Ways to help your author friend sell a book

2013-07-02 12.18.05

Pass it on

Assuming, of course, that this is something that you want to do. Many of my friends have very little interest in my book, and this is absolutely fine. We are friends because we have a shared interest in something totally different. These tips are only for people who actually want them!

Talk about it

Not in an ‘I’m my friend’s unpaid salesperson’ way, because that’s a very good way to lose all your other friends, but just in a natural, ‘if we’re talking about books, my friend wrote a book [and it got published/won a prize/got a good review]’ kind of way. Word of mouth is a wonderful thing. Nobody can want to read a book if they haven’t heard of it. You get to brag about your author friend. Your author friend gets someone else hearing about their book. Apart from anything else, it builds credibility. The more people who talk about them as an author, the more seriously they get taken.

And by ‘talk’, of course, I also mean ‘Tweet, post about on Facebook, include in shelfie picture on Instagram, leave casually on coffee table when expecting company, etc’.

Lend it

This one divides opinions among authors. There is a school of thought that says that every book lent is a sale lost. I don’t agree with that. As a reader I can point to dozens of books that I’d never have bought at full price, but which I came across some other way (book swap shelf at work/charity shop/lent by my mother/Bookcrossing.com) and which I loved so much that I went on to seek out more by the same author.

As an extreme example, I know someone who shoplifted his first Discworld book – then bought all the rest of them full price. I don’t actually recommend this course of action, but it does go to show… something.

Anyway, if you buy my book and then lend it to someone else, I won’t mind at all.

Order it

Ask your library to get it in for you – then it might reach other people when you’ve finished it and taken it back. Authors do receive a small amount of money when their books are borrowed from libraries.

Or you can order it from a bookshop, and if bookshops get the idea that this is something that people want to buy, they might start stocking more copies, and other people might then see it and buy it. Well, we can dream.

Give it

Only to people you think might like it, obviously. Books can be surprisingly tricky presents, but, depending on the book and the occasion and the recipient, they can work well.

I’d recommend mine for: the person who’s about to go to university; the person who is simultaneously LGBT and Christian; the person who would benefit from knowing that LGBT Christian people exist; the person who likes Catherine Fox’s books. Extrapolate for the book that you have in mind. (You might have to read it first. You might not.)

If you’re fed up with having your own copy knocking around the house, then by all means give it to a friend or a jumble sale or charity shop. See ‘Lend it’, above, for my rationale on this – and if you want my opinion on which particular charity shop to give it to, see this post and extrapolate for your own home town.

Review it

The more (honest, balanced) reviews a book gets, the more credible it becomes. And for those of us who don’t get into the Times Literary Supplement, reviews by real people are particularly valuable. Review it on your blog, review it on Goodreads or LibraryThing or Amazon.

Nobody quite knows how Amazon works, but I have seen a hypothesis that if an author reaches a certain number of reviews, they start popping up in the ‘Customers also bought items by’ recommendations. (Authors currently popping up in this manner on my Amazon page are Kate Charles, Winifred Peck, Simon Park, and Kate Charles. I don’t know how many Kate Charles has sold to be there twice, or, indeed, if that’s got anything to do with it at all.)

In this case you really should read it first. Although with some reviews, one does wonder.

Nominate it

This is only really recommended if you have a thick skin, as it is a well-known fact that book clubs can get vicious. Favourite books, and books by favourite authors, can come out shredded. Having said that, selling a dozen copies all at the same time is really exciting for us small-time authors. Maybe nominate it and then stay in bed with a heavy cold when the time comes to actually discuss it? Or perhaps show up at the meeting the far side of several gins?

If you’d rather not be present when it gets shredded, then there are quite a few literary awards that accept nominations from the general public. If you think it merits an award, obviously, but your opinion is as good as anyone else’s. A nomination can make an author’s day. Actually winning something can make their year.

Any more ideas?

I’m sure I’ve forgotten something! Tell me in comments.

No, it *is* about enjoying it

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A very grainy photo of some books I’ve enjoyed. You might not enjoy these. That’s fine!

On Thursday I took part in a workshop for union learning reps, exploring ways of promoting reading and writing for pleasure in the workplace. One of the initiatives that they work with is the Reading Ahead challenge – members are encouraged to choose six reads (which could be anything from a haiku to War and Peace) and write a brief review of each of them. The idea is to make reading less off-putting, to demonstrate that it’s for everybody.

