So, your friend wrote and published (probably self-published) an ebook, with Smashwords, Kindle Direct Publishing, Createspace or Lulu.
You want to be a good friend and help this author get noticed. You want everyone to know about their book, to read it, and to enjoy it. You want your friend to be a success.
What should you do?
1. Buy it
Why? Buying the book will increase its sales ranking and visibility. And you don’t even have to read it. If you mean, “why should I help my friend at all?”, well, obviously because you’re a fine human being, an enthusiastic patron of the arts, and an example to your peers. Also, if you need a sweetener, people who like books have more sex.
First, just buy the book from your retailer of choice. Even if you don’t have time to read it. Very likely, it doesn’t cost very much. I’ve followed Smashwords founder Mark Coker’s observations and priced the ebook version of my debut novel at $2.99 on most outlets. This is the price that maximizes audience and readership.
You can spare a few bucks to help your friend. If they’re well-connected, a purchase from everyone they know could help them move up the sales charts enough to attract attention from new readers that they don’t know yet.
2. Rate it
Why? Rating the book will make the book more attractive to readers, and help it appear in lists of highest rated books in its category and in search results on retailer sites. It could even bring your friend to the attention of agents and publishers.
Again, you don’t even need to read the book to go through this step.
It would be better if you did read it first, because your rating will be more honest if you do. But it will still help your friend if you quickly give the book a five-star rating without review text, if a retailer allows it.
If you had the time to read it, be honest: give it the rating you think it deserves. If it stinks, rate it one star, or if you’re worried about the impact of that, consider not giving a rating at all.
And, if you had time to read it, don’t forget step 4.
3. Share it
Why? Sharing the book with social media will bring it to the attention of new readers in your social circle, who may become readers and sharers themselves. The book could go viral.
Tell everyone you know that you bought the book, and that you’re reading it. Tweet it, Facebook it, add it to your Goodreads account. As you’re reading, share quotes that you really like, and tell your friends why you liked them.
When posting, always add a live link to somewhere that new readers can buy or download it.
4. Write a review
Why? Positive ratings and reviews show other readers that the book is worthwhile, and help it appear more prominently in search results on retail sites. Reviews also help the author define their audience.
This is perhaps the most important step of all, and it’s closely related to #5. Why is it so far down the list? Because I know many friends of authors won’t get this far.
Many of us are time poor these days. Many of us don’t read. You should–you really should. And your friend’s book should be at the top of your list, because it gives you a window into a different kind of reading life, where it’s a social activity and you are intimately involved with the act of creation and publication.
You know an author! Be excited about this. If you love books, this may be one of the friendships you’ve dreamed of your whole life. Maybe you wished you could have known Tolstoy, Hemingway, Tolkien. Well, you can’t. But maybe you know the next Tolstoy.
Have I convinced you to read your friend’s book yet? Good. Now once you’re done, write a review. Take note of the “be constructive” point from step 5 below.
If this feels like a lot of work, allow yourself to write a one-sentence review if this is all you can manage. Once you start it, you’ll likely find you want to write more. But one sentence is infinitely better than no review at all.
Post your review everywhere you’re able: on every service where you have an account. Review it on Amazon, Smashwords, Apple, Kobo, B&N, Goodreads. Review it everywhere.
Your review is for other readers. Direct it at them. Then do step 5.
5. Give feedback
Why? Knowing authors, and talking to them about reading and writing is fun. This work is important to your friend, and talking with them about it will improve your relationship. It will encourage them to write more, and then when they are a billionaire you can suck up and they might buy you a house, or tattoo their signature on your child so you can sell it for a higher price, or something.
In your review, you’ve spoken to other readers about your friend’s book. Now you speak to your friend.
Write them a letter (by which I mean an email). Authors love that stuff. If you haven’t got it in you, send them a message on Facebook. Put it on their wall if you like.
Tell them that you read their book, and that you’ve been telling everyone about it. Tell them how it made you feel, what it made your remember, and what authors it reminds you of (this will help your friend define their audience and write to them).
Be constructive. If your friend is mature and determined, they will already have decided to keep writing whatever criticism they receive. But telling your friend their book was garbage–even if you think it’s true–is mean and counterproductive. It risks destroying their motivation.
Similar instructions for feedback apply here as would apply in the classroom or in the workplace. Rather appropriate, since in time writing books could become your friend’s job.
If you’re going to say something was wrong, bad, or could have been better, you have to be able to offer a concrete suggestion about what your friend could have done instead.
More importantly than that, tell your friend where they are strong: what you liked best, and where you think their strengths are. Everyone has weaknesses, but as well as working to overcome these weaknesses, we can amplify our strengths to make our deficiencies less of an issue. If your friend sucks at description but excels at dialog, tell them you loved their dialog–then they can make it the foreground of their work.
Don’t go overboard with feedback, good or bad. Personally, I prefer not to discuss my work very much with close friends who are not writers themselves. This is partly because it’s semi-autobiographical, and I don’t want to have a lot of awkward conversations about what parts are real, whether I am really like that, who this character was meant to be, and so on. But it is still a thrill for me to hear that someone I know read and enjoyed my book.
Knowing that someone, or many people, is waiting for the next volume, or the next thing I put out, is my greatest motivation to continue writing and not to slack off. Your friend is likely to feel the same. That’s why feedback is so important.
6. Just do it
Why? Because you don’t want to waste your life, baby.
It’s not really a step. But it’s an important point nonetheless. I’ve heard from many friends that even though they’ve taken several hours to read my book, and then another half hour to write me a letter about it, they can’t post a five-line review, or give a rating, because they’re in the middle of exams right now, or they can’t find their Amazon password, or…
I find this slightly baffling, but I also know that it’s human nature to procrastinate or put off doing things that we find unfamiliar. Some of my friends even have stage-fright about writing a review, because they know that others will read it, or they’re not sure exactly what is the best thing to say about my work.
Don’t make excuses. You want to help your friend with their ebook promotion. You’ve got the list of things to do, right here. Start at step 1 and work down.
Just do it. Do it now.
Thanks to fellow novelist Nicola Gray, and to my friends Aiza, Toby, Michael, Lea, and Yair–who are already a great advocates without instruction–for the inspiration to write this post.
(Image: Kindle to Go, CC 2012 by Gerald Streiter).
Ben Hourigan is a Melbourne writer and publisher, and the author of Kiss Me, Genius Boy.