February 12th, 2012

Buying Books–One Way to Support Authors

Occasionally folks say to me that they want to buy my book(s) to support me and ask what’s the best way to do that. It’s an interesting question–I never thought about it before I had a book of my own in the world. Of course, buying a book by *any* method is a lovely thing to do, but certainly not the only way to support an author. After the standard, “Of course you don’t *have* to buy my book, and if you are so kind as to want to, I’m not choosy as to method” disclaimer, here’s what I’ve come up with–I’ll be curious to know if other authors and book people have more/different thoughts.

Buy books directly from the author: Works for me! I mean, if I’m around, and I happen to have books on me, and you have cash–unlike a store, I can’t process plastic. Authors get books at a discount, so yes, we do make a little extra money on books we sell our own personal selves. But unless it’s a stated book-selling opportunity–like a reading–or you are actually in my house, this probably doesn’t actually work all that well as an exclusive book-buying policy–lots of won’t have books to sell unless you warn us in advance. But if you do–happy to help!

Buy books directly from the publisher: This is another good-but-occasionally-tricky idea. Not all publishers are set up for direct sales to individuals–check the website before you drop that cheque in the mail. But many are, and direct sales are great for them–the publisher gets to keep a larger percentage than from bookstore sales. There is no direct financial benefit to author from this sort of sale–we get the same royalty as normal–but most of us feel that’s what’s good for our publishers is good for us. And lots of eager customers clamouring to buy books from the publisher are a reminder of what a valuable little author they have in their hands. Some publishers will handle booksales at literary events in their general geographical area, but obviously this is limited by, well, geography.

Buy books from online retailers: Hey, you want to buy a book, I want you to do that–any way you feel comfortable with. But when I have options, online bookstores ones aren’t my favourites. Bookseller websites don’t handsell to other customers based on what they saw you buy; their algorithms just suggest further books that *you* might like. You can write reviews on these sites too, which is always a good way to support something you like. Each sale on certain sites makes your “ranking” on that site go up, but I think those rankings are only for author-ego purposes; I have never heard anyone say they bought a book because it was #10450 sales ranking on a given site. The financial aspects: publishers and in some cases writers (depends on the contract) take a smaller perecentage home from sales through the largest internet retailers than through other sales venues. Not that I want to dissaude anyone…just FYI.

Borrow it from the library: Another cocktail-party comment I get semi-occasionally is, “You must hate libraries–all those people reading your book for free.” Which is a crazy thing to say to someone who loves books and wants as many people to read them as possible, which is a description of many authors, and probably all of us who are playing the low-returns sweepstakes of literary writing. Libraries pay for the copies they buy, they talk up and promote books to readers, they host events, and they also support us through the Public Lending Right of Canada payments. Trust me, there aren’t many authors who don’t want you to use the library.

Buy books in bookstores, big or small: Books purchased from bookstores give authors a standard royalty, and sometimes publishers too, though some of the bigger stores charge extra fees for placement. However, bookstores sales can generate more bookstores sales in a way other sales can’t. If a book sells out in a given store quickly, they might make a larger order next time. With a larger pile of books, they might make it into a display or at least be more eye-catching on the shelf. The biggest thing, though, anyone in the book business will tell you, is handsales–booksellers talking about books with customers, make a real connection, and putting a book they think the customer will love into said customer’s hands.

Handselling happens more in small independent bookstores–where staff are likely to be true book people, or even just to be truly listening to what customers have to say. But I worked in a “big chain” store for a while, and I was always listening for customer opinions, if only because I couldn’t read every book myself. If a couple people bought the same book and said enthusiastic things about it, I definitely repeated that to other customers–and the guy who put in the orders.

I think reading a book–buying it, renting it, borrowing it–is always an act of support for an author, and I really don’t want to tell you how. But for those who insist they want to do something extra, walking into a store, asking for the book by name (even if you are pretty sure you know where to find it), and maybe even remarking to the salesperson how much you are looking forward to it–well, I think that’d be pretty amazing support.

I wonder what others think?

2 Responses to “Buying Books–One Way to Support Authors”

  • Laura says:

    I had no idea about the Public Lending Right stuff — where have I been???

    I love it when people give my book as a gift. I think it’s a real compliment, and the best kind of handsale. Plus, it is a total win for the gift-givers, especially if they get me to sign the book: a personalized present for about 20 bucks? How can you go wrong?

    Hey…anyone out there struggling to think of a last-minute Valentine’s Day gift? ;)

    I also think it’s great when people lobby their libraries to carry the book.

  • Rebecca says:

    Laura, PLR is awesome–a cheque in the mail every February, lovely. Sign up and enjoy! And yay indeed for gifted books!

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So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum

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