How to Support An Author

“A barista spends 3 minutes making you a $6 latte, you tip her. A writer spends a year writing a book; and you complain that $4.99 is too high”. That line is from a tweet that has gotten over – get this — 4000 responses.


No one knows how to support an author. So, every author feels slighted. And every friend is simply … stumped.

This is because we lack the social conventions for how to support authors. If an entrepreneur shares a Kickstarter campaign, you break out the Paypal account because, of course, you want to help someone pursue their passions. If a colleague is doing a breast-cancer walk or leukemia team-in-training run, you know what to do. If a friend loses a parent, you know to send a card or flowers. If someone shares they are having a baby, you slap the parents* on the back, wish them luck (and sleep), and find some ridiculously cute outfit to gift.

But what to do when a friend, or even someone you know only on Twitter publishes a book? What if you don’t care about this topic? What if you think you have that domain covered since, you too, are an expert. What if you are just not a reader?

It is perplexing to know what to do since are no norms, mostly because being an author is rare. And – while most people would never want to admit this in public – they would rather be jealous of another person crossing off a bucket list item rather than get excited for them or support them.

But authors do need your help. They need it is small ways and large and since I have several great friends with books in the near future – books worth reading and supporting, I’m going to write a primer for how to support an author.

  • Buy 1. Or 2. Would you buy this person a $4 coffee at Starbucks or a burger lunch, then buy the same-priced book. Don’t worry if you won’t read it. Think of it as a tip jar for someone who cares enough to sit in hunched over a computer keyboard to capture an idea they think matters. As a broad society, we don’t honor ideas since they are seemingly free online. But I think we should honor authors with their ideas, because of the the love that someone is showing to create, or elaborate ideas that matter.
  • Read it. But, don’t worry about reading all of it. Just read the first few pages. Most books actually suck. Truly. They lack narrative and flow and business books especially bring out a desire to get some gasoline and matches. So, give yourself permission to stop after page 5 or 6 if you’re not feeling it. But read those few pages so you can say something like “I read about x idea; what made you think of that …” You don’t have to say you like it. Your goal is show you care about the author, and learn why they care about the topic so you can be a better friend.
  • Plug it. If you use Facebook and Twitter, recommend it by choosing a section you value. (This assumes you like it or at least a part of it.)
  • Review it.If you happened to receive an early review copy of a book, take a few minutes to look it over, and read for 20 minutes to see if you can write a review with some enthusiasm. In fact, mark your calendar for when the book will be released and do it on the day-of. Either Goodreads or Amazon are great places to do a review. Early book reviews REALLY matter. Even if you hate the work, write a negative review that says “this book is not for you if you are x”. But do add a voice into the mix. The number of reviewers has a strong correlation to others considering it. And even your hating it might help others know it is perfect for their situation.
  • Blog It. If you are an influential person in a particular domain, or you already blog somewhere, write about it. But don’t do some generic book review. Instead, apply one specific idea to your field. And, again, don’t wait. Do it as soon as book release as possible because it really does make a difference to building momentum and boosts the author when he or she is most likely to be anxious.

  • Gift it. When Nancy Duarte‘s (now friend, then colleague) 1st book came out, I went out and bought 10 copies, and then personally mailed it to some seasoned 10 corporate execs who really needed to know about presenting better. I never asked Nancy for free copies or anything. In fact I don’t think Nancy ever knew I did that. I just bought copies and sent them to people who I thought might like to know her ideas. That took time, and envelopes, and mailing.Today, all it takes to gift a book is an email address, and you don’t have to pay for it, if they don’t download it. If you like a book, think of 5 people who should see it, and send it to them. It is a great way to show you care about the person you’re sending it to let alone the author. Use it to build your relationships.
  • Share It. Talk about it. Throw a salon for the author. We don’t share those people who are not already known because we are putting ourselves at risk. So, if you are one of those rare people who can spot a good idea without it already being blessed by those in authority … then share and advance that idea.It takes such an effort to get an idea known. There are authors who really want to be known (for their own Sally Field’s moment), and that’s fine.But I’m talking about authors whose ideas can change how something works. It’s is what Brene Brown is doing by teaching the role of courage in work and relationships. It is what Kevin Kelly teaches us about network effects. It is what Clay Shirky or Don Tapscott teach us when they talks about economic effects of openness.  Or what Rita McGrath is teaching with her more dynamic approach to strategy. Those issues are not just about the person. It is about ideas that matter.

