Writer in Residence

Why I Don’t Want You to Buy My Book (From Me)

By Liz Worth

“I want to buy your book, but I want to do in a way where you’ll get the most money. Should I buy it from you?”

I love this question. It’s one of I’ve had several times over the years from well-meaning friends and acquaintances.

I love it because it shows that people actually want to see others succeed and do well and be rewarded for their work. And it shows that people care about where their money and the impact that it has.

So of course, they’re usually surprised when I tell them I would prefer that they buy it from a store or online instead of from me.

No, I might not ever see the money from that sale. If a writer takes an advance on their book (which most do), even if it’s only a few hundred dollars, the publisher doesn’t pay royalties until they’ve made that advance money back. And not all books make that money back.

But it can help if people buy those books from stores or online, because that at least shows that there’s demand for that title. If you buy it in a store, it shows that store that there’s value in stocking an author’s work.

Otherwise, if we let books sit on the shelves, well, they don’t sell, and they won’t be allowed to live there forever. It could also affect how many books by that author get ordered back to certain retailers in the future.

Buying online is good, too, whether it’s from Amazon or directly from a publisher’s website – really, that has an audience.

When you buy books directly from me, there’s no record of a sales transaction. I could buy (and yes, I have to buy them) 50 copies of my book from my publisher, but they have no idea what happens to them. I could be giving them away for free to friends or stashing them in my closet or mailing them out for promotional purposes.

And a sale of 50 books directly to the author doesn’t count in the same way that 50 individual sales to readers does. It sends a very different message.

I do keep a shallow inventory of books on hand, and I do sell the odd copy through my website, but mostly the books I keep here are for book fairs and other events. This is pretty much the one time I really want people to buy my books from me, because I’ve invested the time in being there and it gives me a chance to meet readers in person.

But the money I make from selling books directly is minimal. A standard discount for authors to buy their own books is 40% off the retail price.

So a twenty-dollar book will still cost me twelve bucks just to keep on hand, and by the time I’ve gone through a box of them I’ve eaten the cost of that inventory and it can take at least a year to empty out that inventory sometimes.

My chapbooks, which I print myself, cost three dollars to make but I only sell them for five. It took five years for me to sell out of my last print run.

So yes, you can buy a book directly from me. Honestly, I’m happy if people are buying my books, period. But making a purchase is so much more than who gets how much money from it.

When you buy a book from a business, you’re showing them a willingness to spend your money on a certain title or a certain author, and you’re also showing them that the stock they carry is relevant and important to their customers.

And as an author, I want my publishers to see that they’ve made a good investment in my work, and I want them to be able to continue to bring books into the world because they’re seeing a return on their investments through all of the titles they publish.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.

Liz Worth is a Toronto-based author. Her first book, Treat Me Like Dirt: An Oral History of Punk in Toronto and Beyond, was the first to give an in-depth account of Toronto’s early punk scene. She has also released a poetry collection called Amphetamine Heart and a novel called PostApoc. You can reach her at http://www.lizworth.com, on Facebook or Twitter.