Earlier this month, my mom took me to see Hamilton in Chicago as an early 40th birthday present (my birthday is in August, but we were up there for a conference). I knew it was going to be good, but I was not prepared for how much it blew me away! I could go on and on about how great the choreography and lighting were, and how much of a genius Lin Manuel Miranda is, but this is about an aspect I never anticipated…how much Hamilton touched me as a writer.
I cry at musicals. A lot. It’s because I love theater and it makes me very emotional. But there were several moments that touched me deep down as a writer and made me sob all the more, but this time, they were happy tears because I knew someone else–and Lin Manuel nonetheless–felt the same way.
First, from a song called Non-Stop, which is the last song in the first act: “Write like you’re running out of time. Write like you need it to survive.”
HOLY CRAP! THIS IS ME! I have never felt so seen as I did during this number. I constantly feel the pressure (self-induced and otherwise) to write more and faster. I’m scared I will die before I get write all of the stories in my head. Writing is literally all I do outside of my day job because a) I LOVE it and b) I feel like if I do anything else it will just get in the way of realizing my dreams.
There is a certain obsession that can overcome a writer that I am feeling very keenly as I’m researching my first biography. I don’t know that I can explain it. It is an extra drive, a stronger sense of need, of owing the characters your all, of being put on this planet to write…so you have to do it ALL THE TIME.
Secondly, from My Shot, perhaps one of the most iconic lines: “I’m not throwing away my shot.”
Yes, yes, everyone and their brother loves this song. But as an indie author, it has special meaning to me. People ask me all the time how I win so many awards, etc. I don’t want to sound flippant, but honestly, I win because I enter contests. Of course, you have to have a great product, but you can’t win if you don’t play.
Being an indie author is all about taking chances. Sometimes you win big, like I did with taking a chance on a new company called Taleflick and ending up with a movie option for Madame Presidentess. Sometimes you lose so much money you want to cry. *cough* print ad in a magazine *cough* But the key is you have to try. Pay attention to the opportunities in the industry, investigate them and if they sound good to you, inquire. That’s all it takes. If you see a shot, take it. If you don’t win, you’ve lost nothing (or as in my case with the ad, you’ve only lost money). But if you do, it could be your ticket to success.
Last, but certainly not least, from the closing number of the show: “And when my time is up, Have I done enough? Will they tell my story?…Who tells your story?”
First of all, “when my time is up, have I done enough?” OMG, the question every artist asks. And chances are good the answer will be no, because there is always something new to create. It’s both the blessing and the curse of being a creative.
As for the other half of the quote: I write biographical historical fiction and now biography because the idea of someone’s life being forgotten rips my guts out. That’s how strongly I feel about it. That’s why I choose the unknown/little-known characters. Everyone has done something worthy of being remembered and if someone doesn’t tell our story, it feels like we never lived. I want to save as many historical women from that fate as possible.
Will my story be worth telling someday? I certainly hope so. In the meantime, I’ll be over here “writing day and night like I need it to survive, not throwing away my shot” and eventually, winning a Pulitzer. Just you wait.
As many of likely know by now, I’m up to my eyeballs in research for my first biography, which is on suffragist Virginia Minor and her husband, Francis. (This is actually the second biography I’ve started researching, but the other one is on the back burner at the moment for various reasons.)
I never thought I would write a biography. (Just like I never thought I’d write fiction, write non-fiction, or blog, but that is another story.) I didn’t think I was qualified. Hint: As long as you are willing to put in the work, there are no qualifications; while many professional biographers are historians or journalists, those are not the only paths. All you really need is the ability to write and a passion for research. Beyond that, there seems to be no one right way to go about it.
If I have learned nothing else it is this: you must have a passion for your subject in order to write a biography about her/him/them. In the course of research, you will get to know these people inside-out, and backwards, and possibly even diagonally. You will chase down letters, diaries, wills, land deeds, birth/marriage/death certificates, follow their address changes through city directories, and read more newspaper articles than you ever thought possible. You’ll contact libraries and historical societies across the country (or maybe even internationally) and beg for information. You will also do a lot of speculating on motivations when the evidence doesn’t make them clear. In short, they will become like family. If you don’t have a deep love for them, chances are good you will either burn out before the project is completed or produce a sub-par product.
