How to Support Your Favorite Author
Readers love books, and most readers have favorite authors. You wish they would write more. You may also wish for them to be happy and prosperous.
Well, authors have to put beans on the table. For some, that means writing whatever sells. For others, that means squeezing in time to write around a day job doing something else. Maybe they get paid a fair rate for their work, with a decent contract; maybe not. Often the end result is that they don't put out as much writing as you or they would like.
Here's the key: YOU can do something about this. You are the audience; you are the consumer. Your choices an individual, and the behavior of you-all collectively, can make a tremendous difference in the livelihood of your favorite authors. The more profitable something is, the more time they can afford to spend doing it. Do you value that reading material they create? Does it teach you things that will save you time and trouble, or things that are just fun to know? Does it give your mind a much-needed vacation to places you love, in the company of characters you enjoy? Does it lift your spirits, rouse your sense of wonder, or at least remind you that your life could suck a whole lot more than it does? If so, consider the following list of things you can do to support your favorite authors.
1) Buy what your favorite authors have published. This is the core of this process: demand drives supply.
Preorder new books when they are announced. This tells bookstores and publishers that you love the author's work so much you'll buy it sight unseen. It encourages publishers to buy more manuscripts and bookstores to order more books; and those two things are a positive feedback loop unto themselves, too.
Buy new books in bookstores. This helps raise sellthrough, lowering returns and remainders. High sellthrough is good for authors (and publishers and bookstores too).
Subscribe to magazines. If you're reading a magazine because it features a lot of authors you like, support the magazine by subscribing. That way they get much more money than if you bought it through a bookstore. More money for the magazine keeps them afloat and may raise author pay rates.
Buy books directly from the publisher. Sometimes this can get you discounts, or books that many stores don't stock.
Buy books directly from the author. This may get you discounts, books that aren't available elsewhere, and extra goodies like autographs or bookmarks. Also authors typically make more money on books they sell personally, because they can get those books from the publisher at a discount. There are some organizations specializing in this, such as Basement Full of Books.
Buy other things that contain the author's writing. Magazines, newspapers, almanacs, webzines, and email newsletters are good to patronize. Also check out Anthology Builder, where you can compile a batch of short stories to be bound into a custom book.
Buy used books or back-issue magazines only as a last resort. These don't count towards the author's income or perceived popularity.
Buy books and other things by your favorite author to give as gifts. This is a great way to get your friends hooked on your favorites. If you're visiting someone who's sick, consider bringing a book or magazine instead of flowers -- it helps reduce boredom, and will last longer. Make a point of giving age-appropriate books and magazines to children, too; reading is a lifelong habit.
2) Route money directly to authors. There are various ways, so keep you eyes open for what your favorite authors are doing.
Participate in cyberfunded creativity. More and more authors are hosting projects with a high level of interactivity, where they write things supported by audience donations and sometimes inspired by audience prompts. Usually this involves putting up a PayPal button for donations or subscriptions; except for PayPal's transaction fee, every penny of that goes right into the author's pocket. For some examples, see LiveJournal community: cyberfund_creat
Attend workshops or lectures that charge a fee. Some authors enjoy teaching and/or public speaking. You can learn a lot from them in a very short time!
Watch for other goods and services. It's not rare for authors to have a sideline business, sometimes tied to their writing (fan art t-shirts, for example, or manuscript commentary).
Check the author's blog for a virtual "tip jar" (usually a PayPal button). This is a good way to give money to people in respect for things they've written or done in the past which enhanced your life.
3) Promote and participate in events. There's more to a writing career than just writing. Authors often hold book signings and launch parties, lead workshops, do readings, attend conventions, and all kinds of other activities. This can be fun and educational for everyone. It also helps boost the author's popularity and visibility.
If you like a local author, contact the bookstores, libraries, and coffeehouses in your area and encourage them to host an author event. This works best when there's a new book about to be released, a new column launching, or some other particular project to promote. This way if the author contacts those places seeking to arrange an event, they'll be primed with audience interest, and more likely to agree.
Attend author events whenever you have the opportunity. Your physical presence shows support; in venues that favor audience discussion, your verbal contributions can help make the event fun and interesting.
Bring a friend. Better yet, bring everyone you can beg, bribe, or drag into coming! The more the merrier. A good-sized crowd is more effective for most group activities, and it demonstrates the author's popularity, thus making it easier to get more such bookings in the future.
If the event is at a bookstore, buy the book that the author is promoting. (Already got a copy? Get one to give as a gift. This is one of your favorite authors -- surely you know someone else who'd enjoy their writing!) According to bookstore staff, it only takes one or a few such sales for them to consider the event a success, because often they don't sell any; people just bring their own copies to be signed or whatever. You get a lot of bang for your buck there.
