B is for Buy Back

by Steve Laube

open-book banner

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.

Business Tip #12 for Writers: Sales Tax
Must Authors Pay Sales Tax? My $1200 Lesson
Jennifer Hudson on The Issue of Sales Tax on Books
Sales Tax Facts for Book Authors

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….

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?

16 Responses to B is for Buy Back

  1. Ron Estrada June 3, 2013 at 4:19 am #

    Not with books, Steve, but trailer hitches. My family’s company sells high-end trailer hitches via phone and online. We used to do a lot of RV shows. Because it’s an expensive and heavy product, we’d normally just gather leads at the shows. But we’d occasionally make a sale. At a show in Washington state, we had a couple gathering leads for us. Well, they sold something out of the booth, I believe it was hats. The state found out about it and we spent the next 15 years or so adding Washington sales tax to any hitch we sold to a Washington resident, even though we were selling them out of Michigan. If you’ve ever dealt with the tax system in Washington, you understand why it was such a pain for our small company (In WA, there is a different tax rate for every community, plus an additional tax for some cities…welcome to government run amock). Be sure to check the tax laws of each state you go to. If you sell on your website, you may get stuck with paying taxes to any sale made to a resident of that state. It’s a paperwork mess that you may not want to deal with. Sometimes it’s better to just gather names and e-mail addresses.

  2. Philip Rothschild June 3, 2013 at 6:28 am #

    Another helpful blog post, Steve. I’m the manager of Jennifer Rothschild and professor of entertainment management at http://www.missouristate.edu and have some good experience with trade and curriculum publishers.
    A few additional tips.
    1. Be sure your contract gives your first option to buy remainder copies of books. These are the books that a publisher is going to sell off to some discounter for pennies on the dollars. You can sometimes get these books for under $2. Use these books as giveaways on your website – if you buy x, and y, get z free.
    2. Track your event sales carefully so that you can make predictions on how much product to send on to your next event. Using a spreadsheet, track number in attendance, number of times you speak, if others speak at the event, and what time you speak, etc. This allows you to compare apples to apples. The more times you speak is usually correlated with the number of sales.
    3. Consider bundling books. Put a couple books together in a nice tote and selling it at a premium (if nice tote), or discount (if in cheap clear bag). We for example, do this with Jennifer’s Self Talk, Soul Talk book. Two books in a clear bag, makes it a Bible Study for Two in a Bag.
    Join us at http://www.womensministry.net for an article I’m writing on this topic in the future.

  3. Meghan Carver June 3, 2013 at 6:30 am #

    I’m not a veteran author with any tips, but I did want to say that I appreciate all the information you share here, Steve.

  4. Jeanne Takenaka June 3, 2013 at 6:59 am #

    I’m not a veteran author either, Steve. This info is enlightening. Thanks for sharing it!

  5. Rick Barry June 3, 2013 at 7:27 am #

    I might add that speaking events is not the only way authors can offer their own books for sale. For instance, another author friend and I teamed up to reserve booths at 3 large homeschool conventions this year. Homeschool parents are especially alert to find wholesome reading material for themselves, for their teens, and for elementary readers. Hang a “Meet the authors!” banner. Shoppers’ interest level rises when they can meet and discuss books with the actual authors rather than vendors.

    Now we are checking into similar opportunities at Christmas craft fairs, etc.

    • Andrea Cox June 3, 2013 at 9:02 am #

      Thanks for the tip, Rick! I never would have thought about having a booth at a homeschool convention. That’s a genius idea!


    • Steve Laube June 3, 2013 at 10:08 am #

      I’m sorry I failed to address ideas like conventions. You are correct. I have a couple clients who have a booth at homeschool conventions and can sell thousands of dollars worth of their products…primarily because their work lends itself to success with that audience.

      And that is the key. If your book is not something attuned to a particular convention audience then you would be wasting your time and money to exhibit.

      Also the clients I mentioned have multiple books so their book isn’t pushing only one title.

    • Pat Jaeger June 4, 2013 at 9:16 am #

      What a great idea, Rick! Thanks.

  6. Andrea Cox June 3, 2013 at 9:05 am #

    Steve, sometimes it hard for me to soak in all the information you give in your articles, but I always appreciate your openness. Are the tax laws and such something an agent goes over with their clients, or do the clients have to figure it out themselves? I’m new to this whole process, in case you couldn’t tell.

    Thanks, Steve!


    • Steve Laube June 3, 2013 at 10:11 am #

      Most agents will tell you what I did in this post, but the responsibility for doing it in your state is the author’s. I have no way of knowing the nuances of each state, much less each county or city. That is where consulting a tax accountant would be worthwhile. Start with researching your state, city, and county commerce requirements online.


      • Andrea Cox June 3, 2013 at 11:24 am #

        Thanks, Steve. It’s good to know what to expect when I’m ready to find an agent. I appreciate you sharing this information with me!


  7. marci seither June 3, 2013 at 10:00 am #

    Great post about behind the scenes things authors don’t always think of. With technology and tax laws changing, it is hard to stay on top of everything AND write..but, as you pointed out, it can be costly. Thanks for the heads up! Plus, I love the additional resources you link to as well!
    Have a great week Steve!
    Simply blessed,

  8. Nancy B. Kennedy June 3, 2013 at 2:15 pm #

    I find that people at a speaking event can be reluctant to approach the book table when you are signing, because they’re afraid to be embarrassed if they don’t want to buy anything. I make sure I have a handout of some sort — book cards, copies of an article I’ve written, etc. — just so they can save face approaching me… and perhaps change their mind and buy a book. Plus… cookies! Cookies work!

  9. Peter DeHaan June 3, 2013 at 2:42 pm #

    I once considered self-publishing a niche book to sell at an out-of-state convention. Once my CPA explained the sales tax issue, I decided against it.

  10. Pat Jaeger June 4, 2013 at 9:21 am #

    Once again, great info! Thanks for the insight. Our writers’ guild shares ideas and your agency blogs often get brought to the meetings!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Get New Posts by Email

Get New Posts by Email

Each article is packed with helpful info and encouragement for writers. You can unsubscribe at any time with one click. 

You have Successfully Subscribed!