How Do Readers Choose YOUR Book From a Million Other Choices? The Story of a Book Purchase

25 Jul 2014 | Reading


It’s Friday 20th June, and I’m going to the Winchester Writers’ Conference. I’m due to head off for a train in less than an hour and I’ve not finished packing. I want something to read on my Kindle Fire.

I don’t have much time, so I don’t browse book blogs or ask on Twitter for recommendations. I head straight to Amazon.

Do a couple of my favourite authors have new books out? One does, but I’m waiting for the price to drop. The other’s book isn’t out yet.

I’ll try something new, and cheap. I head to the Kindle Daily Deals and see a bunch of different books.

I skip past the ones that look like romance or thrillers, and pause at Off to Be the Wizard ( / The title makes me think “children’s book” and the design, at teeny-tiny thumbnail size, isn’t hugely clear – it also looks childish.

But I pause long enough to realise that the cover shows old-school computer game style graphics (an impression backed up by the series title, “Magic 2.0”).

That might be my kind of thing.

I read the blurby bits:

Product Description

An io9 Can’t Miss Science Fiction and Fantasy title in March 2014.

Martin Banks is just a normal guy who has made an abnormal discovery: he can manipulate reality, thanks to reality being nothing more than a computer program. With every use of this ability, though, Martin finds his little “tweaks” have not escaped notice. Rather than face prosecution, he decides instead to travel back in time to the Middle Ages and pose as a wizard.

What could possibly go wrong?

An American hacker in King Arthur’s court, Martin must now train to become a full-fledged master of his powers, discover the truth behind the ancient wizard Merlin…and not, y’know, die or anything.

About the Author

Scott Meyer grew up in the small town of Sunnyside, Washington. He began his career in humor by working as a stand-up comedian and radio personality, a highlight of which was participating as the opening act in Weird Al Yankovic’s Running with Scissors tour. Following a long stint touring the United States and Canada, Scott settled down in Orlando, Florida, where he works on his ongoing comic strip, Basic InstructionsOff to be the Wizard is his first novel.

I’m skimming: I don’t notice the iO9 recommendation, and I’ve never heard of Scott Mayer before.

I like the premise; it combines a heavy dose of geeky and fantasy (like my novel Lycopolis does). I take a quick look at the reviews: there are plenty of them and they seem good, on the whole.

I click and read a bit of the sample; seems good enough. I go ahead and buy the book. It’s only 99p (now £3.49) and not a big deal if I don’t like it.

And Scott Mayer makes another sale.

As it happens, I really enjoyed Off to Be the Wizard. I felt the book had some flaws – an occasional tendency to over-explain jokes, and not enough focus on the (to me huge!) question of who or what was running the Matrix-like simulation that is our entire world and all its history.

There were some great twists, though, a well-paced plot, and compelling characters; I read it over the course of the conference weekend, in the evenings (yes, I was super sociable ;-)) and in breaks between sessions.

My decision to buy could easily have gone another way, though.

If I’d gone with my first quick-glance impression of the cover design, I’d have never looked at the book.

If it had been at its current price (£3,49), I’d have ignored it in favour of something cheaper or a book by an author I already enjoyed. (Plus it wouldn’t have been in the Daily Deal section in the first place.)

Did I buy the second in the series?

Not yet.

The second book is £3.99 – cheap enough, but there are plenty of cheaper books. The few reviews of it suggest it’s more of the same, without really advancing the underlying plot. If it was 99p I probably would (yes, I’m cheap!)

If I’d loved the first and hadn’t had a few niggles, I’d be happy to pay £3.99. And I probably will buy it at some stage, when I’m a little further through my to-read list.

Your readers, like me, may well be in a hurry. They might find you through a tweet, a Facebook share, or a serendipitous stumble across your blog. But they might also find you through a hasty browse of Amazon when they’re about to get on a train or plane.

Does your cover give the right impression?

Is your blurb well-written and intriguing?

Do the first few pages of your book draw the reader in and make them want more?

If it’s the first in a series in particular, is the price low enough to attract casual buyers? (For me personally, that means £2.99 at most – or $4.99 if you’re in the US.)

What’s the most recent book you bought, either online or offline? Where did you get it? How did you choose it? What factors made you buy – or nearly stopped you from doing so? Drop a comment below to tell us.


I’m Ali Luke, and I live in Leeds in the UK with my husband and two children.

Aliventures is where I help you master the art, craft and business of writing.

My Novels

My contemporary fantasy trilogy is available from Amazon. The books follow on from one another, so read Lycopolis first.

You can buy them all from Amazon, or read them FREE in Kindle Unlimited.


  1. Raspal Seni

    Hi Ali,

    I’m about to publish my first e-book on Amazon and I hope some people find it the way you did. 🙂 I’m thinking of pricing it at $4.99 but without the free goodies I give with it on my sales page.

    Thaks for the list of questions you asked. I’m noting them down and will go through my e-book tonight to check and change it likewise.

