“Writers Helping Writers” is the unofficial slogan of the Internet-based writers organization I co-founded four years ago called Backspace. It’s a good tagline, because Backspace members are an extraordinarily supportive group. Besides answering questions at the discussion forums, they turn each others’ books face-out at bookstores, blog about them, buy them as gifts, recommend them to friends. And because we’re currently over 800 strong with members living in a dozen countries, that’s a significant sales force.
Backspace members do this because they understand a key truth about the publishing business: Writers are not in competition with one another.
We've all seen the fast-food strips lining major highways on the outskirts of cities. To a hungry driver, it might seem as though the restaurants are competing for the chance to fill his stomach. But restaurant owners know the clustering is good for business. Offer people a choice, and they're more likely to buy.
It's the same with books. Authors understand that all those volumes lining bookstore shelves are actually helping each other. The more books each author sells individually, the stronger the book-buying market becomes for everyone.
Aspiring authors sometimes think if they could only get published, the rest will take care of itself. The truth is, staying published is the greater challenge. Publishers have a finite amount to spend on marketing, and the bulk of their promotional dollars go to best-selling authors. Literary agencies hire full-time publicists to take up the slack. Authors with small presses are at an even bigger disadvantage.
I’m one of the lucky ones: My novel is getting more than the usual amount of publisher support. Still, there’s not going to be a book tour. And so with the help of Backspace members, I’m sending my book on tour without me. I mailed a dozen arcs to Backspace members living in far-flung parts, they took pictures of themselves reading my novel, and I posted them to my hyperbolically named “The FREEZING POINT Pre-Publication World Book Tour” blog, along with an invitation to readers to write to my publisher for a free advance reader copy and join the tour.
It’s fun to think of my novel making its way around the world in this manner, even though the impact on sales is likely to be just a ripple.
But recently at ThrillerFest, J.T. Ellison shared an idea that’s so powerful, if authors put it into practice, it could make an impressive splash.
J.T. is the author of the Taylor Jackson thriller series for Mira Books, and was one of the co-founders of Killer Year, helping the International Thriller Writers debut novelists of 2007 reach a new audience. Her debut novel, ALL THE PRETTY GIRLS, is being reissued alongside her second effort, 14, September 1, 2008. JUDAS KISS will be released in January 2009, and she’s just signed a new deal for an additional three books in the series, bring the total under contract to six.
By all measures, she’s doing well. And yet J.T. told me that every time she does a real-world signing or event, she brings along another author's book. At the end of her talk, she shows the book to the audience, and gives it a plug.
The idea is staggering. Simple, yet potentially, incredibly powerful. Imagine the impact if every touring author did the same.
The best part is that her effort doesn't take anything away from her own signing; in fact, it adds to it by making her look like the giving, generous person she really is.
J.T. told me she got the idea from Lee Child, who took a newer author, Cornelia Read, along with him last year on his book tour. She also told me another established author, Jim Born, once acknowledged her and her author friend when they were in the audience at one of his talks, and her book sales jumped. “It was so kind and gracious,” she wrote, “that I just got caught up with the whole idea of paying it forward.”
Now thanks to J.T., this fall, FREEZING POINT really IS going on tour.
Paying it forward. Writers Helping Writers. Whatever you call it, it costs nothing, makes everyone feel good – and it sells books!
(as first appeared on Murder By 4)