David Louis Edelman David Louis Edelman

Why Did You Buy That Book?

One of the regular commenters on the DeepGenre blog I belong to, Jellyn Andrews, posted this in response to author Elaine Isaak‘s comment on some of her promotional methods:

Elaine, I wanted to let you know you’re doing something right. My father and I were at Albacon and attended your reading where you did the drawing for prizes. So now I’m on your mailing list and I recognize your name. I think it was your appeal to bloggers on the fliers you posted that initially caught my attention.

And my father also recognizes your name now, because when we were in Borders Express, he took note when he saw your books. You’d been in there and signed them. And one of the staff overheard us talking about it and joined in. I think he said he went to high school with you, so he liked to promote your work whenever he could.

We often hear in the book business that word of mouth is what sells books, and this comment is a prime indicator of that. In fact, this comment shows that a number of Elaine’s promotional efforts came together to help her out here: word of mouth, a convention reading, a mailing list, fliers, a book signing, and encouraging old friends/classmates to act as evangelists. (Of course, I’m unclear from this comment whether Jellyn or her father actually bought a book, but we’ll let that slide.)

Traditional marketers have a variety of tools they use to test the efficacy of their methods. If you’ve ever registered your DVD player with the manufacturer, you’ve given the manufacturer vital information about where you bought it, what influenced you to buy it, and what factors you took into consideration. Booksellers don’t have that option, because the incentive for the customer isn’t there; you’re very, very unlikely to encounter a defective book that needs returning or servicing. (Although remind me to tell you the story about the time I was trapped on a cruise to the Bahamas with a defective copy of Clive Barker’s Weaveworld that was missing 50 pages.)

So how do booksellers know what works in selling books? Or, more germane to this blog and this discussion, how does the author know which of his/her promotional efforts are paying off?

It’s hard to know. I’ve copied a bunch of free chapters and audio files onto about 350 CDs, designed a pretty label, and handed these things out at half a dozen SF conventions — and don’t have any hard evidence that a single one of those CDs sold a copy of Infoquake. Maybe they have, maybe they haven’t. Maybe my name is now burned in the consciousness of 350 people who will then tell 350 of their friends, and so on, and so on. Impossible to know.

So I’m going to try a little experiment here. I want to hear from science fiction and fantasy readers and consumers. Pick three recent SF/F titles that you’ve purchased, and add a comment telling the world how you heard about them, and what inspired you to buy them. “It was sitting on the bookshelf at Borders next to Robert Heinlein and I liked the cover” counts, as does “one of my friends told me about it” or “Amazon told me that I would like it because I recently purchased Paddy Chayefsky’s Altered States.” Extra points for the out-of-the-ordinary. You can tell me how you found/purchased Infoquake if you’d like, but it’s not necessary; any SF title will do.

And of course, if you say “I bought it because the author was handing out promotional CDs at a science fiction convention,” you get a big ol’ glittery gold star with hearts and kisses drawn around it.

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  1. paul on December 6, 2006 at 11:18 am  Chain link

    1) Sun of Suns – I read the interview Karl Schroeder did with John Scalzi at By the Way and something about it just struck me the right way. Having not received the book yet – the jury is still out on whether this approach will work out for me.

    2) Perdido Street Station – I read (and enjoyed) Iron Council so thought I’d check this one out. I picked up Iron Council because of a review I read in Wired.

    3) Spin – I don’t remember exactly what it was that prompted me to get this, but I’m sure it had to do with gobs and gobs of publicity I’d read about it on the web. This book was something of an anomaly for me because I usually rely pretty heavily on the synopsis – which in this case I found fairly boring. But the positive reviews won out and I’m glad they did, Spin is one of the best books I’ve read in a while.

  2. Matt Jarpe on December 6, 2006 at 11:47 am  Chain link

    1. Spin, Robert Charles Wilson I picked this one up because it won the Hugo, and I’d read Wilson’s previous book Blind Lake and loved it. I waited until it came out in paperback.

    2. Traveller, John Twelve Hawks My father asked me if I’d read it and I hadn’t. He reads a lot, but rarely reads anything science fictional, so I was curious. He had asked me if I had any theories about who John Twelve Hawks really was, and I didn’t, but I Googled it up and was amused by what I found. I waited until it came out in paperback.

    3. Blindsight, Peter Watts I ran into my editor David Hartwell at Capclave and he and Karl Schroeder struck up a conversation about the book while I was helping David set up his table in the dealer’s room. (Hint for new authors: if you see your editor in the dealer’s room at a con struggling to open eleven million cardboard boxes and sort the books inside, give him a hand. You wouldn’t believe how much I learned in that hour of stacking books. Worth the price of the con.) Karl told me that this book redefines the first contact story in the way that “Unforgiven” redefined the western. I bought it at the next opportunity. I didn’t wait for it to come out in paperback.

