Recently while on Facebook a post made by author Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez caught my attention. It said:
Just got another email from a fan bragging about having passed the same single book around to all her friends and family. Nice to be loved; not so nice to be shared right out of business.
While Rodriguez may be one of the few authors with the balls to say anything about this issue I know for a fact that book sharing is the bane of many writers' existence. While attending book signings for other authors I've listened to readers approach them and gush about how much they love them and how they have loaned their copy of their book out to all of their friends and family to share the joy. While these compliments are being doled out I always watch the face of the author who is being addressed and it is always clear that they are working over-time to keep themselves from grimacing or rolling their eyes. What they want to say, what we all want to say and can't, is that their entire salary, their entire career, is based on book sales. If ten people are reading one book that's still one sale for us. Not ten, not even five. As far as our publishers and our bank accounts are concerned it counts as one.
That's not good.
And yet we all lend our books out occasionally. When I borrow a book I try to at least blog about the book after reading it to give the author publicity. Frequently I will go out and buy my own copy if I like it. When a friend comes over to my place and asks to borrow a book of mine (particularly a friend who's a little strapped for cash) I ALWAYS lend it out. If I can I will then go out and buy the book that I lent out. Furthermore whenever I give a copy of one of my own books away I buy a replacement book. When my film agent asked me for another few copies of my book and I brought them to her in a Barnes & Noble bag she looked at me warily. "You don't have to buy these yourself, do you? If so we could--"
"No, no, I don't have to buy them myself," I said. And that's true. I don't have to buy them. My publisher always sends me plenty of free copies of my books and so far they've never refused to send me more when I need them for publicity purposes. But I buy them myself anyway because I'm not a big enough author to be able to afford give-aways. Very few of us are. Of course we all hope that those who borrowed the book will fall in love with the author who wrote it; so much so that the borrower will become the buyer when the author writes the next book...assuming the first book sold enough copies for said author to get another book contract which might not be the case if too many people lent the book out.
Those of you who got a copy of my book at the library may be squirming in your seat right now. Well stop squirming. The library most likely purchased that book you borrowed. Hopefully several other libraries in your county did as well. Those are legitimate sales and they're sales that I feel particularly good about because they're made with the intent of making my novels available to everyone regardless of their economic situation. I am continually encouraging readers to put in purchase requests for my books to their libraries.
Used bookstores are another thing entirely. No one who actually worked on a book gets any money when a book is sold at a used bookstore. Not the writer, not the publisher, no one except the bookstore selling it and, rather ironically, the reader who sold the book. It's hard for me to take used bookstores to task. They are small businesses owned and run by people who genuinely love books. And yet unless a book is out of print everywhere else or is written by someone like JK Rowling or Dan Brown (neither of whom have to worry about the effect used book stores are going to have on their career or financial status) I can't get myself to buy a book at one of them. I just keep thinking about the author who is sadly mulling over his royalty statements wondering how he seems to have so many fans and so few sales.
And then there's Nook. For the record I'm rooting for Nook's success. Like it or not ebooks are probably the future of publishing and I'd like to think that bookstores will be able to find ways to incorporate them into their business strategy. Otherwise bookstores could conceivably go the way of record stores and seriously, how many record stores are left in your town? But now Barnes & Noble allows Nook owners to share, or "lend-out", ebooks to other Nook owners for fourteen days at a time. Obviously the purpose of this is to get people to buy the Nook device and encourage others to buy it as well. It's comparable to how Verizon Wireless customers encourage their friends to switch to Verizon so they can call them for free. But the catch here of course is that if you can lend out your ebooks then an author has to assume that for every five or ten nook readers who will enjoy their work they will get one sale, just like they do when readers lend out their hardcovers and paperbacks.
Except now the issue is even worse.
It's easier to lend an ebook than a paperback. You can lend an ebook to a friend across the country without worrying about packaging or shipping costs. Furthermore lending ebooks takes out the risk normally associated with lending out a book because you know you're going to get your ebook back in two weeks...at which point you can lend it out again. Borrowers will have little incentive to buy the upcoming books of authors they fell in love with because they'll know they can borrow the next one from fellow Nook-owning friends again. And unlike library copies these ebooks will not be reaching the under privileged. Not a lot of welfare mom's are going to be shelling out $150 for their very own Nook.
Again, this is a good system if the point is to make money off of selling the device rather than selling the books but as an author I'm not thrilled with it. On the flip side if you could lend the book out for three to five days I'd be thrilled. That would allow readers to read a few chapters and figure out if they really like the book. If they don't they saved themselves nine bucks if they do then they're going to want to buy the book for themselves and quickly so as not to interrupt their reading experience. Of course some people are very fast readers but most people take longer than five days to finish a novel. I could even get behind the idea of being able to lend out a book for two weeks once. But to be able to lend out an ebook over and over and over again...that's problematic.
And yet it seems to be the way of the world these days. And once again we authors will have to work to keep ourselves from grimacing or rolling our eyes. We will continue to look at our royalty statements and wonder how we can have so many fans and so few sales.
Bestselling Author of:The Sophie Katz Mystery Series
So Much For My Happy Ending
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