Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Don't be fucking cheap: a rant

Do you want to leave literature in the hands of amateurs, poseurs, and lowest-common-denominator craphacks? If you're not buying new books that's what you're doing.

If readers don't spend money on new books, writers don't get paid. If you buy a second-hand book the creator of the work gets nothing--that's zero, 0, to you mathematically challenged people--from that transaction. If you are the 20th person to borrow a book from your local library, the creator of that work (at least in the US) gets nothing.

If writers are not getting paid, they get jobs. If a writer gets a job, she is tired; she has no time. The quality of her work falls, or her productivity. Or both. Oh, she'll still write, because she has to, but it means fewer good books for you. Poseurs with trust funds, neurotics who write achingly boring urban angst in the second person from the POV of a fork, will still write--because it's that or admit they're parasites. Blockbuster craphacks (the ones who wouldn't know a believable character if it broke their nose and tore their ears off, who write dumbed-down fiction for people who read one book a year because it's all the rage) will still write because there are plenty of inexperienced readers who don't know any better who will buy their books.

Is that what you want? Cynical crap? Etiolated angsty crap? Inexperienced people's crap? No? Then buy a new book. Buy one every month.

Oh, I hear you whinge, times are tough, I can't afford new books. Bullshit. It's likely you're just choosing not to.

  • If you have bought steak or sashimi in the last month, you can afford to buy a book.
  • If you have cable, you can afford to buy a book.
  • If you drive a car less than three years old, you can afford to buy a book.
  • If you have seen a movie at the theatre in the last month, you can afford to buy a book.
  • If you have a NetFlix subscription, you can afford to buy a book.
  • If you have bought clothes, other than underwear or something for a job interview, you can afford to buy a book.
  • If you have a mobile and a landline, you can afford to buy a book.
  • If you pay for broadband, you can afford to buy a new book.
  • If you go to Starbucks or any other fancy coffeeshop more than once a month, you can afford to buy a new book.
  • If you generally buy local-grown organic vegetables or free-range eggs or reared-without-hormones-and-antibiotics meat, you can afford to buy a new book.
  • If you can run the heating or air conditioning when you want, you can afford to buy a new book.
Erasmus said something like: when I have a little money, I buy books; if I have something left over, I buy food. Books help us learn who we are, who we want to be. Books help maintain our culture. Books matter. Writers of books should get paid. But most of you are not paying, or at least not paying the right people. You're buying used books*, borrowing books from the library**, making excuses. I spit upon your excuses. My guess is that 99% of people who read this post can afford to buy a new book--hardcover, ebook, trade paper, mass market--once a month. I don't give a shit about the format; I just want a writer, somewhere, to get paid.

Writing novels well is hard. The books you fall in love with, the ones you fall into, are not written by amateurs, poseurs, or cynical craphacks. They are written by experts who love what they do and get paid for it. You don't become an expert until you've written a lot. You don't get to write a lot, and polish your work to a glow, if you don't get paid for it.

So don't be fucking cheap. Go buy a book. A new one.

---
* I love used bookstores. By all means, use them for out of print or barely-read blockbusters. But if you can afford it, go buy new, too.
** I love libraries. I couldn't survive without them. By all means, use them for research (academic books are obscenely expensive--not affordable at all for most people), for out of print, for blockbuster, for new-to-you books. But then, if you can afford it, go buy new, too.

Print

43 comments:

  1. A few counterpoints--

    Libraries account for a huge swath of book buying power. Borrowing a book, & thus feeding into the library culture, IS good for books.

    Reading secondhand books are a great gateway drug. By way of example, I picked up a copy of MAR Barker's "Man of Gold" used, & eventually ended up buying the latter Tekumel books from a small indie press, & getting other Tekumel books from other indie presses as gifts.

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  2. Yes, N., one can understand this rant without necessarily buying into it. Any participation in the book using/reading process is good. It leads one to an appetite for more, leads one's friends and family to see the value, and leads one's mind to the point of starting its own library. Maybe, we should make our books with half-lives so that every several years they simply auto destruct and have to be replaced. But hold on, wouldn't that lead us to a consumerist culture that wastes our future by buying everything now.

    I would rather we raise the royalty and print fewer copies. Make our books more precious and valuable while rewarding the writer with more of the initial share. Who knows, maybe this financial crisis we are currently working our way through will lead us to a new way of rewarding writers and publishing their works.

    Meanwhile, without the Meyers/Sparks/Clancys, where would the book publishers be now?

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  3. First-- hooray for open rage & elitism, I'm all for it.

