Monday, November 22, 2010

What Readers Really Think

Last week wound up my posts on Promo School. But none of that matters one flip if we don’t look at promo and writing from the reader’s perspective, does it? With that in mind, I created a survey for readers. This survey was very informal, and there were no right or wrong answers. Just opinions. As someone who worked in the polling industry for a while, I understand the meaning of pure sample, and therefore chose to interview only readers—not authors or aspiring authors. Yes, authors read too. But when they do, they look at the books in a totally different way than someone who doesn’t write. It’s hard to separate the writer from the reader. Can you imagine me asking a writer what they think of their own promotions or writing? I think they might be just a tad biased in what they had to say. So, for the purpose of the survey, I chose readers only.

So I’m going to tackle what readers think of the way we authors promote our books, and tomorrow, Regina Carlysle is going to post on readers and their likes and dislikes on romance writing in general. She’ll be using the opinions in the survey along with her years of writing experience and all the workshop details she’s gathered along the way. Together, these two posts should be packed full of info and lead us into some great discussion. But heads up, some of the material may overlap as what pertains to promotions does at times involve the actual book content.

My initial questions revolved around cover art. Why cover art? Cover art is the first point of sale —a readers first look. Readers definitely think great cover art is a must. We all do, don’t we? But readers also think cover art with a hot man on it is a must in erotic romance. They also want to see quality cover art. Don’t skimp on the photos, don’t skimp on the gloss. They want the whole enchilada. And they want the cover art to reflect what is inside the book. Make the cover art a window that allows them a glimpse into the book.

Readers were split about evenly on the length they prefer for book titles. Short or long, as long as its memorable, they’re happy. Linda particularly likes “sexy” titles. She was also very specific about “sexy” hunks on the covers too. LOL Go Linda!

Let’s talk about Yahoo groups. All but one of the survey respondents belong to Yahoo groups. And almost all of them lurk. Contests tend to bring them out—maybe not to chat—but definitely to enter. Yvonne says, “A lot of the times, I'll participate and if I don't win, after reading the excerpts I'm so excited that I purchase the book.” When asked what they’d like to see more of on Yahoo groups, Mindy responded with, “MORE EXCERPTS!”

Tina at Two Lips Reviews really likes Yahoo groups and says, “I love getting to know the authors, but it’s a double-edged sword. If the author has a crappy attitude I might not pick up their novels ever again.” So authors—definitely watch the attitude. Be courteous and professional on groups. It’s a must. Anne Rainey posted about professionalism this past Thursday.

In addition, here is what Tina wants more of on groups: “I would like to see hour-long author chats with just the author, and blurbs, simply getting to know them.” All of the readers liked the idea of getting to know authors, but it wasn’t essential. Not all will respond to chatting. But they do read what you post apparently. And here’s a bit of a heads up from Regina: “If I had the time, I’d chat all day with the groups that interest me! LOL And I love the Hot pictures, but I don’t like the same subject sent over and over. People should clean up the emails before replying.”

Trim, trim, trim. LOL I’m with Regina. Although, I do forget to trim a lot of times, but that comes more from being out of time and simply not thinking about it than anything else.

And Mindy is a very organized reader it seems. “I do lurk quite a bit and I do read ALL the excerpts. My favorite excerpts I put in a file on my computer so I can look up a particular book I want to buy.” Yvonne prefers promotion days, “…where a certain day is picked and excerpts are posted for new releases”.

When asked if she was more apt to purchase a book from an author if she’d chatted with him/her, Roni had this to say: “If authors are on day chats on the groups. And I like them—Yes I will. But I also know the authors who show up on promo day-drop a dozen emails and hit the road…yeah…not so much running for their stuff.” And I’d say Roni hit the nail on the head there. Promo drops aren’t always the way to go.

So what I found in so far as Yahoo groups are concerned is this:

Readers sometimes chat, especially when there is a contest. They like getting to know authors but they don’t have to know an author to buy from them. Basically, they’re paying attention and reading excerpts. Evidently, all is not lost where Yahoo groups are concerned. And when you’re on and chatting, they’re at work or busy with life and simply reading your excerpts on digest, catching them when they can. It’s convenient. Just the way it’s supposed to be.

