by Steve Laube
Many authors are also speakers and as such usually have a book table in the back of the room where the audience can purchase a copy of their book during an event. This can be a very valuable source of income for the author if they have negotiated a “buy back” price (also known as the author’s discount) at the time of signing their book contract.
Check Your Contract Restrictions
It is crucial that you read your contract if you plan on selling copies of your book. No publisher will allow you to resell your books to a commercial account. In other words don’t try to buy thousands of books at your author discount and then re-sell them to Wal-Mart at a special price. That is a no-no. And is a logical restriction.
Also, there are a couple publishers that do not allow you, by contract, to sell your books in any public venue. If you scoff at this after signing the contract and are caught, you are in breach of contract and could face the consequences.
Please pay your bills. I’ve known authors who have bought books from their publisher and then fail to pay the invoice. (Shocking, but true.) The publisher has the right to charge the money for those books against royalty earnings. But if the royalty earnings are also paying back an advance given to the author the publisher is in a negative position. This can get ugly if the publisher has to turn over the author’s invoice to a collection agency. (Yes, I’ve known it to happen.)
What About Internet Sales?
Some authors have shopping carts on their site and sell direct to their consumer. Others use affiliate programs with Amazon or Barnes&Noble or Christianbook.com. (Please consider using this fantastic new WordPress plugin called MyBookTable. Amazing.)
Another option is to join the Signed by the Author site. This is a great service that allows customers to buy signed copies of our books.
With the advent of e-books many authors don’t sell e-books off their own web site, choosing to simply link to an online store. But it is something to consider if you are self-publishing. For example, I bought a PDF version of a book on copyright law from someone the other day. The entire transaction took place on the author’s web site.
How Low Can it Go?
The author discount can vary greatly from publisher to publisher and even from contract to contract. The normal starting discount is 40% off the retail price on author purchases. We are usually able to negotiate an escalating discount schedule based on the quantity purchased. It starts with open stock purchases (quantities less can a case – anywhere from 1-48 copies) to case-lot quantities (the number of books that fit in one box is called a “case-lot”) and can increase at levels of 500 and 1,000 or more for a maximum discount.
For example: Your book retails for $15.00. You can probably negotiate to buy the book in case-lot quantities at 50% off. This means your cost is $7.50 (not including freight). Thus, when you sell the book at full price on the back table you can make $7.50 per book sold. This also gives you flexibility to sell your book for a discount on the back table is you desire.
As you can see, this can be a major source of income if you speak regularly. For example, if you sell 50 copies every time you speak, the above example could add as much as $375 per event to your revenue stream.
Remember Sales Taxes
A lot of authors forget that if they sell books they are involved in commerce. As such you are bound by the laws of your city and state with regard to the sale of merchandise and the collection of sales taxes. If you are not collecting sales tax on your book or audio sales you are still obligated to pay those taxes to your city and state, depending on where you live and where the sales occurred.
Yes, it is complicated. And selling across state lines doesn’t always mean you don’t collect city and state sales tax (or at least owe the sales tax). Note how Amazon has been in the news on this issue. On suggestion, if you need help is to talk to your local writers group or chapters in RWA or ACFW or similar to find out how other authors handle it in your area.
Before you sell another book off the back table, read these four articles with the caveat that the laws change regularly. For example in Phoenix, where I live, the state sales tax dropped by 1% over the weekend. So now an author would owe less tax for book sales they made after June 1st.
In Arizona you would apply for a State sales tax license and a City sales tax license. Then report sales every month to the two revenue agencies. As the second linked article above suggests, don’t forget to report or you’ll pay a fine.
This is a Business
Remember the business aspect of your writing life. It is important that you treat it as such. Keep great records of everything and follow the applicable laws. And here you thought all you had to do was spend 10,000 hours writing a book….
Are there some veteran authors who can chime in and give further help from their experience?
What tips and tricks can you share that can help increase book sales at a speaking event?