It's that time of year again. I generally write a blog at this time of year about my conflicted feelings around the holiday season. But this year, I decided to write on a different topic. Gifts. Or more specifically, what you should give as gifts.
Give books. Give fantasy books or science fiction. Give thrillers or mysteries or suspense. (Those would be my favorite. Hint. Hint.) Give books about the supernatural or horror. Give books about true crime or history or science.
We learn about the world through the written word. We expand not just our knowledge but our ability to empathize with people and cultures that differ from our own. From the comfort and safety of our couches, we experience adventure, terror, thrills, chills, love, and loss.
We've become a culture accustomed to quick blurbs and short bursts of information that we get online. It's important for us to slow down and read. Not only do we learn more, we are protecting our brains and our ability to think and reason, to absorb.
Some of the books I read as a child still call to me. Recently, I bought new editions of many of them: Lassie Come Home, Bambi, The Secret Garden, Freddy the Detective. I reread these books, and I'm transported back in time, to my younger self.
There are characters that I have met in books who seem more real than many people I meet in my everyday life. Maybe that's because of the skill of the writer who can illuminate the inner life of those characters and disclose their secrets in a way that casual acquaintances aren't likely to do.
In Iceland, they give books on Christmas Eve and then spend the night reading, calling it Christmas book flood. That sounds like a wonderful holiday to me.
But when you're buying those books for gifts, don't just buy the same old, same old, the well-known authors whose works top the New York Times best seller list. Or the famous actor or politician who decides to write a book (or pays someone to write it for them.) The celebrities, the well-known authors don't need more sales. Look for someone new. There are many little known great authors out there, and they deserve to be read.
And, yes, this is personal to me.
I write spy thrillers, published by a great small press, Encircle Publications. I've won awards, had great reviews, and yet like many current authors, I am making little if anything on my books.
I'm not alone, though. A recent article stated that only 17 percent of all authors earn their living through writing. The rest either have a full-time job or have independent funds that allow them to live without earning money from writing. I've read that the average book sells approximately 200 copies in a year, 1000 over the lifetime of the book.
And the way we are supposed to market our books has made it worse. There are multiple online services where authors offer their books for $.99 or free, with the idea that a reader who likes the free book will then buy the author's other books. Authors are constantly informed that this is the way to become known. But that's not what happens. People who get books for free don't then buy books. They want more books for free.
Ironically, these services aren't free, at least not to authors. Authors have to PAY to give away their books, sometimes a lot of money.
Libraries also offer books for free; however, libraries purchase books, and they don't charge authors for putting their books on the shelves. Libraries have author forums, and are a wonderful way to introduce people to your series.
Authors spend anywhere from a few months to a year or more of intense work to produce a book. Under what other circumstances would anyone expect a professional to put in that kind of time and that kind of effort - and wind up in the red?
I will probably continue to write because I love to write. But a lot of good authors will write a book or a few books that sell so poorly they give up. Or their publisher dumps them. Have you ever read a book that you loved and wished for more from the same author - only to realize that person gave up writing because she couldn't justify putting that kind of time into it anymore? Or a series you loved with appealing characters isn't continuing for the same reason? My next novel will not be a Kolya Petrov thriller for this reason. As much as I love writing about Kolya and friends, I need to try to find a larger readership. I hope to come back to him, but we'll see.
So give books for gifts this holiday season. Give books from a relatively unknown author, an independently published author or the author from a small publisher. If you love a book, share it with a friend or a family member. And treat yourself to a book written by someone new. Who knows? Along with helping to keep a good author writing, you will have the experience of reading a great book. It's a win-win.