Lacking in Graciousness and Generosity? So Be It.

Karin Kallmaker Business of Books 5 Comments

Female figure angry

Or, Why I Will Not Help You Sell My Books

I do believe I need to rant. Just a bit. It’s not my usual style, and I’m speaking to the writers who’ve been down this road.

Recently, another shopping site for books was created and I was invited to join. (I already have pages I monitor with varying frequency at five highly trafficked sites.) Let’s call this site New Acme. My books were already listed, so a lot of the work had been done for me. And such a deal they had for me!

I checked it out. I then asked for my books not to be sequestered as adult content. New Acme promptly fixed that but imagine what my books’ pages looked like with sidebar ads for adult content books. Picture Painted Moon with Wh#ref##kers and P##sy Freaks alongside.

To get the most from the service New Acme was offering me, the person who created what they are eager to sell, I needed to do just a few things. Create an author’s page. Add my videos. Photos. Background stories. And anything else that gives readers some extra content to encourage them to buy. Marketing material custom-designed for 30+ related titles.

Oh, and I would also be able to correct any errors. Oh, I could add a link to my web site.

Will I Get Paid?

I had no control over the links offered to the reader for purchase. No worries for customers, New Acme had decided to offer lots of choices. Top of the list of the choices was Amazon, no surprise. The second choice was eBay.

That’s right. You may want to step back and give me some ranting room.

After I invested the hours it would take to add marketing highlights to New Acme’s site, the first two ways readers would be encouraged to buy my books were prominent used book sellers. That means if someone follows a link from New Acme, New Acme gets paid. But what do I get? Likely nothing.

I wrote to New Acme, politely, asking why I would participate in sending my potential readers to sites where they would likely buy the books used. I would receive no royalty in return for my work on his site.

Sure, Of Course!

New Acme’s site owner promptly wrote back to me. He didn’t understand my issue with eBay. After all, everybody knows that used book sales would sell my new books. Why, he had completed entire author collections with used books, in fact bought 80% of his books used. It was the only way he could afford to have all those books.

“Absolutely flummoxed” describes me.

Let’s review. He has paid for a domain, partnered with a data source for listing books and designed a site with a set number of templates to display the data from his source. He gets paid every time someone clicks a link to buy a book. He has not enhanced the pages for my books or found content about me to help sell my books that’s already free to him. He expected me to do that. Whether I got paid for my effort selling my books on his site wasn’t relevant to his model.

He didn’t understand why I didn’t get the marvelousness of his offer of this service to me. He’s just trying to bring good to the world selling books, a noble enterprise. I didn’t understand how he didn’t get that I don’t have time to help him make money with no guarantee of making any for myself. Yet, if those clicks to buy at Amazon and eBay didn’t pay him, he’d take them off. He’s no fool – he’s not working for free. After all, it takes time to run a web site, and skill.

It takes time to write a book, and skill.

So I Won’t Get Paid

So, putting aside my sincere belief in art for art’s sake (and Amanda Palmer has an illuminating rant on that topic), I am nobody’s fool either. New Acme’s initial appeal to me to join the site was expressed as doing me a favor. Broken down, the owner of the site got paid and I got a vague, unconcerned “someone will make it up to you later.” But his personal attitude toward book buying refuted his own claim of “so what if people buy used, you’ll sell new eventually.” It put many things in a nutshell. By his own admission, out of every 5 books he bought, only 1 was a new book. If used books sold new books, wouldn’t those numbers be, well, closer together? What happens if all his site users are like him?

I never cared much for Algebra. When I do the math

x = he is paid for every book purchased through his site
y = I would be paid at the most 1 time for every 5 books at some point in the distant future

x does not equal y

It doesn’t even come close.

But I Shouldn’t Care

Yet, he didn’t hesitate to close with a guilt ploy: Surely I cared for my readers and wanted them to have the pleasure of my books, even if that meant they were bought used. My suggestion that I not work for free was selfish. I don’t love my readers.

