Sunday, December 10, 2006

On Buying Books

by Susan Helene Gottfried

I think I offended a new friend last week by telling her that I haven't bought her book yet. Instead, my copy came from an online book trading site.

You'd think that, as a writer, I'd know better. After all, every single sale is important in the publishing industry these days. And her book is certainly the first on my list to buy. I really have no good excuse.

I could sit here and say that yeah, I could ride my bike to the nearest bookstore but I refuse because it's a chain and I prefer to buy from independents. That's entirely true -- but I'm in a certain local independent fairly frequently anymore.

Maybe it's that I feel cheesy, knowing she could walk in that same store and look over my shoulder and there I am, buying her book.

But the truth is that I've grown quite addicted to online book trading, and not just because of how easy it is. It's not because of the rush of discovering a listing for something I've been waiting for, nor is it the thrill that is there every time I see a package in my mailbox.

It's the ability to track the book's history that gets me. Yes, I use an online site to do this; every book that you register gets its own individual identification number and as books wind their way around the planet, I get to be the proverbial fly on the wall.

It's fun to get a book that six others have hated -- and find that I love it. It's not so fun to realize I'm the only one who disagrees with the raves of others. When that happens, though, by reading over what those others have said, I get a glimpse into why they thought what they did.

It never fails to teach me something about the way that readers approach the books we write. Do they focus on the plot (sometimes)? The characters (usually)? The setting (almost never)? How are they affected by pacing and suspense? Is there a willing suspension of disbelief, when it's necessary? And do they speak of a need to suspend disbelief that wasn't intended?

I breezily went on to assure my friend that I'll be buying probably four copies of her book. I fully intend to, so that I can watch them travel from person to person and read what everyone thinks. Maybe it won't help her write a better book, but it'll get her name out there, so that when the next book hits the shelf, and the one after that, our local bookstore won't be the only store with a line of people waiting to buy it.

Including me, who promises to buy five copies right there, on the first on-sale day.


lisa curry said...

Susan, I didn't know such a thing as online book trading existed, but I can see the appeal. I even like that web site that lets you track a dollar bill's circulation. A book's circulation, along with previous reader's opinions, would be way more fascinating.

Anonymous said... was founded because of the idea of Where'sGeorge. A lot of people think BookCrossing is only about leaving books out for people to find, but there's a pretty active segment of us who use it for trading and the simple tracking of their books.

I love the tracking. It's really added a new dimension to my reading.

karen! said...

I know people (and authors in specific) have mixed feelings about BookCrossing, but I do have to say that when I love a book I buy multiple copies to share and I know that there are others out there who do the same.

Anonymous said...

I know you'll buy more copies Susan. That's your nature to find a book you like and want to share it with everyone or support a author you know that needs the sales. I can't always afford the independent book stores but I do buy books new from time to time. It may be from that evil corporation or a local grocery store. I like seeing the books I send on through bookcrossing get journaled. I love seeing what others think of the book.

Anonymous said...

The internet just makes everything easier. :) Book selling, trading, writing... everything.

I used to be a member of book crossing - it was one of those "leave a book to be found and track it" deals.

I've got to go back and see if I've still got my account... yet another place where Susan and I cross paths.

scooper said...

I've never participated in online book trading only because I'm to impatient to wait for books. Usually when I want a book I gratify myself immediately. I'm not above taking books from relatives or friends though.

Anonymous said...

Argh.... just typed a whole long comment and the silly software lost it while I was trying to log in.

Anyway, I love book trading, but mostly wanted to comment on the bit about readers not paying attention to a book's setting. I am a sucker for a great setting.

Anonymous said...

I know I'm more likely to pick up a book based on its setting, but I've noticed that the setting rarely, if ever, gets mentioned in journal entries that I receive.

I think I scared off the Stiffs with this blog entry today. Only Lisa commented!

Anonymous said...

I just looked at some of my recent journal entries and I haven't commented about setting in any of them. I will have to correct that in future entries. I want to make sure any author who happens by my journal entries knows how much I love place and time in stories.

Anonymous said...

I guess it's similar to the napster argument - by getting hold of something free (or cheap) you introduce more people to a new voice or talent, encouraging them to buy more of that person's work in the future.

If it's not bookcrossing or napster, it would be borrowing books from friends and family.

IMO, if the book's good enough, people will buy - heck, if it's good enough and something I want to keep, I'd buy a copy after reading it free first.