The research can be frustrating, especially when your subject didn’t leave behind personal affects like diaries, journals, or personal letters. Other times the historical record doesn’t match up or you can’t verify an un-cited claim in one of your sources. That’s where the “it is unknown” in the title of this blog post comes from. You’ll find yourself writing that phrase, or some variant, more often than you’d like. And sometimes you just have to delete a line of thought or a theory because you can’t back it up with facts — which really sucks if it’s something no one or not many people have reported before. And the footnotes, don’t even get me started! (I talked about the issues surrounding them a bit in my last post on plagiarism.)
But the joys far outweigh the frustrations, at least for me. I love going down a new path of research (Can I figure out why the Minors moved to Mississippi for a year? Why didn’t Francis fight in the Civil War? Does the fact Virginia only had one child indicate fertility issues or maybe marital strife?) because you never know what you will find. It’s kind of like being a private investigator. When you find the answer, it is a great rush. And when you uncover something no other book has touched upon, the feeling is like winning a gold medal. You feel like you are actually contributing something to the world.
I also love coming across really random facts…so random that I’m not sure they will make it into the final book. For example, I found a newspaper article that talks about an incident where Francis and a judge (Francis was a lawyer) got into an argument over the correct pronunciation of a word. Francis, being from Virginia, pronounced it differently from the judge, who was a native St. Louisian, apparently to much hilarity. (Why this made the paper I have no idea. Slow news day?)
You will also hold history in your hands. I’ve touched Civil War record books, traced Virginia and Francis’ handwriting with my fingertips and gazed upon documents no one has likely looked at in decades, if not for more than a century. (I’ve also gotten a crash course on genealogy, but the verdict is still out on whether that one is a joy or a frustration.)
One of the great joys is the community that you build when researching. Archivists, librarians, and historians are some of the nicest, most helpful people I have ever met. If you explain you aren’t from the area, most will gladly send you a photocopy or a scan of what they have, sometimes for a nominal fee. (There is only one place that basically told me I have to come to them and find the information myself. *sigh* There is one in every crowd.) I think the willingness to share information can be attributed to your shared passion for your subject and a desire to see that person/people recognized by the wider world.
I know sometimes we (I speak here as a reader) can be tempted to dismiss biography as a dry, staid, and boring genre. But I’m really coming to admire the work and dedication it takes to reconstruct or chronicle a person’s life. And I marvel at the commitment of the people who make it their career. (I don’t expect to have more than two biographies in me. But then again, I didn’t think I would even have one…) I don’t plan to give up my fiction and other non-fiction writing, but I can attest to it being a rewarding field.
One last note: I did a quick study of soon-to-be-published biographies on Amazon not long ago when I was looking for comparable and competing titles for my biography. What I found is the vast majority of them are about men by men. We women really need to start telling our stories and immortalizing the women who have come before us!
You may have heard that there are (at least) two major plagiarism scandals going around the publishing world lately. In case not, here’s a quick recap:
An “author” by the name of Cristiane Serruya has been accused of lifting whole pages of text from romance novels by bestselling authors Courtney Milan, Bella Andre, and several others and passing them off as her own fiction. She even went so far as to enter the books in the RITA awards, which are the Oscars of romance. When called on her actions, she blamed a ghostwriter she hired on Fiverr, who conveniently had already closed his/her account. However, she then deleted all of her social media and website. As of this writing, some of her books have been removed from sale, but others are still available. UPDATE – Nora Roberts has some new information on her blog.
Jill Abramson, former executive editor of the New York Times, has been accused of plagiarizing passages from her book Merchants of Truth: The Business of News and the Fight for Facts. She, however, is not denying it. She blames a mistake with the footnotes in a galley copy (an early review version of the book), which she has corrected in the final version.
To me, the most frightening of the two is clearly the second. I’ll get to why in a minute. The first one is stupidity, plain and simple. It’s not that hard to avoid plagiarizing fiction. (Hint: write your own stuff.) But let’s for a moment assume Ms. Serruya is innocent and the blame lies with the anonymous ghostwriter.
Who hires a ghost writer on Fivver? If you are going to do it (and I personally think it a stupid and expensive move, especially for someone whose name alone doesn’t have the power to sell books), there are plenty of reputable agencies out there who can put you in touch with ghostwriters. Or ask around the writing community. Many authors either have or currently do ghostwrite.