    BUT I actually don't rail against the Browns & such, or at least-- not too bad. What, every year it turns out that more than half of American's didn't read even ONE book? Yikes. You go ahead & read whatever garbage you want-- heck, I've read my fair share of rubbish SF & fantasy in my day.

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  4. Erasmus would mostly have bought second hand books.

    I buy a lot of new books. I buy a lot of second hand books. All this rant did was remind me to go check out a new second hand book store.

    Second hand books are where the memories of literature are preserved.

    Farah

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  5. Yikes! Am I glad I buy books! (my accountant is not, but I am!)
    Jen G

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  6. mordicai, this rant is aimed at those who don't buy new books, not at those who use libraries and buy used books as well.

    rhbee1, well, I'm always for a rise in royalty rate. But I don't think the problem is too many books, at least not the main problem, it's that readers don't understand that writers must be paid, and only new books, in this country, leads to royalties.

    mordicai, I have no problem with people buying Meyer and Brown, none whatsoever. I just don't want that to be all that's left when the dust settles. And it will be, unless people start paying for new books.

    farah, what, it didn't give you even a trickle of amusement? Huh. But let me be clear, I buy a lot of 2nd hand books. I love them. Many people have found my work that way. But if they then hadn't gone on to buy new books I doubt I'd still be writing the kind of novels I am.

    jen, I'm v. glad you buy new books, too.

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  7. I quit buying books a few years ago because we have been scaling back for simpler living. When we started, I gave 800 books to my local library.

    However, I can state with certainty, that I am the reason my local library purchased five different books from new authors.

    I was going to have my library buy your books, but apparently they already have them.

    Ah well.

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  8. I buy new books from my local indie bookstore. I just recently bought one of yours. Most new books I buy cost under $50, and since that's what I pay for a carton of cigarettes, I figure I can afford it for something fantastic and constructive. I have a library card for broke periods.

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  9. While I completely understand your rant, I agree with mordicai's post - if you do get books from a library you ARE supporting authors. Libraries buy them in quantity, after all.

    as for Dan Brown and Stephanie Meyer - I have nothing against them personally, or their writing. I've read The Da Vinci Code, and have no problem with admitting that it had me thoroughly entertained - perhaps because I've been interested in the subject matter for ages, and I'm just about to complete a double major in English Lit and Religious Studies. (Up until recently, The Da Vinci Code was a prescribed text for one of the English Papers at Victoria University of Wellington on Contemporary Fiction). If writers like Brown and Meyer are getting people to read, ditto Rowling, I think that is a good thing. I know I read Brown for very different reasons than say Susanna Clarke or Audrey Niffenegger.

    Books can be expensive. In New Zealand, it's cheaper to get a book off Amazon (postage included) than buy them new at Borders.

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  10. Yep, I'm with you Jen. When I first read this, I thought whew, thank goodness, this is one thing I am not guilty of. If anything, I really have to cut back on my book buying. I haven't much time for fiction these days, and I keep buying books when I haven't read the ones I already have.

    Erasmus and I have something in common. Huh. He must be pretty smart too. :)

    "Etiolated angsty crap?" Ha. Yeah, that's what I want more of... Makes me think of all the crappy books I've bought tho. I am sorry for supporting crap, but I suppose it has its place.

    This is got to be my favorite part of this post tho: "neurotics who write achingly boring urban angst in the second person from the POV of a fork"

    And whoa, Barbara - $50 for cigarettes? Nicola, you must edit your list to include people who can afford that.

    Libraries and the books in them saved my life when I was 11 and up. I don't use libraries too much anymore, but they certainly are one of the best things we have - for kids and for poor people.

    I say don't raise book prices. I don't see that encouraging people to spend more money on books. If you want to save paper buy an e-book reader.

    Yes, go buy some books. And then go buy some art to hang on your wall. :)

    But do you really think there are that many people out there who actually read books regularly who don't also buy them? Unless they are dirt poor? I'm guessing even people that use libraries frequently will also buy books if they can afford it. But I'm just guessing. A larger problem it seems to me is the people who don't read. They are the ones that bother me.

    I enjoyed your rant, but surely 99% of the people who read this blog buy books? Aren't you preaching to the choir? Maybe we should do a poll.

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  11. I'm not preaching, I'm ranting. Different beastie. I'm not in a mood to be the Voice of Reason on this one. Today I'm just so tired to listened to people poor mouthing and whining, I can't afford to buy books, people with decent jobs and no sick children. It's bullshit.

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  12. While we're at it, don't forget "If you have a couch, you can let a writer sleep on it..."

