How To Buy A Book To Benefit Your Favorite Author

My book Flex is coming out next Tuesday, and I’m getting asked the same question a lot:

“Where do I buy your book?  I mean, so you get the most benefit out of it?”

Now, I am no special snowflake among authors.  So let me tell you how it works for pretty much all authors, and give you an answer you can use to benefit any author who you deem worthy of earning a living.  And the answer to your question is this:

It’s not where you buy the book, but when

The sad truth of this industry is that pre-orders drive sales, and most sales of a book come in the first three months of a book’s release.  Buying a book before it comes out is a stamp of approval that can actually boost sales across the board, because it leads to conversations like this:

Representative to bookstore buyer: “You sure you want to lowball this one?  {$OTHER_BOOKSTORE} has 250 copies reserved against advance orders.  You might be missing out.”

Bookstore buyer: “All right, I’ll buy some more just to hedge my bets.”

(NOTE: Before you tell me this doesn’t happen, kindly recall I worked as a book buyer for Borders and Waldenbooks for half a decade.  This trick doesn’t always work, but it can make someone reanalyze a new book, sometimes favorably.)

And “having more copies in” can lead to better shelf visibility (customers are far more likely to buy a book from a stack of books “faced out” than a singleton spined), better promotion (hey, we bought in deep on this, we should do something to ensure it sells), better awareness (that book got advance buzz, I should check in on that one to see how it’s doing, oh, it’s out of stock!).

Basically, pre-orders are golden for any author.

If you can’t buy in advance, then if you want to benefit the author, buy as close to the release date as possible.  As noted, that first swell of sales is critical.  One of the reason classic “backlist” books are so treasured is because you don’t need a new Harper Lee book to boost sales on To Kill A Mockingbird – that book sold steadily, without a scrap of promotion, for decades.

Most books, however, are in and out, which is to say the author pretty much gets one initial flush of success and then the book slowly dwindles and isn’t reordered – so making the most of that initial boost means the author maximizes sales for the bookstore, which ensures the bookstore thinks more kindly of this author come their next book.  If you buy a copy ten months later, odds are decent that the bookstore is not thinking “Joy! A sale!” but rather “Lucky me, that’s one less book I have to return.”

So.  Order early, order often.

But then I get asked: “Should I buy it in ebook or physical copy?”  And there’s one overriding answer to that:

If you’re going to see the author at a book store – like, for example, some insane schmuck like me who’s doing a book tour – then buy the book at the store, if possible.  That ensures the book store goes, “Oh, this guy sells books!” and then they like us.

If not, well, let’s discuss ebooks vs. paper.  (NOTE: This is what I understand to be the case; if I’m wrong, I’ll correct in edits.  This is my first book sold, so I’m going off many publisher discussions here, not personal experience, and I could well be misguided.)

Like a lot of authors, I make more money on ebooks.  My royalties per book are way better, so on paper (heh) ebook would be the way to go…

…BUT.

Ebooks have two issues for authors.  The first is that when physical books get discounted, I get a royalty off the full price.  See that $29.95 Stephen King hardcover you bought at 40% off?  Unca Steven gets paid off that $29.95 price, no matter how much the store knocks off the front end.  (Unless it’s a bargain book, but those play by frighteningly different rules.)

But ebooks, I get a royalty off of whatever the bookseller decides to sell it for.  If Amazon decides to make Flex the Daily Deal and sell it for $0.99 (HINT: they won’t soon), I get the royalty off of that.  Hopefully the Daily Deal sells enough copies that I make up in volume what I’m losing on a per-book basis, which it usually does (I’m told), but there’s no guarantee.

Then there’s the fact that “counting eBook sales” is something of a dark art, because there’s no centralized reporting to track eBook sales.  So what can happen to an author – and it’s an edge case, but I’ve heard some rumors – is that they sell so many copies via eBook that it actually becomes difficult to sell their next book to another publisher, since they sold a lot of books but in a place that other publishers can’t verify the numbers.  On the other hand, “selling a lot of copies of eBooks” can be seen as a plus, because that means you’re appealing to a younger demographic and may have longer legs as an author.

So.  After that flurry of facts, do you know which is better?  eBook or paper?

Neither do we, so just buy it in whatever format makes you happy.  Seriously.  That’s the answer of almost every author I know.  We’re just happy you’ve opted to buy our book, man, so we appreciate the concern, but whatever is convenient for you.  And thanks.

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