What if I told you that you have more power than you ever imagined?
What if I told you that you have the power to change a book’s fate, change its author’s fate, and in doing so, change the world?
This post will teach you how to harness that power, how to grant it to others, and how – I’m not kidding here – doing so will help you manufacture your own drugs and live longer. None of it will take very long and most of it is free.
This is the most comprehensive field guide on the internet to boosting authors and supporting and promoting books.
Authors need readers. Authors need you.
You’re a freaking warrior.
Want to kick down old genre boundaries and champion great books the newspapers ignore? We’ve got you covered. Want a world with more bestsellers by women, people of colour, LGBT+ authors, working class authors, and more great stories representing those groups? Read on. Just read a mindblowing book and desperate to give as many people as possible the same amazing experience? Bless you. You’re in the right place my friend.
Besides making the world more awesome, you’ll become more awesome yourself. MRI scans have shown that generous decisions engage the temporo-parietal junction in the brain, increasing happiness and leading to a greater likelihood of generosity in future. Even small acts of generosity, or commitments to act with generosity, boost wellbeing. Studies suggest altruistic acts help insulate you against stress and reduce the risk of an early death. Authenticity is key – doing things for others because you feel obligated or out of a sense of guilt are unlikely to make you feel better – whereas small, habitual acts of generosity for people and causes you care about release oxytocin and prompt the mesolimbic pathway to release dopamine. Basically if you’re kind your brain manufactures you free crack. Crack that makes you live longer.
Are you ready to join that party?
(I make no apology if some of the suggestions seem – at first glance – obvious. This isn’t about the what so much as the how. If I’ve missed something important, let me know and I will gladly update the article. I appreciate any support in making this information as good and exhaustive as possible. If you’re a writer myself, you may enjoy my writing podcast Death Of 1000 Cuts, and my free 8 week writing course by podcast, the Couch To 80k Writing Boot Camp)
1. BUY AUTHORS’ BOOKS… FROM THE RIGHT PLACE
The most common question I get asked by readers wanting to show support is ‘what’s the best place to buy your books from’? They have a vague notion authors earn different commission from different outlets, and they want to give me maximum return on the sale.
Thanks for caring guys!
Here’s the thing though. Most authors don’t give a shit where you buy their books from. Asking an author the best place to buy their books from is like asking a drowning man his preferred colour of life preserver. Book sales are our oxygen. We can have the most awesome, enthusiastic fans on the planet, but if people aren’t buying our books, it’s like you built your new hamster a state-of-the-art seven-tier climate-controlled fun maze filled with treat dispensers but forgot to put holes in the box you brought him home in. Your fun maze just became a ridiculous straw-filled mausoleum.
If you buy an author’s book, you’re putting food on their table and a roof over their head. That’s huge. All the demands for representation or more daring, experimental books mean very little if no one buys those books when publishers comply. Buying a book is a political act. It’s an unequivocal statement of support, wherever you buy it from.
That said… if you want to change the world, here are the best places to buy your favourite authors’ books from, in order of system-smashing awesomeness:
- Independent bookstores: indie booksellers are like the last surviving members of an ancient race of super-soldiers, valiantly battling the forces of mindless evil even as their numbers dwindle. Every day they’re out there on the front lines, pressing books into readers’ hands, championing great authors the mainstream ignores. Not only that, but as a local business, the money they receive goes back into the local community, an average of $68 for every $100 spent, versus $44 for every $100 with national chains. Every time you buy a book direct from one of these goddamn heroes, you’re pouring a healing potion right down their gullet. If there isn’t an indie bookshop nearby, or you can’t get out easily, no problem. In the UK you can order via The Hive and either collect from a local bookshop, or get free home delivery and choose a local bookshop to benefit from the sale. In the US, Indiebound lets you pick a book, tap in your zipcode and jump straight to your nearest indie bookstores’ website to make a purchase. Alternatively, you can buy direct from the Indiebound site, and the profits go to the whole network.
- Any bricks-and-mortar chain bookshop: sure, high street chain bookstores aren’t as cool as indies, but they’re still massive consumerist palaces of imagination and learning, right there in the middle of the town. They’re a huge, visible presence that says BOOKS MATTER. Their window displays thrust new titles under the noses of thousands of humans every day. And they’re generally filled with staff who love books, often staff who write books, who care about stories and are happy to guide readers towards new authors they’ll love. When you favour a bookshop with your presence and cash, you’re nurturing a culture that says literature is valuable. And if you can’t make it out to a bookshop or there isn’t one nearby, hit up their website. Your patronage is still supporting their frontline stores.
