Survey: How did you hear about the last book you purchased?

Over the past couple of days we’ve been having some good discussions about paid reviews on Amazon, and the credibility of online reviews. Most people said that Amazon reviews don’t affect their purchasing decisions. So I started wondering: Nowadays, how do people hear about the books they purchase? Is it mostly by word of mouth, blogs, reviews? Or some other way?

I thought I’d start an unscientific survey. Tell us the title of the last book you purchased, and describe how you heard about it.  (I know there’s got to be a way to insert an actual poll in this post, but I have no idea how to do it. So tell us in the comments!) Has the way you hear about new books changed much over the past five years?

My most recent book purchase was A WORLD ON FIRE: Britain’s Crucial Role in the American Civil War, by Amanda Foreman. I heard about it on BOOK TV (It’s one of my favorite go-to sources for reviews and author interviews. I often grab my Kindle and buy something immediately after watching a book discussion there).

What was yours?

34 thoughts on “Survey: How did you hear about the last book you purchased?

  1. Hi
    I bought Say You’re Sorry by Michael Robotham today. I saw him interviewed on TV and it sounded like the sort of book I would like, so when I saw it I read the first couple of pages and bought it.

  2. The last fiction I purchased was The Stand by Stephen King. I don’t read his books generally because it’s not my cup up of tea, but in a writer’s group locally and in various blogs online it kept coming up. So I bit.

    Non-fiction was The New Abs Diet for Women. That one I discovered at the library, and found it so useful that I decided to buy my own copy. It works that way for me a lot with non-fiction works.

  3. I love this question, Kathryn.

    I bought two books, actually, THE COMPLETE ADVENTURES OF TARZAN by Edgar Rice Burroughs (for my wife, who to my delight has discovered the series which saved my sanity in my early teen years) and WE ARE THE HANGED MAN by Douglas Lindsay. I discovered the latter via an e-mail newsletter from Blasted Heath, one of my favorite publishers.

    Just as a side note, virtually every book which I have purchased in the last year has been the result of 1)Facebook notices 2) e-mail newsletters or 3) suggestions.

  4. I bought Cascade, which is book 2 of The River of Time series by Lisa T. Bergren. The reason I purchased it is because I kept hearing people talk about book 1 and it was free on Kindle. So I downloaded, read it, loved it, and immediately purchased book 2.

  5. The last book I bought was just a couple of hours ago, “Reckoning for the Dead”, by Jordan Dane. It seems like I’ve come to know her so much from The Kill Zone that now I want to read her books. I read her “No One Heard Her Scream” some time ago, and just realized I hadn’t read anything else by her.

    Most fiction I buy for the Kindle came from recommendations from the blog entries or comments here at TKZ.

  6. Sounds like word of mouth and non-Amazon reviews are definitely in the lead! Dave, I’m glad TKZ has prompted some good reads from JD and others! I also have bought quite a few books after discussions here in the Comments. Kate, your experience shows how putting a book on Amazon for free for a short time can lead to new readers down the line! Joe, I wasn’t into TARZAN as a teen, but I’ll never forget “BOMBA, BOY OF THE JUNGLE,” lol! I read the entire series one summer when I was ten years old. Interesting that you mention Facebook notices–those are the updates from friends and writers’ pages, I’m assuming, rather than the paid ads?

  7. BK, I hope you enjoy THE STAND. It’s one of my favorite books by Stephen King. You mentioned a strong aspect of word of mouth–when a title or author keeps being mentioned over time, eventually we feel compelled to check it out!

  8. Linda, I find TV interviews to be a great way to learn about authors and books. I wish BOOK TV covered more fiction for that reason, but I always learn about great non-fiction there.

  9. Correct, Kathryn, my source on Facebook is updates, as opposed to ads, which I never look at.

    I didn’t read the Bomba books, but my brother and I watched the movies on Sunday afternoon!

  10. Well, the last book I purchased was Field Gray by Phillip Kerr, but that’s because I’m a huge fan of Kerr…

    Other than that, it’s a real cornucopia: newspaper, TV, friend recommendation…

  11. Kathryn — it’s probably also useful to have commenters say whether they’re writers or “civilians” (normal non-writing readers), and a rough age range.

    I suspect writers are now so looped into the online world of writing that they’re no longer representative of the reading population in general. I’ve never met a civilian who admits to reading author or publishing blogs.

