Among those affected financially by the COVID-19 pandemic, freelance writers and authors are some of those who have suffered the most. Between cancelled events, rescheduled conventions, and plummeting book sales, authors are taking a hit from the current economic state and the quarantine that prevents people from buying anything other than what they deem essential.
Authors don’t have subscription services in the same way shows and movies have Netflix. Books often fall to the wayside in the face of video games when people are looking for a distraction. Often, they’re willing to snap up the latest Switch game or buy that new film on their favorite streaming service rather than pick up a book.
While COVID-19 is still spreading across the globe, we need to remember that authors have given us worlds to escape to, characters to relate to, and plots that keep us riveted, turning page after page until there are no more pages to turn.
Here are some ways you can support your favorite authors right now—and many of them don’t involve spending a dime.
1. Buy Their Books
Okay, I know I said I’d give you some suggestions that don’t involve spending money, but there’s a reason I’m starting with this one. I don’t mean go out to a bookstore and purchase their books, or even order hard copies online (though you can do that, too).
Right now, Kindle and ebooks are your friends. They’re often cheaper than the paperback (and WAY cheaper than the hardcover). You don’t need to wait for them to ship, they require no human interaction, and you can read them wherever you go—or in your own home.
Rebecca Laffar-Smith, author of the sci-fi series Children of Nar Chronicles, says, “Definitely feeling a pinch as an author. Book sales are decimated (because of so many other authors offering free books to help people ‘survive quarantine’) and author talks and workshops all cancelled even all the way out to September.”
You can even buy Kindle books when they’re on sale. You’ll save some money but the author will still get a percentage. My favorite sci-fi/fantasy author, Victoria Lee, regularly posts about sales of their book, The Fever King, on Kindle. The book is 99 cents, and I promise you it’s way better to buy the book really cheap than it is to pirate it. Pirating books steals money from authors.
Lee says that they once found a PDF of their book online that had over 10,000 downloads. After checking their royalty rate, they found that, had all of those people even bought the 99 cent ebook, it would have covered a full year of their rent.
There’s also an option on Amazon to buy a book for someone else. It’s a great way to pay it forward to someone who wants to support an author but is unable to purchase the book.
I’d love to see this catch on as a movement during the quarantine: #BuyABookForAFriend. What do you think? Can we make it happen?
2. Talk About Their Books
Talking about an author’s books is one of the easiest ways to support them and spread the word. You don’t have to buy the book—in fact, you don’t even have to have read it.
If you’re excited about an author’s debut novel coming out, tell your friends about it! Tell them why you’re excited, and give them resources where they can pre-order the book or follow the author online.
Just like when you’re building a new business, word-of-mouth brings more people to the book and people are more likely to buy a book they’ve heard a lot about. In business, marketers say that most people need to see or hear about something seven times before they decide to buy it.
For authors, books are their business. If you tell people about their books, you’re contributing to that rule of seven.
I know that when I buy books, it’s often because I hear about them repeatedly on Twitter. I follow a lot of book bloggers, authors, and others in the book and writing community, so whenever I’m scrolling, I see dozens of people talking about the same books frequently. Often, these aren’t books I’d seek out on my own. Even if they’re books I’d normally be interested in, it’s hard to know what to look for if you’re just browsing the Barnes & Noble website.
Plus, seeing and hearing others talk about books they love or are looking forward to helps boost pre-orders, which are vital to authors’ future book sales and rankings. It tells the publisher how many copies to print. If they see an author has interest from a large group, the more likely the book is to get better promotion.
Talking about a book means that even if you can’t personally buy it, you can encourage others to do so. Recently, I’ve told several friends about my favorite book series, Feverwake by Victoria Lee. Two of those friends bought both books in the series. I’ve lent the book to another friend, and two others are interested in reading it in the future. That’s five times more people than just me.
Imagine if every person who read a book told five people about it. You’d exponentially boost sales, and that’s not even counting when you talk about it online!
3. Share Their Books on Social Media
Sharing an author’s books on social media can reach hundreds, or even thousands of followers. If you’re a book blogger, Booktuber, or if you’re part of book Twitter, you can have a lot of influence over a lot of people.
If you have 500 followers on Twitter, that’s 500 people who are listening to what you have to say. Even reaching 10 percent of those people would mean 50 people now know about this amazing book you just promoted.
Social media also allows authors to share their books directly with readers and respond to their questions and comments. As Cheryl Williams, author of A Collection of Poems: A Journey through Life, says, “I believe once authors build a relationship with their readers, they will be more prone to buy their books.”
