Indie writers like myself have a huge problem. That problem is obscurity.
We combat it via promotion. But there's only so much promotion one can do without coming across as bossy, spammy, or just plain desperate. Also, whenever a message is received from a person with a financial interest in the success of that message, then there are going to be skeptics. I don't blame them. No matter how great I may tell readers my books are, it means a lot more coming from an independent third party.
Independent third parties being, of course, readers.
Below are some ways readers can help all authors out, but especially indie authors. These methods are not entirely selfish as I think the reader/author relationship is a symbiotic one. By helping your favorite author and contributing to his or her success, you're increasing the possibility that he or she will continue writing the kind of books you enjoy. While making a living from writing isn't feasible for most of us, it helps a lot just knowing someone is out there reading our stuff.
Another point about indie authors: We satisfy a price niche the traditional publishers hereto have been reluctant to enter into. Readers will continue to pay $9.99 or more for traditional authors they know, but I think they're far more likely to try out someone new at the $2.99 price point than they are at some of the ridiculous prices the traditional publishers charge for eBooks (I make that comment as a reader myself). Also, for prolific readers, lower price points are much easier on the wallet. It's to readers' benefit that they support indie writers, especially those they like.
How Readers Can Help
1. Buy the book
Pretty simple, right? Buying the book puts a little money in the author's pocket and also helps move the title up in the retailer's rankings. Enough purchases will push the book up into the Top 100 lists, increase general exposure on the retailer's site, and, for Amazon, get the book into the "Customers Also Bought" lists.
2. Leave a review where you bought the book
Again, kind of a no-brainer. Reviews help fellow readers find great, new reads while also letting the author know he or she is doing something right or wrong. As long as they are genuine, they help no matter what.
3. Leave a review not only where you bought it but other places as well
This is one where some readers truly don't realize the impact. I've had reviewers tell me, "Oh, I forgot all about Smashwords", for example, where a review at Smashwords really helps move a title up because there are far fewer reviews out there than somewhere like Amazon.
If you bought a book at Amazon, by all means leave a review there. But why not also leave it at Smashwords, Goodreads, and maybe even Barnes & Noble? I have links to all of the retailers that carry my titles on my novels page, so it's easy to find the listings.
Last, why not post the review to your blog or web site?
4. "Like" the book at your favorite retailer
Retailers like Amazon have a "Like" button next to the title. Click it. I don't know how much it helps, but it makes an author feel good to know that someone made that little bit of extra effort to show their appreciation.
5. Spread the word on social media
Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, maybe even Google+ (if anyone is using it). These are great places to give a shout-out to an author while letting your friends and followers know about their work.
Mention the book in one of Goodreads' forums, add it to a shelf, or nominate it for a poll. All good ways to help increase exposure.
7. Goodreads updates
As you're reading a book, give periodic updates that are more than just the page count. If you find a scene particular moving or interesting in some way, say so. These updates show up in your friends' streams and might intrigue them enough to add the book to their own 'to read' list.
8. Highlight your favorite quote or passage on your eReader
This highlights eventually appear inside the book or on the retailer's web site once enough people make the same selection. This is just another way to increase the surface area of exposure for an author.
9. If possible, "up" vote helpful reviews
This pushes the 'best' reviews to the top and, in theory, puts the least useful to the bottom.
10. Contact the author and tell him or her what you liked or didn't
This can be via their web site or somewhere like Goodreads. I like getting feedback from people, especially if it's via a personal email or message.
Hopefully as a reader you're already doing some of these things. Bottom line is that by helping an author whose work you like, you're helping to ensure that author can continue to produce content. This is especially helpful for indie writers like myself because we tend to reciprocate by selling our books for much cheaper prices than those of the traditional guys.
If you are already doing some of these things as I know of you are, then thank you. if you aren't, please keep some of these ideas in mind the next time you finish reading something you like.