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  13. Ha! This post is priceless. Go get 'em Nicola! I buy books of all kinds. What a thrill to cart home a brand new book and be the first person to open and read it. And how about getting a fine old used book in the mail that someone else has lavished love upon for many years--ah, the aroma of a used book. I never use libraries because I am so bad about returning books that once the fees mount up I might as well buy it to begin with. Working for a publisher I am doubly in favor of buying new books. Yes, the author needs to get paid, and so does the publisher if you want the writer to continue to write and the publisher to continue to publish. Publishing sales are based on statistics the main one being how many copies of a title passed across the face of the scanner in a book chain bookstore. Every time a title fails to scan and the bookstore clerk rings it up as general merchandise one sale fails to register and that author's chance of selling their next book to a publisher decreases. If every library buys one copy of a book, that is about 8,000 copies sold, this is good, but not by itself. And most books are not bought by every library. They are busy spending budget money these days on computers and WII. Damn. Now I've worked up a thirst that only buying a book will quench. Look out B&N, here I come.

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  14. As an author: Thank you, brava, thank you. Rant on.

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  15. Sadly, the publishing industry is changing (collapsing, by some accounts). I don't know if authorship will be a viable profession for long. Yes, used books are a big problem in this scenario, but so are other factors, like e-books. Why, when there are virtually no production costs don't authors see a bigger royalty on these?

    I read library books, and when I like a book, I go to the store and purchase it new to give the author my measley buck. I don't buy books willy-nilly anymore. I can't afford it, and I have far too many. What should I do with all the books I have? Burn them?

    I wish that rants like yours would change the fate of the publishing industry, but I don't see that happening. It will take something else to change things, and sadly, I can't predict what. But good luck!

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  16. I love this rant. I'll print it and hand it out to the next person that tells me, "You know, you should use the library more and save some money for clothes. You've been wearing the same four or five combos for ten years!" Clothes? Ugh. Clothes have never saved my life (okay, maybe my heavy jacket during a snow blizzard did), but books continue to give me reasons to live at times when nothing else will.

    I have no quarrel with libraries, who does? I get a kick from loitering them---so grand and full of books, gasp! Even if I don't check out any titles, libraries are awesome, no doubts about that.

    It's just that I feel rich (as in lucky, wealthy, blessed, at peace) when I look at MY books. This has held true even when all I could afford was a room on top of a carpenter's workshop, facing one of Guadalajara's oldest and nastiest graveyards, and where the shower couldn't be used because maggots came out mixed in with the water. Oh, but I had new books. :-)

    When I look at MY books, sometimes I think about their place in the world, how they came to be, how they came to me, the places they'll been, where they'll go next. New books seem to have a stronger link to the Great Minds of Writers (if I put on my special glasses, I can see their auras), they are my link to the gods. In my wacky version of the universe, the link weakens and eventually fades as the book passes hands (this, too, can be observed with the special glasses). New books = Broadband = Superpowers.


    I buy lots of new books. At least five a month, but these days the number is closer to ten because I enjoy giving them away to my friends---and sometimes to my enemies, "Here, smarten up! Then we can have a fair fight."

    Now, for the first time, my addiction to new books is getting me into trouble: no space, my wife hates them, blah blah. I'm willing to settle for eBooks. But I'd also love to be able to help support my favorite authors directly. I want to keep the channels to the gods open, and it's really hard to appreciate the aura of books on eReader devices (even with the special glasses on). So if the new publishing paradigm included some sort of Writing Patron model, a sort of Literary Indulgence program---Support a writer, secure your place in paradise, no matter what!---I would sign up for it and ease up on the purchase of new books, because then I'd know that my link to the Greatness of the Universe would hold long and strong.

    Hm... so much sneezing and coughing (damn cold!) must be rearranging my brain in interesting ways.

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  17. Change things in publishing? Hmmm, maybe some people should get together and start a co-op....

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  18. I am covering my head and preparing for the verbal stoning.

    I do frequent the used book store. In fact, I would not be reading this blog much less know who the wonderful author Nicola Griffith is, if not for discovering The Blue Place at my book haunt. It did lead me to "meet" you as an author, to learn more of the body of what you have written, as well as several others. Now I try to preorder and eagerly anticipate your NEW novels.

    Of your list, I meet only three of the "if you"s.

    I buy very expensive DME and assistive technology for my clients. But while they wait on the long list for state funding, I refer out to a clearinghouse for equipment. It can be had for little to no charge. The aftermarket is still a market. Some items go out for loan only. There is a need that can be filled in this manner. It beats having the equipment sent to a landfill or rust away in a garage. It still has value.

