Who will buy your book?
June 21, 2018 8:10 AM   Subscribe

"I am here to tell you: most people in your family will never buy your book. Most of your friends won’t either. "

"Before I ever published anything, I’d assumed that if I ever finished a book, there would be so much demand from family and friends alone that we'd have to go into a second printing before the release date."

Stick around for the comments, including one person's worst public reading story.
posted by veggieboy (82 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
I have a friend who's a mystery writer and sells a fair number of books. People buy her books. I do, in fact, buy and read her books. But I don't think she ever expected her audience to be her friends and family.

A long time ago, in an internet far, far away I had a book of cartoons published. Two of my friends bought a copy, but most of them didn't. It didn't bother me. The first run sold out, and then my publisher went out of business, so that was the end of that. Never saw a penny.
posted by lagomorphius at 8:25 AM on June 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

8 people showing up is certainly better than I was thinking!

Ursula Vernon has explicitly said that she refuses to read her friends' books. IIRC it's sort of a reverse of the conflict of interest thing -- what if I don't like my friend's book, better never to find out, kind of thing.

As for family... I dunno, I guess it depends on what sorts of books you're writing. I can certainly imagine not wanting your blood family anywhere near your art.
posted by inconstant at 8:30 AM on June 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

I've always been so unsure and private about my creative work that I've only ever shared it under pseudonyms - with the exception of a couple of online friends who moved past pseudonymous.

I've always been baffled by people who want their friends and families to read their books. I think if I saw my mother reading a story I wrote I'd have to fight the urge to rip it out of her hands.

I don't think i'm cut out to be a traditionally published author.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 8:32 AM on June 21, 2018 [19 favorites]

Also, if I ever write an actual Book With Covers, I would hope that I could at least talk my wife into reading it.

My fanfics, on the other hand... man, I'm doing my best to HIDE those.
posted by delfin at 8:35 AM on June 21, 2018 [9 favorites]

The same is often true of your compact disc. Sigh.
posted by drezdn at 8:35 AM on June 21, 2018 [6 favorites]

The point of this piece is not to shame those people or to complain about not getting enough support. It’s just to say: whatever you think it’s like after you publish a book, it’s actually harder than that.

All of this is entirely true.

I've been really lucky with friends supporting my work, including buying and actually reading--but I have a relatively large social network through gaming, and I write in genres that appeal to geeks. Even then, the portion of that social network who reads my stuff is very small. You have to remember that a lot of people don't read all that much, and those who do often have a huge to-be-read pile. It's normal. You have to be okay with that.

I had one good friend who smiled and chuckled about my decision to indie-publish. Partly, I think, it was because he was dating a traditionally-published author in the gaming industry. Partly I think he just didn't take it seriously. At one point he casually asked how the launch went and I said it paid all my bills for the month. Suddenly his whole attitude toward my stuff changed. He's read everything since, pats me on the back a lot, gives really good feedback, tells people he's proud of me.

He's still absolutely someone I consider a very good friend. He's over at my house every couple of weeks. It's just a thing you have to accept about human behavior. Some people aren't going to be drawn in until they see success. And again, it's okay--there are an awful lot of books out there, y'know?

The book industry is partly kept afloat by a shadow economy in which the main currency is bullshit.

Quoted for truth.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 8:45 AM on June 21, 2018 [6 favorites]

I dunno, I find it entirely explicable that friends and family would not buy or read your book - and I type as someone who has several published friends and family members (I mean, not famous people.)

Obviously there's the whole "people may quite legitimately not be interested in what you write about" thing, but reading someone's book is an intimate act. Like, I generally don't want to know too much about writers whose work I admire - it takes the focus off the book, the news is often bad...and just, it's also really intimate. It's a huge infodump about a person - things that would normally take years and years to learn about them. Some of it I don't really want to know - I am often not comfortable knowing, eg, what a writer friend thinks a successful romantic plot arc or sex scene looks like. Some are just things that would be easier for me to learn over time through conversation or experience. Some are things that are only partially and occasionally true - the writer is not the work, someone can produce a book that's unrelentingly misanthropic without being nothing but a misanthrope themselves - but can change the way I feel about the person.

It's a bit different if you meet someone after you've read their books, but even there it's a lot.

Books are a big deal, people! Read wisely!
posted by Frowner at 8:50 AM on June 21, 2018 [10 favorites]

I can only echo what an editor told a friend of mine before her first book

“Who buys your book is decided in a meeting months in advance by people you’ll never meet.”
posted by The Whelk at 8:51 AM on June 21, 2018 [17 favorites]

As someone who has published a couple books, this is all painfully true.

But I question whether essays like this do the world a disservice by discouraging that one person reading it who might otherwise decide to get out there and do it, however absurd. It's hard enough for us English majors to get up the courage to make new stuff. Too much defeatism and we might be so scared off from creativity, that we slink off and hide in journalism, and from there safely publish Vox articles on "10 things you don't know about Anthony Scaramucci" or whatever.

I've seen it too often...I prefer the comforting myth in which as soon as we can get past those 20 rejection letters by editors, we get to the "Green Place" from Fury Road.
posted by johngoren at 8:51 AM on June 21, 2018 [5 favorites]

My mom reads all my books, even though they are in no way the highland Scottish romances she prefers. And she clearly is paying attention, keeps track of how characters develop from book to book, and marvels that I'm able to come up with these ideas and describe these exotic places.

