My professional background has its beginnings in public health. I spent a lot of time studying, observing and implementing plans for health improvement via behavioral change. Along the way, I learned more about the tsetse fly than I thought was knowable, and I learned more about the spread and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases than I cared to know. The take-home message was that there is no one-size-fits-all method to make people change, even if the change is good for them.
One of the challenges in motivating a major change in behavior is that behavior is embedded in race, culture, socioeconomic status, educational level and age. I can convince a senior citizen to take a pill, because it will take away the swelling and pain of arthritis, for example. I can convince a girl in her teens not to smoke, because smoking will make her face yellow and wrinkle. Some people prefer the advice of a pastor while others prefer the physician’s prescription.
While pondering my professional past, I wondered, what motivates people to buy a book? Are there any common denominators between health promotion theory and (successful) book promotion? It occurred to me through this pondering that I haven’t actually purchased a novel for myself in years. Non-fiction, yes; fiction, no. Every work of fiction that I’ve read for a long time has been tossed at me or given to me as a gift. I’ve kind of experienced arranged marriages for reading material: there has already been some external party that has previewed the book and determined it has qualities that have a high probability of appealing to me.
On the other hand, I’ve taken loads of risks purchasing non-fiction, especially how-to types of books. My vast collection of Martha Stewart craft volumes and my cookbook collection including gluten-free vegan cooking prove this point (despite the fact that I am neither gluten-free nor vegan and despite the fact that I have no free time to fold, cut, polish or entertain a small, well-dressed army). Why do I willingly spend a lot of money on books I will probably never use? There’s really not the burden to complete the book. I can be satisfied with one good recipe or simply the pretty pictures of the latest hand-embossed pop-out greeting card Martha has invented. When would I actually buy a book to read?
Surprisingly, the motivators for me to buy a novel are very similar to the motivators for me to change my health behaviors. Here are a few that are most applicable to my life:
1. Legislation. Make me do it. Seat belt, bicycle/motorcycle helmet and car seat use skyrocketed with the enactment of public safety laws. Similarly, here lie the required reading lists in college, and the prey of the university press. I blood let university bookstore prices, because I have to. I may or may not actually read the book. I will probably sell the book back to the university bookstore at the end of the term. (Unless it is non-fiction in which case it will sit on my desk, then in a box in my closet for all eternity.)
2. Social group identification. Have a spokesperson from a specific demographic. My kids’ pediatrician complains that her Indian friends adhere to Dr. Oz as much as they do Hinduism. Imagine what would happen to our middle class juvenile society if the cast of Twilight became vegan (oh the conflict with playing a vampire, but I gleefully digress). My husband (USNA ’94) likewise purchases any novel connected to the Naval Academy, the largest fraternity in the world. I’ll buy Lydia Netzer’s upcoming book by the case: she’s a well-educated mom not willing to fill the soccer-mom mold. I can relate to that.
3. Familiarity. If I have achieved a certain level of comfort with one behavior change, such as dropping from full fat to 2% milk, I’m more likely to try similar health changes, like buying fresh fruit instead of canned. If I buy organic milk, the purchase of organic eggs is not a stretch. Now, I’ve admitted to not having bought a novel (*for myself*) since probably college. But, after reading The Book of Jonas, The Right Hand Shore and Luminarium, I will definitely be on pre-order lists for their authors’ next contributions. Dau challenged my world-view, Tilghman connected to my Chesapeake Bay roots and Shakar appealed to my math brain. These novels had the same effect on me that Rick Riordan has had on my kids; I am pining for the next volume.
4. Fear. You will die. Try selling a house with asbestos tile in the bathroom. Even though asbestos tile is stable, has airborne particles only if ground to bits and is very resistant to wear, that tile has to go: it COULD result in asbestosis. Imagine the social consequences of being that kid who has not read J.K. Rowling’s latest Harry Potter volume come school the day after its release. You could be completely shut out of socializing for a day. The marketing of this series has been brilliant: the release will be big, and you can’t miss it. Personally, I threw my kids in the backyard with tray full of food and orders: DO NOT TALK TO MOM. I was afraid, yes, afraid, that I would overhear the ending before I found out, firsthand, what happened to Dumbledore.
5. Convenience. The apple slices at McDonald’s and the blood pressure monitors at Wal-Mart speak to changes made when the effort is minimal and access is high. While you’re here, you can throw milk into that kid’s meal or have a weight check. Ta Da! E-books to the rescue of the harried mom! Ninety percent of the books I purchase are for the Kindle. I can have it now, and there’s no clutter. (There has to be some way around the Amazon choke hold, but that’s for another post.) “Customers who bought this book also bought…”
Of the above, convenience probably ranks highest for me. That’s the stage of life I’m in. I’d like to go to a bookstore and wander through the stacks, but I doubt the owners would appreciate my five year old ninja. Familiarity ranks highest with my kids. Thank the heavens for e-books; otherwise I would have no shelf space.