Why am I the one who’s being crass about money but he is entitled to any marketing scheme or bargain he can find? And feels entitled to my enhancement of his site for free?

All people having access to books is good for the world – I totally agree. Readers want and need to be enlightened and entertained to get through their lives – no argument from me, I write to entertain. And because I have always written for women and women continue to make 70% of what men make, my audience has less disposable income. My publisher deliberately tries to hold the price of our books down to make them more affordable without cutting corners on their lasting quality.

Everyone Else Can Care Though

I have never had issues with womens bookstores and other small scale used book sales or book swapping. I love libraries and all that they represent. You throw the Internet and an organized search engine behind the process, then my ability to be charitable (isn’t that what giving something away for the greater good is?) is quickly exhausted. I cannot afford to write for free. I can’t afford to spend hours upgrading someone else’s site for free.

And for the record, Mr. New Acme and your superior sniff at my money-grubbing, I sincerely do want my readers to have the pleasure of whatever entertainment they chose. I write lesbian fiction as a personal choice. If it’s a ghetto, I chose it. It is not the road to riches, so if you knew anything at all about me as a writer, and not just a product to exploit with little effort of your own, you would understand that your inference that I was whoring art for my own monetary gain was offensive. You hath need of a mirror.

So I’m the One with Issues

Writers and artists who suggest that we are being taken advantage of while others profit from our work are too often told we’re lacking in graciousness and generosity. After all, my books are read. Lots of folks wish they were writers, but I actually get to be one. I should be grateful and feel lucky. Guess what? I do know I’m lucky. I feel honored and privileged. Unlike many writers, I know that reader’s lives are changed, sometimes even saved, by my books.

I have supported charities, organizations, auctions, and so forth, because I belong to this community. I have lately acquired very nice awards to show for my efforts to write good and entertaining books.

Luck may be a factor but a lot of hard, diligent, grinding work is also a factor.

I sell my work for money just like a dentist or a house painter. I am a professional. That means I won’t work for someone else to profit from my work while I get nothing. That’s not what professionals do. If that means I’m not gracious or generous, so be it.

Go ask Stephen King, Amanda Palmer or John Scalzi if they’ll help you make money for nothing in return. I’d pay to watch.

Comments 5

  1. Pingback: Lacking in Graciousness and Generosity, Part 2 | Romance and Chocolate

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  3. inversesquare – I've seen “new” and “used” copies of books I know don't yet exist on Amazon, before release dates. And I caught a reviewer red-handed selling the free books on eBay BEFORE the release date. And without having made any effort to review or place the book for review. It's amazing the people who feel if they can think of a way to make a buck it's okay then, but when you point out they're doing so at your expense, you're the one with hang ups about money.

  4. Came here via Scalzi, w. just one horror story to add: the first “used” copy of my latest book showed up on Amazon before the pub date, before Amazon was shipping new titles. I think it was an ARC (galley to us alter kochers), but it could have been a review copy.

    Two sinners there, both consigned to the ninth circle as far as I am concerned: the scumsucker who sold his or her free, for review copy out into the very heart of my best chance to sell new books, and the Amazon affiliate who took the title and popped it up before pub date. A plague on them both to the tenth generation.

    As for a model to go forward — if I had a different kind of talent/interest (i.e. realistic fiction rather than science non-fiction) I'd see if there were some online serial economic structure to be had. But I'm not.

  5. Karin,

    I hear ya. Like you, I love libraries, I peruse used bookstores, and I am genuinely happy when my readers pass my books around, but there is something really unjust in these kinds of distributors make money from our intellectual property on such a global scale. I think, perhaps, it is best to inform our readers of how this affects us, and our presses. Perhaps a fb forum discussion urging readers not to buy or sell our books–used–from internet sources. It forces our small houses to hold new inventory, and helps limit our sales. I say it would be important to inform our readers.

    Thanks for your “rant”

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