By “new author” I mean “me,” but it sounds more magnanimous this way.
Publication seems like the end goal for writers. Actually, it’s just the beginning. Unless we sell gazillions and become household names, there’s no guarantee of being published again. Hell, even being a household name isn’t enough – RandomHouse refused to publish Joan Collins’ manuscript, even though they’d already paid her, because it was so terrible.
Most of us receive contracts for one, two, or three books at a time; rarely more. Once those books are published, we need to convince the publisher (or another publisher) to give us a new contract. Lots of factors come into play but, naturally, sales figures are one of the biggest – publishers are businesses, and they need to make money if they want to keep publishing books.
So, if there’s an author whose books you love – or just an author you love – and she isn’t at Rowling levels of stardom, how can you help her get that next contract?
1. Buy the book.
Obvious, yes, but important.
Pre-order the book if it isn’t out yet; publishers love pre-orders.
2. If they have children, sell them.
It’s difficult to write when your loinfruit are whining. They’re always demanding SOMETHING – comfort, food, fresh hay for bedding, whatever. Do your author friends a favour and get rid of that distraction. They might protest because of societal expectations, but they’ll secretly be pleased.
3. Leave a review.
If you buy from online bookshops, or you’re a member of reader sites like Goodreads or BookBub, you probably get frequent emails telling you about great books you might want to buy.
Generally, books don’t appear on these emails unless they’ve received a certain number of reviews or certain numbers of people adding them to their wishlists.
They don’t even have to be good reviews. Five-star reviews are nice for the author, but plenty of readers mistrust them and assume they’re paid reviews, sockpuppets of the author, or the author’s mum. Maybe all three if the author has a really fucked-up family tree.
Three and four star reviews can be more likely to lead to a sale. Even one and two star reviews can lead to a sale – if I see a review letting rip on an author for “gratuitous gayness” or “bowing to politcal WRONGNESS and making the main character NOT WHITE!” I’m probably gonna buy that book. Love me some gratuitous gayness.
4. Take out the competition.
Publishers can only publish a certain number of books. Find the other writers in your author’s genre and make sure they’re no longer a threat.
5. Tell people about the book.
Most readers trust a personal recommendation more than a review from a stranger. If you know someone that might like the book, tell them about it.
I was recently talking to some other authors about bestseller lists, and the way some authors have bought their way onto lists by buying thousands of their own books. It was once so common that The Times had (might still have?) a special icon to show which books were on the list because of that tactic, not because readers were actually buying them.
My view is this is pointless, because I don’t think being on those lists helps a book to sell more. I certainly don’t buy a book because it’s a Times #1 Bestseller. But I have bought plenty of bestsellers, because people have told me how good they are. The bestseller list is really just a marker that says “This book is being recommended by readers to other readers.”
Plus, it can never hurt to have more reader friends.
Edit: I thought of a sixth. So this is now a list of six ‘5 Things.’ Hey, if Douglas Adams can have a trilogy of five, I can have a quintet of six.
6. Request their book in shops and libraries
Buying decisions in bookshops and libraries are based partly on historic sales data, and partly on guessing. You can have all the historic sales data in the world and still not be able to accurately predict how many copies a particular book will sell, especially one from a new author.
This means bookshops might not order a new author’s book, or only two copies of it, and put it on a bottom shelf where readers won’t notice it.
Books that are prominently displayed in many shops will probably sell more than those that aren’t, because casual browsers will pick them up, buy them, and do the things above to create more demand.
So, to help your favourite authors, tell the buyers what you want them to sell. Go in and preorder your author’s book so they know people want it.
If you go in to a shop or library after release and the book’s not on the shelves, tell the sales clerk you wanted to buy it. Often, that’s enough to make sure it will be on the shelves a few days later.
As an author, I don’t want to piss off booksellers or librarians, so I would never suggest this… but I casually mention that sneaking your author’s book into a more prominent position (particularly cover-out rather than spine-out) will also help it be discovered. But don’t do that. *whistles*