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August 10, 2005

Dishing With the DotMoms

Dishing With the DotMoms

An informal survey of working (and writing) mothers on the subject of books.

Girlwithpen_1 The Book Tarts, like so many other authors, often wonder how readers make their buying decisions. Why do they pick up one book, but not another? Do they remain loyal to writers, in the same way they stick with a favorite brand of laundry detergent? What inspires folks to attend book signings, if they go at all?

We contacted Julie Moos, the editor at DotMoms.com, a blog written entirely by moms who juggle jobs and raising kids...and live to tell their tales from the homefront. Julie gathered a handful of other DotMoms to answer our questions, as well as agreeing to participate herself. We’re thrilled to have them all at TLC. First, the introductions:

Jennifer Oliver is a stay-at-home mom to four little girls. She’s an artist who lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Jenn Satterwhite is a stay-at-home mom who works as a freelance writer and has an agent representing her first book. She has three children and lives in Plano, Texas.

Peyton Snyders is a full-time paralegal and law student, living in the D.C. area. She has a nine-month-old daughter.

Christine Louise Hohlbaum is a telecommunicating writer and mother of two. In between washing, cleaning, barking at the kids to get off the furniture and not to stuff carrot chunks under the cushions, she freelance articles, books and an occasional newspaper column. She lives near Munich, Germany.

Robin Piccini has worked for fifteen years as an ophthalmic technician. For the past three years, she’s also manned the switchboard at a local hospital part-time. Her dream is to be a stay-at-home mom to her eight-year-old daughter. She lives south of Boston, Massachusetts.

Amy Marshall works full-time out of her home as a writer and editor, mostly handling public relations, for Penn State. She lives in State College, PA, and has one son.

Lauri Jon Caravella is a New Yorker, married to a screenwriter, and the mother of one daughter. She’s also a graphic designer, fine artist, writer, juvenile products designer, photographer, Reiki practitioner and poet.

Now to the questions:

TLC: How often do you read fiction?

Julie: I read fiction everyday. On average, I read about a book a week (some weeks more, some weeks less), and most of what I read are novels and memoirs.

Jennifer: Maybe 4 books a year? I've been reduced to magazines and 'quick fixes'....

Jenn S.: There is never a time when I am not in the middle of reading a novel. Definitely every night, but if I have a luxury moment during the day, I will snag that time up to read as well.

Peyton: Usually about one book a month. Since I'm in law school, I have a lot of non-fiction to read.

Christine: I am always reading. I'd say it is a split between fiction and non-fiction. Since I am a book reviewer (writer, author, columnist and marketing expert, too—oh yes, and I have two kids, ages 4 & 6!), I read a lot of novels. My knee-jerk answer would be 50-50.

Robin: I try to read at least one, possibly two books per week. It depends on my schedule, although if it's a great book, I let everything else slide while I finish.

Amy: All the time--other than newspapers/news-magazines, all I read is fiction.

LauriJon: I try to read a novel (or two sometimes) a month. I also love the new authors section in most bookstores. New novelists are incredibly fresh.

TLC: Are you involved in book clubs? If so, how does your group pick titles (from best-sellers lists, member recommendations, Internet lists)?

Julie: I’m not involved in a book club and never have been. One of the only rules I have for reading is that, if I want to put down a book, I will. Reading is too much fun to force myself through something I’m not enjoying. So I’ve avoided book clubs for fear that, if I joined one, I’d feel pressure (internal and external) to finish reading something I don’t like.

Jennifer: I was involved in one for a little while- we're on a hiatus I guess though. We used to just throw out titles we'd heard were good--we'd do it by email and then all decide.

Jenn S.: The only book club that I have been involved in always chose their books from word of mouth. Sometimes the books were on the best-seller list. Sometimes none of the members (except the one recommending the book) have ever heard of the book or author.

Peyton: No.

Christine: No. Since I am a frequent reviewer for Little, Brown and Company, I choose their children's book titles based mostly on my kids' interests. Occasionally they send me pre-teen fiction, which is very fun.

Robin: No, I'm not. I always find that these clubs read much deeper books than I am reading. I tendBooks_2  to read to escape. If I have to give too much thought to what I'm reading then it becomes a chore for me. I have seen Oprah talk with her book club and they dissect each character and pick apart everything they did and said. To me, that's like being in school. I am not opposed to learning but that would ruin reading for me. On the other hand, my friend Amy and I exchange books a lot and we talk about what we liked and didn't like. If we just finished reading a mystery then we ask when we knew who the killer was. That's about it.

Amy: No (not enough time, unfortunately, although I'm considering making the time).

LauriJon: No.

TLC: Does the look of the cover art influence your buying choices? Or even titles of books?

Julie: Book covers and titles are extremely influential in my reading life. They, along with the author’s name, determine whether I pick up a book at all. If I don’t pick it up and read the front, back and inside cover copy, there’s no chance I’ll be taking it home.

Jennifer: The cover art used to influence me, as I'm an artist and am drawn to certain images. But the older I get, the less I am persuaded by the cover. Same goes for the titles.

