How to Help an Author

Posted on Mar 23, 2014
Thank you, 32Books of North Vancouver!

My friends and family have been amazing supporters and cheerleaders since my book came out. Some have bought multiple copies of Three Souls to give friends. Others have introduced me to their book clubs. Some have handed out bookmarks to co-workers and friends. Some have used enthusiasm, guilt, and possibly even blackmail to bring people to my book events. As you read this, a particularly determined group of ladies in Silicon Valley is patrolling their local Costco stores, re-arranging the book table so that Three Souls  is stacked at the front. 

I had no idea they would rally around like this. Wow. Thank you, thank you, and you know who you are. I'm so lucky.

Then my friends ask, in one form or another: what else can we do to help? 

If you have a friend who is an author, or if there's an author you really like, believe me, they could use the help. The world of publishing and book selling is going through huge changes and it's never been tougher for a new book to gain traction in the marketplace. There are umpteen channels for promotion and no silver bullet. 

But when you cut through all the confusion, book promotion falls into two categories: discovery and validation. Discovery is: how do you get people to find out about your book? Validation is: how do you get people to believe you’re worth reading once they’ve discovered you? 

Both are important, but as a debut author, I place emphasis on discovery. If they don’t know you exist, they'll never get to see all those 5-star ratings on Amazon or Goodreads. 

Here are some ideas, and most of all, some reasons why.

1.       Interact with the book seller. When you go into a store, engage with the staff. Walk in and ask for the book even if you know where it is. Say nice things about how much you loved it, and now you’re buying it as a gift. Or you'd just like to know if it's in stock so you can tell your friends where to buy it.  Don't let me put words in your mouth. But those are good words to use. 

If you pique their curiosity, they might read the book and it might end up on the “Staff Picks” shelf. Which is phenomenal visibility.

2.       Know anyone in media? Do you know someone who writes for a local/national newspaper, a magazine, or a local radio show? Does their outfit do book reviews or author interviews? I asked my publicist ‘what PR activity moves the dial the most?’ for book sales and without a moment’s hesitation, she said “media reviews.” Talk to your contact about the book, and if there's interest, let the author know. Either the author or his/her PR person will leap into action, as appropriate

This is why publicity and marketing people go into overdrive three months before launch and 3 - 4 weeks after launch to try and get a book reviewed. It’s all about discovery. One review in print won’t do the job, but enough of them within a short interval, and it will make an impression.

3.       Reach out on social media. Word of mouth ranks right up there with media reviews when it comes to discovery, and social media is the digital word of mouth, as is email. 

It’s great when you ‘Like’ an author’s Facebook page or follow them on Twitter. What’s even better is if you can post a few words about how much you loved the book, and include a handy link.

(Okay, I know how it sounds when my nephew says “My aunt wrote this great book! You should get it!” His colleagues and friends all cringe because, frankly, the book could be crap but he can’t tell because it’s his Auntie Janie. The one who listened to him sing the little froggy song 35 times in a row when he was a toddler. In fact, I wrote a blog post alluding to this syndrome (not the froggy song, the crap thing). This is why you want to provide a link to a page that includes independent reviews -- so that your social circle can see that people with a different last name than the author are raving about the book.

And here I’d like to point out that ‘Chang’ is one of the seven most common family names in China. Any reviews by other Changs are incidental and entirely, statistically understandable.)

4.       Share, share, share. When we authors get a good review, we turn into Sally Field at the Oscars. Then we struggle with our conscience, worry about the shame of appearing too self-promotional, and then we give in. 

We tweet and post that sucker.

And we’d love you to do the same. So please retweet and share good reviews so that your friends – them that is beyond the author’s social media circle -- get to read the review too.

And have you noticed – now there are social sharing buttons on the right of the book’s Amazon page for Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc. Every little bit helps.

5.       Buy early, buy often. The ‘often’ seems obvious, but ‘early’? Why? Because when a book comes out to strong sales numbers, retailers notice. Bookstores used to keep new titles on their shelves for 6 months. Then 3 - 4 months. Now it can be as short as 45 days – which is not a lot of time for a new book to get discovered. It’s a ruthless market, and if a book doesn’t move, it goes back to the publisher. Once it’s off the shelf, it’s not there for discovery via browsing.