    This is the point: It is Not About Authors; It is About Ideas. Authors create to pursue an idea. Because I believe that Human Beings can be / need to be fully alive at work, I pursue this idea in now 2 books. I believe that purpose and profits don’t need to be held as opposites. That people and performance are deeply tied, and not some fluffy leadership stuff. That strategy as we’ve known it is dead, to be replaced by connected individuals connected by purpose. Are these ideas I believe in commonly held beliefs? Something most management theorists espouse? No. Not.At.All. Are these ideas even that most executives apply? No. Not.At.All.

    Yet, if people who “get it” don’t spread the idea because they already agree, then the people who need the idea never hear of it because the idea doesn’t get shared. And, of course, it’s not already approved by those in power, because those folks are advocating old architectures and constructs that limit the human ability to thrive. This is why it’s tough being an author if you have a disruptive idea.

    For any new idea, it needs supporters that share. Without sharing, nothing changes. Without support, ideas that matter die. Which is why authors need you to step up.

Thank You. Your Support Means a Lot to Us Authors.

We authors don’t often know to ask for your help, or we worry you think we’re trying to win some popularity contest. But – really – what we want is what you want: ideas that matter to be seen in the world. Any, and all help you give to promote the idea is so valuable. Don’t discount your role. However small. It makes a difference. So thanks, in advance.


33 Responses:

  1. Rawn Shah (@rawn). October 8, 2012 at 8:47 am  

    I’d add one more which is subtly different:
    “Discuss it” — Read it, and share your understanding of the content within, or what it inspired you to think about. Try to bring someone else in a related conversation into the frame.

    I write so I can get that discussion of ideas going and build that socialized and ratified view of the concepts.

    Keep on writing, all.

    • Nilofer Merchant. October 8, 2012 at 12:19 pm  

      Great addition, thanks.

  2. John. October 8, 2012 at 10:21 am  

    I applaud where you’re coming from, but if the book sucks (as you rightly suggest is very likely) then doing any of the other activities you recommend would surely be utterly inappropriate and ultimately destructive of your own reputation and future authors’ possible success?

    • Nilofer Merchant. October 8, 2012 at 12:21 pm  

      Then stop at reading 5 pages. Duh. Nobody is saying you have to pimp an idea you don’t agree with. It is saying how to support friends.

  3. Tara Hunt. October 8, 2012 at 10:36 am  

    Thank you SO much for writing this. Seriously. xoxo (p.s. just bought 5 copies for others and will send more on next payday…I’ve been meaning to, but catching up on bills! Very few lattes in my budget. ;))

    • Nilofer Merchant. October 8, 2012 at 12:22 pm  

      And for your next book, we have a primer.

  4. Dave Kerpen. October 8, 2012 at 12:33 pm  

    Brilliant article. Very likeable 🙂
    Thank you Nilofer. I will be buying and reviewing your book.

  5. Christopher. October 8, 2012 at 10:05 pm  

    Excellent Nilofer! Authors are revolutionaries! With a germ of thought, they unfold the big pictures in thousands of words, no harm in reading five pages and trying to understand the authors perceptions, each such perceptions builds human mind, such minds build society, and civilization at large. Why such lackadaisical attitude to such pillars of civilization? As Swami Vivekanad, a great spiritual leader said, “reading make a man.”

  6. jaap den dulk (@dulk). October 9, 2012 at 1:22 am  

    Gift it. For instance the pricing of the book on #socialera related to the value of the idea is such that I bought 10 to spread the words. You’re a unique factor in connecting networks of ideas and this helped me to get into action in numerous ways. Probably he whole point you’re making with the idea of #socialera

    • Nilofer Merchant. October 9, 2012 at 7:14 am  


  7. Fiona. October 9, 2012 at 3:47 am  

    Too many people are writing books about ideas that have already been expressed.

