Writers--unless they're like J. D. Salinger who in his latter days was only interested in the process--seek readers. Traditional wisdom says the best way to do that is to give readers what they want.
So, how do we discover what readers want?
In my opinion, the best way is to listen to what they say. One source of information is surveys such as one conducted by M. K. Tod, an author and blogger at https://awriterofhistory.com/ She's been conducting these surveys since 2012 and they provide a wealth of insight into the minds of readers from around the globe.
Last week I commented on the 2018 survey findings on issues of interest to readers. Naturally much of that should have been of interest to writers, too. We learned 75 percent of the participants still prefer print books over electronic format. They told us they mostly read fiction for entertainment and their most popular genres are mystery/thrillers, romance and historical fiction.
Granted, this was not a huge survey. But more than half the 2,418 respondents said they read more than 30 books a year. That's a significant number.
This week I'm focusing on matters of more concern to writers, specifically how to give readers what they want.
One topic I found most interesting was how readers determine what to read next. The most important factor, they related, is subject matter and genre. The least important--the publisher or imprint. Though we've been told time and again covers are an extremely important factor in sales, that wasn't borne out in this survey. Cover was somewhat a factor (slightly more important to women than to men), but not an overriding concern for most. Identity of the author varied with age groups. Fifty-four percent for those over 70 but only 29 percent for those under 30.
We've also had the importance of reviews drummed into us constantly. Yet (and I wasn't totally surprised) reviews weren't the top factor in this survey. These readers (and I believe most) rely predominately on the recommendation of friends. That's not to say reviews aren't important. Favorite review sites were second in preference, closely followed by sites such as Goodreads and simply browsing in a bookstore. Except for Amazon, advertising/promotion seldom rose above 20 percent for the respondents.
Another factor writers should keep in mind, women read more than men. Sixty percent of the women responding to this survey said they read more than 30 books a year. You're free to write whatever you like. But, if your books don't appeal to women, you're missing a large part of the market. And, they love fiction. Eighty-eight percent of the women expressed a preference for fiction in their book reading.
Some of the factors women cited as important in their reading were authenticity, characters who are both heroic and human, a fast-paced plot, and feeling immersed in the novel's world.
Giveaways have long been a big marketing ploy. Yet only 30 percent of the respondents (male and female) found those of interest. They were more interested in reading a magazine or newspaper article about a book (60 percent), following an author on Facebook or Twitter, reading an author's blog or newsletter, or meeting an author in person.
As to how they purchase or acquire their books, 70 percent of the respondents said they buy on line. Libraries also remain a strong source, particularly for women.
For a more in depth look at the survey, use the link above to M. K. Tod's site.