My Thoughts on a Survey about “How Readers Pick What to Read Next” (This is a Post for Writers)

I love Written Word Media. It’s my favorite place to run ads. I use their Freebooksy ad option a couple times a year. They have other promotional opportunities, too, but that’s the one I’m familiar with, which is why I mention it.


Once in a while, they will run surveys and share their findings to authors. These findings can help authors with marketing. I thought this particular survey was interesting, so I decided to add my two cents from the viewpoint of a writer. This survey was on how readers pick what to read next.

Without further ado, here we go…

1. A book’s description and cover trumps the reviews.

This is good news since we can’t control who reviews our books or what those people say in the reviews they leave. If your book gets enough readers, you will end up with someone who doesn’t like it. Why? Because taste is subjective, and there isn’t a single person in this entire world who likes every thing they come across. Since reviews aren’t the key factor in whether readers take a chance on a book, this should give us all a sigh of relief.

We can control the book description and the cover. Between these two, book descriptions were more important than covers. That tells me that our time will be best spent tweaking and improving our book descriptions. Some authors have an easy time with book descriptions. I don’t. I struggle with them. I’ve even had outside help. But if you’re going to devote time and attention to one thing to get a reader’s attention, the description is where you want to focus your energy.

2. A reader’s enjoyment of a book depends on the story.

Okay, at first glance, this is a “duh” statement, right? But when you consider the debate of writing to market vs. writing for passion, this takes on a whole new dimension. The article from Written Word Media specifically says this, “Books with robust plots and interesting storylines will resonate with readers.”

The keywords here are “robost plots” and “interesting storylines”. In other words, these are not cookie-cutter stories that have been done to death. Books written to market are cookie-cutter stories. The reason they are cookie-cutter stories is that the authors writing them are piggybacking off of tropes and trends that are popular. These authors are not going to take risks. They are going to play it safe. In the long run, safe is boring.

Writers who embrace passion will take risks. They will venture into new territory. They will turn stereotypes upside their head. They will pick storylines and characters that aren’t done all the time. They will create the stuff that is far more memorable in the long run. They will offer something different and fresh. In my opinion, they will create the stories that readers will enjoy the most.

Now, you still have the issue of getting people to take a chance on you, but once you do, and if you deliver a story that a reader loves, that reader will buy your other books. It’s not about getting into a bunch of people’s hands as soon as you publish something. It’s about building a loyal fanbase by offering something of value. This is why I think it’s key to embrace passion. If you write a book that excites you 100%, chances are the right reader will be 100% excited by it, too. Writers who are motivated by writing to the market are writing for other people, and they will not be 100% invested in their work. They might get enjoyment out of it, but there is a world of difference between the quality of your story when you write for yourself (which is passion) verses writing for money (which is the market).

3. Average review score is important.

The average is how the book rates overall. It’s not looking at the individual reviews but at all of them together. The way you get a good average review score is by getting enough readers who enjoy your specific genre to read your book. There are three hassle-free ways of getting reviews for your book.

One, offer the book for free. This comes with some risk. Readers who don’t even like your genre will grab the book. Don’t ask me why, but I’ve seen this happen because they’ll leave reviews like, “I don’t even like this genre”, when they leave the 1 or 2-star review. Those reviews aren’t helpful because they come from people who don’t like the genre. But they will leave stuff like that, so be prepared. Overall, though, this has been the best way I’ve been able to boost up the number of reviews on my books.

Two, use a site like Booksprout that will allow you to post ARCs of your book that people can read with the expectation they’ll leave a review. This has boosted my review count. Not everyone who claims an ARC will leave a review, but some do. I believe you can block people from getting future ARCs if they don’t leave a review. The nice thing about Booksprout is that it delivers the ARC to the reader for you. It means you don’t have to find the readers yourself, and you don’t have to explain how to upload a book to their device. Their service is free to use, but it also has paid plans that will give you more features. BookFunnel is another site you can use, but there is no free option with this one. You have to pay for it. BookFunnel does offer other promotional things like newsletter swaps and sales.

Three, ask for reviews at the end of the book. I don’t feel comfortable using this method, but for authors who do, they have told me they get more reviews this way.

Now, a hassle method of getting reviews is to offer free books directly to readers in exchange for an honest review. The reason it’s a hassle is that you have to find them yourself, and most of the time, they never review. So you’re doing a lot of work and not getting much of anything in return. I stopped doing this method years ago.

Whatever you do, do NOT pay for reviews. This is going to earn you a bad reputation if you get caught.

4. Readers are interested in the inspiration for characters and storylines.

If you’re looking for something to make a blog post about or something to share on social media or in an email list, consider doing some kind of trivia to go with the book. Examples would be, how you came up with the plot, how you came up with a character, anything in the book that reflects something in real life, or if there was a sudden change in the story that went against your original plan.

I didn’t think this kind of thing would be interesting to readers until I did a trivia post. I did it on the whim after reading trivia on a movie. I enjoyed the trivia that went behind the movie, so I thought, “Why not do it for one of my books?” I was pleasantly surprised by the positive responses I got.

