May. 6th, 2017

truepenny: artist's rendering of Sidneyia inexpectans (Default)
For reasons that don't need exploring at this juncture, today seems like a good day to repost this essay I wrote in 2014 about how readers can help the careers of authors they like. Please feel free to tweet this, tumblr it, reblog it, whatever social medium you use. Just, y'know, keep the attribution, and thank you kindly.

***

Back in 2009, when my career as a novelist went into a nosedive, somebody asked me what my readers could do to help. I apologize wholeheartedly to that person, for I no longer remember who they are. At the time, I didn't have a good answer, both because I really didn't know and because there was, at that point, nothing readers could do.

But now I do have an answer, and I'm offering it up--not merely on my own behalf, but so that you all, as readers, know how to help the career of any writer whose work you like. And, as it turns out, the answer is simple. There are three major things any reader can do to support a writer:

1. BUY THE BOOK

I cannot emphasize this strongly enough. Buying the book is absolutely the best thing you can do to help a writer. And that means buying the book when it comes out.

(If you cannot afford to buy the book yourself, ask your library to buy the book. This is good for the library, as well as for the author.)

That's easy for The Goblin Emperor: it's a standalone. But I know there are a lot of people--and I'm one of them--who much prefer to wait to buy the books of a series until the series is complete. The problem is that the message that strategy sends to publishers isn't, "I'm waiting to buy this book until I can buy all the books." The message it sends is, "I'm not going to buy the book." And you end up with a situation like I was in in 2009: by the time the fourth book came out, the second book was out of print (so that readers who were waiting for the series to be complete were now unable to buy all the books), and Ace had already decided not to offer me a new contract. By the time the series was complete, in other words, my publishing career with that publisher was already over; people buying the fourth book (and Corambis, like The Mirador, is still in print) had no effect on my career at all. It was too late.

Another grim--and frequently realized--possibility is that later books of a series never come out at all. Publishers don't necessarily buy all the books in a series when they buy Book One. (Again, to use me as an example, Ace bought Mélusine and The Virtu together, but they didn't buy The Mirador and Corambis until two years later when they'd had a chance to see the sales figures on Mélusine, which is the only one of the four that earned out its advance.) If they don't like the sales figures on Book One, they may choose not to buy the later books at all. Again, the people who were waiting to buy the series never register as potential sale; they register as No Sale.

So if you're one of those people who prefers to wait (and I promise you, I understand and I sympathize), buy the book anyway. Again, this isn't just about my career, because it isn't just in my case that publishing works this way. Any author you like, if they start a series, buy the books as they come out. Nobody will make you read them until the series is complete, and buying the books as they appear is the only direct way you can tell the publisher you want the series to continue.

2. READ THE BOOK

(I know this is self-evident, but it just felt weird leaving it out.)

3. TELL THE WORLD

There is an indirect way you can tell the publisher you want the series to continue, or the author to be offered another contract, and that is to tell everyone you know that you like the book.

Seriously.

Nobody actually understands why readers choose to buy the books they do. Nobody understands why J. K. Rowling took the world by storm and Diana Wynne Jones never did. Nobody understands why The Name of the Rose was a best-seller. Or Fifty Shades of Gray. Or A Game of Thrones. Publishers are trying their damnedest to find the books that will replicate this phenomenon, but they do it by guess and gamble, and when they succeed, they don't know why, either. Nobody knows why people buy books.

The thing we do know is that word-of-mouth is the best and most persuasive way for a potential reader to find out about a book.

So if you like the book, tell your friends. Tell your family. Tell your co-workers. Tell anyone you know who you think might like it. Blog about it. Write an Amazon review of it. Ask your library to buy it, even if, up in Step 1, you bought a copy for yourself. Get your book club to read it. Spread the word.

Now, none of this is obligatory. I'm not issuing commands here. I'm saying that, if there is a writer whose books you like, these are the best things you can do to help their career continue. And it holds true for self-published authors, as well. The mechanics are different, but those fundamental needs are the same. Authors need readers first and foremost to read their books, because without that, none of this even matters. But to make their careers flourish, authors need readers to buy their books and talk about them.

That's my answer. That's how readers can help the career of an author whose works they enjoy.

Buy, Read, Talk. (Like Eat, Pray, Love, only for books.)

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