    Extra credit: I bought Infoquake because I was searching around for a kick ass web designer and I ran across this David Louis Edelman guy. In scrutinizing his mad web skillz at I couldn’t help but notice the hype his own book was generating. I managed to snag the last copy Pandemonium had on the shelves and I’m glad I did. It already came in paperback.

  3. Armchair Anarchist on December 6, 2006 at 7:44 pm  Chain link

    I’m lucky, in that I get sent a fair few free novels these days, and I cane the library where I work for the classics. But a few recent purchases:

    Schroeder/Sun of Suns – placed my order on Amazon (literally) last night after reading the Scalzi interview, but largely off the back of Lady of Mazes ripping my skull apart last month. So, track record this time.

    Sterling/Visionary in Residence – I’d read a few Sterling shorts here and there, largely by accident, and read Distraction (library copy) earlier in the year, but it’s been following the guy’s blogs and online meanderings that encouraged me to actually lay down the cash for this collection.

    Beckett/The Holy Machine – I met Chris Beckett while manning the Interzone table at Eastercon; Roy ‘sand-to-the-Arabs’ Gray told him to pitch the book (which we were selling also) to me, and he nailed it to the wall in about two minutes. Worth every penny, too. (US readers may not have encountered Beckett’s work, but if there is any justice, you will do, someday soon.)

    (These aren’t the three most recent, but most of my actual purchases of recent times are of authors whose work I follow obsessively, so it’s a kind of personal-word-of-mouth thing there – until hooking up with the sf blogosphere, I had virtually no friends who read sf. Which means that I now have more recommendations than I have money or time for … )

  4. Heidi Ruby Miller on December 6, 2006 at 9:08 pm  Chain link

    The Algebraist by Iain M. Banks – The cover art pulled me right in, plus it was a HUGO nominee.

    Magic Study by Maria V. Snyder – I enjoyed Poison Study, plus Maria is a friend and gave me a coupon.

    Thou Shalt Not anthology edited by Lee Howard – I know this is horror, but I didn’t have a third. Anyway, I bought this because it had stories by writers like Michael Arnzen and Larry Connolly in it.

  5. Elizabeth on December 6, 2006 at 9:13 pm  Chain link

    1. Blindsight by Peter Watts. I bought this because of the buzz on my friends list. Editors and writers were talking about it in glowing terms. I am half-finished and loving it, so it was great advice.

    2. Pattern Recognition by William Gibson — I read Neuromancer years ago and so was interested in reading more Gibson. I read a review of this saying it was a great novel. I finally got around to buying it when a copy was in the bookstore. Haven’t started reading yet.

    3. Across the Sea of Suns by Gregory Benford. I bought this because I read his short story “Naturals” in Dozois and Dann’s Beyond Singularity and liked it so much, I bought a novel of his to keep the goodness going. Haven’t started reading yet.

  6. Dave Smith on December 6, 2006 at 9:31 pm  Chain link

    1) 1812 by Eric Flint. I enjoyed 1632 and thought the premise to this book sounded pretty cool.

    2) 1824 by Eric Flint. It’s the sequel to the above book. It came out just as I finished 1812 so I couldn’t resist the temptation to pick up the next one.

    3) Kushiel’s Dart. I keep hearing good things about this book so I finally picked it up.

  7. Sean on December 6, 2006 at 9:38 pm  Chain link

    Most of my speculative fiction reading comes from review copies. (I’m very lucky.) So most of what I actually purchase is either non-speculative fiction or non-fiction.

    1. Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood. I’d read The Penelopiad and a few short stories by Atwood, but none of her other novels. Bought it in an airport bookstore to read on the plane. It was either that or Walking the Bible.

    2. The Rose and the Beast by Francesa Lia Block. Again, read a couple o’ short stories and really, really liked ’em.

    3. Skinny Dipping in the Lake of the Dead by Alan DeNiro. Unlike many publishers, everything Small Beer Press publishes is quality, and I like to support them.

    3 1/2. Catastrophe by David Keys. This one doesn’t count because it’s non-fiction and I took it out of the library. I saw the special on PBS and thought it was awesome, but the book is out of print and copies are selling in the neighborhood of $170. Borrowed but free suits me better.