I mean, I buy copies for her. She's not exactly making me rich. (None of you are doing that, and I'm starting to get a little irked by the oversight.) But still, I have a good mom.
posted by Naberius at 8:52 AM on June 21, 2018 [16 favorites]

I don't care if my friends and family buy my books; it's everyone else I'm worried about.
posted by veggieboy at 9:01 AM on June 21, 2018 [5 favorites]

It also depends on _what_ you're writing.

If I'm writing, say, some dry and technical-jargon-filled work with a niche audience, I'd be amazed if ANYONE ever reads it, let alone family members without the proper background. I'd also say the same for works with any other kind of niche audience; superfans of a particular show or genre, for instance.

A little part of me has sometimes wondered if I could make a few bucks doing what some people I've encountered have done -- self-publishing arguably horrific erotic e-books on Amazon. I mean, I know that I can write well. I know that I have the kind of sprained psyche that could generate relevant scenarios. I know that the market is out there. And I would probably enjoy putting "professional ostrich erotica author" down on my 1040 form next April. (Also, remind me to register that as a sockpuppet account.)

But I do think of the faces of my in-laws when they ask "So, where'd you get the money for your latest vacation?" "Um, well..."
posted by delfin at 9:02 AM on June 21, 2018 [4 favorites]

Your friends and family are 100% more likely to read your book if it’s memoir. Mostly so they can decide whether to be angry at you at being mischaracterized. Sometimes they will also read your fiction/see your plays if they think they will recognize themselves in a fictional character and decide whether to be offended or not.

Short version: if you want your friends and family to read your books, it helps to be friends/family with a bunch of narcissists and egomaniacs.
posted by thivaia at 9:05 AM on June 21, 2018 [4 favorites]

I always find it a bit weird having conversations with people who have actually read my stuff, TBH. It’s nice, but a little disconcerting.
posted by Artw at 9:11 AM on June 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

She's not exactly making me rich. (None of you are doing that, and I'm starting to get a little irked by the oversight.)

There’s no website in your profile, friend, we couldn’t buy your books if we wanted to.
posted by Caduceus at 9:12 AM on June 21, 2018 [18 favorites]

Also: recently got to participate in a Fres Comic Book Day Book that was All Ages, so for once I’m writing something that I can share with the kids. So of course they flick through the thing and both like a different story better.
posted by Artw at 9:13 AM on June 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

Truth. Virtually none of the people I know read my work, and that includes my partner and most of my closest friends. I'm OK with it.
posted by adamgreenfield at 9:14 AM on June 21, 2018

I think I am probably the friend/family member who never buys/reads the books, (I have a LOT of friends who are authors) but it’s always kind of because it feels kind of like they should be giving me the copy to read? Especially when in many cases the books are either referencing events I created or did, or dynamics I was involved in, I would actually love to read the books and always do when I am provided a copy, but it feels super weird to be required to pay for the copy when I am part of what has made the book or I have done proofreading or consulting or what have you for the book.
posted by corb at 9:15 AM on June 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

I made a rule for myself early on that I didn't expect family or friends to buy my books because a) they had to put up with me when I was a kid, pushing my writing on them, b) they're already catching the live show. If any friends or family read (or buy) the books, great, but if they don't I don't lose sleep over it.

Unlike Ursula I will read my friends' books, because as it turns out many of them are very good writers and I don't want to deprive myself of the entertainment. But I do not expect there to be a correlation between writers I like as people, and writers whose work I am an ideal audience for. The Venn diagram of these two circles has significant overlap but that overlap is nowhere near 100%. And obviously it works the other way, too -- I expect some of my friends who are writers file my work into the "meant for someone else" category. And that's fine.

(Incidentally, the graph above should not be read as a criticism of Ursula and her way of dealing with things -- everyone in our line of business figures out the best way to proceed. Ursula's works for her, and that's groovy.)

And, bluntly, outside of very specific marketing events, I never go out of my way to sell a book to anyone; there's nothing more tedious for me than to try to convert someone I've met into a paying customer, and I can only imagine it's worse for them. I'm happy not to be a huckster in the large majority of my life.
posted by jscalzi at 9:17 AM on June 21, 2018 [13 favorites]

It's an interesting thing. I write software for a living, but I have ZERO expectation that anyone of my friends and family will ever even SEE my software let alone use it. It's a niche product for large businesses, so there's no reason they should!

On the other hand, I feel like I would be a bit irked if I wrote a novel and none of my friends/family wrote it. Even though any idea I had would almost certainly be super niche as well.

Different social expectations I suppose.
posted by KirTakat at 9:17 AM on June 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

Oh and also, sometimes your friends/family who are also writers will read your books for wholly catty reasons, like trying to decide if your stuff is actuallt better that theirs or if you deserved that advance or if you only got that advance because you are hot or were briefly dating that skeezy guy from your MFA that sold his novel to HBO or are married to an heiress.
posted by thivaia at 9:26 AM on June 21, 2018

I have read my uncle's published book - but expecting your family to be your primary audience vector makes you one of the those Facebook MLM people and nobody likes that.
posted by The_Vegetables at 9:26 AM on June 21, 2018 [7 favorites]

I am not a published author. But I put some stories on the internet. The weird conversations with family, put me off ever wanting to write for publication.

