• John Clayton

How to help your friend the writer

Your friend is publishing a book. Saying “congratulations” doesn’t feel like enough. You want to help. What can you do?


1. Pre-order. Stores and publishers use pre-orders as gauges of public interest. The best way to pre-order the book is to talk to a staffer at your local bookstore. (If you use a library, pre-reserving works similarly. If you use Amazon, you can find the book’s Amazon page long before its publication date.)

2. Read. When the book arrives, read it. This is the real marker of friendship: you didn’t just shell out the money, you took the time. (It also makes the rest of these tasks easier.)


3. Post. Offer your thoughts at any place that encourages them: Amazon, Goodreads, Google Books. The book may also have its own Facebook page or YouTube video—and don’t just “like” the page, but write a comment. You need not be eloquent or comprehensive. Potential buyers are influenced by all sorts of comments on these pages. (Don’t talk about your relationship with the author—indeed some sites delete such posts. Just talk about what you liked about the book.)


4. Party. If your friend is having a book release party, go (and bring guests). If no party yet exists, offer to help organize it.


5. Share. To sell books, your friend needs buzz. And nobody really knows how to for sure create buzz. But one path to buzz is when people say—in person, on Instagram, or even LinkedIn—“I’m reading this book, and…”


6. Give. Buy extra copies of the book to give as presents. And you don’t have to wait for Christmas. Walk up to a friend and say, “I want you to read this. Go ahead and take this copy, on me.”


7. Invite. Author appearances often create buzz. But remember: most publishers and bookstores won’t pay authors’ travel expenses. So if your friend lives out of town, your Level 1 invitation is, “If you want to come here, I hope you’ll stay with me.” Level 2: “Of course you can’t afford to come here, but do you want to speak to my book group via Skype?” Level 3: “Let me talk to the local college/museum/festival to see if they’d pay you to come.”


8. Visit. At a bookstore “signing” (as opposed to a reading), an author is on display. This can be stressful for an introverted writer, especially if nobody’s there. Walk up to the signing table and chat (making sure to withdraw when paying customers arrive).


9. Shop. Many authors have “broken out” thanks to independent bookstores. These booksellers know their customers, and are trusted when they hand-sell a new book. Buying online may be cheaper for you, but buying more of all of your books from independent bookstores supports the ecosystem that will support your friend.


10. Go ahead and congratulate. Publishing a book is an unusual accomplishment. If all you do is to remind your friend of that, you’re still being quite a good friend.


John Clayton is the author of Natural Rivals: John Muir, Gifford Pinchot, and the Creation of America’s Public Lands, which will be published by Pegasus Books in August.



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