I don’t know if I ever mentioned this, but I’m going to be featured in a short story anthology.
Shawn Speakman, who previously coagulated a number of virulent authors in paper format in the anthology Unfettered, has decided to do the same thing in a new anthology, Unbound.
Said anthology features a number of fine and sassy authors, including myself. I’ll be contributing a short story about the origins of everyone’s favorite angry boy wizard, Dreadaeleon, and it’ll be pretty great. If you feel strongly about it, you can buy it when it comes out. And if you feel very strongly, you can preorder one of our signed and numbered limited editions of the anthology.
Either way helps me, really.
And, in fact, that convenient plug is the segue I needed into today’s topic.
If you’re following me on twitter, you know by now that I’m not shy about promoting myself. You can’t really afford to be modest about your own work unless you have a big publicity budget who can be immodest on your behalf (my publishers do a great job for me, but I can connect with readers on a more personal level, I think). I wrote a blog post on exactly why I don’t mind self-promoting; I stand by it and don’t intend to discuss it much further than this sentence.
Rather, I want to talk about a question I receive often from readers.
“Okay, I’ve decided to read your book,” they say. “What can I do to best help you out?”
Actually, that’s a pretty good question that I, myself, didn’t have a great answer for. When I was young and foolish, I thought that just buying the book was enough.
And don’t get me wrong, buying the book is a pretty huge deal.
So huge, in fact, that I wanted this post to be a collaboration with fellow Orbit author Brian McClellan. Brian’s deeply interested in the business nitty gritty of bookselling and bookbuying and has written up a blog post of his own as to the many ways a book can be purchased and how much of an impact each of those ways has on the author.
What I’m here to talk about is what happens after you buy the book and how that helps. But before I go further, I want to preface this blog post with a foreword.
The best thing you can possibly do for an author is whatever you feel comfortable doing.
In no way does your buying my book enter you in a contract that demands additional labor, nor does anything you choose not to do make you a “bad” or “lesser” fan of my work. Once you pay for the book, it is yours and I hope you enjoy it, but there are no obligations beyond that.
This blog post is for those people who really like an author’s book. Like, really like an author’s book and want to help them succeed but don’t quite know how.
So let’s talk a bit about the importance of Word of Mouth.
It’s super fun to bash Twilight. Everyone does it. We love pointing at its bland main character, we love laughing about its ridiculous plot, we love throwing popcorn at its heavy-handed romance. We love cackling and hooting and saying “this is the worst thing ever!”
Until we have to explain its massive success.
If not Twilight, you’ve probably seen a book that you didn’t enjoy and stared at it, puzzled, and asked yourself “how did this get so big?”
Now, it’s a pretty inexact science to figure out why something gets huge. Some people say it’s a matter of hitting the right subject with the right audience and the right time. Some people say it’s appealing to a sensibility that everyone feels but rarely acknowledges. But pretty much everyone agrees that word of mouth is how it all happens.
We’re a funny species, humans. We always trust the people closest to us above anyone else. We could go to the doctor with a gaping head wound and the doctor could say “wow, you should get surgery for that massive head wound you’ve got.” And we might think them right, unless our beloved old grandpa spits and says: “pah! I had a head wound once. That ain’t a head wound you got. That’s a goose egg, at best.” And we’ll probably believe our grandpa.
The same thing goes for books.
A book could have won every award possible. A book could be hailed as a true culture-changing phenomenon by critics. A book could be blessed by ten religious leaders, christened by the Queen of England and given a good, long smooch by the President of the United States.
And still, if your friend says: “Yeah, I read it. I dunno. It sucked, I guess.”
You probably won’t read it.
Likewise, a book with massive critical backlash and negative press can still find huge success if your friend shows up and says: “Dude, I loved this! You have to read it!”
That’s word of mouth. It’s pretty great.
Honestly, that’s about the best thing you can do for a book. Be enthusiastic about it, share your enthusiasm for it (share the book, too), and generally talk about it.
I feel like this is less obvious to some people because we’re in genre and, for a very long time, we felt it was kind of taboo to acknowledge we liked geeky things. We played it cool with our enthusiasms, lest we be branded overzealous or nerdy. Twilight did not have this problem; its fans were perfectly okay with saying they liked sexy vampire romances.
And we are living in a blessed age, where nerd shit is actually kind of cool. So revel in your enthusiasm and make up for lost time. It helps immensely.
So having established that, let’s talk a bit about Reviews.
Again, if you’ve seen me on twitter, you’ll have seen me occasionally implore my readers to leave a review on Goodreads or Amazon. I always tell them that reviews help me not to die and it’s definitely true because, outside of beating down your neighbor’s door to tell them how much you liked The City Stained Red, this is the best way to help an author out.
Now, I don’t have the numbers over which format of review helps more (that’s something Brian might do in the near future), and it’s true that how much reviews impact sales is also an inexact science. But it’s generally acknowledged that reviews, positive or negative, really help a book. It’s when a book has little to no reviews or extremely underwhelming reviews that things get dire.
I want to reiterate that the best possible way to help an author first falls on me to write a book you love. If I make you feel nothing, then I haven’t done my job.
But if you like my work enough to want to help and aren’t sure how, these are pretty much the best ways to do it.
Do all these things and I promise to stop rooting around in your trash cans at night.