Friday 20 May 2011


Someone asked me the other day, “When I buy your book, which is best for you – buy from yourself or a shop or what?”

This was a very kind question but also a very interesting one. It raises a load of issues and neatly gets right under the skin of the situation for authors.

First, I am very, very grateful to anyone who buys a copy of my book from anywhere, as long as they buy it new. (If you buy it secondhand, including the outlets on Amazon Marketplace, I gain nothing directly. The only possible gain is if you love the book and recommend it to loads of other people who then buy it new. I accept that this can happen, but a secondhand sale is not one that I can feel terribly excited about. If you don't want to pay the new price, I'd love you to borrow from a library.)

Other than that, here are the relative merits (to me) of each method in which you might buy Write to be Published. Or any other book.

Buying a signed copy direct from me. There’s no doubt that this is the way in which I earn more money. I buy the book at discount, so I make more than my small royalty. But I have to allow time to process, address and post the order, the commission that paypal takes and the fact that I under-charge for postage & packing. I’m hugely flattered and delighted that someone would actually pay more for a signed copy and would want to support me. So, this is a lovely thing to do. Thank you! (Click the Buy the Book link at the top of this page, if you wish to do that.) NB thanks to Brian Clegg for pointing out that a downside is that these sales are invisible and don't appear in sales figures, which can have disadvantages to the author. 

Buying from a small independent bookshop. This is often heralded as an ethical option, because we tend to like the idea of supporting small or independent businesses, especially bookshops. These shops can rarely afford to give a discount, because their profit margins and the discounts they can squeeze from publishers are usually lower. (Which makes my income a little bit higher than if the book is discounted.) If you’re in Edinburgh, then you have The Edinburgh Bookshop, kindly hosting my launch. You will sometimes find signed copies there if I’ve been past recently. (Edited to add - and any other indie shop that has asked me to pop in! Thanks Helena at England's Lane Books! I'll be there on June 2nd if I possibly can.)

Buying from one of the larger chains – such as Waterstone’s and Blackwell's. (Although Blackwell’s is independent, we count it as a chain now.) We need strong, successful chains, big and small. Waterstone’s, for example, easily the largest in the UK, remains of extreme importance to authors and to readers and is not having an easy time. (Today there is news that it has been sold - good news, because now we hope for stability and strength.) One of the reasons that Waterstone’s is important is that it is so visible and our books must be visible. If I’ve written a great book, all the networking and promotion in the world won’t help if the book is not seen by people. That’s why publishers and authors try so hard to get their books into Waterstone’s and large shops and chains. I am lucky that Waterstone’s and Blackwell’s have decided that Write to be Published is a book they would like to stock – but if people then don’t buy it from them, they’ll stop stocking it. So, buying a copy from them also benefits me.

Buying from Foyles. I mention this separately because of their great support in giving me time and space for a large event on 2nd June. If you are coming to the event, I do hope you will buy from Foyles, so that they feel that the event was worthwhile. And they have several of my other books at a good reduction.

Buying from the publisher's website
(Thanks for reminding me, Mary!) This is good for authors because it helps our publishers like us. And there'll be no discount so royalties will be higher. I don't think the sales figures appear on Bookscan, but what the hell, Snowbooks and I are happy.

Buying at a high discount from anywhere
When books are sold at a discount, the author’s income is lower. But I don’t mind because books are discounted only when a bookshop thinks they are going to be good sellers. So, it’s a compliment and I appreciate the faith shown by those shops. For example, Foyles currently have the book at the lowest price I’ve seen. But I won’t care that my unit income from it is reduced because I really want any shop that decides to stock to sell it in good numbers.

Buying from Book Depository
If you live outside the UK this is your best (pretty much only!) choice and a very good one for you, because they do free delivery worldwide. There's a good discount for you and I'm happy that people from overseas have this option to buy my book.

Buying from Amazon
Although this is probably my least* favourite option, I will not turn my nose up at an Amazon sale and please don’t even think of apologising, as some people do! Honestly, any sale that contributes to my sales figures is a help. (Please be aware that if you click the “other sellers” or “used and new” buttons, you get through to Marketplace, where many of the outlets are not contributing to our royalties at all.) Brian adds, "One advantage of an Amazon sale is that it knocks up your Amazon ranking, and if you get far enough up you may get extra sales from exposure." Very true.

*Oh dear, how could I have forgotten the supermarkets??
Yes, I did actually forget, so thanks to Michael Malone for raising it in a comment. Well, far be it for me to discourage anyone from selling books but I have very little else positive to say about supermarket books. Besides, you are most unlikely to find WTBP there, as they focus on highly commercial titles. Authors of novels who find their books there are torn between gritting teeth against the minuscule royalty and being happy to think of lots of sales.

Buying the ebook – eg for Kindle
As with Amazon.  My royalty on an ebook sale is higher, though, so perhaps if you’re going to buy from Amazon at all the ebook is the way that helps me most. But the complicated layout of the text probably means the formatting won’t transfer perfectly and you might wish you’d bought the paper one. (I haven't seen the ebook yet and I'm not particularly looking forward to it as I know there will be formatting issues...)

See, I really don’t mind how or where you buy my book - I am grateful for every single sale! I don't want to recommend one shop over another because I’m very, very grateful to them for their support. I am extremely lucky that so many of them seem to think this book is going to do well - for me and for them. Let's hope they are right!


Anonymous said...

I have a waterstone's gift card with money on it; and not really much money elsewhere, so it's a no-brainer for me, but I'm pleased that it's a reasonably good choice anyway! :)

Unknown said...

