Kaitlyn Dunnett, aka Kathy Lynn Emerson, aka Kate Emerson here to share a not-so-little problem that has been accumulating, so to speak, for quite a number of years.
Since 1984, fifty-four of the books I’ve written have been published under several names and by a variety of publishers. Some were paperback originals. Others came out in trade paperback only. Still others had hardcover editions and, in one case, only a hardcover edition. All of them but the first are available these days as e-books and that one, a non-fiction look at women of the sixteenth century, has been superseded by my online “A Who’s Who of Tudor Women.” Why am I telling you this? Because I’m writing today about a problem that is the direct result of having written too darned many books.
Writers receive author copies from publishers at about the same time their books hit stores. By and large, this is a good thing. Author copies are used to promote the book and as gifts and can be sold at signings when there is no bookstore available. But there is a down side. Although small presses generally provide only a handful of author copies, many publishers are extremely generous. Sometimes, for a variety of reasons, the author ends up with a whole lot of extra copies of a particular title.
You’re probably thinking this still sounds like a good problem to have.
Not so much. Not if there are fifty-four separate and distinct titles involved and you wake up one day to realize that your house is overflowing with boxes of your own books. The most recently published titles? Those people want. But older books, what are called backlist titles, aren’t exactly in high demand.
I was writing for Bantam’s Loveswept line when it was discontinued back in 1998. Editors who were about to lose their jobs saw no point in handing out extra copies of those last titles to the folks who’d pulled the plug. Instead, they shipped extra cartons (48 paperbacks in each) to the authors. I still have 55 copies of Relative Strangers, 51 copies of Sight Unseen, 49 copies of That Special Smile, and 57 copies of Tried and True. The first three are set in the same world as the Liss MacCrimmon mysteries, where a few of the characters reappear, but they are, alas, not mysteries.
There are other reasons why I’ve accumulated way too many copies of some books. When I wrote my Diana Spaulding 1888 Quartet of historical mysteries for a small press, sales didn’t go as well as anticipated. I had a choice between buying up extra copies at a discount or letting them be remaindered. I opted to buy, something I’d done before when I’d had a book about to go out of print. I hoped to be able to sell the books at signings, but here’s the sad truth—for the most part, when authors do appearances, most people who attend, if they buy books at all, are only interested in the new one or the first in the current series. Backlist titles, especially if they are in a different genre or set in a different era, gather dust.
Deadlier than the Pen is the first book in the Diana Spaulding 1888 Quartet, my “gothic” novel. She’s a newspaper reporter. He’s a horror writer from Bangor. What’s not to love? But I still have 60 copies in hardcover and 35 trade paperbacks in storage. The other three books in the quartet are Fatal as a Fallen Woman (56 copies in hardcover; 40 in trade paperback), No Mortal Reason (57 copies in trade paperback; there was no hardcover), and Lethal Legend (45 copies in trade paperback; there was no hardcover).
Something similar happened when, as Kate Emerson, I wrote six non-mystery historical novels that came out as trade paperback originals. My contracts called for me to get lots of copies. At the time I was not doing very much promotion and hardly any of that was appropriate for novels that weren’t mysteries. Readers I met wanted Kaitlyn’s books, not Kate’s, with the end result that my storage bins still contain 40 copies of At the King’s Pleasure, 43 copies of The King’s Damsel, and 54 copies of Royal Inheritance.
You may remember that I blogged last month about cleaning out the space under my bed. That’s the only place I have left to put new boxes of books. I just received a carton (48 paperbacks) of The Scottie Barked at Midnight (in stores as of September 27). Hardcovers of the third Mistress Jaffrey Mystery, Murder in a Cornish Alehouse, will be published in the UK on December 31 and copies will show up on by doorstep around the same time. Then there is the stack of hardcover Kilt at the Highland Games currently sitting on top of the file cabinet in my office. As fast as I sell, donate, or give away books, more turn up to fill the void. I’m under contract for five more mysteries in the course of the next two and a half years. Most will have more than one edition. There is no end in sight.
I can’t bear to throw books away, so don’t even suggest taking some of the older ones to the dump. The number of local institutions that will take donations of books is limited. Even libraries balk at being presented with too many, especially if the titles aren’t new. Experiments with Amazon Marketplace, Half.com, and eBay did not accomplish much beyond generating paperwork. I’m happy to shell out postage for a good cause, like the upcoming NHPTV auction, but even media mail rates would break the bank if I started shipping free books to everyone who asked for one. Library rate, sadly, only applies when one library ships books to another.
