NOTE: Since there has been confusion about this article, I’m editing areas of confusion in another color to clarify and hopefully refine the conversation back to the original intent. It’s okay to promote used bookstores without bashing digital and Amazon and reader-shaming those who like e-books. It is okay to promote used bookstores without slamming the remaining ways we are paid. Writers cannot keep working for free and for “exposure.”
All righty. I’d vowed to take off for the holidays but *laughs hysterically* sure. Like THAT was going to happen. No, seriously, I’m working on resting more. I’m also working on learning to shut up. Clearly those two goals are getting re-slated for 2016 resolutions because the whole “Inside words stay inside…”
Not working out for me. So why not leave 2015 with a bang? Haters gonna hate.
To quote the great Tywin Lannister, Lions do not concern themselves with the opinions of sheep.
Today I’m going to say something that could quite possibly be grossly unpopular, but whatever. It’s for your own good. I’m feeding y’all broccoli to offset all that fudge and alcohol you’ve consumed during the holidays.
There’s a trend that just makes me see red and I’m calling it out today because if we do not address this 500 pound used paper elephant in the room, then it’s going to be really, really hard for you guys to reach your dreams, which I assume is to work as a full-time PAID writer.
For those of you who do NOT want to be PAID to write? The following does not apply. If you are content to work a full-time regular job AND slave over a manuscript as a second job and your ONLY reward is simply nice reviews, compliments, hugs, cuddles, and the joy your stories might create in the hearts of others?
I am NOT talking to you.
If, however, you have ever complained about “an evil day job” that you really wish you could leave because it is sucking out your soul and your very will to LIVE day by day and you would rather be lobotomized than return to Satan’s Cube Farm after the holidays?
Then probably want to pay attention.
Readers ARE Excused
Readers are different. Readers are excused from what I am about to discuss. Readers are NOT writers. Yes, I understand that many writers began as readers. But there is a difference. We have progressed past the point of consuming an intellectual/creative property and now we are producing this intellectual/creative property.
We now have something at stake.
So why am I in a tiff?
Yesterday, I was on Facebook and it would have been one thing to see one writer post this link. But I saw like TEN writers post this link and they were excited…as if this Washington Post article were announcing a GOOD thing for our profession.
In an Age of Amazon, Used Bookstores Making an Unlikely Comeback.
Here’s the deal. I don’t care about bookstores. I care about writers. In fact, readers should care about writers more than bookstores because no writers? Well no real point in bookstores now is there? Because if a bookstore has no inventory, no point to its existence, so I feel we are wise to care about writers first…bookstores next.
Want to support the arts? Pay artists. Want to support books? Pay writers. It is simple. Do this? Bookstores will do just fine. Before we go any further, some education…
How Are Writers Paid?
This seems a bit silly, but we all need to learn this when we decide to do this writing thing as a job.
First of all, I am not against doing stuff for free. But the thing is? Writers already do all kinds of stuff for free. Every friend, colleague and family member expects us to be an on-call resume-writing, essay writing and editorial service.
Most of the time? We oblige.
Often, we blog for free (though if you do it the way I teach you actually DO get a return on that investment). Once we are published? We do interviews and guest posts for…FREE.
So please. Do not expect to ALSO get our books for free. We are frankly DONE with free.
How can a writer get PAID?
So happy you asked.
Digital pays writers the best. Then print copies. NEW ones. Buy on-line or in a bookstore or at an event in person. We writers get a royalty. Depending on the contract, writers can even get paid if a book is checked out of a library. That library PAID for the book and the writer was then, in turn, paid a royalty.
Upon so many times checked out? The writer is then PAID again for a new “copy” of the book.
Want to support a writer in the new year? BUY BOOKS.
Writers are NOT PAID for the purchase of used copies. So while I LOVE used bookstores I want to make a point here. Writers make no money.
As a professional, I treat my fellow writers-at-arms the way I want to be treated. I do not buy used books as a first choice. If I DO happen to buy a used book, I make sure to purchase at least a digital copy so that writer is PAID for his or her hard work.
But that article? That article in The Washington Post was beyond the pale. I was livid. Ripping off artists is not cool. It is not cultural, not avant garde. Why did I feel ripped off? Because the article was shaming digital and Amazon sales….the best ways writers earn a living. It was possible to hail the used bookstore without also further undermining writer’s earning abilities.
To be clear, I do not mind used bookstores. What I mind is the attitude that somehow digital is bad and Amazon is bad whereas “paper” and used bookstores are “cultural” and therefore GOOD and preferable for writers.
And unfortunately, I witness a lot of this among writers. I “get” that many of you love old books and browsing dusty old shelves and discovering old treasures. For out of print books? No argument from me. Rock on. But…
We have to be really, really careful that as artists we are not perpetuating the very behavior that pisses us off.
We like getting paid for our work. We work really really hard and expect (rightfully) that we should be rewarded for doing so.
Surgeons work hard and they expect to get paid. No one gripes when the sales clerk gets paid. Heck, no one gripes when the UPS driver gets paid or the barista who makes the triple-shot espresso peppermint soy cappuccino with half foam and vanilla sprinkles in a special red holiday cup and does not commit MURDER gets paid.
Oh, but it is artsy and bohemian to rip writers off because old books are cool? It’s okay to denigrate digital and hurt our best earnings?
No. And again, let’s keep the debate clear here because I can already hear the blogs now, “Kristen Lamb hates bookstores!” No. Pay attention.
I love old books. Have stacks of them. Want to buy old copies of Jane Eyre? Be my guest. I doubt Charlotte Bronte is counting on that Amazon royalty check to pay to upgrade her Scrivner or unscrew Windows 10 or, I dunno, eat.
Want to support civilization? Buy old books. Want to support a writer and his/her family and career? Buy new ones or e-books.
Encourage and educate readers to do the same. Because here is the deal. If we writers go around cheering how AWESOME used bookstores are without also asking for a new sale? How the heck are readers going to know they are benevolently gutting our careers?
They (readers) see us posting the links. They ASSUME we are benefitting. They have no idea how we get paid. Why not direct them to places where we might make money?
I will parse this article in a moment but first? Let’s look at some of the common reasons people defend the used bookstore.
Used Bookstores Allow Readers To Discover New Authors for a Smaller Investment
Okay, so does digital. Difference is? The writer actually gets paid from an e-book.
Know who else claims they are doing writers a favor by letting readers “discover” new authors on the cheap?
Writers are the first to grab digital pitchforks when their work is pirated because they don’t get paid any royalties. GASP! The horror!
Some site offering their books and they don’t get a royalty. Burn them! Take down the site! They are stealing! Oh, but when a used bookstore
does the exact same thing also sells a book where a writer earns no royalties?
It’s okay. Because, well, it’s paper. It’s “culture.”
pirate used bookstore gave you “exposure.” Shouldn’t you be happy that a reader could…”discover” you. That pirate used bookstore is doing you a favor really.
Just to be clear, piracy is a whole other blog and not the topic of today and I KNOW used bookstores are not actually stealing. I am only using this to point out how Janus-faced we writers can be about the “Ooh! Exposure!” crap. Exposure in and of itself is not always a good thing.
The Author Can Get “Exposure”
Will Wheaton took Huffington Post to task on this. Again, what I am seeing is a Digital Versus Paper Bias. Huffington is a Pulitzer-winning news outlet that when it sold last year, sold for over $300 million dollars. Why can’t it then PAY writers who submit? (Hint: It can. Just doesn’t want to because it doesn’t have to).
Oh but you get “exposure.”
Granted, I bit. I allowed Huffington to repost a couple of my blogs that had already gone viral. I was flattered to be asked to write for them and then wrote a couple of pieces just to be able to add “Huffington” to my resume of accomplishments.
But, I’m ultimately a businesswoman. I had to ask the HARD question. What were they doing FOR ME?
Truth was? Not all that much. It wasn’t worth being troll food, because, when you post for Huffington, you have no control over comments and you have to be nice to people whose sole purpose in life is to crap in your Cheerios.
Here? I am benevolent dictator and do not have to be nice.
If you want to comment here and write something like this:
Kristen, you are a talentless hack and a hopeless amateur. Every time you speak a kitten dies from the sheer stupidity you spew into the ozone layer.
I have this wonderful thing called “edit function.” I can delete. OR, I can change your comment to read.
OMG, Kristen. You are supreme writer of all that is genius and I want to be JUST LIKE YOU one day. I have even started dressing JUST LIKE you, which is weird because I am a dude! <3 <3 <3
Probably shouldn’t have told y’all that. Oh well. Sally forth…
Yes, here I blog seemingly for “free.” But I trust me, I don’t. Not wholly. Because this is MY blog. I own the content. I make money off my hard work. Which, by the way, is as it should be.