    The most recent e-book I bought was priced at $10 and a few others at $5, by Melonie Dodaro (The LinkedIn Code). I wanted to join her LinkedIn training since a while but didn’t due to the price, so when she came out with an e-book on the same topic, I grabbed it. Also got tons of other freebies, though didn’t get time to read them yet.

    I think e-books between $5-10 are priced okay, if the content is as valuable as I want. If more than that, I try to postpone buying.

    I’ve wanted to buy some e-books from a famous marketer, on writing the home and about pages. But each of them priced at $50 was way too much, making me forget the idea. Your e-books were a different cause.

    Thanks for the post. There have been more than 6-7 instances where you write a post I was looking for. Maybe you’re a mind reader.

    • Ali

      Good luck, Raspal! It may be a bit different with non-fiction; I should’ve clarified in the post that I had novels in mind and I would happily pay $5 – $10 (or often more!) for information I really want.

      $50 does seem pretty steep, especially for quite a narrow topic like that. I think the ebook market has changed in the past few years — I used to see ebooks priced at $97 but now most of them are a bit more reasonable!

      Glad this post came at the right time for you. 🙂

  2. Charlie

    Interesting insight into your decision making process, especially since I’m new to the Kindle and have not yet bought too many ebooks. Would you consider reading the free sample before buying, if the book offered one? With this particular book I would have felt the need to check the sample, as I loved Twain’s Yankee at King Arthur’s Court far too much to believe another author could recycle the idea and deliver an equally delightful reading experience. But if the sample had been as enjoyable as the original and with the price so low, I could imagine buying the book.

    • Ali

      Absolutely; in fact, I’d normally read the whole sample — I was in a hurry to get the book this time round! Most Kindle books have a standard 10% sample (in fact, as a self-publisher, I don’t think you can change this … if anyone knows how, do let me know)!

      I’m not convinced this one would stand up to Twain, but it was an entertaining read.

  3. clare weiner

    On-line, I bought Inceptio by Alison Morton. It’s one of those ‘alternative history’ thrillers – something I don’t usually buy, but ignoring the cover (which didn’t attract me because I don’t read this genre usually) I bought this Kindle book because Alison is a fellow member of the Alliance of Independent Authors and is often on our Facebook group – I wanted to read what she writes and find out what it’s like.
    From Waterstones, I bought the paperback The Midwife’s Daughter by Patricia Ferguson. It ticked the boxes being a sociological & medical history-based novel, in the real world, and set in an era (early 20th century) which I remember being told about, when my grandparents were young parents. The cover told me that the little girl was a child of colour, and the story is set in the West country, so that attracted me as well: how was it to be growing up as a half-black, half-white child at that time and in that place?

    • Ali

      Thanks Clare — I think personal connections are a huge factor. Easily half the books I’ve bought recently have been by people I know online through blogs, Facebook, etc (and in one case, an offline friend).

  4. Kevin Duncan

    Hi Ali,

    Greetings from a sad Daily Blog Tips reader who just read you were leaving as editor!

    It really is interesting the thought process people go through when choosing whether or not to “buy.” The expression “don’t judge a book by its cover” has been repeated ad nauseam, but it’s so true.

    Personally, I wouldn’t have bought Scott’s book. Based on the cover alone, I would have skipped right past it. Of course, had I read his bio, I probably would have overlooked the cover’s shortcomings once I got to the ” opening act in Weird Al Yankovic’s Running with Scissors tour” part. 🙂

    Hope you have a wonderful day, Ali. Best wishes going forward, and I’ll be sure to visit Aliventures from time to time to get my Ali fix!
    Kevin Duncan’s last blog post ..What Weird Al Yankovic can teach us about blogging

    • Ali

      Thanks Kevin! I think the cover issue is such a key one. I *almost* skipped right past it, and on another day might easily have done. If writers are going to invest in one thing, it should be cover design.

      (To be fair, I didn’t think this one looked particularly badly designed, it just didn’t do a great job of conveying a sense of the book.)

  5. constance

    I hardly ever buy books online I’m sorry I prefer paper in which I normally walk around the bookstore going through pages otherwise someone has to recommend one

    • Ali

      Perfectly reasonable, Constance! I still enjoy browsing in bookstores occasionally (though rarely get a chance now that my toddler is usually with me on shopping trips…)

      What attracts you to a book that you’re going through in the bookstore? Cover design? A gripping opening?

  6. Amanda Luedeke

    Love this post…a great reminder. Will share with my authors!
    And it also has me thinking that I need to lower the Kindle price of my author marketing book. Right now it’s at £3.12 and is 98 pages … :/

    • Ali

      Thanks for sharing, Amanda!

      I’m definitely willing to spend more on non-fiction than fiction — especially if it’s knowledge that’s hard to find elsewhere. The tricky thing with fiction is that you’re essentially competing with all the other books someone might read for entertainment, potentially across quite a range of genres.

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