I learned something the other day. A friend bought the last copy of Three Souls from her local Chapters (for you Americans, that’s our Barnes and Noble). She remarked to the clerk that they had better re-order, and his reply was that their system automatically re-orders based on how fast the book sells. Velocity matters to their inventory algorithm.

So if your friend’s book launches in April and you want to buy it for Christmas or birthday presents, don’t wait. Get your copies now.

6.       Tell others and pass out bookmarks. Again, word of mouth, the best way, the old-fashioned way. Get a bunch of bookmarks from your author friend and hand them out whenever you are recommending the book. It makes things easier – the other person doesn’t have to write down or remember the title. Plus, avid readers can always use another bookmark.

7.       Book lovers who gather in groups. If you belong to a book club, or know a friend who is in a book club, recommend the book. And mention that the author can visit the book club either in-person, by phone, or by Skype. Talk to your local library about an author visit.        

8.   Write reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. And these do not have to be long, thoughtful reviews. A few sentences of praise. Lots of stars. Or just a lot of stars. Done.

It doesn't have to be Amazon or  Goodreads. Barnes & Noble, the Apple store, Kobo, Smashwords. Wherever. Leave good reviews on the retail sites you frequent.

Why? Well at least for Amazon, there’s a rumour in author circles (which could be an urban legend), that Amazon’s search algorithm kicks up a notch when a book gets to 10, then 50, then 100 reviews, and the book shows up on the list of “others who bought this book also bought …” and other goodness-type things. Who knows what the real thresholds are, but more is better.

It goes without saying that if you think your friend’s book is crap, you should not do any of the above. Unless you really love your friend. End of guilt trip.

The tough fact is, it's incredibly difficult for new authors to get discovered these days. If you've been reading this blog, you'll know that getting published does not mean I get to quit the day job. Publishers and authors need to work as a team and discovery is a marathon, not a sprint. There are times when you can feel very much alone. 

Oh wait. We have family and friends. Happy dance.

If you like this blog, please do me the honor of tweeting or liking (below). Leaving a comment is great, too! -- Janie

Nephew wrote:
March 23, 2014
I have no delusions that the froggy song wasn't crap. In fact, I cringe at the thought of what I sounded like as a toddler. Oh weren't talking about the song being crap. Your book is not crap (from my as-non-biased-as-I-can-get-though-I'm-family point of view). Oh, and thanks for the idea of possibly rearranging the Costco book displays :-)
Janie Chang wrote:
March 23, 2014
Sorry about using the froggy song incident, Nephew. But one of the dangers of being related to an author is that we use everything as material! I'm not sure Costco on the east coast carries the book, but you get the idea. You can do the 'face front' thing at B and N. If the book is shelved spine out, pull out a copy and put it 'face front' on the shelf. Or rearrange a table display. I do the 'face front' thing now for authors I know.
Lori Henriksen wrote:
April 9, 2014
Thank you for this blog. I passed it on by Twitter, hoping friends and family of all debut writers will heed your great advice. Also going to buy your book. It sounds like a beautiful read.
Janie Chang wrote:
April 9, 2014
Lori, glad you find this helpful ! It's wonderful to have supportive family and friends but at the beginning I was at a loss to tell them what would really 'move the dial'. It's a strange business, this authoring thing. Good luck!
Mahrie G. Reid wrote:
September 30, 2014
Well said. I am delighted and appreciative when folks pass on information about my books, give them as a gift or write a review. (FYI - 3, 4 or 5 stars are all acceptable... of course 5 if you do really like it is great.) I have a blog and host various authors when they launch new books. I am currently planning a round of Friday authors in order to pass on the word. I do work around a loose theme-- usually mystery, boomer books and a touch of romance. I will pass this blog onto Twitter as well. Cheers.
Janie wrote:
September 30, 2014
Hello Mahrie - I think that we authors get so immersed in our world that we forget it's a complete mystery to others. Heck sometimes it's a mystery to us how the publishing industry ever manages to carry on. Glad you found this helpful and hope your fans, friends, and family follow through with the advice. You can send out the link with an email subject heading "If you really love me ..." -- cheers, Janie

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