One of the ULRs told a story about someone who had managed to put one of her recruits right off joining in the challenge.

‘And what are you reading at the moment?’ he’d asked. She’d told him, had said, a little apologetically, that maybe it wasn’t the most intellectual thing in the world, but she was enjoying it.

‘But it’s not about enjoying it, is it?’ he said. ‘It’s about challenging yourself, learning something new.’

That person was wrong. WRONG.

It is about enjoying it.

I’m going to write that bigger:

It *is* about enjoying it

And if the person who said that it isn’t was the person I think it was, I’m going to tell him so when I next see him.

This person is also wrong, or, at least, missing the point spectacularly. If we try to make people read because it is good for them, they will never enjoy reading. It’s like eating enough vegetables, or getting enough exercise: if you do it because you think you should, you’re constantly fighting with yourself and sooner or later you give up because you just hate yourself so much for making yourself do it.

The world is full of things that we read because we have to. Bills. Textbooks. Contracts. Procedures. They are not fun. Why should we extend that misery to the rest of our reading life?

The more people read for fun – read because they genuinely enjoy it, because they would rather be reading than doing something else – the easier they will find it when they come to reading what’s dull, or difficult, but essential.

Can we enjoy reading challenging material? Of course we can. Personally, I have just downloaded Le Tour du Monde en Quatre-Vingt Jours – yes, in French – which is going to be a challenge, and also something that I will enjoy. As one of my friends says, ’embrace the power of AND’. We can also keep reading things that we’re not currently enjoying in the hopes that we will enjoy them eventually.

But to deliberately seek out things to read that we don’t expect to enjoy… no. No, thank you.

In much the same way as one gets tired of doughnuts very quickly if one eats nothing but doughnuts, it’s unlikely that people will read nothing but [that book you’re thinking of] and [that other book you’re thinking of]. And really, if they did, would that be such a problem?

The more we read – the more we read for pure pleasure – the more we will find our horizons expanding and our tastes diversifying. If we just let people read what they want to read, and keep reading what they want to read, they’ll probably end up reading something that comes up to the exacting standards of the person who terrorised that poor potential Reading Ahead challenge participant.

But that’s not the point. Enjoyment comes first. Life is too short to drag ourselves through things we’re not enjoying just because somebody thinks they’re good for us.

It is about enjoying it. In fact, enjoying it is the most important thing.

Looking forward to Kingsblood

2013 August Wells 076Ankaret Wells, whose books are great and who I credit with showing me that self-publishing could be far more fun and far less trouble than I had always feared, has teamed up with Irene Headley, whose writing is always insightful and often hilarious, to write a new fantasy series, Kingsblood. And it looks like it’s going to be fantastic:

The bitter years of the Cousins War are over… for now.
The grandsons of Kharis Sidonia are dukes and kings, and the last kinsmen of the deposed King Gilbert the Bloodless are hunted exiles… for now.
Winter holds armies at a standstill, and in Briege, the suitors of the new Duchess of Bergomance protest that they are at her feet… for now.
Before the thaw breaks, Ambrosia of Bergomance must choose a husband, and place her people in the hands of another, greater, power, By her side are two men – her uncle Thomas of Wharram, loyal to his family above all else, and Nicolas ás Ithel, who has spent most of his life as a hostage.
Thomas and Nicolas become lovers and allies…
For now.

There are extracts at Ankaret’s blog and at Irene’s. The first work is coming out in December.

I’m really looking forward to this one.

100 untimed books: joyful

37. joyful

37. joyful

This book seems to have attracted a lot of adjectives. Beyond KARSAVINA’s ‘enchanting’ on the front cover, the flaps have ‘fascinating’ (three times), ‘exciting and vivid’, ‘enchanting’ again (once the full Karsavina quotation, and once from the News Chronicle), ‘delightfully impetuous’ and ‘irresistibly impetuous’ (the Observer and the Daily Mail respectively, agreeing on something for once), ‘beautiful’, ‘valuable’, ‘charming’, ‘enthralling’, ‘almost a great book’ (The Times, damning with faint praise, there; see also ‘in spite of its horrible title’ from The Spectator), ‘brilliant’, ‘remarkable’, ‘splendid’, and ‘unique’.

