Save A Writer, Buy a New Book!

Note from Pari Noskin Taichert
I first saw this thought-provoking article on the Novelists Inc. listserv. The author, Susan Gable, gave everyone on that list permission to reprint the piece as needed. I believe the issue of used bookstores — their merit and economic impact — is something that authors and readers will increasingly debate. I look forward to the discussion we’ll have here.

by Susan Gable

The recent demise of yet another Harlequin line, this time the kick-butt heroine line Bombshell, got me to thinking, which, as anyone who knows me will tell you is always a dangerous thing. I heard from a number of readers who were surprised by the closing, because they had friends who just "loved that line!"

I’ve also heard things like this: "I can’t believe they closed that line. I loved that line. I read those books every month at my library."

Before I go any farther with this discussion, I have to offer up a disclaimer. I love libraries. Especially as a child with a voracious appetite for story, I borrowed armloads of books from my local library. I love bargains, too. I shop like men hunt or play sports. It’s a victory when I score a bargain. (New black cocktail dress, originally $79, marked down to only $16. SCORE!) Used books are great bargains. Swapping books, another great bargain. The new websites on-line, where you can "rent" a book, in a system similar to NetFlix, are also an interesting bargain. Good grief, even the airports these days have a program where you can buy a book, read it, then sell it back to them. What a bargain!

But did you realize that those bargains could be putting your favorite line or your favorite author out of business?

It’s a difficult, touchy subject for authors to discuss. We don’t want to appear anti-used books (’cause we’re not — not entirely, anyway), or make readers think we’re money-grubbers, always harping on them to buy our books. We all know (believe me, we KNOW — most writers don’t make anywhere close to as much money as people think we do) how tight money can be sometimes, especially with the rising costs of gas and heating fuel, and food, and taxes, and, well, you know. Everything.

We’ve been known ourselves to sometimes borrow and trade books, or buy used. Or go to the library.

But publishing these days is a strictly-by-the-numbers business, which means if the numbers don’t live up to the publisher’s expectations, a writer can kiss her slot/line/future contracts good-bye.

"Where’s SoAndSo’s latest book? How come she hasn’t published another story in that series that I love so much?" If you find yourself asking that question, it could be that your favorite, SoAndSo, got cut loose because the numbers of that last book in the series didn’t do as well as the one before that. How did you get your hands on that last book? Did you buy it new, contributing to the continuation of the series, or did you bargain read it? Bargain reads don’t count towards our numbers.

Writers, especially those of us at the "lower echelons" of the publishing world, need our readers more than ever. Without you, there would be no point in what we do. (Well, okay, there’s a certain satisfaction in telling yourself a story, but it’s the audience that makes it truly special. It’s a shared dream.) But now, because of numbers, we need your support even more.

Our careers, our lines, even our publishers, live and die by the numbers.

So please, where and when you can, save a writer. Buy a new book. We’ll all thank you for it. And that way, you’ll have more choices of books in the future.

Susan Gable thanks her fans for buying her books. Her latest book, THE PREGNANCY TEST, sold well, thanks to them. It was also awarded the National Readers’ Choice Award for Best Long Contemporary.

18 thoughts on “Save A Writer, Buy a New Book!

  1. B.G. Ritts

    Oh, the tangled web. I always buy new books of my favorite authors, normally as soon as they’re published. If it’s a hardback, I don’t wait for the paperback to come out. But when I discover a new (to me) author, I will normally buy the backlist in paperback – some new and some used. I’m not particularly enamored of mass-market paperbacks, though. They are hard to hold, have fonts that are much too small, and the ink frequently smudges and comes off on my fingers.

    I rarely visit used bookstores, but do find the Amazon sellers (often the same books listed on Abebooks and Alibris sites) to be very convenient. If Amazon’s new paperback price is within $2.00-3.00 of what a decent used one can be purchased for, I’ll buy the new one.

    If I really like this ‘new’ author, I’ll look for signed firsts of the backlist to keep. I will buy from a bookstore (almost always online as the closest decent bricks-n-mortar to me is over 20 mi. away) if possible, but if not, I’ll get one ‘used’. I’ve acquired books through Amazon sellers (some of whom are bookstores), Abebooks, Alibris, Powell’s, eBay, a few generic lists found online and probably several places I don’t recall.

    I consider books necessities, but unfortunately, for many people, the luxury of purchasing new books takes a back seat to the ‘real’ necessities of food, clothing, shelter and transportation.

  2. Ron Estrada

    This has been a quandry for me. I love my library like a second home (especially since it’s brand new and has a huge fireplace). I can’t afford to buy every book I read, but I try to purchase a couple a month, knowing that soon I’ll rely on the generosity of my readers as well. My apoligies to those of you who’ve received absolutely no help from me in paying the rent.

