How to Support the Writers You Know (Mostly For Free!)

Recently my cousin Yvette sent me an e-mail with the photo below attached. She’d put in a request to have my story collection, Faulty Predictions, considered for purchase for her local library’s collection. I felt incredibly grateful to her; this is the kind of action that can really help out a writer, especially writers whose books are from small or university presses that don’t have large marketing budgets. I hadn’t asked her to do this; she just saw the forms and decided to ask her library to consider purchasing my book.

It struck me that I haven’t asked anyone to do such a thing, and maybe I should. I find book promotion to be challenging. It takes a good amount of hustle and extroversion and self-promotion, which can be difficult things for writers who are more comfortable behind a desk working quietly than in front of a crowd talking about themselves and their work. As I was considering Yvette’s kind gesture, I thought that maybe there are people out there who would like to do things to help the writers in their lives, but they don’t know what they can do. Before I published a book, I had no idea about how I could help writers, beyond buying a copy of their book. So here are a few ideas. Most of them are free.

1) Ask your local library (or university or college library) to order your writer friend’s book.

2) Leave a positive review on Amazon for the book. It doesn’t have to be something really in-depth that you spend hours writing. It can even be a sentence long, something like “I really enjoyed this book!” If you have time and have specific things to say, great, but if you’ve only got a minute, a short review helps. I’ve heard rumors that the more reviews a book gets, the more it will be promoted by Amazon. I’m not sure if this is true, but that’s the word on the street. The rumor is that fifty reviews is the magic number; apparently, if a book gets fifty reviews, it will show up in more searches and will be promoted more, even to people who aren’t searching for that particular book. Again, I’m not sure if this is true, but it can’t hurt for a book to have a lot of positive reviews.

3) Leave a positive review on Goodreads. The same idea applies as above. The review can be short, or it can be long and detailed.

4) Choose the author’s book for your book club and ask the author join your book club, either in person (if you live near the author) or via Skype. Most authors are happy to do this for free (I certainly am and am always appreciative when a group of readers decides to read and discuss my book).

5) If an author has visited your book club and you enjoyed their book, leave positive reviews for the book online.

6) If you are affiliated with any organizations or groups that organizes readings, ask the author to give a reading. If you can pay the author, that’s great, but if you can’t, many authors will still be willing to give a reading, especially if they don’t have to travel far to do so. It’s also great if you can advertise the reading and help draw a crowd.

7) If you ask an author to give a reading and can’t pay, you can always try to organize a book sale to go along with the reading, which would give the author an opportunity to sell their books and would let the audience get their books signed by the writer. If you don’t have the resources to organize a book sale, you can invite the author to bring books to sell, and you can tell whoever introduces the author to encourage audience members to buy books. I run the reading series at the college where I teach, and I’ve realized that while I’m introducing the reader, it’s helpful to say, “Please consider buying a book after the reading. It’s a great way to support the writer who has come to campus, and you’ll be able to get it signed, so it’s something special you’ll have.” From running the reading series, I’ve realized that a few words encouraging the audience to buy books results in more book sales for the author.  

8) If a writer you know is giving a reading near where you live, show up for it (especially if the reading is free, which most readings tend to be). It’s hard to get people to show up for readings because there are so many things and responsibilities that compete for an audience member’s attention. But it’s a great thing for a writer to look out into the audience and see a friendly and familiar face looking back. Plus, there’s always the fear that no one will show up for a reading, so if a writer knows that you’re coming, they’ll know they can avoid the dreaded I-gave-a-reading-and-no-one-showed-up scenario.   

9) If you are a student and have a writing teacher whose classes you’ve enjoyed, read that teacher’s book(s). You may not have a lot of money right now, and that’s okay. You don’t have to buy the books; you can check them out from the library or ask for a copy of the book as a birthday or holiday gift. Do the steps above—ask your local library to purchase their book; if you or a parent or other relative has a book club, suggest they read your teacher’s book; leave reviews for the book if you enjoyed it. Trust me: your teachers will appreciate your curiosity and interest in their work. Your teachers spend a lot of time being interested in you and your writing; they will very much appreciate it if you show some interest in their work and acknowledge them as a writer and not only as your teacher. When I was a student, I was too shy to tell my teachers that I’d read and liked their work. Now I know how much they probably would have liked knowing that their student had read and appreciated what they’d written.

10) And, finally, if you can afford to do so, buy a new copy of a book by someone you know. For many years—while I was an undergraduate and graduate student—I only bought books used because that’s what I could afford. But used book sales don’t help writers because used books don’t count toward their sales records and writers don’t earn royalties from sales of used books. It’s always a good thing to get a deal on a book, but once I had a full-time job and salary, I switched to buying new books because I wanted to make sure writers got compensated for purchases of their books. For a long time, I didn’t realize that buying used books meant that writers weren’t being compensated for those sales, so I thought I’d mention it here in case others also don’t know this.

I hope this list helps to give some ideas about how you might support the writers in your life. It surprised me to learn how much readers can do to help out writers, and I’ve very much appreciated the support I’ve been lucky enough to receive from friends and family in the years since my book came out. If you do any of the things from the list above, I can assure you that the writers in your life will be extremely grateful.