The Write Stuff: What Readers Want

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

We are back with our next installment of the Write Stuff: Self-Publishing Tools. It is also the first full week of NaNoWriMo – how is everyone feeling? Today, I am sharing insight into the all-important question: what exactly do readers want?!?! The answers I have are along the lines of what one can expect when trying to attract a partner for a relationship – it depends…or better yet, we don’t know! Let’s take a look at the book consumer landscape and see if we can make heads or tails of it.

There are several avenues we can take when looking at readers and readership. Should we look at who IS reading regularly at work from there to what they are reading and from what device? To start there, let us review some data from research recently conducted. A study done in 2017 showed “a continuing decline in leisure reading – a record low 19% of Americans age 15 and older reported that they read for pleasure. The largest declines are in the 35-44 age group” (Herther). What about this particular age group potentially deters leisure reading? This also begs the question about the remaining age groups.

Photo by Becca Tapert on Unsplash
Photo by Becca Tapert on Unsplash

We can see that young adults as well as older generations are remaining steady. Could this be because of independence and flexibility of schedules for the young and time in retirement for those later in life? How can your book and self-publishing practices cater to those age groups? What technology and marketing techniques can appeal to particular generations? A sample of 500 Canadians were surveyed earlier this year. Based on those results,

the average Canadian ebook reader identifies as female and is under the age of 45. She is not married, does not have kids, has a degree, and makes more than $50K per year. On average, digital readers tend to be younger than print readers, while audiobook listeners are even younger still. (Harkonen)

So now we are diving into more identifiers as well as mediums of reading – the latter a huge part to decide on when self-publishing. I have shared a few times on this blog my personal preference for print books, with audiobooks coming in second. However, again, this is not about you as the author picking what YOU want to see, unless resources are limited and/or the fact that you published a book is enough no matter how many people read it. The reality is that the younger generations, about 10% of them, only read books in digital forms, ie. phones, tablets, laptops, etc. (Herther). Seeing how fast the digital age is progressing, we might need to shift our attention to the digital book a little more.

Photo by Perfecto Capucine on Unsplash
Photo by Perfecto Capucine on Unsplash

We can also add in genre to the mix. Horror, memoir, fiction, chick-lit, biography – readers have their favorites and rarely stretch outside that zone. For me, my book clubs have been the most influential in introducing me to genres I did not typically pick up. Looking again at the study from Canada, check out their findings when it came to the combination of genres and reading mediums:

For Non-Fiction, the split is close with 35% of digital readers preferring print and 30% preferring ebooks, and it’s even closer for Fiction: 33% prefer print and 33% prefer ebooks, while 21% said they don’t have a preference and 5% prefer audiobooks. Also worth noting is that 30% of digital readers didn’t read any Fiction books in print last year and 35% said they didn’t read any Fiction ebooks…

When it comes to Fiction sales, Romance, Historical Fiction, and Mystery & Detective titles are popular in ebook format, while Graphic Novels & Comics and general Fiction sell better in print. Non-Fiction sells largely in print (though Business is the most popular genre in the digital format), as many of these books are given as gifts. Even when you eliminate the Christmas quarter from the data, print sales still dominate. (Harkonen)

With gift-giving season coming around the corner, if you are a reader, there is a higher chance you’ll receive a print version of a book. Sometimes even that nice display in your personal library or a couple on your coffee table are worth the print format. Thinking in self-publishing mode, depending on when and what genre you are publishing, gift-giving is higher in winter, but there are plenty of holidays and events to celebrate all throughout the year.

Photo by Florencia Viadana on Unsplash
Photo by Florencia Viadana on Unsplash

Finally looking at where readers are consuming their books, the brick and mortar options are not done yet. As a loyal fan to Borders (RIP), it is frightening to see more and more bookstores, new and used alike, closing their doors. The literary giant, Barnes and Noble, is in the works experimenting with having actual restaurants in their stores. We are aware that Starbucks is proudly brewed there currently, but how would a sit-down eatery continue to engage the readers? A suggestion for the company is to also “abandon its money-losing Nook reading device, and use the money to upgrade its stores. Amazon’s Kindle owns that ebook reading space” (Herther). This makes it seem that the space and container of books are significant in readership. Although the chain bookstores are prevalent, we cannot forget about the independents. As a fan of You’ve Got Mail, indie bookstores have a special place in my heart. They have also rose 35% from 2009 to 2015 in the United States, settling on around 2,200 stores nationwide (Herther). Independents have that charm about them that attract a variety of readers and creates more sense of community – something loyal patrons like to feel a part of. 

Reviewing the examples above, it is easy to think that most of these spaces are dominated by major publishing companies. In the marketing post in this series, I’ll cover more about shelving your self-published works in stores. Until then, I believe this quote is pretty powerful as I think about loyalty:

The power is not just shifting to the author, but to the readers with the author. The publishers have no clue who the readers are… The readers ally with the writers. The readers will follow me. They recognize my name. They don’t remember whose imprint is on the spine of the book (Sargent)

I feel that this alone can help answer the question of what readers want.

What are you looking for as a reader?

Next Up: Formatting and Design

4 thoughts on “The Write Stuff: What Readers Want

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