  3. Naomi

    No apologies necessary.

    I don’t believe in the merit of these type of arguments. Libraries and used bookstores introduce readers to our books. Readers will hopefully like what they read and next time they may buy the next book new.

    One of my girlfriends buys a bunch of my books used from the Internet and gives them away to her coworkers. Since she works at a TV news station, this is great PR.

    People buy things that they feel will give value to their lives. It’s up to the writers to create that value.

    Nobody owes us a writing career. With inflation on the rise, it’s even more necessary for writers to produce the best books possible–the most entertaining, the most educational, the most thought-provoking, the steamiest, the funniest, the spookiest, etc.

  4. Elaine

    Thanks, Pari – for sharing Susan Gable’s post. Naomi’s comment ‘Nobody owes us a writing career’ – is also well put.

    But the reality for all of us is – the numbers game. Most readers (and new writers) don’t seem to realize that we (writers) are like mud thrown up on a publisher’s wall..what sticks…stays. And that means ‘new book’ sales.

  5. Beatrice Brooks

    I have no problem with libraries and, in fact, beg people to request my book[s] at their local library. LIBRARIES BUY BOOKS. [Anyone reading this comment is free to call your library immediately, if not sooner, and request Chain a Lamb Chop to the Bed by Denise Dietz – please.]

    The UBS (Used Book Store) debate has been going on since before I was published, and to be honest, I have no problem with that either. Someone had to buy the book before it became “used” and, yes, okay, my used books might find new readers who will buy them new. [I DO have a problem with Amazon putting “used books” on sale before the new book comes out, but that’s another blog.]

    The popularity of book swaps…well. all I can say is that I recently received a fan email. A very nice woman gushed over Footprints in the Butter, told me she was trying to find my backlist (used) and that she had already sent Footprints to a member of her book swap so that “other people could discover me.”

    If enough book-swap readers “discover me,” I’ll be out of business.

    Hugs,Deni Dietz

  6. Carstairs38

    I am quite happy to see how this discussion has been handled here.

    I can understand where authors are coming from. They need to sell books to write another. But I have seen another author be downright rude when this issue came up. Fortunately, I didn’t think much of him/her/it before that, so it didn’t make any difference to me.

    I recently discovered a couple authors I enjoy. I’m trying to track down all their books in hardcover and am buying the new ones in hardcover.

    I rarely use the library (I have so many books at home I haven’t read, why borrow more?), but I will if I want to find out more about an author before buying their books.

    I buy most of my books and buy most of them new. I then loan out my books to people who might enjoy them. Some only borrow my books, but a few have started buying their own copies.

    You just never know how that “free” copy might affect your future sales.


  7. Naomi

    Library sales are very important to writers. Aren’t there more than 5,000 libraries throughout the United States? And with more popular titles, a library will purchase multiple copies.

    Deni, aren’t Five Star Mystery book sales predominantly to libraries?

    And it’s important for a book to have a checkout history as well. If no one checks out the book, it may eventually be sold at a library sale for a dollar or less.

  8. Linda L. Richards

    I want people to read my books. Period.

    As an author, it’s not for me to decide how they get them. To be quite honest, I’m just as happy to hear that a reader got my book from the library, from a friend or bought their copy new. I’m just happy when I hear someone read and enjoyed one of my books.

    Like a lot of authors these days, I’m deeply involved in the marketing of myself and my books. That said, I’m not actually involved with the sales of the books. (It might seem a small distinction, but I think it’s an important one.) All of my marketing is geared to getting people to read my books. It seems to me that, if I do enough of that and I do it right, a certain percentage will also buy them.

    I guess what I’m saying is, in this busy world, the commodity in shortest supply in most people’s lives is time. When they read one of my books, they’re commiting a significant amount of time to engage in something I created. How can I ask that my readers give me more than the thing dearest to them? I can’t. I don’t.

    But I’m an optimist; I can’t help it. No matter how they came by the book the first time, if they connect with my characters and the world I’ve created, they’ll come back for more. Maybe they’ll buy a book, or ask their library to do so. Maybe they’ll tell a friend (or two or six). But, as an author, worrying about the way my readers get their hands on my books is counterproductive. I want to make the best books I can. And then I want people to read them.

  9. Beatrice Brooks

    >But, as an author, worrying about the way my readers get their hands on my books is counterproductive. I want to make the best books I can. And then I want people to read them.