By the way. YOU work hard and guess what? I believe YOU should be paid, too. Wow! Imagine that.
And writers seem to have no problem getting very indignant that so many blogs and digital outlets expect them to work for free.
Oh, but sell my paper books and make all the profit? Go ahead! That’s “culture.”
And before anyone gets too ticked at me, yes, Amazon sells used books, but the difference is that there is ALSO an active promotion of that author’s OTHER books that are NOT used where the writer CAN be paid. On Amazon, it is also extremely easy for a browsing reader to discover and purchase other titles by that particular author.
So maybe I do buy a used book because it is out of print, but then I CAN buy something IN print so the author can…I dunno. EAT.
Back to This Article…
I think why this article aggravated me so much (aside from writers promoting the heck out of it) was it was treated as it it was some “grand thing” for the arts and some big favor to authors. It isn’t. It helps readers. YES. Writers? Eh, not so much. Passive exposure is not nearly as effective as it once was. Sure, before the Internet when our only option to get more books was to go to B.Dalton? yes, exposure was great. Now? It isn’t near enough though writers keep getting told it should be.
Let’s take a look, shall we? From the article…
Sierra, like other book lovers, has read articles about slowing e-book sales and watched as independent bookstores such as Politics and Prose thrive, catering to readers who value bookish places as cultural hubs and still think the best reading device is paper.
First of all, Sierra, e-book sales are NOT slowing. That is a patently FALSE claim that does not account for the explosion of indie and self-publishing. Yes, e-book sales have slowed for traditional publishers and print has picked up for traditional publishers, but namely because when publishers insist on charging the same for a PAPER book as an e-book? Readers will just go ahead and buy paper because $14.99 is just simply ridiculous for a digital book.
But even if that were the case, if you really do love books? Be a sweetheart and try supporting those who write them. Thank you.
And it’s a business with good economics. Used bookstores can beat Amazon and other online booksellers on price, offering shoppers both a browsing experience and a money-saving one. Also, profit margins on used books are better than new ones.
That part I outlined in red was my favorite.
It is amazing how much profit margins increase when you don’t actually have to pay the person who worked long and hard and sacrificed to create the product you are profiting from. The sky is the limit! Again, why are they insisting on bashing the best ways writers get paid new? Yes, I was hot.
Then there is THIS gem.
“It’s (the used bookstore) like having a museum or a theater. It’s a cultural center.” ~Gottwals
Except that museums are supported by private donations, government funding, grants and patrons PAYING A FEE to walk around and look at the collections. And theaters? Same thing. Try going to Phantom for free, Mr. Gottwals. Good luck getting a seat NOT in the nosebleed section for under $250.
“I can find these books online, but I don’t want to…and if you don’t support the little guys, they won’t be around anymore.” (Customer)
Exactly, dear customer. If you don’t support the little guys they won’t be around. They will have to give up writing and work retail and then saw open their wrists with a spork while listening to Bjork and I hope you are happy #writerkiller 😛
We Must Take Ourselves Seriously
Yes, I admit it. I’m ranting today. Why? Because if writers don’t take themselves seriously, why would anyone else? When I protested the article on social media, writers argued with me. They acted as if a book is the same thing as a house or a car.
A car is a tangible property, not intellectual property.
I have no problems with people reselling books to used bookstores. I do it. I buy books from used bookstores. BUT, I also actively go out of my way to make sure writers are PAID.
Because here’s the thing. We cannot cheer that used bookstores are “socking it to Amazon” and at the same time bemoan we aren’t making any money.
We cannot collectively cheer the “return of paper books” when they are in the used form and then also cry that we can’t leave the day job because we are not being paid for our work.
We can’t promote articles like these that reader shame people who like digital and Amazon, directing readers to outlets where we don’t make royalties and then stand mystified that no one takes our career seriously. Why are we promoting businesses who brag about not paying us? Again *head explodes*
We cannot say, “Well I am just happy when a reader discovers my story” if we are not in fact simply okay with just that. If cuddles and compliments are enough? Then good. But do not let me hear any complaint. I do not want to hear ONE word about how much that day job sucks.
And if we ARE going to promote used bookstores (which IS fine) then by GOD educate readers and ask for the sale. Let them know that you will not be paid off that sale and to please also buy a full-price version if they like your book.
Educate your readers because the bookstores aren’t going to. Clearly they do not care if writers get paid because they make money either way. In fact bookstores make MORE money if writers don’t. That’s just math.
Working for free while others are sole profiteers is NOT okay. It is exploitation. And we’ve done enough being expected to work for free.
No one else works for free. You shouldn’t either.
You don’t fill up gas and expect it for free. You don’t expect cashiers to work at the grocery store for free. You don’t expect people who cut your hair to do it for free. You value others and what they contribute to your life. And maybe I’m a jerk because all I am asking…all I am imploring is that you give the same honor to yourself.
Because in the new year? It won’t matter one whit what resolution you make. WE are the first step. WE have to draw the line and say that what we do has value. And we have to call people out when they devalue what we do.
And when bookstores go around bragging to The Washington Post about how much profit they make because the margins are so much better on used books than on selling NEW books (which is code for:We don’t have to pay royalties) and expect me the author to bite on some Book-Buying-Trickle-Down-Economics wrapped up with an “It’s Culture” ribbon?
Yes, I love paper books too. I buy them NEW.
Honor yourself. Honor your fellow authors. I love all of you. I believe in you and hope you see that I DO support bookstores, but dammit…it is about %$#ing time they returned the favor and supported those who are bleeding to line their pockets. You can promote used venues without hamstringing the artists who are supplying inventory. It IS possible to promote a used bookstore without undermining authors making a living wage.
You matter. Your dreams matter. Your work matters.
What are your thoughts? Have I finally gone too far? She is MAD! Mad it tell you! I would blame it on alcohol but I haven’t started drinking…yet. I needed to drink after that article. What are your thoughts? Do writers need to stand up more? We already do way too much for free. We needed to with the expansion of Web 2.0 But now that the Internet and social media has hit a critical mass, do you think we need to step back and start saying NO more? What are your thoughts? Were you unaware how writers were paid?
Do you think use bookstores need to do more to support the actual WRITERS instead of this cop out of “exposure”? Maybe take some of those “high profits” and invest in apps or tablets with links to NEW works by the authors? Maybe let authors come in and talk and promote NEW works so they can continue to WRITE? What are your thoughts? Are you dressing just like me? 😀
By the way, I LOVE this short film. There IS STRONG adult language so you are warned. But THIS!!!!!!
I love hearing from you!
Make SURE you sign up for my upcoming classes! This is part of how I fund my plans for global domination. Purchase a class! Buy a book! OR ignore all that follows but DAMN sure buy all your books NEW or I WILL FIND YOU O_o ….
Remember to check out the new classes listed at W.A.N.A International. Your friends and family can get you something you need for Christmas. Social Media for Writers, Blogging for Writers, and Branding for Authors.
Also, I have one craft class listed. Your Story in a Sentence—Crafting Your Log-Line. Our stories should be simple enough to tell someone what the book is about in ONE sentence. If we can’t do this, often there is a plot problem. This class is great for teaching you how to be master plotters and the first TEN SIGNUPS get their log-line shredded for free, so you will be agent ready for the coming year.
Enough of that…
I love hearing from you!
To prove it and show my love, for the month of DECEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).
For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook.
Yes! Yes! Yes!
Right on. or maybe I should say WRITE On!!!!! and keep getting paid for doing what you do. I love that video and we writers definitely need to stick together and remember that we can’t get paid and pay our bills without the actual real sales – not the second-hand; used sales. E 🙂
FINALLY HOME, a Kelly Watson YA paranormal mystery
THE TIES OF TIME, a Kelly Watson YA paranormal mystery
Wow! I wrote that word, and then sat there wondering what to saw. Then it hit, you are already said what needed saying. Bravo, Ms. Lamb.
Awesome. I’m ebook only, so there is a bit of insulation. I also only read ebooks these days.
…….then it hit me, you had already said what needed saying. Bravo, Ms. Lamb.
Sing it! If you don’t take yourself seriously, how can you expect others to? 🙂
>Depending on the contract, writers can even get paid if a book is checked out of a library. That library PAID for the book and the writer was then, in turn, paid a royalty.
>Upon so many times checked out? The writer is then PAID again for a new “copy” of the book.