Be grateful they don't read your books.
posted by elizilla at 9:31 AM on June 21, 2018 [3 favorites]

as I learned long ago with bands (both from in and without), you can depend on the enthusiasm of family and/or friends only briefly -- your first few shows or whatever. After that, you're on your own. Or more to the point -- it's the enthusiasm of strangers that you want, because it's the only enthusiasm you can really trust.

all this said, my brother recently self-published a book of memoir crossed with magical realism that's really quite good.
posted by philip-random at 9:36 AM on June 21, 2018 [4 favorites]

I published a couple of children's books in the early '90s. When I was cleaning out Mom's house after she went into a care facility, I found a half-full carton of my books that she had purchased! I had no idea. I mentioned it to a neighbor and she said, "Oh yes, whenever one of the now-grown neighborhood kids you used to babysit had a baby of their own, that was the gift your mom gave at the showers."
posted by agatha_magatha at 9:39 AM on June 21, 2018 [27 favorites]

I dunno, I find it entirely explicable that friends and family would not buy or read your book - and I type as someone who has several published friends and family members (I mean, not famous people.)

What I like to jokingly tell people is that they don't have to read my books, just buy them.

The reality is that family will expect you to give them free copies. Family will say things (well after your book has flopped and been remaindered) like "Well, I ask at every Barnes & Noble if they have it, and when they offer to let me order it, I tell them no. I just want to buy it off the shelf." Family will cheerfully text you photos of your book in the Dollar Tree. Family will give you a hard time about not keeping a box of books in your trunk but then not keep any cash on them to give you if you do happen to have a box of books in your trunk, from an event or maybe it just got left there after your last move because you have dozens of copies leftover after it was remaindered anyway. Family will nag you about having an event in your hometown, and then when you finally organize one, no one will come out, despite a small handful of facebook RSVPs. They'll let you crash at their place the night before an event, but they won't go to your event, because they play D&D that night.

And I really don't expect people to buy my books, except yeah, this stuff can be a little annoying and pointed. I have two more years before my next book comes out and I'm not looking forward to doing the little dance again, of not looking hurt when someone asks you how sales are going and then promptly tells you they've never bothered buying it.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:45 AM on June 21, 2018 [22 favorites]

I will say that my favorite sale was to my dentist, who handed me a twenty and asked me to bring in a signed copy to my next cleaning. "I'm not going to read it, but I'm very proud of you."

That's about as ideal an interaction as I can imagine.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:47 AM on June 21, 2018 [57 favorites]

OMG this is so painfully true. I love my book, my closest family and friends loved it and read it and sometimes even remember to mention it to people, but anyone outside of that circle...? A lot of people I know did buy it, simultaneously far more than I expected and nowhere near the number I hoped, but as far as actually reading it....? I dunno. People just don't read anymore. I keep hoping one day I'll open up MetaTalk and find someone here I met at a meetup will have read it and give me shout, but... well, I keep hoping.
posted by Mchelly at 9:55 AM on June 21, 2018

I've already had the Mystery Novel Nominated for a Major Award, the subsequent New York Agent, and the stress, anger, and uncertainty that comes with it.
It all came to naught. No fame. No fortune. Nothing.
That was eventually a dream that came crashing down that you could hear in different time zones.

Now I just self publish for my own enjoyment and consider it a wonderful, stress-free hobby.
When's my next Denton and Monty book coming out?
Whenever it comes out.
I don't blog, I don't social media, I don't do a damn thing to move those books.
Ain't nobody got time for that.
posted by Major Matt Mason Dixon at 10:00 AM on June 21, 2018 [6 favorites]

I have various thoughts about family and friends reading my published work (mostly my thoughts center around 'hell no').

But. I really like this quote from the article, which brings a whole lot of truth about relationships:
Many people close to you will disappoint you. But there are people who will come through, and they will keep coming through, and sometimes you’ll be surprised who falls into which category.
Oh my goodness, yes. It's surprisingly hard to predict ahead of time the folks who weren't on your 'of-course' list but who still come through.
posted by librarylis at 10:38 AM on June 21, 2018 [5 favorites]

I make a point of buying my friends' books. I don't even accept free copies when offered. I'd rather pay.

More of y'all should be friends with me, I guess.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:40 AM on June 21, 2018 [10 favorites]

This does not surprise me.

My family isn't into anything I do in life in general. My mom likes my craft items so there's something, but I don't think she cares at all about what I perform really. I am kind of annoyed at her for declining to show up to my last performance over the weekend to go see her boyfriend, but again, what can you expect? It's great if you can find friends who are into the same things instead, which helps. But if you write horror and your friends hate horror, that's not gonna go well.

