Author-Conscious Book Buying: How Readers Can Help Authors Make the Most Money

There's money in books, I tell you!
I have had a number of people over the years ask me the best option for purchasing my work, in terms of how it best benefits me. First off, I love getting this question. It means a lot when people want to know how their purchases directly affect those involved in the transaction, and it also means a lot when people want to purchase in such a way that best benefits me, whether that's buying the print or the digital copy, or getting it from specific retailers, buying direct, etc.

The answer is a little complicated, though, so I decided to bring it over here in the hopes that I can expound on various points of purchase, and what they might mean to a small-time author such as myself.

I want to be clear upfront about one important thing, though. If you're buying any book of mine, regardless of where you bought it, I am first and foremost grateful. I was taught never to look a gift horse in the mouth. But if you are interested in seeing how your dollar can best be put to use to benefit artists you care about, I'll break it down below with a few of the most common methods of acquiring books, and how those methods affect an author's bottom line. WARNING: SOME MATH MAY BE INVOLVED

1. Buying Direct: Publishers, Payhip, and Conventions

By far the most profitable method of sales for any author is when we can cut out all or at least a portion of the middle man by having you buy directly from the source. Most publishers have online stores for just this reason, and it's always our hope that you will take advantage of it when looking to support your favorite authors. Direct sales are hugely beneficial to authors and publishers for a couple reasons. First, we are paid a percentage of net proceeds, which is whatever the publisher gets after the retailer takes its cut.

Here's how it works with print books. Publisher releases a book with a $12.99 cover price. Amazon (or Barnes & Noble or whomever) stocks it, but they get a wholesale discount of 55% (that's industry standard, not just Amazon), leaving the publisher to make a little less than $5.85 on the sale. The publisher's proceeds might be less than that if they're also giving a distributor a cut. For the sake of argument and easy math (and because I can't really divulge the terms of my contract), let's say I make 20% net monies on the sale of a $2.99 print book. That means when you buy a print book of mine from Amazon or any other bookstore for that matter, I get $1.17 per sale.

But when you buy direct from the publisher at the cover price, my net proceeds come directly from that, so 20% on a $12.99 direct sale nets me $2.50. Of course, you will pay a little more for your book when doing it this way, and you'll likely have to pay shipping too. But if your concern is ensuring the author and the publisher make the most money from a sale, that's the best way to do it.

It's not all that different in self-publishing, really. With Colt Coltrane and the Lotus Killer, I make $1.86 when you purchase a paperback from Amazon for $7.99. However, whenever you buy that same book direct from Createspace, I make $3.50. Again, because you're basically buying direct (in this case from the printer), which cuts out the retail middle man, the share I make is much larger. Unfortunately, it's just a little less convenient for the buyer.

Ebooks are a little different, but the pay structure is similar. When I price an ebook at $2.99 or above, Amazon keeps 30% of each sale, leaving me (or the publisher) with 70%. On my indie published stuff, I get to keep the whole 70%. With my traditionally published stuff, I make a percentage of 70%. If something is priced below $2.99, I make 35% on each sale. So when you download a Kindle short from me for $.99, I make $.35.

I have recently opened up a direct ebook sales portal through Payhip. When you buy your Kindle or Epub files from me rather than from Amazon, Apple, Nook, etc, you are ensuring I get paid immediately and that I make more money on the sale. Now, Payhip takes 5%, and PayPal takes 2.9% + $.30, but even accounting for all that annoying ass math, I make $.62 on a one dollar short, nearly DOUBLE the money that I make selling that same book through Amazon. So if you're interested in purchasing my indie work and want to make sure you're giving me the most financial support while doing so, Payhip is definitely the place to go for ebooks. With traditionally published stuff like Strings, options have been more limited. Amazon it is. But it doesn't hurt to see if other publishers have direct ebook sales. Most of them do, and the benefits are the same. Provided you don't mind manually moving your ebook files onto your device, it's a good way to support your favorite authors.

Finally, when I have a table at an event, for instance, like Gem City Comic Con or any similar show, and you hand me dollar bills in exchange for my books, that is like giving an author's (typically near-empty) bank account a cash transfusion. Of course, it isn't all profit. Expenses are incurred. Most times we have to pay for the table, and prices can vary anywhere from $25 all the way into the hundreds depending on the size of the event. Copies of Colt Coltrane and the Louts Killer run me just under $3 a pop to print, and I sell them for $6 at the events. I could probably sell them for the same $8 I do on Amazon, but I'm a firm believer in pricing things to sell when you're dealing in person, and they sell very nicely at $6. My traditionally published stuff also has to be purchased at cost from the publisher. If not that, then a deal is usually made ahead of time to ensure the publisher gets their cut of the action. But I still make more money on those sales than I do selling them through a retailer, and generally when I take the whole show into account, expenses and all, I almost always have a profit.