    I will continue to buy used books as well as new ones. I do, however, NOT buy paperbacks-used or new.

    And IMO "craphacks" are not limited to used books. However, I would prefer to buy a used book and find out the author is a craphack before I spend 2-3x the amount on a new book and find out it would not do toilet paper justice as a printing medium.

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  19. I agree with you... except about the libraries. They rock.

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  20. Is it OK if a buy a new book a week instead?

    (Actually I think I buy more than that. What can I say, I'm an addict.)

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  21. "Poor" people & "busy" people are pet peeves of mine. You prioritize your funds & time!

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  22. Actually, I don't do any of the things on your list of "If you ... then you can afford to buy a new book." Which tempts me go off on a rant of my own. But I'll be nice ... this time.

    I do buy new books, though not as many as I'd like to. I also buy used books. I also use the public library and the university library in my city. I'm also a writer with a day job.

    So what should happen with used books? Pulp them all so no one can buy them?

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  23. Promiscuous Reader hits another good point - writers with day jobs and full time students (*points finger at self*) have to use public and university libraries as a matter of course. When I do buy a new book it's either a book of fiction by an author I already know and am burning to read, but slowly, to savour the moment, or something academic which relates to what I'm studying for research purposes.

    Second hand book stores are important. (How many unexpected treasures have I found in them!) But more so, they do serve to get books out to people who simply cannot afford to buy books new. Should they be denied access to good literature because of the price of paper and printing? Me thinks not.

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  24. People, people, I'm not saying don't read Dan Brown (I did, once), I'm not saying don't use a library (I do, for expensive academic books) and never buy used books (I do when I can't find the fiction I want new), I'm saying BUY NEW BOOKS SOMETIMES. Go read the post again.

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  25. I'm going to be a little off topic. Here's a chance for someone to read Nicola's memoir And Now We Are Going to Have a Party without having to buy it.

    This is how it works: I'll buy new so Nicola gets paid *wink*, you give me your mailing address so I can ship it, you receive package, you enjoy, when you're done enjoying you ship it to the next person in line.

    My email: karina [at] shetranslates [dot] com

    (Janine, we have to get our hands dirty with that book-club thingy.)

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  26. karina (and janine), I'm looking forward to seeing how this goes...

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  27. well to tell you the truth books in my country are expensive because of the exchange rate.a fiction book usually cost the same as 4 to 6 movie tickets so i usually borrow from the public library. only if i really like it do i buy a new one!.......sorry

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  28. pepito, at least you *do* buy new sometimes, unlike some cheapcheapcheap people I know.

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  29. Thank you, Nicola, for making me laugh. I fully appreciate the need to rant on the subject, and that your bottom line is that people need to buy new books sometimes or the writer may well give up. I'm blogging on that topic myself tonight.

    Just as information about libraries, which clearly we all love, a mass market paperback may circulate 3-10 times before it is retired, and a hardcover might make it 30, or so I'm told on good authority. I was surprised, thinking it was much more than that. But apparently "library binding" no longer has any meaning except for academic texts that are sewn and produced on higher quality paper. Those books can circulate 200 times and only the cover shows it.

    Thanks again, Nicola.

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  30. Wow, really, only 30? I had no idea...

    And you're welcome. Ranting is cathartic; I double pleasure when I know I've amused someone.

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  31. I would buy more new books if the books I wanted were available new! I only purchased used if I can't find new. The classics get new editions all the time, but for some of my favorite authors, I've had to pursue used copies (sometimes at extravagant prices, ten or more times what they sold for new). I also buy more than one copy of a lot of my books, so I have a copy to lend and a copy to read.

    I want print-on-demand, at the quality I choose, so I can get my favorite books on archival paper in good bindings. I re-read extensively and I've worn out a new-bought book and had to replace it with a less-used (but still used) copy because it was no longer in print.

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  32. I frequent new and used bookstores, and several different libraries. Plus, I'm at the comic book shop at least once a week.
    I get the gist of your rant, and I have a friend who has been toiling as an underpaid writer for quite some time, and she argues the very same thing about buying new books to support the writer.
    There is no easy answer to this subject, only perspectives.

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  33. jennifer, I have to disagree. There is an easy answer: buy a new book every so often. Use the library and second hand stores the rest of the time.

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  34. We Brits have this quaint system called Public Lending Rights (PLR). It pays authors a small sum for every time a book of theirs is borrowed. Admittedly, it can take a while to equate to the cost of a new book, but on the other hand, that's a whole bunch of readers you've reached that otherwise wouldn't have been reached if they can't afford to buy new books.

