You Tell Me: What Sells a Book

You Tell Me: What Sells a Book

Posted by on Jan 23, 2013 in You Tell Me | 13 comments

When it comes to books, it’s almost impossible to discern the ‘it’ factor for any given title. The reason being, to be cliche, is the missing link. The missing link isn’t just luck. You don’t just happen to sell a million copies. You don’t just happen to make it on the New York Times Bestseller lists, or the Amazon Top 100. That doesn’t just happen because of luck. Sure, if your an author and it happens to you, you’re lucky, but that isn’t the only factor. That book has something  about it that pulls readers in, and it continues to do so. There is something inside the story that does that, and word of mouth starts moving and before you know it, you’re getting “lucky.”

But before there was luck, before there was word of mouth, there was something else. Something that made people pick up that book. Not everyone will have a built in audience, so it isn’t always just past readers. Because really, if you had millions of readers for a past series, chance are you were already a bestselling author. Based on some bestsellers, we can agree that it isn’t just positive reviews. So what was it that made readers pick up that book in the first place?

For me personally, I pick books like I pick movies; if I like the cover, I’ll pick up the book and read the synopsis. For me, synopsis does it all. That is the factor that decides if I want the book, but the cover has to get me there.

It’s worth noting that if everyone is talking about a specific movie or book, I’m going to check it out. But I won’t buy it for the simple fact that other people love it. That love and word of mouth gets me to the book, but after that, usually, it’s the cover and the synopsis that hold the tipping scale. The reason for this is, I can respect the fact that taste is subjective. What everyone loves, I may not like. And this goes for everything. Movies, books, food, etc. So, at some point, it all boils down to our judgement.

So for me, cover and synopsis are essential factors. Do they ignite the desire in me? The desire to know more, the desire to meet the characters, the desire for me to experience this journey? If yes, then I’m buying it. But what about you?

You Tell Me: What sells a book to YOU? Is it the cover, synopsis, price, reviews, word of mouth, where it’s ranked on the charts? Something totally different perhaps? Maybe it’s a book trailer or a marketing website. It’s discussion time today, so tell me what it takes for you to click purchase?


  1. I can honestly say that for the most part I am the same as you. It takes a cover to get me there. That’s how I first found Exiled. Cruising through 100 kindle books and your cover just popped. I knew immediately that I wanted to read the synopsis. And the synopsis sold me. So yes usually that is it for me.

    And I would love to say that I have never read a book or bought a book because it was popular, but I have. Granted I won’t usually pay full price for that book unless the first two items above got me there. Usually I wait until they are on sale or I can borrow them or get them for free.

    And I can say that recently I bought a book simply because of the book trailer. Plain and simple, it blew me away. And I know I wouldn’t have bought it based on my first two factors. The cover didn’t do it for me and frankly neither did the synopsis. But the trailer was great.

    So usually I go with the cover and synopsis like you. I go with the cliche and totally judge a book by its cover.

    • Unless it’s someone I know has really similar tastes to me, I have to leave it up to the synopsis and cover. I mean, there are a lot of readers out there whose opinions I trust, but I also know we have very different reading tastes, so I have to be wary of that too.

  2. I will admit, I first look at the cover and then if that catches my eye I will read the Synopsis of the book. But then there are others that have to do with what other reviewers have already said about it.

    • Do you mean fellow reviewers you know and trust, or the overall opinion of a book and it’s rating and reviews from the public?

  3. I have to agree that the cover makes a difference– there are just too many books on the shelf to read the back of every one. The cover is a hook! Now, on Amazon it may be a bit different. In person I grab covers I like and read the back, but on Amazon I go by subject, stars, and recommendations of related books. I can get caught in a loop reading synopsis of “people who bought this book also bought…” for hours.

    • That’s true. That’s one of the things I love about going to the bookstore. The covers look so good on a physical book, it’s nice to hold them and admire them. Much more so than a small thumbnail image on a website. I can see why your approach would vary depending where you were at. It’s difficult to shop on Amazon or B&N and not go through some of the reviews and ratings. It’s the first thing you see.

  4. Definitely covers and synopsis! Here’s the deal, I can almost always tell from reading they synopsis whether I’ll like the book. Everyone once in a while, I’ll read something just because a friend recommended it but mostly the book calls to me. No call? No read.

  5. For me, it’s definitely the cover 1st, then the synopsis. The only other way that I’ll purchase a book is via recommendation from someone who knows my taste and their taste is similar to mine. I had never heard of The Hunger Games series, neither was I familiar with that author, but my granddaughter went on and on and on about those books and I got the 1st in the series and; needless to say, I was sold! Now, someone like V.C. Andrews or Anne Rice, I’m usually sold on the name alone (having already read a few copies of their work), but I’ve learned that a big mistake. Some books they write can be awesome, while others (for me) pure flops. For example, I love Anne Rice Vampire series, but I hated the Witches’ series! So, when all is said and done, it’s going to be the cover and the synopsis to win me other: There’s no getting around it!

    • That’s fair! So the authors whose books you would buy just because they wrote it, did the story not appeal to you, or did you have an issue with the way it was written?

  6. Usually its reviews that convince me. Reviews from people who I trust but also just the way things are stated in it. It can even be a negative review because if the review is written well it may be clear to me that the issue they had may be the reason I would love it. But that’s the joy of getting to know certain reviewers well and knowing their taste and style.
    For random books its the cover that urges me to pick it up and if it sounds good I will get it.

    • Good call, Candace!

      I should write an addendum, because there are a few reviewers whose reviews are written in a way that truly appeals to me. I trust them, and even their negative reviews tell me if I’d like a book. You’re right on that one. Because of that, there have been titles I’ve purchased that didn’t grab me visually via the cover, nor verbally via the synopsis, that I’ve I really enjoyed, simply because I trusted that reviewer’s opinions.

  7. While I do agree with the ‘cover-synopsis’ reviews, for me, the third element is the name of the book. Take Exiled for example… just the title, someone kicked out of somewhere usually for an unjust reason creates the idea of an underdog, or someone to root for right out of the gate. Or, Conan, … if you don’t know of him first thought is “Who’s Conan” or Gardens of the Moon… say what? I think for the first book in a series it’s important to have the ‘hook’ be the name of the book. “The Bone Palace”, ok, I’m in.. but it’s the second book in the series (missed the first one The Drowning City??) so now, I have to look a little harder at the first book to see if I want to invest in the series (that’s what I call it, investing myself and my time in a book series. Gladiatrix, sold…. Sometimes it’s what is the series called “The Protector” yes please, The Iron Druid, I’m down, The Tide Lords… awesome. So I guess for me, I do like a great cover (Release) but I find often times it is really the title of the book or the subject matter of the series. Great topic, Matthew.

    • That’s a really great point, Mark! Now that I think about it, the title does factor into it a lot. I can be drawn to check out a book’s cover and synopsis just by someone mentioning a title that I find provoking and/or intriguing. Like my previous points, I will personally ultimately decide based on the cover and synopsis, but there are times when the title is enough to make me take a look at a book.

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