    Linda, I totally, 100% agree. But let me play Devil’s Advocate for a moment. Aside from the fact that your books are paperback originals – which will just about always outsell hardcovers (not counting Mystery Guild, Doubleday Book Club, etc., plus King-Grisham-Steele [et al]) – the Catch-22 is that without the damn numbers, there will be no used [favorite authors’] books to buy. That’s the point I think Susan Gable was trying to make. And “the numbers” are why so many authors are changing their names, which, of course, tends to get readers’ knickers in a new twist. I have 3 multi-published friends who have been forced to use a pen name. Well, they weren’t “forced.” They could always have said no and forfeited the sale.

    There’s no easy answer, no bandaid for authors wounded by book swaps. It’s a fact we have to live with, or change careers. And, to me, writing books is the same as breathing.

    So yes, I want people to read my books, and I don’t really care how they acquire them. But, dangit, I’d love to make a decent living at my chosen profession.

    Deni Dietz

    PS- Yes, Five Star’s focus is library sales, Naomi. Up until recently, good library sales resulted in a Trade pb edition (the reason why my Eye of Newt went Trade). But…if library sales aren’t outstanding, Five Star will turn down a second (third, fourth, whatever) book. And library sales are largely dependent on reviews from PW, Library Journal and Kirkus. No reviews = fewer sales = lower numbers…you get the picture.

  10. Pari

    Whew!I’m finally back in Albuquerque AND able to post. I wrote a long post to B.G. and it got axed . . . and then I had to go to Belen to interview an apple grower (another, very interesting story).

    One of the reasons I posted this article was to get a discussion among the intelligent readers of Murderati (all of you) and to see if I could gain any clarity.

    It’s still so damn foggy though.

    I want my books to be read.I want to make a living.People have to read and talk about my books to spread the word.People have to buy my books in order to keep my publisher happy — and me earning enough to keep my hubby and family happy.If I really want to make a living, I’ll need many more sales.


    How these pieces fit together mystifies me still.

    Thank you all so far for this very civilized conversation.

    I hope there will be more.

  11. Sue Trowbridge

    As a reader, this is something I struggle with. I live in a small apartment with limited shelf space, so for me, buying a new book means getting rid of an old one. I volunteer for my Friends of the Library group, which buys many new books that my local library couldn’t otherwise afford. Even though a lot of different people wind up reading them, I think this helps authors in the long run — I would imagine that libraries make up a good percentage of hardcover mystery sales.

    I have tried to make my peace with the issue by supporting the authors who invite me to their local events. For instance, the wonderful Dylan Schaffer sent me a mailing promoting his Wed. night signing at Oakland’s Diesel Books, and I’m planning to go and buy his new book. I also make an effort to patronize specialty mystery bookstores — when I’m visiting a city, I stop by and chat with the proprietor and buy a couple books that he or she recommends. Next month, I’m looking forward to visiting the Poisoned Pen and the Well Red Coyote. I also buy plenty of books to give as birthday and holiday gifts. All that helps assuage my guilt for checking out so many library books. Someday, if I strike it rich, I’ll buy everything in hardcover and keep it in a climate-controlled room!

  12. Pari

    Sue,Thank you for your thoughtful post.

    I believe that libraries provide a fundamental and important service. And I don’t think anyone should feel guilty about using one.

    That’s the problem.

    I believe used bookstores also provide a good service.

    Boom. Then I read Susan’s article again and I’m wondering if too many lost sales equals economic poison, oblivion for the writer as a wage-earner.

    If only we had patrons, sugar-daddys, The Medici.

  13. Pari

    Of course I did.

    BTW: New Mexico apples are magnificent. I learned so much at that orchard today.

    What flabbergasts me is how incredibly similar all retail businesses are. The man I spoke with told me about growers who allow their products to be sold below cost . . . then stores or middlemen come to other growers and say, “Well, so-and-so did it. Why won’t you?”

    Hummmmmm. Used apple stores? Apple lending institutions?

    I can’t tell you how wonderful a real golden delicious tastes straight from the tree. And, who knew that winesaps did so well in NM?


  14. M'e

    I, like Pari, appreciate the thoughtful discussion of this topic. Naomi’s right — no one owes writers a living. Or retailers [independent or otherwise], for that matter. But I think an educated public realizing that they can effectively “vote” with their dollars for which businesses / authors remain productive is probably a good thing. What is always surprising to me is to see aspiring authors at store events or conferences who don’t buy books. Seems like there should be some good karma or a pay it forward effect there?

  15. Pari

    Maryelizabeth,You’re right.

    I remember going to a writers’ retreat and hearing Lisa Tucker chide the writers there who were pleading poverty. She spoke about how we had to support each other first.

    It’s essential.


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