    The age range tells us how people of different ages find books. It’s probably different from one age cohort to the next.

    I’ll start: writer, 50s. I bought Gone Girl and Charles McCarry’s The Tears of Autumn, the former because of repeated mentions in print outlets, the latter because the author’s name came up in a non-writing blog post about writers who do espionage well. In general, I still find books through newspaper and magazine reviews or news stories.

  12. Lance, good point–we writers aren’t exactly ‘normal’ readers, lol! I definitely am old enough to subscribe to old-fashioned newspapers, and look to the NYT, among others, for reviews; my 20-something daughter gets a lot of book tips from NPR. We both seem to be drawn more to non-fiction as readers.

  13. And here’s another age group example–my mother, Mimi, age 84, is a Kindle addict. She’s what I would call a ‘block’ reader. Once she discovers an author she likes, she systematically works her way through their entire body of work. Mimi is not a professional writer, but loves to write up family history. I inherited a love of reading from her.

  14. oh dear…do Kindle books count?

    I seldom ready for pleasure until I go on vacation and then I devour stuff like a starving dog. So here is what I bought and why:

    Ghosts of Belfast by Stuart Neville. Loved it
    Gone by Mo Hayter. liked it alot.
    Insomnia by Stephen King. Gave up after 100 pages.
    The Piano Tuner by Daniel Mason. Loved it.
    Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. Loved it.

    Stuff bought for big trip to France in October:

    Gone Girl
    Our Man in Havana Graham Greene
    Beautiful Ruins Jess Walter

    Only thing that unites these books is that each was recommended to me. It is the only way I buy stuff anymore. Life is too short, money too tight. And you can’t trust anyone these days to tell you the truth…except your friends.

    Word of mouth is everything I guess!

  15. I think there’s a huge difference between how you hear about a book and what makes you buy the book. I hear about lots of books from blogs, friends, family, or various news media. Or I go in search of a book for a purpose, such as the two art books and the two software how-to books I purchased to help me complete a specific project with new software.

    When I make a decision to buy, I use the blurb, a quick run through the posted reviews (mostly the one and two star reviews to see what people complained about), and a glance at the insides to see the quality of the writing or whether it covers what I’m looking for.

    Unless potential purchasers are using the ratings to initiallly sort books before they begin to use other criteria to make a purchase decision, I don’t think a lot of readers first ‘hear’ about a book based on the ratings and reviews. Something else is causing them to investigate, whether that’s a recommendation from a friend or an awesome thumbnail that piques their curiosity.


  16. Our Man in Havana sounds like a fun read, Kris. And France in October sounds heavenly! We’ll be going to Hong Kong in November, and possibly China–it’ll be my first trip to Asia, so I’m psyched. Anyone have reading suggestions for a trip to Asia?

  17. Kathy, you make good points about the decision-making process. Amazon’s ‘Recommended For You’ is eerily on target for me. From my past purchases and browsing, they always throw up books that catch my interest. They must have a great algorithm for making those recommendations. Maybe FB should do something like that, rather than using the paid ads. Then FB could just take a commission on the click-through.

  18. Kathryn,
    Are you like me, do you try to read a book that takes place wherever you are going?

    Haven’t read much set in Asia. The Piano Tuner is set in colonial Burma (now Myanmar)…absolutely luminous writing and amazing characters. It’s about a shy England piano tuner who gets a strange request to go to Burmese jungle to fix the piano of aa mystery army surgeon. It was a NYT notable book and it was a debut. I have seldom read a book that so immersed me in a world and lives.

  19. word of blog mouth & friend reviews

    reading Legend by Marie Lu
    it’s awesome

    reviews are hard to read into, some are too good, some too bad. i like reviews w/positives & negatives, they’re honest and no book is perfect =)

  20. Last book: The Grifters about five minutes ago because it is the Nook Deal of the Day for $ 1.99

    Before that: The Snowman by Jo Nesbo; I am a fan of Nesbo and the Harry Hole series (although I found this entry a bit weak)

    Last Hard Copy book in a bookstore: Two were purchased simultaneously: The Devil’s Whisper by Miyuki and Shinjuku Shark by Arimasa Osawa, approximately a month ago. Why these? While looking at various titles online I came across Miyuki Miyabe, and her work sounded appealing and I decided I’d like to try reading something of hers. Almost nothing of hers is available in e-book, so I popped into University Bookstore in Seattle and lo and behold they had the one volume. Unable to leave a bookstore with only one book I looked around a bit even though I only had a few minutes to spare. I picked up Shinjuku Shark, read the cover copy, which sounded interesting, plus a few pages inside, and it was on sale and then it was in my purchase pile.

