With holiday season coming up, I know many of us are frantically scrambling to put our lists together. But there’s no time like Christmas to spread a little cheer in the book community! Holiday season means survival time for many small businesses, who both rely on the shopping spree to make their sales for the year, and are forced to compete with huge retailers for people’s business. If you’re buying for a bookish friend or family member, or you are the friend or family member receiving books as gifts (because lets be real, if you’re reading this that’s probably the case), here are some ideas on how to support your favorite indie authors and local bookstores!
Buy their books! (or art, or merch, if they have it)
Search the author’s name and try to find a personal website: if they maintain it well, it should be at the top of the search results. Find out if they have a personal store on their site, or if they offer copies of their book in a PDF or EPUB format for being paid directly through a service like PayPal. If you buy the book this way, 100% of the profits go to the author, except maybe a small (10%) transaction fee.
If they don’t have the option to buy their book on their website, next check your local bookstore. If they don’t have it, you can almost always request the book, and they’ll order it in, or maybe even start carrying stock. This goes a long way to support both the local bookstore with your patronage and the author, who will receive closer to 70% royalties on each purchase. If you don’t have a local independent bookstore, most major retailers like Barnes and Nobles, Kobo, Apple books, Google books, etc. also offer better royalty rates than Amazon.
Amazon is the largest book retailer out there. Full stop. Unfortunately, they only give authors 35% royalties, unless they publish exclusively through kindle unlimited. If you can’t find the book you’re looking for on any other platform, it may be because the author opted for a limited distribution plan. For indie authors, it’s difficult to persuade physical stores to carry their books, or they may not have set up the other channels during the publication process. In this case, it’s totally fair to buy the book from Amazon! A sale is better than no sale after all, and they will appreciate your support.
Other ways to support the book community monetarily are to donate to their Kofi pages, signing up for their Patreon groups. Many indie authors don’t make a living off book sales alone and supplement their income with donations/tips. Some bookstores will run holiday fundraisers or charity events. If you like the work that they’re doing, consider tossing a coin to your author.
Don’t have a big gift budget? That’s ok, me neither. There are still plenty of ways to support authors and small bookstores without spending a cent!
Talk about it! Word of mouth is the most powerful marketing tool for small creators who don’t have a huge marketing fund or a full social battery. It’s also the avenue they have the least control over. If you really enjoyed a book, but you can’t afford to buy a copy for a friend, maybe you could do a book swap instead, and include a homemade bookmark. If other people are asking for your wishlist, give them your TBR. Mention your favorite reads from the year when you meet up with friends and relatives, and it might persuade them to go check it out. Post a quick review on your social media. Every small bit of visibility helps because you never know who will be interested enough to check it out, and pass on the word.
Request the book at your local library! Not only do you get to make friends with the librarians (who are objectively the coolest people in the world), you also get to read the book for free! Meanwhile, the author gets both a sale, and exposure as they land on the “new” shelf with a shiny new barcode, and the library may receive better funding from the footfall and check-out data. More funding = better book buying budget and fun programming for next year. Rinse and repeat.
Leave reviews! Once a listing hits 50 relatively good reviews on Amazon, the site begins free promotion for the author, because they recognize that if enough people liked it enough to leave a review, it’s worth showing to other people in the recommendations list. Once it hits 75 reviews, it’ll also be included in email promotions. Both advertising feats normally cost a ridiculous amount of money, but hitting this threshold is one of the most important landmarks for an indie author.
It also ties into word of mouth, because how will people know if the book is good enough to buy if there aren’t reviews? It’s important to emphasise that these should be honest reviews, so don’t feel you can’t leave one just because you didn’t feel it was 5 stars. Truthful, detailed, 3 and 4 star reviews also help hit that threshold, and won’t be as likely to be marked as spam. If you especially liked the story, every 5-star helps a ton. Also review it on platforms like BookBub and Goodreads if possible! You can copy and paste your thoughts, and it doesn’t have to take long, but it goes a long way.
Join their mailing lists/newsletters: Remember what I said earlier about how most of us don’t have huge marketing budgets? In the realm of social media algorithms, promoting your book is pay-to-play, and even then, your chances of being seen are slim as the posts get swept down the feed. The most reliable way to get news about an author’s sales, new releases, and other events is to join their newsletter. Emails are much less likely to get lost in the internet’s void, and they allow authors to say more than what would get caught in a short post. They also usually come with free reader magnets, which is always a fun treat.
Bookstores and libraries also host events like book signings, giveaways, and holiday programs alllllll the time but might not have the best social media presence. Unless you’re following their mailing list, you’ll miss them. I know nobody wants an inbox over-flooding with promotional material, so it makes sense you’d be picky about which you choose to follow. You can check release schedules if you’re concerned about being overwhelmed, and always unsubscribe if it’s not what you’re looking for anymore. But this is seriously one of the best ways to support authors and small bookstores, though following them on social media doesn’t hurt either.
Flaaawwwless transition into shameless self promotion: I have a new edition of my newsletter coming out next week! This one includes a short story told from the POV of the Ghosts of Christmases Past, Present, and Future. You should sign up now, so you get the newsletter when it comes out, but in case you miss it, you can still read the backlog of stories later! That list currently includes a narrative poem about Jack of Fables, and a magical realism/sci-fi short story called “Matter.” If you’re looking for something fun and short to read while you’re curled up by the fire this winter break, this is your chance to get three free pdfs. I send out new emails (and new stories) quarterly, so I’ll only be spamming you every three months. I think that’s a fair trade, if I say so myself. Here’s the link to sign up if you’re interested!
I think I’ve rambled enough for today, so now it’s your turn! Tell me about a book you read recently, and I’ll be sure to check it out! Happy reading. 🙂