    Do you write to entertain readers or to earn money - because your rant comes off as the second, not the first. Which makes me less inclined to take your views any more seriously than the views of the Meyers and Browns of this world.

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  35. Clearly, you've never been a student. Most of us can't always afford brand new books. But you know what? We tend to stick with the wonderful authors us 'cheapskates' discover through the miracle of libraries, second hand stores and bargain bins. Later on in life when we can afford it, we may just buy new copies of their books. I'm sorry, but you come across as more short-sighted than literary.

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  36. Michele, I'm English.

    Anonymous@5:44, clearly your education is wasted. Has no one taught you about leaping to conclusions? Also, by your tone, you are not a bit sorry, in fact your appear to be enjoying your righteousness. Go enjoy it somewhere else.

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  37. As someone who buys a lot of new books, and who wouldn't give a dime for Twilight, I found your point valid, but your tone offensive. There were times in my life when I couldn't afford any of the things on your list, and had I encountered such a post then, it would have spoiled the one joy in my empty little life -- the used books I could sometimes get at garage sales, by skipping meals. And by meals I mean Raman noodles, not steaks. Used book stores and libraries prevent literature from becoming inaccessible, and don't deserve your wrath.

    Some people do deserve it, but they won't be the ones stung by your words.

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  38. anon @10:58, did you read my post? Did you not understand the repeated use of the word 'if'? If you can afford to buy new books and do, this rant (clearly stated in the title: it's a rant) doesn't apply to you. If you can't afford to buy new books, and don't, this doesn't apply to you. If you can afford to buy new and don't, then, hey, it is aimed at you, so I wouldn't be surprised if you felt offended.

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  39. Anyone who has read more than one post on this blog or any of Nicola's books, stories, or essays knows that she cares about her readers, and that she writes for them and for the joy of writing. But in order for writers to write and get their words out into the world, they have to be paid.

    See this post:
    You’ve Been Warned

    "This is why, a year ago, I wrote a rant, which I'll share with you now:

    When I write, dear reader, I don't want to build a careful tale for you to discuss with a smile in a sunny place, I want to own you. I don't want to be The New TV Series, I want to be pornography: to thrill you so hard you're ashamed but can't help yourself crawling back for more.


    I want to write a whole novel that invades you. I want to control what you think and feel, to put you right there, right then, killing and being killed, fucking and being fucked, cooking and starving, drinking and thinking, barely surviving and absolutely thriving. I want to give you a life you've never had, change the one you live.


    How? I will take control of your mirror neurons. I will give you tastes and textures, torments and terrain you might never find in your real life. I will take you, sweep you off your feet, own you. For a while. For a while when you're lost in my book you will be somewhere else, somewhen else, someone else.

    I control the horizontal, I control the vertical. Sit back, relax, enjoy. When you're done, take a breath, smoke a cigarette, figure out who you are now, and come back for more.


    It's more than a rant, actually, it's a dedication. A vow: with my next novel, I'm going to run my software on your hardware. You've been warned.


    And regarding the rant in this post, I say 'if the shoe fits' you will know, if not why let it bother you?

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  40. I frequently recommend books for my local libraries to buy, and they usually buy them. And buy the sequels. And buy more copies when those wear out. :)

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  41. I'm guilty. I wouldn't mind buying new books when I am back in the workforce. In the meantime, thrift stores give me an unusual assortment, the thrill of the find, and for how many books I take home and read, a bargain. My husband would freak if I bought enough new books to satisfy myself, especially of the lesbian genre. Thank god for libraries and tame covers.

    I wouldn't mind the British PLR, or a voluntary paypal donation each time I check out a book that rocks from the library. Why not? Buy your author a cup of "coffee" each time you read one of their books. Much like buying yourself carbon footprint offsets. Maybe you can have Aud and Dornan do a PSA to buy new books or support the equivalent monetary donation of a cup of Joe.

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  42. Aischa, I think most people, faced with Aud, would chose to buy a new book. I know I would.

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  43. Funny, I enjoyed your perspective on why readers owe it to novelists to buy books. I actually agree, and yet there is another side to it. One that, admittedly, you have addressed in part here, and in part within other postings. It is a contract between reader and writer - we BOTH need to hold up our end. I have a blog posting from a couple weeks back that takes this sense of responsibility from the readers' perspective. Not as articulate as you are, but then again, not a paid writer. Just a lowly civil servant and blogger. Guerillabookworm.com posting "Where is the Respect?" Check it out, if you'd like. I don't think our two views are incompatible.

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