- Direct from the publishers: not all publishers sell books direct from their website, but many do, and for small presses and indie publishers in particular, ordering direct from their website usually gives them a better margin than buying via a third party. Of course, it’s not quite as simple as that – buying one of their titles from a high street shop may trim their percentage, but you’re supporting a physical shop at the same time, and giving the publisher another sale with that retailer, which may lead to increased orders in future. Bottom line: more revenue for the publisher means more money to spend on getting your favourite author to write new awesome books.
- From the author’s website: if a link on an author’s website says ‘BUY MY BOOK HERE’, you can be reasonably sure that’s their preferred method for selling their work to you online. Some authors even set up affiliate links, so they get a little extra kickback if you purchase via their site. For indie authors or authors with self-published titles, buying their work direct may put extra money in their pocket, though see above for caveats (WOOL author Hugh Howey wrote an interesting post on the advantages of making sales via Amazon, even though he receives a smaller cut).
- From an online bookstore other than Amazon: there are a bunch of great online bookstores, like Wordery, who offer free delivery and competitive prices. They have big inventories for you to choose from and every purchase you make supports the authors and their publishers. Go you!
- Amazon: maybe everywhere else has run out. Maybe your favourite author only publishes ebooks and you have a Kindle and they only sell via Amazon. Maybe you can’t face the 60 seconds it would take to input your name, address and card details into a new site. Maybe reports of Amazon working practices making its staff physically and mentally ill, its repeated reprimands over illegal tax breaks and its continued attempts to seek unprecedented local and national tax breaks, squeezes on publisher revenues and predatory, loss-making pricing designed to drive competitors out of business (and as the business expands, everyone is a competitor) don’t bother you, or they do bother you, but not enough to get you to actually change your behaviour, especially as no one knows when you buy stuff from Amazon, and surely everyone does it otherwise Jeff Bezos wouldn’t be the richest person in history, with a net worth large enough to buy every single one of America’s homeless a $200,000 apartment. If you’re okay with every purchase you make contributing towards the continuance, growth and intensification of those things, or just insufficiently not-okay, this is the option for you, my friend. But perhaps sanctimonious finger-wagging isn’t the best way to change your mind.
Ok, here are some good things about buying your favourite author’s books from Amazon: They get money from the sale, and their publisher gets money too. You’re still supporting literature and the arts.
Sales and book profile clicks boost the author’s Amazon rank, which may get them seen by more people, depending on the oh-so-secret algorithms operating in the background.
Amazon may be more likely to recommend the book to people who buy other books you’ve bought.
If Amazon nudges you to leave a review, and you leave a nice one, that review may be seen by other shoppers or people searching for the book online, which may encourage them to buy.
Some self-published authors only sell through Amazon. So if you boycott the website you’re denying them a sale and you a book.
You’re not spending the money on forcing puppies to drink bleach or something.
Most people make ethical compromises in their lives – I chose to sell my novel to Audible, which is owned by Amazon. I didn’t have to do that. But I wanted the money and I wanted as many people as possible to hear the audiobook. I chose selfishly. I’m not proud of that.
Taking small steps to reduce your moral hypocrisy may feel like throwing pebbles at an approaching tornado. If you’re anything like me, you try to ease your discomfort by inventing excuses in your head or telling yourself the company isn’t that bad. But the point isn’t to perform a defensive action to guard against censure. It’s about realising that there are easy substitutions you can make that set the world turning in a direction you can feel good about. I encourage you to look at the alternatives to Amazon above, and all the benefits. You’re not giving something up, you’re upgrading. You’ll feel less helpless and more optimistic. Just like He-Man, you have the power.
DO IT NOW:
2. PREORDER AUTHORS’ NEXT BOOKS
Sometimes, you’ll search for an author and there’ll be a listing for their next book, with a button to preorder. Preorders are sales on steroids. If you really want your purchase to make an impact, this is how.
Let me explain. When you preorder, you’re reserving a copy of the book. You’ll get it on the day of release, sometimes slightly before. It might seem a bit pointless, unless you think the book is likely to sell out.
But strong preorders show anticipation for the book. This encourages booksellers to order more stock in anticipation of greater demand. This, in turn, builds buzz around the book, which can lead to its inclusion in promotions, which can create more media interest, which generates more buzz, and so on.
Not only this, but preorders all count towards a book’s first week sales. So they all get smooshed together into one superweek. Concentrating months of sales stats into a single week gives books a real shot at breaking onto bestseller lists, which generate excitement and help even more readers find amazing authors they’ve never heard of before.
