It’s a noisy world out there.
Increasingly writers are expected by their publishers to play a proactive role in marketing and promoting their work. This is not necessarily a bad thing: long gone are the days when we could write a book, then write another book, and not have to worry about the wider world into which those books were launched.
These days we have to get out there, be seen, be interesting. It can be hard work… And it can steal valuable time away from writing that next book.
And there are lots of us doing it. Indie- and self-publishing are so much easier now than they were even five years ago, and so there are a hell of a lot more books out there, and more authors vying for readers’ attention. Again, not necessarily a bad thing: in the last couple of years we’ve seen a string of examples of authors who didn’t click with mainstream commercial publishing who have been very successful in finding audiences through alternative means.
But for most professional authors it means we have to spend even more time on the promotional side of things, making sure we get noticed.
You can help, though. Readers play an increasingly important role in filtering the noise, particularly for ebooks, where there is so much noise.
So here’s the infinity plus checklist of things you can do to help an author you like (or indie publisher, hint hint):
- Play tag
On Amazon and other bookselling sites it’s possible for anyone to add tags, or agree with existing tags, for books. So on Amazon, as an example, just scroll down to below the customer reviews and you should see a section showing existing tags for that book: you can tick to agree with any or all of these, or add your own. These tags help classify a book, so that later when someone is searching for “alien cats in space poetry” they’re more likely to find what they want. Tags are good.
- Customer reviews
Did I mention customer reviews just then? Sadly, for most authors, the majority of our potential readers either haven’t heard of us or have only done so in passing. One of the key factors when readers are buying online is a quick glance at customer reviews on sites such as Barnes and Noble and Amazon. I’m not saying here that you should go out and give us all five star reviews. But a book that has a dozen reviews shows that readers care enough to engage; far more so than a book that doesn’t have a single review. So go on: even if your review is only a star-rating and a couple of sentences, it means a lot to the author to get some feedback and it can be a big help too.
- Other reviews
Reviews on blogs, forums or anywhere else you regularly post are lovely. We want to know what you think. Writers spend months and years working on a book, and it can be soul-destroying for it to disappear into a vacuum once it’s let loose in the wild. We write for readers, and it’s great to see what readers think.
- Like us
There are lots of ways to like an author you … erm … like. By this I mean Like, as in clicking those Like buttons: Amazon have added them to book listings (at the top, by the title), and like tagging it’s another way of trying to identify books a particular reader may like, based on past preferences and on patterns across similar readers. If an author has a Facebook page you can Like that: it helps you get the latest news, and it also makes the writer feel appreciated.
- Follow us
I’m not necessarily asking you to become a stalker, but writers are increasingly active on Twitter, Facebook, etc. It’s another way for you to get the latest news; it’s a good way to make the writer feel appreciated and that all these efforts are worthwhile; and it shows our publishers that we’re actively engaging with our readers, which goes down well when we’re pitching the next book.
I don’t use the word cynically, the way a marketing pamphlet might. Even in these interblogtweetbooking times, writing can be a lonely business. Typically, an author will spend several hours a day for months on end to produce a novel. That book will then wait anything from a few weeks (in the high-speed world of indie/self-publishing) to a few years until it starts to find an audience. And in the meantime, we shut ourselves away, writing. Most writers really appreciate contact with readers: discussion on social media sites, email, chat over a drink at a convention, meeting people at signings, etc. Please don’t send us your novel drafts for critique (it takes huge amounts of time and only ends in tears), but other than that, it’s lovely to talk.
- Word of mouth
Tell your friends about the books and authors you like, tell people on forums, tweet about us, retweet our tweets. No cynical marketing campaign can generate real word of mouth: only readers can.
Publishing, and book-selling, is becoming increasingly devolved: it’s being passed down into the hands of the authors, and ultimately the readers. You all have the power to make a difference, and often suprisingly so: a tagging, a couple of mentions on forums, a customer review – can all make a big impact.
As authors and publishers, the best thing we can do is please you, so that you care enough to do these things. Hopefully we’re getting that part right!