Losing money (and books) on promoting your book

SafeInYourHead040313 SafeInYourHead

As many of you who published with small, independent presses know, the industry is shifting, and authors are expected to do much of their own promotions, at their own expense, for the books they publish, especially with independent and University presses, but recently with trade publishers as well.

But here is what happens more and more frequently.  Authors find that they have to invest a great deal of money and time contacting possible book reviewers, conference and book fair directors, magazines to advertise, etc. but are they getting back their investment? My answer is a resounding no.  At least for 90% of writers, and especially if you’re writing literature and short stories.

I’m sorry that this post is a “downer” but some fledgeling writers might want to know what the reality of the book industry is these days.

As an example, my latest book, Safe in Your Head, had some trouble coming to print.  It had a tentative release date of April 4 on Amazon, but after a series of unfortunate accidents and miscommunications, it didn’t actually hit the distributors (Amazon, Powell’s, etc.) until August.  Many of my friends and supporters who really wanted the book kept getting emails from Amazon saying that the printer hadn’t yet delivered the book and did they want to cancel their orders?

Some of my best friends had to wait almost two months to receive the copies they had pre-ordered, and this after many emails from distributors discouraging them from pursuing the purchase.

Yet already by the end of July Amazon was listing used copies of the book as available from discount distributors at a ridiculously discounted price.  I had just barely received my author’s copies by then, and they were galleys, not the official book.  (If you see one, it’s possible that, one day, it may be a collector’s item: the giveaway is the date of May and the typo in the table of contents).

How does this happen? How do discount distributors get a hold of a used book when even the author doesn’t yet own a copy?

This is how it happens:

* Presses want their books to be reviewed by book reviewers and the publications that do this require that you send them a brand new copy of your book.  Often, reviewers get books before the author does.

* Book festivals require writers to send in a copy of their book to apply to be readers, speakers or workshop teachers at their conferences.  I sent at least ten copies to book festival directors and only three responded, a loss you have to expect if you want the numbers to work in your favor.

* Bookstores request galleys or author copies when authors approach them for the possibility of doing an event at their store.  Again here I sent several copies out to various bookstores and yet have to book an event. (To date, I have booked one. Thanks Hattie’s Bookstore in Brunswick).

There is nothing wrong with any of this happening except that more often then not review writers, bookstores and conference and festival organizers will neither read your book nor consider your event proposal but go straight to the discount book sellers with a copy of your book in hand.

As you may already know, authors do not receive their share of the profit if a book is “used.”  This should be illegal in my opinion, since most musicians, film directors, and every other artist in the world demands that their work never be reproduced without their share of their profit, but not writers. There is a whole industry out there of used books, but writers never see a penny of any of those sales.

I’m not greedy and I am not a dreamer: I don’t expect to get rich or even make a living out of selling short stories. But I’d like this not to break my bank either.  Already after three months I have spent more money in trips, advertisements on Facebook, fliers, bookmarks and other promotional material, while I’ve yet to receive any compensation for the three years it took to write and revise this book. I did this consciously, deliberately, knowing that I will never see that money back. It’s ok. I write because I want people to read my work.

Still, I think that if you get a book for free, and if you’re not willing to read it or help out the person who gave it to you, the least you could do is not sell it for profit.

That’s stealing from an author twice: once for requesting a book without delivering the promised service in return, and a second time by taking our profit when you sell it to a used-book reader, therefore depriving the writer of their  6%, which seldom enough covers our expenses, let alone make us rich.

This process of trying to sell a book when a press either can’t or won’t invest resources on it is a little like gambling and a lot like walking the hall of shame, so-to speak. Unfortunately, this is the growing reality for almost any kind of writer. It’s a tough, tough industry, and you should know what you’re getting into: do it because you really love your book and want people to read it.  Do it because you believe your writing deserves to be read. No other reason will hold up to the reality.

Finally, here’s something to really take to heart. Support an author: buy the book new.  And always review it, and please, be fair.  Remember, we put our heart in it. 🙂

Published by laura

I'm the author of two short story collections, a story cycle, and a collection of short memoirs. I am an educator, literary translator, journal editor, and writing coach.

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