DO IT NOW:
Check an author you love’s listings. If there’s an unreleased book, help supercharge their opening week by heading to Indiebound or The Hive and pre-ordering, or by phoning your local bookshop (I just tested this by phoning my local branch of Waterstones and they were lovely and helpful – it took all of 60 seconds).
3. RATE & REVIEW AUTHORS
If you watch a lot of Youtube you’re probably sick of hearing people say ‘don’t forget to Like & Subscribe’ at the end of the video, or pointing downwards and saying ‘let me know in the comments below’. They’re doing that because we’re all at the mercy of algorithms that channel content towards us like great sluice gates.
Rating and reviewing a book is the author equivalent of ‘Like & Subscribe’. There are a lot of frantic whispers about the magic number of online reviews a book needs to get bumped up in Amazon’s algorithm, but what’s beyond a doubt is the more positive reviews a book gets on places like Amazon and Goodreads, the better it looks when someone browses for it online. These two sites aren’t the only places where readers can leave ratings and reviews, of course. Almost every bookstore, from Wordery and Waterstones to Indiebound and The Hive have systems where you can login and leave a rating and review in minutes.
A book’s star ratings have a big impact – they’re usually visible on the first page of search results when you Google a book. Neither me nor my publishers are credible advocates for a novel I’ve written – we have a big financial stake in the book’s doing well. But if a bunch of randos take the time to go online and say ‘yeah, this rocks’ their collective opinion carries far more weight.
If you’ve got an account on Amazon then rating your favourite books takes literally less than a minute. Just find the book, click on the little ‘Write a Customer Review’ button and click on how many stars you’d like to award. That’s it. For books that don’t have many reviews, a minute of your time can shift the aggregate rating and change every single reader’s first impression of the book from here on in. You don’t have to spend any money on the site – it’s just about hitting high-visibility sites that readers are likely to see.
Spend another minute or two and you can add a short review. No need to agonise over finding the right words – far better that you say how you feel in simple, straightforward language, the way you might explain it to a friend. You don’t have to go on for paragraphs and paragraphs either – a couple of sentences is fine if that’s enough for you to say what you mean. And you don’t have to turn into a frothing fanchild either – mention what the book does well but if there are parts that might put some readers off, be honest about those. Your review will be far more convincing for being balanced.
A few tips: try to avoid major spoilers. Give a sense of genre. If you think fans of a particular established author might love this, name the author. Don’t be afraid to write in the first person – it’s not an academic essay and you’re free to be subjective. By all means copy and paste your review from one bookseller’s site onto another – nothing wrong with consistency, and your thoroughness will mean far more people will see your helpful review. Don’t worry if you feel like you’re not super well-read or an ‘expert’ – your opinion as a newcomer is valuable, especially for others who might be new to the genre or author or series.
Good reviews help readers connect with books they’ll love. As newspaper and magazine budgets are squeezed, print journalism is devoting less and less space to book reviews, which means sometimes, a book’s star rating and the comments below the line are all someone has to go on if they’re deciding whether to take a risk. It’s a quick, free and impactful way you can reach through the internet and give them a hand up.
Not only that, but reviewing books on bookseller sites is a nice, low-commitment way to flex your own writing muscles. It helps you organise your thoughts, you get to practise putting your opinions into words, and if lots of people find your reviews helpful you can quickly start to build a reputation as a reviewer. Cross-posting between booksellers and your own Facebook page or website is absolutely fine and a good way to increase your audience.
DO IT NOW:
Go to Amazon now or Goodreads (or if you can’t bear either, Wordery) search for some books you love and give them a star rating. If you like, leave a one or two line review. Far better to leave a quick, simple review and rating than to not do it all because you’re not sure what to write. Trust me – authors will be so grateful for your support.
4. FOLLOW AUTHORS ON SOCIAL MEDIA
Follow them on Twitter. Check to see if they have an author page on Facebook. (don’t send friend requests to their personal page, though, unless you’ve met them and they ask you to) If you’re on Instagram, look for them there, too. Aside from boosting their follower numbers, you’ll be in a position to retweet or share important posts that they’re keen get seen by as many pairs of eyes as possible. A lot of authors participate in social media with no small amount of trepidation, and having a few friendly supporters makes all the difference! You can even drop them a tweet to say that you dig their stuff – unless it’s accompanied by a photo of you in your y-fronts smeared in gooseberry jam they’ll almost certainly appreciate the morale boost.
DO IT NOW:
5. SEND AUTHORS A FAN LETTER
Not all support is about promotion. Sometimes it’s about one human reaching out to another human and saying: ‘hey buddy, that scene where the doberman drives a Nissan Skyline into a bakesale made me snort Cheeto crumbs out my nose’.
