Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Civilian's Guide to Book Publishing (i.e. how you can help your writer friends)

[Clawback]Tokyo Heist by Diana Renn
 (Book covers of newly released books by some of my friends.)

This post is not for all you artsy types who already know the ins and outs of the business of publishing.  You don't need to read this.  Go do something artistic.  (And if you have a book coming out, tell your civilian friends to come read this post.  Seriously--send them here, and then they'll know what to do.)

This is for normal folks who just happen to have a close friend or relative who after years of toil and struggling (and perhaps a little whining) has landed a book contract.  Now that book is about to be released, and you want to know how to help.

Unless you've got a spare million bucks, you're probably not going to help make this book a bestseller.  But the good news is: you actually can help, even if you're not a blogger or book reviewer.  Some of those ways cost some money (but not a lot) and most won't cost a cent (and not even much of your time).

Let's start with the kind of help that takes a little cash:

  • Buy the book.  Simple enough.  But when and where you buy that book can increase the helpfulness of that purchase.   
    1.  Buy it as close to the release date as possible (pre-order if you can).  The first few weeks in the life of a book have a big effect on the book's future.  Everyone is watching those numbers, especially the publisher and booksellers.  Strong early numbers might lead to additional marketing support, extra orders, or even an additional print run.  Books that don't get sold in the first few weeks have a good chance of being remaindered (returned to the publisher).  New books, it turns out, are highly perishable.  If they don't sell, you won't see them on the shelf again.  Ever.
    2. Buy it from a bookstore.  Sure Amazon is easier and cheaper.  But that's because they demand huge, unsustainable discounts.  Which screws the writer.  Your friend will get more money from a book sold at a bookstore.  You also help that store stay in business (Amazon doesn't need your help).  And, if the bookstore sees that the book is selling, they will order more, and might display it more prominently.  Many cities have local bestseller lists.  You can look in your newspaper to figure out which stores report sales to create those lists (unless your paper is the New York Times).  Buy from a bookstore whose sales factor into those lists.
    3. But it from a bookstore at a reading.  This makes the bookstore happy and makes your friend happy.  (More about readings below.)
    4. If you can't buy it from a bookstore, it's okay to buy it from Amazon.  But do buy it.
(Total Cost:  about $25 for a hardcover, $15 for paperback.)

  • Buy more copies.  Duh.  "But," you say, "I can only read it once."  Ah, but you have other friends and family, and they need gifts.  Birthdays, Christmas, Hanukkah, Mother's Day, Father's Day, Arbor Day.  My friend, Laura Harrington, wrote a terrific novel, Alice Bliss, that came out last year.  Guess what the book lovers on my list got for Christmas?  The thing is, when they know that it's written by a friend of yours, they'll appreciate the book even more.  It has meaning. And they might help spread the word.  Some people are shy about giving a book by a writer that no one has ever heard of.  But do it for your friend.  Your other friends and family will thank you for sharing a terrific new book with them, and you don't have to spend hours and hours tramping around the mall or trolling the internet figuring out what to get them.
  • (Total cost:  $25 and up.  The more the merrier.)
  • Throw a book party. This one takes a little more cash and effort on your part.  But your friend has been running herself ragged, trying to promote her book.  You can help by inviting over a dozen friends, going to Trader Joes and buying some wine and cookies, and throwing a little party.  It can be very low key.  No pressure to buy, you just want to celebrate her accomplishment (but make sure some books are on hand and a bunch of book marks).
  • (Total cost:  $30-$75, plus a couple hours of your time.)

That's really it.  I mean, you can buy an ad in the New York Times Sunday Book Section (please do), if you really want to.  But these basics make a huge difference.