I am so glad to know this. Almost every new book I read I get from the library. I could not afford to support my reading if I had to buy every book I wanted to look at, especially if I’m uncertain as to whether or not I’ll read the whole thing.
I’m glad I’m not stealing (no other word for it) from my favorite writers.
But I have to say this:
OMG, Kristen. You are supreme writer of all that is genius and I want to be JUST LIKE YOU one day. I have even started dressing JUST LIKE you, which is weird because I am a dude! <3 <3 <3
I know this may sound a little insulting, but I trust you not to change a word.
Thank you, WANA Mamma. I’ve been singing this song for years. I don’t ask other people to work for free and I sure as hell won’t either. Now, I’m off to Facebook to share a link to this post. This needs to be mandatory reading every week for any writer with dreams of a full larder and a roof that doesn’t leak.
@ #8 As a retired librarian who purchased hundreds of thousands of books, I should point out that libraries very rarely pay full price for a book. Almost all have contracts with Baker & Taylor or other distributors through library systems that usually get discounts of 45-50% on trade books. University presses were less, perhaps 10-20% depending on the contract. Multiple copies of books were purchased only very rarely if demand was exceptionally high and that usually resulted in 30-50 people usage per book. Generally a well-bound hardcover (unusual these days of sloppy binding) would last about 50-60 circulations. Then they were sold at Friends of the Library sales or to used book stores.
Bookstores and libraries are two sacred cows in need of tipping. I’m not a huge fan of either.
Kristin: That seems a bit strange coming from someone who wants authors to make money since bookstores and libraries were the only source of revenue (unless you refer to advances, but most authors never got advances large enough to live on for a month) but remained the only way to earn back an advance. The New Yorker several years ago estimated that the market for literary fiction was at most about 7.000 copies and almost all of that was to libraries. Even most commercial first novel print runs were between 5,000 and 10,000. And that’s with an average return rate of 70%!
I would think that number is grossly flawed. I would hope that number is flawed because authors only make roughly $1.50 per book on a $10 book and that is before the agent is paid and taxes. Also traditional publishers limit authors to about a book a year, so your calculations have authors working for less money than most high school babysitters.
Even if the author made $5 a book on 5,000 book print run that is $25,000, then the agent would get 15% leaving $21,250 annually BEFORE the rape fest of self-employment taxes…and trad. authors make nowhere NEAR $5 on a $10 paper book (that would be 50%).
Print runs (as I understand) standard is about 10,000 books for a first-timer. Literary might be different because smaller market.
The reason I don’t care for bookstores is I am not a fan of the mega B&N model. I think the bookstore can and will be reinvented to do a FAR better job of selling and benefitting customers AND writers, not just big brand names. As far as libraries, they are beholden to the Big 5 machine as things currently stand. I’d like to see changes with them too and change won’t happen unless we point out there are flaws.
Hi Kristen: Multiple sources for my numbers, but here’s just one: http://askaliteraryagent.blogspot.com/2009/09/how-many-copies-must-book-sell-to-be.html. Unfortunately, the vast majority of writers do make less than babysitters. My wife, for example, is a reasonably succesful (defined as having more than 10 books published by traditional publishers) children’s book author. Her book that sold the most copies sold more than 160,000 copies over a period of 3 years. Her TOTAL income from that book was $8,000. (It was a paperback school reader that listed for $4.00 and usually sold at a discount so her return per copy was pennies.) To make matters worse, the line of school readers the book had been purchased for was bought by Random House and then shut down and replaced by their own competing line. That resulted in (according to her editor) the shredding of more than 100,000 copies from the warehouse. (We bought 2,000 of those at 25 cents each to sell ourselves and have boxes up in the attic still.) Since she doesn’t write series and writes for multiple YA ages as well, her annual income is way, way below that of a baby sitter. She gets some additional income from illustrating but without my salary, we’d starve. Writing is a horribly competitive and unrewarding business for everyone but a lucky few. Most do it simply because they love doing it.
All the more reason to promote places where we MAKE ROYALTIES. Thanks for this. But oy 🙁 .
Hey there, just saw you message. That is good information to have. Thanks for taking the time to share.
First, I want to clarify one of your comments. Selling used paper books isn’t theft because of “The Doctrine of First Sale” which states that you are buying/selling the paper, ink, and glue of the paper book, not the contents/intellectual property within. This doctrine also protects ebooks from being resold because they are only contents/intellectual property.
For more details, here’s my article on the subject.
Authors and friends of authors are more than welcome to reprint that article or any of my articles on copyright from my blog.
I agree with most of your arguments. I don’t buy used unless it’s out of print, and I need it as a research source. I educate and encourage readers to buy new.
I don’t agree on your assessment of Amazon’s “Buy Used” as a good thing since every book in an author’s front and backlist are available used, even those just coming out, so they do nothing for the author’s bottom line.
Amazon and the other major used book companies are a bigger danger to the bottom line than a brick and mortar used bookstore because of the volume of books and ease of finding any book a reader wants. That doesn’t make used bookstores an asset to writers in these days of ebooks as backlist, but they aren’t the Big Bad in this discussion.
I am arguing they are a “theft” in concept. I don’t like the bragging about high profit margins “so much higher than new.” It hacks me off. These stores are being touted as being good for authors and I disagree. I know piracy is a genuine theft. I get that. Like I said that is for another time. But the argument that used bookstores “help” us are the same arguments pirates use for “helping” us as well—“exposure” and “discovery” all that jazz *rolls eyes*. This article is merely to point out that we need to educate readers how to truly support us and that is in ways we earn royalties.
And no they aren’t the “Big Bad” but as writers, we need to direct readers to buy places we MAKE MONEY.
Oh! And thanks for that link! If we discuss piracy here that will be handy to have. I know I am being a drama queen just I am so tired of everyone but writers getting PAID. *shouts at heavens*
“Everyone but writers” getting paid? What country do you live in, Kristen? I’d love to move there.
The fact is that, right now, almost NOBODY gets paid who isn’t a corporation or the high-level management of same. I know four working, full-time editors on salary; three with Master’s degrees and one with a doctorate; not one of them makes over $25,000 a year gross. These are not beginners; they average more than 13 years of experience. Those used bookstores that aren’t paying writers usually aren’t getting paid themselves, either; *any* bookstore is an inherently high-overhead business, because you need a substantial amount of space and stock in order to attract customers at all. They may be rejoicing because it is actually possible to keep the doors open again after 20 years in which *no* independent bookstore could survive; but ask them how much they’re taking home from it, rather than pouring back into keeping the store itself afloat, and they’re likely to look at you funny. Take-home pay? What’s that?
Nor is it confined to the literary industries, for that matter. I’m a licensed massage therapist; a full-time health care professional in an industry that’s supposedly ‘hot’. I’m fortunate enough to work for one of the most high-paying clinics in my city. And my take-home pay averages less than $30K. We’ve lost four therapists this year, who loved their work deeply but simply couldn’t feed themselves and their kids on it anymore. I get away with staying because my husband and brother are both in IT, and my kids and I live with both of them. If there’s *any* industry where people get paid, IT would be it — but even with those jobs, we have to share expenses between two families in order to survive.
The situation for writers sucks, and should be changed; but it’s not unique by any stretch of the imagination. Instead, it’s only one facet of the fact that we live in an extremely aggressive capitalist economy that’s long since left the real free market behind and gone sociopathic. Productivity has been rising steadily since the 1970s; real wages have remained flat or actually declined. The companies swallow up the money and then pour it into buying politicians who will strip-mine the social safety net in order to give those same companies big tax rebates, and real human beings are keeping less and less of the income from what we produce in *every* industry.
This isn’t primarily about the distinction between e-books and paper, or any one bookstore business model; it’s about something much more fundamental: the extreme discrepancy between how much of the income produced by making and selling anything goes to the individuals who do the work, vs how much goes to the corporate owners who used to take a cut and now take almost everything. It’s probably going to take massive political awakening and change to affect, since almost all the politicians are wholly-owned subsidiaries of companies which can afford to spend their money on massive campaign contributions since they’re not spending it on labor. Noticed those studies by Princeton and Northwestern which say we’ve effectively become a plutocratic oligarchy? The individual human vote still matters, but only if you can find a candidate whom they haven’t bought already, and that’s not yet impossible, but it’s increasingly difficult. I won’t get into specific ones because that isn’t the point of this comment; I’ll only say *look at where the money is coming from*. Every politician will give their first loyalty to their biggest sources of campaign contributions so make sure you know who those are.
