Monday, September 08, 2008

Debra - How do you buy books?

Okay, I know this isn't about my first sale. But I'll get to that later in the month. Promise.

Today I want to pick your brain. I want to know how you decide which books to buy and where to buy them. First let me give you some context...

There's a debate in the industry about something called "returns."

Returns are the unsold books that the bookseller sends back to the wholesaler. Yep, you heard me. The bookseller doesn't have to be responsible for their inventory. They can (at any time) send books back to the wholesaler. No sales are ever really final unless you make the books NON-returnable.

This is a dirty word in bookselling. Booksellers hate non-returnable books. They won't usually order them for store shelves unless the bookseller is pretty darned convinced that book will sell itself. This business model evolved because publishers tried to get booksellers to take a chance on new authors. Somehow returnable books for "new authors" became returnable books for "all authors."

There has always been grumbling in the industry, but lately some not-so-small publishers are experimenting with non-returnable books. Returns are horribly costly for publishers.
As you might expect, the books returned are in pitiful shape after being shipped around the country four (4) times (first to the wholesaler, then bookseller, back to the wholesaler, and finally back to the publisher). The publisher generally has to pay for shipping twice which is why paperbacks are rarely returned. The covers are stripped off and returned for credit.

Massive amounts of books are printed and never sold. They're pulped usually. I could go on about the ins and outs of returns, but that's not the point. I just wanted you to know what returns are and how NOT having returnable books would affect shelf-space. (i.e. a book would get darned little of it.) important is it to you that the book is on the store shelves? Is that how you make your buying decisions, by browsing the shelves every so often?

Or do you do most of your shopping online these days and add books to your cart until you're ready to order?

Are you willing to track a book down once you've found out about it?

Are you willing to ask your bookseller to special order a book for you?

We all love a bookstore, me included. But I rarely go to a bookstore to purchase a particular book. All my planned purchases are online. I buy more "planned" books than "browsed" books.

How do you buy books?


Keri Ford said...

most of my books are planned because I don't have a bookstore nearby. Now, if I was able to browse the shelves everytime I went in for somethign in particular, I would come out with more than what I went in for.

I wish there was something else that could be done to books than make them returned. Seems like the publisher would rather have the bookstore sell them at a two-for-one or something instead of just trashing them. At least there would be some money made and probably more books gotten out to the public.

That's actually be something great for a publisher to do for marketing. All those extra new author books, partner them up with a bestseller of a similar genre.

PJ said...

Keri, I like that idea!

PJ said...

I have an indy bookstore in town but they're not romance friendly so I buy the majority of my books at Wal-Mart. Most of my purchases are planned but now and then I'll pick up a book that I see on the shelf because a cover catches my eye or I like the back cover blurb. That's how I discovered Kristan Higgins and Robyn Carr.
I do buy online but not as much as in person.

The only time I've ever returned books to the store was a couple years ago when there was a problem with the binding on Avon paperbacks that caused pages to fall out of the book.

Liza said...

I buy both from the store and on-line. My on-line purchases are if I have a list of books I know I want to buy. I still love to go into a bookstore and browse the books for new finds. I will ask the bookseller to order a book if I go in looking for one that isn't on the shelf. I tend to buy more books if I am in a store rather than on-line.

lysrian said...

My shopping style has changed since I invested in an eReader.

I used to go to the book store a few times a month and depending on my mood spend a lot. Or I would surf and pre-order things as I found them on Amazon. Unfortunately, this habit resulted in several duplicate copies.

Now, I surf Amazon and add things to my wish list and wait for the release date to see if it's available for the Kindle. If not, I will wait a few days for the reviews and if I like the review or I know that I like the author/storyline, I'll go to the book store and pick up the book. If the review is not great or if the series has started to wain (in my eyes), I'll request it from my library.

Cindy Gerard said...

He Deb. Great topic. As you know, not only the publisher is affected by the 'return' policy, but the author as well. We receive an advance up front and hope that advance 'earns out' - meaning we want MORE money over and above the advance (yep - we're greedy - or struggling to make a living as it were)but even if the book outsells the advance, the author doesn't get that extra $$ until the publisher is satisfied that all books have been returned. Sometimes this takes years. It's really a catch 22 situation for all concerned. For that reason I really try to buy my books in the store - especially if the book is written by a friend and I want to pump up their numbers in the hopes that they might make some list or the other. I do order on line sometimes but for the most part, those are research books.

Christie Ridgway said...

Hi, Deb! I think I'm a combo of planned/browsed. I go to the bookstore when I know a new book I want is coming out and while there, I will browse the shelves and often come home with others.