Even if she did, did she not quality-check the book? You would think, given that these are HUGE names in the romance industry, that she would have read at least a few of their books before “writing” her own and could recognize their style or turns of phrase. Or at least that her spidey sense would have told her something wasn’t right.
If you are innocent, a proper reaction would be to apologize, remove the offending works from sale, and publicly admit the error (on your website, social media, newsletter list, etc.) and tell people how you are going to fix it and/or avoid in the future. That is crisis communications 101. A public letter of apology to the defrauded authors along with remuneration would be nice as well. What you do not do is turn tail and run by deleting your online presence. Even if you are scared and trying to avoid trolls, all it does is make you look guilty.
No, just no. Write your own work, dammit!
But I highly doubt she is innocent. Her reactions, especially deleting her online presence, follow the pattern established by scammers long ago. Chances are good she will pop up under another name and do it all again. But she may not get away with it since one of the authors she victimized is Courtney Milan, a former lawyer who clerked for the Supreme Court. Because Ms. Serruya was an RWA member and entered the RITAs, they have payment information on file for her. Assuming she didn’t use a false identity there, this gives Ms. Milan the possibility of pursuing legal action. And I hope she does. Watch this space.
Non-fiction Holds Greater Risk The second example is my own personal nightmare as a non-fiction writer and a worry that plagues me pretty often. Obviously, when you write non-fiction, truth and attribution are everything. But did you know that even Big Five publishing houses don’t employ fact-checkers for their non-fiction books? That both floored and scared the living daylights out of me when I found out through this Vox article:
“So how do publishers generally handle it if factual errors creep into a book? Basically, the same way they handle plagiarism: They make it the author’s problem…So the facts are all up to the author. And different authors handle that liability differently. Some might want to hire a freelance fact-checker, but that can get expensive: Vulture cites flat prices of between $5,000 and $25,000.”
I have a terrible fear of accidentally plagiarizing someone else’s work. And it’s easier to accidentally do than you might think. According to the University of Arizona,
“There are basically three kinds of plagiarism:
(1) Using another person’s exact words without including quotation marks *and* citation. If you use someone else’s exact words, then you must cite the original source (either in a footnote or in a citation in the text), and you must enclose the words in quotation marks or else set them off from the rest of the text by indenting them from the other text.
(2) Using another person’s words, but changing some of them, or rearranging them. This is plagiarism even if the source is cited.
(3) Summarizing or paraphrasing another person’s words without citation. If you use what someone else has written, but you describe it or summarize it in your own words, then you don’t need to enclose it in quotation marks, but you still must provide a citation to the original source, either in a footnote or directly in the text.
Note that it’s not enough to simply include a reference to the original source in your bibliography; “citation” of the original source means citing it where it appears in the text.”
(Note that I attributed this quote in the text and also used quotation marks, so it is clear this is not my own thought. The italics were an extra step I took to the same end.)
I tend to over-footnote my non-fiction works as a preventive measure. When I research, I am very careful to put quote marks around my notes if they are word-for-word quotations so I know that when I go back to actually write the book. And even if I restate an idea in my own words, I still footnote the source because it wasn’t my original idea.
Yet, mistakes still happen. It is very difficult to keep perfect track of footnotes when you are revising and moving things around. Editing changes can make an Ibid. (the footnote way of saying “same source as in the previous footnote”) no longer valid. I’ve learned not to put in any Ibids until I’m sure I’m on the final version or at least to the point where I won’t be moving anything. That way, the source and page number will always stay with the sentence.
I have to say, I sympathize with Ms. Abramson’s statement that she didn’t cite some sources (either in the text or footnotes) because she “was trying to write a seamless narrative, and to keep breaking it up with ‘according to’ qualifiers would have been extremely clunky.” (Source: Vox) We all want to write a gripping story and footnotes can be distracting for the reader, but they are necessary. In thinking about my experience in reading more non-fiction books than I can count for my research, I rarely notice the footnotes unless I read something I want to know more about and then drop my gaze down to read them or turn to the back of the chapter/book if they are end notes (which I personally think are a PITA for both the author and the reader, but I digress). And in most cases “according to” or some variation thereof instills a sense of trust in the author and her research when I hear/read it.
I’m sure there are more ways plagiarism can occur (besides deliberately) but these are the things that spring to mind for me. You would think that Ms. Abramson would know better given she was one of the most powerful journalists in the country and teaches other journalists, but she is only human. (Assuming, of course, that she didn’t do it on purpose. If she did, I am ashamed of her and she should be punished.)