This is why social media adds a whole new dimension to what’s possible when it comes to supporting authors. It makes it easier to connect, to share the books you love, and to get to know the person behind the work.
Candace Walsh, author of Licking the Spoon: A Memoir of Food, Family, and Identity, says, “It might seem like a little thing, but if you follow the author on Twitter or Facebook, or another platform, write a post to them that tells them why you love their work. We need encouragement to keep going with our works in process, especially during difficult times like this one.”
By sharing an author’s work, you’re opening up communication between readers and the author. Beyond the money and marketing standpoint, connecting with authors on social media encourages them and drives them to write more of the stories you love.
4. Check Their Books Out of the Library
Checking books out of the library might not be your first thought when it comes to supporting authors, but it’s a crucial component of boosting sales and awareness. If you can’t afford to buy a book, requesting it at your local library is one of the best ways to spread the word about it in your community.
Think about it—libraries look out for books they think people will check out. If people in the community show interest in one book, the library may purchase it.
Keep in mind that not all libraries have a lot of funding, which means they need to use the funds they do have wisely. The books they can purchase may be limited, and knowing that many people in their community want the same books will lead them to include these books in their collections.
Not to mention, when people browse the shelves, they’re often there to discover new books. Sometimes putting the books in the right place can allow someone to find them with minimal effort on your part.
Most of the time, all you need to do when requesting a book at your library is search your library’s collection online. Select Recommend to Library or Additional Titles to Recommend, depending on the library’s online format. Then, when you see the Not Owned label on a book, select Recommend so your library knows it’s a title they should carry.
5. Review Their Books Online
Think about how many reviews you see every day—for products, restaurants, venues, and more. Now consider how those reviews have affected your decisions to buy those products, eat at those restaurants, or buy a ticket to the event at that venue.
It makes a big difference, right? So don’t underestimate the power of your thoughts on a book.
Reviews are the backbone of the publishing industry. Whether you review on Goodreads, Amazon, a blog, or for a publication, you’re helping authors by telling people about their books.
It goes along with telling your friends and sharing on social media, but reviews allow you to express your thoughts in a more organized way. Don’t get me wrong—incoherent yelling has its own merits. But when you present your thoughts in a more thoughtful format, it helps potential readers get a better idea of what the book is really about, how it relates to them, and why they should pick it up.
I’ve picked up books I didn’t think I’d care about because the reviews raved about them. I’ve also chosen not to read a book I thought I’d like because of poor reviews.
“The most important thing about showing support as a reader is for it to take the form of being genuinely excited about a book or author’s work….If it feels like a favor or an obligation, then it won’t have the same sparkle,” Walsh says.
Whenever you review books, whether it’s a new novel, a memoir published years ago, or an anthology, it’s important that you review them honestly. Don’t go to Goodreads and gush about a book you hated. Be honest. Who knows? The things you didn’t like might work for someone else.
Some readers want to know exactly what they’ll find in their next read (spoiler-free, of course). When I’m looking for a new book, I gravitate toward those with LGBTQIA+ representation. I also want to know what other types of representation the book might have.
Is there a Black main character? A queer cast? A character with a disability or chronic illness? Does the book help destigmatize mental illness or other issues prevalent in society?
These types of things are important to some of us, and this is why I look to reviews. I want to know which people and issues have the spotlight in the book. I want to know what I can learn and how I can relate.
By showing people what they’ll find in an author’s book, you’re helping the right people find the right books for them.
6. Support Indie Bookstores
I get it—Amazon is (usually) more convenient, and often cheaper. Even Barnes & Noble sometimes costs a couple dollars less than indie stores. But don’t forget that with indie bookstores, your dollar means more to everyone.
Indie bookstores create a more personal connection between authors and readers. They put on events, sell books by local authors, and have more flexibility with curation.
They can put on more events by self-published and indie authors, while big box stores often deny them. They’re more receptive to local authors, too.
Every event I’ve been to at an indie bookstore has been run by staff who care about the authors they work with. Each store shows so much love for their books, and the events are unique.
In January, I went to debut author Ryan La Sala’s event for Reverie at Brookline Booksmith in Boston and got to see a short drag performance along with it (which, by the way, was awesome). I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen that at B&N.
When you support indie bookstores, you support authors putting on events, talking about their work, and sharing their books with their own community and those beyond. It’s more personal, and you’re helping give authors a platform to promote their work.
Right now, with all community events cancelled until who-knows-when, indie bookstores and small press publishers need our (remote) support.
