Are you supporting other writers?
In this blog, we’ve talked about the importance of engaging with the writing community for feedback and even for marketing and sales. After all, other authors and writers—whether through social media, forums, formal organizations, or even writing/critique groups—can be a tremendous resource. They don’t just guide you through tough spots, writer’s block, plot holes, world building, and other parts of book writing; they create support and share the breadth of their experiences, from agonizing failures to shiny golden successes.
Which raises the question: If you haven’t been giving back, why not?
For some authors and writers, engaging in and contributing to these communities is just as important as benefiting from that collective knowledge. Often, this feedback loop works to benefit both the giver and the receiver. When someone offers resources, advice, and assistance, that person has engaged and contributed to the betterment of the writing community. At some point, the giver will find they need assistance themselves, and the community will step forward. And in the meantime, everyone gets to enjoy that feeling of camaraderie and an almost “workplace” environment—something that those who write full-time from home rarely experience. And it’s this sense of community that allows writing communities to be the unique, supportive forces they can be.
Too often, though, writers and authors will only engage on social media a month or two before their book is launched, not only shortchanging them of any opportunity to interact with the writing community on a more organic level but also making their agenda utterly transparent. Or they’ll create an account in a forum and log in just to get help with one particular project, and then disappear forever. Or at least until they need something else.
But no community is going to feel supportive or encouraging once they see that they’re being used.
There are benefits to helping others, and helping other writers and authors is no different. For one, writers don’t tend to be wealthy as a rule (at least with their income from writing). For another, the solitary nature of our profession makes it challenging to get good feedback and support.
Aside from the satisfaction of simply knowing you’re doing a good thing (which is one of the best things you can do for your mental health), helping your fellow authors and writers also fosters and strengthens a network known for its supportiveness. And by helping others, those you help can in turn help others.
You don’t need to be an agent, an editor, or a bestselling author to pay it forward. In fact, you can start even before writing your first book. Here are some of the ways you can support other writers in the community:
Become a beta reader
Love reading? Love helping out? One of the best ways you can support an author—especially if you’re short on cash—is by becoming a beta reader. You’ll give authors some much-needed feedback on what you liked and didn’t like about their book. Most beta readers tend to stick with genres they enjoy. Start by frequenting popular beta reading sites such as Goodreads, and see which authors are looking for readers.
Benefits for you: Free books and a chance to help another writer with their book. Becoming a regular beta reader also increases your chances of having other beta readers help you out. In some cases, you can even charge a fee, turning beta reading into a enjoyable and slightly profitable hobby.
Caveats: In order to become an effective beta reader, you’ll need to consciously turn off the writing and editing parts of your brain. Authors don’t need writing or editing advice. They need to know if the book is enjoyable and what doesn’t work for you as a reader.
Buy books—and review them
This is one of the best ways to support other writers and authors. Along with supporting an author’s work, buying their book also increases their sales and potential visibility. By adding a fair review to their sales page, you increase the chances that others may buy the book based on your feedback.
Paying money for a book also increases the likelihood you'll actually read it (no one likes wasting money). And if you enjoy it, you’ll be more likely to recommend it to friends and share your copy, not only increasing an author’s potential for sales but also helping them grow their community of fans and readers—which increases the sales of their other books. And thus the cycle of goodness continues.
Benefits for you: If you’re regularly buying and supporting other indie and self-published authors, there’s a greater chance that those authors may in turn do the same for you. Plus, you get exposed to new books.
Caveats: You’ll lose a little money and a little time—as with all books. However, the biggest caveat here is to be aware of how social media can be used for evil. Often indie and self-published authors will announce on social media that they are going to spend some money buying books from other indie authors. In hopes of making a sale, authors will flock to these posts—dramatically increasing the engagement and visibility of the post and/or tweet, as well as potentially increasing followers and spurring on sales of the original poster’s own books. However, there are some rather sketchy characters who make these announcements and never follow through on their promise of buying the books. So be aware that “I am buying books, should I buy yours?” posts are now often viewed with skepticism.
Follow writers and engage with them on social media
One of the simplest and most affordable means of showing support is by following authors and writers on social media, liking their posts, and reposting/retweeting/re-gramming. Add support comments, and share posts so that the authors’ visibility and reach are increased by your friends and followers.
Benefits for you: Lots of indie and self-published authors try to follow people back, and engaging with them may also increase your reach. And this one is easy, easy, easy.
Caveats: Ensure that your social media isn’t a nonstop, steady stream of you mostly promoting the work of others. It degrades the quality of your social media feed and encourages your friends and followers to run away (or mute, unfriend, or unfollow you). Don’t be that person who fills everyone’s feed with a flurry of promotional posts.
Review books for a blog or publication
If you love writing and you love reading, try your hand at writing book reviews. Approach book blogs and small publications and offer to review select books. A review will increase the visibility and reach for an author and hopefully give them a bump in sales, or it may even convince a larger publication to consider reviewing the title as well. If you have the time and/or inclination, you might also consider starting a book blog of your own.
Benefits for you: This is a fantastic opportunity to read books and (sometimes) make a little money in the process! Plus, it increases your own visibility.
Caveats: Reviewing books can be a lot of work, and the financial compensation, if any, tends to be low. The other thing you’ll need to keep in mind is that sometimes larger or more popular blogs or publications may prefer to assign books to their own reviewers, so you won’t be able to approach them with a review.
Support authors financially
If you’ve got a little extra cash in your pocket, think about supporting authors directly. Many authors have Patreon accounts (where patrons can pay a monthly fee to support artists) or other crowdfunding projects, which can bolster their monthly income and allow them to focus more on creating than paying the bills. Some authors also have links for PayPal or Venmo on their sites, so that you can just send them a few extra “thank you” dollars. Not keen on sending money? Send a gift certificate for an indie bookstore or a business in their hometown. A small gesture can go a long way.
Benefits for you: Supporting crowdfunding efforts is a great way to not only support an author but to get a deeper look into their creative process, get some additional content, give feedback, and—if you’re feeling a little Machiavellian—give you some insight into running your own successful crowdfunding projects.
Caveats: This option is probably the most expensive of the lot, although it doesn’t have to be. It is, however, also the most appreciated.
Hannah Guy lives in Toronto and is a professional writer and copywriter who specializes in books, books, and more books. Follow her on Twitter at @hannorg.