As an avid reader, I never realized the impact I could have on the book industry. I’d go to the bookstore or the library and see what was there, what someone decided to write and put out there for me to read.
Now, as a writer, I realize the power that readers have. It’s like the tree falling in the forest question – if there’s no one to read your book, are you still an author?
A panel of authors discussed this very topic at the Black Authors & Readers Rock Weekend, hosted by the Reading Divas, October 2014 – Readers as Influencers in the book industry. The panel included authors Austin Camacho, Nina Foxx, and Donna Hill who were asked how could readers support the authors they like?
- Send the author a note about what you liked – or didn’t like – about the book. Will it change the book in your hand? No, but it may influence the next one. And who doesn’t just love getting a personal note?
- Tell 10 people that you read the book and liked it. Word of mouth sells books. How did you pick the last 5 books you read? For me, either someone suggested it (in person or a review) or someone gave it to me. Other than that – I found it on the library or bookstore shelf and was intrigued by the cover (I do judge books by their cover.)
- Invite an author to your bookclub. Having the author join you is a unique opportunity to ask all those questions you wondered about while reading the book, while giving the author feedback on the story. This might make you nervous, thinking that surely an author wouldn’t come to your little bookclub, but you might be surprised. In my own book club, we’ve had a number of authors join us for discussion, including Pulitzer Prize winner, Edward P. Jones when we read The Known World. What’s the worst could happen – he’d say “no.” As it turned out, he was local and available. We’ve also had an author call in, since she was out of the country when we met. Now, on the other side, as an author, I can say that sitting around with a group of readers, sipping coffee or wine, munching on cupcakes (there’s always cupcakes!), and hearing what people thought of Life in Spades is a wonderful experience. I’m often been surprised by different opinions of situations, readers’ favorite characters, and whether everybody ended up the way the reader hoped. Plus, I’m amused by all the rules book clubs have!
- Buy books – don’t share with all your friends. We all do it – we read a book and then give it to a friend to read. Individually, this isn’t too bad. But think on a large scale – sales are reduced, the market for books appears smaller. I know this sounds like a plea from authors to buy books so that we’ll make more money, and it is, but on a larger scale, it’s about more than just the individual author. This is particularly important for diverse authors, who are already battling the industry impression that minorities don’t buy books and there’s no market out there. Consider it the same difference between you and all your friends buying a ticket to the newest Best Man or Denzel movie vs. one of you going in, videotaping it, and passing it on to everyone else. Not as illegal, but same effect.
- Give books as gifts – especially for young people. Our children need to be encouraged to read more than a screen-full of words at a time. Their attention span is so short and getting shorter with each tap of the screen. Give the young people in your life books and encourage them to read. And I like the Kindles & Nooks, but I really do like real pages for little people. There’s some tactile learning and understanding of how a book works for a little person to actually turn the pages. Instead of the newest gadget that beeps or another set of pajamas – give the kids in your life a book.
- Post Reviews for the books you read on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Goodreads, and other book blogs, your own or others. Make your review informative and constructive, if you have a critique (this goes for book club discussions, too.) “I hated this book” doesn’t help anybody. Not the author as they prepare to write their next book, especially if it’s a sequel, and not for other readers. Did you not like a character, did you want more details or less, did you want the boy to not get the girl? Sometimes the thing we don’t like has nothing to do with the author’s technique, but what we wanted to happen – explaining the difference is more helpful for everyone. Also, and I emphasize this – don’t give away any spoilers. You’re read those book reviews that tell you the end – “and then Dorothy left everybody in Oz.” What? Now I don’t even need to read the book. Write good reviews, give another reader an indication of what you liked or didn’t, but still leave the book for their own experience.
- Ask your favorite authors for early release copies (galleys or Advanced Reader Copies) for their books, read it, and then write a review. Authors, publicists, and publishers send these out to get a buzz going about the new book. Your accepting it and then sticking it on your nightstand doesn’t help. At the least, post it on your Facebook page and say “hey, look – a great new book is out.” But really help get the word out about the new book by writing a review and posting it online.
- Lastly – read. Keep reading! We need you to read. And thank you for reading.
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(Read my notes on inspiration for authors from the weekend in my previous post, Black Authors & Readers Rock!)