I have a confession.
I have about 45 books stacked on the table near my bath tub. And forty or fifty more under the sink. I have hundreds on shelves, stacked in book cases, lurking in boxes waiting for me to put up more shelving. I have cookbooks in the kitchen, classics in my living room, chick lit in my beach bag and on my bedside table.
Because I am a columnist, dozens more arrive from publishers and publicists every day. And once a year I go to BookExpo with an empty suitcase, and return with $80 in overweight luggage charges. I love books, I hoard them, I read my favorites over and over.
I used to feel guilty that I received so many books for free, but over time, I’ve realized that writing about these books, or talking them up on television helps the authors to sell more books. And mostly, I buy books. Lots of books.
Last year, in an effort to clear a little space in my office, I donated some books. To charity. I have friends who sell their unwanted books back to used book stores, but I just can’t bear the idea of depriving some author of $1.27 in royalties. Those quarters add up. And frankly, there are too many authors who aren’t making a living from their books.
Last year, while flying home from Book Expo, I stopped in an airport bookstore. As I purchased my book, Freakonomics, the clerk cheerfully informed me that I could turn the book in at my destination airport and get half my money back.
“What?” I asked.
“We’ll buy the book back,” she said.
Surprised, I asked, “What do you do with it?”
“We sell them for a 25% discount,” she informed me, waving her hand towards a low shelf filled with discounted bestsellers.
I was mortified. Airports sell huge numbers of books, and frankly, La Guardia is the last place most of us would go shopping for a bargain. If someone can pay $329 for an airline ticket, they can probably shell out $20 for a book. And if they can’t, they’ve likely already brought something with them from the library.
These “used” sales are canabalizing regular book sales.
“I’ll pass,” I said. “The author won’t get any royalties if you sell the book used.”
“Oh,” she said, “don’t you worry about that. All those authors are rich.”
There are some people who say used book stores give readers a chance to become fans of an author when they might not pay full price on someone they’re unfamilar with. My thought is, if an author can’t earn out his or her advance because half or even a quarter of his/her readers are buying the book used, there may not be a second book.
Radio stations pay a licence fee every time a song is played. Why is an author’s work treated differently?
14 Replies to “Confessions of a Book Tramp by Deb Lisa”
We’re the Rodney Dangerfields of the professional world, aren’t we? Great observations, Lisa.
I, like you, have books reproducing before my very eyes all over my house. Most of which I really want to read but can’t find the time to get to. All of those writers conferences with freebies galore–geeze! Who’d have known such a deal could turn into a burden.
Lots of times I’ve thought about packaging them off for Goodwill. But then I’ve thought, hmmm…a big box full of books on ebay. But that would cannablize sales for an author and that is the LAST thing I want to do. The library? Might do that, though they usually just put them in their sale bin. My only option appears to be I must figure out how to read while asleep!
Love this Lisa! I hoard books, too. They’re everywhere!! I’m impressed that you only have cookbooks in the kitchen… I have Mrs. Dalloway squeezed between Cooking Moroccan and The Barefoot Contessa. I also appreciate you clarifying the used book issue and its impact on writers. Thank you for another great post!!
Okay, I may have a FEWWWWW works of fiction stacking up in the kitchen, like Deb Mia’s GOOD THINGS — but hey, it’s about food! Thanks for the comments, ladies. 🙂 You girls are up early!
I just received my daily digest this morning from the chick lit group, and it appears they are chatting about a similar topic — reviewers selling ARCs on Ebay.
My first Elmore Leonard book arrived twenty years ago as a hand-me-down from a friend. But once I read the man, I’ve been buying his books ever since–lately all in hardcover because I can’t wait for the paper. Fans make a writer succesful, in my opinion, not royalties on the first few books. People who think they’re going to get rich writing novels are almost always sadly mistaken. They remind me of the poor souls buying lottery tickets. Sure, somebody has to win, but it won’t be them.
It’s so great that you’ve been a fan of Leonard all of these years, and you’re right, fans do make a writer’s career. And frankly, those fans are who we all write for.
I’m not opposed to giving books to friends, or borrowing books from friends, or even hijacking them from your mom’s guest room as I have done on occasion. I’m just opposed to retail stores selling books used because they can make a bigger profit, and cutting the authors out of the process.
I do think most writers want to be read more than anything else. But they also like to eat.
I am actually fortunate enough to make a decent living from my writing, but I know a lot of authors, really talented authors, (whose books are considered successful) who can’t.
As for getting rich writing novels: There is an old publishing joke — How do you make a pile of money on publishing? Start with a bigger pile of money.
Great comments, Jack. Thanks.
