Monday, May 15, 2017

How Best to Make Sure the Books You Love Keep Coming

by Linda Rodriguez

Some of the things I’ve learned as a published novelist have turned me into a better fan of my own favorite authors. I’ve written on this blog before about pre-ordering and how I learned of its importance to writers. Instead of waiting for the books of my favorite author to be published, I pre-order now, knowing I’m contributing to their success as well as assuring I’ll have their book as soon as it’s available.

I thought I was already helping with reviews. On my blog,, I try to spotlight books by literary writers of color who might be hard for the average reader to find, as well as mystery novelists who are writing high-quality fiction. I do this with profiles, interviews, and sometimes reviews of individual books. However, I’ve learned that reviews on Amazon and Goodreads count more toward sales than those longer ones on my blog or elsewhere.

I’ve always just given stars to books on Goodreads. I’ve read so many books that I didn’t think I had time for more than that. I was wrong. Those stars don’t do much good. It’s the reviews that make others decide to pick up the book to read. It’s the same with Amazon—reviews lead to sales. Even for authors who seem to have it made! Often even famous writers are just a breath or two away from tumbling down the slopes in the fickle game of publishing (as we saw recently when the major publishers all suddenly threw off multiple mystery writers, leaving many scrambling for new publishers or trying to reinvent themselves), and success is even more volatile for midlist authors. 

I learned about how important these reviews can be to authors, and I’d set myself a goal to post a daily review of a novelist whose work I enjoyed on either Amazon or Goodreads. Unfortunately, Amazon now won't allow me to review many of the books I'd like to, because they assume I'm friends with the author. In some cases, I barely know the author, and in others, I don't know them, at all, but Amazon has decided that, since I'm an author myself, I must necessarily know all other authors, apparently. So this is one way that I can't contribute to keeping my favorite authors publishing, but if you can, those reviews matter more than almost any others. I have learned how to link my blog, so a review on my blog posts to my author page on Amazon or Goodreads, however. This is one thing I can do to make sure the writers I love don’t disappear on me.

I’ve always been a person others ask for book recommendations, primarily because I read so much in so many areas. Now that I’ve learned how important that word-of-mouth advice on books can be, I’ll be doing a lot more book recommendations and not just waiting for folks to ask me. I have occasionally requested my library system buy a book I want that they don’t have. Now, as soon as I know a book is coming out by one of my favorite writers, I will request my library system order that book—and my own pre-orders for those books will be through local bookstores because that helps them decide whether or not to order in that book to have on the shelves.

The publishing business is in deep flux right now, and authors are being required to do more than ever to promote their books. Every novelist I know, famous or unknown, is buried in a mountain of promotion efforts while still trying to write the books we fans love and wait for breathlessly. The sheer numbers, literally millions, of books flooding the market now, some by authors who haven't bothered to learn to be good writers or good editors, makes it hard for the potential buyer to find the writers who have worked for many years to hone their craft. Everything we, as fans of good writing in whatever genre, can do to make our favorite authors successful ensures that in the volatile atmosphere of publishing today these favorite novelists will survive and thrive—and continue providing us with our favorite addiction, their good books.

Do you know of other strategies we fans can do to help ensure the success of the book and authors we love?

Linda Rodriguez's Plotting the Character-Driven Novel, based on her popular workshop, and The World Is One Place: Native American Poets Visit the Middle East, an anthology she co-edited, are her newest books. Every Family Doubt, her fourth mystery novel featuring Cherokee campus police chief, Skeet Bannion, will appear in autumn, 2017. Her three earlier Skeet novels—Every Hidden Fear, Every Broken Trust, and Every Last Secret—and her books of poetry—Skin Hunger and Heart's Migration—have received critical recognition and awards, such as St. Martin's Press/Malice Domestic Best First Novel, International Latino Book Award, Latina Book Club Best Book of 2014, Midwest Voices & Visions, Elvira Cordero Cisneros Award, Thorpe Menn Award, and Ragdale and Macondo fellowships. Her short story, “The Good Neighbor,” published in the anthology, Kansas City Noir, has been optioned for film.

