any other comments, suggestions, or question, feel free to comment. I’m always open to discussion or other ideas for marketing and promotion for poor writers.


  1. Great insights, Camy! I learned a lot.


    Cheryl Wyatt

  2. Dear Camy, thank you so much for all of your useful information. Thank you, too, for your article about making a blog your website, and for your FaithChick post on creative (yet inexpensive) gift-giving. Have a blessed holiday season!


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