And, if that wasn’t enough, I am going to add ‘joyful’.

100 untimed books

A reader’s guide to Cambridge charity shops

The fruits of an afternoon's research

The fruits of an afternoon’s research

I have always bought books in charity shops, and, so long as charity shops, books, or I continue to exist, I always will. There wasn’t much spare money around when I was growing up, and besides, I have a perverse liking for things that are out of print.

In terms of books, charity shops are good for:

  • things I have a vague idea that I’m collecting (for example, Blue Peter annuals, or John Buchans in the red Nelson edition, which is the only thing that fits on the second shelf of my big bookcase);
  • last year’s bestsellers;
  • impulse buys.

Charity shops are not so good for:

  • things that have only just been published, though you occasionally get lucky;
  • rare or specific books, though you occasionally get lucky;
  • things you need within a tight timeframe, though you occasionally get lucky.

I spend less time in charity shops than I used to, mainly because there are none within walking distance of my office – at least, not if I want to get out and back and spend a reasonable amount of time actually in the shop all within my lunch break. However, there are always Saturdays. I’ve lived in Cambridge for getting on for three years now, and have explored a reasonable portion of the city in that time. There are two streets in particular that have an abundance of charity shops: Burleigh Street and Mill Road.

Charity shops fall into two broad categories. There are the carefully curated, and the undiscriminatingly chaotic.

The latter are, of course, by far the best for books. You never know what you’re going to find; you pick up things you’d never heard of because you are intrigued by the picture on the spine or because the title reminds you of something you were looking for six months ago. You never find what you’re actually looking for, but the chances are you’ll find something else worth reading.

In the carefully curated category, by contrast, you will find two stingy shelves of books, whose contents will be unremittingly boring, and suspiciously similar to those in every other carefully curated charity shop in the street. If you’re looking for last year’s bestseller, this is the place to go. If not, it won’t take you long to scan the shelves and decide there’s nothing to keep you there. (You will also find some inoffensive and deeply boring clothes, and the ones with an ‘Atmosphere’ label will probably cost a pound more than they were originally sold for in Primark.)

A more promising subset of ‘carefully curated’ is the specialist charity bookshop. There are two of these in Cambridge – the Oxfam bookshop on Sidney Street, and Books for Amnesty on Mill Road. The great advantage of these is the fact that the books are arranged in a coherent and logical fashion, and, if you know what you’re looking for, you can be in and out within three minutes.

However, the chances are that you’ll pay a similar price to those charged by specialist second-hand dealers. Which is good for the charity, of course… up to the point where you don’t buy the book because you didn’t want it that much. And of course, if you don’t know exactly what you want, the choice can be somewhat overwhelming.

My two favourite shops on Burleigh Street are Oxfam and the RSPCA. Oxfam has  a vast range of all sorts of stuff over two floors. The books are helpfully arranged by category, and there are plenty of categories, and there is plenty of variety within those categories. The last thing I got in there was a book of poems by Luci Shaw, and the thing before that was A Murder Is Announced. It’s also, so my father informs me, good for Ordnance Survey maps.

The RSPCA doesn’t have such a wide selection, but what it does have is of good quality. I picked up the bulk of my Buchan collection there. The British Heart Foundation tends to have interesting books. Like all BHF shops, it’s crammed full of too much stuff, both second-hand and the hideous ‘new goods’, but it can be worth fighting your way to the back left-hand corner. I wouldn’t go out of my way to any of the others, and have resolved never to give books to the Scope shop, which sends them (so one assistant told me, at least) for pulping if they haven’t sold after only a fortnight on the shelf.

Mill Road has the Sally Ann, which is a spacious shop with a lot of stuff in it, and another Oxfam, this one affably scruffy. The YMCA is comparatively new. It has hardly any books, but I did get A Book of Escapes in there.

It is worth going beyond the railway bridge, if only for the RSPCA bookshop. This is less like a charity shop and more like something you’d find in Hay-on-Wye. Books everywhere, stacked on the top of shelves, on the floor. Penguins, Pelicans, Viragos, old hardbacks, old paperbacks… It’s wonderful.

I don’t recommend going round all the charity shops in one day. There are, after all, only so many books that can be loaded into a bike basket before the steering goes all skew-whiff.