I hate that I'm this way as well. I have some friends who self published things and...well. I can think of one person that I normally really like their writing but hated one of their self published ones, it creeped me out way too much. I want to support them and I got the book but I can't give honest compliments about that one. Another friend, well, I have one issue with their work and that it is too hard for me to keep up with--there are whiplashing changes going on frequently and I'm never quite sure what is going on. I like their writing otherwise but I feel so dumb that I can't get where these changes came from. But they get really upset at criticism and don't want to hear it, so I say nothing, which also sucks.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:47 AM on June 21, 2018

This is actually really encouraging. I've always held off writing in part because I couldn't stand the thought of family/friends reading what I'd written. So, hell. If they're not going to anyway....
posted by stoneweaver at 10:56 AM on June 21, 2018 [13 favorites]

Similar situation with creatives in other media.

I used to spend a *lot* of time behind a camera; twice a year I'd head out to the western US, and in between trips, the local scenic places were regularly visited. For years, all my friends and family encouraged me to sell my work; my buddy Phill's family even bought some enlargements to hang in their house.

In 2013, I printed out a number of photos that had always had the best reception. Multiple sizes, matted; some framed. I went to art fairs with a setup whose quality that flabbergasted art-fair oldtimers.

I didn't sell enough to even make back my admission fees. All the friends and family that stopped by to see? A second-cousin-once-removed-in-law bought a couple small prints. And Phill's mom bought another print.

I still have piles of matted photos, in tubs, in my basement.
posted by notsnot at 11:09 AM on June 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

I buy my friends' and relatives' books, and go to see my local friends' plays, and choir concerts, and dance shows, and bands. I mean, I might not get every single book if they've written a lot of them, and I won't go to every single show if it's a once-a-week thing, but I'll try it at least once, and usually more than that.

And I'm a little baffled that people apparently think this is not a standard friend thing to do.
posted by kyrademon at 11:29 AM on June 21, 2018 [6 favorites]

I have few friends (more long-distance acquantainces) and a small family, so I'm glad I don't depend on them for this sort of support.

As far as critique or enthusiastic boosting goes, I'd rather have that from fellow electronic musicians. I don't sell much and I'm not really trying to, but the occasional honest compliment from people whose work I also appreciate (and whose music is a bit more popular) is nice to have.

I always find it weird and get self-conscious when I come home from work and my spouse is listening to one of my albums. She doesn't do it a lot -- probably doesn't listen to most of them more than once. It's not really her thing and she says some of my music makes her itch due to the timbres I use.
posted by Foosnark at 11:36 AM on June 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

Also I love how the ad I was served with the article had the big headline "Publish your book" - I guess they're assuming no one reads the articles anymore, either?
posted by Mchelly at 11:39 AM on June 21, 2018

I'm a little baffled that people apparently think this is not a standard friend thing to do.

The thing is, I also go to friends and relatives plays, even if I have to buy a ticket - but I think the issue becomes when money is involved with a thing in a weird way. Like, the plays that people act in, they aren’t being paid for personally - the money is going to the theater, or the benefit, or the school, or what have you. It’s not like I’m hiring my friend to do work, it’s like I am being a supportive audience - what is being requested is my time and love.

Books are weird, because the money is going to the friend, but also because often my time and skill has been involved in the book. Like - a lot of my friends have written political books about my organizing, or when the friends were writing the book they have asked me for help. And so if they asked me for money in order to read that book, it would feel kind of like they thought their labor was worth money but mine wasn’t. And it kind of disrupts the whole friend economy where you contribute your labor to each other without asking for money. Like, I’ve helped a ton of friends with labor I would charge for if it was a stranger! And so I guess expecting friends to buy your books rather than just read and review them feels like someone is valuing this specialized labor they have done as more precious than anything anyone else has contributed. And that feels shitty, so I usually ignore it as I would ignore any other kind of mildly rude behavior.
posted by corb at 11:55 AM on June 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

On a few occasions, I called them out for not having it.

Full body cringe at that point.
posted by betweenthebars at 11:56 AM on June 21, 2018 [6 favorites]

If I'm being honest, books are easy, because you can show your support by spending the money. When/whether you get around to actually reading the thing is incidental.

The worst is friends with bands, because in order to support them, you not only have to pay, but you also have to stand around and watch the show, even if they suck.

Now that I think about it, I wonder if one of the perks of getting older is that fewer and fewer of my friends are in bands and the ones who still are tend to be the talented folks, who are right to keep on keepin' on.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 12:02 PM on June 21, 2018 [7 favorites]

After age 25, the population of friends willing to come spend Tuesday night in some dismal rock bar, swilling $4.50 Bud Light as you churn out your post-punk opus, does seem to plummet.
posted by thelonius at 12:18 PM on June 21, 2018 [10 favorites]

There is, or at least can be, something really awkward about balancing friendship with audience. I've had a number of friends and acquaintances who were involved in the arts, so this sort of thing has come up quite a bit. Sometimes it's easy to deal with when I really appreciate the work the person is doing and actively want to participate in it, but other times, not so much.

The varying demands of some of the people make it difficult to provide what they want and still maintain a sense of feeling like the relationship is equally respectful. If the interest is in getting money from me, that can be fine in times of real need, but it doesn't require some sort of sale for that and the expectation of it more regularly loses mutuality if I'm putting out money, which I can't really afford to give out freely, while there is no like possibility for return as I'm not selling anything in that same way.

