Authors don’t make money off used books, but do we care?

A tiny moptop dog greeted me at the door of Robert’s Bookshop in Lincoln City as I stepped into one of the biggest used-book shops on the Oregon Coast. Room after room after shelves and stacks of all kinds of books: mysteries, old Zane Grey westerns, literary classics, poetry, essays, cookbooks, history books, everything you can imagine. I even found a whole room full of books about war. It’s Disneyland for readers.

As I stacked up my treasures, all priced well below what a new book would cost, I thought about how the authors of these books would not make a cent off these sales. Whatever they were going to earn, they received in the original sale. That’s it. No residuals like actors in TV shows that keep airing as reruns. As an author, I find that a little daunting. After our first sales, for which authors usually get royalties, our books are completely out of our control. They’re passed on to friends and family or sold at garage sales, flea markets, secondhand stores, and online venues like Amazon where you can buy some books for as little as a penny. The only people making money off these sales are the vendors, especially if the books get old enough to be antiques.

Here on the Oregon Coast, we have more stores selling used books than new ones. Why? People don’t want to pay full price. And most of us who like to read pile up so many books we have to give some away or trade them for other books at places like Robert’s.

As authors, there’s nothing we can do about this. We have to let go our our creations and just be glad if someone is reading them. Maybe someday someone like me will be wandering the aisles of a crowded used-book store, see your book and smile. “Aha! I always wanted to read that.” Or, “That looks like a great book, and it’s only $2.” They’ll take it home to read and to treasure.

Ideally we would all buy new books at independent bookstores so authors get paid well and the stores stay in business, but let’s be honest. As readers, we just want to read the books, and we’ll take them wherever we can get them. After a certain point, books are just not about money.

If you are ever in Lincoln City–seven miles of beach and books, books, books–you should go to Robert’s, but you can also visit Robert’s sister store, Bob’s Beach Books, which is full of shiny new books for full price.

But there aren’t any new books if we don’t write them, so let’s go write.

Book Sales Slow at Frog Jump

Shoes Full of Sand, the book, came out Friday. Marketing is intense, taking lots of time  and energy. When I picked up my books, I told my printer, “It looks like I can either be a publisher or a writer.” She laughed, but it’s true. If you’re thinking about self-publishing, consider how much of yourself you want to give to the process of preparing and marketing the book. I love most of it, but I’m still working on balancing my various jobs.

Don’t do what I did Saturday afternoon. Although it was fun in some ways, making a four-hour round trip to sit at a table with my books at the Jefferson Mint Festival and Frog Jump (so Oregon!) was not profitable. The rain did not help, but people were there to play with frogs, ride rides, eat humongous elephant ears and corn dogs, and flirt with the opposite sex. They showed little interest in books.

It wasn’t all a loss. It turns out my boothmate and I both  worked for the same newspaper chain in San Jose and knew some of the same people. This writer, Elizabeth Fournier, has published a delightful book called All Men Are Cremated Equal. Don’t let the title put you off. She’s a mortician, among other things, but the book is about going on 77 blind dates in one year, and it’s funny. I started reading it at the festival and had to bring a copy home.

My second event of the day, the Nye Beach Writers Series, yielded far more book sales. I recently rejoined the board of directors, and I read at the open mic after poet/songwriter Moe Bowstern entertained us. People liked what they heard and bought my books. The moral: If you want to sell books, go where people are interested in buying books.

You can find out more about mine at


Enough advertising.  Have you visited Erika Dreifus’ Practicing Writing blog? She has good advice advice there. Every Monday, she offers a list of opportunities for writers. Check it out.

Happy writing!

Thinking about self-publishing?

Ready to publish a book? In the old days, you had two choices, the acceptable route of securing an agent and a publisher via queries, proposals and synopses, hoping your manuscript would stand out among the thousands and earn you a contract, OR the not so acceptable route of paying a “vanity publisher” to produce copies of your book. Today, major publishers will not take on a book unless they’re confident it will earn them millions of dollars. Most books don’t fit into that category, even if they are wonderful books. Therefore, authors are taking their futures into their own hands. Thanks to modern technology, we can publish our own books affordably in print and/or digitally, and they can earn the respect they deserve.

Of my six books, four have been published traditionally. Publishers have paid me advances and royalties and handled all the distribution. One, a novel called Azorean Dreams, was produced by as a print on demand book. I paid them a minimal fee to create a book for which copies are printed only when someone orders them. Frankly, I haven’t made any money on that book, but I’m glad it’s out there. I knew there was a market among my Portuguese-American fans, and they bought it.

When the original publishers of Stories Grandma Never Told decided after nine years and three printings that it didn’t “pencil out” anymore, I published a new edition myself with a local printer. Four years later, it’s still selling. I mailed out 14 copies this week.  I’m about to go for a third printing.

I have just published my latest book, Shoes full of Sand, as a Kindle book through’s self-publishing program. The cost? Only my time. It’s already selling, and royalties will be coming each month. Meanwhile, I plan to produce a paperback with my local printer and also to get it into other e-formats via Is this the best route for this book? We’ll see. At least people have a chance to read it. It won’t make me rich, but I will make some money.

There’s not just one way to publish a book anymore. Getting a traditional publisher to handle your book is still the best way to go. You will earn more money, have better distribution, and be reviewed in important publications. But if you’re not having any success at that, want to have more control over your work, or know that an audience is waiting to read your book, you can do it yourself.  However, and this is very important, authors who want to publish their own books have two huge responsibilities:

First, they must produce the best book they possibly can. Vanity publishing and every other kind of self-publishing have gotten bad raps in the past (and some folks in the industry still won’t consider a self-published book as a real book) because some of the books people put out are terrible. Even the most experienced authors need professional editing. It’s not optional. We cannot see our own mistakes. I edit manuscripts for other people, but I still need someone else to look at my books. The average reader doesn’t really care how a book gets published, but she does care if it’s not well done. The quality is up to us.

Second, the author has to not only write and publish the book but sell it. That means marketing through every possible avenue, including websites, blogging, blog tours, speaking engagements, mailings, and whatever else it takes to let people know the book exists and convince them to buy it. If you have never done this before, it can be overwhelming. And if you can’t identify a market for your book, you’re not ready to publish it.

I still have a lot of work to do for this new book and for the ones published earlier. Meanwhile, here’s the commercial. You can buy Shoes Full of Sand for the Kindle at for a mere $2.99. If you don’t have a Kindle reader, you can download the free Kindle program on your PC or Mac. For information on the print version, visit

You can also go to the site to find out how to produce your own Kindle book.

I welcome your comments and questions. Let’s talk about this. I’ll be providing some resources for self-publishers in future blogs.