A writer, not a seller

[June 2013] The 2013 World Horror Convention is now history. As I prepared for the trip to New Orleans, I was faced with the age-old question: how many of my books would I take with me?

The answer I arrived at, after a little reflection, was: none. I know that a lot of writers make a significant percentage of their income by selling copies of their books at signings and conventions, but that’s never been my experience. Nor do I have an internet storefront where people can purchase copies directly from me.

There are a number of reasons for this. At well organized and well run conventions, you must provide a tax ID and collect the appropriate sales tax on each book that you sell. This means that you also have to subsequently file a sales tax return, which is a separate entity from income tax. Getting a tax ID isn’t as arduous as it used to be (the one time I acquired a single-use ID, I had to drive 30 miles and wait nearly an hour in a place that reminded me of the DMV), but I can do without the extra paperwork.

Since the HWA, the organizers of WHC 2013, is a non-profit entity, they could only allow sales in a room or booth paid for by them if the sellers made a charitable donation to the HWA hardship fund. I’m not against that policy, but it meant that sellers had to keep track of their sales (on the honor system) and then make the donation after the show wrapped up.

Then there’s the matter of lugging books around on planes. Worrying about damaging them in transit. Worrying about taking too many and having to schlep them back home. Carting them around at the convention itself.

Though this wasn’t a done deal until late in the process, the convention found a bookseller who stocked copies of books by attending authors, who handled all the gory details, like sales tax, etc. I pre-signed some of their stock and attendees who wanted my John Hancock were able to pick up a copy before the mass signing or at any other time during the show. There’s no direct money in it for me (though the sales would contribute royalties to my account with the publisher), but autograph seekers were able to get what they wanted.

I will let people send me books to be signed, so long as they include an addressed return mailer with postage affixed. I don’t keep an inventory of books in the house. Packing up books, labeling the packages and delivering them to the post office would chew into my already limited writing time. If I can just sign a book and slide it into an envelope that I drop into a mailbox on my way to the day job, that mitigates the time required.

Most of my books are available readily at major bookstores and online, so I don’t feel the need to duplicate their business models. Sure, I could probably generate a little more revenue, but I’m more concerned about generating more output than income. I know that’s not true of everyone, so your mileage may vary.

Besides, if I’m going to carry books back from a convention like WHC, I’d prefer that they not be my own.

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