Up until very recently, I was not a big buyer of books. Now, that’s not to say that I didn’t read; I’ve always been a voracious reader. I’m also a big fan of the library, and I do a lot of thrifting, so the books I buy tend to come from Goodwill or yard sales for pennies on the dollar. That’s just good, frugal sense. Right?
Back when money was tight, that was the only way I acquired books. Then things improved and suddenly I could afford to buy books from real stores. I immediately moved to buying the hardback versions of books written by friends of mine, both as a show of support and so that I could have them signed. If there was a book I really wanted, I would get it from Amazon. More recently I’ve become a huge fan of Better World Books as a great way to both be green and to get great prices.
But lately I’ve been thinking that I need to reset my thinking when it comes to purchasing books. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that I think it’s part of my duty as a writer to do so.
Here’s the thing: Book sales are down. Way down. It’s harder than ever to get your book published, and becoming increasingly harder to make a living from the proceeds of said publishing. Whether or not I personally derive most of my income from book sales (I don’t), I am a career writer in a community of writers. And I should know better than to “avoid” purchasing books new because I think it’s a “waste of money.” Yeah; I’ve thought that. I make a huge chunk of my living on helping people live more frugally, and when there are libraries and thrift stores and book swaps around, I’ll admit I’ve thought that buying books new is wasteful.
Of course, there was also a time when I thought that spending more than $50/week on groceries was wasteful and unnecessary. I’ve since (over a long period of time) readjusted my thinking to where I believe there’s little more important than the food I feed my family, and I now spend a weekly amount that would make my formerly frenetically-couponing-and-perpetually-broke self cringe. That’s another story, obviously. But the point is that if we can afford to eat well, it’s money well-spent.
Similarly, if I can afford to buy books, it’s also money well-spent. It’s support for my community. It’s an investment in my potential career expansion, let’s say.
I came across this piece by Ann Trubek last month and actually laughed aloud with delight when discovering that—while discussing the age-old “why aren’t more writers buying books?” question—the real punchline turns out to be that renowned literary journal Tin House is now requiring a book receipt with submissions, as proof that you don’t just write, you also buy books. I think this is beyond brilliant (and be sure to check out the alternative to a book receipt in their requirements, too—you may write a haiku explaining why you prefer digital format, for example). I truly think this is a delightful way of handling the odd contradiction which is writers who don’t read (or who read but don’t buy).
Now, mind you, I have plenty of other excuses for why, even now, without the community/karma motivation, I have little reason to buy books. (Though Trubek offers only libraries as an explanation, I think she could’ve come up with more if she tried.) For one thing, as a writer, I’m on plenty of review lists, which means I have books arriving at my office nearly every day. My shelves are overflowing with ARCs, and it’s been a long time since I truly wanted for something new to read. While I was still working for Scholastic, books arrived by the case. But even nowadays, I still average about three books a week, most of them unsolicited.
There’s only so much space in my office, and so much time to devote to reading. So the “practical” side of my mind enjoys the free books and wants to stick to used copies of the other things I feel compelled to buy.
Except that now I am taking a stand and making a concerted effort to buy the works of authors I love, because I want them to be able to continue doing what makes them great. So. A compromise with myself: I have started a love affair with my eReader. I still buy hardbacks of the books written by friends (it’s hard to sign an eReader, after all), but I’m now regularly shelling out for books to put on that lovely little device I can carry around in my purse and pull out in the carpool lane, the doctor’s waiting room, etc.
I’m not going to lie, it was hard for me, at first. “This is money I don’t have to spend,” I’d think. “I can get it from the library, or buy a used paperback.” But I was wrong, because if I want to really be part of this community, I need to spend the money.
And today I’m telling you: so do you.