Writers can help with this process by educating people about what’s going on, and encouraging them not to take the status quo for granted nor to get caught up in the interparty wars that have been encouraged in order to keep us fighting each other instead of noticing who’s really causing our pain. Modern mainstream journalism is owned by five or six companies with their own fixed agendae; we need people who know how to use words to pick up the slack and tell people what the news won’t. That doesn’t mean every fiction writer needs to become a journalist instead, but it does mean that people who blog anyway could stand to look at the bigger picture some of the time.
There’s an old labor movement joke (from when we still had a labor movement that hadn’t been systematically crushed): a worker, a union representative, and a boss sat around a table. On the table was a plate containing a dozen cookies. Before either of the others could move, the boss picked up the plate and scooped eleven of the cookies into his pocket.
Then he winked at the worker. “Better watch out for that union man,” he told him. “I think he’s got his eye on YOUR cookie.”
Kristen, the independent used bookstore owners don’t have their eye on your cookie. The corporations — ranging from the big chains (used or new) to the publishers to Amazon to those altogether outside the literary world have taken eleven of the cookies, and left us all to squabble over the relative sizes of our respective crumbs from the remaining one.
Maybe it’s time, instead, to go see what’s in the companies’ pocket.
I completely agree, but the thing is the used bookstores and the bookstores and the pundits keep feeding artists the same Soma…”exposure.” It is okay to do what we do because well…you get exposure. THAT was my beef with the used bookstore. It isn’t okay. How is all that “exposure” you are giving us helping if in the same article you bashed the last remaining places writers get paid? As if “exposure” magically feeds me.
None of this is okay. I don’t know what we are going to do about it but you are right. Business has gone sociopathic.
Without the arts, where would Apple, Microsoft, Google, AT&T and all the other giants be? People pay hundreds for devices, thousands for computers, we pay for high-speed Internet. Why? So we can watch MOVIES. Listen to MUSIC. Read STORIES. Without artists? These companies wouldn’t be worth billions. But when the artist says something about being paid? We get fed that line about “exposure.” Well, obscurity is your greatest enemy.
Okay, but that doesn’t mean it is our ONLY one. It’s like the wolf telling us our REAL problem is the grizzly….while the wolf is then gnawing off our leg.
Our only chance is a social media platform and a caring, vested and educated consumer with a conscience. Because if we are waiting for the big corporations to treat us justly? That isn’t going to happen. They don’t just DO that on their own.
Of course you don’t just wait for the corporations to treat you well. We *all* have to fight to make the corporations treat people well. All I’m saying is that, if you let them turn one industry against another, or one political ideology against another, or one race or class or gender against another, so that *anyone* is saying, “I’m going to use this tactic which will let me get mine, because that’s what really matters to me; everyone else is their own problem,” then neither you nor anyone else will succeed. It’s going to have to be done together or not at all. As you say, business — pretty much ALL business — has gone sociopathic, and it needs to be reined back in Real Damn Hard, if not simply overthrown altogether.
What are we going to do about it? A lot of different things, all more or less contemporaneously, really. We’re going to work within specific industries, on things like killing the myth that writers should be willing to work for “exposure” or that massage therapists should only be paid for hands-on hours and not for time spent doing charting or clinic chores or the other full third of their workday that right now we make zero for doing. We’re going to keep bringing up the plutocracy/wealth inequality/corporate dominance issues in every public forum where they can be discussed, until the mainstream media is forced either to participate or be treated as irrelevant and stop making money. We’re going to build community organizations to allow us to buy and trade directly with each other instead of buying from the companies, so we keep our REAL wealth (the goods and services and creative inventions that we make or grow or do) among human hands, rather than letting it pass through corporate hands so they can take their huge cut. We’re going to clamor for true single-payer health care, like every civilized country out there, so that the insurance industry stops determining who lives and dies, and how well. We might try to push for the Universal Basic Income that Finland’s just voted to implement; I’ve heard worse ideas.
We’re going to make a revolution. Hopefully not a violent one, although I wish I thought that was less likely than I really do. But a political and economic revolution against the sociopathic businesses and business owners who have taken over our economy, our government and our world.
The thing about revolution is that it rarely comes from violence, even when the new government has to be defended with violence. It comes from people saying no. Revolutions happen the moment enough people turn from their former rulers and say, “I won’t listen to you anymore.” Nobody can be a leader if there isn’t anyone willing to follow them.
So we make a revolution against the plutocrats by saying No. We won’t do what you want anymore. We won’t buy from you any more than we can help. We won’t sell our work to you, any more than we can help. We won’t work for you, if there’s another way to survive (the Tiny House movement is getting off the ground so fast in part because a lot of people like the idea of having a house which is so inexpensive that it *doesn’t* tie them to a corporate job 40 hours a week, and gives them the opportunity to walk away). We won’t let our every interaction with each other exist through one of you companies or another… we’re going to turn away, and interact with each other directly, leaving you out in the cold.
From a writer’s perspective, there are ways to make this work. I know a crowdfunded author, who make a respectable living by posting her work for everyone to read… but only after *somebody* has paid her for it. She posts titles, very general topics, and character groups (if the piece is set within an existing universe of her characters), so people know what they’re considering buying. Then, if they want to read the rest, they either have to pay for it, or hope somebody else does.
It’s not the only way to make the general principle of turning away from corporate ownership and rejecting their rule over us… but it’s one. And so long as each of us use what we can to avoid handing over the real wealth in our hands for the fools’ gold in which they pretend to pay us. Whether that’s the fool’s gold of “exposure” or the fool’s gold of accounting is hardly material. They’re all just as fake.
Yes and I agree. But I never said boycott the used bookstore. I only said make sure to buy new. I feel the USED bookstore was the one fueling that digital and Amazon is bad. And if they keep kneecapping how we are paid, they are gutting us making a living. We had a saying in sales. Say it once, say it twice, say it three times, say it four times, say it five times and they will believe.
Why my post was so ANGRY was the out and out LIES in that post. Digital sales are NOT falling. Amazon is NOT the best, but it is far from EVIL. What good is that used bookstore doing promoting paper and a used bookstore if it is promoting lies to the general public? If writers don’t get paid, where is that used bookstore going to get future books FROM?
I reiterate. Indie bookstores are all but gone. Borders is gone. B&N is almost extinct. The article was promoting ideas to the public that cut ALL our throats. If the Washington Post and the New York Times and these major news outlets keep repeating over and over and over that digital books are dying and Amazon is bad? They are KILLING authors. Even traditionally published ones. Traditionally published authors now make most of their money off e-books.
The problem is that they are too powerful and too crafty to let us in and even literal states have failed to subpoena them for tax evasion based on falsified sales records because they stood behind ‘privacy laws’ and garbage like ‘freedom of the press’ and so forth.
Its not going to be an easily won battle.
A needful one and a righteous one, but not an easy one.
Gawds I love that rant. I’ve spent all of today working on publicity plans, trying to get more of an audience for my books. Lots of research and thinking, which is exhausting.
I get tired of hearing “can’t you just give me a copy of your book?” OMG, what? You want me to give you something? How about you come paint my house because it needs done and I LOVE paint! Or mow the lawn, the hot winter has made the grass grow and I owe the regular guys money because they won’t come out without being paid (really? They charge for that stuff???).
I work hard for that book. I did all the research, did all the typing. Did all the imagination work to create the world, make sure all of it meshes with everything else. I did rewrites. I found an editor. I pay a guy in Thailand to do my layout (and he is fantastic, but he wants paid). I pay for the images on my covers and, because I cannot afford to pay someone to do it, I’ve learned to do them myself. It takes a YEAR to get everything done on each book, mostly because I’m doing this stuff on my own and I have a physical thing that makes me have to rest occasionally. But I do it ALL. And I pay for the stuff.
And you want me to give you the book because you don’t want to pay for it??
No. Just no.
*Note: I do give copies for charity fundraisers because 1) I’m a nice person, 2) I believe in the cause, and 3) because I can take it off my taxes, which is like getting paid for it.
Thanks for that rant, sweetie, I totally agree.
You said it best!!
You preach the truth, Kristen! Well done.
Perhaps there should be a system similar to the public lending rights that authors get paid for with library books… resale rights? Although I can already people bemoaning the admin involved… and the bite into the profit margin. Just a thought.
You tell them, Sister. I’ve been working on my first novel for almost a year. I don’t plan to give it away when it’s finished. And I’ll avoid used bookstores from now on. I mostly shop at Amazon anyway.
I believe in everything you say here. I agree about all the “exposure” crap. I also believe in used book stores because I believe in getting books out to anyone and everyone. Like when I was poor, libraries and used book stores introduced me to writers I later bought on my own. But still, I agree with everything you say. And I do not believe in writers giving their life away for free. Harlan Ellison is also my god of writers. Do you hear that? Harlan Ellison is my GOD OF WRITERS!