After an event, thank the owner and/or organizer for hosting your favorite author. Make sure you say the author's name. A handwritten thank-you note can make an even bigger impression because few people bother with them nowadays.
4) Generate buzz. Today word-of-mouth advertising is a potent force in the economy, including publishing. This is one place where audience participation shines like a blue star. It's not something that can be easily done by anyone else.
Talk about your favorite author and/or their books, articles, poetry, short stories -- whatever they write. This works in any venue: in person, in your blog, anywhere people will pay attention to you. The conversation may inspire other people to read that author's work.
Write reviews. You don't know how? Learn the skill; it's not terribly hard. Even a paragraph describing what you like will suffice. Barnes & Noble and many other online suppliers accept customer reviews for books they sell. Posting reviews to your own blog is just fine. You can also post reviews in LiveJournal communities like bookish, paganbooks, and sf_book_reviews. Ning.com also has groups suitable for reviews, so hunt around for ones you like.
Use book recommendation sites and word-of-mouth networks. Good Reads shows what your friends are reading. What Should I Read Next? compiles user input to make recommendations when you key in the title and author of what you read last. The Book Explorer sorts books by categories, manages lists, and makes recommendations. Ning is a social network where you can link friends, make posts, and promote projects; there are literary networks already, such as Published Authors and Book Place. Digg It links web content, including blog posts.
BookCrossing is in a class of its own. Join the network, get special labels, tag a spare copy of a favorite book, and "release it into the wild" by leaving it in a public place. The label allows it to be tracked as it passes from one person to another, if people log in to say they found it. You could get hundreds of people to read your favorite author's book this way! It's a perfect use for that extra copy you bought at the signing.
Write letters to the editor. Make sure the people with the buying power know you like an author's work. If your favorite author writes for a magazine, newspaper, or other periodical (hardcopy or online) then contact the editor. For books, contact the publisher. You can usually find the relevant contact information in the publication's website or the masthead of a periodical.
Nominate your favorite author, book, magazine, short story, etc. for awards. There are award databases online for many different types of awards, such as the Locus Index to Science Fiction Awards, Book Spot Awards, and American Library Association Literary & Related Awards.
Make the networking connections. If your favorite author has a blog, a website, a hardcopy newsletter, etc. then link to it or provide the contact information so people can find it. Once you've piqued people's interest, make sure they can follow through on it in ways that will benefit the author.
5) Give feedback to your favorite author. Most authors love feedback. Here's why.
Feedback is candy. When people respond to something an author has written, it triggers the pleasure circuit. A lot. Just being noticed is gratifying. Positive feedback -- knowing that you made someone smile, or made their life easier -- is really, really gratifying. Some authors also enjoy negative feedback. If you enjoy screaming at each other, go for it. Whatever floats your boat. Just don't sit there with your mouth open, saying nothing.
Feedback is inspiration. Some authors use audience input directly; they may ask for writing prompts, or inquire what topics you'd like to see covered next. This is especially prevalent in blogs, cyberfunded creativity, short story drives, and certain periodical columns. However, all authors use feedback indirectly. Like giant sponges, writers absorb input from all around them. Something you say in passing may float in a writer's backbrain for a decade before attaching to something else and developing into an article or story. Writers do the same thing with the news, the vacations they take, their jobs, the trees they pass in the park ... everything is research.
Feedback is grit. It helps polish a diamond in the rough into a real gem, whether that's a rough draft or a whole writing career. This is primarily true of negative feedback, but the overall mass can also alert an author to areas needing improvement. If nobody ever raves about the characterization, chances are it would benefit from added dimension. Constructive criticism is especially valuable if you can precisely indicate what went wrong, why it didn't work for you, and what might be done to fix it. Novice and semi-pro writers really benefit from finding readers who will help them hone their craft; if you have a knack for this, you can make a friend for life that way. Some writers welcome this sort of thing; others don't. Check first if you care about their feelings.
Feedback is fuel. When you pay attention to someone's work, you're sending energy in that direction. (You may have seen how a performer onstage can use an audience's excitement to fire up their creative engine in a delicious feedback loop. This works much the same way.) Many authors can use this energy to power their writing. Since authors are frequently busy, every extra bit of energy helps.
Detailed feedback is more useful than vague feedback. This is true for both positive and negative feedback. "Golly gee whiz I love your book!" is not as helpful as "I love your characterization in Liberty's Lady," which is not as helpful as "President Jane Doe is the most believable projection of a female president I've ever read; she's always three steps ahead of everyone else but she never forgets the human side."