I’m sure I’m a disappointment to my publishers. I don’t buy my books from them then schlep the tomes to every book fair and public watering hole in an effort to get my investment back. I think it is a poor business model for a writer. I prefer Snoopy’s approach in the cartoon below.
How difficult is it for a writer to turn a profit by selling his or her books, anyway? Do the math. Dragging books to fairs and paying the admission fees will never put an unknown writer in touch with enough buyers to justify the cost. How many people does a person meet at a book fair? Fifty? A hundred? And how many of that number are likely to purchase his or her book? And even if all of the passersby did, the profit from sales will never cover the cost of publishing and promoting the book. Certainly, it will never put the author among the pantheon of best sellers. To achieve those lofty numbers, a writer needs to attract the purchasing power of the internet and find enough star dust to make him or her stand out among the thousands of other writers who, even as I write, are churning out new books every day.
I’ve written about ruses writers play to make themselves appear to have large followings. Buying back his or her book in large quantities from the publisher will inflate numbers.(Blog 4/10/14) But few can afford to take this expensive route. A writer needs another agenda and wealthy backers who support it. Running for high office comes to mind. A person seeking to be president of the United States is almost obliged to write a book. Well-heeled supporters buy enough titles to put the candidate on the best seller list and he or she reaps the advantage of meeting the public, not as a politician, but as a celebrity. Any publicity that flows from speaking engagements and tours counts as a book promotion and not as part of a political campaign. The practice isn’t subterfuge. It’s legal.
Writer Jason Pinter points out that under the law someone running for office may purchase books to promote his or her candidacy if the books are purchased at fair market value. (“Why Did Ted Cruz Spend $122,000 on His Own Books?” Jason Pinter, New Republic, Jan/Feb, 2016 pg 12) As the books are paid for by backers, the candidate is free to distribute the book to followers and doesn’t have to worry about making a profit. It’s a win-win situation. The publisher gets a fat check; the candidate get publicity; the supporters get a tax write off and the voter gets a free book.
Presidential hopeful, Ted Cruz, spent $122,000 to buy his book, A Time for Truth, and is one of a long line of politicians who have discovered the pen is as lucrative as campaign coffees. Ben Carson, another Presidential candidate, lists unsigned copies of, My Life and Gifted Hands on his website. Buy it from him, though and you’ll pay more than you will Amazon.
When he ran for office, Mitt Romney refused speaking fees but asked the sponsoring organization to purchase his book for the equivalent value. His arrangement put his title on the best seller list, as he intended. (Ibid, pg. 13)
To say the game of writing is rigged may be an overstatement, but I’m guessing few small press writers can afford to cash in a retirement plans to buy his or her books and then attempt to resell them to an indifferent public. At least, I wouldn’t recommend it. But a writer might consider running for President. That makes more sense than thrusting your book in the face of reluctant friends and family.