You Killed Him

By Elaine Viets

"I’m so upset," a mystery lover told me. "My favorite series has been cancelled. I love his work."

She named a writer I’ll call John D. Christie.

"I have all his books," she said. "Now there won’t be any more. It’s so sad."

"Where did you buy his books?" I already knew the answer.

"At that cute used bookstore near the tea shop. Why?"

"You killed him," I said.

She looked shocked.

"I know you didn’t mean to, but every time you bought a used book, you put a nail in his career coffin."

"But I heard John D. speak at the library. He said he didn’t care where we got his books, as long as we read them."

"We all say that. We’re too polite to tell the truth: ‘Thanks for buying my books used. I love not getting royalties.’ "

"Oh," she said. "I didn’t think about that."

"Here’s something else you didn’t think about. John D.’s publisher looked at his sales figures and cancelled the series. Used book sales don’t count. John’s series was killed because he didn’t sell enough paperback originals."

The publishing news has been particularly depressing lately. A critically-acclaimed writer was told by her editor to write a new series – under another name. An award-winning author’s series is on hiatus. He’s writing a standalone. Two hardcover authors I know are now writing paperback originals. And paperback original authors are getting dropped.

The reason? Not enough sales.

I know you can’t buy every book new. I sure can’t. I read four or five mysteries a week, and I’d go broke buying them all.

But if you can’t afford to buy new, do the next best thing: Get them at your library. That way, the author will have some sales.

Writers are an endangered species. Only you can save us. Here are some things you can do:

(1) Don’t share books.

We love it when you talk up your favorite authors. But make your friends get their own

books. You know you won’t get your signed copy back – not without coffee stains. Besides, your friends can afford a seven-dollar paperback. They get hours of entertainment for less than a double latte.

If they can’t buy the book, there’s always the library. Or give them store gift cards for birthdays and holidays. The books they’ll buy will always fit them.

(2) Don’t send books.

These words make writers wince: "I loved your new paperback. I sent my copy to my mother in Seattle. She gave it to her sister in Springfield, who sent it to her daughter in New York."

You’ve spent nearly five dollars to mail a seven-dollar book.

(3) Don’t buy ARCs.

Authors hate Advance Reading Copies. Reviewers get ARCs so they can write about the books before they hit the stores. Booksellers get ARCs as a selling tool.

When you buy an ARC, you don’t get the book that’s sold in the stores. An ARC is riddled with typos. It’s not supposed to be sold. The first clue is that "Not for Sale" on the cover.

Unfortunately, plenty of ARCs wind up on eBay. When you buy them, you deprive your favorite author of a book sale. Eventually, you’ll deprive yourself of a favorite author.

Here’s something else writers love to hear: "I bought your hardcover used online for five bucks. That’s cheaper than the paperback."

And you wonder why your favorite hardcover author is suddenly in paperback? Your bargain cost that author his career.

Can you buy any books secondhand?

Sure. Any writer in the top ten on the New York Times bestseller list. You aren’t going to hurt Dan Brown, James Patterson or John Grisham. Pass their used books around to all your friends. Mail them from San Diego to Saskatoon.

Buy dead authors’ books used. Agatha Christie is long past caring if you buy her books new.

But if you want to keep reading the rest of us, buy our books new.

Don’t love us to death.

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