Hug an Author (With Consent) and 7 Other Ways We Support Books
Updated: Dec 8, 2022
It is incredibly difficult to make a living as an author of any kind. For most of them, writing isn't their sole source of income, because it's just so damned hard. In 2022, the book industry is both more open to self-publishing, and more exclusive than it's ever been. What's more, if you're not already popular, you're going to have a hell of a time climbing the ranks against the multitudes of other writers out there. Some of which are brilliant, and some of which are... certainly all words put together on pages. But being popular doesn't necessarily mean that your work is the best work out there, and struggling to get paid doesn't mean you're a shitty writer (if you're an indie author reading this, please remember that.)
Now, books are more accessible than ever before, and according to most sources, with the advent of e-books and audiobooks, while readership (especially among women) is down, book sales are up. That said, bookstores, both chain and independent, have to rely on a formula to sell their wares that's going to guarantee high profit. Barnes and Noble, the largest in-person bookstore in the USA, has allegedly revamped their stocking policies to where they now only stock books with a proven sales record, by some accounts only stocking the top two authors per publishing company. (B&N has denied this last bit.)
Still, in other words, if you're an author, and you don't have the good fortune of already being Stephen King or James Patterson... good luck getting your work seen on shelves.
Even bookstores (and e-stores) that don't rely on such harsh methods are still catering to their audience. They want to make bank, because, you know, capitalism.
They rely on tried-and-true methods like how many reviews a book has on their website. Goodreads. How many pre-orders they get for a certain book may inform how many copies they stock later. And of course, sales records. Now, I am certainly not a marketing expert. I'm a musician. Which basically means that I can count to four, and after that, I subdivide. But I'm a dedicated reader, and I do want to publish someday. I want authors to succeed, and I want their stories to be told. So what can we, as readers, do to help our favorite authors?
1. Buy Books
This is the obvious one, but there are a lot of options out there. I prefer paper books, personally, but my wife likes listening to audiobooks when she's cooking or doing chores, and when I showed my therapist my TBR pile, she waved her Kindle at me and said "have you ever considered one of these?"
(The ones on the left are the ones I've already finished. It makes me feel like I'm making progress.)
Authors, for their part, mostly don't care where you buy their book, or how you buy their book. In my experience, they're super excited to see someone enjoy their work, and even happier to make a sale that helps them put food on the table. That said, I prefer independent bookstores, because I can guarantee you that your local bookshop will benefit more from the sale of that book than Amazon will. (People in rural areas don't always have that option, though, especially for lesser-known books, and sometimes, convenience is king.) Here is an incredible list of independent bookstores in every state. Most of them are in urban areas, but many of them have online options, and most will let you order over the phone, if you're not afraid of talking to people on the phone like most Millennials and Gen-Z I know.
2. Use the Library
If you want to read, and don't have money to throw around in this economy, the library will always have your back. They're one of the last places in America where the public is just encouraged to be, without being expected to spend money, and that's beautiful. "But Jami," you might say. "You're reading their book without paying for it. How does that help?" Well, it's all about getting the book out there. In some places outside the United States, libraries pay authors per times their book is checked out. But even in the US of A, it improves a book's circulation. Getting a book to be read is like giving a cat a good home, and libraries are like fosters. They go home with someone for a little while, and then the people that really love that book? They may buy their own copy, or do any number of other things on this list. But it all starts with getting the story told.
3. REVIEW, REVIEW, REVIEW
This is my big one. First of all, reviewing a book online on sites has enormous effect on whether or not other people will want to buy the book. When I'm on Goodreads, I look at what it's about, and if it seems interesting. But even if it doesn't seem like my cup of tea, and someone shares an enthusiastic review for it? I'm far more likely to pick it up. And it's a great way to show the author some support in a way they might actually see. Most books on any given website won't have anyone bothering to review them at all, so a little love goes a long way.
A friend recently told me that many sites use reviews as a basis for what books end up being featured for sale. A book that has fifty reviews on Amazon is more likely to be noticed on a "10 Books You Can't Miss This Fall (You Won't Believe #5!)" article, or be jumped to the "trending now" list. They're more likely to be put in the e-mail campaigns, or be featured at special prices. Even negative reviews sometimes factor in when it comes to engagement with the literature.
So where do you review? Like I said before, Goodreads is a great place to start -- you don't even have to own the book to review it there! Or Amazon. Or wherever you purchased your book, if you did. It doesn't have to be sweeping, elegant or long. Just a sentence or two will do a lot to boost their engagement, and you'll be a literary hero in no time.
4. Engage on Social Media
Want to know what your favorite author is coming out with? Stalk them! (Wait... do not do that.) Seriously, though, check out their social media. I've connected with a number of phenomenal authors who have impacted my life positively, just because I've told them "hey, I like your work." (This often makes their day, by the way.) Participate in their giveaways, like and comment on their posts. Or, better yet, share their content! Pop onto Twitter and say "hey, this book was the tits, you should read it" and then tag the author. A lot of authors -- even the popular ones -- often find it and pass it along. Presto! More publicity. And for you? You get to tell someone that you appreciated what they put into the world. That's something special.
5. Buy Books as a Gift
I did this one today. I saw that a friend was having a hard time, and it turned out that one of the books I'd just read and loved took place in her favorite place in the world. So I asked for her address, and sent her a copy. It seems so simple, but there really is a lot of joy and love to be put into just gifting a book to someone else. You're giving them a whole other world within these ink-stained pages, filled with wonder. Or at least a vivid, hours-long hallucination that's a lot safer than drugs.
6. Pre-order Titles You Want to Read
Another thing that determines how much a seller is going to stock is pre-sales. If there's a lot of interest, they buy a lot of stock. So while this one is mostly relegated for authors you already love -- or stories you really want to read -- it's pretty self-explanatory. Nowadays, you can even get a membership on places like Netgalley to get advance copies of books before they come out in exchange for an honest review. And like I said: review, review, review.
In addition to all that, like with reviews, you're generating engagement with the book, and extra engagement can ensure that a book is featured on a special display, or at the top of the website. In a window display. As an added bonus, every pre-order will contribute to the first-week sales numbers. This, in turn, generates so much extra interest. It can even skyrocket a book up the bestseller lists. And we all know what that does for the continued success of a book and its author.
7. Donate Books to the Library
This is like a combination of number 2 and number 5. Love a book? Make sure others can read it! Libraries love receiving book donations. Sometimes, they'll end up on the hallowed shelves, waiting for readers to come and be swept into their worlds. Other times, they'll end up in library book sales, which fund the library's expenses. Either way, it makes it into new hands. (Please make sure they're in good condition, but they do not have to be new by any means.)
Now, there are so many other ways to help your favorite authors make a living doing what they love. You could even go with a time-consuming route, and start a literature blog. (*cough cough*) Start a book club. Do anything you want. But storytelling is one of the most profound gifts humanity has to offer. It's how I process through anxiety and trauma. It's how we make sense of our worlds. It's how we learn new vocabulary, and learn life lessons, and become exposed to new places and people. It inspires us to make more of the world in which we live.
None of that is possible without authors to write those stories. So do something small to help. I guarantee you, it means the world to them, and it makes you feel like a badass, too. Leave a comment below if you have more ways to support authors, and maybe I'll make another one of these. For now, happy reading!