A couple of weeks ago I participated in the Glens Falls (NY) Chronicle's 21st annual Autumn Leaves Book Fair. This was my second appearance, and I have to say that both times the event was fabulous. Well organized, a great venue (the historic and majestic Queensbury Hotel, built in 1926), and flawlessly executed. Approximately 120 authors and book-focused organizations were in attendance, as were book-lovers in droves. Offerings ranged from children’s books to local history (there's a LOT of history in this
region) to non-fiction, literary fiction, and genre fiction. Many of the
authors, including myself and my friend and table-mate Dave Kalish (author of The
Opposite of Everything), got a chance to read brief excerpts from our
work to appreciative audiences, and to interact with the other authors and
attendees at the fair. And to sell books.
Not to put to fine a point on it, that's the reason we authors show up. To hawk books. In my case, Traitor Knight, the first in my Knights of Kilbourne series. Yes, we love to talk to people about books and writing and the creative process. We love to see what our friends and compatriots have come out with, to sometimes swoon with envy over a particularly awesome cover or a great opening line. But first and foremost, we're there to get books into the hands of readers. For cash (or credit).
Because all the hard work we do --and yes, it’s darned hard work writing and publishing a book-- goes for naught if nobody is reading our words. If no one opens the pages to enter the many and diverse worlds we've created out of nothing more than inspiration and sweat and ink. If no one gets the chance to meet the characters we've dragged kicking and screaming into those pages.
We'd like that hard work and uncountable hours to be rewarded, even if just a little. Contrary to popular belief, most authors make darned little from the books they write. Many, like me, are actually losing money on the project. Royalties are tiny and marketing costs are huge. For example, while I sold some books at Autumn Leaves, I didn’t even clear expenses for the table fee, gas to drive an hour each way, and cost of promo materials handed out. Of course some of that bread I cast upon the waters in the form of bookmarks and dragons (yep, I hand out a dragon to any kid who happens by) may come back in the form of books sold later. Selling books, like life, is often a crap-shoot.
But the notion (expressed soto voce) by several fair attendees that “Books are just too expensive now” rather rankles. If I were paid by the hour for the time I’ve invested in writing, querying and editing Traitor Knight, even if I got the full cover price of $14.99 (and my actual net is nowhere near that) I’d be making about two cents per hour. Guess I’d better start working faster… Hey, does that minimum wage thing affect authors too?
Please don’t mistake my drift here—I’m not complaining in any way, shape or form about my percentage of the sale, and certainly not about people who don’t want to buy books. There are plenty who do, and we authors thank each and every one of you, whether you happened to buy our particular book(s) or not. My point, reached rather circuitously, is that artists in any format, whether printed word or visual arts or performing arts, do what they do not only for the love of the art itself. If that were the case, all books, movies, paintings, music, etc. would be offered for free, with all us artists saying, “Oh, that’s ok, we just do this because we love to—don’t worry about actually paying for it.”
And we do love to do what we do. But that doesn’t mean we wouldn’t like to be compensated for all the time, effort, sleepless nights, mental breakdowns, computer breakdowns, crying jags, and 5:00am mornings spent sweating over a recalcitrant plotline that just won’t cooperate. No one seems to think twice about dropping $50 on a date to go to see the latest blockbuster film (two tickets, popcorn, and drinks add up fast) or $100+ each to see those aging rockers in one last farewell tour (as opposed to the last farewell tour a couple of years ago). So c’mon, people—give authors their due as well. Consider the fact that when you buy a book, you buy a round-trip ticket into another fascinating world, created especially for you the reader, peopled with diverse, interesting characters that you might or might not be willing to bring home to meet your parents.
And the good news is that you can visit that world again and again, check in with those characters any time you want. You can experience the drama or thrills or mystery or adventure or romance over and over, any time you wish. All for the price of a book.
Keith W. Willisis a semi-professional word-wrangler and author of the Next Generation Indie Book Award Finalist Traitor Knight. He lives in upstate NY with his loving, lovely, and extraordinarily patient wife, who is gracious enough to encourage his writing habit, and even reads (and proofreads) his words despite the fact that she doesn't really like fantasy. That's love. He does not drink coffee, and neither owns nor is owned by any critters of the feline persuasion. His second novel, Desperate Knight, is completed and currently resides in the laps of the gods.