I often rant about people buying books from supermarkets and how this is impacting on this book trade. I'm interested to read what you have to say about that, Nicola. (stands back and places hands over ears)

catdownunder said...

Mine is (I hope) coming soon from the Book Depository. I will need to have it in hand and actually show it it to our local indie before I can persuade the new owner to stock it - probably sourced from the BD.
I am trying to be patient!

Unknown said...

A great post to educate us unpublished writers how the royalties are earned from different sales.

I'm also going to stock your book at our Indy shop in North London,(NW3)England's Lane Books, and really appreciate that we come 2nd on your list! If you have time on 2 June perhaps you could pop in to sign a few copies?


Brian Clegg said...

Yeah, the post is back!

I agree with almost all you say Nicola - certainly any sale is a good sale! I too sell signed copies direct and am very happy to do so. But it does have a couple of small downsides.

Apart from the extra effort involved in packing and posting, it doesn't count as a sale as far as the publishing world goes. This means that if your contract has an escalator it won't count towards that escalator.

On the other hand, one advantage of an Amazon sale is that it knocks up your Amazon ranking, and if you get far enough up you may get extra sales from exposure.

Similarly, commercial sales go into the BookScan figures, which again, if they're good, can be a positive benefit.

These are all small incremental benefits that only apply if you are selling quite a lot of copies, but they do exist.

Nicola Morgan said...

Brian - excellent points. In fact, so excellent that I'm going to slip them into the post (crediting you, of course.)

Dan Holloway said...

I love that Foyles has its own entry :)

On the Amazon thing, I would add to Brian's comment that it's more complicated than improving one's sales rank, whilst that helps generate more sales through appearing in charts and Amazon's "movers and shakers" tables. The key element of amazon "sales generating sales" is their "customers who bought" bar - if you appear on the first couple of pages of very good sellers in your field it will immensely improve your sales - more than a high rank will (I've experienced this by somehow getting on page one of a few thrillers in the top 20 [I've also been helped immensely by appearing on the lists of your colleague Lin Anderson, and was even chufflicated to see I appear on Wasted's customers who bought list, albeit on page 19] overall sellers on Kindle, which has pulled my ranking up from around 500 overall to consistently around 120-150). Which means that if you buy bestsellers from Amazon, it is immensely helpful also to buy Nicola's from them.

On how the Kindle version looks, have you noticed a difference between Kindle, iPad and nook? I know the latter two seem more "atypical layout freindly" and I wonder if that's the case in practice.

Mary Hoffman said...

I've ordered mine direct from the Snowbooks website - how does that work out for you?

Nicola Morgan said...

Mary - gah, I'm an idiot! I blame that omission on the fact that i am horribly overworked at the moment.

Buying from Snowbooks works well for me, thank you! I will go and add that now...

CharmedLassie said...

Excellent post - every reason made sense.

I try to buy direct from small presses. Otherwise, I add things to my Amazon wishlist and see if I can spot them in 'proper' bookshops. However, given the niche variety of books I read I find that difficult sometimes.

I'm looking forward to buying your book from wherever I eventually buy it. And I'll try and make it as profitable for you as possible.

Anne A said...

Hmm, this made me curious --

So, if a seller decides to discount a book, you, the author, get less money?

Is there anything in contracts, either between you & the publisher, or between the publisher & distributors/book stores (how many things are in the chain?) about how much a book can be discounted?

I have gathered that books are not like typical retail (where I'm used to buying something from a wholesaler and then selling it on -- any discount would just affect the seller's profits), what with the "unsold and destroyed" warning text you find inside some books, but I'm wondering how different it is. Does this have something to do with royalties? Are they tied to a percentage of actual sale price?

Nicola Morgan said...

CharmedLassie - ;)

Anne - indeed. Our contracts usally say that the royalty is a % of "nett receipts", in other words not of the cover price but of the money recevied from the sale by the publisher after discount. No, contracts won't say what the discount will be, because discounts are negotiated with each retailer. Discounts can be anything from 30-80%. An 80% discount might have the advantage of being "firm sale", in other words no returns, but normally (horribly) books are sold to shops as sale or return, and when they are returned they can't be sold again. ;(

Stroppy Author said...

Brian, how much time must you spend on Amazon seeing where on these pages you appear?! It has NEVER occurred to me even to look once! If I had a hat, I would take it off to you - this is seriously keeping track of ... something. Not sure what. How heroic!

Rebecca Bradley said...

I have the signed copy in my hands and I love it! I am about halfway through it and know that it will be a well thumbed book prior to me querying. I'm itching to highlight text in the book but am loath to mark it. I may instead revert to post it notes.

A very interesting post for an aspiring author. It's not something I had considered and this is very informative. Thank you.

Nicola Morgan said...

Rebecca - lovely! Thank you!

Mary Hoffman said...

Hmn. It's publication day and I ordered from Snowbooks 12 days ago but it hasn't arrived. Just sayin'

Nicola Morgan said...

Mary - I am rolling my eyes. You tried to do the write thing and where does it get you? Bookless, is where. I will chase them, crabbitly. Thank you so much for supporting me (and Snowbooks).

Alison Clement said...

I encourage readers to buy my books from an independent bookstore. Where else?
My agent couldn’t sell my most recent manuscript because, she said, my last one didn’t sell well enough at the big box stores. (I'm in the US, so that means Barnes and Noble. Ironically, my first was a Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers selection.) She said that publishers look at those sales, knowing that the sale numbers will determine how many copies of my new book the box stores will order. It’s a shitty way of doing things.
I’m starting to publish myself electronically.