If the interest is just in getting support, that too can be done without participating directly in or with the work when encouragement is the hoped for result. But if it's actual engagement with the work being asked for, under the expectation of getting positive feedback, then it is placing a burden on the relationship if I don't like the work by asking me to, basically, lie or it risks irritation if I give detailed reasons for why I don't care for it. It unloads quite a bit of emotional effort on me that can lead towards hurt feelings for one person potentially not accepting the manner of expression of the other. It isn't to say there's a need to be brutally honest or overly demanding, but if the expectation isn't balanced then the respect involved isn't wholly mutual.

I try to set some boundaries up front in these situations, explaining why sometimes its better for friends not to engage with each other's work unless it comes from shared desire to hear the other person's thoughts, whether through the art or in response.
posted by gusottertrout at 12:35 PM on June 21, 2018 [3 favorites]

but it’s always kind of because it feels kind of like they should be giving me the copy to read? Especially when in many cases the books are either referencing events I created or did, or dynamics I was involved in, I would actually love to read the books and always do when I am provided a copy, but it feels super weird to be required to pay for the copy when I am part of what has made the book or I have done proofreading or consulting or what have you for the book.

This is weird and not the etiquette, no. I have been thanked in a bunch of acknowledgements. There are a few exceptions (if you have blurbed a book, if you are an author with the same literary agency or publisher) but I never expect free books and happily buy and support other authors even when I have helped them in the past.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:44 PM on June 21, 2018 [4 favorites]

Yeah i didn’t even expect a copy of a non fiction book I am in, like as a recurring character.
posted by The Whelk at 12:56 PM on June 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

After my first book came out, I would peruse friends’ bookshelves, trying to determine their organizational system (if it’s not alphabetical, then where is my book? Maybe they have some special hidden shelf for books they truly cherish?). On a few occasions, I called them out for not having it. This accomplished nothing, besides making both of us feel bad.

I am now determined to write and publish a book -- even self-publish if I have to -- then let all my friends and family know how they can buy it.

Then when they fail to do so, I can hold it over their heads for fucking ever if they try to ask me for a favor. Tom McAllister, please know that your writing has inspired me!
posted by UrineSoakedRube at 1:11 PM on June 21, 2018 [3 favorites]

I always buy my friends’ books, but I hate readings. Too many authors suck at reading. My best author friends sign a bookplate, not the book.
posted by Ideefixe at 1:19 PM on June 21, 2018

"Whatever project you’re working on now doesn’t derive value from your friends’ approval, but rather from the love and energy you pour into it."

Honest depiction of this sort is very useful ... even for writers of college papers!

Every book at the used bookstore somehow found an audience ... even if it took 10 or 15 years.

Worth checking out if you can: I ran across this Barry Longyear advice book years back, and it's also frank (short and to-the-point) about the hurdles new fiction writers face.
posted by Twang at 1:21 PM on June 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

I used to run the box office for a ballet company, and one of the parents of a student there was a former concept artist for LucasFilm, which at a point in my life had been kind of my dream job. We chatted about art once in a while when he came by, and he mentioned he had a comic coming out; a sci-fi thing about AI and consciousness and spirituality, etc. This is directly down my alley. I said it sounded awesome and I'd check it out.

The book was on my desk a couple months later and he seemed shocked to see it there. Shared a picture of it on social media even, like he saw a rare bird in the wild. It occurred to me then that it must be really hard to distinguish the moral support of people who like you and think its cool that you do this kind of thing, from genuine interest in your work on its own terms. It must be rather rare when those things actually overlap.

I've stopped telling acquaintances about comics I'm sometimes working on. I just don't know that many people in my day to day life who even understand that comics without superheroes are a thing, let alone desire to read such a thing. I find it best not to put them in the position of feigning interest.
posted by Phobos the Space Potato at 1:31 PM on June 21, 2018 [7 favorites]

I don't really understand why you'd want to pressure friends and family to read something you wrote. Whenever anyone I know has asked me to read something, I've felt extremely uncomfortable about it because I'm afraid that I won't like it or maybe that I'll hate it and then they'll ask me what I thought. I like to know that they've written something but I don't want to be in a position to lie about what I really thought in order to show support.
posted by acidnova at 2:02 PM on June 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

This is the most important part of the linked piece: "I don’t think there is any way to convince all the people in your life to buy your book, let alone care about it half as much as you do. Though their validation feels great, it’s important to remember that it’s also not the point."

And it isn't. I think most art is the product of an obsessive need to tell a specific story, or create a unique sound or vision, and you can't expect most people to share that obsession. Foisting your art upon others is imposing an obligation. The real thrill comes in sending your work out into the world and having it resonate with the complete strangers who can't wait to tell you how it scratched that odd ineffable itch that made you create it in the first place.
posted by bassomatic at 2:22 PM on June 21, 2018 [7 favorites]

I will say that my favorite sale was to my dentist, who handed me a twenty and asked me to bring in a signed copy to my next cleaning. "I'm not going to read it, but I'm very proud of you."

One of my friends who bought my book is a dentist and when I tried to sign it said, "No! Don't mess it up!" which I thought was absolutely hilarious.
posted by lagomorphius at 3:04 PM on June 21, 2018 [3 favorites]

My Dad always bought copies of my books, which was really sweet of him.