So, Kristen, you are a talented writer and every time you speak a kitten does die from the sheer stupidity of having recite again to everyone “Why didn’t you just listen to Kristen the first time?!”
And OMG, Kristen. You are a supreme writer of all that is genius and I don’t want to be JUST LIKE YOU because I have my own words to spew forth but I *have* even started sprinting JUST LIKE you, which is weird because I HATE SPRINTING! 😉
Reblogged this on xxxperimentblog and commented:
I hope it’s okay to reblog this!
I’m glad you’re commenting about the 5-ton pink elephant. I’m sick of free. First it was one book. Then it was one book plus a free ‘reader magnet.’ Then it was one book each series, plus a free reader magnet for each of those series. Sheesh! I’ve got 8 books published and am only making money from TWO of them until I can get more product out! That’s insane. I don’t mind one free, or one plus a magnet. But at some point we’ve got to feed our kids 🙁
I wish used book stores only sold books which were out of print and/or copyright, which is why I buy from them. Unfortunately, most consumers do not consider anything other than the deal they are getting.
You rock, Kristen! I agree with all you’ve said here. And I LOVE your humor. Humorous rants, love it!
As usual you have said what so many others are afraid to say. Next I wish you would talk about the plusses and minuses of marketing our print and/or digital books to libraries. I see both sides of that coin.
Holy Mother of Godzilla!!! Have I ever responded to your blog? I don’t think so. I read it, good(even great) stuff, blah, blah, blah. But 5 minutes ago, I was doubled over with gut pains and my head was throbbing thanks to the woodpecker who lives there–in other words, worst God-dam flu I’ve had in 20 years. I read, I tossed ALL the Christmas cookies, I feel better! Why? Kristen’s gut-wreching, head exploding passion. Thanks for protecting writers against the enemy, which is too often the writer her/himself!! Love the video, too. You just, dunno, rock with the big boulders! That didn’t sound right but I’m feveris, and ya know what I mean. Will reblog on my Toughlovetrain blog, my website, my FB, and my Twit. Ever hear of Medium? Put this there!!!
Hmmm… I’ve read this post twice and am still not clear on how you feel about used bookstores. 🙂 Seriously, I agree 100% with your comments. It’s hard enough to make any money in this business as is. I’d love to see ALL bookstores make a comeback, but mostly I’d love to see all authors get paid for their work, not just the famous ones!
Hey, I LOVE used bookstores. I go to them for out of print books ALL the time. I even buy books to give away to people (if I find a stack say of a favorite for sale) BUT with the instructions, BUY THIS NEW IF YOU LIKE IT BECAUSE THAT IS HOW THE AUTHOR MAKES A LIVING.
I love the rant, Kristen. Great way to finish 2015. People should pay for our work. I couldn’t agree more. The only time I’ve ever bought second hand books is when a book I’ve bought has fallen apart and it is now out of print and I manage to track down a copy of it so the series it’s a part of isn’t broken. Otherwise, I ALWAYS buy new books, even before I was a writer. Keep standing up for all us ‘little guys’. I’ve shared your article (and not the other one) on twitter and FB and hope others will too.
100% agree with you AND the video. Especially the part about amateurs ruining it for professional writers. It’s hard to compete with free as it is, but to have a used bookstore profit off our blood, sweat, and tears is ridiculous! What’s in it for us? Exposure, yeah right. I also agree with you about Huffington. Sure, it looks great on a resume, but the comments are down-right rude. No thank you. I can grief all on my own without busting my chops for the Huffington Post. Now you’ve got me all fired up. Anyway…loved this post.
Reblogged this on Claudette Melanson, Author of Dark Fantasy and commented:
I agree with everything you said. You make total sense. I only have one issue. And its a non sarcastic, non angry issue. It’s kind a, ‘desperate measures’ issue.
I’m a writer, right? That means I have to read books, right? But I don’t have any money. I’ve not grown up in a good situation and am just becoming aware of that and my options. Stress has shut my body systems down to the point that it’s only just now been possible for me to get a job without putting myself in, end-up-in-the-hospital-breakdown-level. And I’m not being dramatic or poor is me. I’m just finally not selling myself short. This is the strangest comment I’ve ever written, by the way.
But what I’m trying to get around to saying here is, …….. if it weren’t for used books, I wouldn’t have been reading, at all. The difference between $8 and $4 meant the difference between either getting one used book and gas or food – or zero books and gas or food.
So when you write posts like this, I feel like a total jerk. I didn’t even know until I read a post by you a year or so ago that used bookstores didn’t give the author any money. So now that I have a job, I’m saving up and buying all my known author books new. I buy the ones I’m not so sure about used sometimes because I’m really picky and a lot of the time, I end up not liking them, and give them away.
Does any of this even make sense?
I read 100 pages an hour without trying hard so I can go through a book a day, and my income can’t pay for my habit. I use my public library, mainly for ebooks. I also use ebook sites like bookbub.com and fussylibrarian.com for free first books in series and books on sale.
I thank the authors that I’m not buying by writing short reviews for a number of reader sites I belong to. I also leave reviews at B&N.com and Amazon. (Not that I buy from Amazon.)
If you don’t have an ebook reader or tablet, ask around. Lots of people got new tablets for Christmas, and they may gift you their old one as an ebook reader.
Daphne, there was a time I was DEAD BROKE. I bought used. There are other things that you can do to support authors (I.e. write AWESOME reviews). The point here is NOT to shame anyone because had it not been for used books? There was a time I would not have been able to read. BUT, because I understood HOW writers were PAID, when I did become more solvent I worked hard to buy NEW. I also work VERY hard to let readers KNOW this. “Hey, if you LOVE the writer’s work? SHOW HER! BUY A COPY! It is how she gets paid so she can write MORE!” I am simply here to challenge us to educate people so we aren’t all racing to the cheapest because if we keep doing that? NONE of us is going to be able to keep doing this writing thing.
What I would LOVE to see these used bookstores doing is SUPPORTING WRITERS. Really supporting them. Hold book events to promote NEW books. Books THEY won’t make an initial profit off of. Help US with our marketing. HELP us promote. HELP us with our grassroots platform building. If you REALLY support writers like you SAY you do. Because without WRITERS? They have no business.
Kristen, I usually agree with you on just about everything, but there is one thing that I didn’t see in your post that I think is relevant. Those used books in bookstores were originally bought new, which means the author was paid the royalty on it once. As an author, I don’t expect to keep being paid on regurgitated merchandise, and quite frankly, I’d be thrilled to see my used book, with it’s dog-eared pages and worn cover in a used bookstore. I do not agree with piracy, but as you said, that’s a whole different post altogether. Doctors can’t resell a surgical procedure. Car salesmen do not get commissions on cars they sell that are then sold somewhere down the line to a second or third buyer. When we pick up used cd’s or dvds from a second-hand store or a thrift shop, the artist/movie house isn’t getting royalty payments or compensation, but they did at one point in time. Also, people who are selling used books are getting nowhere the price they paid for them. I can go to the local library’s bookstore and pick up certain paperbacks if I so wanted, 10 for $1. 10 cents a piece. That bookstore isn’t making anything off of that sale, but it is putting an affordable book that someone at one time paid full price for in the hands of someone who otherwise wouldn’t be able to read the books. It’s for these reasons I love used bookstores, library bookstores, thrift shops and yard sales. I’ve found many books to complete a set I had started, and I love finding the treasures that fit my pocketbook.
But this is why the post is so LONG. I do LOVE used bookstores. They serve a purpose. I buy from them. BUT writers should be EDUCATING readers how WE ARE PAID. What irritated me about the article is this attitude that somehow they are supporting the arts whereas the big bad digital and corporate Amazon isn’t.
What bothered me about the article is the juxtaposition near Amazon and digital as if “they” are the enemy and somehow the used bookstores are doing us favors Yes, they are good for readers. There were times I was grateful for really cheap books when I was broke. But I was also really happy I KNEW HOW writers were paid so that when I DID get back on my feet? I could go BUY NEW from those writers.
This article is simply to challenge writers to value their work and educate readers HOW they are paid. There WAS a time, I honestly thought I was being a really AWESOME fan simply by buying ALL of an author’s books. I had NO idea that writer was not being paid by me buying from Half Price. Yes, I was THAT blonde.
And while we might love finding a treasure that fits in our pocket, we also have to ask…how would I like other writers supporting me? If we can’t count on each other? People who know the industry and know how tough this business is and who KNOW we are not all millionaires with three-book deals? Who can we count on?
