Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Buy, Read, Talk: How to Help a Writer's Career, by Katherine Addison

I know that last week I promised a blog on SPEARED today, but I encountered this blog recently and I just can't say how important it is that the readers of a particular writer know these things and do them whenever possible. So with her permission, I am reposting this blog of Katherine Addison/Sarah Monette, which she posted first in her Notes from the Labyrinth blog. I promise you an article on the emergency orbital atmospheric re-entry device later this month!

-Stephanie Osborn


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, five years later, when The Goblin Emperor is finally coming out this April (under my penname Katherine Addison, since alert readers have pointed out that I should probably mention that), 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:


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.

That's easy for my book in this particular instance: 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.


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


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.


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. (And if you can't afford to buy the book yourself, getting the library to buy it and checking the book out is an excellent alternative.) 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 to talk about them.

Buy, Read, Talk. (Like Eat, Pray, Love, only for books.) That's my answer. That's how readers can help the career of an author whose works they enjoy.

And my first resolution for 2014 was to make this post.


This is great advice. And it is all very true. For example, with my Displaced Detective series, the initial contract was for the first four books. All books after that are not guaranteed. If sales should dip, or if the publisher doesn't like a manuscript for whatever reason, she has the option to not buy it. But if sales are going great, she is apt to buy it even if she personally doesn't much like the manuscript -- because, obviously, others do, because they're buying 'em.

Moreover, it is better for the author in the long run if you purchase your books through a regular dealer -- Amazon, Barnes-Noble, an independent bookstore -- than from the author at an event (convention, book fair, et cetera). The reason for this is that the books purchased from the author were purchased directly from the publisher BY the author, and don't factor into things like royalty statements, let alone sales ranks. In other words, they're mostly invisible to the publisher, unless s/he sits down and actually reckons up how many books you've sold -- a situation which rarely happens. Yes, the author gets the benefit of instant cash, but that may be at the cost of future books.

I would like to respectfully request that my readers follow this procedure whenever possible. If you like my stuff, tell others. If you like someone else's stuff and think I would too, tell me! This is far and away the MOST EFFECTIVE MARKETING on the entire planet.

And most importantly, thanks for reading my stuff!

-Stephanie Osborn