There are a LOT of things you can do to help your friend's book that don't cost a cent, and will make a huge difference.  Here are a few:
  1. Post about the book on Facebook and Twitter, with a link to the Amazon page for the book or to your friend's web site.  If a writer has ten friends who each post an enthusiastic recommendation for the book, and those people each have 200 Facebook friends, we're taking 2,000 people who have now heard about the book.  Don't say things you don't mean (if it's not the best book you've ever read, don't claim it as such), but this isn't the time for critical comments either (i.e. "my friend Pat just published a highly flawed novel--it's a slog, but please help him stay off food stamps").  Do post about it a few times--there's a rule of thumb in marketing that it takes three exposures to a new product for a customer to actually notice it.  (Time required:  3-5 minutes.  You can spare that for your pal, can't you?)
  2. "Like" and "share" your friend's Facebook posts about the book, and retweet her tweets about it.  Especially posts about positive reviews or events. This is super easy and takes almost no time, but it boosts the effectiveness of all of your friend's marketing efforts.  Again, if an author has ten friends actively doing this on social media, those posts suddenly become much more visible to the rest of the world.  (Time required:  2-10 minutes, over the course of a few weeks.  At most.)
  3. Write a review on Amazon or GoodReads (or elsewhere).  This only applies if you liked the book.  (If you don't like the book, do your friend a favor and keep that news to yourself.)  It doesn't need to be a huge review, and it doesn't need to have a plot summary.  Just mention a few things that you liked about it and rate the book.  This is a BIG help, because many people are reluctant to buy a product online that hasn't gotten many reviews.  (Time required:  5-10 minutes.  Of course, you have to read the book first, but you were going to do that anyway.)
  4. Request a copy of the book from your public library.  If they don't have it, you can request it.  In most cases, you can do this very quickly online.  (Time required:  2 minutes.  Maybe an extra 3-5 minutes to figure out how to request it.)
  5. Suggest it to your book club.  This can mean a whole bunch of sales.  And maybe your friend can be a special guest, either in person or via Skype.  (Time required:  2 minutes.)
  6. Comment on blog posts about the book.  You won't have to work too hard to find them, because your friend will post links on Facebook or Twitter.  Your job is to follow the link, read the guest blog post or interview, and post a comment.  It doesn't have to be a long comment, but comments on posts helps capture additional attention.   And it lets your friend know that you care, and that's worth something too.  (Time required:  3-5 minutes per comment, max.)
  7. Show up at a reading.  If your friend gives a reading in your area, but sure to show up.  And don't come alone.  Bring a neighbor or co-worker.  These events can be tough to promote for the author, and they're demoralizing for the writer and bookstore if no one shows up.  (Time required:  2 hours.)
  8. Carry the book around.  That's right, for one week, try walking around with the book in hand, when you're going from place to place.  And talk to people about it.  (This one's hard for introverts, I know.)  If you can't do it for a week, try doing it for just one day, and try to commit to talking to one person person about the book.  Your friend has poured her soul into that book, and all you need to do is have a thirty second conversation about it.  (Time required:  depends on how you look at it.  30 seconds per conversation.  Carrying the book around, well, that's just a little extra exercise for you.)

These simple tasks won't take much of your time, but they could help boost sales for the book.  The key thing is to do them as soon as you can after the release date, to start building positive buzz.  And try to get your other friends to do the same.  If your author friend has five or ten people each taking the steps, it will definitely have an impact.

You can make a difference.  On behalf of your writer friends:  Thanks!

(Writer types, if you're still here, feel free to chime with comments on other suggestions for simple ways your friends can help.)


Diana Renn said...

Great post, Pat, and thanks for featuring Tokyo Heist on this! Sound advice. Another simple thing people can do is mark their friends' books on GoodReads as "to-read" -- even if you can't get to it or review it right away, it boosts the book's visibility.

Patrick Gabridge said...

Good point, Diana! Super easy to do.

Alexa said...

I think these are wonderful suggestions of ways to support books/writers you love, whether you know the author personally or not! Great, interesting post!

Patrick Gabridge said...

Thanks, Alexa. Good point--it doesn't just have to be for your friends--you can do this to help your favorite writers.