If bookstores say they really LOVE writers? Let them pony up in ways that actually matter.
And while a doctor can’t resell a surgical procedure, that doctor isn’t only going to do one procedure in a lifetime. Most used bookstores are not carrying indie authors. This means they are carrying mostly traditional. According to BEA stats, as of 2007 only 1 out of 10 traditionally published authors ever saw a second book in print. It is not uncommon for an author to only have a handful of titles in a lifetime. This is not the case with a surgeon. A car salesman has a new batch of cars to sell every month. That writer is ONLY making money of THAT work. Period. Yes, I get that the used bookstore is NOT stealing, but this “exposure”? Yeah. I will buy a book for a fellow author instead.
Being upset about the article making ebooks the enemy is one thing, but it seems you are trying to have ebook benefits on paper sales. Doesn’t work that way. If you get into the traditional world of print, you get the benefits and the (many) problems that go along with those sales. Don’t like it? Then stay in the digital publishing world.
And very ironic you are using a wikipedia commons photo for this post – how much did you pay the photographer to use that photo, I wonder?
No. I am trying to get writers to educate readers how they get paid so they can continue to write books. I use the commons because they are free and fair use and this is a very old image from a zoo with no royalty or even photographer attached so I couldn’t have paid if I wanted to. I load plenty of my images into WANA Commons for others to do the same.
And frankly, the whole used books doesn’t even impact me financially since most don’t even accept indies and self-pubs.
We are WRITERS. We, of all people, should appreciate the sheer brutality of this business. How unappreciated it can be. If we won’t support each other and promote venues that pay writers who will? If we can’t challenge bookstores to REALLY support us? Who will?
Bookstores can keep saying they support books…but until they support writers in meaningful ways? To me that is just lip service. And it is IN their interest to back us and help us. In a world where discoverability IS a nightmare they actually could help.
So fine – encourage writers to educate readers, but you are upset and want used bookstores to “pony up” the money to writers? These are different issues.
And I use wikipedia common photos on my websites too, but arguing that because an image is old and there is no way to pay a royalty on it makes it ok not to support photographers still sounds like you are hamstringing your own used book argument to me. I buy used books because they are old and I pay less (since there is no way to pay for a royalty), and you want me to feel bad about this while you are using free photos from a volunteer photographer? Why not stick with buying new photos from a photographer if you feel so strongly about supporting struggling artists?
No, I never said pony up money. I said pony up support. What I am saying is that bookstores need writers or there isn’t much point to a bookstore. Support books in authentic ways by supporting writers. I also was simply challenging WRITERS to instruct readers to please BUY places they get paid.
And I disagree that A + B = C.
I do stuff for free all the time. That is the POINT. People reblog this every day. Share my blogs far and wide for FREE. I don’t expect payment. We artists do a lot for free. It goes with it. What I am saying is that we’ve done enough and if others support and love what we do? They need to give back. It’s only just to ask this.
If I am a photographer and I have a bunch of stuff on Flickr Commons, that is a great way to get known. It happens. That photographer VOLUNTARILY put to there for me to USE. We have photographers on Flickr Commons who have contributed to WANA commons who we later hired for covers and all kinds of artwork.
I never said we don’t ever do ANY work for free. I said writers and artists are doing a lot of work for free. Too much for free. So much for free that what is happening is consumers are expecting everything for free. And that if we don’t value what we do, we are going to be hard-pressed to get anyone else to.
We live in an era of very inexpensive technology. Great you have these wonderful profit margins. Great for you. How about supporting writers who produce the books? Invite them in to promote their NEW BOOKS? Maybe you won’t make money off it immediately. But bookstores are in a unique position to help us (artists/writers) make a dent in the Internet. It is HARD making that dent. Publishers aren’t helping writers promote. Amazon is some giant algorithm machine. Is it so hair brained to ASK a BOOKSTORE to support authors? They make money off them.
I guess I am simply tired. I am tired of writers being the last and the least. People “say” they support them. Agents, editors, publishers, bookstores, all the folks who DO get paid by the way. Meanwhile? The writer’s workload increases. Discoverability gets tougher and tougher and tougher. Then articles like this champion businesses that DO NOT help us…but that could, that REALLY COULD if they wanted to. And because people don’t understand HOW writers are paid, they think this is good for us when really?
Not so much.
Maybe I am confused because my local bookstore (locally owned, not a chain) does do these things – they hold booksignings, they sell new books, etc. And they have a used book section that happens to be where I bought my last several (used) books. So I’m not understanding the anger directed at selling used books. They have a time and a place, and I agree with you that used bookstores should support authors for mutual benefit – but this isn’t what I understood from your original blog post. You seemed to be vilifying the entire used book sales industry which is just a function of traditional publishing. There are far better ways for indie authors to make money than by going the traditional publishing route, and I thought your anger was misplaced. That’s all. Carry on.
No it was the article that ticked me off and you’d probably have to go read it. I love small bookstores, indie bookstores and I love USED bookstores. It’s part of why the damn post was so long. Was trying to be CLEAR that I love the bookstore while also holding the industry and writers accountable for this mutual SLOG we share. I feel if you make a profit off writers and we don’t make any MONETARY profit? HELP US OUT! That isn’t a lot to ask. And writers? Promote places that PAY YOU. We are going to have to work together or we are doomed.
XD Ahah, I saw your comment on the Washington Post article, too. I find myself nodding to your words as I read – for me, the biggest motivation for writing (aside from, of course, the motivation almost all of us have that we have to before we explode from the stories inside) is that I think of my favorite writers, and how breathless I get when I get to meet them, and what their books have meant to me, and I want to be that for someone else.
So technically, I guess I’m not in it for the money. But. I’d still rather follow your advice and educate and encourage readers to buy new because I would still very much so LIKE to get paid. And even if it wasn’t important to me at all (I’m not in it for the money as my primary motivation; I am, however, motivated by being paid, so it is important to me to some degree) it’d be important to me to support fellow authors; I’m not stuck with a job I hate, but most the other writers I know aren’t supported by a husband, and they do have the dream of working by writing instead of whatever else they’re doing. I want them to achieve that dream, too. So yeah, I need to help them get sales if nothing else. Thanks for pointing out the man behind the curtain while I was distracted with the pyrotechnics.
Agree. AGREE! Thank you for putting it out there, and covering everything. Bravo!
Reblogged this on Jinxie's World and commented:
What she said…
THANK YOU for posting this!!! I had to reblog.
Thanks for that Harlan Ellison video clip. He’s not polite, he’s never polite, but he does make his point. If you sweat and strain to put a piece together and someone recognises its worth, it’s worth something more to you than a patronising pat on the back. I love Ellison’s work and I love his little rants. I remember his saying once that he would never let his work be edited; not by so much as one little comma. He’s one of the few writers who has control over his work. But that’s because he’s fought for it.
Yo Dozer, you rock. I frickin’ loved this piece.
Keep destructing and speaking on behalf of fledglings like me who need to hear this more often.
Bravo! My sentiments exactly.
Yep, a long rant and rave, but no matter how much truth is in what’s being said, the world goes on. As an author, I want the best of all worlds. I want my books and ebooks to sell, and I want small used book stores to succeed. What little money I have I’d like to spread out as far as possible. Three used books for the price of one new book is economy and ecology smart. Amazon is an author’s best friend and worst enemy…well, next to ourselves.
LOL. We are the WORST! If we can just get past OURSELVES! I want the small used bookstore to succeed, but let them learn the W.A.N.A. Way. Work WITH WRITERS. We help each other intend of one simply profiting off the other. “Exposure” is no longer enough. We need to dig in in meaningful ways.
I haven’t bought new books in ages; the library has a used book sale every year and I’m afraid I’ve piled on enough to last me for twenty years or so; I’ve CONSCIOUSLY stayed away from the book sale for four or five years and every time I THINK about buying a book the ones in my attic plead with me–please, PLEASE read me! We’ve been SO good, for SO long–but I have to own up to my infidelities; I occasionally check books out from the library, usually to practice my Spanish–
As for writing, I’ve been giving my own memoirs a rest while I edit my mother’s, which is something of a paid gig–she sends me a check with each installment–and at 85 she has a lot more experience and a lot more perspective than me!
Make sure to write AWESOME reviews 😀 !
You are one of my favorite writers, Kristen, but with all due respect I don’t think you’ve thought things through here – perhaps because your head keeps exploding. (Some of my books might help you with that :), but don’t take this as a suggestion as they are for very “specialized” tastes.)