You can do this on a social media site like Facebook, Twitter, MeWe, or Parler by doing something like, “Book X’s plot was based on a dream I had two years ago. In this dream, I was being chased by a group of wild animals,” or “Character X was named after an old friend who liked to ride horses.” These little trivia bits don’t have to be in one long post. You can separate these trivia bits out. Or, you can put them in a newsletter.

5. Many readers are Kindle Unlimited Subscribers.

That’s not a surprise for most of us. We’re aware of the perks Amazon has rolled out for readers. Depending on your genre and your goal for your books, you may or may not want to put your book into Kindle Unlimited at Amazon. But please beware that if you put your book in KU, it can only be on Amazon. Trying to get away with putting it in KU and on other retailers will run you the risk of getting caught, and if you’re caught, Amazon may do something with that book or even your account that won’t be pleasant.

It’s fine to be in KU, but exclusivity isn’t for all of us. I never liked the idea of only being in one place. I like to be in as many places as possible. The good news is that not every reader is on Amazon. There are those that prefer other retailers, and they are loyal to those retailers.

Where will you make more money? There’s no way to know for sure unless you try KU and then try wide. This is going to vary for every author. Some authors make more outside of Amazon, and other authors make more on Amazon. Some of this is dependent on the genre you write and how frequently you publish books. In the end, though, it’s also about whether your book takes off or not. It’s like tossing a coin. In my opinion, what matters most is your comfort level. How comfortable are you being reliant on one retailer? If you’re fine with it, then go into KU. If it makes you squeamish, you might want to try wide and see how things go.

6. Ads Matter.

Ads from places like Freebooksy, Amazon, Facebook, etc, do help you gain visibility. Remember, visibility is your biggest obstacle. People won’t buy your books unless they know you exist. But what I found interesting in this survey was that most people look at newsletters like the ones Freebooksy sends out in order to find new books to read. This is more effective than a search on Amazon, Goodreads, referrals from people one knows, and even social media. My guess is that this is because the newsletters go directly into the inbox.

I feel the need to add a word of caution. Never go into debt to buy an ad. Debt is not your friend. I’ve heard of authors putting ads on their credit cards and not selling enough books to cover that expense. For example, I recently found out someone paid $1000 for an ad but made about $450 in sales. Imagine having that happen and seeing the credit card statement come in with an interest rate of 18-29% for that $1000. (I’ve had credit card offers with interest rates that high, and it’s just insane. I don’t have credit cards. In my house, we are not good about always paying them off every month. So we just don’t use them.) But when I hear of authors who go into debt for ads that end up not paying off, my heart hurts on their behalf.

What I recommend is tucking aside money until you can afford the ad. There are two times when I think ads are most effective. One, is when you’re not going to have a new release for a while. This helps your sales to be steady between the last book you published and the next one you’ll have out. The dip in income won’t be so hard if you have that visibility boost. I’ve found ads on free books to be the most effective, especially when they are the first book in a series. Another time I think ads are most effective is when you have a new book out in a series. They key is to promote Book 1. The hope is then that people will get hooked on Book 1 and will buy the other books in the series.

7. Most readers spend up to $15 a month on books.

I’d like to know if this factored in KU subscribers. Do KU subscribers pay for the monthly fee (which I think is $9.99) + $15? Or do these KU subscribers only pay $5 once they are done paying the monthly fee? I’ve had KU readers tell me that even my $0.99 books are “breaking their bank”. So I’m inclined to say that the KU readers in this survey were including the KU subscription fee into the $15 they are willing to spend on books each month.

Regardless of the situation, there are two things that I, as a writer, take away from this information.

One, each book you write should represent your best work. There’s a saying I used to hear a lot from my English teacher: “An author is only as good as their last book.” I don’t know who originally said it, but it makes sense. If you have a really good book, people will want to read more. Writing a mediocre book isn’t going to cut it for long-term readership.

Two, it’s a good idea to let people know you have other books out at the end of the book they just read. If they want to read more books you’ve written, the end of the book is the best time to let them know you have other books. This is especially true for a series, but I think adding a list of all the books you have out is also good. It might not be a bad idea to mention an email list since a few readers like them or to mention a website or place where they can find you. If this is an ebook, put in the links to the email list, your website, and your social media sites so that the reader can click directly to those places. I neglected to do this early on, but I do it with every book now.


Okay, that sums up my thoughts on the survey. This took me a lot longer than I expected. Sometimes I start rambling and just can’t stop, especially when I’m on a topic I really enjoy. I hope there’s something helpful in here for you to use in your future promotional plans. 😀

About Ruth Ann Nordin

Ruth Ann Nordin mainly writes historical western romances and Regencies. From time to time, she branches out to other genres, but her first love is historical romance. She lives in Omaha, Nebraska with her husband and a couple of children. To find out more about her books, go to
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5 Responses to My Thoughts on a Survey about “How Readers Pick What to Read Next” (This is a Post for Writers)

  1. I’ll have to try some of these for my next book(s), especially #4 and #5. Thanks, Ruth.

  2. Thanks for sharing this! I knew that people’s book budgets had gotten pretty small but didn’t realize HOW small. 15$ is roughly three or four books at standard prices, so no wonder sales have dropped pretty dramatically all over the place.

    • I know! Isn’t that crazy? A lot of people will spend more than that on coffee a month without even thinking about it. So the fact that $15 is the norm for books is surprising.

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