Friday, May 16, 2014

How to Keep Your Favorite Writers and Books from Disappearing

by Linda Rodriguez

Since my third Skeet Bannion novel, Every Hidden Fear, came out just last week, I’m thinking seriously about book sales right now. I’ve written and spoken a number of times about what an avid reader can do to support the authors s/he loves, and so I thought I’d compile all of those actions into a blog post for today.

As a reader of novels, I was often disappointed and horrified when authors that I loved disappeared or stopped writing series I loved and started writing another that I might not be as fond of.  After I became a published and got to know many other published novelists, I discovered how these things happen and what I as a reader can do about them. 

A couple of examples—one writer’s books always get rave reviews in the big journals, usually starred reviews, she always earns out her advances, and every single book has been a finalist for some of the biggest awards, but her publisher, one of the Big Five, has dropped her. Why? Her books aren’t increasing in sales enough from book to book, even though they are increasing and are profitable to the publisher. She is looking at writing novels in a different genre now. Another writer had an award-winning series of witty, well-written private-eye novels. He was dropped because it was determined that private-eye novels wouldn’t be selling well soon (a prediction that turned out wrong). He couldn’t get a publisher then. So he had to take a woman’s name and start writing very successful cozies under that.

Often even famous writers are just a breath or two away from tumbling down the slopes in the fickle game of publishing, and success is even more volatile for midlist authors. There are dozens of other stories like these that I could tell. This is what’s happening to the authors you love who vanish and what may well happen to the authors you love now. Even selling enough to earn out their advances is not enough, if they are not increasing their sales drastically with each book. How can we help the authors we love to do that so we can keep reading the books we’re addicted to? Here’s a little list.

Pre-orders— pre-orders have become more and more important to writers. Publishers often decide how big a print run and how much, if any, promotion they will give a book based on pre-orders. Bookstores base orders on that, too. So pre-orders can determine whether your book will be on the shelves in bookstores around the country or have to be special-ordered.

Other things you can do to help are clicking "likes" and "tags" on Amazon. Reviews on Amazon and Goodreads count more toward sales than those longer ones on my blog or elsewhere, and don’t forget Barnes & Noble and Library Thing. Post your author’s book in your WantToRead file on Goodreads when you know the book is coming. Publishers tell us that is important, that other readers look at those and often decide whether to buy the book based on how many other people have listed it as something they want. But reviews on your blog or other review sites do help, as well. I know I’m doing a lot more book recommendations now and not just waiting for folks to ask me.

As soon as I know a book is coming out by one of my favorite writers, I will request my library system order that book—and my own pre-orders for those books will be through local bookstores because that helps them decide whether or not to order in that book to have on the shelves. Ask your library to order the book, and then check it out. Library sales are important to most authors, and we love libraries. If you check out our books, the libraries will keep buying them and won’t sell us off for pennies at the Friends of the Library book sale. (Many libraries get rid of books that haven’t been checked out in more than a year, so even if you own a book, checking out from your local library helps keep your author alive there.)

When we order books from our local bookstore, we need to tell them what we like about that author and why s/he might be a good fit for the store. That not only can convince them to order the book, but also gives them something to tell people when they ask about it.

Talk up your author and book on Facebook and Twitter. I know for a fact that people have bought my books because of wonderful things some of my fans have posted on those two platforms about them. Word of mouth is still the best advertising.

If you’re in a book club or book discussion group or anything like that, suggest your author’s book for the group to read and discuss.

If you take one or more of these actions for your author, you have given great support and taken steps to make sure that s/he will be able to continue writing and publishing the books you love. Anything we can do to help others learn about the authors and books we love helps to keep them available to us, too.

Are there things you do to support your favorite authors that I've missed? Please add them in the comments.

REPLY TO COMMENTS (Blogger still won't let me comment GRR!)

Sue, you've got a good point. Many writers who've been dropped in recent years have turned to self-publishing. I don't think it's a good route for unpublished writers usually, but it can work very well for those who've already built a backlist and a cadre of fans.

Kay, you're right. I always feel it's not up to my readers and fans to promote my or any writer's books, but for those who want to be sure to have more of them to read, these are some ways they can help. I have seen too many writers whose work I love stop publishing--or at least stop publishing those books I love so much--because of the lack of escalating sales.

Debra, yes, the publishing world has been changing ever since the multinational corporations took over most of the big old firms and demanded a much higher ROI than publishing can really sustain. They think the bestsellers are the only way to go, but the old pub houses sustained themselves on the many midlist authors. But midlist authors are no longer respected by the big companies who always want the "big kill."


  1. I think authors whose series have been dropped should be encouraged to continue them by indie-publishing. I'm currently working with Sujata Massey to help her indie-publish a new book in her Rei Shimura series, and with Libby Hellmann on a new Georgia Davis novel. (I do ebook & print book formatting.) With the low advances paid by publishers, especially for paperback originals, this is a viable alternative for authors who already have a built-in fan base, and as more previously-trad-published authors get into indie publishing, the perceived stigma will gradually disappear.

  2. This is a valuable post, Linda, and thank you. I've already posted it to my author page on Facebook. It gets discouraging when readers who tell me "Oh I love your book and will post a review" on somewhere relevant then end up not doing it. Usually I don't go back to them and say...hey how about that review you "promised?" Seems tacky. The publishing biz is a biz and it'sgetting harder and least to make money at it. If you don't care if you make money, then it just is hard on your nerves. There are lots of viable options now--selfpublishing, small publishers add lots to the mix--but it is still nigh onto impossible to make a little money, let alone make a LIVING at writing! Ink-stained wretches...remember that old saying? Well, c'est moi! Only no ink....just calloused typing fingertips.

  3. Linda,
    you really make excellent points in this blog. The publishing world is changing...the key is whether authors and readers are changing, too?

  4. Great suggestions. As a re-reader I often request older books from my library. I am amazed at the number of books from "legends" that are not available. I do lots of "I want to read" listings on goodreads and will look for Library Thing.

  5. This is excellent advice on the simple things we can do to support fellow writers. Your stories about successful writers being dropped by their publishers is all too familiar. Publishers keep shooting themselves in the foot by letting go of steady, popular writers. Glad to hear some of them will still be writing and self-publishing.