In a recent newsletter from the Nelson Literary Agency, agent Sara Megibow said “Last year I spent $2,000 on books and $40 on clothes.”
As someone who hates clothes-shopping but loves books, this sounded about right to me!
I didn’t used to be a book-buyer, though. Eight years ago (eep!), when I lived in New York and was just starting to kick around the idea of trying to write a children’s novel, I owned the Harry Potter series and…that’s about it. And I won’t pretend that I went to the library much, either. Mostly I mooched books off friends who were big book-buyers and were generous enough to lend me whatever I wanted to borrow. I probably purchased two or three new books a year—if an author I loved did an event in town and I could get the book signed, or if something called out to me from a bargain bin.
Forgive me, fellow authors. Back then, I had only the vaguest ideas about how royalties worked, about how sales numbers affected authors’ abilities to keep getting deals for new books. I was much more immersed in the theater world, more attuned to the economic realities of trying to mount a profitable (or even break-even) off-off-Broadway show. So I had no problem forking over $18 a couple of times a week to support the production of a playwright or actor or director I knew. But when it came to spending that much money on a new book, I balked.
Nowadays, the situation is almost perfectly switched—I probably go to the theater three or four times a year, but I’m in my local bookstore every month, hauling home a new pile of books. What led to this change?’
Well, leaving New York probably helped; there’s just not as much must-see theater where I live now. And reading the fine print on my own book contract didn’t hurt either. Now I know exactly how many copies I’ll need to sell of my book to break even on my advance and, hopefully, one day start earning royalties.
But honestly, the biggest contributor to my change in book-buying habits is that I actually know a bunch of authors now.
I mean, as much as I liked to pretend that going to David Sedaris and Michael Chabon signings back in the day made us BFFs…we weren’t. But two years ago, when I was just starting to query agents, a mutual friend introduced me to a kidlit writer who had already an agent and a book deal. His advice and support during my own agent search was invaluable, and I remember the day, a few months later, when his first novel came out. I found it on the YA shelf at my local Barnes & Noble, and my heart leapt. My brain let out a string of excited (though thankfully internal) expletives. Holy #$%&! It’s my friend’s book! And, of course I had to own it. (This book, by the way, is the fabulous Fair Coin by E.C. Myers, which went on to win the Andre Norton award.)
Nowadays, I’m lucky to have that experience almost every time I walk into a bookstore. Thanks to my agency, OneFour Kidlit, Facebook, and Twitter, I’ve connected with a slew of published and soon-to-be-published kidlit authors whose work I’m excited to see out there. It’s been one of the most unexpected but completely rewarding side effects of signing with an agent and selling a book.
Now, I certainly don’t purchase every book I read—I couldn’t afford that. I make much more use of my local library now than I ever did in New York. But I try to at least buy new releases by authors I know personally (especially debut authors). And my borrowed books often lead to purchases these days, too; when I read a book I love that doesn’t quite seem to have achieved the bestseller status I think it deserves, I often go buy a copy or two to give kids I know as gifts or use for blog giveaways.
If someone had told me a few years ago that I’d one day have an entire shelf at home dedicated to books by authors I knew, I would have told them to get out of town. But I do, and I get warm fuzzies every time I look at it. 🙂
Speaking of buying books for giveaways, I’m going to put my money where my mouth is and offer one commenter a free copy of the book that started this whole book-buying frenzy for me: Fair Coin by E.C. Myers! You can choose a hardcover, e-book, or the just-released audiobook version.
To enter, please leave a comment sharing how you choose which books to buy and which ones to borrow. We’ll announce a winner one week from today (on Monday, November 18).
Tara Dairman is a novelist, playwright, and recovering world traveler. All Four Stars, her debut middle-grade novel about an 11-year-old who secretly becomes a New York restaurant critic, will be published in 2014 by Putnam/Penguin.
Find her online at taradairman.com.