The Covid-19 pandemic has (you’ve probably noticed) changed everything. Some changes have been seismic; others have been more subtle. Along the more subtle end (and admittedly, along the less important end) of the continuum has been the impact on book publishing. In particular, the pandemic may have boosted reading, but books published this year have had a really hard time finding their way to readers. Launches and readings were cancelled; media attention was elsewhere; libraries were closed; publishers’ warehouses struggled to ship. I don’t know that this affected the John Grishams or the Stephenie Meyers all that much; and Barack Obama’s memoir has set sales records.* But for books from university and other small presses, books from new authors, and books that aren’t thrillers, vampire romances, or biographies of the famous, it’s been rough.
Do you care about this? You might, if you know a couple of authors (or if you are one!), or if you think it’s generally a good thing for book publishing to be more than best-sellers. Fortunately, there are things you can do to make authors happy and to help their books find readers. That’s especially true this time of year, when many folks are shopping more than usual (whether for others or for themselves).
You know where I’m going with this. Guess what I suggest ought to be in those packages under the tree? No, not my book, or at least, not necessarily my book. Instead, a more general suggestion: books make great gifts and always have; but a book that’s not already a bestseller, and a book struggling against the weight of the pandemic, makes an especially wonderful gift. You’ll be doing the recipient a favour, and the author too – and while I definitely don’t recommend killing two real birds with one real stone, I’m all about the metaphorical equivalent.
Need a few suggestions? Well, if you’d like a paean to natural history, there’s Kelly Brenner’s Nature Obscura. What about a lyrically written memoir that fuses art and science, like Madhur Anand’s This Red Line Goes Straight to Your Heart? A field work adventure in Madagascar, in Keriann McGoogan’s Chasing Lemurs? An ecological perspective on world history, in Mark Bertness’s A Brief Natural History of Civilization? Or, of course, you could go for a somewhat peculiar book about the fascinating stories behind eponymous scientific names (you know I’d mention my own book one more time.) There are, of course, hundreds more. Look for a 2020 publication date and a not-in-the-top-100,000 position on Amazon’s bestseller list – these are the books that need your help.
There’s one more thing you can do, and it’s easy. If you happen to be shopping at one of the big online merchants (and I don’t suggest that you do; I just recognize the convenience), then think about how you get there. An author you might want to support is likely to have, on their own web site, a link to their book that’s a “referrer link”. (All the links to books on this page, for example, are my referrer links; this one is for my book in Canada, and this one is for my book in the USA.) What that means is that if you follow an author’s link to the bookseller, they’ll get a small referral fee. It has no impact at all on what you pay, and they won’t know who you are! And you may not realize this: the author gets that small share of whatever you buy, even if you navigate away from the book you first land on. They’re not supposed to point out that if you bookmark that link, you can use it any time you shop. So I won’t point that out either.
Books are wonderful, but it takes authors to make them. You can make an author happy this holiday season, and it’s awfully easy.
© Stephen Heard November 26, 2020
Image: © Kgbo via Wikimedia.org CC BY-SA 4.0
*^To be fair, it’s hard to begrudge Barack Obama anything, and the book is probably superb.