Does an author's background influence your decision to read them?

I was walking though a bookstore recently and overheard a conversation. Two people were looking at a bookshelf, when one of them picked up a book and handed it to the other.

"Have you read this book?"


"She's great. She was a lawyer before she started writing books."

"Really? I should give it a read."

The conversation shifted to something else as they walked to the cashier, book in hand.

What I think was interesting about that entire conversation was that at no time was there an endorsement of the author's talent or past works. Being a lawyer was significant in itself to warrant purchasing the book.

So my question is: Does the author's past (or current) job affect your purchasing decision?

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I can't think of a time when it did, although I'm often curious to see what people have done previously (I'm thinking Ian Rankin and 'alcohol researcher', for example - lol!)

Some years ago, Noel and I were in a department store right after Christmas and we were pretty much decked by the following: Mother to child: 'And I don't know what you think you're doing, wasting all your money on books'! What a curse - having a kid with a reading habit!
that would be a case of justified matricide i'd say.
I can't say that it does, but I'm with Neil in that it adds to the appeal if I think the author can bring something profound and different to the work because of his/her background.
It's fairly low on my list of reasons for picking up a book (fiction, that is) but it is there. And so it is for many readers as well. I mean, we've all gone through the booktalk where you get asked whether you were a cop or if you lived here or there or "just where did you get the details about drugs or guns or prostitutes or serial killers...?" There's a marketing reason to "write what you know..."

I wrote a short story once (and got $25 for it) where the MC was a photographer on the hunt for a particular flower in Africa. The accepting editor was effusive about the story and sent me a check, but right before it was about to go live, he asked me to write a paragraph explaining where the country was and whether I had a photo of the flower. I had to remind him it was fiction - hadn't been to Africa, and the flower was imaginary. I could hear the deflation through the dial-up connection.
Karen, I agree... I've been collecting bios for the upcoming Bouchercon program, and can say absolutely that many of them are making me want to read their books more than just seeing the book at the bookstore or jackets online! Some of the authors lead much more adventurous lives than their book characters, too, so I have been disappointed sometimes. It's really interesting and I think Katherine Harrell's background influenced buying that book, too.
Occasionally - I was more interested in "A Florentine Death" by Michele Guitari (?sp), after find out he was a cop. I usually wouldn't care if the writer was a lawyer - having been a lawyer myself, it doesn't mean you necessarily know anything about criminal investigation!!! Also I am slightly tempted to read an Anne Perry book out of sheer curiosity, due to her past as one of the teenage murderers featured in the film "Heavenly Creatures".
Great question.

I generally go the other way, as in what does a lawyer or cop or stripper know about writing?

But the book I'm reading at the moment is written by an ex-ambulance officer and the writing is really top notch. (FRANTIC by Katherine Howell). Just knowing that some of these scenes were influenced by direct experience brings the tension up a notch for me. I guess that's one of the joys of reading--it's not a passive exercise.
I just finished Frantic over the weekend Daniel - it's a great book isn't it! That slight change in perspective of a crime scene really makes it something different.
Yep, I totally agree. Zooming through a book is not something I do that often. I think it's the mark of something special.
Yeah, it does, if the person is from New Orleans or is writing about that area of Louisiana.

That's where I'm from. The region has always done a bit of navel-gazing, but ever since we had this little storm a couple years back, I find myself picking up almost anything if the writer is from New Orleans.


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