Fanmail is lovely to receive and surprisingly uplifting to write. Cultivating gratitude is associated with all sorts of benefits, including improved sleep, enhanced performance under pressure, better healthy habits and improved mood. Writing down 3 things you’re thankful for in a day is one way to build a gratitude mindset, and another powerful technique is to tell creators what their work means to you. Not only will you be retraining your brain to notice positive things alongside potential threats, making you less stressed, more resilient and kinder, but you’ll be making someone else – someone whose work you think is awesome – feel good too. (studies have suggested that people perform better after receiving personal compliments, so you’ll potentially be improving the work of your fave authors)
I’ve sent and received emails saying ‘the thing you do is great – thanks!’ and whether writing or receiving it always gives me a lift. The act of explaining to someone why you liked their story makes you relieve your favourite moments over again, and gives you a richer, deeper appreciation of the stuff you enjoyed. The human brain has a hardwired negativity bias that makes us more likely to notice and remember bad, upsetting or frightening events over events or things that evoke happiness, laughter or calm. Blasting off a short piece of fanmail is a simple, effective way of fighting back. (and if it doesn’t sound too saccharine, consider getting into the habit of sending complimentary ‘fanmail’ to your friends and family, too – on your deathbed I very much doubt you’ll regret taking the time to tell good people in your life how much they mean to you)
The message you send need only be a few sentences. As with reviewing, far better you say something simple and imperfect from the heart, than you tie yourself up in knots trying to come up with the perfect fifty-stanza lyric poem to express your undying loyalty. You could maybe mention your favourite book of theirs, or a character or scene you really loved. Also, don’t try to be smartarsed or jokey rude or overfamiliar – I absolutely get the urge to hide your nervousness behind a facade of convivial ribbing or a witty remark, but you really don’t need to do it. Just a sincere ‘what you do is cool’ means so much, since so few people actually take the time to say it. And an overly jokey or cheeky message sometimes comes off as just rude. I know you’re not an arsehole (or ‘asshole’ if you live in the US), but you might be mistaken for one if you try too hard to be funny. So just be human.
Can’t find an email address? No problem. Google their name along with “agent” or “publisher”. Get their agent or publisher’s name and address, and send a letter or even a lovely handwritten note by conventional post, with the author’s name on top, then ‘C/O’ (‘courtesy of’) and the agent’s name and address beneath. It’s polite to include an envelope and a stamp for when they send it on to the author in question. This whole process is slightly more of a faff than a simple email, but it’s also rather fun and an actual letter is that little bit more special.
DO IT NOW
Google the website of an author you love and look for a ‘Contact’ tab or link. Click it, and without worrying about using exactly the right words, drop them a few lines to say thanks. If you can’t find a site or an email link, Google their agent/publisher, get a postal address, and write them a quick note. You’ll be making both your lives better!
6. POST ON SOCIAL MEDIA ABOUT AUTHORS’ WORK
You don’t have to turn into a frothing affiliate marketer – a short post on Facebook or Tumblr saying something like: ‘This is one of my favourite books – it’s about a fallen angel with guns for wings, and the dead chef who loves him. If you enjoyed Mr Watanabe Goes To Fartland you’ll love this.’ and adding a link to a page where people can buy it. It’s important to make it as easy as possible for someone swayed by your words to click through and grab a copy – the fewer clicks involved, the more likely it is they’ll make an impulse buy and pour sweet $$$s into your writing crush’s pockets.
Word-of-mouth is still recognised as the most powerful marketing tool for a book. Nothing beats a personal recommendation for getting someone to pick up a novel and give it a go. A huge billboard telling you that the latest hardback from such-and-such is ‘a gripping page-turner’ is far less convincing than a friend saying ‘I just read the latest book by Nancy Beanfan in a single sitting – it’s awesome’. And there’s a drip-drip-drip effect of an author’s name cropping up on Facebook and Twitter. When someone who follows you sees that name again somewhere else, little recognition neurons light up in their brain. Ooh! they think. I’ve heard of this author. Immediately the author you mentioned has an advantage over the 95% of other names in the bookshop.
If you’re on Twitter you can add their Twitter handle in the post – this helps attract new followers, and some authors will retweet praise from readers. (this is a a divisive area, etiquette-wise – some people feel sharing praise is a bit smug; whatever your opinion, we can probably agree that of all the sins people commit on Twitter, it’s not the worst)
Don’t underestimate your power as a fan. You’re more persuasive than hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on adverts, precisely because you’re independent. Post about the books you love and you will make a difference.