What about other ways authors advertise? Tina was very specific. “Tag lines will stick with me and make me wanna go back and get the book.” And Yvonne has apparently seen some signature lines from authors she really liked. Another specific comment came from Regina when asked about promotions that turned her off. “THE AUTHOR SENDING ME HER PROMOTION 10 TIMES!!

So authors, don’t spam. Catchy tag lines win, and pay attention to what you put in your signature lines. Also worth noting is that readers do buy sometimes based on author ads they see on the Internet. Catchy tag lines on banners are a real draw. Blurbs posted along with book covers do it too.

Now let’s touch on review sites. The most interesting thing I discovered is that all who took the survey do subscribe to review site newsletters—most subscribe to several. And all had purchased books based on those newsletter ads. Tina especially likes newsletter ads where the blurb is included. What about review ratings? Overall, none of the readers would buy a book rated lower than 3, although, if the book was in a series they were reading they’d buy it anyway. But they all considered three to be the definite cut off for a review recommendation with some saying they don’t buy books rated less than a 4. But it was interesting to note that the readers surveyed who were not reviewers, didn't look to review sites to always recommend their purchases.

I asked about what they thought of free reads and every single one responded positively. But when I asked if they preferred serial reads—such as posting a chapter or scene on a blog and then more the following day or week, most all of them much preferred to download the free read in its entirety. Personally, I can identify with that. The other day I purchased Destiny Blaine’s newest release, Breakfast by the Sea, (yep, getting in a plug here, lol) and have only had time to read a little here and there. I finally put it down after I’d taken two days to read two chapters and decided to wait until Thanksgiving evening when I had the time and read the book as it should be read. Just me, the book, and no distractions--all in one sitting. lol

Now, readers still read some of the serial reads, but they’re hard to keep up with. Sometimes they simply forget to go back and read or don’t have the time. So those free reads are much easier if they are sitting there on their computers or e readers when they do have the time. Yvonne has this to say about free reads: “I like a variation of both. The serial free reads with the option to download once the free read is finished. Podcasts are also a fun way to do this.”

Blogging or Yahoo groups? There really was no preference here and just as you’d expect, readers only comment when something piques their interest. So put some effort into your blog posts and into what you post on groups and you’re more likely to see reader response. As far as what kind of blog posts appeal? Well, all kinds, really. Humorous seemed to get the biggest mention. Mindy said that she liked character blogs. But just as I said in my Promo School posts, blogging in such a way that you can connect with readers is the key.

The last thing I want to mention is that I did get a few comments on what turned readers off. And I already mentioned “spamming” them with the same promotion. But there were two more things that were mentioned. One: Offering free reads in exchange for votes in a contest. And two: Begging for votes in a contest. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about those two turn offs.

As I said, Regina Carlysle will be here tomorrow with more reader insight. So make sure you stop back by and see what she has to say. I know it’s going to be very interesting because she’s already told me a bit about her post. LOL

Hope everyone who reads, finds the result of this very informal survey as valuable as I did. Authors, AND MOST CERTAINLY READERS, are more than welcome to comment. I hope you do.


Tina Donahue said...

Very insightful post, Tess - you saved all of us a lot of legwork (and hopefully grief). :)

Anonymous said...

I like the info you managed to pick up from the surveys. You seem to have grasped the attitude that I was tryng to convey. It's great to know an author truly cares about our opinion.

Regina said...

I didn't mean to be Anonymous! LOL

Tess MacKall said...

Thanks, Tina. I hope it does help take the mystery out of promotions just a bit.

Tess MacKall said...

Regina! Our star! lol Thanks so much for participating in the survey. I really loved your responses. And yes, ma'am. Your opinion most certainly matters. Not just to me, but to a whole lot of us for sure. It's just rare that we get feedback from authors on a one on one basis. The survey was like we sat down and had a conversation really. Lots of things to think about for sure. So you've been a big help in all this.

And you can be Anonymous all you'll still shine like a star!