In the first place, as you know, selling used books is not illegal. It is also not, in my opinion, exploitative or wrong in any real way. I think the proper analogy of a printed book is to a piece of furniture, which is first created in the mind, then in a physical form. If you sell a chair, the buyer does not buy a right to reproduce it (if it is patented), but does buy the right to let anyone sit in it, or to resell it at will. A physical book is the same way. But only one person gets to have it at a time.
Secondly, while I don’t think of bookstores as an arcane relic of bygone days, or a center of culture, they do stimulate demand for books as a whole by being a physical, observable presence, and they cater to a somewhat different market than the “buy-it-new” consumer so widespread in America. I am skeptical about the claims of profit margin in that article, but in any event, what is actually sold at a used book store is an experience far different from what you’d get at an online distributor such as Amazon.
I also disagree with your benevolent view of Amazon’s placing “used” books in competition with the books we sell on their site (although I do not challenge their right to do it). And I think Amazon promotes two things that are far more deadly to an indie writers’ eventual ability to make a living than used books could ever be: an effective price range of $2.99 – $9.99, and a commodity treatment of writing that forces prices ever downward, from the KDP per page pricing (advertised as “free” right beside our price for the book!) to its constant promotion of lower pricing. Amazon promotes more distribution of free books than are ever sold through used book stores, and unlike a used book store selling a tattered printed book, Amazon’s sales never reduce the supply side of the supply/demand equation.
Finally, I disagree with the need to educate anybody about how authors get paid – unless it is the authors themselves. Instead, we should look for ways to promote our work so people want to buy them. For themselves, and not to support us.
This post was about authors directing people (potential buyers) to USED bookstores. I know it is not illegal for that book to be resold. But, as AUTHORS we know how HARD this business is. Why are we promoting venues where authors are not paid a royalty? We promote used bookstores and then complain we cannot make a living wage. Explain how this makes sense.
As far as used bookstores? Sure it isn’t illegal what they do. But how wise is it not to cultivate the future crops of writers? And why WOULDN’T we educate people how we are PAID? Why not tell readers if Amazon is ripping you off. “Hey, if you really want to SUPPORT me? Buy from Kobo! Have my Mother Ship download it into your brain! I get WAY better royalties.” Why is it so gauche for US to want to make a living wage?
And unlike the chair? We are not a mass manufacturer. We are artisans. But you know? I am not the all-knowing-of-all-things. This IS a blog and at the end of the day? An opinion. I love bookstores but I think if they really love books? Help writers. I think writers deserve to be paid and I think too many regular people have watched too many movies and think we are either starving hippies writing bad haiku or we all have a three-book deal and are rich. If WE do not educate readers how to support us, Hollywood will and then we are screwed.
Good Lord! You’re in a tissy! And rightfully so. Your linear thought process drew me to:
1. Places I wasn’t expecting.
2. One of those happens to be a bar.
3. Upon agreement, pass me the vermouth! I need another martini!
XOXOXOXO! Love ya girlie! Also…. digital is hypoallergenic! Like a labradoodle!
I love that you’re still responding as late as it is! Admire the passion, and always enjoy the style and humor. But I think it is a mistake for writers to want consumers to try to support us rather than focus on a way to make them want and need to pay us.
And I’m right there with you on the need to be paid.
Most of my furniture was made by artisans, one thing at a time, by the way. They got well paid and hit the road.
KInd of the same thing. I get what you mean. I don’t want “donations.” But I also recall before I became a writer I had NO idea how authors got paid and so I thought I was being an AWESOME fan by buying books at Half Price Bookstore. I was SO DEVOTED. Then…I joined my first writing group and learned how the profession worked and I was MORTIFIED that I really wasn’t supporting my favorite authors. I ended up re-buying a lot of books. I WANTED my money to go to THEM 😉 …the artisan.
You are quite convincing, gotta say.
I agree with you, Kristen, writers deserve to be paid for their work. And I abhor the idea that used bookstores are loudly bragging about their profits.
But I want comment about the books I inherited from my father. A wonderful library of books, most in hardcover, a hundred or so paperbacks, fiction and nonfiction. I love books. It seems like a stab to the heart that I am forced to downsize from four large bookcases to one.
I tried in vain to donate my books to a library, schools, institutions, charities, the few used bookstores that were left. No one wanted them. How could I throw them away? It just wasn’t in me, yet something had to give.
So my kids volunteered to take them to a book drop. And off they went. Along with my heart. But if only one person takes one of those books, reads it and loves it as I did, I feel justified. It would be the same if these books were in a used bookstore and someone bought them, and received joy out of them, or learning, or peace.
I know the writers who toiled over these books are shortchanged. And this saddens me. But it saddens me more to think of throwing out a book.
I have an elderly friend who loves to read but cannot afford to buy new books. Her eyes lit up when I gave her twenty or so paperback mysteries. She will read them and pass them on to her friends, and if this enriches their lives, I am happy.
Sorry to make this so long. And I don’t want you to think I’m on the side of used bookstores, or profiteers. I am just on the side of books.
Love your blog, love how you help writers.
Oh BAH! That is a beautiful story and I love hearing these. Your story isn’t the sort of stuff that is hacking me off. You know I really don’t even mind the used bookstores making RECORD PROFITS! But HELP WRITERS. I buy used books. Sometimes books are out of print. Sometimes we are just dead damned broke (and then a glowing review is GREAT). But what I am challenging everyone to do is to value the writer (writers included).
And truth is, where the money really is is that latest George R.R. Martin hardback that someone ate through in two days and resold and the used bookstore is reselling for $15 and then acting like they are doing writers in general a favor. Trust me. George R.R. Martin will sell books 😉 .
I hardly ever comment on blogs, but I want to say thanks for this one. I learned a lot! It never occurred to me that writers didn’t receive royalties from used book sales, and that’s due the the simple fact that I never thought about it before I read this. (Now imagine a new lightbulb inside a thought bubble floating over my head as I make a thinking face.)
I learned just as much reading through your responses to the more critical comments. I appreciate that you’ve taken the time to respond and create a bit of a dialogue here. It’s given me something to think about. My 12 year old son LOVES reading and he gets uber excited about all bookstores. I will have to think twice about where we take him. He’s also just nerdy enough to want to know how writers get paid, so I will share this with him. He’s great for a one-liner, so I’ll let you know if he says anything funny. He will appreciate your sense of humor…as do I.
You are welcome and I owe you pages! The Mucinex from my bronchitis had me on this rant *hangs head*. I HAD to get this OUT! I have your pages up on my laptop 😀
It’s apparent you missed the drug warning on the peel-back label of your Mucinex bottle. There’s one specifically for writers that reads: WARNING. This drug may cause an urgent need for ranting. Particular caution should be used when operating blogs with high levels of readership.
It was a fantastic rant that I agreed with 100% just like I fully agree with Harlan Ellison’s rant (and he IS my favorite golden age speculative fiction writer. I was fortunate to meet him once, which is a whole other story). In fact, I recommend the documentary film from which that clip was taken, “Dreams with Sharp Teeth.” It inspires me every time I watch it and it includes Robin Williams and Neil Gaiman!
Although, in this specific clip, Harlan wasn’t referring to used bookstores. He was justifiably angry that wealthy Warner Bros. wanted to republish his Babylon 5 interview without paying him. I’d feel the same and would probably express it with as much profanity-laden vitriol.
More to the point, since it was Kristen and I who discussed used bookstores on Facebook yesterday, and that seemed to spark this blog post, I thought I’d qualify the statement I made comparing cars to books because I think it was taken in the wrong spirit. It was not meant to devalue books. As an author pursuing a writing career, that is the last thing I would ever do.
As Harlan Ellison also said, “if you want your music, BUY your music. If you want my books, BUY my books”. As an author, certainly I want readers to buy my books. Of course, that isn’t the only reason I write. I also do it because I love it. I live to write. It’s my art, it’s my life’s blood. I’m sure many of us here feel the same.
My only point in comparing the book to the car was that the book, while a work of painstaking art and intellectual property, is often looked upon as a product when it hits the marketplace. I don’t agree with that. To me, art transcends the crude label of “product”, but right or wrong, books have a price and are bought and sold. Nothing revelatory in that statement. In fact, I’ve read more than one blog article by veteran authors who made it quite clear in their advice to newbies that writers should separate the craft (or art) from the business.
Once a reader purchases my book, and I have their money, I as the author have no control over what they do with that book later–and we all know that there is no benefit to worrying about something we cannot control.