But, eh, reading friends' books is awkward. What people like to read is very intimate and private, and that doesn't go well with someone expecting you to buy, read, and rapturously praise their books.
posted by zompist at 3:17 PM on June 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

It was pretty liberating for me when I stopped limiting myself to work that would please my family. They like some of what I choose to show them, but they’re no longer my primary audience. They were for a very long time.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 3:19 PM on June 21, 2018

If a friend has a book (or album) out at a price I can afford, I'll buy it. I generally tell them that my to-be-read pile (aka Mount Tsundoku) is so high at this point that if it were physical I'd be crushed to death in the next earthquake, so I apologize if I don't get to reading it for a while. That gives me an out if I start it and don't like it, without having to tell them that.
posted by Lexica at 3:20 PM on June 21, 2018

I work for a charity. I don't expect my mates to donate to pay my wages. I'm not sure why an author would expect different.
posted by howfar at 3:21 PM on June 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

I mean, it's absolutely wonderful when people do. But I wouldn't expect it, even from my closest relatives.
posted by howfar at 3:22 PM on June 21, 2018

Watching publicists try to sell mid-list authors on the publishing equivalent of multi-level marketing schemes is dispiriting to say the least. When the publisher shifts the burden of publicizing and hand-selling a book to the author from their publicists and sales reps, that signals lack of confidence. (There's nothing wrong with pro-active authors, especially if they've got the knack for self-promotion, but in the end, their core competency should be writing books, not selling them.)

Besides, royalty rates being what they are, it's a better fiscal strategy for a budding author to ask friends and family for a loan, and only slightly more gauche.
posted by Doktor Zed at 3:43 PM on June 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

I would feel super-weird buying and reading a book written by a family member. I don't even like reading their postcards.
posted by turbid dahlia at 4:05 PM on June 21, 2018 [4 favorites]

I would totally go to signings! but yeah, that gets like the band thing...
posted by Artw at 4:27 PM on June 21, 2018

This made me laugh, because I just released my first-ever book today. It's self-published, and I've written lots of zines, so my expectations and hopes for who will and will not read it are based on the world of zines-- which is to say, that it's more like a love letter to my pals than an attempt at gaining fame and fortune. I have a close community of writer pals, and we all buy and read each other's things, but outside of that circle, I feel SUPER weird about people I know in real life reading my dorky novella.

The part Twang quoted, "Whatever project you’re working on now doesn’t derive value from your friends’ approval, but rather from the love and energy you pour into it," resonated with me also. I found it fun to write a story, and I found it fun to commission cool cover art, and I found it fun to get a crate of shiny new books in the mail. Everything outside of that is weird and anxiety-inducing and totally beside the point for me.
posted by ITheCosmos at 4:29 PM on June 21, 2018

None of my family or friends has bought my book, though some have told me they would. Weirdly, some have asked for free copies which is... odd, given that it’s a textbook. But hey, maybe someone will. (Or better yet, some prof will make it required. I can only hope!)
posted by Valancy Rachel at 4:32 PM on June 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

Funny, when I reconnected with a childhood friend on Facebook (Hi, Cecily!) and saw that she had a chapbook of poems available, I bought it. Unfortunately, I don't really read poetry, or in fact know what a "chapbook" is, so it was pretty tough for me to understand, but I was extremely curious to read what she wrote. I guess I'm the exception.
posted by wnissen at 4:36 PM on June 21, 2018

I guess it makes me one of Those Friends, but of the authors I know personally, one writes (very successfully!) romance fiction that is just never going to be my jam. To the best of my knowledge, she's never expected me to pick up her books, possibly because shortly after I met her, I talked about how annoyed it made me that Amazon's algorithm kept trying to sell me romance novels despite that not being my thing, and then later on was told what she did for a living.

For myself, I learned when I was young that although I dearly love painting fantasy, my mother politely tolerates it and would probably prefer it if I painted some nice cats or flowers or something. I have never expected her to buy any of the nerd stuff I illustrated. Expecting your friends and family to invest time and energy into something just because you made it seems odd to me.
posted by tautological at 4:51 PM on June 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

I might as well mention that I also tend to buy books by Mefites whose comments I like whenever I find out they've written any books. This has led me to read some very good books (some that spring to mind include A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend, Starglass, Starbreak, Like Mandarin, and Us Conductors; and while I probably would have checked out the works of John Scalzi and Charles Stross even if they weren't regular Mefites, and Kelly Link even if she never weighed in on a thread I was reading, their comments here likely made me get books by them sooner rather than later.)

So, um, I guess what I'm saying is, if anyone here reading this has a book they want to plug, I'm listening.
posted by kyrademon at 4:52 PM on June 21, 2018 [8 favorites]

... the population of friends willing to come spend Tuesday night in some dismal rock bar

....where the first opening band starts at 9:30
posted by thelonius at 4:52 PM on June 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

My uncle loathed, utterly hated my inoffensive first novel, a SF/fantasy that was published by a Random House subsidiary, was nominated for a couple of awards, and was combined with its sequel into a SF Book-of-the-Month Club offering. The book and its sequel were translated into (from what I've seen) Japanese and French. Most of my family never read it or its sequel. My colleagues didn't read it. The parents at the school where I taught 5th grade tried to get me to sign copies for the book fair, which makes it clear they had not read it either. However, a number of the 6th graders nominated it for "best first line" in a competition the English teacher held, indicating that they got away with reading something mildly racy that their parents thought was okay because a teacher wrote it. The readings I did were attended by maybe four people, at least one of them my mother, who I did not ask if she had read it. One of the other people at each one was just there to tell me the arid plot of their own awful books, in detail.