C. Zampa said...

I agree with the appreciation of excerpts. I personally love them, and I do just the same as the reader who says she makes a special folder for ones of interest.

I even have two folders. One just labeled 'Books' and the other 'Books-Priority' for those I intend to check out sooner.

Good cross-section of reader feedbcak! I enjoyed it!

Brindle Chase said...

Fantastic article Tess!! Thank you so much. Ahh, but to pick the brains of our readers eh? This is very useful info. 3WW+2 roxxers again!!!

Just for myself, as a reader, the cover and blurb are all I consider, when purchasing a book.

Tess MacKall said...

Oh are definitely prepared, CZ. Wish I was so organized with my list. It's sitting here in a notebook on my desk and sometimes I can't read my own writing. lol

But I read a lot of excerpts too. Really do. And generally that is what makes the decision for me as to which e books to buy.

Tess MacKall said...

Thank you, Brindle. Yep, it's cover for me, then on to the blurb. And I can usually tell from the blurb if I want more. So most of the time I read an excerpt on the author's site or the publisher's site.

Now that's with e books.

With print, it's not so easy with me. I generally want to read the opening of a book. So online, I can't do that. So I usually purchase print books in stores. And I'll open that book and read the first three or four pages to see if it grabs me.

And honestly? If a cover is butt ugly, I'm prejudiced against the book, period. I hate that too, because I know the author had little or no input, but's just a thing with me.

Lily Harlem said...

I loved this post, Tess. It was informative and interesting.

Tess MacKall said...

Thanks for stopping by, Lily. Glad you enjoyed the article.

Regina Carlysle said...

You did such a great job with this,Tess and the information is invaluable. Love hearing from insightful readers. More tomorrow! LOL

Tess MacKall said...

Woot! Yep more tomorrow. Waiting oh sooo impatiently for your post, Ms. Regina. lol

It's going to be great.

Dianne Duvall said...

Very informative and perfect timing since I'm working on promotion right now! Thanks so much!

Tess MacKall said...

Hi Dianne, you and I are in the same boat. I'm working on a marketing plan myself and I've been researching and asking questions like crazy. It really helps to know some of the little things for sure.

Thanks for stopping by.

Molly Daniels said...

I do that when I'm on chats...move excerpts to a folder if I don't have my TBB list handy. This way I remember why I put a certain book on the list in the first place. When I had a printer, I'd print it out and keep it in a safe place. Now I just pull up my dropbox folder:)

Molly Daniels said...

Nice to know there ARE readers who like promo days...sometimes I get tired of all the 'drop and run' promos and just delete the digests w/o reading them. There was a time when I'd skim them, but TIME has gotten in the way.

Tess MacKall said...

God you ladies are so much more organized than me. Molly has a file too. I've got to get a file for these titles. lol I thought my little spiral notebook was working quite well until today. lol

And Molly, time seems to be one of the main reasons that readers aren't chatting on groups. The more authors joined, the more excerpts there were. You can't comment to every single excerpt. There's a lot of material to cover for sure.

So readers take their time with it all these days it seems. Don't blame them.

Dee Dawning said...

Hey Tess, It's me, Dee. Insightful post thanks. So there is hope on the yahoo groups. It's curious that you said the readers put a lot of store into covers. I believe it. And as for having the cover match the story, since I make my own covers, I started making them while writing the story, thus insuring continuity.

Also, I think titles are very important in attracting readers and shorter titles seem to grab readers better than long ones.

As for trimming posts. I suggest leaving the previous post up because some posts don't make sense unless there's a little history.

Last I whole hearty agree on the begging for votes. Give me a braek. I'm supposed to vote for your book without ever reading it. That's audacious.

Rochelle Weber--Author, Editor said...

Thanks so much for the great reader insights. I will definitely keep them in mind when promoting my upcoming books. For now, I'm chatting on loops and just using my banner. If I promote anything, it's a book I've edited that I think is wonderful--not as a promotions company, but as a fan. Anyway, your research in invaluable. Thanks again.

Tess MacKall said...

