Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The further care and feeding of writers

Barbara here. There are so many possible topics for a blog this week, from the cultural appropriation firestorm currently raging in Canada, set alight by a flippant and ill-advised editorial in the Writers' Union of Canada's magazine, to Donald Trump's latest bizarre and even more ill-advised venture into international relations. But I decided to steer clear of political firestorms in favour of further discussion on nurturing the arts, culture, and literature in our own countries.

In my last post, using tiny Iceland as an example, I talked about the cultural attitudes and government supports that allow local and regional creators to earn something approximating a living in our increasingly global culture. In this week's blog, I want to talk about what individual readers can do to make a difference, and what decisions readers make that help or hurt authors.


Do's ...
  • Buy their books new. It doesn't matter whether it's an ebook or paper book, online or from a bookstore. Only the purchase of a new book pays any money to the author who spent a year or more writing it and to the publisher who took them on.
  • If you like the book, write a review on Amazon or Goodreads. Peer reviews are showing up everywhere now, from airbnbs to lawn mowers, and increasingly people rely on them to help them sort the good from the bad. The review needn't be long or exhaustive. A couple of short sentences will do. Reviews not only help separate good from bad, but the more ratings and reviews a book has, the greater its visibility on sites like Amazon.
Don'ts ...
  • Avoid buying used books. Whether from a yard sale or a used book store, they give no money back to the author or the publisher. Not everyone knows this. All the money stays with the seller. I am slightly ambivalent about harping on this, because the low price of used books can entice readers to try unknown authors, and if they like that book, they might buy the next book new. 
  • Don't use "free download" sites to get electronic copies. These are pirated copies, much like pirated music sites. Some people are under the misconception that authors make enough money that they won't miss the few dollars lost on an ebook. Many authors have incomes below the poverty line. Some people think the author needs those few dollars less than they do. Multiply that by hundreds or thousands of free downloads, and you have an author who's making virtually no money. Likewise, some people think there is no cost to an ebook because it's just a file without the cost of printing or paper. But paper and printing is only a small part of the process. Most of the cost of a book is in the year's labour of the writer, the salaries of the editor, formatter, cover designer, sales, marketing, and publicity people, and all those involved in the creation of the work.
  • Free download sites are also often scams or fronts for criminal organizations after your personal information.
Do's ...
  • Do take books out of the library. If money is a concern, particularly when trying out an unknown author, use the library. Unlike used books or free pirated downloads, authors and publishers do get money indirectly when their book is in the library, at least in Canada. If you don't find the book you want in your library, ask them to order it. The more libraries the book is in, the better for the author!
  • If you enjoyed the book, tell your friends. Over and above all the tweets and blogs and reviews, one of the most powerful marketing tools is word of mouth, and a recommendation from friends goes a long way towards cutting through all the books shouting to be read. Telling your friends on social media counts too.
Don'ts ...
  • However, don't pass your one copy around among all your friends. That's one sale, of which the author typically gets 10% (so $2 on a $20 book). When people proudly tell me they're seventh on the list at their workplace, I smile weakly. I'm happy my book is reaching so many people, but selling at least a couple of copies would be nice.
  • Don't expect a free copy just because you are friends with the author. People sometimes think authors get books for free, but we don't. We get a few copies which we use for promotional activities like draws and door prizes, or as thank yous to those who provided advice or expertise for the book. We have to buy the rest from the publisher, at a discount, but not free. We'd go broke giving away books.
  • For the same reason, think carefully before asking an author to donate a free book to a charitable cause. It can be difficult to say no; we want to be good citizens, and the charities are always worthy. But authors often find themselves donating as many as a dozen books to different silent auctions and fundraising ventures in a year, almost always without any kind of charitable receipt. Another path to bankruptcy.
So that's my list of kudos and pet peeves. But it's by no means exhaustive. Writers and readers, if you have more to add, I'd love to hear from you!

11 comments:

Vicki Delany said...

Where did you get that picture, Barbara? I note a familiar book in there. Good article. You are so right and your points need saying.

Caro Soles said...

Thanks for writing this one, Barbara! Especially the part about reviews!

Barbara Fradkin said...

Vicki, I took that photo myself last night, grabbing the books I had on the nearby shelf. No fear, I did not see your book for sale for 25 cents.

Melodie Campbell said...

Sharing this post on Facebook!
My addition would be: don't ask an author to critique your work-in-progress for free. So many times, I get asked this. I've come to the following conclusion: Sadly, if they don't put a value on my time, they won't value my advice.

Vicki Delany said...

I particularly remember the time I was invited to be the author at a book club run by a FOR-PROFIT company. It would be a ticketed event. The tickets were to pay for the companies product and services. I was expected to not only NOT get paid but to provide 22 of my own books for FREE to the attendees. Needless to say, I declined.

Sybil Johnson said...

Thanks for this post. I tweeted it and put it on my Facebook author page. Very well said.

Barbara Fradkin said...

There are a lot of things that authors get asked to do for free, and I accept if I have the time and I think it's a worthy cause that furthers love of reading (e.g. talks to schools and writers' groups, readings at libraries, and of course book clubs). Often the only "payment" is the chance to sell books. And I've often shared my thought with an emerging writer about the ins and outs of the book world. But I agree that anything more time consuming like critiquing a manuscript or presenting a workshop should be paid for.

Donis Casey said...

This is a most excellent article. I'd like to use it as an example when I speak to groups, if you don't mind.

Barbara Fradkin said...

Feel free, Donis. Glad to help.

Rick Blechta said...

Vicki,

That wouldn't happen to be a nameless Ontario crown corporation that sells alcoholic products to the public, would it? The person organizing these might best be described as a scam artist from the get-go. I stupidly did one and wound up leading the whole thing myself (being a former teacher, this was no big deal) while she wandered out of the room to do something else.

Still, it was GREAT exposure -- or so I was told.

Vicki Delany said...

Yes, Rick, that would be it. You can die of exposure, you know.