Are Used Bookstores a Threat to Indie Authors?

Indie authors

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I came upon a blog rant the other day that was curious to me. It was a blog from Kristen Lamb. She has excellent content and is a great resource for indie writers. In one of her recent posts, she took exception with a recent Washington Post article that highlighted an unlikely comeback for used bookstores.

The crux of Ms. Lamb’s distaste for the Post article seemed to be that used bookstores don’t support indie authors, since authors don’t receive a penny of royalties when used books are sold. From her blog:

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.

She points out that she doesn’t have an issue with used bookstores, but more specifically has an issue with the cultural phenomenon of praising used bookstores as good and shunning Amazon and other digital book distributors as bad. A culture that I’m sure is propagated by the Big Six publishers. Again, from her blog:

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.

Ms. Lamb makes clear many times in her post that she does NOT hate used bookstores. Not one bit.

What she loves more than used bookstores, however, are authors. She wants to see authors succeed. Amazon and other digital outlets offer indie authors and self-published titles a way to reach an audience. The Washington Post article essentially juxtaposed Amazon and used bookstores as Bad v.s. Good the same way that terrible 90s movie You’ve Got Mail did, (except the large bookstore was called Fox Books and was a brick and mortar store since it was the 90s). This infuriates Ms. Lamb it seems, and offends her sense of justice for authors and creative-types.

I commend Kristen Lamb for her vigor. Trying to make it as an indie author is extremely difficult. Truthfully, it’s damned near impossible. I recently heard a successful author advise a roomful of people not to become a writer, not if you want to make money anyway. How true that sentiment is. Ms. Lamb’s advocacy for authors is commendable. Her directive for us all to buy books and support indies is admirable. As an indie author myself, I hope people heed her words. (I would love more book sales. Hell, who wouldn’t?)

I found the vitriol in the article curious, though. I understand that Ms. Lamb caveats her words a number of times by saying she loves used bookstores, but I’m not so sure in this context. She thinks used bookstores hurt indie authors and doesn’t like it. I know the heart of what she is writing is to oppose the idea that Amazon hurts the little guy and used bookstores help the little guy, when in fact the reality of the situation is exactly the opposite, at least when looked at from the perspective of the author.

However, it seems unlikely to me that a used bookstore is going to carry a significant number of indie titles, thereby hurting the sales numbers for that author. The article also makes me wonder what Ms. Lamb would think about libraries and author book share programs, such as Amazon’s Lending Library. These platforms would probably do as much harm to the author’s ability to earn a living as used bookstores.

For my part, I’m behind any platform that encourages reading and exploring new authors. Yes, I would love to make money from my writing. I would love for everyone that visits my site to buy my book. Hell, I would even love for those reviewers that received a free copy of my book and loved it to decide after the fact to go back and buy the book since they loved it so much. It’s only $4.99.

But that’s not why I wrote it, or why I write this blog for that matter. I suspect I would have a very unfulfilling future as a writer if my sole goal is to make money.

Maybe that is exactly Kristen Lamb’s point, though. Writer’s don’t demand to be compensated for their work enough. Part of what she writes in that blog post is a call to action. She is asking writer’s not to sell themselves short, to remember that you, as a writer, worked hard and deserve to be paid for you hard work. Maybe I should be expecting more from my writing. Maybe I should be expecting to be justly compensated for my hard work. She is seeing the world as she thinks it should be while I’m settling for what is. I’m just not sure it will be a fulfilling exercise for me to expect it.

I enjoyed Kristen Lamb’s blog, though, and I am grateful for her vigorous support of indie authors. So I’ll let her have the last word:

You matter. Your dreams matter. Your work matters.

 

 

 

Keep writing away, friends! Keep at it and you’ll reach your goals!

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8 thoughts on “Are Used Bookstores a Threat to Indie Authors?

  1. If and that is a big IF, a used bookstore had a surplus of Indie authors, wouldn’t that be beneficial. I know they receive no money, but, if someone reads a book and loves it, they are more apt to buy a book at full price next time. I have been a used book store person forever. And no telling how many authors I have found for cheap then paid full price for their next work. I can name about 5 off the top of my head (and sad to say, none are Indie authors) However, It is wonderful advertising.

    – Recca, reecaspieces.com

    • That’s a great point that I hadn’t thought of, Reeca. Kristen Lamb does quickly address the promotional value that might apply, but she does so more in relation to a tangential point about writers that contribute to crowd sourced sites like Huffington Post. I think you have a strong point for the value of a reader buying one book from an author at a used bookstore, only to fall it love with that author and go buy her next books. It’s exactly why some authors do free giveaways–to bring in more readers.

      If I were to guess, and I apologize to Ms. Lamb in advance for trying to guess what she would say, I think she might say that this is exactly the problem. Authors shouldn’t have to giveaway books for free just to get readers to buy their next book. I don’t know if I would agree, though, (whether that’s a point Kristen Lamb would specifically make or not). I think all sorts of businesses have to drop the cost of a product to bring in patrons for future rollouts.

      • I am more apt to pay full price for a book by an author I have read and enjoyed than an author I have no idea if I like or not. I am not alone in this practice I am sure. Makes good marketing sense to me.

        • I’m typically persuaded to buy a book if it has been recommended to me by a trusted source. I would say that 95% of the books I buy are because they have been recommended.

  2. Luckily, my novels are sold at a used bookshop which also carries new books, only by area authors. However, the owner expects authors to place the books on consignment, but she does hold book-signings every month for new books and authors. (Getting paid in a timely fashion, if at all, is another matter.)

    People seem to think authors write “for the love of it,” or just “to express ourselves,” yet the truth is we want to be treated with respect and taken seriously as professionals–and that means getting paid for our efforts. As a magazine journalist, I always got paid for my work, usually with a contract specifying terms. I’m amazed how many people expect us to give our books away for free or for only .99 in order to get the word out. Rarely have I ever gotten anything free in the business world–so why should we give away our words for free?

    • It’s a symptom of our free culture: If you don’t give your book away (or me for that matter), readers don’t care because someone else will give their book away for free. They’ll read a different book. The internet has brought amazing power and access, but it has decreased the value of the creative work. The tradeoff, though, is exactly what you say in your quotes. I know I wouldn’t be published if self-publication wasn’t an option (because I tried!). The tradeoff allows thousands of would-be writers to pursue their passions and write.

  3. Though I agree we should not shortchange ourselves and should definitely keep an eye on places like piracy sites, used bookstores are a great way to find a diamond in the rough, so to speak. When I was on a budget in college, I frequented them many times. If indie authors are even lucky enough to have a book end up in a used bookstore, why wouldn’t you want someone to discover your work in any way possible? Word of mouth is a very powerful tool. It’s possible that someone would pick up the book, then tell their friends. Obviously, we can’t do anything about people buying up a physical copy of our book, then trying to sell it to a store. But, I think it also offers an enormous opportunity in the way of word of mouth advertising. We want people to ‘see’ our books and to talk about them. As big booksellers are making it damn near impossible for indie books to even exist in their stores, maybe we should be looking at these mom and pop businesses as opportunities rather than condemning them. No, we don’t receive sales unless we approach the stores as authors on our own, but creating a ‘brand’ and getting people to read our books is more important, I think. Just a thought, anyway.

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