March 11th, 2011

Why I buy the books I buy

A few weeks ago, my editor at MTV Books told me they were changing the title of my July 19 release, LOVE STORY. I did not like the new title they came up with, and neither did my agent, so we and my critique partners came up with 15 new titles that I sent to my editor. And then yesterday she told me the book is going to be called LOVE STORY after all.

I’m so glad. I agree the title isn’t the most original title in the world, but I think it conveys the content of the book perfectly. This is a romantic novel about a young woman who wants to be a romance novelist herself, and whose fictional hero is inspired by her high school crush, which works great--until he finds out.

But generally, I stay out of my publishers’ marketing plans for my books. I don’t have much say, for one thing. They might ask my opinion, but if they don’t like my opinion, they are not going to listen to me. For another thing, I do not have any specialized knowledge of marketing. I know what I like, but I acknowledge that my tastes are kind of offbeat sometimes. So I am not going to second-guess a marketing professional unless I am really alarmed.

This has me wondering. Is there ever cause for alarm? How much does the marketing of a book really matter? I have heard so many horror stories from my writer friends who got a terrible title or cover, and whose new release tanked as a result. I believe it. And yet when I look over at my shelf piled with my most recent book purchases--there they are, shoved there willy-nilly on top of three volumes of the 1972 World Book Encyclopedia (don’t ask)--I have to say that for me personally, in the last few weeks, titles and covers have had absolutely nothing to do with what I’ve bought. In fact, I was surprised when I hunted up some of these covers to post here, because I didn’t notice what the books looked like when I bought them.

STAKED by J. F. Lewis. I’ve been meaning to read this for a while because it sounds awesome, it is edited by my editor, and the author lives here in Birmingham and will be at the Southern Magic luncheon.

THE GUY NEXT DOOR anthology including “Just One Taste” by Victoria Dahl. Vicki is my critique partner, so I read the manuscript of this novella. I bought the book because I wanted to read it again. It’s that good. And it’s the prequel to the book she’s writing now, which will come out in November. Actually I thought she would send me a copy of THE GUY NEXT DOOR for free but I finally gave up.

ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS by Stephanie Perkins. Lots of people were tweeting about how good this book is.

WARRIOR by Zoë Archer. I met Zoë at the Romance Writers of America convention last year. She is very cool. I looked up this book, thinking it might be cool like her, and it has gotten terrific reviews.

On the Kindle: THROAT by R. A. Nelson. My first Kindle purchase! I have finally taken the time to figure out how to use it! And I think this book is going to be a worthy inauguration. R. A. lives here in Alabama, and I met him at the Alabama Book Festival a few years ago. I have been meaning to read his first book, TEACH ME. His second and third, BREATHE MY NAME and DAYS OF LITTLE TEXAS, are both beautifully written, but they’re also completely different from each other. I admire that in an author, and his books are now an automatic purchase for me.

DEADLY FEAR by Cynthia Eden. Cynthia lives here in Alabama too, but I met her at an RWA convention. We are always seated next to each other at the Booksigning for Literacy (Echols/Eden. Or Eden/Echols, depending on whether you ask me or Cynthia). She also came to the Southern Magic luncheon last November, and she promised to send me a copy of this book for free, and I have given up on that too.

I surmise from this list that I am most likely to buy (1) books by local authors, (2) books by authors I have met personally, and (3) books that the author promised to send me for free and then didn’t. So if you want to sell me your book, you should totally try that.

I’m pretty sure these book-buying decisions are a function of my writing career. I didn't always buy books for these reasons. I remember being a teen and buying books. There was no internet, and I didn’t read about teen books in magazines. I didn’t have a credit card, and my town didn’t have a bookstore. Every purchase I made was at B. Dalton in Eastdale Mall on my family’s monthly shopping trip to Montgomery. I did read a lot of adult bestsellers at this age, but those were hand-me-downs from my mom. The books I bought with my allowance were always YA. I chose them because (1) a friend had suggested the particular book or the author in general, (2) I had read other books by the author, or (3) I was browsing and the book looked delicious. But what defined delicious? I have a pretty good memory for my childhood, but I honestly can’t reconstruct what I was thinking when I was standing in front of that bookshelf in B. Dalton in the eleventh grade with my bad perm and my oversized Generra shirt from the boys’ department and my Guess jeans and my high-top Converses.

How about you? Do you think you respond to the marketing campaign for a book in the way the publisher intended? Why do you buy the books you buy?