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How to Help Independent Authors

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The question of how to help independent authors is not a new one. Self-publishing a book, successfully, is one of the most challenging aspects of being an author in this freakishly crowded market. The focus of this post is on how friends and family can help their independent author friends, the people they care about, to find success despite the many challenges we all face. It’s also about gratitude. I don’t think any of us can succeed without the help of others, and yet it’s incredibly hard to ask for that help. So, however you choose to help your independent authors, thank you.

How to Help Independent Authors

1. The Easy Stuff

We’re all busy. So the focus in this section is on things that take mere seconds or minutes, but which can still make a big difference.

Put Yourself in Their Shoes

It’s probably hard for most people to understand the isolation and challenges faces by independent authors. I mean, you just put it on Amazon and the money rolls in, right? Sadly, no. There are hundreds of thousands of new books published every year in the US alone. Rising above the resulting noise is challenging at best.

Success for independent authors depends on a combination of marketing investment (money), constant hard work and self-promotion, the quality of their product and, of course, a great deal of luck. Normally a large percentage of marketing resources would come from a publisher, but independent authors have to do all of this on their own. So even assuming the independent author has produced a great book with a great cover, there’s no way they can succeed on their own (unless they’re rolling in $$$ already). They need the help of friends, family and fans. In other words, they need you.

But no one likes to ask for help. At least, few of us do. It’s humbling and awkward and honestly we’d rather just be writing the next book. So understand that even if your author friend doesn’t ask for help, he or she would still appreciate it. And honestly, unsolicited assistance is such a great karmic gift that it’s almost better that way. Thank you in advance for even considering it.

Understand that Self-Publishing is Real Publishing

Most of us probably grew up with the idea that “traditional publishing” (via agent / editor / publisher / bookstore) is the way real writers do things, and independent or self-publishing (via vanity or hybrid publishers or doing it all on your own) is for losers. I’m just being candid; there is a stigma associated with independent publishing that needs to go away. Indie publishing is probably the way of the future, not a second-best option or aberration, so we need to elevate independent authors and systems as much as we can.

A lot of this has to do with indie authors themselves. Due to the relative ease of publishing via Amazon KDP and other services, many writers have published poorly written, badly plotted, barely edited and just plain terrible books. That makes us all look bad. But indie authors who are committed to their craft publish books that are just as well written, edited and formatted as traditionally published books.  The majority of us invest vast amounts of time and money (for professional editing, cover art, etc.) into producing the best book for you that we can. You’ll have to be the judge of this in each case, but I can assure you self-publishing is not a second-best option. It’s often the only option, especially for underrepresented authors, and it’s not going way.

Thanks for understanding this, and for your help in dispelling misconceptions about independent publishing.

Buy their Books

This probably goes without saying, but the easiest way to help new or indie authors is to buy their book–even if it’s not in your regular genre. This helps the author in a number of ways: (1) obviously, the purchase itself is great (2) it shows online bookstores what books are selling and should therefore rise in search results and (3) this means more reviews, which means higher ranking, which means more sales.

There are of course authors who don’t really care about sales; they’re in it for the art or to reach a few friends and family members, or it’s just a hobby. But for many others who hope to make some tiny bit of a living off of their writing, they need to sell books. Every purchase helps.

Caveat: If buying the book is a financial issue for you, don’t; no author that I know wants to put their friends or families out. There should be no pressure here. It’s just appreciated if you can do it.

Share the Books on Your Social Media Channels

Most authors frankly suck at social media. I know I do. There are also some who are great at Facebook, have a thousand followers on Instagram or Twitter, or know what the heck is going on with TikTok. Posting a link to the authors book on your social media site with a nice comment is invaluable, and among the best types of word-of-mouth marketing. If you made a TikTok book review video of my debut novel, Run Lab Rat Run, I’ll probably die of happiness. But everything helps, and it just takes a few seconds in most cases.

Example: “I really loved [book title]. If you like [genre] and [something cool about the book], you’ll love this book!” [book purchase link] [#SomeHashtag] #ImAGreatFriend

It’s that easy.