Hi Dee...I know, it's you! lol And for once we completely agree. My goodness, let's break open a bottle of champagne. lol

First off, I think it's great that you're making covers while writing your story. I wish I could make my covers, but I'm not techno-savvy and definitely not that good with colors and such. I just know what I like. lol

Yahoo groups. You might remember we discussed them in Promo School. Yahoo groups have a lot of value even if readers weren't still hanging around. It's where authors truly network and learn. Yes, there are workshops, but heck, nothing like getting to know your fellow authors and sharing info too.

But readers are still there. What got me to thinking about it was the fact that I'm a group owner myself. I never saw a major exodus of readers from the group. So I emailed quite a few of them personally. And yep, they are still hanging in there, just busy, not as inclined to chat when there's not something really hot piquing their interests. Some have backed off and gone to digest, but they still read excerpts.

And I'm a big advocate for trimming posts--if I can remember--lol--but you don't have to trim the whole thing--leave enough so the next person can get in on the conversation for sure.

Thanks, Dee!!!!

Tess MacKall said...

We all come to terms with promo our own way for sure, Rochelle. I've got several books I've edited that I promote like crazy because I really loved those books. So I understand completely where you're coming from.

If I like an author's work, I'll definitely promote them. Hey, working together is a good way to promote and not really even try. Takes hardly any time at all to toss up a link for a fellow author.

Thanks for stopping by, Rochelle. Come back tomorrow and see what Regina has to say about what readers want in their reading.

Debbie Gould said...

Invaluable information as usual, Tess. I can't imagine the time and effort you've put in to all of this. The Promo School and What Readers Really Think are great tools.
I do have a question though. I used to attend lots of chats and enjoyed chatting with the readers and other authors, but hardly anyone participates anymore. So how do you avoid the promo "drop and run"? If I promo, I always check for feedback, but rarely is there any.
Thanks again for all the time and effort you have put into all this.

Madison Scott said...

This is awesome, Tess. Lots of good information in here. I love knowing what readers really want. It's so hard to know where to spend your time.

Tess MacKall said...

Hi Debbie. Thanks for the kudos, hon.

If you're on a group and you post a promo and you're not posting it over and over and you're chatting, then you're not doing a drop and run. If you are available to talk with readers or other authors about your excerpts, you're doing the right thing.

I think what bothers most group members is when a marketing company drops and runs---although those don't really bother me unless they do like ten or twelve in a row. If they space them out over the day, I'm fine with that. On my own group, promo companies are set to moderation and when they drop, they're released just two at a time throughout the day.

Now the other kind of drop and run is when you open up an email from an author and see like twenty other groups have been posted to with the same promo. Nothing wrong with that---unless you post something to that author and never get a response.

So I wouldn't worry about getting that reputation, hon. You're available to chat. Never hurts to do a couple of non-promo related posts as well.

And I think you can see from what I found out in the survey, that readers mostly lurk. You really have to pique their interest to get them to come out and play. They DO like contests for sure.

But good discussions bring them out too. I still see a lot of that on some groups. It takes time and true effort to cultivate a readership---to also get a group to have active members.

Tess MacKall said...

Thanks, Madison. It is indeed hard to know where you should direct your attention. Sometimes I feel like a hampster on one of those little wheels. lol

But slow and steady--consistency is the mark of a winner.

Roni said...

I'm not a contest fan, any contest for that matter. I grew up the daughter of a coupon queen and I had to enter every contest and rebate promo for her, under penalty of death. That scarred me for life and when I was walking to school in 1978 I made a vow to never enter another contest again. I should add that this was in nyc and there was a blizzard that winter and I was wearing a Green Giant hat and scarf set that mom got from a contest. So I live in fear of winning.

Rita Hestand posted about writing to people in Hells Kitchen for insight. I lurk, I read, I'm in nyc, I know the Kitchen mindset, I know the Westies. Did I participate-no, did I connect-yes. So I bought it.

Lots of things hook me, a post, a picture, a blog. Sometimes I read that an author is having a rough patch, now when I look her up I'm bound to find something I like. For me it's not one method more than the other.

I don't put much stock in reader reviews, too easy to pump that up.

Thank you

Fiona said...

