Tuesday, January 11, 2005

How I cheated Jennifer Crusie and why she should thank me for it

The views I'm about to express are not held by the majority of my published friends, and discussions on this topic have been known to get a little warm.

Just so you know.

Last Saturday I went to a used-book store. I purchased three romance novels for $2 apiece. But before you bargain hunters out there start complimenting me on my cleverness, you should know that most of my author friends would censure me for patronizing a used-book store.

Why? Because authors make royalties (a percentage of a book's cover price) only on new books. The stock you find in used-book stores is being sold for the second time. It's like that Chevy truck you bought from your brother-in-law. Did the dealership or the manufacturer get a percentage of that sale? No. Your brother-in-law got to keep all the cash. (For a few minutes, anyway. Then he had to turn it over to his wife because she was afraid he'd blow it on a large-screen TV.) My point is that when you buy a used book, the author gets zip.

Which explains why most authors despise used-book stores. They feel that if their books are available used, we won't spend the extra money to buy them new, which will keep their royalty checks low.

Is it true? From a narrow viewpoint, yes. Let's say you've overspent your book budget so you put off buying your favorite author's latest release. Then you happen upon it at a garage sale and buy it for fifty cents. All right, she's lost some royalties this time, but she hasn't lost you. You'll be back. And because you can't always count on finding her books at garage sales, you'll buy new most of the time, right?

I honestly believe authors stand to gain much more from the sale of used books than they will ever lose. Here's why:

On Saturday I decided to sample a new subgenre and check out three of its Big Name Authors. I'm not sure I'll like this stuff, so there's an excellent chance I'll read just a few pages and end up tossing these books in the trash. Six dollars wasn't a lot to risk, but if I'd paid the cover prices I'd be throwing away $22. So, yes -- it was a wise purchase.

Let me point out that I would not have picked up any of these books on a routine trip to my local Barnes and Noble. In fact I was at B&N twice last week, and I walked right past those authors to buy somebody else's books. So I haven't actually cheated anyone out of any royalties, have I?

What I have done is given the authors an opportunity to capture my interest. If they manage to do that, chances are good that I'll buy their next releases brand-new. And, hey, what if I tell my friends about the wonderful books I've discovered? Do you see how my buying used books could wind up benefitting the authors?

My philosophy is simple. The best way for an author to sell more books is to forget about short-term royalties and her "customer base" and concentrate on increasing her readership. That's because more readers will eventually translate into more royalty-producing sales. So if you're an author, why would you resent it if people borrowed your books from friends or from libraries, or if they bought them used from eBay or secondhand bookstores? Those people would be learning your name and falling in love with your writing. They'd be helping to generate an increased demand for your work. Which would mean larger print runs and more sales of new books. Yes, many of those books would find their way to the secondhand market, but then the cycle would begin again.

What does any of this have to do with Jennifer Crusie? I'm getting to that.

I rarely buy romance novels in hardcover. In 2004 I bought exactly one. When the excruciatingly funny Jennifer Crusie's Bet Me was released, I plunked down $22.95 for the hardcover version because I simply could not wait for it to come out in paperback.*

I would never have made that purchase had I not discovered Jennifer Crusie a couple of years ago when I picked up her delightful Getting Rid of Bradley in a used-book store. The cover price was $5.99, which means (assuming a 10% royalty) that my purchase "cheated" Jenny out of 60 cents. But since that time I've bought several of her books, all new, and that pricey hardcover.

Call me crazy, but I think she ought to be grateful there's a used-book store in my neighborhood.

*A caveat for my conservative Christian pals: I adore Crusie's humor and dialogue, but her books do include some profanity and graphic sex scenes and she espouses a worldview that I do not share. Just needed to mention those facts before one of you rushes out to buy "that book Brenda recommended" and gets an unwelcome surprise. If you're not able to skip a couple of pages here and there, you might not enjoy Crusie's books. But if you want to try them, I suggest you start with Getting Rid of Bradley or Bet Me.


Becca said...

I'm a big fan of public libraries and used bookstores. Why should readers be restricted to new copies only? As you said, the authors will still get our loyalty if their work is worth it.

I rarely buy these days, used or otherwise. When I have room in the family budget for books, I will probably go crazy purchasing authors I met through the wonderful service of my local library. (And if I have extra books when I'm ready to move next, I'll donate to the library in return for all I've received.)

daisymarie said...

I guess I understand both sides of the argument, but probably would agree more strongly with your position--especially since the way to get me to purchase anything full price (especially pricey hardbacks) is after I've either read something by an author from the library or after a great by second-hand.

Amie Stuart said...

You know Brenda when you put it like that, it actually makes much good sense. =)


Anonymous said...

I completely agree Brenda. as much as I read, I would starve if I bought all my books brand new! It is rare that any of my favorite authors are in the used bookstores though. but I can say that I have discovered new favorite authors in used bookstores. and now will buy their books brand new as soon as they hit the shelves! so see you are right. If I wouldn't have found them used I wouldn't be stalking the shelves of Barnes & Noble waiting for the new ones!

Katy said...

Hi, Brenda! This is my first visit to your site, from the link at faithinfiction. I had already decided, before arriving here, that tomorrow I'm going to stop at a used book store on my way to critique group. Specifically to check out romances!

You see, I'm 51 years old, and I've never actually read a romance--at least not one I loved. I've read a couple Christian ones I didn't care for, and a few others that I couldn't get all the way through for one reason or another. I'm on a quest to find inspirational romances that I can relate to, but I have to do it on a budget! Your post reminded me than an economical search like mine is the way to go. Thanks, Brenda. And by the way, I really like your blog...

Brenda Coulter said...

Five replies and nobody's mad at me? I was braced for the worst when I posted this article....

Thanks for commenting, everyone.

Voix said...

Used book stores are also a wonderful place to get your hands on books that are no longer in print. I buy used books when I know I'll only read it once - and then I donate to the local public HS library. As a writer who hopes to make royalties one day, I do not begrudge any reader the chance to explore new work at a bargain price - you've hit the nail on the head, Brenda.