DO IT NOW
Click through to Twitter and Facebook and post a link to a book you love, along with a line or two about why you love it. Link to an online retailer you feel comfortable promoting (see above) and a page where someone who clicks through can buy immediately. Well done! 60 seconds’ work and you’ve hacked the industry.
7. REVIEW AUTHORS’ WORK ON YOUR BLOG
Got a blog? Consider dropping in a short review of your favourite author’s latest book. As reviews get squeezed out of national newspapers, book bloggers are fast becoming the lifeblood of a thriving, diverse literature scene. The internet is a great equaliser, so providing your blog is easy to read and you give readers a good idea of what the book is about, your review could end up being as influential as one in a major publication.
The beauty of writing a blog is you can write as little or as much as you like – though shorter reviews will encourage you to be a bit more disciplined, will be easier for readers, and should normally take less time. Remember to put a link to buy the book at the top and bottom of the review – retailers like Wordery, Hive and Amazon have affiliate programmes you can join, where you’ll get a code you can add to your URLs, so if people click through and buy the book, you get a small cut. (you’re unlikely to make a ton of cash off these links, but getting money for something you’d be doing anyway is a nice side-hustle)
In addition, you’re not under pressure to review the latest releases. There’s no time-limit on writing about a book – it’s your blog. As well as full reviews, you can write monthly roundups, Top 10 or Top 7 or Top 5 lists of books of a certain genre or theme, you can write features about particular characters in books and what you think their deal is, you can write about trends in publishing or the importance of diversity and representation, you can rant righteously about things that annoy you large or small, use the setting of a book to write about the history or culture or fauna of that place – you can even contact authors (including your favourites, obvs) and ask if they’d be willing to do a short interview for your blog. (just bear in mind that written interviews take quite a bit of a person’s time, and don’t be offended if they decline)
If you find you enjoy book reviewing and want to do it more, you can register at NetGalley (US) or NetGalley (UK) to request free ebooks of upcoming titles. If people like your reviews and come to trust your judgement, you’ll become that most coveted of assets in the publishing industry – a ‘reader of influence’. WARNING: book reviewing takes a lot of time. If you love it, wonderful – there are ways to grow it into a rewarding hobby that pays for itself. But don’t feel like your opinion can only be of value if you’re churning out 3 reviews a week and have a dedicated site with its own rating system (I award Tales From The Alpaca Salon 5 Cadbury’s Creme Eggs out of a possible 7 and a half) – just doing a short post called ‘5 Books I Loved This Month’ with a line and a link for each is great.
Remember – doing one small, good thing is far better than doing nothing. And if lots of people get in the habit of doing one small, good thing, that’s when the world changes.
DO IT NOW
Look at a few popular book blogs to get an idea of what they look like and the sort of articles they post. See if you can get any inspiration. If they feature guest bloggers, look for a ‘Contact’ tab and drop them a line, asking if you can write them a review.
8. LINK TO AUTHORS’ BOOKS OR WEBSITES
If you have a blog or a website, considering having a page or sidebar with permanent links to authors and book-related sites you love. You don’t need much, just headings like ‘AUTHORS THAT ROCK’ and ‘BOOKS THAT LEGIT MELTED MY FACE’ then underneath links to either the author’s website, or a buying page for the authors’ books, as appropriate.
By doing this, you’re boosting their discoverability, and giving people like you the chance to stumble upon their work. The impact of lots of links on search engine rankings is questionable, but you’re still setting up the potential for good ol’ fashioned organic clicks. Your endorsement means more than you realise.
9. SHARE AUTHORS’ REVIEWS
If they get a good review in a paper or online, retweet it, or better yet, post a link to it yourself on Facebook and Twitter, and add your own comment. Not only will you be doing invaluable work getting impressive evidence of their book’s worth in front of as many eyes as possible, but by spreading the article you’re also rewarding the publication that commissioned and ran it. Book reviews in a national paper cost money. If people don’t read them, they will disappear. Spreading reviews, good or bad, supports the publishing industry.
10. NOMINATE AUTHORS FOR AWARDS, AND VOTE FOR THEM
I have reservations about awards culture (it polarises attention around a few titles, historically it’s been massively skewed towards straight white men – and it’s just silly that the only way we can talk about books is by making them fight for our entertainment) but the reason that publishers will readily chloroform and roast their own grandmothers to have a book win one is that they shift units. Not as many as you might think – even some of the better-known awards don’t massively move the needle – but the major ones can do a lot to get readers trying out a new author, and to get bookshops promoting them. Though writers in certain genres like Crime, Romance, Fantasy and Thrillers can go a whole career without so much as a sniff of a shortlist and still do eye-watering numbers in terms of sales, writers of Literary Fiction can really benefit from prize recognition.
