“How’s your book doing?” Whenever I’m asked this question, I get a bit anxious. I always have, even though I know I probably shouldn’t. After all, when I’m asked it’s because someone is taking interest in something important to me.1 It’s a way of showing support, and I am grateful for that. Truly. But if I’m being honest, this question is hard to answer.
The difficulty of answering the “how’s your book” question
“How is your book doing” can mean a lot of different things. But I suspect most authors interpret it as being about sales. And to be fair this is the way we all measure success for a book. (Bestseller lists are called that for a reason, after all.)
Unfortunately, it is rare for authors to actually know how their book is selling. (Surprise!) They typically learn about sales through royalty statements. Depending on the publisher’s schedule, these are sent 2–4 times a year. This means, most authors have about as much information anyone else does. Which is to say, the relatively opaque sales rankings on Amazon.2
So it can be a bit awkward to answer, because they don’t know. And, depending on temperament, that might lead an author to feel a bit insecure or anxious.3
Three ways to support authors you know and appreciate
But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t other good ways to support authors you know or appreciate. In fact, I can think of at least three that you can do—three that I try to do as often as I can:
1. Buy the book.
The fact is, as much as we all hate to admit it, sales do matter. They are the objective metric business-type people especially look at. But it’s not just a “meet a sales goal” way to show support. It says that you really do support what they’re trying to do.
I don’t often get outwardly emotional, but I definitely felt feelings when friends bought I’m a Christian—Now What? at the launch event we did back in March. That really was a massive thing because it was a way for friends to say “we’re with you and for you.” And I can safely say that every author I know has had the same kind of experience. It hits us all in a very particular way, even if we’re not good at saying it. So biggest and most practical thing you can do to support any author is to buy their book.
2. Read it and share something specific you appreciated.
Not every book is going to hit you where you live, no matter who writes it. But when you know an author, whether they write fiction or non-fiction, it means a lot for them to know how one thing they wrote affected you. To be able to say, “When you wrote about [insert topic here],” or “I really loved the way that you said this…”
Even to say, “Hey, help me understand this thing you wrote a little bit more,” is huge! In fact, that last one is something a reviewer did with me not too long ago, and I was glad he did. It led to a great conversation around a big topic in Now What that doesn’t have an easy answer.
3. Recommend (or give) it to others.
Recommending—or giving—a book to someone you know is a massive thing. We take the recommendations of friends or people we trust far more seriously than anyone else. This is why you have probably noticed the emphasis Amazon and other sites place on reviews. In fact, Amazon actually prioritizes books in search in part based on the number of reviews it has over a period of time. So the more reviews a book has in a shorter period, the better chance it has of being found.
That’s why I try to review as many books as I can, even with a sentence or two. It is also part of why I have a podcast about books I enjoy. I want to point you to good books. And it affects my approach to how I do ministry at my church and among pastorally-minded friends.
For example, we’re working on getting our community groups ministry as healthy as it can be at our church. And one of the ways we’re doing that is by reading Belong by Barnabas Piper together as a way to strengthen the way we emphasize the “safety” of gospel culture. It’s also why I hope pastorally-minded friends will read Pastor, Jesus is Enough by Jeremy Writebol, to protect ourselves from the unhealthy aspects of American entrepreneur culture that keep trying to twist ministry into something it cannot be.
Support authors in the ways they’re too uncomfortable to ask
Although it may come across as such, I’m not sharing this to be self-serving. Yes, I have a book out and I would love for you all to order a copy, share your thoughts, and recommend it if you think it’s helpful. And if you do, I am grateful.
But the truth is, very few authors are really all that comfortable with the self-promotion side of being an author. It’s awkward and sometimes feels disingenuous to them.4 So think of this as an appeal on their behalves, because it really is something most of us struggle with. We will all do our best to offer an answer to the “how’s the book” question, but we’d much rather try a different approach. So help your author friends out—because they probably won’t ask you themselves.
- Or they’re just trying to make polite conversation.
- Authors who have set up a profile on Amazon can also see BookScan data, which gives an incomplete look at the number of sales to consumers since reporting is voluntary.
- And yes, I do include myself in this group.
- I struggle with it—and I work in publishing marketing professionally!