I'm too into instant gratification to do online purchasing much, but that's because I have good access to books around here. I will buy online if I have to. If I had a Kindle...

As a matter of fact, I probably already would have a Kindle, but because I review for BookPage, these days I get books sent to me, so I'm reading and enjoying them the old-fashioned way...and not going much to the bookstore anymore.

Kathleen Eagle said...

Thanks for a great post, Deb!

I tend to buy non-fiction online. Those are usually the specific titles on my shopping list, the books I research by topic, and once I find them, I might as well order now. Many of them are unlikely to be on the bookstore shelves, so I'd have to order them anyway. They're books I'll probably want for my personal library.

I make time for bookstore browsing during "me time." I look for fiction. I lose myself among the covers that attract me. Of course I'll see non-fiction and pick that up, too. I love it when people give me bookstore gift certificates. Real brick-and-mortar bookstores, where I can take my whole physical self and enjoy the touchy-feely experience of shopping for books.

Kathleen Eagle said...

Speaking of touchy-feely book experiences, that's what I like about libraries, too. As an undergraduate my work-study job was, blessedly, library assistant. I love being surrouded by walls of books. I chose topics for my papers by spending time at the card catalog (I miss the drawers!) and then heading for the stacks and browsing books. There I'd find my focus. complete me!

Playground Monitor said...

I have good access to books here too so I shop very little online (and right now I have an $18 Amazon credit from two online surveys I did and I can't decide how to spend it). Most purchases are planned - favorite author has a new book coming out - but occasionally I'll make an impulse buy if I see something that piques my interest.

Stripping books just seems so wrong. Even if they're not going to sell them could they not donate them to an impoverished area? Or do the two-for-one thing Keri suggested?


Michele Hauf said...

Great cover! Is that a future BellBridge release? Tell us a bit about it!

I'm a 'planner' and a 'browser'. What gets me in the bookstore is a book I intend to buy, then I like to linger and check all new releases, then follow my eyes to the covers that attract me. I have a certain route I take in my local Borders, and I don't often stray from it, though it does cover pretty much all of the store. Magazines, new releases, romance, sci/fi, then back to YA and bargain. They I'll sometimes peek in children's and travel and history. If I'm still not satisfied, I'll do every other section in the store, EXCEPT True Crime. That section squicks me out. :-)

Betina Krahn said...

I do a little of both, too. I buy non-fiction online, because I can get search results fast. Unfortunately, I sometimes by awful books that have a great title or artwork and are terrible inside. Yes, those books do exist and I feel like a total sap when I buy one. The down side of not being able to page through a book and decide if it has merit.

After such an experience, I usually head for a bookstore for the next few purchases. I go every other month or so just to browse and sometimes research. I love looking at the covers and having them at my fingertips.

But when I want to know when my favorite series installment is coming out, I head back to the online stores. They save gas and if I purchase in advance (and $25 at a time) I can usually get free shipping. Not a bad deal.

I also cruise the book tables as my local BJ's club, where I'm often lured into buying hard covers for $12 or $14-- when I wouldn't usually buy hard covers. those are pure impulse buys; I simply can't wait for them to come out in paperback. sigh.

Oh, yeah-- and I love the bargain section at Barnes and Noble, too, Michele!

Anonymous said...

I check the internet (mainly because I read HQN Nocturne); I honestly don't buy single titles if I don't know or never heard of the author. That way I can assure myself of a good read.

Lately, though, I've been buying single titles from authors I've never heard of, and what I'll do is search for the authors website, then search on Amazon or Barnes and Nobles to see what the book is about.

Unfortunately, at the moment another option is Ebay. I know it's bad for the business, but unless there was another option for poor college students (like me winning every single contest ever made!) then ebay is my cheap option.

Michele Hauf said...

Betina, check:

Great source for nonfiction research books. A good majority of the books listed you can browse the pages. And they list all the online book stores that offer that title, even smaller independent online sellers. It's the neatest thing. I get lost on there every once in a while. Such treasures!

Debra Dixon said...


I'm very interested to read these answers. Obviously we all love browsing but it seems like most of us know what we're going to buy. We've got a list either in our head for the shopping trip or online in a sales cart.

Then we're lured into browsing once our main business is done.

But publishers need to reach us in a way that informs our plan. Just throwing books on shelves isn't the most effective way to build readership. Hmmm...

Debra Dixon said...

Re: Research books

Yes, and Amazon's Look-Inside-The-Book feature are great.

Debra Dixon said...

I've really become an Amazon customer. I pay for the Prime shipping once a year so all my books are free shipping and come in 2 days. It's a special upgrade but it doesn't cost that much when compared to paying shipping for as many books as I buy.

