How Being a Debut Author Turned Me Into a Book-Buyer

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!

The book that started it all.

The book that started it all for 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.

The shelf-of-books-by-folks-I-know (minus several currently lent out to friends and students. Yes, I'm the book-lender now!)

The current shelf-of-books-by-folks-I-know (minus several currently lent out to friends and students. Yes, I’m the book-lender now!)

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 DairmanTara Dairman is a novelist, playwright, and recovering world traveler. All Four Starsher 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


Filed under Agents, Book Promotion

24 responses to “How Being a Debut Author Turned Me Into a Book-Buyer

  1. Great message here! I agree that it’s especially fun to fill your shelf with books by authors you know!


  2. Back when I was working full-time and paperbacks only cost $5, I was much more likely to drop money on a book. Now, my extra income is way down and the prices of books are way up, so my book money goes to two places: authors whose works I am passionate about, and authors who are just starting out and need the support to be successful… just like I hope to be someday. Very often, those two groups intersect. Like my EMU buds! 🙂


  3. Great post, Tara!

    Since graduate school, I’ve bought lots of picture books because they’re lovely and I knew I would return to them again and again. But I was more likely to read MG or YA novels just once, so I would mostly check them out from the library. Now that friends of mine are publishing these books, and I am writing one of my own, I am buying more of them.

    I am much more likely to buy a book if a Twitter or Facebook friend wrote it, or a writer or illustrator at a conference was particularly kind and approachable.

    For example, Molly Idle wrote some really helpful portfolio and promo posts on her blog and gave away a signed copy of FLORA AND THE FLAMINGO. (Score!) Because she’s wonderful, and I know her art is wonderful, I’ve since bought TEA REX and ZOMBELINA, gifted FLORA, and shared her books with friends. I’ll be a lifelong purchaser of Molly Idle’s books.


  4. I’ve always been buying books, of course, just because I like the concept of ownership. But as an indie author, I’ve recently begun to scour the books of small presses and some self-published authors (I’m stilly slightly biased against self-published books, I’ll admit), but I’ve been requesting ARCs from small presses in exchange for reviews so I can support those authors simply by providing an unbiased review.

    I’ve also been buying books from my own publisher, too, to support the authors being published buy it. It’s a small press, so it’s not like I’m buying hundreds of books by them. Granted, I don’t read all the ones I buy because I’m not into all genres. For example, an action thriller is coming out this month by my publisher, and I don’t like action thrillers, so I’m going to buy it and give it to my fiance to read so he can do a review or rating or whatever he wants to.


  5. Alexa

    I’m so excited about your book, Tara! My sister and brother are CIA chefs and I don’t think there are enough great books about the foodie culture for kids. My approach on buying vs. borrowing is evolving the way yours did. Now that I have a few author friends and acquaintances, it’s super exciting to me to support them by buying their books. It makes me feel like I had a small hand in their publishing journey, and it always feels cool to ask the librarian or bookseller if they have a book that hasn’t quite been released yet 🙂


  6. Like you, Tara, I can’t buy every book I read, but I do try to support authors I really like. And even when you get books from the library, there are other ways to support, like reviews, which could lead to additional sales of that book.


  7. I think I always bought a lot of books but now my to be read pile is in danger of crushing me while I sleep. Eeeps.

    Great post, Tara!


  8. DS Arsenault

    I met Mr. Myers the night he won the Norton. It was great to see and I totally get what you’re saying with this post. I also think it goes beyond supporting a writer to also being smart about learning from over authors through their art. There are some amazing writers out there.


  9. Thanks for this, Tara. I love buying a new book written by a friend or acquaintance, or even just picking one up based entirely on its cover. I have consumed more than my fair share of Ramen and driven cars powered by fumes and Bondo, but books and donations to the SPCA are always lumped in with my priorities. Writers and kitties are both fuzzy and adorable, after all.


  10. Since I started writing I’ve experienced the same thing. I’ve gotten to know Kidlit folks either online or in person and I want own all of their books. But my book budget isn’t that big! So I try to buy the books of the ones I’m connected with. Also, being connected with so many means they’re always suggesting books, so I add those to my want list, too. One thing I’ve gotten better about doing is requesting books from my library. I’m a huge library person (since I started writing). My library has no limit. Since I mainly read picture books, I have 34 check outs and 26 on hold!
    Also, Tara, since your post on your star calendar, I started one. One of my rewards is buying books! Yea!


    • Penny, that’s one of my rewards, too! I think that when I finish my current revision, I’m treating myself to a shiny new MG book by a Twitter-friend. I saw it on the shelf at the bookstore last week, and it’s just calling out to me. Hopefully I can unlock that reward soon! 🙂


  11. I’m the same as you~ amazed and giddy with delight to be able to attach faces and conversations (email and in-person) with the author names I see in bookstores. I can’t afford nearly as many as I’d like to, but I spend moola on debut authors I know and books that just call to me as “special” (like recent releases Kate DiCamillo’s Flora & Ulysses and Anne Ursu’s The Real Boy). I also find myself unable to resist buying gorgeous (both in illustrations and text) picture books for my little girls.


  12. To make room in the shelves, I often pass along books after I’ve read them, but find myself unable to do so with books of folks I know, especially my EMLA stash. Guess we’ll be making another purchase at IKEA soon.


  13. That is an excellent question. I think I have come to the point where, for fiction, I read the book first (library, borrow from friends) and THEN, if I loved it, buy it, so I can easily find it again when I want to read it again. And loan it to friends.

    For nonfiction, if it seems likely that I’ll reference it a lot, I buy it, because i want to highlight and bookmark and write notes. If it looks like a one-time read, I borrow.


  14. Pingback: Links, a giveaway, preorders, ARCs, and a new interview series! | tara dairman

  15. JoyMC

    I wish I could afford to support all the authors I want to support! For now, I use the library very heavily (which is a form of supporting authors), I buy books by people I know, and I occasionally buy when there’s a very exciting release and I know the library hold will take forever.


  16. Brynn

    This was a really cool article and Fair Coin sounds really interesting. I buy as many books as my parents will allow me to get. I usually visit the library every week or so. They see me so often, they know my name :).


  17. Pingback: buying books is great, but so are free books | e.c. myers

  18. I love getting books and I always give books I’ve read and loved to friends to share the joy. Would love to win!!


  19. I have had a similar experience to you, Tara–and I especially love signed books from people I “know.” (But the library also sees a lot of me also.)


  20. It actually depends as I am still a high schooler and I can’t always ask my parents for money to buy books, but I do try to buy books whenever I can and it always goes like this : I buy the most newest ones as I can’t find them at the library for at least a few months, and borrow from the library the ones that have appeared already.


  21. megtyme

    It’s so true! I have bought more books in the past year than I’ve done in a long time. I’ve also gone to the library more. It’s exciting to see so many names I know, and it feels good to support other authors. I guess I tend to buy the books that are by authors I know or already admire, and I check out the ones that are by deceased authors, authors I don’t know, or authors whose work I’m not sure yet that I will want to keep.


  22. Hi there! I know this is kinda off topic but I was wondering if you knew where I could get a captcha
    plugin for my comment form? I’m using the same blog platform as yours and I’m having difficulty
    finding one? Thanks a lot!


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