As an author of almost 20 books, some of which are a compilation of some of the 100+ magazine articles I’ve had published, I can tell you that I am not particularly excited when I see my work sold second hand.
First there is the emotional let down of wondering “Why would anyone not cherish that book on their shelf forever, passing it down from generation to generation with the veneration of a family heirloom?”
But as a writer who has had far more rejection slips than acceptance letters I am pretty quick to get over the emotional let down. Writers, if they ever want to be published, have to develop pretty thick skin.
No, the real pain comes when I think about how every second hand copy of the book cuts into my profits from writing the book. I only get money when the book is sold the first time. I don’t make money when people borrow it from a friend. I don’t make money when people sell it in a garage sale. I don’t make money when people check it out from the library.
But the truth is that I get past this too because I know what REALLY happens when books are sold second hand.
The readers of the world (and I’m talking here about people who read more than 4-5 books per year which is, according to some studies a VERY small portion of the people in the US), the readers of the world are a small population, but they are responsible for MOST of the book sales. It’s like the old “80/20 Rule” on steroids. I’d bet 5% of the people are responsible for more than 95% of the book sales.
That is a lot of responsibility for us and there is just no way that we can look at ALL the books published every year. So we usually recommend the same books to more than one person. We buy several copies of ONE book and give them as gifts. We follow certain authors and buy whatever they write because we learn to trust them to create great stories.
So, when my book gets handed off second-hand I know that I am being introduced to someone who would not have purchased the book otherwise. The potential benefit was not worth the combined risk of the jacket price AND the time needed to actually read the book.
But if a Reader gets their hands on one of my books and LIKES it, then they might be willing to buy one of my books the next time they get the chance.
And if they like THAT book, they might add me to their list of authors to follow.
And if I continue to deliver on the promise I’ve made with my writing, then the Reader might grace a few of his friends with copies of one of my books as a recommendation or even a gift, and thus a new crowd of people are introduced to my work, who might otherwise never have found me.
In a few days I'll share with you why I am thinking about this topic.