Plus they ship ONE book for free and fast if you have Prime.

Debra Dixon said...

Michelle-- Yep! Once Bitten is going to be a Bell Bridge Books title. Should be out in October. Like all the new launch titles we're crashing them to get them out this fall.

Here's a little blurb about it and it's not "up" anywhere yet!

Kita Nekai, on the run and the smallest of her shifter clan—a calico cat among lions and tigers—is being hunted. She was expected to accept her role as her father’s successor whether or not her cat was up to the task of leading the clan.
She disagreed. Now she’s less than a step ahead of the hunters, bone-tired, cold and living hand-to mouth in the city of Haven. And that’s the high point of her day. She’s got seventy-two hours to
find the rogue, evade a city full of hunters, prove she’s not responsible for the rogue, and keep the vampire council from killing her.
All while sorting out an apprentice mage, a married ex-boyfriend shifter-hunter, and the vampire who made her.

Playground Monitor said...

Are you willing to track a book down once you've found out about it? Absolutely, especially if it's part of a series I've been reading and am anxious to get the next book.

Are you willing to ask your bookseller to special order a book for you? If that's what it takes to get the book, then yes.

Debra Dixon said...


Good to know. This is sort of my outlook on books today. Reading the reader is more important than reaching the bookstore.

Yes, bookstores are important. Yes, you want to be plastered on every front table in every chain.

But, I don't think that's the only way to be successful.

Tori Lennox said...

I do 99.9% of my book shopping online.

Debra Dixon said...

Tori-- That's me. I'm online, but I love browsing a bookstore. I just tend to make more purchases online so I don't really care if I can find the book on a shelf or not.

And I think Kindle is the tipping point for ebooks.

Jane said...

I hardly go to the bookstore anymore. Shopping online is more convenient. I usually make sure I have an order of over $25, so I can get free shipping.

Sean and Anna said...

I subscribe to my favorite author's newletters so that I know when new books come out. Then I either order on Amazon or at the BX (base store). Here in Tucson it seems that new books are delayed and I am not the most patient person, so I order online. I find new authors by browsing, but not often. Most times I hear about new authors from the ones I "know" already. If I really want a book that I cannot find (like with older titles) I go to Books A Million, and I would definitely ask a seller to order a copy for me.

I hate that books get sent back and I sort of feel like the sellers aren't doing enough to promote new books. Tucson rarely has signings or promotion events, but the base tries to get authors out for us spouses. My local used book store has a section of books devoted to first time authors and a section for related reading ( you like this author, then try this one too). I have to say- I feel guilty about used bookstores because I hate the idea of an author not getting paid, but I like the idea of recycling books and saving some money.

Karen Foley said...

Debra, I love browsing bookstore shelves, although it's almost always a planned buy that gets me into the store in the first place. Once there, however, I'll scoop the book(s) I was already planning on purchasing and then prowl the shelves until I find other books that look appealing. I have frequently ordered books that weren't on the shelves through the bookstore. I do, on occasion, purchase books on line, but I really hate s/h costs, especially when I could use that money to buy another book!

Debra Dixon said...

Anna-- Used bookstores are a "mixed bag" for authors. On one hand it encourages a reader to try a new author and out-of-print backlist can be found. On the other royalties and the books revolve so that many sales are lost.

Like everything else in life there are those pesky gray areas!

Debra Dixon said...

Karen-- Yes, s&h is an issue but if you live in a high tax state the cost is offset by the sales tax savings.

However, there is already movement by states to recapture all the sales tax they are losing to online sales. We aren't sure how that's going to play out but I believe we will begin to see some sort of sales tax reform for online sales.

Kylie said...

Debra, I believe Iowa already taxes online sales. More and more states do these days. I do a ton of online shopping and over the last couple years purchases have gone from being almost completely non-taxed to about 10% being non-taxed. I can't really quibble. The store owners can't compete in a market like that, although it's really about the states getting their fingers in the pie!

Count me as a buyer that loves to browse. Loves to pick up the book, look at the cover, read the back cover copy and inside copy. Flip through it to see if I like the author's voice...My greatest pleasure is hanging out in a book store for hours. My family has learned to distract me when we're going by a bookstore!

But I don't get to brick and mortar stores often because I live in the boonies :) So I do track down authors online. Unfortunately, I don't pick up new authors that way. So I really think it's better for the writers to turn me loose in a store that has their books on the shelf!

Anonymous said...

Late to the party! But interesting topic (and interesting as Murderati discussed the same thing this morning!)

