What to Do When You Love a Book

Let's just start off by noting that I had a very difficult time titling this post. It was called in quick succession "Staff Picks, Math Tricks" (there were no math tricks), "Talk is Money," and "Buy Books!" (Bad! Bad! ALL BAD!) Moving on...

There was a Thing this week on the YA internets about Stacey Jay's now-cancelled Kickstarter for the sequel to her book Princess of Thorns. I'm not going to get into too much detail here, both because a) many others (including Chuck Wendig) did a much better job than I would have done reacting to the uproar and b) that's not what I'm talking about today. Suffice to say that the whole thing made my heart hurt, both for Stacey and for what this implies about the larger cultural devaluation of the creative arts.

An interesting thing that did come of it was a small side conversation about how and why some books seem to get their publisher's full support (and marketing dollars), while others fall by the wayside. (The YA Kitten blog had an interesting post about this issue last January.) Jay noted in her Kickstarter that Princess of Thorns had sold so poorly that the publisher decided to cancel the sequel, hence her attempt to self-publish the next book. Many readers were puzzled by this news, since Princess of Thorns has been out for less than a month. Still, more knowledgeable commenters (agents, authors, people in sales) noted that decisions on whether to pick up a sequel are often made on early sales figures (Amazon preorders, B&N/Target stock, etc.), and this situation is nothing out of the ordinary.

I then saw several people wondering what publicity (if any) the publisher had provided for Princess of Thorns, and why it seemed like some books get ALL the marketing love while many others seem to get nothing. (NOTE: I do not work for Delacorte Press (the publisher for Princess of Thorns). I therefore know absolutely nothing about what publicity was like for this book, nor will I speculate.)

It's a tricky question, and one I don't have the answer to. Why DO some publishers spend big bucks on one title and very little on others? Who decides? Why? (If you've got some insight, I'd love to hear it.)

Did Princess of Thorns do poorly just because the publisher failed to support it? I don't know, and for the purposes of this discussion I don't really care. The question I'm more interested in is this: What can WE (YOU, ME) do to support the books we love?

Well, there are two big answers:

1) BUY THE BOOK. If you want to support books, authors, and the wonder of the reading experience, then buy the book. If you are very poor (like me), then check it out from your local library. If your local library does not have the book, then suggest that they order it. (Did you know that you can do this? YES, YOU TOTALLY CAN DO THIS. And it usually works. Libraries don't always know that you want a book if you don't tell them. Their psychic powers are sometimes faulty.)

2) TALK ABOUT THE BOOK. Loudly. Proudly. Everywhere. The truth (at least as far as I understand it) is that no one really knows what makes a book "stick," EXCEPT THAT the biggest hint that a book will make it is if people are talking about it. (Preferably good talks.) As a bookseller, I've seen so many marketing tricks (signed bookmarks, buttons, swag packs, nail polish, book cover cookies, dice games, water bottles, tote bags, etc., etc., etc.) that I honestly could not list them all if I tried. And every single one of them was designed to get people excited, talking about, and buying forthcoming titles.

There is a reason that having a book reviewed in The New York Times is a Big Deal, even if the review is subpar. It's much like the proverbial tree falling in the forest: Is a book really published if no one is talking about it? If you love a book, talk about it. Word of mouth is still THE MOST COMMON WAY that readers find out about their next reads - from friends, from trusted reviewers, from trusted booksellers. That's why (aside from the obvious, which is that BOOKS ARE MY LIFE!!) I talk about the books I'm reading pretty much all the time. It's the reason that I take my staff picks as a bookseller so seriously. I try to pick books that I LOVE, but also that could use some extra mouths talking them up. Much as I adore Harry Potter, I'm not going to staff pick J. K. Rowling. Why? Because she doesn't need me to.

In conclusion: The easiest way to support a book (especially if you don't have the resources to buy it) is to talk about it. It costs nothing, supports the book and author, and it just might turn the stranger next to you into a friend. (Besides, you're all readers! Talking about awesome books is easy!)

Reading: A Court of Fives (Kate Elliott)
Listening to: "Starstruck" (Lady Gaga)