Hardcover Prices and Miss Marian the Librarian

Dear Ms. Snark, (Miss!!)

A couple of my writer friends recently signed publishing contracts with a small press that publishes hardcover books primarily for the library market. I'm so happy for them both to finally see their dream come true! My concern (and I haven't told either of them this) is that the cover price on this publisher's books is kind of steep at $27 per book. How many readers would fork out $27 on a new, unknown author's first book from a small library press? I would think this might hinder their sell-through, though I understand the print runs are small. I will
certainly cheer my friends on and buy (gulp!) both their books, but I am curious about your opinion on the whole cover price thing.

Well I think $27 for a hardcover book stinks. I know publishers have to charge that much to allow for the even stinkier practice of returns, but library sales are non-returnable so this stinks even more.

However, this publisher has targeted a niche market and it looks like they're serving it. They don't price their products for the general public or expect to sell much there. Faulting them for that is like faulting Miss Snark for not knowing much about science fiction.

One of the penalties of having writerly friends is you have to buy their books. One of the penalties of being an agent is you can't give books as gifts any more cause everyone assumes you get them for free or you have a financial interest in them.

Life's tough all over. Take a moment and think about how great it is that we have libraries in this country that are free, open to everyone and staffed by people who want to help you find great books or good information. Time to head to the library and tell your librarian s/he is your hero. Take cookies.


Jim C. Hines said...

The publisher in question may or may not be the one I'm familiar with. I signed with Five Star a few years back, and they do hardcovers for the library markets, just as you describe.

The advance isn't great, but it bought a lot of diapers. And since the book came out, my agent has sold Russian rights, got another offer on foreign rights, and is currently working to sell the mass market rights, which would bring it out as a nice, cheap(er) paperback.

The Five Star deal wasn't my dream, but they were a pretty good publisher, and they may turn out to be a stepping stone to niftier things...

Anonymous said...

Like Miss Snark, I think libraries are one of the great places of freedom. When my first book was published, I sent a free one to every library I had ever been to, including the one at the American University in Paris - they sent me a thankyou letter. I know authors have to make money, but I would like to see a greater movement from published authors in supporting libraries...like through Friends of the Library.

Rick said...

Libraries also put books in front of readers, who may then go out and look for that author.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the response, Miss Snark. I love librarians, too, and go to the library about every couple weeks. Maybe I'll bring cookies the next time. -g-

Like Mr. Hines, I'm hoping this experience opens the doors for bigger and better things for my friends. I didn't get much of an advance from my small press publisher either, so I totally know where you're coming from. I'll do all I can to get the word out about my friends' books cuz a really good book is priceless. -g-

Anonymous said...

I didn't know there were publishers for just the library market. That's very interesting.

I don't have a book published yet (working on it though), but what I like to do is donate books that I've read and enjoyed and probably won't read a second time. I've also done this with books that I've bought through Amazon and the like and then written to the author and arranged to by an autographed copy from him or her. My unsigned version goes to the library.

Naturally, if I get my book published (appendages crossed), I'll be giving a copy to them.

Anonymous said...

Gaack! I meant to say buy and not by. My bad on the homophones.

dink said...

I'm big into research so librarians are my friends, big-time--I'm crazy for them.

I wrote a little tribute blog entry to my first librarian and first library book titled "I Love You Madly, Madly, Madam Librarian" so it's clear we're on the same wavelength. ;-)

P.S. EIGHT letters in the word verification --I'm doomed.

Eileen said...

Speaking of helping a library- New Orleans Public Library is trying to rebuild and desperately seeking donations...http://www.nutrias.org/

For all us library junkies out there- here's a chance to payback.

Anonymous said...

Nutrias are rodent like creatures in the Pacific Northwest. Naming a website nutrias is like naming a website www.rat.org.

Can they have known this? Well..they ARE librarians, they know all!

Anonymous said...

Most public libraries don't add donated books to their collections. They prefer to sell them through their "friends of the library" organizations and purchase what the patrons ask for in library bindings. Don't get me wrong, donating is worthwhile and I do it myself, but if you're expecting to see your book on their shelves, it probably won't happen.

Robert Waugh said...

You are so right, Miss Snark. Next time I see my librarian I'm giving her some much-deserved admiration.

I hear she's been living under a bridge recently, but she comes to the library often when it's cold or raining. Sometimes when she's bored, she'll even help a few patrons who are having trouble finding their books in the self-serve reserve stacks, or searching the browser-based web catalog, or scanning bar codes at the do-it-yourself check out, or removing security measures themselves from the DVDs and CDs they're planning to take home.

If Miss Snark should ever like to familiarize herself with science fiction, she should visit my municipal library, the library without librarians. Well, almost. I think there may be a few heroic librarians left huddled behind the partitions in an attempt to avoid the levitating death drones which have been programmed to recognize librarians as "expendable assets."

Maybe I should bring a sandwich or two along with those cookies.

Anonymous said...

Most public libraries don't add donated books to their collections. They prefer to sell them through their "friends of the library" organizations and purchase what the patrons ask for in library bindings.

True, but you can specify that you want a specific book to be shelved and if they choose not to, then to return it to you. I've done this and my donations have found their way to the shelves. It usually takes about six months.

Greta LaGarbeaux said...

Librarians! The unheralded rock stars of the literary world!

From a recent story about a Maya Angelou speech:

She urged students to discover African-American poetry by asking for help from librarians.
"They know these things," Angelou said.
"We have ill-treated, historically and hysterically, librarians," she said. "They study their field with as much determination and as much delight as open-heart surgeons."

Full link: http://news.enquirer.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060209/NEWS01/602090366/1077

Carla said...

I don't know whether it's the same in the States, but here in the UK the libraries carry a far wider range of books than the bookshops do. Good news for readers with minority-interest tastes. I've found lots of good authors via the library.

Sarah said...

When I read this post, the publisher that came to mind was the one Jim Hines mentioned, but there are a couple others that fit. $27 is pretty expensive for hardcovers, yep. But many library presses have standing order plans in which libraries receive titles in a certain category automatically, and at a decent discount. That can help with sales.

So can the fact that many books from these presses get reviewed in Booklist and LJ, which gets the word out to other librarians (and gets more books in the hands of readers). Plus, their bindings aren't apt to split after dozens of check-outs. Librarians like that.

Librarians (myself included) do like cookies. Goodies of that sort tend to go over well.

Anonymous said...

Please let your friend know that $27 for a library-only book is average. Also, they should not expect much in the way of publicity. All marketing efforts will be aimed at the librarians ON PURPOSE. They won't see their book in the bookstore or reviewed in the New York Times, but it will likely sell nicely and lead to other books. Authors with many books in the library market can make a nice living.

From a Library Marketing person