What are the takeaways for writers? 1) Don’t plagiarize on purpose. (Duh!) 2) Be very, very careful with your notes when researching. 3) Take your time with your writing and triple check it. 4) Check over your footnotes one more time when you’re done editing 5) Pray.
Yes, that title is a takeoff of the 1987 movie Adventures in Babysitting. I have totally just dated myself, but high five to anyone who has seen it.
Ahem. I’m currently working on several non-fiction book proposals (two books on women’s suffrage in the U.S. and a biography) and so I’ve been doing a lot of research. Today I thought I’d share some of the cooler experiences this has brought about.
One thing you need to know first is that one of my all-time favorite books is A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness. It takes place in the Bodleian Library in Oxford and the main character, Diana, is an academic researcher.
Over the holidays I had my first experience with archival research at Washington University in St. Louis and at the Missouri Historical Society library (also in St. Louis). At Wash U, I worked with a book cradle (which is just a foam thing that holds the book while you are reading) for the first time and weighted cords that keep the book open (I didn’t end up needing those). I felt like a real researcher, even though what I read wasn’t centuries old; it was just a dissertation from 1965.
But even cooler was my experience at the Missouri Historical Society Museum. There, I totally felt like Diana Bishop. I had to surrender all my personal belongings into a locker and I could only either type my notes or write in pencil. They wouldn’t let me take pictures of the documents, but I was able to get a few of the room:
There, I got to:
Hold in my hand record books from the Civil War, hand-written by the husband of the woman I’m writing about. It was so crazy to trace his actual handwriting with my fingers. He was a claims agent so the books listed every pension/pay claim by a solider’s widow or orphan that he processed. I only looked at one book out of seven (that was all I needed for my purposes), but I bet each book listed at least 1,000 names. It was also sobering to think of the scale of the loss. Being able to touch history like that really brings it to life.
Read the letter he wrote to the Historical Society bequeathing the books to them (Not a copy; the actual letter. It was tucked in the back of one of the books.)
Trace him and his wife as they moved around St. Louis over a 40-year period using old city directories (I guess they preceded phone books). I really felt like I was stalking them the old fashioned way, you know, before Google. It was also cool to see the city grow in size just by watching the directories get thicker each year.
BONUS: I also found the address for Victoria Woodhull’s second husband right around the time the two met. No records for Victoria, but that isn’t surprising since she was doing business under an assumed name anyway.
I’ll be going back to Wash U soon to finish the section of the dissertation I didn’t get to. Then in June I’ll be visiting the University of Virginia archives in Charlottesville to try to get a hold of their family papers for this couple. Who know what adventures that will bring?!!
I wish I could find the words for how cool it is to experience history in a whole new way with this type of original documentation. Awe and speechlessness are the only ones coming to mind. But it is more than that; there is an emotional component, a connection to the past that you feel in your heart. It’s totally different than seeing a picture/photocopy/scan or reading a book where the author describes the document. This may sound odd, but there is an element of humanity that lingers in those original documents, one you can feel.
If you ever get the chance to visit your local historical society, do it. Mine had really cool stuff like a whole series of books listing soldiers during the Civil War and others just on marriages in Virginia or New York (or another state. I think they had those for most states). I would imagine you could really slay genealogical research at a place like that. And they had two types of card catalogs, the one like we had when I was little and then a bigger one that didn’t list books, but rather was almost like researcher’s notes; snippets of information. Kind of like hyperlinks on the web, but physical.
I love having the ability to view documents online (like census records and old newspapers) because that is great when you can’t view them in person. But when you can it’s an experience like no other. I think if more people were given the opportunity to touch a piece of history (especially as kids), they would have more appreciation for it and for those who lived before us.
So what does this mean, exactly? It means that the company I sold it to, Fortitude International, can now shop my book around Hollywood to directors, screenwriters, producers, actors, etc. There is no guarantee that it will ever be made into a TV show or film – far more books get optioned than get made – but give how relevant Victoria’s story is to what is going on in the news, I can’t imagine that it will be long before we hear something more.
Madame Presidentessis historical fiction, but it tells the story of the real-life first woman to run for president in the United States (in 1872), Victoria Woodhull. She was also the first woman to run a stock brokerage on Wall Street, the first woman to testify before Congress on woman’s suffrage, and one of the first to run a weekly newspaper. All this despite growing up dirt-poor, having very little formal education, and dealing with the interference of her low-class, huckster relatives. Victoria was no saint, but she was one fierce woman – she would still be controversial today!