  8. John League on December 6, 2006 at 9:51 pm  Chain link

    1. The Empire of Ice Cream and The Girl in the Glass, Jeffrey Ford. A friend gave me a copy of Ford’s The Fantasy Writer’s Assistant after I said I had read “Creation” in an anthology and really liked it. I’ve loved everything I’ve read from him and bought whatever I could get my hands on; I have The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque on reserve at the library.

    2. Sun of Suns, Karl Schroeder. I saw Karl Schroeder on a panel at Capclave, and I was very impressed with what he had to say about writing in general and his obvious enthusiasm for science fiction and the fantastic.

    3. The Space Opera Renaissance, David Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer, eds. I was attracted to this one largely because it is an impressive physical specimen. A heavy, dense book with a classy, understated black cover. And it’s space opera, man!

  9. Armchair Anarchist on December 6, 2006 at 11:02 pm  Chain link

    3. The Space Opera Renaissance, David Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer, eds. I was attracted to this one largely because it is an impressive physical specimen. A heavy, dense book with a classy, understated black cover. And it’s space opera, man!

    Ooooh! That arrived in my postbox yesterday, as an early Xmas gift (from the ubiquitous Amazon wishlist) from my mother, bless her heart. And what a hefty doorstep of a book it is, too. That’s my holiday downtime thoroughly filled!

  10. Rob B on December 6, 2006 at 11:27 pm  Chain link

    1- Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman. Neil Gaiman is one of my favorite writers, so naturally I picked up his newest book.

    2- A Cruel Wind: A Chronicle of the Dread Empire by Glen Cook – I read of Jeff VanderMeer’s enthusiasm for the book, I liked the Black Company books I read by Cook and (last but not least) it is a gorgeous looking book.

    3- The World Before by Karen Traviss – I really enjoyed the first two books by this terrific author and need to do some catching up with this series of books.

    ….a bit of word of mouth mixed with good previous experiences with the authors I bought.

  11. John Klima on December 6, 2006 at 11:27 pm  Chain link

    I’m slightly embarassed to say that I don’t buy a lot of genre stuff since I get a lot of things sent to me by publishers, but I’ll try to list things I’ve actually paid for here. (These are all bought in the last few months at the latest)

    1. Blindsight by Peter Watts. Like others on this list, there was such a strong buzz that I felt I shouldn’t miss this.

    2. Accelerando by Charles Stross. I actually read about half this novel as a free download from Stross’ website and decided that I wanted to have a copy on my shelf that was easier to read than the one on my Palm Pilot.

    3. The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service (manga) This was recommended to me by Amazon based on some other manga titles I bought and I really liked it. The story of four university students (and one hand puppet), each with paranormal or unusual skills that find misplaced corpses and make sure they get a proper burial.

    John Klima

  12. Tansy Rayner Roberts on December 7, 2006 at 12:13 am  Chain link

    1. The Virtu, Sarah Monette
    I pre-ordered this through Amazon (almost impossible to get in Australia) because I loved the first one, Melusine. Heard about both repeatedly over LJ, both from Monette’s and those of others.

    2. Dreadful Skin, Cherie Priest (haven’t received this yet)
    Again, heard about it’s existence via LJ, pre-ordered it (from the publishers) after enjoying her first book, which I also heard about via LJ!

    Sensing a pattern??

    3. Beka Cooper – Terrier, Tamora Pierce
    I heard a vague whisper (possibly through LJ but not from Pierce herself as I only discovered her blog afterwards) that the new Tamora Pierce was out. Saw it on the shelves a week or two later, bought it instantly. No thought required. She’s a “buy as soon as you see it” author for me.

  13. Andria Davis on December 7, 2006 at 9:29 am  Chain link

    Empire From the Ashes (David Weber): I sat in on Mr. Weber’s panels at PhilCon 2005, and he was answering a question regarding the trilogy. He started describing some of the background on Jiltanith, and I was hooked. I knew I had to read the books – and I had to have the extra material available in this book.

    StarDoc (S.L. Viehl): Little less complex – I won a copy of Rebel Ice via Ms. Viehl’s blog, and I had to start with the beginning of the series. *-* I entered the contest, though, because I’d been reading her blog, I liked the person I read there, and I wanted to see if her writing was just as enjoyable.

    Alta (Mercedes Lackey): I bought this book because I already had and read Joust, and I wanted to continue the series. I bought the first book, though, because the back blurb was interesting, and she’s one of my favorite authors.

  14. Austin Ross on December 7, 2006 at 4:09 pm  Chain link

    1. Shadow & Claw by Gene Wolfe. Because I’d read “The Death of Doctor Island” and thought it to be one of the best stories I’ve ever read.

