Here’s the big picture based on data from 2019:
What GENERATION reads the most books?
The answer may surprise you. It's MILLENNIALS, those born between 1981-1996, followed closely by baby boomers.
As the parent of two millennials, this surprised me! All the handwringing my peers and I did, worried that “technology” would be the end of reading.
WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT GENERATIONS READING?
Gen Z: humor, Millennials: health and wellness books, Gen X: crafts and hobbies, Baby Boomers: cookbooks, and the Silent Generation: biographies and memoirs.
WHAT DO YOU READ?
If you are someone who is thinking about writing a book, may I state the obvious? You need to be reading in the genre that you are planning to write in. If you’re not, you need to ask yourself why? You should be familiar with the conventions of your genre, and you should be engaging/hanging out with other readers who like to read the same types of books as you read and as you plan to write. These are the same readers you will need to connect with when you are ready to market your book.
HOW ARE THE DIFFERENT GENERATIONS READING THEIR BOOKS?
What generation or generations prefer reading their books electronically? This answer may surprise you too.
EVERY SINGLE GENERATION PREFERS PRINT BOOKS OVER E-BOOKS.
65% of US adults read a print book over the past year vs. 28% for eBooks.
That also means that 35% of US adults didn’t read a book last year, but that’s a conversation for another day.
I’m not typically an early adopter, but I did jump on the e-book bandwagon pretty quickly. Bought a kindle. Loved the idea of “sampling” books and then being able to read them immediately without leaving my home. Naively thought that e-books would keep me from having to buy more bookcases or cram more books into the ones I already owned.
Didn’t work out that way. Soon I realized that I missed holding a book in my hand. Seeing how far I had to read. Flipping through the pages. Underlining. Being able to easily lend my books to others.
Now I almost always buy the print book.
AUDIOBOOKS: 1 in 5 Americans say they listen to audiobooks. I’m not huge on them yet, but I know many of my friends are. Maybe it’s because I don’t spend a lot of time in the car. Audiobooks are perfect for those long car rides. Once I drove (okay, I admit it - I was driven!) from Houston to New York and we listened to Unbroken, a powerful work of narrative nonfiction by Laura Hillenbrand. The hours flew by, especially from the passenger’s seat.
HOW ABOUT YOU? What’s your reading format preference and WHY?
Beyond these being interesting factoids, why should you, an aspiring author, care?
First and foremost, just like you should be reading in your genre, you should be keeping up with trends in publishing. As far audiobooks go, it’s important to be aware that this is a growing edge for the industry and a way for you to reach more readers … but the reality is for first-time authors, and/or authors who will self-publish, audiobooks are not the first priority. Print is still king, and e-books are the easiest and cheapest to produce.
As far as e-books are concerned, here’s what I believe you need to focus on. If your book is available as an e-book, which virtually all books will be today, readers who go to Amazon or another online book retailer WILL BE SAMPLING YOUR FIRST PAGES FOR FREE.
And deciding based on those first pages whether they will buy your book, either the print version or the e-version.
I’m betting you’ve done the same. When I’m on Amazon or another online retailer, I almost always look at the table of contents for a nonfiction book and read the jacket copy, the blurb about the book and the author.
I also almost always at least skim the first pages. Because if they bore me or they aren’t speaking to the problem I’m trying to solve, I’m not going to invest the time, money, or energy to read that book. And I’m certainly not going to buy it.
Which is why your first chapter is so important. It literally can make or break your book.
How to get those first pages rock solid? I'll be talking about that in a later blog post. but here’s a preview: You have to be absolutely clear from page 1 that you know the main point you want your book to make - this is true even for novels. Every book needs to have a point - and you need to know what that is … and you should be writing toward that point from sentence 1. If you are fuzzy about your point, it will show.
HOW DO PEOPLE GET THEIR BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS? HOW DO THEY FIND OUT ABOUT A BOOK?
Let's start with YOU? How do you get book recommendations? Do you read a blog, NY TIMES bestseller lists, ask a friend, wander around a bookstore? See what influencers are reading? Does it depend if you are reading for pleasure or for work, or some other specific purpose?
Think about the last couple of books you purchased. How did you find out about them? What led you to buy them?
For me, that’s easy. I was dying for a book I could escape into and not have to think too much. I asked for recommendations from my email list, which is comprised of avid readers and writers—these are my people. I often ask for recommendations from my friends.
Start paying attention to what gets you to pick up a book (or not). Keep that in mind as you think about your book and how you will market it and get into the hands of your readers.
And thinking about connecting with readers is not just for self-published authors. Unless you are someone like Stephen King, even if you have the backing of a traditional publisher, you will be responsible for the lion’s share of marketing, of reaching and connecting with your readers.
#1: People are still reading books! Even with Google at their disposal, people still love having a book in their hands.
#2: Whatever genre you are writing in—whether it’s fiction or nonfiction—you need to be READING in that genre as well. Find out where your potential readers are hanging out. Hang out there as well.
#3: Start paying attention to HOW you first hear about a book … and then WHY you decide to buy a particular book - OR NOT.
Thank you to bestbythenumbers.com for compiling much of the data I'm shared in this post.