I've been browsing the free books available for Kindle and Nook lately. I've picked up a few along the way, which is great, but mostly I've been learning about my buying habits as a reader. I've learned, for example, that sometimes even a big fat nothing is more than I'm willing to pay for a book. That seems a bit odd, even to me. I mean, I'm a book addict. Big time. You'd think I'd happily score every free book I could get my hands on. And yet I don't.
Here's what I've realized about what attracts me to a book and what puts me off. Okay, mostly what puts me off. As a bona fide book addict, I'll admit that if it doesn't put me off, it can be counted as attractive to me.
1. Covers do matter. Unless I recognize your name, if your cover was obviously put together on your computer using Paint, I'm probably going to pass. That's not a guarantee, but it's a high probability. Likewise, if your cover is obviously a generic cover you've purchased from someone else, I'm likely to pass. The probability of this is lower than it is for the Paint cover, or a cover without graphics, but it is likely. The good news is that in the case of a generic paste-in-your-title-and-name cover, I may click through to read the back cover blurb if it appears to be in a genre I like to read, but unless the cover copy really grabs me, I'm probably still going to pass. Yes, it's true that you can't (always) judge a book by its cover, but the fact that this saying exists at all is proof that a lot of people do.
2. Your cover copy matters. A lot. If your cover copy is poorly written and/or grammatically incorrect, it's a definite pass for me. I might be a book addict, but I'm a demanding reader. Back before I knew the industry lingo, I would frequently stop reading a book if the writing felt "obvious" to me. That's the term I used then. Now I realize it's a combination of several things including telling more than showing, heavy-handed emotions, purple prose, and author intrusion. But before I even get to that point with your book, you have to convince me to read page one. If it's obvious to me from the cover copy that you don't know how to use the language, that you don't understand basic grammar, or that you don't know how to edit your own work, I'll skip right past your book and never look back.
3. Titles matter. One of the reasons publishers have marketing departments is to create titles with appeal to many readers. Appeal that we, as writers, don't always understand. For most of us, marketing is not what we're good at, even if we think we are. Too many of us come up with titles we think are amazing, but in reality they're quite generic, uninteresting, and unimaginative. Oh, we think the title is appealing. We might even think it's unique. We wouldn't put the thing on our book if we didn't. But I have discovered that if your title is something like Tripping and it's book 1 in the Tripping Series, and especially if your protagonist is named John Tripping, I'm likely to pass on the book even if it's free. Why? Because I've realized that if your title and your series are the same -- and especially if you've used the same word three times -- I come away with the impression that you're not very imaginative. Is this true of you? Maybe not. But that's my first impression.
4. First impressions matter. I wish they didn't, but they do.
5. Price matters. Yes, I know we're talking about free books here, but I've identified another knee-jerk reaction when I'm considering whether to click through and "buy" a book for nothing. I have realized that I am much more interested in a free book if the original cover price is listed as $5.99 or higher. If the cover price is $12.99 or $14.99 I'm almost giddy over the chance to get it for nothing. If the original cover price is $2.99 -- or worse, $0.99 -- my initial impression is that the book probably hasn't been professionally edited, which means the writing is likely to be "obvious" and I'm not interested. Is this always true? Maybe. Maybe not. I'm not talking about reality here. I'm talking about my initial reaction to what I see on the screen.
I don't know if any of this matters to you, but it gives me a lot of food for thought. I haven't yet put any of my own backlist out there in e-book format, probably because life got really hard a couple of years ago and I'm struggling just to catch up with where I'm supposed to be. But I've been thinking about re-releasing my backlist and one of these days I'll probably do it. And that makes what I'm learning about myself and my buying habits, my reactions to other peoples' books, very interesting to me.
And now I'd love to hear from you. Am I the only one who passes up what might be a perfectly good book based on first impressions? I'd love to know what attracts you (or doesn't) when you're trying to decide whether to click on that free book.