Efficient support of the author
November 10, 2011 8:59 AM   Subscribe

cstross! jscalzi! Other fiction authors! What's the most efficient or author-preferred way to spend a given amount of money on his/her books?

Kindles are neat, but they open the door to piracy through convenience, even for people who don't want to be assholes to authors.

So let's say someone acquired a copy of one of your novels illegitimately and wanted to make it right. As a simplifying assumption, let's assume that the ebook costs twice as much as a mass market paperback, and that a hardcover costs twice as much as the ebook. Also, the penitent knows that buying a used book supports used book stores, not authors. I've read the relevant post on Charlie's blog, but remain curious...

Do you do best when the penitent just buys the ebook? Would you actually do better, overall, if the penitent bought two paperbacks instead of one ebook? Or, conceivably, would you actually do better in the long term if the offender waited until his sin had doubled and bought a single hardback instead of two ebooks?

As a secondary question, is it best for the penitent to buy the actual book in question? Or would it be better to spend an equal amount on an older book that probably had already earned out, if the penitent doesn't himself care?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe to Writing & Language (10 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

oh, I see you've already read that.
posted by zamboni at 9:11 AM on November 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: There is no one answer here. As a rule of thumb, royalties are generally expressed as a percentage of cover price, so the more you pay for the new book, the more the author gets.

But it's basically impossible to min/max this efficiently. The specifics of which books earns the most money is going to vary by author, by book, and by contract. Some contracts are, for example, tiered, so you might get 10% on a book that's sold 15,000 copies and only 7% on one that's sold 5,000 copies. Or the contract might specify a completely different royalty rate for ebooks.

And of course buying a new book that hasn't earned out doesn't immediately benefit the author; they've already received that money. But it does push the book toward earning out and getting royalties on future copies sold, and if the royalty rate in that contract is better than older books, they might prefer that.

Basically don't sweat giving the absolutely most efficient way to get the most money into an author's pocket. It won't be possible to determine without collecting a lot of information that you probably can't get your hands on. Just buy some books, and for bonus points, tell your friends to buy 'em, too.
posted by Andrhia at 9:23 AM on November 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Googling up the author's home address and mailing her a $10 bill is no solution – but it's what I did.
posted by nicwolff at 9:41 AM on November 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Writers also have different motivations. I am a non-fiction writer who has published two books and if you told me you'd gotten a copy of my latest [released this year] through some back channel I'd probably tell you to go buy a copy and donate it to your public library, or better yet request it through your public library and have them buy it. Ultimately the $5-ish I might see from selling a book, and my reputation with my publisher, or my publisher's reputation, doesn't matter as much to me as getting the word out and having people read, enjoy and review my book. Now this may be totally different for other people, but I'll willingly give broke-ass library school students the PDF of my galleys just so they can read and enjoy my book instead of deciding if the price my publisher asks for it (too high in my opinion) is reasonable or affordable by them.
posted by jessamyn at 9:44 AM on November 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

And of course buying a new book that hasn't earned out doesn't immediately benefit the author; they've already received that money. But it does push the book toward earning out and getting royalties on future copies sold, and if the royalty rate in that contract is better than older books, they might prefer that.

Book sales also affect an author's ability to sell more books.

A recent example is Harry Connolly, who just had a series canned by Del Rey due to poor sales.
posted by zamboni at 10:15 AM on November 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

I feel like you're overthinking this, though I appreciate the sentiment. I and the vast majority of authors are thrilled if you buy our books in any form. It's true that purchases don't equal cash in hand until we earn out our advances, but they're steps toward it, and also toward ensuring our publishers to take a chances on further books. Better yet, if you love the book, review it on Amazon and/or Goodreads, and tell your friends to check it out.
posted by changeling at 12:23 PM on November 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

The authors I know all want people to buy new copies of their books, and don't particularly care if it's hardcover, paperback, or ebook. The sales figures of your existing books are what drives a publisher to offer to pay you to write more books.

In other words, the amount of money per book is a secondary concern.

Let's say that an author earns $1 per book. If you give an author a dollar, they end up with a dollar. If you buy their new book "A Book," they get not only that dollar, but all the dollars from all the books they will write in the future, which a publisher offers to print based on the sales figures of "A Book."

Anecdotally, it probably also helps to buy from Amazon, because Amazon's sales ranking is becoming a pretty important metric in and of itself.
posted by ErikaB at 1:58 PM on November 10, 2011

I'm a novelist and make my (meager) living from it and other writing. To be honest, I'm not too worked up about how people acquire my book. I won't lie, though, it's best if people purchase a physical copy, but if someone gets it from the library or reads an electronic copy without paying for it, I'm still thrilled.

Sometimes I think I'm very unprofessional feeling this way, but it's really how I feel about it.

I won't turn down your money, though ;)
posted by Kattullus at 4:45 PM on November 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Impossible to calculate without seeing the author's contract, but:

If your biggest concern is helping the author get the biggest percentage of the money you are paying, go for the ebook.

If you're looking for a more big-picture helping the author's career kind of purchase, I'd say go for whatever format in which you're most likely to buy that author's next book.

And yeah, telling people that you read it and liked it, that helps too.

(Also, if the royalty is a percentage of the cover price, that really does mean cover price, not what you pay for it. Most of the time with physical books, those two numbers aren't the same these days).
posted by lampoil at 9:34 AM on November 12, 2011

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