    2. More Than Human by Theodore Sturgeon. I’d already read this one through the library and loved it thoroughly, but I picked a copy up for a friend and decided to get one for myself, too.

    3. Morning Child and Other Stories by Gardner Dozois. Because he’s one of the best short story writers around, and this collection includes what might be his best story, “Chains of the Sea.”

  15. Jonathan Bearup on December 7, 2006 at 6:48 pm  Chain link

    1) idlewild by Nick Sagan. Pure name recognition here, mostly related to Carl, but there was almost a compulsion to find out what type of writer the son would turn out to be.

    2) Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. I imagine that the day I spontaniously grow a third eye, on a two-foot stalk, covered in orange fur I will begin to approach the looks I received when I admidtted that I hadn’t got around to reading this book to fellow fans of sci-fi.

    3) As She Crawled Across the Table by Jonathan Lethem. Have a conversation with a ridiculously drunk and incrediblly attractive physics major who happens to be a Lethem fan and try not to buy this book. It simply can’t be done.

  16. Crystal on December 7, 2006 at 8:42 pm  Chain link

    Temeraire: In the Service of the King by Naomi Novik from SFBC
    I bought this book because I like editions that incorporate multiple volumes and because the editor over there (Andrew Wheeler?) said it was good. I have to admit, I read the plot summary and thought it sounded stupid, but the book itself was fabulous, sort of Horatio Hornblower with sentient ships.

    Fortress of Ice by CJ Cherryh
    I bought this book because it’s the sequel to the six-book series I had earlier bought and enjoyed.

    Monument by Ian Graham
    This is his first novel which I bought in hardcover from a remainderman; it wasn’t much risk for $2. It was good and I’ll be looking for his future work…at retail prices.

  17. Jellyn Andrews on December 7, 2006 at 9:11 pm  Chain link

    Eep! I’m officially in the blogosphere! I’ve been included in a blog of someone other than a close friend.

    Just three? Let me see..

    Eastern Standard Tribe by Cory Doctorow — I believe I initially heard about him from the Clarion website. I keep flirting with the idea of going, so I investigate the writers that are going to be at Clarion and Clarion West. No reason for this book in particular, except that I ran across it for a good price.

    Throne of Jade by Naomi Novik — I checked #1 and #3 of this series out of the library, but I bought #2. I read a review in F&SF and it sounded interesting. Then I mentioned it to friends only to be chastised for not remembering that one of them had mentioned the book and author to me before as something I might like.

    Children of Magic by editors Martin H. Greenberg and Kerrie Hughes — I ran across it in Barnes and Noble with gift cards to burn. I like anthologies with interesting themes. I later found out I’d already had this on my Amazon Wish List, so Amazon must have recommended it previously.

    I think this is fairly typical. Unless it’s an author I actively follow, I have to hear about a book two or more times before it sinks in and I finally acquire it. But I can hear about them in many ways.

  18. --E on December 8, 2006 at 6:25 pm  Chain link

    Talyn by Holly Lisle—I was complaining on a writers’ mailing list that I can’t find any [my particular definition of “good”] fantasy. A fellow list denizen suggested this book, and I agreed to read it and report what I thought.

    The Priviledge of the Sword by Ellen Kushner—I read and enjoyed Swordspoint, and after hearing Ellen describe what motivated her to write PotS, I decided to buy it.

    Throne of Jade by Naomi Novik—Friends insisted/browbeat/badgered me into reading the first book in the series. I had a somewhat-better-then-lukewarm reaction, but wasn’t going to buy the second book. Then I read the teaser in the back of the first book, and it made me want to find out what happened next.

  19. Rob Darnell on December 9, 2006 at 2:47 am  Chain link

    Well, I hope these count. They were purchased probably about a year or two ago. Most of the books I’ve gotten since then were given to me and you only want to know about the books I’ve purchased, so…

    1. Black Brillion, by Matthew Hughes–I’d been reading Matt Hughes’s stories in Fantasy & Science Fiction, and I liked them a great deal. I’d also been taking part in discussions on the F&SF message board and I’d gotten to know Matt a bit. I learned that he had a book out, so I bought it.

    2. Four and Twenty Black Birds, by Cherie Priest–John Joseph Adams wrote a review on this book and what he said about it caused my imagination to run wild. I had to buy it as soon as possible, so I did. The minute I finished reading his review, I went straight to Amazon.com and bought the book.

