Do you have writer friends? Here’s something that I think isn’t widely understood outside the writing community:
When a book launches, it’s the culmination often of years of work. Sometimes years and years. It’s as if your friend releasing a book is launching a small business, or finishing grad school. And what’s kind of wacky about books is that by helping to spread the word about that book (even if you’re not in a position to pick up a copy yourself), you can have an incredibly outsize effect on their future writing career.
My friend Amanda is about to open a fabulous bagel shop, and I plan to be right there on launch day to buy a couple dozen bagels, and then run right out and post about it on social media — but buying a book on launch day has a MUCH BIGGER effect than buying even a couple dozen bagels.
I’ve heard that it takes only a hundred books being bought on Amazon on one day to shoot a book to the Amazon bestseller list. That’s a kind of visibility that’s incredibly hard to achieve otherwise, in any other industry, I suspect. It’s a funny little hack to the system, but what it means is that it takes startlingly little to give a book a HUGE shot of adrenaline that day.
Publishers look closely at first day numbers, first week numbers, to determine how strongly they’re going to support the book in the weeks that follow, whether they’re going to put in more financial investment. It’s unfortunate but true that investment breeds success. Disinvestment too often leads to the book disappearing without a trace when the next month’s books arrive. Years of a writer’s life, disappearing into the vast literary ocean.
And for an indie-published book, though you’re not waiting to see if a publisher forgets about you, you generally don’t have the kind of money to pour into publicity efforts that publishers sometimes do. And of course, even with a big publisher, some books get ‘supported’ a lot more strongly than others. They bet on the ones they think will sell, and how they decide which books those are, are influenced by a host of factors. (I’d love to see average big house publicity budgets for debut male novelists versus female novelists, for example.)
So I’m not saying you have to buy your friend’s book, and I certainly don’t want to make anyone feel guilty if they can’t afford to do that. I wouldn’t want *anyone* to buy my book if it was a hardship for them. Please, that’s what libraries are for!
But if you can do anything to make their baby book a little more visible on launch day, it’s like throwing your friend a massive party, with cake. If you can tweet about it, or post to FB, maybe with a photo of the book and a link to buy, or even better, a charming photo of you *and* the book, that’s incredibly helpful.
I don’t tend to celebrate my own birthday the way I used to — my friends and I rarely exchange presents these days. Years will go by, and then perhaps one of us will say, “Oh, I saw this in a store, and it made me think of you, and I just had to pick it up, and I know it’s not even your birthday, but here.” And then you feel all warm and fuzzy, because presents are great.
Helping to boost a friend’s book on their book’s birthday? It’s like buying them ten years of presents all at once. It makes you the bestest ever friend (or friendly acquaintance, or total stranger who just thinks this book is cool and wants to see it do well). If enough people help boost the book on launch, that could very much make the difference between whether or not their next book gets picked up by a publisher.
It’s a bizarre system, but at least for right now, it’s the one we have.
Heck — I went to my friend Lori Rader-Day’s book launch a few weeks ago, for THE LUCKY ONE, a riveting murder mystery, and I walked out having bought not just one, but TWO books. Because I knew doing that in the first month of release would have a larger than is at all reasonable effect. Also because I knew that a great book is an excellent, personal gift — in fact, now that I’m thinking about it, I should’ve bought five or six copies. I would’ve had my holiday gift giving all set.
It is, of course, launch day for my own labor of love, the cookbook I started writing four years ago, after I finished cancer treatment and realized one thing I desperately wanted to pass down for my kids, the Sri Lankan diaspora community, and just, well, everyone, was my love of Sri Lankan cuisine. I wanted more of the world to know how easy, healthy, and delicious it was to cook, and after years of labor, I think my baby came out pretty well. 🙂
A Feast of Serendib is available everywhere books are sold — if they don’t have it in stock, they can get it for you. Details in comments!