Jenn S.: The cover art won't influence the buying decision, but it does influence whether I pick it up in the first place. Some covers just beg for me to pick up the books to find out more. Some push me away and I have almost missed the chance at reading a great novel with a crappy cover. As for the title, sometimes I will think: Will I feel comfortable reading this in public? But it has never stopped me from buying a book. (That's the beauty of taking a hardback cover off or folding back the cover of a paperback!)

Peyton: No, it doesn't. Titles of books, maybe, but I go by the description on the back cover or recommendations from friends and family.

Christine: Absolutely! Let's face it. We make decisions on looks all the time—we choose to be friends with certain people, buy certain magazines, purchase certain clothing all based on looks. Why would a book be any different? Book titles are key when writing a book. The catchier, the better!

Robin: When the cover has a muscular man, shirtless with long hair, and the woman is in a poofy flowing gown with cascading hair, I know what kind of book I'm in for. Those tend to be all the same and if I'm in the mood for a mind numbing predictable romance then I pick it up.  Usually the books I love most have simple covers.

Amy: This will probably sound stupid, but my eye is always drawn to bright colors, stripes and plaids–whether it be a book cover, clothing, or home furnishings (even though my house is actually decorated in more muted, neutral tones). The cover for the DIRTY GIRLS’ SOCIAL CLUB comes to mind. I actually borrowed that book from someone, but my eye is still drawn to it if I see it on a shelf. I will admit to reading a good bit of "chick lit," and those covers often have bright colors. But, of course, I never buy a book solely because of the cover! I’m drawn more to the covers than the titles.

LauriJon: Usually, as I’m a graphic designer and have definite design sensibilities. A title also influences me. Both the title and cover art may make me reach for a book on the shelf; but after I have the book in hand, the first page is usually what sells me.

TLC:  Do you have favorite authors whose books you faithfully purchase?

Julie: I do. Once I find someone whose writing style I like, I will read just about anything and everything by him or her. Although, I’m a little biased toward his or her most recent work if that’s what I’ve discovered, because we all evolve as writers and some early work bears less resemblance to the writing I love than some later work.

Jennifer: I probably would if I had more time to read. I would be all into the Harry Potter thing because I love adventure, but no- right now in my life I read what's been recommended to me. I'm scared to pick up a Harry Potter book because I don't have time to be obsessed with finishing a whole series of books!

Jenn S.: Absolutely! I will follow a few and buy anything that they have written. (Even if I come to find later that it let me down, I will still come back the next time there is a new title.)

Peyton: Lee Smith, John Grisham, Phillipa Gregory.

Christine: I love Toni Morrison, though recently her work has become so obscure that I have a hard time wrapping my head around it. Deepak Chopra is one of my recent favorites. His ideas are unique and speak to my current situation. Beach-reads such as Grisham (love him, hate him-- the guy is successful at what he does!) are a must in the summer. I recently picked up THE CORRECTIONS by Jonathan Franzen. His prose makes me weep--it is so good! Since I started writing seriously, I have become much more in tune with good writing versus "I-can't-believe-a-major-house-touched-this-drivel-I'm-so-jealous-why-won't-they-return-MY-calls?"

Robin: Absolutely!!!! If I walk into the bookstore I always look for something new from Jonathan Kellerman, Faye Kellerman, Nora Roberts or James Patterson.

Amy: Not really--there are a couple authors in particular that I really like, but they have only published two or three books--so it's yet to be seen whether I become a "faithful purchaser."

LauriJon: Laurel K. Hamilton. I have read all her Anita Blake and Meredith Gentry novels.

We’ll finish up tomorrow with more DotMoms’ talk, including what turns them off an author, if they’re influenced by negative reviews, and whether or not they’ve attended a book-signing...and why not, if they haven’t.


Very good--and helpful--column! Thanks for all the insight, ladies!

Will I sound like a total geek if I say it's so cool to be on someone else's blog? Cuz it is!

Robin, it's very cool to have you on our site! (And not geeky at all that you're happy about it, at least I don't think so!) You DotMoms were so great to do this. I had fun emailing with Julie and reading all of your responses. I think you offer a lot of insight into the reality of what readers are looking for in books and what affects purchases.

As a reader I would like to comment on book covers. Trashy Titles/pictures tend to not appeal to me. Covers with some humor on them do. I will pick a book up and read the back cover so if the back cover doesn't give a quick intro chances are I'm not buying the book. My biggest fear is buying a book that I end up disliking, I feel guilty if I don't finish a book I paid for. FYI the other author blurbs don't influence me at all!


Shivering with excitement over here! Thanks for a fun read! (and I had no idea how much I gesticulated with punctuation, gals. So sorry for all the exclamation points!!!!!)

This was a great experience for me. I learned my comments are the wordiest! (Is that even a word?)
I had so much fun answering your questions and even more fun reading all our answers.
Thank you so much for including me in this article. It was fantastic!

Robin and Christine, it was a pleasure to include your comments in the piece. Y'all each had something special to offer, and I'm sure other writers--and readers--are getting a lot out of the column. I know I am! So thanks to you DotMoms who volunteered to help me out!

i love the corrections.. mr franzen really writes well..

Interesting, I'll make note if I ever get my novel published. I'm a guy who just loves a good story, told by a male or female or about a male or female. I like love triangles, gossip, war (then peace), sex, drugs, rock-and-roll, religion, intolerance, tolerance, art and life.

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