B Is for Buy Back

Many authors have the opportunity to speak at various events and, as such, usually have a book table in the back of the room where the audience can purchase a copy of their book. This can be a 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.

Some authors have the type of products that sell well at homeschool conventions or similar venues. A few will even combine resources to create larger display areas at these events for the products that fit the audience.

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 resell them to Walmart at a special price. That is a no-no. And is a logical restriction.

Also, it is possible that a publisher could prevent you, by contract, from selling your books in any public venue if you purchased those books at a special author discount. 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 failed 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 sites and sell direct to their consumers. Others point their readers to an online store option like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, ShopTheWord.com, or Christianbook.com. If you choose this option, consider using this fantastic WordPress plugin called MyBookTable. You can see this plugin in action at Enclave Publishing. (Yours may look different because Enclave had the plugin customized to fit the look of the website.)

How Cheap Can You Buy?
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. Our agency usually tries to negotiate an escalating discount schedule based on the quantity purchased. It starts with open stock purchases (meaning, quantities less than what fills a case or box, 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 if 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 mean you avoid collecting city and state sales tax. Please check with other authors who live in your state to see how they navigate these waters as the laws seemingly change from year to year.

Take a look at this article for a starting place in your research: “Am I supposed to collect sales tax when selling my books directly to readers in my state AND others?”

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.

Your Turn
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?

12 Responses to B Is for Buy Back

  1. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser February 28, 2022 at 5:14 am #

    So if do a buy-back,
    undercut my publisher,
    they’ll take it as a sneak attack,
    and we will be at war?
    C’mon, man, that’s not all right,
    no, not in the least;
    they’re big, I’m small, my money’s tight
    and I’m a Great Artiste
    who starves within a garret
    for which I pay three thou,
    and I must grin and bear it,
    but I need the money now
    without risk of being gaoled
    for the Tesla’s GOT to be detailed!

  2. Debby Kratovil February 28, 2022 at 6:35 am #

    I’m a book author and have negotiated many contracts (3 books; 18 calendars – in the quilting world). All I can say is: WORDS MEAN THINGS! Everything Steve says here is gospel truth. I was always able to buy my books at a discount. I also negotiated for a few dozen FREE books/calendars. My publishers didn’t control how I sold them. When I spoke to a group (along came a few dozen quilts) I always offered my books/calendars at a discount. If the book retailed for $27.99 (104 all color pages, patterns, directions, etc), I was able to purchase copies for $14.00. I sold them for $20, sometimes $22. Sold them like hotcakes. If I tried to sell for $27.99 – crickets. My audience knew they could go to Amazon and get it cheaper. The key for me was that at the end of the print run, I was able to get ALL rights reverting to me – I OWNED the copyright and could reprint based on the original files I created, my photos, art, etc. And I still do. The only time I hired a lawyer to renegotiate a calendar contract was when there were “evil” words in there called “work for hire.” Another story for another time!

  3. Sarah Hamaker February 28, 2022 at 7:36 am #

    I’ve had very successful book sales at local craft shows, and it’s generally super easy to collect sales tax. For example, my home state of Virginia allows you to attend up to 3 craft shows a year without registering for a sales tax number. Check out your state’s department of taxation website for details about your particular situation.

    About author copies sent to you by the publisher–make sure you understand what you can do with those copies! For example, I write for Harlequin/Love Inspired Suspense, and receive a generous number of author copies…but I’m not allowed to sell them per my contract. These are strictly for giveaways/freebies.

  4. Frank February 28, 2022 at 8:29 am #

    Point on. Great warning.

  5. Megan Schaulis February 28, 2022 at 9:09 am #

    I was a marketing manager for an international ministry and had the joy of working directly with their publisher (proposals, contracts, book covers, etc.). We usually bought 500-1,500 copies of each book they released to sell online and at events, so buy back was an important piece of each contract.

    In one case, we were allowed to choose between being grandfathered in on an old contract with a great buy back rate or starting a new contract with higher royalties but a lower a buy-back discount. Ultimately, given this was for a ministry, we went with the better buy back rate in order to get more books in people’s hands. Other authors with different goals would want to approach that differently.

  6. Tim Eichenbrenner February 28, 2022 at 9:20 am #

    Steve, can you or someone else go over the ways to collect payments at back table signings, please? Obviously, cash works (still), but do we need to be set up for taking credit cards and/or PayPal? Thanks!

    • Debby Kratovil February 28, 2022 at 10:26 am #

      I’m not Steve, but here’s how I take sales other than cash. Square. It’s easy to use, the first small “magstripe” is free, and it’s linked to your bank. The fees are really low – about 3%. I have found over the years that my sales can be double and even triple when I take credit cards. Just my input.

  7. Marcia Laycock February 28, 2022 at 9:52 am #

    Speaking engagements have been my #1 way to sell my books. I’ve found it really helps if you mention something from one of the books from the podium at some point. Reading from a book is even better. Unless it’s not feasible – I spoke a lot for an organization that was very tight on the time allowed, so to honour that could not squeeze in a “promo,” so I supplied the host with a bio that mentioned the book table. That worked well.
    Sadly, due to Covid much of the speaking engagements have dried up. Hoping and praying, now that restrictions are lifting here in Canada, it will pick up again.
    Regarding taking payment (see Tim’s question above). I use a Square device so can take credit cards. That has also been a big help. So many people don’t carry cash anymore.

  8. Marcia Laycock February 28, 2022 at 9:59 am #

    When I received my contract for my first novel, One Smooth Stone, I was quite nervous about all the ‘legalese’ so I asked a friend, Sigmund Brouwer, a multi-published author, if he would mind having a look at it to make sure I wasn’t signing my life away. He was gracious enough to chat over a coffee and advised me to see if the publisher would put a clause in it that stated that I could purchase an unlimited number of copies at the discounted rate. Wow! Best advise ever!

  9. Warren February 28, 2022 at 10:33 am #

    Hi, Steve. Good stuff in this post. I sold books and collected taxes. An easier way fir buyers and sellers is to do the math before you price the book. I hated making change based on some state tax rate. So, I sold my 14.99 book that had a 7.5 tax rate by backing into an even number.

    For instance: sell the book for $14.88; charge the tax rate of $1.12 and collect $16.00. At the end of the day, multiply the number of books sold by $1.12. Your tax liability in this instance is $11.20.

    I use an excel to do the math no matter the numbers. Mathematicians do it with a pencil.

    • Warren February 28, 2022 at 10:55 am #

      I hate my cell phone texting. Please note in the example above there were ten books sold, making the tax liability $11.20.

  10. Paul Wilkinson March 6, 2022 at 6:20 pm #

    Can you flesh out the meaning of “public venue” in this context?

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