Many of the biggest awards are shortlisted by the organisers then chosen by a panel (meaning the judges often have no say in the shortlist and thus choose ‘the best’ book from a choice of five or six curated behind the scenes), and for the most part a novel can only be nominated by its publisher. Many awards limit the number of titles a publisher can nominate, meaning they have to pick the books they want to get the most exposure – usually the ones they’ve paid the largest advances for. This isn’t cynicism on their part – most editors I’ve met are tireless advocates for books and authors they love, irrespective of sales. They want the tricky, challenging or lesser-known stories to get attention and readers, but their final responsibility is to keep the lights on. They can’t push any books if the business folds – a far from outlandish scenario in the precarious world of publishing, where margins are small and sales unpredictable.
Awards like the Books Are My Bag Readers Awards in the UK compile a shortlist from booksellers’ nominations then invite the public to vote for the winners. Like a judging panel, you’ll be choosing from a hugely reduced field, but if an author you love makes it onto a shortlist that goes to a public vote, make sure you vote for them and encourage others to do so.
The Hugo Awards cover SF and Fantasy, and allow members of the World Science Fiction Society to nominate and vote on creative works and authors under a variety of categories. In recent years the voting process has become overshadowed by rancorous partisan disagreement over supposed ideological bias in the nominations. Bloc voting by right-wing fans (and a subset of Far Right white supremacists) led to an overhaul of the rules. If there’s a positive to the whole sorry business, it’s showing how much of an impact a relatively small number of readers can have if they make a battle plan and work together.
For the most part, though, major awards are a closed shop, and since open voting awards rely on voters having read the books in question, they tend to amplify authors who were already doing respectable numbers. There are various indie awards out there open to self-published authors, but it can be hard to tell the legitimate competitions from cynical money-making exercises with exorbitant entry fees and little wider recognition.
Finally, there are plenty of readers’ polls on book blogs, Facebook groups and sites like Goodreads that you can vote on. It’s not a good use of your time to go tracking these down, but if an author directs you to one through their Facebook page or Twitter, do them a favour and spend 30 seconds clicking through and voting. For less established authors, winning a poll – even if it’s about something like ‘Best Cover’ rather than the actual content of the book – can be a lovely boost that sends a few new readers their way.
If your favourite author announces they’ve been nominated for an award with a public vote, go vote, and encourage your friends to do the same. Every bit of publicity helps, especially for less well-known writers for whom even a small award can offer a boost. But if we do a better job of talking about books we love, sharing them with our friends, writing about them, and building networks to get the message out, book awards will become less and less relevant.
11. JOIN AUTHORS’ MAILING LISTS
Some authors put out a monthly or irregular newsletter, letting their fans know what they’re up to, whether they’ve got new books due out, details of live readings, and links to articles, reviews, interviews and appearances on podcasts. If you head to their website, the signup form will probably look something like the one on the right hand column of this site.
Mailing lists have fallen out of fashion as spam filters become more zealous – Gmail’s ‘Promotions’ tab quarantines many mass mailouts, leaving them unopened. Social media is also a sort of micro newsletter service, and lots of us use email less as new options open up to us.
Still, if an author puts out a newsletter, it’s likely to contain everything most important to them – the projects they’re working on, and the stuff they need the most support with. Some stick in little giveaways or special content just for subscribers, as a little thank you for giving a darn. It’s an easy way to get a summary of what they’re up to, and your reading it will make them feel like slightly less of a weird hustler yelling their schedule into the void. People who sign up for mailing lists are awesome, basically.
12. TAKE AUTHORS’ BOOKS OUT AT THE LIBRARY
You might think borrowing a book from the library rather than paying for it is tantamount to stealing from the author. Think again! And, err… come to a different conclusion based on new information.
Authors in the UK can apply for Public Lending Right royalties, which give them payments depending on how often their books are checked out. Not only that, but every time you borrow a book from a library you’re upping their circulation figures. Libraries face a constant fight for survival – they’re hugely valuable community resources, stalwart fortresses of literacy that empower young readers and ensure that everyone has access to literature. The more we use them and speak up for them and champion them, the greater chance they have of surviving for the pleasure and enrichment of generations to come.
Any author worth their salt recognises libraries’ value as bastions of the art. Anything you do in support of libraries, you do in support of great stories, of reading, and of spreading books to the widest audience possible. That is super cool, benefits the publishing industry and authors and – more importantly – society at large, and is a simple way for you to get free stuff while making the world a better place. If you don’t have a library card, get one this very instant. It’s a win-win.