Caveat: Don’t share a book you’re not comfortable with. Your social media presence is part of your personal brand, and authors understand that. If your friend wrote an erotic or hard sci fi book you just don’t think your friends would care for, great, don’t share it. If you’re not enthusiastic, your other friends will see that in your post, and that doesn’t help anyone.

Help Build their Ongoing Social Media Presence

This isn’t that hard, and it’s basically the same as the previous step on an ongoing basis. Just like, love, share or retweet the author’s posts. This helps them gain followers, buzz, and maybe a fan or two.

Share the Book in Targeted Social Media Groups

There are thousands of online groups specific to genre (e.g., science fiction), topic (e.g., politics), activity (e.g., underwater basket weaving) with members that be interested in a related book. If your friend’s book is a good fit for these groups (make sure it is), and you’re comfortable endorsing the read, share the book in the group. This is especially important since many of these groups won’t allow authors to promote themselves (for good reason).

Caveat: Don’t spam groups with books that aren’t relevant, especially if commercial links are not allowed. It’s everyone’s benefit to respect the ethics and rules of online communities. Sometimes, it’s just not a good fit.

2. More Easy Stuff

Okay, none of this is technically hard, but items here start to take up a little more time. Your time is valuable. So, here are some things to do if you a few hours and want to help even more.

Beta Read their Books

In industry jargon, “beta reading” means reading a book at any point prior to publication so that you can give feedback to the author. Is the book poorly structured or tightly architected? Do the characters come alive or lie dead on the page? Is the dialog realistic, the writing active and compelling, etc. What can the author do to improve his manuscript? All of this is invaluable feedback in the drafting process. We’d much rather screw up in private than publish something terrible for the whole world to see.  So if you love a genre and your friend is writing in that area, offer to beta read their books. Not everyone has the time, but if you do, this is incredibly helpful. Thank you.

ARC Review their Books

An ARC is just an “Advanced Review Copy” of a book, usually the semi-final draft of a manuscript. ARCs are provided for free to advanced (pre-publishing) readers in order to generate ratings and reviews as quickly as possible after the book is published. Reviewers like you win by getting a free copy of the book. Authors win by building momentum for their new books starting before the book even goes live. There are numerous sites for this (if you are interested in signing up for ARCs generally), but your friend might like you to be part of his or her ARC group less formally. If you have the time and think the book might be interesting, sign up to do a review.

Caveat: Amazon seems to reject most reviews from obvious friends. So if you’re Facebook friends with the author, plan to publish your review on Goodreads or other non-Amazon sites if possible. The author should be able to let you know which platforms the book will launch on.

Read the Books (Once Published)

Seems obvious, right? But many of us have less time than we’d like. For me, personally, talking to friends about something I’ve written is even more important and validating than a simple purchase. We put hundreds or thousands of hours into these books, and it’s great to be able to hear what other people think of them. What characters did you love or hate? What themes resonated? What got you laughing or crying?

Caveat: Not every book is for everyone. Don’t feel pressured to read a book you don’t like or that doesn’t resonate with you. It’s supposed to be fun. If the author bugs you about it, tell them to knock it off. It’s about helping each other out, not feeling obligated to do something you don’t want to do.

Rate & Review the Books

Rating a book is a surprisingly simple step that many readers skip. Rating a book (without a review) on Amazon and other ecommerce sites is often a matter of seconds, and requires no additional thought. High ratings bring higher rankings, which bring more sales, and so on. A positive review would be even better, but even a quick rating is appreciated.

Caveat 1: If you don’t like the book, that’s fine, but don’t feel the need to leave a negative rating or review. This doesn’t really help anyone. If there are things the author needs to know, let them know in person so they can improve the next book.

Caveat 2: Amazon is notorious for not publishing reviews of friends and family. If you’re friends with the author on Facebook, in particular, you might not want to bother with a rating or review on Amazon, as it won’t appear and the author might get dinged for it (it’s not yet clear to me how this works). You can still leave your review on Goodreads and other platforms.