I bet you are wondering how this came about, especially for an indie author who has never been traditionally published and doesn’t have an agent. Well, I saw in Publisher’s Weekly a few months ago that a new company called TaleFlick had just opened and was promising to connect authors with production companies. One of the founders used to be with Apple and Netflix, so I knew it was legit. A few days later, one of their sales reps contacted me and I was able to ask questions. Then I uploaded my books. Everything else took place behind the scenes without my knowledge. Last Wednesday I got an email saying a company was interested. The next night I talked to a Taleflick rep and by Saturday I had the contract. I signed it on Monday and it was announced on Tuesday. It really was a whirlwind!
Now we wait, visualize big things and pray!
P.S. – If you’re an author and are interested in TaleFlick, use this link and it will count as a referral from me: http://taleflick.refr.cc/nicolee. You’ll get $8 off your first submission.
So, a Christmas anthology that I’m part of, Tangled Lights and Silent Nights, was just published this past Sunday. I’m really excited because I’ve wanted to be part of an anthology since I was a teenager and read Return to Avalon, an Arthurian anthology. It always felt like it would be such an honor to be asked to write alongside others in your field, and it is! I don’t normally write short, but I challenged myself and managed it – hopefully well. You can be the judge.
There are several cool aspects to this anthology:
All of the stories tie into previously published books by the authors. So, for example, mine is about Victoria Woodhull and crew, who are featured in Madame Presidentess.
It is multi-genre, so there should be something in there for everyone. We have women’s fiction, crime thriller, fantasy (epic, urban and contemporary), historical, romance (contemporary and dark), mystery (cozy and general), humor and LGBT stories.
All proceeds benefit Life After, a charity dedicated to educating about and helping those who suffer from suicide, substance abuse, and domestic violence.
My Story: A Vanderbilt Christmas In 1872, Victoria Woodhull made history by becoming the first woman to run for president of the United States. But four years earlier she was still struggling to overcome her shameful past and establish herself in New York’s high society. She has finally secured an entre into that glittering world by way of an invitation to Christmas Eve dinner at the home of railroad and shipping magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt. But when her uncouth family crashes the party and threatens to send her social status spiraling, it will take a Christmas miracle to recover her reputation and keep her dreams on track.
My story is a tie-in to my biographical historical fiction novel Madame Presidentess. Victoria Woodhull may seem like an odd choice for a Christmas story, and I agree. Actually, she wasn’t my first choice. I had two drafts of stories involving Guinevere from my Guinevere’s Tale Trilogy Arthurian legend novels. But given our strict word limit, I was having problems explaining the Celtic winter solstice rituals and telling my story in the allotted space. Anything winter solstice or even early Christian Christmas is so different from what we know today that I didn’t want to risk not doing the stories justice. (For example, in fifth century Christianity, there was no Advent season yet and the Christmas celebration actually included three different Masses, each with their own symbolism and meaning.)
Then I remembered that one of the scenes I deleted from Madame Presidentess took place at Christmas. (It involved Cornelius Vanderbilt asking Victoria’s sister, Tennie, to marry him, which really did happen. She had to say no because she was already married to a gambler who abandoned her. Seriously, history is stranger than fiction.) This was a much better choice because the Victorian period is when some of our most beloved Christmas traditions became popular: Queen Victoria made Christmas trees a widespread thing, Christmas cards began being sent in the mail, and Charles Dickens published A Christmas Carol.
As it turned out, the story I submitted was totally different from the scene I started with, but it got me on the right track. And I had a lot of fun researching what was served at Victorian Christmas dinners, what people wore and what the decor would have looked like. If you want a sneak peek into my brain, check out my Pinterest board on the story. (That hideous plaid dress is what Victoria’s mom wore to the party.)
I ended up placing the story right when Victoria and Tennie were starting to become comfortable in their life working with Cornelius Vanderbilt. Victoria is ambitious as always and she sees her coveted invitation to Christmas Eve dinner at Mr. Vanderbilt’s mansion as a way for her to get a foot in the door with the New York elite, whom she longs to be a part of. But as happened so many times during her life, Victoria’s low-class family comes along and nearly ruins it by inviting themselves to the dinner. You’ll have to read the story to find out how, but it involves a brawl, a fire and some stolen Christmas gifts…
As usual, when Victoria’s family is around, trouble is sure to follow.