    3. The Curse of Chalion, by Lois McMaster Bujold–Again, I have to give John Joseph Adams credit for bringing this book to my attention. Some time back, we were exchanging emails. I don’t recall what we were talking about exactly, but I guess it had something to do with epic fantasy and he recommended I check out this book, so I did.

  20. Eddie on December 10, 2006 at 8:45 pm  Chain link

    I saw John Scalzi’s The Android’s Dream faceout at my local B&N (misshelved in Mystery).I guess the cover art was partly responsible,although I generally look at all the new mystery releases. The jacket note drew my attention but I didn’t buy it right then. Instead I bought Old Man’s War(which was in paperback).

    I liked OMW a lot so I then bought Ghost Brigades and TAD.

    I also checked out John’s Whatever blog and got turned on to Charlie Stross. I bought Accelerando and The Atrocity Archives.

    Whatever is also how I found your blog.

  21. Lou Anders on December 11, 2006 at 12:42 am  Chain link

    As someone with very little time to read beyond their own slushpile, who also gets a LOT of books for free, I still find I buy 1-2 books a month. The last three I bought were:

    1. Sung in Blood by Glen Cooke – I’ve never read him, don’t know much about him, and the fact that Night Shade is bringing out something like 11 of his backlist in the coming year or so interests me, so I picked up this one because it was a) short and b) packaged in a cool Bob Eggleton cover. It’s length means I stand a reasonable chance of reading it in the next year; it’s cover means if I don’t, I still enjoy owning it.

    2. The Demon & The City, Liz Williams – The Night Shade guys were cool enough to send me the first one, the cover of which I raved about. Now I have to buy the whole series. Haven’t read them yet, but god they are gorgeous. Will read soon(ish) because I have raved about them too loudly not to elsewhere.

    3. Preordered the Jack Vance Treasury – I am underread in Vance (though really enjoy Matthew Hughes, who is often compared). I thought this was an excellent way to get to know Vance’s work and as a lasting, archival quality hardcover, it’s nice for the collection.

    Yes, I tend to buy books that “look good”. As I said, I don’t get much free reading (for pleasure) time, so my book purchases tend to be collectable works. Also, I tend to buy books by writers I don’t know (yet) as opposed to ones I do. As an editor with a slush pile, it is hard for me to read someone whose work I already know that I don’t publish or am unlikely to work with in the near future, as that time is better spent broadening my knowledge base by reading people I haven’t read yet. So I sadly don’t read all the cool ongoing series that writers I love are publishing at other houses, but do tend to buy books from writers I don’t know and am curious about. When I am scouting for new authors to explore, though, I tend to read interviews (Scalzi’s Karl Schroeder has me curious too) and follow on from there. That’s how I discovered what a genius Adam Roberts is. Everyone who likes sensawunder should read his ON.

    The next three books I plan to buy:

    1. The Man from the Diogenes Club, Kim Newman – Monkeybrain publisher Chris Roberson tells me he’s already sold out of this one, so I need to pick it up from Amazon quick to have a first edition (though they are reprinting).

    2. The Android’s Dream, John Scalzi – love Scalzi, this is certainly one of the “talked about” books of the year, and while I am still behind on his OMW series, the cover is calling to me everytime I’m in B&N.

    3. Off Armageddon’s Reef, David Webber – I’ve never read Webber, but having two major chain buyers express interest in this book to me in the last month has me very curious to see why they are so excited.

    I’m also very curious about Sean Williams’ upcoming Saturn Returns, and have promised myself that I will drop whatever I’m doing to read that book when its out.

  22. Ellen on December 11, 2006 at 5:41 pm  Chain link

    1) Ghosts in the Snow by Tamara Siler Jones. Jones is a member of Forward Motion; I used to be one, too, so I try to buy books by FM members when I can (ditto for S.L. Viehl and Wen Spencer, a couple of years ago).

    2) Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman. He’s a long-time favorite writer.

    3) Four and Twenty Blackbirds by Cherie Priest. This book was mentioned positively on a lot of blogs I read, particularly John Scalzi’s. (The sequel will probably be my next purchase.)

    I haven’t yet bought Infoquake, but if I do it will be because of your posts on DeepGenre.

  23. L'Ombre de l'Olivier on December 13, 2006 at 1:34 pm  Chain link

    Why I Bought Those Books

    I just saw this interesting pair of posts asking readers why they bought three recent books and reporting on the results. Well, somewhat late to the party I shall list why I bought the most recent 6 books (it doesn’t matter its the SAME reason for al…

  24. […] I posted a blog piece last week asking people Why Did You Buy That Book?, it turned into a nice little mini-meme. In addition to the discussions here and on my MySpace […]

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