As both GFP’s social media and marketing director and a recently published author, I am keenly aware of (a) how many books come out every week from publishers (hundreds, thousands if you add in self-published titles) and (b) how hard it is for those books to get noticed by readers. I spend a lot of time thinking about how to get books—mine, those of my clients, those of my friends, and those I’ve simply read and loved—into the hands of readers. And I have sympathy for readers who are the focus of the efforts put forth by me and my fellow professionals! The deluge that faces them each day makes discovering a new book utterly overwhelming. A book that sells well usually does so for a variety of reasons. It starts with (usually) a well-written book that captures the attention of readers. Then add a beautifully done cover, the excitement and support of a savvy agent, a sharp, enthusiastic in-house publishing team, a motivated and well-connected sales staff, some media attention, and then, most crucially, adoring readers. I’m always amazed how much people overestimate the impact of the media portion of this equation. Sure, it’s the most visible part—a flashy New York Times review is going to get people’s attention—but the impact of traditional media is limited. Even most books coming from a major publishing house will get scant coverage from the traditional media, if any. Traditional media outlets (think newspapers, magazines, radio stations) have contracted, while the number of books coming into the world has exploded. So who fills the yawning gap for the rest of the books published? You do, dear readers.
The average book sells about 250 copies. No, I didn’t forget to add a zero. If you take out self-published books, you can bump that up to about 1,000. This means that every single copy of an author’s book that you purchase has a considerable impact on the success of that title, and hence the author’s career.
Below are four ways you can help support the books of your favorite authors. If you’re a lover of books, authors depend on you for your support more than you may realize. And if you happen to be an author—either published or aspiring—supporting your community in the following ways is one of the best things you can do for your career and your karma.
Fun story: I did an event in San Francisco a few weeks ago during a storm so severe my flight was re-routed to San Jose. I was then bused into the city through the most torrential downpour I’ve ever seen. It was apocalyptic rain. Six people came to see me and the other author. Two were friends of mine. I was unspeakably grateful to all of them for schlepping out in the rain to attend. Every author I know has at least one story like this; many are worse, involving zero people showing up. For all but the biggest authors, crowds at book events are likely to be small, so if you ever want a little personal time with an author, this is the best opportunity. Attending events is also an excellent way to support your local independent bookstore.
Review the Book on Amazon
Books are pieces of art, but they’re also products. And those shopping online are going to keep an eye on customer reviews when they purchase a product. So help an author out and post a review of books you enjoy. It doesn’t need to be long, a sentence or two will do just fine. The more four- and five-star reviews a book has, the more visible it will be on Amazon, and the more likely a customer is to fork over their hard-earned ten or twenty bucks to read it. Every review counts.
Review the Book on Goodreads
If you’re not familiar with Goodreads, go sign up. For readers, it’s a great place to keep track of what you’re reading and discover new books. For writers, it’s a crucial platform. The community reviews on Goodreads are, by and large, more impassioned than those on Amazon, because Goodreads functions as a social media platform. Again, your review and rating can have a great impact here. NB to authors: do not respond to reviews of your own books on Goodreads. Reviews are not meant to be the opening of a discussion. If you find them upsetting, stop reading them. Seriously, no author who jumped into the fray ever came out looking good.
Tell a Friend (or a Hundred)
Advertisers like to use the term influencer to describe folks with significant social media platforms. But you know who’s an influencer when it comes to books? You are. If you have so much as a Facebook account (which, if you are living here on earth, you probably do), then you have more influence and reach than you may realize. If you post about a book you love (bonus points for posting a picture of the book, double bonus points for adding a link), you are having a direct and measurable impact on that author’s discoverability.
Just remember, if you read a book you love, don’t keep it to yourself!