13. MAKE FAN ART
If you draw or paint and you want to make an author’s face pop with sheer joy, do them some fan art. Seriously. Doing a sketch of your favourite character and putting it on Tumblr or Deviantart or your Facebook page or Twitter is a great way to show off your talent while giving some love to the creators who inspire you.
I know from personal experience that receiving fan art is one of the highlights of putting a book out into the world. It’s mind-bending – like someone peered inside your head and sketched your dreams. Sharing a chill-ass drawing of a scene or character from a novel that blew your mind is one of the most validating things you can do for an author. But wait – as well as a lovely treat for the author, your artwork is a fantastic, punchy way of selling new readers on the book.
IMPORTANT CAVEAT: talented artists deserve to be paid well for actual commissions, cover art or promotional illustrations. Don’t do work for authors on spec or for free if they ask you. It’s fine to draw stuff you choose to draw, on your terms and timescale, but if a writer wants to use your work in materials they’re charging people for (like a book cover) you deserve to be paid for your efforts. Anyone who gives you a hard time for asking is being a wienersaurus.
14. TAKE SEXY PHOTOS OF AUTHORS’ BOOKS
Nothing quite matches seeing your book out ‘in the wild’. For most of us who’ve always dreamed of being a Proper Author*, the idea of one day having a physical book in a physical shop and presumably physical people paying most likely incorporeal cash for it has been a giddy fantasy for most of our lives. Seeing pictures of the book posted by people who have bought it and are sitting down to read it feels frankly hallucinogenic.
Not only that, but spreading pictures of a book – especially if it has a striking cover – raises its profile and visibility. If someone sees your photo, next time they’re in a bookshop the book will elicit a small jolt of recognition. That’s great! That makes them more likely to mosey over and have a sneaky peekeroo.
15. BUY AUTHORS A COFFEE
ko-fi.com is a simple website that lets creators rattle the tip jar. It’s particularly good for indie artists and people producing stuff online, who mainly share for free and could use a little help keeping the lights on.
Naturally I have a page and if you like what I do here and on the podcast, please consider chucking me a buck or so, so I can cover my hosting costs and keep making cool stuff that hopefully helps people.
This one isn’t here just so I can shill for donations, by the way. Sites like Ko-fi and its big sibling Patreon allow a lot of really cool artists in a variety of fields to just about squeeze by thanks to the generosity of their fans. These are tough times to be making great, weird art – perhaps twas ever thus – and taking the leap and choosing to become a supporter of someone on Patreon – even with just a $1 a month donation – is a fundamentally political act. It’s a vote for art, a vote for culture, it’s an active, positive step towards a reality where independent creators are valued and celebrated and free to fill the world with awesome stuff. We need imagination more than ever. And imagineers gotta eat.
16. SUPPORT AUTHORS’ PUBLISHERS
When publishers big or small take a punt on risky, interesting, weird or rule-breaking books, not because they think they’ll make money but because they believe wholeheartedly those books deserve to be read, the first, best way to show support is to buy the damn book. But beyond that, taking a dip into a publisher’s backlist and seeing if anything else takes your fancy is a great way to reward their courage and help them keep innovating.
Small independent presses especially benefit from this kind of benign nepotism, and browsing their websites is a great way to stumble upon new authors. Whether they deal with literary fiction or pulp SF, they likely have a bunch of other books that will vigorously tickle the nichest of fancies.
DO IT NOW
Find the name of your favourite author’s publisher. (hint: it’s on the spine of their book) Visit the publisher’s website and browse the other books in their stable. Find one you like the look of and buy it.
17. SHARE THIS LIST
Any positive act becomes exponentially more powerful when shared with others willing to replicate it.
Don’t ever be fooled into inaction by the self-limiting belief that good behaviours must have an immediate, unequivocal, permanent effect to be worthwhile. Look for the next small good thing and do it. These micro-kindnesses add up. They will change you and how you view your place and agency in the world.
An easy way to leverage your influence is to rally like-minded friends to the cause. If this article has inspired you to take a couple of actions on the list, if it’s clarified anything for you or taught you something you didn’t know before, and if you think it might be of value to someone else, who might in turn pass it on to others, I hope you’re willing to share it on Facebook and Twitter, and on any forums you frequent.
In the spirit of this piece, I’ll finish by recommending some books and authors (alive and dead) I think are very worthy of your attention, because they’re fucking brilliant. Obviously most are quite famous but that’s ok. They still deserve more readers – please consider buying one:
Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang
A masterful collection of SF and Fantasy short stories, including golems, psychic duels, and one that formed the basis for the movie Arrival.
