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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That really doesn't have much influence on me. I'm not more likely to read a mystery by an ex-cop just because he or she was in law enforcement. I read Robin Burcell, for example, because she's a great writer, not because she used to be a cop. And I don't read many legal thrillers at all (with the recent exception of Paul Levine's Solomon v. Lord books, which are a scream).
If they are writing about a professional field it helps to know if the author knows what they are talking about, like Elizabeth Peters or Dick Francis. But truthfully, if a field is so very esoteric does it really matter if what the author says is true or not? I mean, how many people out there can contradict him? Let's face it, you could setup a whole persona as a hard-drinking wildcatter from Kuwait, writing your first novel about murder in the oil fields as Saddam set them ablaze and how many people on planet earth could say you weren't? Its not like Thomas Harris really knows about lighting a man on fire and pushing his wheelchair down a parking garage ramp. Or I hope he doesn't....
No, not really. If it's an author I haven't tried before, I'll read the first chapter before I buy. If it doesn't interest me or it is poorly written, I don't waste my money. Her/his background has little influence on me, except for whether or not I have enjoyed their work before.
The only time I stopped reading an author because of something they had does was Janet Dailey after she had plagerized passages written by Nora Roberts. The case was ultimately settled, with Roberts donating all the settlement funds to a literacy program, but I just couldn't read Dailey after that. But that's just me.
Sometimes it's an added bonus (finding out S. Chercover had been a P.I. was cool), but it's not what I check for first. I can't imagine picking up a book just because someone had been a lawyer or doctor or chocolatier first, though. What the hell does that have to do with how good a writer s/he is?
I agree, it's not what I look at first, but I do feel that having some relevant background adds to the appeal of an author. Knowing that Dennis Lehane was a social worker, for a while, informs the compassion he has for his characters. Knowing that Carolina Garcia-Aguilera was a private eye before writing her Lupe Solano series makes me believe that she knows what she's writing about. Alexander McCall Smith used to be a professor of law in Botswana, so I appreciate his descriptions of the country and the people.

But on the other hand, if an author doesn't have a relevant background, it doesn't make me not want to read him/her.
Background probably influences me more if the book is nonfiction than fiction.
I think it depends what you're looking for. If it's a legal thriller, and the person was a lawyer, and maybe a lawyer I already knew handled many fascinating cases, then I would want to buy the book without any idea of how they write. I had to write a book about Alaska without ever having (yet) been here, and now realize what a difference the author's background can make in the writing if it's coming from experience and not completely from what you can read and get from others. So resoundingly - YES... and resoundingly - NO. I think the majority of books I buy are bought based on the synopsis of the story or from having liked previous books by that author, and nothing to do with their past (or current) job.
I don't, in fact I doubt I'd remember what anybody did or didn't do in a past life - but it is interesting when you read something that has been affected by what somebody did in a previous life. Just finished a debut novel by Katherine Howell - she was a paramedic and, the book has the viewpoint slightly skewed from the standard cop view to that of the paramedic / ambulance crew - to say nothing of her being involved in the crimes - but I thought it was a fascinating change of perspective none the less. I didn't particularly read it knowing / caring / expecting a difference just because of the author's job.


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