How readers can help writers during a pandemic — and always.
Here we are in the middle of a pandemic. Possibly the worst time to release a book, and yet I have many friends who are doing so. Book launches canceled, readings postponed, bookstores closed.
It’s hard enough to reach readers in normal times, let alone now.
That said, I’ve seen writers get quite creative with virtual events. My favorite so far has been Catherine Ryan Howard’s launch hosted in a LEGO bookshop. Hannah Mary McKinnon and Hank Phillippi Ryan have boosted authors with their First Chapter Fun readings each Tuesday and Thursday. And the various Noir @ the Bar events across the country have been loads of fun and a chance to see crime writers I wouldn’t ordinarily get to hear read.
Authors have always been great about helping out other authors. But readers really hold the golden ticket here. Obviously, buying the book and reading it is the easiest way to help an author. But there are other simple things you can do to help.
If you’ve read a book recently that you’ve loved, or if you have an author friend you want to help, or if you just want to discover and boost writers, read on for some ways to support them.
Recommend the Book on Social Media
Maybe this seems obvious, but it’s so easy and so effective. Post a photo of the book with a quick shout-out. I have a lot of writer friends who are great at this, but I’ve noticed when my reader friends share my book to their networks, I always reach people I would never have otherwise. (Thank you to my high school and college friends, who are awesome at this!)
Review the Book
I think readers, especially casual readers, are hesitant to post a review on Amazon or Goodreads or BookBub because they feel like they have to come up with something elegant or smart to say. Let me clear this up now: You don’t have to be a professional book reviewer to post a reader review online. A few sentences will do it.
Be honest but kind. It’s okay to say the book wasn’t for you, but try to remember there’s an author behind the story who spent years working on it. And never post a negative review because of something out of the writer’s control (such as a damaged or missing shipment).
Reviews are especially helpful for authors because the more they get, the more sites like Amazon will recognize their book as popular. Then the book will start showing up in searches and recommendations, giving it more exposure.
Buy a Copy for Your Library or for a Friend
I had a coworker who was very excited about my book being published but told me she’d never buy it because she thought it would be too scary for her.
I get it. Not all books are for everyone. Maybe you have a friend who writes military thrillers and you only read romance. Or you’re not into biographies, but you want to cheer on your neighbor who just published one.
But even if you personally don’t want to read the book, chances are you know someone who does. An aunt who can’t get enough of cozy mysteries or a nephew who’s really into horror.
My husband, Art, and I aren’t big baseball fans, but when our friend Tom Wolf’s book The Called Shot recently came out, we knew exactly the friend to gift a copy to. Art was a big fan of Tom’s first book, and he plans to read some of this one, too. “Tom’s just such a great writer and historian,” he says. “I have to sample it before passing it on!”
And if you rack your brain and still can’t think of a single person you know who would like the book, then buy a copy to donate to your local library.
It’s a win-win for everyone!
Seek out Debut Authors
Newbie authors always need a boost. When my first novel came out last year, I was lucky to find fellow debut authors in all genres. We formed a 2019 Debut Authors group and created a website to highlight our books. There’s a similar one for 2020 debut authors, and there’s already a Twitter and Instagram account for 2021 debuts. These sites are great places to sample a wide range of genres fresh off the press.
Also, who knows? You may be among the first to discover the next Stephen King or Toni Morrison. Then you can say you knew them when.
Promote Diverse Writers
It’s no secret that fewer writers of color get published, that they make less money than white authors, and that they win fewer awards. Publishing is a tough industry for all writers, but especially for writers of color.
Readers need to demand more diversity in publishing, and one way to do that is to buy more books by writers of color. Here’s a start in my favorite genre: Crime Writers of Color. Like romance? Check out Diverse Romance. Here’s a list of 20 horror books by authors of color. Seek out new voices from your preferred genre.
The best way to support authors is to keep reading, of course. But if you want to go that extra step and spread the love, there are many quick and easy ways to do so. And when we finally get back to the readings and the book launches and the in-person book signings? We’ll be sure to thank you.
Tara Laskowski’s debut novel, One Night Gone, won the Agatha Award and was a finalist for the Lefty, Anthony, Macavity, and Mary Higgins Clark awards. She is also the author of the short-story collections Bystanders and Modern Manners for Your Inner Demons. She lives in Virginia.