The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes
A brutal, inspiring, inventive, thrilling story about a time-travelling serial killer obsessed with murdering women across history, all who live powerful, astonishing lives. Fantastic and engaging to the last page.
About Writing by Samuel R Delany
The best book on writing I have ever read. A collection of essays, personal letters and articles about every aspect of the craft of writing, analysing how we write, how writing achieves its effects, and ways to overcome common weaknesses in plot or style. Fascinating, clear-sighted and immensely practical. You can’t help but come away a better writer.
Seed to Harvest by Octavia E Butler
One of the most ambitious and gripping SFF sequences of our time. Butler follows the story of ruthless immortal Doro, as, over the years, he pursues a plan to bring forth a new era of humanity. At times awe-inspiring and heart-rending, this is a brutal, sophisticated, exciting series of novels that will take you through all the emotions and leave you with no easy answers.
The Complete Accomplice by Steve Aylett
A quartet of wildly-creative, funny, humane Fantasy novels set in Accomplice, a subtropical town built on top of multiple portals to Hell. Don’t be fooled by the jokes – Aylett’s purpose here is deadly serious, the prose exploding with some of the most disciplined, original imagery I’ve ever encountered, the satire dark and venomous. Like nothing you’ve ever read.
The Palm-Wine Drinkard by Amos Tutuola
A freewheeling account of one wine-loving man’s journey to find his dead wine-tapper. Full of magic, lecherous skulls with rented bodies, mobs of deadly babies, and heroic levels of palm-wine drinking. A cult novel, and it’s not hard to see why. Fiercely original, entertaining, and full of surprises on every page.
The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin
Le Guin has written many fantastic novels, and The Dispossessed is certainly in contention for the best. An uneasy parable about two planets and the very different societies that exist on either, and what happens when an ambassador from the ‘ambiguous utopia’ experiences a world uncomfortably close to our own.
True Grit by Charles Portis
The gripping story of Mattie Ross, a 14-year-old girl who sets out to avenge the death of her father. A fast-paced, witty Wild West page-turner with a literary novel’s turn of phrase but the pop and fizz of an action thriller. One of my favourite books of all time.
The Ladies of Grace Adieu by Susanna Clarke
Susanna Clarke is an incredible writer, as anyone who has read her gargantuan novel Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell can attest. This collection of short stories offers the chance to experience her unrivalled skill at weaving beguiling stories of the weird. Every paragraph is exquisitely crafted, her wit dry, her eye sharp. One of those books you savour like an especially luxurious box of chocolates, or wolf in one sitting.
Radical Dharma by Rev angel Kyodo williams, Lama Rod Owens and Jasmine Syedullah
A powerful book about race and liberation within a Buddhist context, suggesting frameworks for resisting white supremacy and dismantling systems of oppression. Not a comfortable read, by any means, but one informed by bravery, wisdom and love, and thus a hugely important one.
… AND 3 THINGS NEVER TO DO
- Don’t turn their book cover-out on the shelf – this doesn’t get a book extra publicity, it just creates extra work for tireless bookshop staff who will notice and fix the display. This isn’t a good use of your time, it has no impact on sales, and it gives your favourite author a reputation for attracting cranks.
- Don’t attack other authors on their behalf – it’s never a good look to build one writer up by tearing another down. One, it’s counterproductive – the fans of the author you attack will feel hurt and aim their resentment at your favourite author. Two, authors aren’t in ruthless competition. The more books people buy and enjoy, the more revenue publishers have to invest in new and riskier stories. If you must compare, don’t say ‘[FAVOURITE AUTHOR X] is sooo much better than [POPULAR AUTHOR Y]’. Say ‘If you like [BESTSELLER A] then boy are you going to love [FAVOURITE BOOK B]’.
- Don’t post multiple reviews for the same book under fake names – this goes especially if you are the author of the book. It’s frustrating when the work you sweated for months and years over doesn’t seem to catch fire in the big bad world. It’s tempting to nudge it on its way with a few words of glowing praise posted from multiple Amazon accounts. You might even contemplate paying for 20, 50, or 100 rave reviews written by a ‘promotion’ company. Surely everyone does it? DON’T. If you get caught out, the damage to your reputation – or the reputation of the author you decided to ‘help’ – will be permanently damaged. And even if you don’t, the victory will be hollow, because the accolades will all be fake. Deceptions like this almost never work. Real 5 star reviews are backed up by real, enthusiastic readers, who tell their friends about the book they just read. By all means, write one passionate 5 star review and share it all over the internet on various sites. But don’t try to become an army of aliases. It’s rarely convincing and it will probably do more harm than good.