Thanks so much for posting this to help all of us out in our never-ending quest for the Holy Grail: readers! Sometimes I get discouraged when my blogs get no response at's nice to know that at least someone is reading them. To me, writing a book is like inviting someone to come have a look inside your brain, kick the tires, sit a spell. It's nice to know that some will like it enough to want an extended stay, by reading one of my books!

Anonymous said...

The comments on this post are almost as fascinating as the post itself! Amazing work, Tess. I will have this info in mind as I continue to learn the ropes of e-promotions. I feel like a minority since my genre is historical but I keep at it. That really is the key. Great job on this post.

Natalie Dae said...

Fabulous post, Tess. And a big thank you to the readers who participated. It's great to know exactly what readers want, because after all, we're writing the books for them. It's also lovely to know that our posts on groups are being read. Brilliant!


Janice said...

Great info, Tess. I've been saving your promo school post and now this one too.



Tess MacKall said...

Roni, thanks so much for helping out with the survey. You were my last survey and my lone dissenting reader on contests. lol Yep, out of all the surveys you were the only one who didn't enter contests. Don't blame you. lol

I notice you mention the word "connect" and that's a word I've been trying to hammer home with authors. You have to make a connection with your readers. And that can be done in so many ways and there is just no rhyme or reason as to which way you WILL connect. It can start with the cover, or blurb, or excerpt, or just something funny you said on a group or on a blog.

Thanks for all your help, hon.

Tess MacKall said...

There's a lot of lurking going on, Fiona. Try changing the tone of your blog posts. See what kind of blog works better for you. Also, look at the places you promote your blog. and try for catchy titles for that blog so when you put that title in the subject line of your post to groups or wherever you promote, the title gets noticed.

I've seen a lot of authors simply put in their subject lines something like this: Blogging at XYZ Blog today. Well, that's nice, but did it really make anyone want to go read the post? Not me.

I need some oomph to make me click. lol

Good luck with promo, hon. What works for one, may not work for another. Just keep trying and changing until you find what clicks for you.

Tess MacKall said...

I love historical, Liz. I'm in the process of writing my first. Nervous about that too.

And I so agree, the comments are amazing here at 3WW Plus Two. I hope you've been back through all of the Promo School posts this month. There was a whole lot of great info in the comments.

Tess MacKall said...

Hi Nat,

I really enjoyed reading all the reader surveys. While I wasn't completely surprised, it felt good to actually see in black and white what I'd been thinking.

It's a big sigh of relief to know that readers really are on groups and reading excerpts.

Tess MacKall said...

Hiya Janice,

Glad to see you, hon. I'm glad the posts are of some use to you. Basically, I'm just gathering information and trying to figure all of this promo stuff out right along with everyone else. So if anything I've said helps at all, I feel like my mission has been accomplished for sure.

Molly Daniels said...

I'm with Debbie: If I take the time to post an excerpt, I check back throughout the day to see if anyone responds. It's discouraging when there's no feedback.

But if what I'm hearing is true, and readers are simply lurking and making note of books/excerpts/author names, then I'll resume promo-ing my work, instead of just on choice sites and times.

Tess MacKall said...

Well, I guess you could say that the vast majority are lurking, Molly. But a lot of those in my survey still come out and comment.

It's our responsibility to make ourselves available for a possible comment.

When all is said and done, there just aren't any easy answers. It's what I've always called PROMO HELL. lol

Shoshanna Evers said...

Great post Tess!

Kayelle Allen said...

Really good post. I'm making notes and checking them twice. LOL

Thanks for the hard work, Tess. I'm so grateful to those readers who took part in the survey and let us know what they want. Reader opinions are #1 to me. Without readers, I'd just be writing a journal. Thank you to all of you!

Tess MacKall said...

Thanks, Shoshanna.Oops, just now catching this comment. Sorry. Been offline right much with an upper respiratory infection. So glad you liked the post, hon

Tess MacKall said...

Hi Kayelle, You slipped in on me when I wasn't looking. LOL

I learned right much from the survey. And I also had some suspicions confirmed as well.

Like you, I think that readers and what they think is number one.