“Ask emerging authors if they have any signed books they’d like to sell you directly. Visit small press websites and order from them directly. I think university presses especially need our attention right now,” Walsh notes.
7. Participate in Online Events
During COVID-19, pretty much all book events, comic cons, and other meet-ups have been canceled. While this is necessary for everyone’s health and safety, it’s still disappointing for authors and readers alike.
I’d planned to go to Victoria Lee’s launch event for their second book, The Electric Heir, only to find in the mere two weeks leading up to it, COVID-19 made it impossible to hold the event in New York City. My partner and I canceled our flight and our hotel reservations. We found out two days later that The Strand had to cancel the event and the livestream that was supposed to replace it.
A few days before the scheduled date for the event, Victoria Lee and Christina Orlando announced they were doing an Instagram livestream instead. I watched it and asked questions, and it was still a lot of fun to hear them talk about the books I’ve loved since I read The Fever King last year.
Online events might not be the same as meeting an author in person, but they have their own merits. For example, for people who can’t make it to the events due to transportation, accessibility, illness, or other issues, they can now participate in the online version.
There are even events in the works like Everywhere Book Fest. Everywhere Book Fest, according to their website, is “a virtual celebration of authors, books, and readers that brings the book festival experience to everyone.”
While Everywhere Book Fest is geared toward kidlit and YA books and authors, this type of virtual festival promotes inclusivity and allows more people to participate in author events. Everywhere Book Fest is also giving priority to authors who were planning to hold events that were cancelled because of COVID-19.
During the pandemic, we’re seeing a rise in authors hosting online events and livestreams. Currently, these events are the only way they can interact with readers on a large scale aside from on social media, which makes it all the more important for us to attend them.
8. Lend Your Books to Friends
This might sound counterintuitive to what we normally consider support for an author. It doesn’t involve buying an extra copy or donating a book to the library. But as someone who lent their favorite books to friends in school (and still does), lending books isn’t the same as reading a book and letting it sit on the shelf.
When you lend books to friends, they get a chance to love them, too. They talk about them. They buy their own copies. They begin to love the same authors and go to their events.
Lending a book reaches beyond the room where your friend reads it. I remember way back in high school, my whole group of friends ate, slept, and breathed books. It was like a continuous literary network where we shared our love for so many authors.
Several of the books I borrowed from friends, I also bought for myself. I even lent my copy of Looking for Alaska to so many people that the cover started falling off.
Lending books supports authors by allowing people who can’t access the books in other ways to read them. Maybe the person doesn’t have enough money to buy the book. Maybe the library doesn’t have it, there’s a long waiting list, or they can’t finish reading the book before the borrowing time limit runs out.
Lending books is a form of sharing them by word of mouth, but it goes a step further. It allows others to experience the book for themselves and become part of the network that draws readers to authors.
If you’re lending books during the pandemic, just make sure to clean them off with antibacterial wipes and do a “no contact” drop off to your friend or neighbor. If you’re borrowing a book, clean it well before you dig in.
9. Follow Their Blog or Email List
Not all authors have blogs or email lists, but many do. Check their website to see what kinds of updates they post, and see if they have a place you can enter your email and subscribe.
Subscribing to an author’s email list means that authors and publishers can see what interests readers, what type of content and bonuses readers might want, and gives authors a way to connect with readers with minimal effort on everyone’s part.
It tells the author, “Hey, I care what you have to say!” As their audience grows, having a larger list of subscribers helps gauge whether offering more content or, in some cases, merch, is worth it.
10. Don’t Pirate Books!
I’m begging you, on behalf of authors everywhere, do not pirate books. I know I mentioned it earlier, but it bears repeating. Stealing books means stealing income from authors who deserve to be paid for their work.
“In our troubled economy, it’s already hard just to get by, and with public events and conferences getting cancelled left, right, and center, one of our two primary sources of income has completely disappeared,” Rebecca Laffar-Smith says. “So please don’t begrudge the cost of a coffee for the hours of entertainment you get from our books.”
During COVID-19, just about everyone has turned to art in some form, whether it’s books, movies, video games, or music. Show support for the artists by doing literally any of the things on this list, but don’t steal their work. It may not seem like a big deal to you, but it’s a big deal to them.
There are plenty of ways you can support authors and freelancers, even during the pandemic. Follow these tips, and don’t be afraid to get creative with ways you may spread the word.
How have you supported your favorite authors recently? Spread the love, and tell us about the books and authors you’ve read and enjoyed in the comments!