Order your copy today! But hurry, the paperback price goes up next week! Remember, all proceeds go to charity.
The day after my latest novel published, I awoke to two emails that put me in a bad mood for a while. They weren’t negative reviews, but rather readers asking me to either give them my book for free or at an internationally adjusted price that would have caused me to lose money. One of them was even asking for my trilogy compendium for free – so three books for nothing. While this may have been done out of ignorance, it is still not right.
When did expecting something for nothing become permissible? I wanted to write back and ask if they would walk into a museum, take a painting off the wall, and walk out with it. Because that is exactly what they are asking to do with my book. The book that took me over two years of hard work to write, or in the case of the trilogy, 19 years. Apparently my time, blood, sweat and tears are not valuable – at least to them.
And this doesn’t even take into consideration pirate websites. Every day I see my books show up on new sites that I didn’t authorize. There are tools like Blasty that can help – and I have tried it – but even it is of limited use, especially if you don’t want to pay for the premium version (which is yet another cost for an author shoulder) and/or don’t have the time to monitor/blast the sites. Perhaps if I wrote full-time or had an assistant it would be a reasonable way to fight piracy. But for now, all I can do is ignore it. I’m trying to take the Neil Gaiman approach and think of it as free advertising because people looking for a free book wouldn’t have paid for it even if these sites weren’t there. I don’t really have another choice.
I’m an indie author. Most months that I don’t have a new release or do any marketing (which costs money), I’m lucky to make three figures. Even on my best months, I’ve never made more than mid-three figures. Overall, what I make from my writing is about 5% of my annual income. (Thank God for my day job, as much as I complain about it and wish I didn’t need it.) I can’t afford to give my art away for free.
There are times that I do giveaways, but I don’t do them out of the goodness of my heart. They are strategic. I give free copies to my Street Team to help get reviews, which drive sales. (Which I may stop doing depending on how that strategy pans out, even if it is considered a best practice in the industry.) Occasionally, I do contests to bring in readers or increase my mailing list. Sometimes I put the books on sale for $0.99, but that is done to help entice people to read them.
If I am to continue writing, I can’t afford to give away my book for free just because people don’t want to pay for it. It costs me hundreds of dollars to produce a book, sometimes over a thousand, depending on the marketing I do, or several thousand if an audio book is involved. Because I don’t have a traditional house marketing me, it is hard to find an audience. As a result, I have never turned a profit on any of my books.
Mind you, I’m not complaining. I knew what I signed up for when I became an indie author. But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be paid fairly for my work. You wouldn’t go into a clothing shop and walk out with an item without paying or go to dinner at a restaurant and leave without paying the check. (Okay, maybe some people would, but they are another story.) Why? Because there are prices attached, just like there are on books. That is because there are people (designers, tailors, chefs, wait staff, etc.) behind the products you buy or food that you consume who need to be paid for the work they put into what you purchase or eat.
The same thing goes for books. They don’t appear by magic. There is an author who writes them, and a team of editors, proofreaders, cover designers, layout people, etc. who help make it ready for production. As an indie author, I not only foot the production costs, but I pay for their services. I don’t have a publisher to do that for me. I have to make that money back before I can even think about making money on a book. And given how cheap we have to sell them in order to compete nowadays, that is not easy.
I am not by far the first person to have this happen or even to speak about it. But we have to do something about it. I wish I knew what. How do you teach people the value of art when corporations (including Amazon and the publishing industry) are constantly devaluing it by either pricing books ridiculously low or paying the author a pittance – and last? Add to that how much (at least in the US) things like sports are valued over arts and the constant government cuts to arts funding, and I wonder if we have a prayer.
All I’m saying is please, at least try to see our books for what they are – art, not a mass-produced product to be devalued. I know money can be tight, but please don’t ask for our work for free or download it from a piracy site. If you can’t afford to buy a book, borrow it from a friend or from the library. If they don’t have it, ask them to purchase it – most are pretty open to reader’s suggestions. Author’s don’t care how you come to our books, as long as the means is legal.
Oh, and if you want to help an author, the other thing you can do is leave reviews – especially on Amazon (even if you didn’t purchase the book there – and Goodreads. Even short reviews are more precious than gold these days.