Practical Meerkat’s 52 Bits of Useful Info for Young (and Old) Writers, week 42

by Laura Anne Gilman

Last week we discussed the lures and dangers of author copies – the desire to keep them on-hand versus the reality of storage.

For most people, it is a constant game of  evaluating need versus availability.  If you know that you can order more copies if you suddenly need them, you can let your shelf go down to one or two copies (and, if you’re like me, keep a set of first editions somewhere with a “do not use!” post-it on them)

But then, as I briefly mentioned last week, there’s the letter that comes into every writer’s life: news that your books are being remaindered.  The remaining editions will either be sold off at a fraction of their original cost, or destroyed.  But first, you the author have the chance to order copies!

And the hand of panic clutches at you.  If you don’t order copies, they’ll become $1.99 fodder for the remainder tables, or turned into ferret cage linings!

So yes, you want to order copies, especially if your personal stock has run low.  If you have an empty storage area, and the cash on hand to buy them, then yeah, go ahead.  Better you hang onto your copies than someone else.

But how many copies will you need?  Realistically, what will you be doing with them?  Ten copies is reasonable for maintaining a resource library/personal use.  Thirty or forty, if you have the space, will probably set you for the next decade of promotion or production use.

But they might be offering you 100 copies.  Or more.  And the temptation will be great to say “I’ll take them all.”  After all, you can still sell them – and make some money that the publisher can’t take a cut from.  Right?

As I said last week: Stop.  Think.

Some folk think that they will be able to sell copies directly – at conventions, via an website storefront, through a local independent bookseller who will take them on commission, or even out of the back of your car.  After all, you DO have readers, and as you go forward people might be interested in the backlist [and not want to order a digital copy, assuming it’s available].

Yes.  It’s done, and often successfully.  But not easily. How many will you sell?  How long will it take you to go through those copies?  How much effort (read: non-writing time) will it take you?

A quick survey turned up this disheartening fact: writers with active storefronts (either virtual or physical) reported being able to move copies – but not as many as they’d hoped.  Sadly, a book goes OP for a reason, in most cases, and while you may be able to maintain the trickle of sales, it probably isn’t going to become a flood.  Without a storefront, or a friendly local bookseller to front for you?  Selling books out of the back of your car is harder [and far more time-consuming] than it looks.

So before you grab all available copies, think like a businessperson.  Consider your long-term needs, your available resources, and the fact that those copies, be it 20 or 200 – can easily become an albatross hanging around your neck, something beautiful and treasured now dragging you into damnation….

Coming up in Week 43:  Considering the Clock

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 42 — 11 Comments

  1. Ferret cage linings? 🙂

    One thing you didn’t mention, though, is that an established writer having some stock on hand is useful for selling signed copies (even personalized-signed copies) to fans and readers.

  2. Paul – the question is still, however – how MUCH stock? How many copies will you sell that way, over a period of years? How much effort is it to haul them to conventions, or to advertise them on-line, in the hopes that someone doesn’t already have a copy? The people I surveyed were all established writers, who had thought they’d be able to sell X books over Y years… and most reported that they underperformed [or sold out of some and had heavy inventory on others].

    Buying remaindered copies ties up resources (space, cash) that most authors tend to be shy on, hence my advice of caution.

  3. I’m reluctant to put much energy into selling author’s copies (at conventions, readings, etc.) because they don’t contribute to my sales figures or support my local book sellers. True, I’m not apt to sell enough to make a difference either way in terms of those figures, but maintaining a strong relationship with either a bookstore or a convention dealer is important. They’re the people who will place my books in a prominent position, keep them in stock, and can recommend them to readers.

    I take a turn around the dealer’s room at the beginning of a con to see who carries which of my books. Then I can say, “You can buy my books right over there…” Toward the end of the con, after my panels, I return and thank the dealers, and sign any remaining stock. Often the dealers I have gotten to know will bring more than they expect to sell so that they will have signed copies for their stores or the next convention.

  4. But, once the books have been remaindered, they’re not going to be in the stores or at the dealers. At that point, where will a reader go to buy a copy? Used book stores, perhaps. Or Ebay.
    The other important factor to keep in mind is available space. If you live in an apartment in New York City then indeed 20 copies seems generous if not outright excessive. If you live in a suburban house with a large dry basement, then ten cases is not such a much and 20 might be quite possible.
    And the other major point is, this is not going to be your only book — is it? If you are a writer of Asimovean production, then one case each of your over 300 books will call for a dedicated storage unit or possibly warehouse space.

  5. Brenda – yes, production level is a definite concern. If you try to keep multiple copies of EVERY EDITION of EVERY BOOK, I’m pretty sure that qualifies as mental cruelty/grounds for divorce…

  6. While we’re on the subject of things that take up space, where do you weigh in on keeping copies of magazines that have published your work? I don’t have a published novel to my name yet, but I have a drawer full of magazines with my stories in them.

    When I left my first record label, I wound up with the overstock of my first album in boxes in my basement. It took ten years to clear that space, and by “clear” I mean “replace those boxes with boxes of T-shirts and newer albums.” It’s probably a slightly different situation since indie musicians are expected to haul around and sell their own swag wherever they go.

    I think the bottom line is just to ask: am I willing to do the work to sell this, or am I just building a museum to myself? If I don’t think it’ll sell I can’t even let it in the door. It’ll just put its feet up and make itself comfortable.

  7. Because magazines are so ephemeral, i would be careful to keep at least one copy of everything. I have copies of magazines that are now long out of business. (Some day we must start a thread about magazines, even publishers, that we have killed.)
    LAG, there -are- rental storage units. But frankly the best thing is a close relative with a basement.

  8. I have a single copy of every magazine/anthology I’ve been published in (except the digital ones), and they’re marked “do not loan,” for archive purposes. Other people I know have them scanned-for-storage.

    I have a shelf for magazines – but they’re stacked, not displayed. Takes up less room.

  9. I’m for the keep a single-copy of each magazine thing too (although I usually get more to start–they’re useful to send out when someone asks for a sample of something I’ve done, and having the sample in context–which is to say, in the magazine–can be subtly beneficial for whatever my purposes are).

    I have a slightly contrarian view about remainders, because I’ve bought a lot of them in my day, and they were a gateway to reading more of the author’s work. I might buy some copies if the book is being remaindered, but (despite the hit to my bottom line if they’re on the REDUCED table) I’m not going to put much effort into to selling the things myself.