It was a relative success and did well. I earned back my advance on the two-book deal, barely. The advance was enough, perhaps, to buy a used car, but I used it to pay bills instead.

I have not published anything since, because I was working full time, raising a kid, taking care of my mother, and going to graduate school, and when I emerged from that ten year period, I found my agent had died and his partner wasn't willing to take me on.

And I'm one of the lucky few.

Every once in a while I get a fan letter, asking me when I'm going to publish another one.
posted by Peach at 5:08 PM on June 21, 2018 [17 favorites]

Classy authors maintain two social feeds — one for friends/family, and one for marketing. The reason? It’s obnoxious to market to your friends and family.

The industry demands authors become hucksters, constantly ballyhooing their own output, enthusing their own crowds, rattling the cup on behalf of themselves and their publishers. Dance, monkey, dance.

So it can tough, as an author, to know where to draw the line. When do you stop dancing?

Tip: Expecting family and friends to endure your salesmanship is rude; expecting them to buy your product is unreasonable; expecting them to thoughtfully consume, appreciate and understand your product? Get over yourself, artiste.
posted by Construction Concern at 5:30 PM on June 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

Someone recently told me that you need to have two kinds of people in your life in order to successful as an artist -- folks who champion you AND folks who champion your art -- and don't expect the venn diagram to completely overlap. It was a nice perspective reset for me.

This article is doing a similar service I think.

I have read a LOT of work of my writer friends (though mostly fellow playwrights' plays) and only rarely has it been profoundly uncomfortable. Most of the time, I can find something I find exciting about the work. And in many cases, I adore what they're doing and we have fun dramaturgical feedback sessions. Not all friendships should be that -- but I value the ones that are.

That isn't to say that you can't miss your fellow writer friends. I've had playwright friends who have written pieces that deeply disturb me, even if I completely understand what they're trying to do. I've also had a novelist friend who had a protagonist who reminded me far too much of someone who made my life miserable in middle and high school... which left me wondering about my friend and how we would have interacted as teenagers.

But most of my interactions with my friends' writing has been interesting and not misery making. I'm surprised about how rare that is.

I am, however, terrible about attending my friends' improv theater.
posted by JustKeepSwimming at 5:41 PM on June 21, 2018 [3 favorites]

My child's history teacher, I'm told, said that he was interested in my book, but thought it was too expensive. Not quite sure what to make of that.
posted by BWA at 6:40 PM on June 21, 2018

A lot of arts groups and organisations will say that your first point of support (especially for things like crowdfunding) should always be your friends and family. But they never grok that this is way less workable than they think it is, especially if your social groups are similarly broke marginalised people.

I personally find it frustrating when people claim they want to support me - "make the zine and I'll buy it!" or "write that article and I'll contribute to your tip jar!" Basically "do it and they will come" coated with promises about how they supposedly value you. And then you do the thing...and nothing. Not a cent. "oh sorry no money but here's a retweet". I get salty about retweets now, they're not nearly as useful as people like to think they are.

I'm on a Facebook group for young writers locally and it's a very potent resource for the industry. The person who founded it is still having trouble finding stable employment, and she was asking the group for advice/perspectives. One of the members said something really profound: that people only really value work like this when it is free, that it's dangerous in many ways to provide resources like this because if they can get it for free then why should they pay you for anything else ever? Just take and take and take.

That being said, a couple of dear friends organised a fundraiser show for my upcoming Fringe show - they got a lineup of artists volunteering their time and it was sold out. A large part is because one of the organisers is a Pretty Big Deal around here, but the fact that she did this at all was extraordinary. I asked her what inspired her to help out like this and she said it's because she saw me talking about how crowdfunding only really works if you're not marginalised - for minorities like us, you need to do it the "traditional" way: barnraising.
posted by divabat at 9:28 PM on June 21, 2018 [5 favorites]

Someone gave me a copy of his book-- university press but the popular interest arm of a major one, the sort of thing that gets distributed to bookstores, reviewed in the NYT and so on. I started reading and noticed a lot of pages missing and duplicates of others, so I asked if he had a copy that wasn't defective. He later cheerfully told me he'd called everyone he'd given a copy to and asked if theirs had pages missing. They all said, "Let me go look" and then "Oh yeah it does." So basically no one had cracked the book. He was an experienced writer and just thought it was funny.
posted by BibiRose at 5:44 AM on June 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

PhoBWanKenobi, I am so glad to hear you've got another book coming out! I, uh, read your Starglass books because you're on Metafilter, and sold a lot at the bookstore where I worked at the time. Still one of the best YA series I've read. I think maybe internet acquaintances are better in this regard; there's less pressure. If it turns out you don't like someone's book or never even start it, nothing has to be said.

