Practical Meerkat’s 52 Bits of Useful Info for Young (and Old) Writers, week 41

by Laura Anne Gilman

I jokingly told friends I was going to call this entry “Author Copies: Threat or Menace.”  Then I realized it wasn’t really a joke.  Or it is, but it’s one we play on ourselves.

The first time you hold that very first copy of your finished book in your hands, it’s an incredible moment.  Exhilarating, rewarding, scary as hell – holy shit, people are actually going to be reading this!

And then, when you get the box of contract copies (# to be determined by what your contract says they owe you, be it 5 or 50), you think “Onto the brag shelf/to my parents/best friends/various bloggers you go!” and there is much rejoicing.

So, it’s all good, right?  Well.  Not always.

Author copies are the cherry to the paycheck sundae, the little extra you get as part of the deal (digital copies, alas, really don’t have that same sense of satisfaction).  You aren’t paying for these copies – they’re part of your contract, free, to do with as you please.

All right, you’re not supposed to sell them.  But they make great presents/bribes/giveaways.

And then there is the option to buy more copies, at a significant author discount.  Those, you can sell.  Or give away.  Or pile on the floor and stare at lovingly (we all do it.  Once.  Maybe twice.).  And if the book goes out of print (as happens to even the best of books, unless you’re Mark Twain, Shakespeare, or The Bible), you have the chance to buy copies of your book at an even steeper discount.

And therein leads to the question asked on a professional writer’s list about a week ago:  “How many should I buy?”

Because yes, there’s a part of us that says “oh, my bookses!  Have many copies on hand!  Let them go not gentle into that remaindered night, but save them! Store them!



See, author copies take up space.  If you get 5 copies, all well and fine and you may need more after a while.  If you get 20, or more… well, that can last you a while, even if you do a lot of month-of-publication contests.  And 20+ books?  That takes up significant book space.

Think tribbles.

Think about your actual available space.  Think about what else could go in that space (other peoples’ books to read.  Clothes.  Food.  Your loved one’s Stuff).

And that’s just one edition of one book.  Look down the road.  Say, in your career, you write ten books.  If they’re in hardcover or trade, there might be a mass market edition, too.  Or a book club edition.  And hey, what about foreign language editions!  You want at least one copy of those, for your shelf.

You may be beginning to see the problem, here.

Unless you have an Infinite Library, or a lot of room in your garage or basement… eventually, you’re going to have a lot of author copies.  Even if you only save one copy from each edition – over a career, that can add up.

And there are only so many bookcases that can, by the laws of physics and feng shui, fit into one house.

But you’re managing – you might have a room for nothing but bookcases, store boxes in your closet, your basement, your mom’s garage… and it’s cool.  You’re in control. You even have room for the books that will arrive next.  And then you get that letter I mentioned earlier, the one that says “this edition is going out of print: do you want to buy copies before they’re remaindered?”

Oh god, yes.  Absolutely.  Don’t remainder my baby!

Stop.  Think.

Think hard.

How much room do you have?  How much need do you have, for these books?  Can you really store an extra 20 copies?  40?  100?  500?

If your storage space is already tight?  Forget about it.  Keep five for yourself, five for your posterity, make sure a digital edition is in safekeeping somewhere, and let the remainders go.

Your loved ones (who have Things of their own, after all) will thank you.

If you have the room, and the desire to be a salesperson, however….  That’s next week.


Coming up in Week 42:  Psssst.  Wanna buy a Book?

Laura Anne Gilman is a former editor with Penguin/Putnam, and the author of more than a dozen novels, including the THE SHATTERED VINE, Book 3 of the Nebula-nominated Vineart War trilogy, IN STORES NOW! (ahem), and the forthcoming urban fantasy TRICKS OF THE TRADE (12/11). Her SF collection, DRAGON VIRUS, which SF Signal called “amazingly evocative….a potent ride through a changing future,” was published by Fairwood Press in June 2011.  For more info check her website, her BookView Cafe bookshelf, or follow her on Twitter (@LAGilman)

She also runs d.y.m.k. productions, an editorial services company (

And yes, her nickname really is meerkat.


About Laura Anne Gilman

Laura Anne is a recovering editor-turned-novelist, with an Endeavor Award, a Nebula nomination, another Endeavor award nomination and a Washington State Book Award nomination under her belt. Her most recent series is the award-winning "Devil's West" trilogy, starting with SILVER ON THE ROAD, and her same-universe story collection, WEST WINDS' FOOL, AND OTHER STORIES OF THE DEVIL'S WEST. The novella GABRIEL'S ROAD was published by Book View Cafe on April 30th, 2019. Her Patreon, featuring original fiction, writing advice, and original Rants, is at Learn more at, where you can sign up for her quarterly newsletter.


Practical Meerkat’s 52 Bits of Useful Info for Young (and Old) Writers, week 41 — 7 Comments

  1. And there is another angle: the cash flow. (Some day I will write a post for writers about Deep Throat’s advice, “Follow the money.”) Yes, your author discount is not to be sniffed at, and it is possible that the book will become a mega best seller and your case of first editions will become disgustingly valuable. (I heard of a guy who was in the US Navy, on a submarine. The sub docked in Edinburgh and the crew got shore leave. This guy’s practice was to go into a bookstore and buy a fantasy novel, so as to have reading matter en route. Some years later, when he was back in the US, he realized he had a first British edition of the first HARRY POTTER novel…)

    But: suppose your novel is not a monster best seller. At some point, your publisher is going to cut his losses and remainder those hardbacks. The remainder price is going to be substantially better than your author price.

  2. One way for me to get my new clothes addiction under control is to fill the walk in closet with cases of remaindered books — no more than 2 boxes per title.

    I’ll be wearing the same pair of jeans for the next 20 years before long because that’s all the room I’ll have!

    But “Guardian of the Balance, Merlin’s Descendants #1” in hardcover was never remaindered — or if it was I wasn’t notified. And that’s the most valuable book in my collection. The 9 copies on a top shelf reachable only by step ladder and long handled grabbers are going no where unless I need to put a grandchild through college.

  3. Well, the remainder trick sometimes calls for keeping up with the publisher — the bookkeepers frequently do not think about the author at all. When THE DRAGON AND THE STARS was coming out from Daw I coached the young editors very carefully on this — it was their first anthology and these ins and outs were a revelation.

  4. Many of the authors I follow seem to thrive on having lots of copies of their books around. (Elizabeth Bear comes to mind. But were I to get published…I’d have no room in my apartment for boxes of books!