So, faithful readers, over to you. Can you think of ways to winnow down my book inventory? Any solutions that I can afford and that I haven’t already tried are welcome. In fact, in return for each viable option, I’ll reward the person who first suggests it in the comments section below with a free book. If you come up with something that might work, you can choose any title mentioned in this blog as your prize.
Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett is the author of over fifty books written under several names. She won the Agatha Award for best mystery nonfiction of 2008 for How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries and was an Agatha Award finalist in 2015 in the best mystery short story category for “The Blessing Witch.” Currently she writes the contemporary Liss MacCrimmon Mysteries (Kilt at the Highland Games) as Kaitlyn and the historical Mistress Jaffrey Mysteries (Murder in a Cornish Alehouse ~ UK in December 2016; US in April 2017) as Kathy. The latter series is a spin-off from her earlier “Face Down” series and is set in Elizabethan England. Her websites are www.KaitlynDunnett.com and www.KathyLynnEmerson.com
What about nursing homes, hospitals, assisted living and senior residences? VA hospitals? Homeless shelters? Most of them maintain a small library for residents/patients. They wouldn’t want a large number of copies, but 2 or 3 copies in a number of places could whittle down your overflow fairly quickly.
Good suggestions, of course, but I was including most of these when I mentioned “local institutions.” I hadn’t thought of the VA hospital, but it (only one in the state) is more than an hour’s drive away.
As with my other comment below, I suggest you reach out to the local chapter of veterans’ organizations and see if they have any program to provide transportation to veterans to the hospital and if they would be willing to take some books with them when they’re going anyway.
Why not donate them to state shelters for abused women and children. I just read about one in the latest DownEast Magazine. Nursing homes/Rehab facilities might like a copy of each. Organizations that help others around the world might like them to take to the villages they help. Is there a “re-purpose” section at town dumping stations? Put a copy of each there. Someone might love to read but not have the money to purchase books. None of these suggestions will make you any money but an emptier house will let you breathe easier and open you up to new opportunities.
I’m not particularly concerned about making money on the books I have so many extras of, but it would be a time and distance issue to deliver copies to most of the places you suggest. I live in a very rural area of Maine. There are, of course, a few local nursing homes (I included them as “local institutions”) but for rehab or even a shelter I’d probably be obliged to make a two hour round trip (at the least). The “share shack” at the dump is for furniture and appliances. Sadly, we don’t even have a bin for clothes donations there anymore.
When I have purged my altogether too large collection of books I have taken the books to local retirement homes and long term are facilities. They are normally happy to get quality reading material to add to their libraries. Also contact women’s shelters and as suggested in the previous comment, homeless shelters. Hospitals also offer reading material to patients.
If there are adult literacy programs in your area, they, too might welcome books to lend or give to their students!
Lorie–we have a winner. I had not thought of adult literacy programs. I’ll contact you later today by email to find out what book you’d like and get your snail mail address.
Many incarcerated people learn to read in jail. You could see if some of those – local, state – could use your books!
Again, distance is a problem for taking books very far. In our local county jail, there was once quite a good library. The state messed with the system (long story!) with the result that the library was deemed unnecessary.
Offer them for free – for the cost of shipping only. You could post order information on your web site(s) that might be as elaborate as a separate web page with PayPal account, or as simple as “send a check with your shipping information to…,” then announce it on various blogs. Nice publicity for you, a good way to boost the mailing list, and fun for readers (maybe offer to sign copies, too?).
I’ve hesitated to do this for fear of either seeming desperate or greedy (since I’d have to make the s/h cost a little higher than straight postage to cover the cost of mailers). With all the sellers offering books, including most of my backlist, for a penny apiece on Amazon, essentially free except for $3.99 postage, I’m not sure I’d get any takers. Still. . . thinking about it.
Good point on the penny apiece sales – I’d forgotten about them! But I don’t think it makes you seem desperate or greedy. On the contrary, to me you’d come across as a generous author happy to share her work.
Another thought – many book groups are looking for multiple copies of the same title. Janet Rudolph has a great list of groups (http://mysteryreaders.org/reading-groups). Maybe get in touch with some of them to see if they’d take a few off your hands?
Keep us posted on what works! I’m relatively new to all of this and hoping for the day when I have such a problem!
