Should Authors Buy Their Own Books?

July 23, 2020

By: Lee LeFever

I write books and run a company called Common Craft. I recently moved from Seattle to a rural island. Here, I write about online business, book publishing, modern home construction, and occasionally, dumb jokes.

In my experience, publishing a book means owning at least a few boxes of the book. These can be given as gifts, sold, used in promotions, and more. I have boxes of Big Enough sitting beside me right now. The copies I have came directly from the printer and don’t have an impact on my sales numbers. This version of buying your own books is both ethical and expected.

box of books - big enough

Some enterprising authors, however, look for ways to game the system and increase their book’s visibility by purchasing 100s or 1000s of copies as a way to boost their numbers. This isn’t illegal, but the publishing industry discourages it and has ways of punishing those who do it.

Consider the story of author Mark Dawson, who was featured in a recent article in The Guardian.

Author Mark Dawson has lost his Top 10 position in the Sunday Times bestseller charts for his thriller The Cleaner after revealing that he bought 400 copies himself to get a higher position.

Book sales monitor Nielsen BookScan began investigating after Dawson revealed on his podcast, The Self Publishing Show, that he had placed an order for 400 hardback copies of The Cleaner with a children’s bookshop in Salisbury, for a cost of £3,600. Dawson said he was motivated to do this after seeing he was in 13th spot on Nielsen’s midweek chart, and that he contacted readers overseas to see if they would purchase the novel from him if he bought the books. The purchase meant the novel, published by independent press Welbeck, moved up to eighth place in the Sunday Times hardback fiction list.

Dawson’s story is a part of a much bigger picture. Book publishing is full of authors and publishers who have schemes to get books on bestseller lists. By comparison, his story is modest and not the result of a diabolical plan. As he said:

“If I was intent on ‘gaming the system’ I would have bought 10k copies, sat on them forever and been number one. (I wouldn’t have discussed it on a popular podcast, either.)”

Good point. I think the real lesson here is that if you do buy a bunch of copies of your book to boost your numbers, don’t talk about it on a podcast.

Learn more about Big Enough.

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