You owe me nothing, but if you’d like to help…

Jun 20, 2016

imageThere are loads of memes flying around social media that are some variation of “How to help an author” or “Support Authors” or “Fuck you, reader, dance for me, you monkey!”  The truth is, you owe an author nothing. At all. Just because I wrote a book, and that book got published, doesn’t mean anyone is under any obligation to read it or buy it, let alone do anything else. And even if you, dear reader, did read a book I wrote, and you loved it so much you went around with it stuffed down your pants for a week, you still owe me nothing. Although, you might need to consider getting out more if you really did spend a week with a book down your pants.

Put simply, there is no obligation of any kind on readers. They choose to either buy, borrow or steal a book, or not. Then they get around to reading it or they don’t. That’s it. Finished.

But, of course, there is a lot more they can do, should they so choose, and lots of those things really honestly genuinely help authors. And these ideas, while they can be listed in a trite meme, are maybe better explained in a little more detail. This stuff applies to big trad books and indie books, well-known authors and newbies. So here we go. I’m going to start by talking about the buying of books, but it’s not all about money, so read on!

Buy The Book

Well, d’uh! Right? Not entirely. What we really need are readers, but more on that later. However, at the bottom line, book sales keep authors and their publishers alive. It’s especially good with a new release if you buy the books during week 1 or 2 after release, because publishing can be a machine and it doesn’t stop. It swallows authors, chews them up, and spits out their gnarled remains. The way an author survives the machine is if they sell well enough to not be spat out. And the best way for an author to sell well is to start by selling well. Sure, many books are successful on a slow burn, but to sell they have to be on shelves. Bookstore real estate is highly contested space, so if a book sits on a shelf for a while and doesn’t sell, it will be sent back to make space for a new book. But if it shifts several copies, the shop gains confidence in it and gets more copies in. The sales data is good, it might hit in-store bestsellers charts, and stores order yet more. The profile of the book is raised and it gets more traction. That’s momentum happening right there, and that’s what we need. And if your local store doesn’t have them, order them in.

Order them at your library.

But you’re skint? No problem, man, I know those feels. Books can be a real luxury. There are other options than buying, which we’ll cover, but you know who has free books for you to read all the time? Legally? Your local library. Go there and ask them to order the books. When libraries buy a copy, that’s another sale. And authors get a small amount of money for each library borrow their books have, so that’s another income stream for them in the long term. And more importantly, it’s greater visibility of their books out in the world.

(You know what? Even if you do buy the books for yourself, order them at your local library too. Other readers will find them over time. More readers are what it’s all about.)

Buy them as gifts.

Buy for yourself, of course, but if there are any birthdays or other celebrations coming up (Xmas, Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, International Day of the Needy Author) buy another copy to give as a gift. That’s more sales and more readers, who may not have bought the books otherwise. I love buying books for people and introducing them to new authors, and I love it when people do that for me. You can also give your copy away as a gift, and introduce a new reader that way. A pre-loved book is a cool gift: “I just read this and you’ll love it. Here, have it!”

Tell friends, family and colleagues all about them.

There’s much more to a book’s success than sales, and here’s where we talk more about readers. Garth Nix calls it the transfer of enthusiasm. When you love a book, don’t keep that to yourself. Talk about it! Tell your friends and family, talk about books at work, show off the copy you love so people recognise the cover when they see it again. Be enthusiastic and transfer that enthusiasm all around. Nothing works better than genuine, honest word of mouth. That’s what really sells books and that’s where books find success. A successful book is one that enjoys a groundswell of genuine enthusiasm. So recommend them wherever you can.

Lend your copy to a friend.

You don’t want to give away your loved copy as a gift? That’s cool. If you’ve loved a book, lending it is a great way to transfer your enthusiasm, and then you get it back. But that’s another reader, hopefully another fan. That’s another person talking it up to their friends and transferring their enthusiasm. Momentum!

Talk them up (and share the cover images) on social media.

If you only have 14 followers on Twitter and 38 friends on Facebook, don’t think for one second that you lack influence. People will pay attention to your social media commentary if they are your friend or follower. That’s why they’re your friend or follower. Every single eyeball counts. So just like you talk up the books in person, do it online, wherever you hang out online. And again, share the cover image so people can spot it easily in store. It really helps.

Leave a review and rating on Amazon, Goodreads, iTunes, etc.

And when it comes to talking about them online, if you can be bothered, reviews make a huge difference. You don’t need to be a great reviewer. You can write:

“this book was really grate, I loved the action. people will definately enjoy it to.”

Seriously, that’s awful spelling and grammar, but it counts. Because it’s the transfer of enthusiasm that matters, not your writing skills. And the more reviews something has, the more visibility it gains on that site, and the more likely other people are to take a chance on it, because it seems like it’s already popular.

And that’s the thing about getting more readers – the more popular something appears, the more other people will want to check it out. The more other people check it out, the more likely they are to talk about it too. Hopefully they’ve enjoyed it and they’re talking it up, so the more transfer of enthusiasm we have. That means even more readers, that means even more talking and more enthusiasm. It’s a self-perpetuating engine of literary love. The book has a greater chance of being a hit. And you helped. Only you can help, really. Readers and their enthusiasm are an author’s pulse and lifeblood. We love you people.

(And incidentally, if you don’t go to libraries, you can’t afford the book, and you don’t know anyone with a copy to borrow, you’ll be able to find it online somewhere, you naughty pirate. You know, I’d rather you didn’t, but the only thing worse than piracy is obscurity. So if you’re motivated enough to pirate a copy, do the author a favour and talk about it to friends and other readers! Transfer your enthusiasm too, with a bottle of rum and a yo-ho-ho.)

So you owe an author nothing, but if you do want to help, buy, borrow, lend, order at the library, talk, review. Be part of that great word of mouth engine. If you do any of that stuff, I genuinely can’t thank you enough. You totally rock!

Transfer your enthusiasm!


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