If you’ve been reading Scientist Sees Squirrel at all, you know I’ve written a couple of books: The Scientist’s Guide to Writing, and Charles Darwin’s Barnacle and David Bowie’s Spider (so far). When I’m talking with folks about these books, there’s a bit of awkwardness that often comes up. Someone will politely mention their interest in reading one of the books, and I’ll tell them that I have copies for sale. That’s not the awkward part, though! The awkward part, instead, comes when I mention that they can also borrow either book from their university or public library. Folks seem to think that they shouldn’t show interest in that option – that I’d be upset if they borrowed my book rather than buying a copy.
Don’t worry. I’m thrilled if you borrow one of my books from a library (or, for that matter, from a friend or colleague).
It’s true, I miss out on royalties from the copy you didn’t buy.* But you might be surprised to know just how small a fraction of a book’s cover price goes to the author. For either of my books, my royalties amount to about a dollar per copy.** Believe me, if I had a clever plan to get rich.it wouldn’t be toiling for years to write a book that people will give me a dollar for! And sure, a dollar at a time adds up; but it adds up, as you might expect, rather slowly.
You can become a millionaire writing books, if you’re Stephen King or Barbara Cartland. I am not Stephen King (except in this way); I am definitely not Barbara Cartland. The bottom line is that while I don’t throw my royalty cheques away, they’re not why I write books. I’m excited when anybody reads one of my books (and even more excited when they tell me about it) – no matter whether they bought it new, bought it used, or borrowed it.*** (I’m lucky, of course, to have a job that allows me to think this way.)
Besides, libraries are magical places. I still remember the steps down to the children’s room in the small-town public library I read my way through in elementary school. That room was like the wardrobe: it was small and unprepossessing on the outside, but inside, it contained whole worlds. Sadly, my books aren’t in that library (although its patrons can get them by interlibrary loan); but knowing they’re in some libraries gives me indescribable pleasure. So go to the library; borrow one of my books, and while you’re there borrow a few more.**** And tell me about it. I’ll be thrilled.
© Stephen Heard October 6, 2022
*^There is some indirect payment to authors, at least in Canada, that’s connected to books in libraries. It seems to be quite arbitrary – not related to circulation or even to number of copies of a particular book in libraries. It’s also quite small.
**^That’s not a complaint. The publishing industry – and particular, University presses like those that have published both my books – has plenty of costs, and most books lose their publishers money.
***^I’m not so pleased when people read pirated electronic copies. It’s not so much that I’m losing out on royalties; it’s that University and other small presses are precarious, and pirated copies hurt them. I want the kind of books that small presses publish – my own books, and other people’s – to continue to exist.
****^And libraries are a lot more than booksYour library may lend games, tools, sporting equipment, passes to museums and galleries, or musical instruments. It might distribute seeds, local food, voting information, or COVID tests. And whatever else it does, it will have librarians. Librarians have superpowers.***LinkLibrarians.