You mentioned libraries only wanting new titles for their collections. But many libraries, and I can tell MCW columnists know this better than I do, also have used book sales to raise money. South Portland Public Library has an ongoing one in a capacious room in the basement. They must have a lot of volunteers, because I see them going in and out of the library when I bring in books to donate. They seem to be open most days the library is open.
I can see why you wouldn’t want to spend money to ship a selection of your titles to every library book sale, or other institution, in the State. But perhaps larger libraries like SPPL with substantial used book sales operations (whether run by the library itself or volunteers), might be interested in sending a volunteer up to collect multiple copies of your titles. It might be even worth paying the mileage of anyone willing to take a substantial number of the books off your hands.
I was saying this is a good problem to have until I read your whole column. I can identify somewhat with this, however. But my problem pales in comparison to your Speaking of which, if anyone wants a copy or two my articles, “ADR 360°, Alternatives to the High Cost of Litigation”, Vol. 32, No. 2 (Parts 1 & 2, Feb. 2014) and Vol. 32, No. 5 (Part 3, May 2014), Jossey Bass, Wiley Periodicals (survey article addressing trends and developments in the field of alternative dispute resolution (ADR)), described in publicity as “incisive” and provocative”), please let me know at email@example.com.
LOL David. Now if only John Clark hadn’t retired . . .
All great suggestions! I carry a few of my backlist–pitifully small next to yours–in my car. I leave them in waiting rooms, B&Bs, and every Little Free Library I come across.
And of course, every copy has your contact info, right?
Nikki, I like the way you think. I don’t have much contact with B&Bs and I haven’t seen any Little Free Libraries locally, but we certainly have waiting rooms! I’ll contact you by email later today so you can pick your prize.
Have you contacted senior centers or hospitals in your area. They often have “libraries” that could benefit from your generosity. If chosen, I would love a copy of The Scottie Barked.
Thanks for your suggestions, which several people have mentioned. I’ll be following up, since all these ideas have reminded me that sometimes a negative response from someplace turns into a positive one once the person in charge has changed.
How about offering giveaways on Good Reads? I am interested in your books, but I understand that even with someone paying shipping and handling, that is still a lot of work for you.
In NJ, we have yard sales ( people around here are addicted to them) and one of my friends goes to several each week and is thrilled when she can purchase a carton of books for a dollar a carton.
Goodreads is great, but their policy used to be to only run giveaways on books published within the past month. That may have changed. I’ll have to check. I’d still have to pay for postage and mailers, though, so it could get pretty pricey.
American Vietnam Vets come by in huge trucks and will pick up your cartons. You would have a lot to do just to put on a Giveaway, but I know several people ( including moi) would be interested.
Kaitlyn, I know I am interested in your Tudor book and I know others who might be as well, heck all of your books look great.
I’m so glad you wrote this blog. I’ve struggled with this issue (I have far fewer books than you), and felt embarrassed at having so many boxes stacked in the back of closets, in a guest room, behind reading chairs, etc. I did an inventory of my books a couple of years ago, and had boxes of the early Anita Ray books and later Mellingham books, along with cartons of anthologies from Level Best Books.
I gave two boxes to Malice Domestic and another conference, for their bag stuffing (SWAG), and then searched on line for outlets. I found a teen-service agency that helps teens by teaching them to run a bookstore, More Than Words. They take boxes of books, and they even came to my house and picked them up–twice–8 boxes and 9 boxes. There are agencies that want books to ship to libraries overseas in third world countries, but I know less about those. I found one, but I’ve lost the name. (Sorry, but they are out there.) My suggestion is to offer them at Crime Bake, for example, or a carton of each to a few inner city schools whose libraries are usually quite limited. They could give them away to students. Perhaps offer to do a writers’ workshop in the school and then hand over boxes of books.
Thanks for the suggestions, Susan. To donate or do programs at inner-city schools I’d have to live a lot closer to a city. When I say rural Maine, I really mean rural. Crime Bake/Malice giveaways are a possibility, although I doubt they’re interested in the non-mysteries.
U.S. Navy ships have libraries. The air craft carriers and the large deck amphibious ships usually have a decent room and . Also, bases overseas have libraries. At one time, the Navy library program actually helped with the shipping for books. Finally, the USO puts together care packages for deployed Soldiers, Sailors, Airman, and Marines. They additionally have “take one, leave one” bookshelves at a lot of the bases overseas, and often use book donations to fill those shelves. They may be interested in books to add to the other items that go into them. If these places are interested in your books, you may also be able to persuade local veterans organizations to pay for the cost of shipping them.