Rodriguez is chair of the AWP Indigenous Writer’s Caucus, past president of Border Crimes chapter of Sisters in Crime, founding board member of Latino Writers Collective and The Writers Place, and a member of International Thriller Writers, Wordcraft Circle of Native American Writers and Storytellers, and Kansas City Cherokee Community. Visit her at


  1. I rarely buy hardcover books, but I do follow your routine of suggesting good books to my libraries if they don’t have them. I do not write reviews for books that already have hundreds (although on Goodreads I’ll add my star rating). Those folks don’t need my help so I concentrate on those that do.

    ~ Jim

  2. Good advice, Linda. I need to be better at this.

  3. I suggest book purchases to the Cincinnati Hamilton County library system, particularly those from small presses. I post reviews and ratings on Goodreads and Amazon, though frequently Amazon won't let me post.

    I need to do more for the authors I know.

  4. When I buy books on Amazon because the nearest book store to me is almost an hour away, they always ask me to review the book, and I give a good review. I think if I tried to do a review without buying the book from them, they might not use it. Because I belong to two book clubs, I either pick the book when it's my turn to have the book club at my house, or I tell others about it. I have gotten some people following a series when I lend them the first book in the series, but probably nobody no one buys more books than I do, so in hat way I really support the authors I like.

  5. Jim, I have had to cut back on buying hardcovers myself, and I know that's a difficulty for many authors whose books only come out in hardcover. Recommending that libraries buy them can really help in that case.

  6. Thanks, Julie. Whatever you can find time to do helps your favorite authors stay in print.

    Margaret, your emphasis on recommending library buys for small-press books, in particular, is excellent. Books from smaller presses are often dealing with more difficulties and obstacles to sales than books from the Big Five. Small-press books are less likely to get library sales or reviews, etc., so any help we can give those authors will make a real difference.

  7. Gloria, book club recommendations are a great way to help the authors you love. Book clubs are a huge market and often lead to lots of word-of-mouth buzz and sales for a book.

  8. I write reviews, "Watch this space" on WWK and on Amazon for good books. I beg for reviews of my books on Amazon. I've noticed that often the number of stars is unrelated to what the reviewer writes.

  9. These are concrete, excellent suggestions, Linda. I'm learning how absolutely crazy the publishing business is and how hard it is for good books to get the attention they deserve.
    It seems that big name writers who don't need publicity, get the publicity. Same with library purchases - there are many writers who are "automatic buys" - leaving little money for libraries to take a chance on unknown authors. But I have seen reader word-of-mouth make a difference. If we request the books and get them on the library radar, those books will be purchased. I'm going to try to be more engaged in this effort moving forward.

  10. Warren, you're absolutely right. There seldom seems any real connection between what a review says and the number of stars given. Go figure!

  11. What a lot of readers don't know is that most bookstores and many libraries use Ingram's (a book distribution service). Often when you try to order a book from a small press through a bookstore, you'll be told they can't get it or that it's unavailable. What that usually means is simply that Ingram's doesn't have it. Ingram's charges publishers several thousand dollars to be distributed through them, and if sales are small, they'll still drop publishers, even after those big payments. Small publishers with merely average sales can't get distributed by Ingram's unless they allow them to use their printing arm to print their books on demand. It makes it difficult for smaller university press and independent presses (I know because my husband runs a small university press) and means their authors face a real uphill battle. Requests and check-outs (even if you own the book at home) are the best ways to help these books get into library systems.

  12. I had no idea about requests and checkouts making a difference.

    This post made me recommit to reviewing. I had been religious about it for a while, but then Amazon began removing my reviews, and it got to be discouraging to spend the time to write a review only to have it disappear in a day or so. I generally review on Goodreads now but often don't post the review back to Amazon. It always strikes me as strange that Amazon makes the assumption that all authors know each other, and that the friendship affects our ethics and perspective.

    Thank you, Linda. Wonderful information as always!

  13. Kait, order requests and checking out books at the library really do make a big difference. Libraries today often look at how often something has been checked out in the past year when deciding which books to get rid of. That record of checkouts also affects whether or not they will order the next book by that author. Libraries' funds are limited, as is space, so they have to make these decisions.