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So What Does It Take For Someone To Buy A Book?

That's a question every writer, agent, and publisher wants to know. Those professionals have oftentimes spent a ton of money trying to figure it out. Over the last few years, with the advent of self-publishing, I've asked that question of myself over and over.


Tip: It's not a WRITER'S first job actually to ask what will sell a book. It's a writer's job to figure out what the writer wants to write. You can build a case for writing what is "potentially" successful based on current sales out there, but even if you're write, making yourself write a novel for purely mercenary reasons is incredibly hard.


A writer has to WANT to write a book. There's no escaping that.


We're going to look at things from the buyer's perspective, though.


There's a book I noticed when it first came out in July 2013:

The thing that first interested me, of course, was the long, leggy woman on the cover. I happen to like those kinds of covers. I grew up with them when I was a kid and a young man haunting used book stores and embarking on the education I needed to become a working writer.


Covers like those by Robert McGinnis, who is totally legendary in his field, come to mind every time I think of crime fiction. Or long, leggy women.


So the book had that going for it. Also, another thing, totally out of everyone's control (unless David Gordon is NOT the author's true name) is that on first blush, I read the name as DAVID GOODIS, another legend in the field of crime fiction from those days.


So when I found out the novel was NOT by David Goodis, I was less inclined to pick it up, but I was still curious. I read the synopsis and was further intrigued.



"When Sam Kornberg’s wife, Lala, walks out on him, he’s an unemployed used-book store clerk and failed experimental novelist with a broken heart. Desperate to win her back, he takes a job as assistant detective to the enigmatic Solar Lonsky, a private eye who might be an eccentric and morbid genius or just a morbidly obese madman.

It’s a simple tail job, following a beautiful and mysterious lady around L.A., but Sam soon finds himself helplessly falling for his quarry and hopelessly entangled in a murder case involving Satanists, succubi, underground filmmakers, Hollywood bigshots, Mexican shootouts, video-store geekery, and sexy doppelgangers from beyond the grave. A case that highlights the risks of hardcore reading and mourns the death of the novel—or perhaps just the decline of Western Civilization.

Mystery Girl is a thriller about the dangers of marriage and a detective story about the unsolvable mysteries of love, art, and other people."


I still wasn't sold, but I was curious. So this was an almost sale. The "eccentric and morbid genius or just a morbidly obese madman" made me think of Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin, the heroes of Rex Stout's wonderful series.


I'm pretty sure that was an unfair comparison, but I'm not always in control of my imagination. I'm just responsible for what I do with it.


Unfortunately, back in 2013, I DIDN'T pick up the book. I was curious, saw some familiar touchstones, but the price point stopped me. The book was just too expense for an unknown quantity. Also, I don't believe it was an ebook at the time, and, quite frankly, I'm all out of shelf space.


And speaking of shelf space, permit me to plug a former student's new podcast about books: Lacking Shelf Control.


Today, I happened across another book David Gordon has done.



It has another crime story vibe that may result in me picking it up.


"In David Gordon’s diabolically imaginative new thriller, The Bouncer, nothing and no one is as expected—from a vial of yellow fragrance to a gangster who moonlights in women’s clothes.


Joe Brody is just your average Dostoevsky-reading, Harvard-expelled strip club bouncer who has a highly classified military history and whose best friend from Catholic school happens to be head mafioso Gio Caprisi. FBI agent Donna Zamora, the best shot in her class at Quantico, is a single mother stuck at a desk manning the hotline. Their storylines intersect over a tip from a cokehead that leads to a crackdown on Gio’s strip joint in Queens and Joe’s arrest—just one piece of a city-wide sweep aimed at flushing out anyone who might have a lead on the various terrorists whose photos are hanging on the wall under Most Wanted. Outside the jailhouse, the Fed and the bouncer lock eyes, as Gordon launches them both headlong into a nonstop plot that goes from back-road gun show intervention to high-stakes perfume heist and manages to touch everyone from the CIA to the Flushing Triads. Beneath it all lurks a sinister criminal mastermind whose manipulations could cause chaos on a massively violent scale.


For readers who like a heavy dose of fun with their murder, this is crime fiction at its freshest, from a virtuoso of the “darkly comic, stylish literary thriller” (Associated Press)."


But the price point is currently holding me off on this one as well. However, I noticed that this was the author of MYSTERY GIRL (because I research authors to find out what they've done, part of the never-ending curiosity I'm cursed with) and discovered that MYSTERY GIRL was out in ebook format--for only $1.49!


I jumped on it. So we'll see if my thriftiness was well-invested.


What did I learn? Ever since I started getting into trouble, that's a question I've always asked myself. Usually that followed a paddling, but I've since applied the question to pretty much everything, including why books sell.


Here's my list:

1) A reader has to be in the mood to read--I am, college is out for the holiday break and I intend to make the most of it reading, watching television, and writing. Maybe even trying to figure out how to do a blog/website better.

2) covers--you can never discount them.

3) good advertising copy that entices a reader--you won't get EVERY reader, but you will get those interested in the market you're writing for

4) familiarity with other products--intentional or otherwise--never discount luck

5) price point


With all of those things in mind, as I go forward into the new year, I'm going to write books/novellas that interest me, find readers ready to read, get good covers made, do my best to write intriguing advertising copy/synopses, know my audience, and hit a favorable price point with the stories.


All of this is something we've all read before, but it really struck home today. Again. : )


Before you go, let me show you the German cover for this book:



That cover, for whatever reason (I suspect it's the knife that looks so ordinary where a switchblade would have looked more deadly and elegant) just didn't work for me.

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