I LOVE bookstores, but I mostly browse there. I buy in Walmart, Sam's and online. I have bought black line books in discount stores.

I WOULD definitely seek out a book by a particular author. In fact, I have, on more than one occasion.I have had a book "special ordered" for me, but that was unusual.

I think Keri had an interesting idea about packaging a new author with an established author who writes in the same genre.

Two years ago, I brought back over 200 romance books from RWA national and donated them to the Arkansas Library System. With the limited budgets so many of these libraries function under, romance isn't high on their purchases. The AR Library System has a place where these smaller libraries can get them free. It'd be better to donate some of these books to the library than just trash them. I'd like to see more romance get into the shelves.

Janga said...

I order online mostly when I am selecting books as gifts. I love choosing books, typing in a friend's address, and letting someone else take care of the rest.

For my own buying, I keep a TBB calendar of releases by my autobuy authors and of books highly recommended by friends. I try to buy on release dates and at bookstores so that my purchases help my favorite authors make those all-important lists. I used to love browsing in bookstores, but online conversations have ended my bookstore browsing days. All my purchases of new or new-to-me authors now are a result of these conversations. My book budget is limited and by the time I buy what's on my calendar, I have largely exhausted my resources.

One place I do still browse is the grocery store. I can't pass the book display without looking, and since I shop once a week or more, it's convenient to buy books there. I also find the grocery store a great place to do some word-of-mouth selling of books by some of my favorite authors because someone else is always browsing too. Too bad those buys don't "count."

flchen1 said...

I do more planned buying than browsed, but browsing is a lovely treat! And yes, if I really want a book (say a backlist title), then if the bookseller can't special order it, I'll track it down some other way (although those eBay sales don't do much for an author or bookseller's bottom line).

Debra Dixon said...

I'm loving the answers that you guys will track down books and authors.

Small publishers love that.

And I too have committed the "grocery store browse!"

catslady said...

I'm shocked. Ripping covers off books seems so horrendous. You would think that after so much time they could sell them as bargain books or donate them or something!

I do a little bit of everything. Mostly I use online for books/authors that I know I want. If I want a particular book, I definitely search it out. But new authors I usually buy by browsing.

cc said...

I live in a rural community so my choices are rather limited. I have a very nice small bookstore in town and I have Walmart and the grocery store.

I usually purchase paperbacks from Walmart because of the 25% off cover. Special orders including backlists and harder to find authors come from my indie.

Research books are seldom ordered sight unseen. For $1 my library will inter-library loan almost anything. I have found this to be much cheaper than the pretty but useless books I have been seduced into purchasing in the past.

I am also the manager of a small specialty store. I realize that as a history museum I am dealing with mostly non-fiction but the prevalent discount from my vendors is 40% returnable and up to 50% non-returnable. I appreciate this even though I seldom take advantage of the return option, prefering the deeper discounts. I also tend to spend more with vendors who have very small minimums so I can order one or two copies of a book. This makes it easier for me to test a topic or author.

Debra Dixon said...

CC-- What sort of history museum ?

Anonymous said...

For an author/series I know and love, I'll buy online or request a bookseller to order it. If it is a book by someone I've never read, I'll wait until I find it on the shelf. Even if I've seen good reviews and a book comes recommended by authors I love, a new book just isn't 'real' to me until I see it on the shelf and can flip through real pages.


Betina Krahn said...

Deb, me again. I forgot to say that that cover and frint teaaser are FABULOUS! Who comes up with that stuff? Is that YOU? Wow.

Where do I submit?


Virginia Lady said...

I buy in many ways. I buy based on things I've read on blogs such as this one. :-)

I buy based on recommendations I've gotten from say Amazon or Borders or Gather.

I buy based on it's an author I love and will buy whenever they publish something new.

AND I buy based on what's on the shelves. I browse and read and meander through the store searching for more authors that are writing what I'm looking for. I'm attracted by cover (and sometimes repelled) but it's the writer's writing in the book that sells it for me. I open it and read randomly somewhere inside. If I'm hooked, I buy.

Debra Dixon said...


A couple of us, plus the author kick around cover ideas. Then I ask Deb Smith for some tag lines. Sometimes I tweak 'em. Mostly I don't because Deb usually writes great ones. Then I pull together a couple of cover concepts. We settle on one and then fine tune it.

I'm glad you like the books! One of these years we will actually twist your arm to do something if your NY schedule ever lets up...which doesn't look to be soon!


Debra Dixon said...

Virginia Lady--

So, the excerpts on websites and the Search-Inside-the-Book features on Amazon are important to you!

Good to know.