A reader wrote to me today, suggesting that I put a tipjar on my website so that he could contribute to my earnings, since he gets my books from the library. I wrote back to him, but since other people might wonder about this, I figured I’d repost the content of my reply here to share.
For as long as I’m traditionally published, I’m not planning to do a tipjar. I really appreciate the thought, but thing is — you are contributing by checking out books from the library. The more lends and reservations a library gets for a particular book, the more books that library will purchase. And if it gets checked out a lot, they might prominently display it somewhere, which will (hopefully) earn me more long-term readers. So if you really want to contribute beyond what you’re already doing — and that’s completely not necessary! — then buy a copy of the book and give it to someone who does have the space. Maybe you’ll win me another reader. :)
Keep in mind also that the best way to contribute to me is buying books. That lets my publisher know I’m worth investing in — which means they’ll buy more books from me. I prefer to work with a publisher because I don’t particularly want to spend time on self-publishing tasks (e.g., marketing, copyediting, distribution) when I could instead be spending time writing. So every book you buy = time for me to write, if you want to think of it that way.
And basically, that’s it. I want to embellish a little on the library point, though. It really, really, really helps me to be in libraries. Not all traditionally-published books get that privilege; most self-published books certainly don’t. So if you’re feeling at all guilty over checking my stuff out from your local library — don’t. Consider: you’re helping to keep me on their “buy” lists, especially in these days of rampant budget cuts, which means several hundred (if not thousand) additional sales for me. You’re keeping me on their shelves long-term, which earns me future fans. Of course that helps me. When I was a child, my mom used to use the library as a babysitter; made me happy as a clam, kept me out of her hair while she ran errands. I have so many wonderful memories of those hours — free time, completely free time, with all the books in the world at my fingertips — that I’m proud to be there as an author now, maybe helping some other bored person fill her hours with a bit of excitement. I still visit libraries now, since I live in a tiny NYC apartment and space is at a premium; with new authors, I prefer to try before I buy. But once I’ve found an author I like, I buy their books on sight. And thanks to libraries, I can discover authors whose books are long out of print. Nowadays that usually means I hop online and try to find out if they’re self-publishing or e-publishing their backlist — which earns them new sales. In this way, libraries keep writers’ careers alive long after the publishers and retailers have gone away.
Sure, buying a book is the best way to help me, if you want to, and if you can. I just know that not everyone can. Getting it from a public library is the next best thing.