Pro Tip #1: Don’t feel the need to limit your reviews to Amazon and other bookstore platforms. Post your review to your social media feeds or other groups. Many groups discourage or even forbid self-promotion by authors, so this might be the only way group members will ever hear about their book. And there are groups that focus on book reviews that are hungry for new content.

Pro Tip #2: A review doesn’t have to be long. Two or three enthusiastic sentences will do just fine: “I couldn’t put this book down. I loved the characters and couldn’t wait to get to the end. Highly recommended!” Or something like that.

Share the Books on Your Blog or Website

I mean, if it’s relevant. Then what better way to share a friend’s work than on your own blog? This usually takes a little more thought and time, but the SEO and marketing value is huge, and it can be great content for your site as well.

Share the Books with Your Friends & Family

There is no better endorsement than giving a book to someone you love but, again, only if you feel comfortable doing it. And honestly, if you give books to people who aren’t into the genre or “that sort of thing,” it leads to bad reviews. No one likes bad reviews. So, share with care.

Share Author Online Promotions

Even if you’re already bought the book (thank you!), the author is always out there trying to find more readers. They might be doing temporary discounted or free book promotions, contests and who knows what else. If you think people in your network might be interested, let ’em know.

3. Still More Easy Stuff

The following items either take a little more time or require more social commitment and outreach, and that’s not for everyone. Some people prefer to be quiet allies, and that’s 100% fine. But if you’re a little more social or want to be…

Pick the Book for your Book Club

If the book’s genre fits the group and you think they’ll enjoy it, suggest away. Just make sure everyone knows it’s a friend’s book so there’s no resentment. And whatever feedback you get, good or bad, pass it on to the author. We’re always learning, and honest third-party feedback can be really helpful.

Attend Author Events

You know, when we’re allowed to see each other in person again. Nothing is lonelier for an author than showing up at a bookstore for a signing and having no one show up. Drop by to say hi, grab a coffee, browse the stacks and give your friend a high-five. You’ll probably get a free bookmark out of it. Unless the event is online, and then you’ll still get a nice digital tan.

Suggest Local Book Stores Carry the Books

If you frequent a local bookstore, take a moment to suggest to the manager or staff that they carry the book. This won’t work in all cases–the book would have to be available via their acquisition channels, and who knows what their acquisition policies are–but even if it works a small percentage of the time, this is a fantastic help.

Suggest Local Libraries Acquire the Books

Some libraries are open to this, others not so much, but they all find books one way or another. You might just help them find the next great all-American novel. Or at least a good educational read. And since libraries are often the only informational resource for some people, it helps your friends reach a whole new audience of readers.

Suggest Other Ideas

Are you a marketing or SEO professional? Do you have specific experience in online advertising, keyword selection, PR or anything related to product sales? Help the author out. It’s not like most of us have degrees in marketing and, if we do, it’s probably not focused on book promotion. It’s  a crazy, crowded and fast-changing industry. If you know ways to rise above the fray, let us know. I’m not going to say there’s no such thing as a bad idea–there are many, many bad ideas–but it can’t hurt to suggest something. It’s great that you’re even thinking about it.

4. Do it All Again

A successful book needs constant love. After launch, attention tends to fade but the need for promotion doesn’t. If you know your friend’s birthday, re-post your book recommendation on social media every year on that day. Set a reminder for yourself. Or whatever. Ongoing, recurring support would be freakin’ awesome.

5. Thank You (!!!)

Just reading this post is more than most people will ever do to help indie authors. No one expects you to do all or even most of the above, and it’s not your job to help authors sell their books, but every little thing helps.  Thanks for taking the time. Thanks for thinking about us. Thanks for caring. You rock.

A Note to Authors

Don’t forget to be grateful to the people that help you. Sign that book. Give them some tchotchkes. Or just be sure to say thank you. A lot.

Other Resources

There are several other good lists out there with suggestions for how to help self-published authors. Here are just a few of them:

And of course if you have other lists or suggestions, let me know. And thanks again.

Peace.

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