The American Vietnam Vets picks up books: 1 800-755-VETS
Tried the number. Got a recorded survey that wouldn’t let me do anything else until I answered their questions. Sorry. I don’t answer questions about how old people in my household are.
Can you contact them online? I always reached a live person and no one asked a question of me. OH DEAR: they come all the time in huge mack trucks.
Donate to Help Veterans – Have Unwanted Stuff?
Have Unwanted Stuff? Schedule Free Pickup. Call 800-775-VETS now
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Good ideas all, but the rural Maine location is still a drawback. The expense of shipping books is as much of a drawback for most small local organizations as it is to me. That said, I’ll do some checking.
This is so sad; you have a treasure trove in front of you; is there anyone you know who has a truck or SUV to help you haul your books to a less rural area? Can you possibly advertise for help, and then get some volunteers to help you relocate your books.
How about teachers? Many schools have closed their libraries (or never had one to begin with) and teachers maintain small libraries in their classrooms. Your historicals, particularly, might be very interesting supplements in history classes. Also, teachers might use some of the books as incentives for their students. In very rural, and inner city schools, some of the kids have never had a book of their own. If the schools in your local area aren’t interested, they may know of teachers/schools in other areas that would like them. You could ship a box full — little driving needed.
Shipping books is EXPENSIVE but the real problem with giving historical (or romance) novels–the ones I have in greatest numbers–to schools is content. I know kids today are more advanced about some things than they used to be, but the historical novels focus on mistresses of Henry VIII and while not needlessly graphic do contain scenes of people engaged in sex. The romance novels, by definition, contain love scenes. Not really appropriate. Even my historical mysteries aren’t really suitable for anyone younger than high school.
There are many people who would be interested in your historical fiction books during the Tudor period; other than Philippa Gregory and Alison Weir, not many contemporary writers can be found; you might be pleasantly surprised.
I’m a little late to the party. All the things I thought of have already been posted here. What about high school libraries? It’s been a very long time since I was in high school so I don’t know if they normally carry a lot of fiction or even mystery books but I’m sure some high schoolers would be happy to find new titles available.
My impressions is that genre fiction is scarce in high school libraries, but I may be wrong about that.
Just as an aside, most public libraries here in Maine are small and strapped for space. They don’t turn away donations, but they aren’t always thrilled to have a lot of (especially older) books dumped on them, either. Almost all of them have book sales, some permanent, others once or twice a year, but space is a problem there, too. To collect books for a sale, you have to have space to store them the rest of the time. I can relate to that!
Kathy, my local genealogy society put together a couple of baskets of books (mysteries by local authors, in our case), as raffle prizes at our annual seminar. Are there any societies (genealogical or otherwise) in your area that might be interested in doing something similar?
Good suggestion, Jane. Thanks.
Have you considered using Better World Books (link: http://www.betterworldbooks.com/) They will pay for the shipping and share the books with countries in need. Or, MLA has a conference coming up—how about a gift basket?
Thanks. Suzan. I hadn’t heard of Better World Books.
There are a lot of smart ladies on the Amazon cozy forum. Maybe they would have some suggestions for you. Another suggestion — My church is getting ready for our fall Festival, and we always have a rummage sale booth. Maybe some of your local churches would like the books for their festivals or rummage sales. Or maybe other local organizations that have fundraisers. If there are any Cat clubs in your area (I know there are several active clubs in Maine, I’m just not sure where they are located), Cat Fanciers LOVE to find books on the raffle tables. The raffle proceeds usually go to fund low cost spay/neuter clinics and local shelters.
Great suggestions about cat fanciers, since almost every book I write has at least one cat in it. The Tudor court novels are the exception. I had to make do with Anne Boleyn’s dog appearing in one of them.
I am interested in buying the Diana ones and the kings ones. Can you contact me with a price plus shipping. I live in ruther glen va 22546. I can pay by PayPal or send a money order. Thank you. As for suggestions I don’t have anything new to add seems everyone has made good suggestions.
Thanks, Crystal. I’ve emailed you.
Kate, I’ve tried e-mailing you, but I am emailing the Crime group; please get in touch.
Skye, assuming you mean Kate Emerson not Kate Flora, and you’re not getting through on my megalink.net email, try firstname.lastname@example.org
I mean your e-mail; thanks!