Do Authors Frequent Secondhand Bookstores?

After completing my first 2047 words of NaNoWriMo yesterday, I headed off to a local book fete (a fundraiser for a rural firefighter service). I scanned all the titles haphazardly scattered across tables. There was a piece of non-fiction among the ‘fifty cent novels.’ Sections bled into each other. I noticed another fifty cent novel from a very prolific and successful Australian author (who I know is on Twitter). And in light of this and NaNoWriMo, a new thought occurred to me…

Do published authors frequent secondhand bookstores and fetes and sales?

Even leaving the ethical implications of book resales (second hand books don’t result in any income for authors, or count towards recouperation of an advance) aside, how would you react if you saw your book at such a sale? Be grateful that somebody bought it in the first place and decided to share it with the world? Wonder why they didn’t think it was worth keeping? Do you buy it, or leave it there in the hope you make a new fan? Do you offer to autograph it (after all this might be for charity)?

And what, heaven forbid, if your blood, sweat and tears has a 50 cent sticker on it?

Like most ‘entertainment products’ (if you’ll forgive the expression), books tend to exist both as individual artistic expressions and mass produced, mass marketed products. Sometimes the value of the work can be confused with the cost of the raw materials – the paper, the binding. Certainly when it comes to digitilised product consumers expect the work to be available to them more cheaply, even though the experience of the story (or movie or music) it could be argued is essentially the same. But talk to many Kindle authors who offer their books for a couple of dollars and you soon discover that a cheaper price point has it’s own benefits. The barrier to entry is smaller so more people take a chance on your book. If they enjoy it, there’s a good chance they’ll enjoy your other work. They may buy from you again.

This, I suppose, is the case I’d make for secondhand bookstores, free content online, and even traditional brick-and-mortar libraries!

I first heard singer-songwriter Sophie B. Hawkins on the radio. Then I discovered her album Whaler at the local library. Did this hurt her bank balance? I severely doubt it. Because after I discovered it there, I bought it somewhere else. Plus her other albums, and a lot of singles, compilations, movie soundtracks on which she appeared. She toured Australia two consecutive years and I followed her around from gig-to-gig for weeks at a time. The work is the introduction to the artist. An individual may connect with the work, and by extension, the artist, or they may not. But the point is they were more comfortable in trying something new because the cost was reduced or, in the case of libraries and free content, removed entirely.

Don’t forget also that secondhand bookstores are the last refuge for out-of-print books. When I discovered my favourite author John A. Keel, for example, all his work was out-of-print. It was only through diligent searching of secondhand bookstores across the world – Australia, New Zealand, America, England, Scotland – that I was able to get my hands on these treasures. eBay, Abebooks and Books and Collectibles were particularly helpful in this regard.

2 comments… add one
  • Great post, John.

    I’ve actually found several authors that I enjoy by first purchasing a book at a used bookstore. Christine Feehan, for example. She writes 4-5 different series and I normally read contemporary romance but she writes paranormal. I didn’t really want to take a risk on not liking them but paying $8-$15 for a new book. They all sounded good… but what if I didn’t like it? So I bought one for $1 at the local thrift store. And loved it. Bought all the rest brand new (plus another copy of the one I bought used because they all have to match *grin*). And her Carpathian series is now 21 books deep.

    So, in my opinion… bring on the used bookstores and kindle. If it will introduce someone to my work down the road, that’s the point. To gain readers who will buy your new books.

  • I often donate used books to my local library. They do quarterly book sales to raise money for the library. I like the idea of sending out words instead of keeping them all to myself. Although I collect my favorite authors (I don’t even lend those out to friends!) and like you have hunted down obscure first editons at Abe and other places.

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