If that reader decides to sell or give my book to a used bookstore and that bookstore resells it, I certainly can’t expect a percentage of that sale back to me. Right or wrong, that’s just the way it is. If I purchase a car and decide to privately resell it 10 years later, I certainly wouldn’t send a percentage back to the manufacturer. They were paid 10 years ago. I had the first reader’s money when he or she bought my book new. Yes, a book is intellectual property, and I expect to be paid if someone wants my book, but I have no recourse when that second reader buys it. So…I don’t worry about it.
Kristen made an excellent point on my Facebook post that a car manufacturer produces multiple new models each year by the thousands, whereas writers do not mass produce. Absolutely right, but I was focusing more on the consumer side of the relationship.
On that note, I definitely agree that we need to educate the readers on how to support authors. I do it all the time, but I honestly don’t have enough faith in humanity to think that many readers are going to buy the digital version of a book they just purchased in a used bookstore. It would be fabulous if they did!
In the end, I can’t bring myself to point the finger of blame at the used bookstores, because of all the out-of-print treasures I have found over the years. Besides, those thousands of used books have to go somewhere…right? 🙂
Actually I am THAT reader, LOL. Used bookstores cater to paper. If we (writers) explain to our fans HOW to support us, we might be surprised. I have MANY digital books I will never read simply because I bought a USED paper copy and bought the DIGITAL so the writer would be paid 😉 …but all because others educated me.
I have a mass of digital books I bought to support writers I met on social media, and I doubt I ever have time to read them all. Plus I have digital copies of my favorite books by “big” authors as well, just in case I ever feel nostalgic.
Kristen–Thanks for the eye-opening and informative diatribe! I am so glad that I did not buy those books at Goodwill today…! I want to be paid for my blog, if possible…I haven’t a clue on how to proceed; I write because I feel like I purge my soul each time I put neurons to notebook! Thanks for the enlightenment—DWD
P.S. Loved the reference from GOT!
You know what, Hon? Buy them. It is fine! BUT, if you LIKE them? FIND something from the author and buy it so she is PAID. That is really ALL this rant is about. I do that crap all the time. I find a used book…BUT because I understand HOW we are paid? I then make a point to go BACK and find a digital copy to support other writers. But just seeing YOUR response and others as well makes my point that people don’t understand how authors are making their livings and they honestly BELIEVE they are helping. WE are responsible for guiding them in the ways they can help us even better.
Reblogged this on Emily Arden, author.
When I was a teenager I used to buy new science fiction books by the stack (they were literally piled in my arms), but as time went on, the price of new books went up and up and up, and it got to the point where I couldn’t afford them any more. So I switched to second-hand stores (aside from regular second-hand book stores, pretty much every shopping street in the UK has a charity shop with a second-hand book section in it). I very rarely bought a new book.
If felt bad about it though, because it’s self evident that the second-hand book trade shafts the writer. My personal consolation was knowing that the author in question wasn’t going to lose a sale on account of my second-hand purchase, because there was no way I was going to buy the over-priced ‘new’ book. It was second-hand or nothing.
Then Amazon and ebooks came along and suddenly there were a lot of (what I considered to be) reasonably-priced books on the market. I was back to buying new. Happy days.
And then they weren’t, because the publishers took control of the pricing and bumped up the ebook price to match the print price, or in some ludicrous cases, made them even higher.
To give you an example, my daughter recently asked me to buy her a set of popular fantasy literature. Always the optimist, I crossed my fingers and went to Amazon to look for a reasonably-priced ebook edition and found that both sets, ebook and print, were going for £25. Extremely irritated by this, I went to eBay and found the same set second-hand going for £4.99 (with £5 P&P). And that was a sale.
Back to square two.
If the ebook version had been the same money or even £15 or £20, I might have gone for it, but to have them the same price should insult anyone’s intelligence.
PS. ‘The Doctrine of First Sale’ might work for furniture, but should not apply to books. Just because someone has decreed something lawful doesn’t mean it’s right, and, in many cases, a second-hand book sale will rob the author. The problem is that the second-hand book culture is so ingrained that it would be very difficult to stop to it. The ‘Doctrine’ is a piece of paper that can be flapped under people’s noses when anyone complains and lets the regulators sweep the issue under the carpet.
Yes, this is why traditional publishers “protecting” e-book prices has irritated me. That is a WHOLE other blog. All I can say is that if we as writers will educate readers HOW we are paid, then they might actually be able to HELP us when it comes to how our books are priced. Even if they can’t? If the readers DO cave and buy a secondhand set of books they at least know that they ARE helping by also hopping on Amazon and downloading a couple of digital titles so the writer makes some money. A lot of this is simply educating people.
And THANK YOU. I get the Doctrine of First Sale thrown at me and I “KNOW” it is “legal.” Doesn’t mean it is just. And maybe it is just for regular people but for writers to do to other writers? We know how god awful hard it is to write a book, fight the world and get that book to market. Most used bookstores don’t take indie books and though I don’t have the current stats I know that in 2007, only 1 out of 10 traditional authors EVER saw a second book in print.
This means that most traditional authors aren’t publishing 20, 30 or 40 books. Those are outliers. The regular author may only create a couple of titles in a lifetime. If we find it used? Okay. If you LOVE it? If it is still in print? Just buy it. That’s all. Reward that other author.
Big publishers’ ebook prices make me so angry that I often refuse to buy ebook OR paper if they’re similarly priced (mostly because I know those massive extra profits from the ebook aren’t going to the author, but to the publishers who are complaining about how ebooks are destroying them). Guess their approach backfires if people do that…
I love the approach of buying second-hand if you need to, but then making sure the author gets rewarded if you love the book (either by buying new or leaving a great review).
Kristen, I just had to re-blog this. You expressed exactly what I believe.
I live in a world where walking into a bookstore is not an option. I watch my friends pass around what most probably are pirated copies of both books and movies. They know my feelings. They’re steeling. I don’t want any part of it. I wish there were recourse in my location to stop this practice.
I talk until I’m blue the same points you outlined. As authors and artists we can’t bemoan in one breath and not stand for the truth.
Let’s take a stand! In my world the issue is pirated sites making digital easy. I look forward to that blog post as well.
ruddy hell, you wrote a novella in blog form!
I bought my first Terry Pratchett, my first David Gemmell and my first Neil Gaiman books in 2nd hand book shops (hell, I used to work in one when at uni), now my shelves are packed with paid for books (and audiobooks) and my Kindle is loaded with various versions of much of their work.
I’m surprised you didn’t also say we should stop lending books to friends and family and make them go buy their own copies instead..
Some people just won’t buy new books, the same as they won’t buy music (they’ll listen to the radio or pick up cheap CDs at flea-markets) – are they stealing from the artist? Don’t know – since they never buy anything new – they’re not a lost sale – because they’re a sale you were never going to have…
It’s emotive stuff, but I think bookstores (2nd hand or otherwise) the same as libraries, only hook those people (and therefore potential sales or lending fees) who want to read, there’s a huge number of people who don’t read, or don’t want to read, or who only buy 2nd hand, or who only borrow from friends – they’re not lost sales – they were sales you could never have because if you take away their ability to get ‘stuff’ to read, they don’t suddenly go out and buy new stuff, they just stop reading (or turn to the Internet and quickly find that there’s whole libraries of stuff (mostly illegal) available for free – and once they’ve gone there – you’re never getting them back.
Do car manufacturers complain that there’s all these people out there who can’t drive getting lifts from friends, or catching the bus when actually they should go out, learn to drive and buy their own car? (Maybe they do complain, I don’t know).
i guess I’m lucky that I love my day job (University Lecturer) and I love to write – perhaps if I earn anything more than the price of a night out from my writing in any one year I’ll change my mind…
Nooooo 😛 You missed my point. Other than my blog was too long. It was. I do not MIND a second hand bookstore. I MIND that writers (of all people) promote them WITHOUT educating people how they are PAID. Regular readers WON’T KNOW unless we tell them. And the authors you listed are prolific and very large names.
I recall when I used to shop at Half Price Books in the 90s as a “reader” and I watched movies “about writers” and heard phrases like “million dollar advance.” I LITERALLY had no clue that IF I didn’t go buy those authors NEW? They didn’t make money. Worse still? They might not get a new contract because they failed to sell out their print run. Neil Gaiman is one thing. But what about some unknown author you might have REALLY LOVED? What if that author never gets another contract because that bookstore was selling slush? And, since people didn’t KNOW how our business worked? They never went online and took it a step further?
And yes, people will get things from garage sales and second hand and yes I am a jerk because I am saying that we are NOW in a BUSINESS. WE now have to take a side and let people know what that money savings actually costs US.
And car manufacturers complain about all kinds of things all the time. It is w