Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Somehow it never occurred to me to sacrifice a goat

Marie Bilodeau posts at Black Gate: The Definitive Guide to Selling Books sans InterWebs

Gather round, Authors of Yore, Authors of Now and Authors of Soon, and learn the true ways of book selling success. . . . Next time you do a signing in a bookstore, sacrifice the goat right in the middle of the aisle. The bleating will attract the curious. The gore will disorient them. Your crazed eyes will make them buy. . . . Add a bloodied knife, a ritual sacrifice and a crazed seller, and you’ve got yourself a guaranteed sale!

Well, okay, this crazy post *may* not offer the definitive answers to all your marketing needs. But it’s funny! Click through and read the whole thing. The comments are also good. Has there been any kind of study on the role of the trebuchet in bookselling? See there? Now that’s the kind of question you need in advice columns.

This goat-sacrifice post actually led me, by a circuitous route involving The Passive Voice, to this post, answering the longstanding question: can you actually make money selling used books for a penny on Amazon? I always wondered about that. I do buy used books, still. I buy used books for all kinds of reasons:

a) I am buying used copies of older edition algebra books to loan out to students who are trying to prep for a test or reviewing algebra before their class next semester (something I wish more students would do). I try to pay under a dollar (plus shipping and handling) because a largish percentage of my loaned-out books do not return and I’m using my own money. (This is not because my boss is cheap. It’s because dealing with purchase orders is a nuisance and my book budget doesn’t really notice half a dozen algebra books a year.)

b) The book is out of print and there is no Kindle edition.

c) I happen to wander by a used book store or a library sale.

d) There is an enormous difference in cost between the new book and a used copy, and the author is famous. JK Rowling or Steven King are not going to notice the loss of a sale, so I wouldn’t feel guilty buying a used copy of one of their books.

e) I am suspicious that I may not like the book. I bought A Companion to Wolves by Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear used because online reviews made me wary. Then I bought the second book on Kindle because I turned out to love the first.

I’m sure there are other reasons I might pick up a used book, but those are some of the most common.

But I always am amazed at how many books are listed on Amazon for a penny. It turns out that it works like this:

The price point is partly a result of the market’s downward pressure: at a certain level of supply and demand the race to the lowest price swiftly plummets to the bottom. What remains inflexible is the $3.99 fee Amazon charges the buyer for shipping. From that $4, Amazon takes what they call a “variable closing fee” of $1.35. They also charge the seller 15% of the item’s price – which in the case of a penny book is zero. That leaves $2.64 to cover postage, acquisition cost and overhead. “All told,” Mike Ward concedes, “we only make a few cents on a penny book sale like that.” Now that hardly seems like much, true. “But keep in mind,” he adds, “that last year we sold 11.5m books.”

Ah, yes, that does go some way toward explaining the phenomenon. Also, evidently there is a fairly important public service attitude involved in re-marketing used books rather than just sending them all to a landfill. There’s a quote from Better World Books that makes me glad they’re one of the used book venders I recognize by name.

Anyway: marketing! I doubt I will acquire a herd of goats for sacrifice, but if you’re an author and you try it, let me know how that works for you. Also the trebuchet thing. I expect the upkeep for a trebuchet would be less than for a herd of goats

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