I think one big problem is that people assume once you publish a book, you've got it made. Anyone that's done it, or sold books, knows that's not true at all. But it never occurs to most people that you need any support.
posted by BibiRose at 6:00 AM on June 22, 2018 [4 favorites]

Well, wow, that means so much to me, BibiRose! Yeah, the next book is out from Balzer + Bray in 2020 (the title will probably change but right now it's a Beach Boys inspired If You Should Ever Leave Me) and I'm hopeful about it, but you never know how these things will go. My first books were kept out of B&N because of a publisher-level contract dispute, which caused such terrible sales that I've had to totally pivot, rebrand, and fire two agents in the process. I'm in a good, hopeful place--this is a better niche for me, I think, and I have better advocates now--but staying published is just as hard as getting published, in my experience.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:10 AM on June 22, 2018 [5 favorites]

This post reminded me that I meant to e-mail a friend whose book I just bought (even heard about it via MetaFilter, for what that's worth), so I did, and she replied, and it kinda made my day.
posted by Spathe Cadet at 8:15 AM on June 22, 2018

Great title, PhoBWanKenobi!

True fact: "God Only Knows" was the only music used when Comrade Doll and I got married.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:18 AM on June 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

This post by Nicole Dieker that is partially a response to the original article just popped up in my twitter feed.

It gets into some of the guts of indie publishing, but the bits about how promotion ring hallow in the current political atmosphere really landed for me.
posted by JustKeepSwimming at 11:06 AM on June 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

This post makes me want to see a Metafilter virtual library of books by mefites. some of you have mentioned books in the past, and some of them I've bought, others I may have also read...
posted by dreamling at 1:19 PM on June 22, 2018 [3 favorites]

A few months ago, I got the galleys of my first book, and I showed them to a good friend of mine.
He said "Oh my god, you wrote a whole book! That's amazing! What's wrong with you?"
His response was the most honest and reasonable piece of feedback I've received, I think.

That being said, I'm with kyrademon on this: I don't understand why it's unusual to be supportive of your friends' books (and music, and other art). There isn't any kind of obligation to be supportive—my jaw dropped when the writer of the article said he called out his friends who didn't have his book—but buying a friend's book is a nice thing to do for them, so long as it's not prohibitively expensive. (I've also been very lucky, in that many of my friends and family have bought copies of my book. But I certainly didn't tell them that I expected them to buy it, or quiz the ones who didn't buy it.)

And +1 to dreamling's idea. I'd love to see a list of MeFite-written books.
posted by freelanceastro at 4:09 PM on June 22, 2018 [5 favorites]

My publisher was generous and gave me 50 author copies so I gave freinds/family who I thought would be interested a free copy. I think maybe I've sold ~200 copies in the 18 months since it was published? That seems okay for poetry. But I never expected my family or friends to even like my work.

Hopefully my publisher feels the same since I have a second one written!
posted by eustacescrubb at 4:35 PM on June 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

JustKeepSwimming, that piece by Nicole Dieker is brilliant enough that it deserves a whole FPP of its own. She captured the zeitgeist in book publishing perfectly, I think, particularly regarding social media. As someone is preparing to leave Facebook permanently - largely for the reasons she outlines - I find this part particularly striking:
I would not be surprised if the increase in print book sales was directly correlated with our desire to stop looking at social media for at least, like, 30 minutes.

…social media isn’t working the way it used to. Part of it is because we’re kind of oversaturated with “read my book!” promotional posts, part of it is because we feel awkward writing those promotional posts in the middle of what feels like a constant national tragedy, and part of it is because a lot of us are culling or avoiding our social media feeds.

Even if Facebook weren’t force-choking our posts…we’d still have to deal with the ways in which social media both amplifies and dilutes any message we try to share. Everyone is asking you to read their thing, whether it’s a Twitter thread or a debut novel. Nobody has time to read everything, and the novel is longer and costs money (or a trip to the library).
posted by velvet winter at 8:06 PM on June 22, 2018 [3 favorites]

dreamling: This post makes me want to see a Metafilter virtual library of books by mefites. some of you have mentioned books in the past, and some of them I've bought, others I may have also read...

freelanceastro : And +1 to dreamling's idea. I'd love to see a list of MeFite-written books.

Well, there's this page of published authors from the MeFi wiki. It may be out of date. A new MeTa thread might result in it getting some updates.
posted by Caduceus at 12:52 PM on June 23, 2018

From the comments section of the article:

J. James
June 21, 2018 at 4:23 pm

I feel you, Tom. This reminds me of a time when a book I wrote flopped miserably here in the States, but did well overseas. So my agent got the brilliant idea to translate the book back into English, thinking that we could preserve what captivated them and draw in an audience here.

So I gave a reading at a bookstore in NYC. And — I confess that this was really dumb on my part — I didn’t read the retranslated book before the public reading.

Well. It went poorly and most of the audience drifted away before I was done. I wish everyone had, because I was inundated with questions from one gentleman who had taken copious notes and wanted to know, for example, what the “yum yum clown monkey” stood for.

I’m retired and living in New Hampshire now, and every time I feel the urge to write another book, I recall that debacle and firmly put my pen down.

posted by UrineSoakedRube at 11:47 PM on June 26, 2018

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