Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Care and Feeding of Your Author: How To Support Your Favorite Writer's Career

I've said it before, but this week I felt the need to remind readers that it is they who make authors what they are, not publishers. While Random House, Penguin, and the other Caesars might look like they have the power it is actually you, the mob, who gets to decide which of us lives and which of us dies.

It feels like this, but with pens instead of swords.
There's just one problem though; some supporters don't know how to make their desires heard. They're not sure if thumbs up or thumbs down is the good signal, or if they're supposed to shout your name, your title, or just shout to make noise. They don't know if they should bring signs and wear your colors, or if that would be tacky.

For those who are tired of metaphors, I'm going to explain in plain English how to help support the authors you love so their careers will flourish and they can keep writing the books that you want to read.

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

Buy Books

If you want an author to keep penning books then that means someone has to buy the volumes already on the market. It's a pretty simple equation, really. Authors write books, people buy books, author gets royalties. If no one buys the books then the author will have to do something else to make money, and then there will be less time for writing more books.

Some of us even consider piracy, since there's not a lot of money in revenge.
Many times people wonder if really buying one book is going to make a difference. Does one vote make a difference? How about one missed paycheck? One pint of blood more or less? Insulting questions aside, it's true that an author only gets a fraction of a book purchase. This means that authors have to sell hundreds of copies a month and several thousand copies a year just to maintain their careers. While one person buying a book might not make a huge difference, if everyone who wanted to support an author bought a book you'd be amazed at the numbers that can lead to when the quarterly royalty check shows up.

Become A Patron

For those who don't want to buy a book and who would rather offer support in other ways you could become a patron. An antiquated idea, patronage is when patrons of the arts (ie. you) give money to an artist to cover that artist's basic needs like food, shelter, etc. This allows the artist to keep making art, rather than being concerned with whether he'll be able to buy groceries this week. If an author has a Patreon account (I do, and here's where you can find my profile) then you could elect to give that author a certain amount of money a month to help pay bills, buy food, and most importantly not waste 40-50 hours a week doing something other than writing books for your enjoyment. If you'd like to know more about how Patreon works I wrote an entire entry about it right here.

Buy Some Swag

Your last option is to see if your author sells anything other than books. Authors may have tee shirts, bumper stickers, bookmarks, and other promotional items that would appeal to any reader and purchases of those items will also go to help support that author's career. The Literary Mercenary's gear shop is right here for instance, for those who didn't know it existed.

But I Don't Have Any Disposable Income!

That's fair, not all readers do. In fact since books can often be enjoyed in the comfort of a book store or rented from a library they're often seen as a pleasure that the poor can enjoy as well as the wealthy. Just because you don't have gads of money to fling at an author though that doesn't mean you can't still support your favorite tale teller.

In fact you can still offer some pretty significant support at the low price of absolutely nothing.

Willy Shakes, telling it like it is.
The best way you can support authors is by promoting their works. If you have a favorite book then tell your friends and family about it. If you go to a reading group suggest the title for discussion. Post a review on Amazon, Goodreads, or any other website that deals in books. Talk about the book on your Facebook page, throw up some pictures on your Tumblr, and if your author has a blog or a website then become a follower. Join your voice with others to help get the word out.

Will It Really Matter?

Yes. Yes it will.

Let me give you an example. I have a little over 200 followers on my Facebook author page (you can follow it here if you're curious). When I post a link to an article or a blog that I've completed and no one likes or shares it then I can expect it to reach between 20 and 30 people on average. If one person shares that link then I will see a reach of between 60 and 120, depending on the follower and how big his or her friends list is.

Imagine for a moment if all 200 followers liked and shared one link. Thousands of people would see it, and at least some of them would also like and share it. This would put my name in front of people who'd never heard of me or my work, and make an impression on them. It could lead to an increase in my readership, more followers, and generally more people who are paying attention to what I'm creating and what I have to say.

Given that I'm a no-name author with a small following I'm sure you can imagine what the spread looks like for authors and artists who are bigger names with bigger pools of fans to draw on.

Things You Shouldn't Do

Some people might think there's no such thing as bad publicity, but that simply isn't true. Just as there are good ways to support your author, so too there are bad ways to support your author.

Don't be that guy.

Just Blast Your Feed Constantly

Authors need other people to help promote them and to spread the good word about their work. What authors do not need is the same one or two fans posting and re-posting a dozen times a day.

Perhaps the most common mistake made by well-meaning fans who want to help an author out is to simply spit out posts all over social media and forums. The best case scenario is that the promotional blitz catches a few new fans, but it's much more likely to simply fade into the background. The worse case scenario is that someone who constantly spams an author will have a forum account closed, be asked to stop posting, or be actively accused of just being a shill for the author. A few shares a week is usually enough to get the message out without barraging anyone with it.

Attack Others

We've all seen this in rabid fandoms. There's a conversation going on about a book you love, and one person has the temerity to speak up about a problem with the book. People immediately swarm that individual like a school of literate piranhas, tearing down to the bone.

Don't do that.

Political parties, religions, and authors are judged by our followers. So while the urge to click the caps lock and shout wilting profanity at someone in the echo chamber of the Internet might be strong, remember that your comments will reflect on the things you love. It's not fair, but it is true.

Offer Hollow Support

We've all been there at one time or another. Maybe you have a friend who's making a movie, a cousin who's writing a novel, or a significant other embarking on a painting. You might be totally unconnected from the work, but you want to help the artist all the same. So you go through the motions of getting a copy, showing up to speaking events, and being a dutiful friend, but you don't really care about the project.

This one's a crap shoot. On the one hand some people are just happy their friends take an interest, even if that interest is perfunctory. On the other hand there are artists that will feel like you're humoring them instead of legitimately trying to help. This can lead to hurt feelings and frustrations on both sides of the equation. This one really only applies to those who know an author personally, and it has to be taken on a case by case basis.

To Sum Up

The short version is this; no author can be successful without an audience. If you want to help the authors you love then the best thing you can do is to be the middleman and put their work in touch with people who will love it just as much as you do. If you have the spare cash to buy the books yourself, or to put some change in your author's tip jar every month then that's great, but if not you can still help.

If you'd like to help keep me up and running then stop by the Literary Mercenary's Patreon page and become a patron today! To get the latest updates then follow me on Facebook and Tumblr.

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