    • Nilofer Merchant. October 9, 2012 at 7:10 am  

      And if one of those people are your friend, find out why they care…

  8. Richard. October 9, 2012 at 6:44 am  

    This is a great article. Often when we see a book, we think about the cost to print and ship it. It’s easy to forget about the blood sweat and tears that went into writing it; as you say, oftentimes over a 12-18 month period. Most books don’t make much money, and I think that should change given the huge investment in time.

    Coincidentally, my book was published just last week:

  9. NFH. October 9, 2012 at 4:06 pm  

    Nilofer – Loved this article. Have you heard of Libboo? It’s a platform that allows readers to interact with authors and essentially do everything you mentioned above! Might be worth a look.

  10. MichaelBungayStanier (@boxofcrayons). October 10, 2012 at 6:04 am  

    Well said, Nilofer – he’s says with only a slight conflict of interest as I’m an author too.

    Just finished 11 Rules… – and blogging about it this week

    • Nilofer Merchant. October 10, 2012 at 7:01 am  

      Can’t wait, Michael.

  11. Bob Higgins (@bhiggins56). October 10, 2012 at 7:09 pm  

    I caught up with a client this morning that has published a book (tween fiction). Of course I ordered the book as soon as we got off the phone. (But I have to say, the tip for the barista is for personal service. The time that goes into the book is highly leveraged.) If I find things to like, it will be a pleasure to tell her story.

    • Nilofer Merchant. October 10, 2012 at 7:11 pm  

      Well yes and no. The author gets a very small portion of that price if a publisher is involved. Very small.

  12. glenb0. October 11, 2012 at 12:40 pm  

    Great article! One small, somewhat arbitrary point:

    The preface of the article uses a tweet I think grossly misrepresents the nature of purchasing a physical good by comparing it to purchasing a written creative work online. When you pay $5 for a cup of coffee, you are not simply compensating the barista who has prepared it, but also the farmer, processor, roaster, and establishment’s overhead with that $5.

    To buy a $5 eBook, you are compensating the author, and the publisher (if these are two distinct entities).

    • Nilofer Merchant. October 11, 2012 at 1:32 pm  

      I think perhaps it easier to see the coffee value chain because it’s been more clear.

      An author has the editor, the publisher, the copy-editor, the cover creator, and the distribution vehicle. In the specific case of having a publisher like Harvard and a distribution vehicle like Amazon, very little of a $5 product goes to the author. Very little. Lets just for the sake of argument say it is $50 cents, the author would have to sell 10,000 before they earned $5K for at least 6 months of dedicated work. That’s not counting the expenses an author incurs to do infographics, or the computer, or internet access, or any other stuff the author needs in order to create. But you get the point. An author earns far less than that barista and that is a fact.

      It is just easier to have empathy for a barista than it is an author.

      • Kirk McCune. October 22, 2012 at 2:03 pm  

        We also must establish that a self published author, such as myself, has to handle marketing costs, travel, as well as printing costs should an e-book need to be printed for reviews and the like. For a struggling first timer, these costs can grossly outreach the gains, making the entire process depressing and hopeless.

        A cup of coffee has overhead, but so does the process of writing, then selling, that book.

  13. Aaron McHugh. October 23, 2012 at 6:52 pm  

    I love your style. Straight. Simple. Honest. No wonder you get booked for Keynotes. Looking forward to the podcast interview with you. Long live Medicine Ballers.

    • Nilofer Merchant. October 31, 2012 at 9:42 am  

      Thanks, Aaron!

  14. Caroline Gerardo. November 2, 2012 at 9:16 am  

    Lovely idea to buy and gift books. I often share books on social media, and write a review when I liked a book. I want to add one more- something more face to face. It is this: any friend or Any author who contacts me I will host a reading group at my home.



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