I hoard books too and ever since I became more aware of how little most authors will actually make from the typical book release — especially of a debut novel, I’ve made an attempt to always try to buy new hardcovers and new books — I’ll buy them used if the book has been around a long time and the author is a household name who’s been around forever (or is dead) and has more money than God. I don’t get rid of books very often, but when I do need to purge them, I guess I don’t feel too guilty giving them away even if they do end up being resold. I think no matter what it takes to get a reader to pick up a book, it’s better than if they never do. That kid that picks up a used book at a garage sale and falls in love with it may be the same kid that heads to the bookstore to find more works by the same author.
If it’s necessary to have one vice — and we all do –, is there anything better?
I also hoard books, Lisa! Thanks for a great post and for pointing out the royalty issues.
Wow, this is happening in airports too!?
I have a friend who actually admitted to an author that he bought her book used. And he didn’t mean it cruelly; he liked her! I still can’t believe he ‘fessed up–what she must have been thinking!!!
Thanks for your great comments, everybody.
Larramie — you’re right, I can’t imagine a better one.
Jess — I think most readers don’t have any idea about the whole used book issue. I can’t count the number of times someone has come up to me at an event or a book signing and said, “I really loved your book, and my 4 sisters all borrowed it, and they loved it too.”
And sure, it would be fabulous if they bought 57 books for their closest friends and family, but the fact that they loved your work enough to share it with someone else it means more than just about anything.
The only thing you can say (or feel) about someone who shows us to your events and tells you how much they like your work is, “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
Sluts, tramps and publishing pimps.
All authors are rich? Yea right, and all the thin women in Hollywood just have high metabolisms.
You are exactly right Lisa, but you are not a book slut. Sluts give it away for free.
You are a book addict (because you collect) and your are also a book hussy because you do sell your books, although since the pleasure you give readers far outweights the payment you receive, you’re a cheap book hussy, albeit a very good one.
It’s frustrating that most people don’t understand that an author’s books are the only way to generare income we have (Well, actually you can do public speaking, but people think you should give that away too.)
It’s kind of weird, people think they shouldn’t pay much for just words, but somehow all authors are rich.
As an author myself, I love those people who come up to you at a book signing and proudly tell you, “I’m going to read this book and then I’m going to loan it to every member of my family and every woman on my block so they can read it too!”
When I’m in a nice mood I’m flattered because I realize that they are truly excited about my work and want to share it.
However when I’m in a pissy mood, I want to say, “Oh goody because you know I’m trying to work my way into heaven and everytime somebody reads my book, God puts gives me two more points towards my total life score.”
Hello? the author makes less than a buck a book and when 15 people share one book it means the author makes about 6 cents a read. Translated to 100,000 readers (a dream for most authors) and you’re making about 6 grand for a year’s work.
And people wonder why so many authors are drunks.
I don’t want to start a brawl here, but I do want to point out that even though I can afford to lay out $26.95 for a new, hardcover release today and I am aware that the authors need to be supported, that wasn’t always the case. There are an awful lot of readers in this country who don’t have the means to buy a lot of new books. When I was a kid, I couldn’t afford to go to the movies, but I lived in the library and developed a lifelong love of reading because I could access all of those wonderful words for free. Please don’t discount or denigrate the many people who find escape and solace through the words of others, but who may not have the means to buy new books.
Lisa M. & Lisa K. — Thank you so much for your comments, both illustrate some really great points.
I think most authors want books in readers hands in any way possible. (The best possible way, of course, being full price for a hardcover at a NYT reporting bookstore.)
It’s a bit of a conundrum, isn’t it? We want readers to have access to books in any way possible, whether they beg, borrow or buy them right off the end cap at the local book store. And we don’t want retailers to cut us out just because they can up their profits on the second sale. (The one that doesn’t include us.)
Thanks so much for the great comments, all.
Oh, this is such a tough issue. I’m guilty for not buying books – if I’m remotely tentative about an author, I’ll check them out at the library first. I consider it an honor to write and get paid for it, but I also think it’s hard to insist that others spend their hard-earned money to read your work, or vice versa. And in my quest for the simple life, we honestly don’t buy a lot of anything these days.
In the end I still spent almost $500-600 a year on books (as gifts or gift certificates), and I think that’s a lot. I also buy books I use as part of my research for a story I’m working on. I also buy a published copy of ARCs that are sent to me, and I like to buy books written by people I know (who are nice to me — there are definitely some authors I’ve come into contact with that make it really hard to want to buy their book, no matter how brilliant it is). Of course I will be all over your book – that goes without saying. 😉
I have a hard time telling people to spend money on books. With all things, I think you should really want to buy the book. When I was younger (with more money and less of the simple life thing going on), I would easily spent a couple thousand dollars (no joke) on books – browsing and reading and the whole bookstore thing was huge for me, and I used to pine for a “library” of my own. Moving four times and reconstructing/refinancing my “libraries” finally came to an end when we moved here.
Sorry to come to the conversation late, but it was enlightening!
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