Dear Agony Aunt,
My friend just had their debut novel published. This is obviously a huge accomplishment, and I’m wondering about the best way to support them, because the book is really very good (sounds biased, I know) but not getting much traction. Other than coming to the launch and buying a copy of the book, what can I do to help?
Hello Friendly Fan,
This is a great question, because once a book is out a whole different kind of work begins and it is fundamentally different from the solitude that the writing process requires. It requires community (and sure, a crack marketing team doesn’t go astray, but community and word of mouth can’t be bought).
Sometimes it is hard to know how to show support for the writers in your life. You toast them at the launch, slap them on the back or tell them how much you like their book. Don't get me wrong, this is good moral support but it is very likely that the author you know is sweating it out. They are sitting at home staring at a crack in the wall that has begun to symbolise their life, because after years of slog, submission, acceptance and then sweet, sweet publication, nothing much really happens.
You may see a review or two, even in the serious literary supplement of a serious weekend newspaper, and assume that they are now your famous and successful author friend. This is most likely not true. From the outside they appear upbeat but their ears are ringing with deafening silence, punctuated by the odd review or mention.
So what can family, friends and fans do to help? Plenty. But before we skip to the list let me tell you about the internet and why the Americans win the internet.
Forget everything that you know about the internet. It is not a global computer network providing information and services. It is not a democratising force that has levelled the playing field. It is not a series of tubes and it is not, contrary to popular opinion, mostly made up of cat photos (though if you post a photo of your cat pretend-holding and pretend-reading your friend’s book it will probably get a lot of likes).
It is, for the purpose of today's discussion, a clap-o-meter. The people, companies or products that get the loudest applause (or make the most noise) are the winners. The more ‘clapping’ an author gets, the more reviews, the more sales, the higher up the bestseller lists they go and so on.
The internet is noisy, full of many people trying to do the same thing and your friend, sibling, progeny or lover is out there trying to get some claps. Their first disadvantage is that they are in Australia. Compared with the US, that's a market of 23 million, versus over 300 million. The second disadvantage is that, by and large, as a broad sweeping generalisation, Australians are not as loud as Americans online. Americans click more, like more, favourite more and proudly talk online about what they like. Australians ... let's just say that we play our cards close to our chest. Which means that big clap-o-meter needle isn't moving terribly much and the masses aren't even aware that your author buddy exists.
So basically it is quite a challenge to get noticed as an author and the one you know is probably too bashful or prideful to ask for help. Here are some things that any friend, family or fan of an author can do to help raise their profile and get that clap-o-meter to move:
- Buy a copy at the launch
- Buy a copy from a bookshop
- Buy a copy from a bookshop that doesn't stock it and have them order it
- Sneakily move your friend’s book to face-out when bookshop staff aren’t looking
- Bring some friends to the book launch. There will, after all, be free wine and maybe even some cheese.
- Depending on how close you are to your author, you may like to offer assistance to plan and execute the book launch (since this is often the author’s responsibility these days).
- Say something online; Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, to name a few*
- If you’ve got a blog, write a blog post or run an interview; after all, you’ve got access to an author!
- Take your author out for a drink. Ask them how the publicity trail (trial) is going and encourage them to keep going, to reach out to more bookshops, libraries and bloggers if they seem to have lost steam. Which they may well have, because trying to get attention for their book may seem like banging their head against a particularly unresponsive brick wall.
- Brainstorm networks for the author to tap. These could be local schools if the book has relevance, media contacts or events planners – to name but a few. Publishers are trying to promote a roster of books all year round – an author's networks are invaluable.
Best of luck loudly cheering your author friend on, Agony Aunt
PS Authors reading this, don't be afraid to give this list to your nearest and dearest while your book is being printed.
*Don't lie. If you don't like it just don't say anything. As my mother (and yours too, probably) used to say: 'if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all'. The internet would be a better place if people used this rule more.