    So different methods for each of the above, nothing ever from Amazon, and online reviews didn’t factor into any of the purchases.

    Kathryn – Are you looking for books set in Asia by Asian authors, or just general books to read on your trip? If the former you might try Natsuo Kirino for some seriously dark crime fiction. Otherwise my favorite Japanese writer is Haruki Murakami. Go for his earlier stuff, The Windup Bird Chronicle, Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, Dance Dance Dance and A Wild Sheep Chase.

  21. The last book I purchased was Thirteen by Kelley Armstrong. I follow her work so was waiting anxiously for the conclusion of her series. Since I’ve started reviewing books and blogging, I try to keep up with certain publishers, but also once I review a book that i really like I tend to stalk – er follow that author’s work. Other than that, other blogs or (my absolute favorite but I tend to overspend with this method) walk around a bookstore. I don’t seek out reviews other than the blogs that I follow.

  22. Catfriend and Kris, I guess I had in mind Asian settings and characters, something a la SHOGUN, perhaps, though I realize that covers pretty wide territory. Starr, I’ve been known to get anxious when waiting for an author’s next book. I want to send them a note saying “Write faster!” ๐Ÿ™‚

  23. I got hooked on C.S. Harris historical mysteries thanks to a critique partner. I am really liking this series. To return the favor, I loaned her a book to get her hooked on a series that I like.
    As for purchasing books, sometimes I’ll read about it online somewhere and that will catch my interest. Or I’ll try a freebie and like that one and go on to look up the author’s other works.

  24. I bought Sechin Tower’s Mad Science Institute & downloaded it to my ereader. It’s a self-published book from an author I met on Twitter. His background profile looked interesting & his author writing voice is really great, very entertaining. I’m in the middle of it now.

    Although his book is very cross genre, he’s got an aptitude for YA as well as a flair for romance & has some similarities to Rick Riordan type books. I really like his style.

    Sechin didn’t hard sell me at all. I saw his profile on Twitter after he followed me. I checked out his book & bought it.

  25. On the TKZ recommendation of Joe Moore, I bought and am devouring:
    Ace Atkins-Crossroads.
    So much so that I am planning a drive through the Mississippi delta this weekend to look for some of the places he writes about.
    And now I guess I am about to purchase:
    The Piano Tuner
    Now that is the power of recommendation!

    Victoria Allman
    author of: SEAsoned: A Chef’s Journey with Her Captain

  26. Usually I ask friends for book recommendations. If I know someone who’s written a book, I get it at the library first. I only buy a book if I know I’m going to reread it, because shelf space is at a premium in our tiny apartment. Ebooks are nice (and easy on the wallet), but for archival purposes and possible book signings, I want a physical copy.

    The last ebook I bought was the Windrider Saga by Becky Minor, because she posts on a writers’ forum I attend and she’s very nice.

  27. I read reviews in the Economist and Nature, and general purchase from positive reviews in those periodicals.

  28. The last new book I bought was Every Day by David Levithan, which I think I saw mentioned in an Amazon email about upcoming new releases. But, the reason I bought it was because I’d read and loved other books by him before — Amazon was just the alert that there was a new one coming out.

    I do look at the reader reviews on Amazon, but just as background. 5 star reviews on Amazon would never convince me to buy something I’d never heard of. I do look at these however, if I’ve read a book I enjoyed and am wondering whether to read something else by the same author and if so, which book.

  29. The last book I bought was a Zoe Sharp novel. However, my most recent discovery was “Murder Takes Time” which, I hate to say, I found in an annoying banner ad on The ad would double in size when the mouse rolled past it. I found it so annoying that I decided to read the book just to see how bad it was. It was the best book I’ve read in weeks.

    Peace, Seeley

  30. For the past 15 years, I have purchased most of my books based on reviews from Word of Mouth! Independent book seller web sites are also helpful( is how I found your web site). I like Book TV however, there are very few fiction books discussed. Recently I read the website from Library of Congress.

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