08/21/2011 07:01 pm ET Updated Oct 21, 2011

What Makes You Buy a Book?

What makes you buy a book? Is it different from what makes you watch a movie? Pick a television show? It seems so, because it's so private -- just you and the bookseller or librarian... or, these days, as likely, your computer. Do you try it on like a dress (like reading the first few pages,) or do you just grab it because is looks so pretty on the hanger (like buying a book because the cover looks so splendid?)

Or is it all about the ads? Facebook? NYT? Reviews?

I did an (very) informal survey on Facebook, Twitter, and reaching out to my co-bloggers on Beyond The Margins. So, this represents only 53 people, over half writers, and all with an online presence... but, these are hardcore readers. And as for the statistics, they don't add up to 100, because only a few readers named a single methodology. I didn't give 'choices' but asked the open-ended question, "how do you choose a book?"

As suspected, highest rated, at 57%, were friends' recommendations and word-of-mouth, unless of course, it's a book for free: "Word of mouth and then reviews (more for description than opinion) as far as purchasing. At the library, where my money is not at stake, I will grab a book for almost any reason. Just because it wants to come home with me."

Next in line, reviews were the most important, coming in at 40%. Not all differentiated between print or online, but there did seem to be a lean towards traditional media, and most were hand-in-hand with other methods of finding books: "Reviews, yes, but also recommendations from friends who share similar reading tastes."

Browsing, next at 32%, is still popular, so open up more of those independent bookstores, please. And make sure your book looks good: "When out browsing, I admit that cover and title tend to draw me to pick up a book."

Speaking of looking good, a surprising (to me) number of folks judged by a book's cover, 26%, fourth down. "Hate to admit how much the cover means whether or not I will even pick up a book." "Word of mouth is big for me, as is a great cover."

Some, however, seemed ashamed by their weakness for covers: "I definitely judge books by the covers, which is probably limiting because I'm sometimes snobbishly resistant to books that look too commercial and overly swayed by compelling cover art. (Similarly, I shouldn't always buy wine based on attractive labels.)"

It seems breaking through makes a difference, as fifth in line at 23% was familiarity with an author. "If it's a book by an author I love, I'll snatch it right up."

Next, is one of my (many) favorites, reading the first page/s, holding sway with 21% of respondents. "Definitely the first few pages, looking for voice."

Reading a first chapter or excerpt online, particularly samples from eBook sellers, is paramount to many at 15%: "I download the first chapter to my Kindle app before I buy ANYTHING. And this is why first chapters are so important!" "Excerpt, all the way."

The under sung synopsis and book jacket copy are pretty important (they are to me) at 15% followed closely by book and lit bloggers, at 13% mean the most to some.

Subject matter was paramount for 17%, as perfectly said by a woman who could have been reading my mind: "Subject matter is what draws me. The wounded, the survivors, oddballs and outsiders, put them together in a dark, tough, gritty story, and I'm sold."

Twitter buzzand Twitter friends clocked in at 11%, slightly outpacing NPR and Amazon Recommendations at 9%. Librarians, booksellers, and Facebook recommendations sang to 8% of respondents.

Amazon and Goodreads Reviews (weighted to Amazon) also drew in 8%, one of them quite emphatically: "Upon reflection, I'm a lemming. I can't think of the last time I bought a book (save for research) that hadn't been exalted by a hundred reviewers on Amazon or Goodreads -- those work on me the way AS SEEN ON TV sold my parents."

Tied for 5% were opening sentences and titles, which, if true, contrasts with the inordinate amount of time spent on those two.

Recommendations from writers brought 4% of the vote, as did Facebook ads, and an awareness of a promotional push.

Tied for last place, at 2% was Amazon browsing, displays, bestseller lists, hype, blurbs, book trailers & Target picks.

So, what does this mean to writers, as we're urged to buy ads, get a huge presence on Facebook, Goodreads, Twitter, Google +, Tumbler, and the places I don't even know about? My own self talk is this: write the best book I can, continue to value and respect traditional media and reviews (my own first source of recommendations,) participate in social media in ways that tap my passion, and write about books I love.

After that, I cross my fingers.