The best part is walking out of the event with money in hand. Most writers, who don't usually get paid more frequently than once a month (or sometimes only a couple times a year), REALLY appreciate the concept of immediate money, so if you go to a trade show or a book signing and purchase a book directly from the author, trust me . . . we LOVE you for it.

2. Print vs Ebook: What Pays Authors More?

Honestly, there is no easy answer to this, because it really depends on an author's contract. As the Amazon-Hachette dispute has shown us, ebook royalties vary widely among publishers, and they're not always so great. Indie presses and other smaller publishers seem to pay a much more generous ebook royalty than what I've seen some of my more mainstream author friends making.

But for ME personally, given the way my contract is structured (again, I can't divulge exact details, sorry), the difference between you buying a Kindle copy of Strings or a print copy from Amazon are scant enough that I don't really raise much of an eyebrow. My percentage of the publisher's 70% nearly matches my average print royalty.

Now, let's jump to self-published stuff. With Colt Coltrane and the Lotus Killer, when you buy the print book from Amazon for $7.99, I make $1.86. Right now, the book is priced at $7.19, but my cut is still based on the $7.99 price. For the ebook, I make 70% of $2.99, so a little over $2. I make a tad more on the ebook sale than I do on the print, but it's negligible. If you're buying from Amazon, buy it however you like, because I'm making about the same money either way.

Again, this could be VERY different for other authors. Folks published with the Big 5 likely make more money on print sales than ebooks, but that's mostly because Big 5 still banks a huge chunk of their business model on print books. Small press publishers, on the other hand, aren't as heavily invested in the print model, and their ships are smaller and more efficient and they don't tend to sell as many copies as the big guys, so their ebook terms are generally much friendlier. In other words, you'll have to ask each author what's most beneficial for them.

That being said, buying print books from local bookstores--big and small--supports a very vital and important ecosystem. The author might not make the most money from these sales, but you're helping to keep our industry alive by maintaining a varied and thriving marketplace for books. These stores also add enrichment to communities and they keep people who are passionate about books employed. If you can't always buy locally, consider alternating your purchases between online and brick and mortar.

3.  Used Books and Libraries

Let's just be upfront: authors don't make money when you buy used books or borrow from the library. However, since libraries often purchase the books they stock, they do usually make money for that, and given the thousands upon thousands of libraries in the country, and the fact that they could buy anywhere from one to a dozen copies of a single title (not to mention ebook licenses), there is plenty of money to be made from libraries in the outset, even if people wind up borrowing those books. That being said, the benefit of used books and libraries is more indirect. This is how large segments of the population discover new talent. If someone takes a risk on a new author through a used or borrowed book, they are much more likely to go out and buy their other books new. Barring that, they might tell someone about that author and that person may go out and buy this author's books. Word of mouth is itself a currency, and it adds up over time. So authors diss libraries and used books at their peril. And really, if you're in the business of peddling books, the last thing you should be doing is attempting to stifle a culture of literacy, and that's what you do when you wish to prevent people of limited means from obtaining reading material.

That being said, if you are a regular visitor of libraries and used bookstores, my hope is that you will do a little bit to pay it forward. Talk about the books you've read. And post reviews on sites like Amazon and GoodReads. Reviews are also currency. The more reviews authors have, the more visible our books become, the more promotional opportunities we can take advantage of, which in turn helps us to sell more books. I can't stress this enough: REVIEWS ARE VITAL. Even if you didn't purchase on Amazon, you can still review there. The same goes for you pirates out there downloading torrents online. You might not give us your money, but if you could take five minutes and spread the word about that which you could not buy, you would be doing the author a world of good.
This makes me money!
To sum up all this, the best way you can help an author make the most money is first to buy their books. That's obvious. And if you can buy their books, try to buy direct through the publisher, the author, the printer, or at a book event or trade show of some kind. If you are going to buy through a retailer, consider buying them from a physical bookstore. If that's not possible and you find Amazon's lower prices hard to resist, again, a writer will be grateful for the sale, and since books are a volume business and most people are buying from Amazon anyway, the increased sales often make up for the deficits in individual income.

Finally, in lieu of purchasing, spread the word about it. Recommend the author's work to a friend. You might not be participating in the system with your money, but you can still participate. You can still enrich the livelihoods of the authors you love, and for all the efforts you have made to do that, we appreciate it.