July 13, 2010


I got an e-mail from a friend last week that contained good news. She’d convinced her book club to read one of my novels, and she wanted to know where the members could find copies. I gave her the names of some outlets and later remembered the books left over from my tour. They were sitting in my basement.  I could provide a discount to the club and move inventory as well. “What a clever girl am I,” I thought.

I met the woman a few days later at a brunch with mutual friends. Taking her aside, I made an offer I thought she couldn’t refuse. I was wrong. “Oh, I forgot to tell you,” she said as she threw me an apologetic glance. “They found copies at the library. They won’t have to buy your novel.”

I went home crestfallen and with my arm load of books, knowing I had no one to blame for the lost sales but myself. I’d worked hard to get my scribblings into libraries and as a result, they can be found in places as small as Christmas Valley or as large as Portland. They’re also available in neighboring states, including Arizona.

I love libraries. And I also I love the fact that because of them, I will have ten new book club readers. But in struggling to get my work placed where they can be read for free, I have undermined my self-interest. The average small press writer can expect to sell between 100-200 books. 500 sales would constitute a regional best seller. 5,000 would attract national book agents.

Because success in the publishing world is a numbers game, many small press authors avoid libraries. It’s a terrible dilemma: a writer wants to be read; but a writer also needs to be fed.

I came home and thought about what to do in the future.  What was most important to me: readers or sales? In the end, I chose readers. But that didn’t stop me from moaning to Mark, my PR guy, about what had happened that morning. He e-mailed me back. “Hey, look on the bright side. You’ve got ten new readers.”                              

“That isn’t the bright side,” I e-mailed him back. “I brought leftovers home from brunch. This starving artist will eat tonight.”