Special mini-essay: TALK BACK
The people reading this blog may notice that there’s been turnover. People are leaving, new people are coming in. If you want to make a difference in this circumstance, if you want to support Storytellers Unplugged, there’s one hugely important thing you can do:
MAKE A COMMENT.
It’s done by going down to the bottom of the essay, putting in your name and an e-mail address, putting a number in for a basic math equation (done to avoid spammers) and then write something. Even if it’s a single-word response like “Like” or “Yuck”, a little feedback is immensely preferable to none. Don’t worry about the e-mail address, you won’t get spam from your friendly SU.
There’s an older book of interviews with authors from the horror field, Faces of Fear edited by Douglas Winter. In it, Charles L. Grant talks about how at that point in his career… after more than 15 years as a horror/fantasy/sf writer, during seven of which he was one of the biggest names in the horror field both as author and editor, and a few dozen books… he’d received little to no correspondence from fans, but that his handful of gothic romances had resulted in stacks of letters to his Felicia Andrews pseudonym.
If there’s anything more disheartening than knowing that you’ve spent a few hours of your life typing out an essay only to have a single person… almost always another contributor to SU… provide a comment, then it’s not occurring to me. Hell, as a person who isn’t a writer by profession or instinct, I spent two days working on the October story. I got two comments. I was deeply appreciative of them, but if anyone else so much as bothered to read it, I don’t know.
This blog is free. There is no demanded nor expected recompense for time or effort provided. But there is the hope of some, and it comes in the form of simple recognition: postive, negative, or neutral. Please, please contribute that if you are willing. There are too many great writers contributing here, and I’d like to see them get the encouragement I feel they deserve.
Now, to the main essay: MONEY ON YOUR SHELF
Many people talk about a strong economy or a weak economy; for a writer, there’s often little difference. The percentage of writers who can support themselves on their prose is tiny. The vast majority find themselves working other jobs in order to cover their bills, relying on legacies from former professions or wealthy relatives, or being the “stay at home” half of a married couple. Money is a constant concern for many of these people.
In a pinch, some cash can sometimes be earned by selling off some of the books on your personal shelves. There are a few factors worth noting. I’m going to cover some of them, with examples.
1) Don’t forget the paperbacks.
Everyone in the publishing industry knows hardcover books are collector’s items, particularly signed/limited editions and first editions. Where a lot of people fall down is their consideration of paperbacks. Small, comparatively flimsy, and often damaged, they are the red-headed stepchild of the collecting world. But that’s not the same as saying they’re not collected.
EXAMPLE: Do you have a copy of The Crimson Witch by Dean R. Koontz sitting on your shelf? It won’t make you rich, but it will pull anywhere from $25 and up on ebay, even in beaten-up condition. As a matter of fact, all of the examples in this essay will be paperbacks, just to drive home the point.
2) Don’t ignore the newer titles.
Just because a book isn’t older than most college students doesn’t mean it’s not hunted. Actually, because of the way buzz works, often it’s the newer books which have the greatest number of people looking for them.
EXAMPLE: A few months back, I found a copy of Masques by Patricia Briggs on the shelf of a local second-hand bookstore. A week later, I was being paid roughly $125 after a week on ebay. The first book by the author who has gained a following in “supernatural romance” as well as contemporary fantasy is a traditional fantasy tale and was published in 1993. The book had a small print run, and she has an enormous fan base. Due to the crossover nature of her success, however, her books are sometimes shelved in sf/fantasy, sometimes in romance, and sometimes in horror.
3) Learn the pseudonyms.
There are a variety of reasons why an author may write under a pseudonym, but the one prevailing result is that at least some of the author’s fans don’t know about the “other” books, and as each of them discovers the other books’ existence, they start hunting for them. Often it’s simply a matter of having a full collection.
EXAMPLE: Edward Lee is the first to denounce the quality of his Philip Straker books, but Ed Lee collectors WANT those books, and perpetually demonstrate a willingness to purchase even banged-up copies of his early novels. If you happen to have a copy of Night Lust or Night Bait on your shelf, consider yourself lucky if you find yourself in need of quick cash.
4) Don’t make assumptions about quality.
You may have picked up the book because it had a peculiar or garish cover, or because the story description sounded worse than a rejected Troma movie script. Perhaps you read the book and found it completely predictable, poorly written and poorly edited. Do not assume that means nobody wants it.
EXAMPLE: Guy N. Smith had fun with a truly silly series of giant crab books in the 1980s. As the series progressed, he attempted to top himself with the foolishness, culminating in books like Crabs: The Human Sacrifice, wherein a radical environmentalist starts worshipping the oblivious, carnivorous crabs. While Guy N. Smith has shown an ability to write sharp, interesting fiction, this is not one of his better pieces. But it has developed such a reputation for being a hokey book concept that horror fans and even other authors keep an eye out for the title. Any time you have more people wanting a book than exist copies, the price goes up. The price has risen above $25 on this title.
EXAMPLE: William W. Johnstone wrote some very, very predictable horror novels. The writing was competent, but unimpressive. However, he had two things creating his collector base: 1) his success in other fields; his workman efforts in men’s adventure and westerns grew a devoted following which branched off to his horror books; and 2) his tendency to be very Christian in his books (Satan or his servants are typically the enemy; a true believer is always the hero/heroine, sinners are tempted and either fall or are punished) made him into an acceptable horror author for the great number of fundamentalist fiction readers even before the days of Lehaye and Jenkins. While some of his books went into more than two printings and are not particularly expensive, most of his horror books command anywhere from $10 to $40 on the secondary market.
5) Just because the author isn’t famous is no reason to ignore them.
Publishing isn’t kind. Great authors spiral into the unknown because a few bad covers scare away potential buyers, or a line goes under, or a book is poorly promoted, or advertised in the wrong format, or by the time the book gets to the shelves it’s lost amidst ten titles similar in appearance. Just as often, good authors have a spark of greatness, elevating a particular title to cult status. Or an author only has one book in them, after which they quit the business. There are plenty of reasons, but in the end only the result matters: there are books out there which are worth far more than would be suspected.
EXAMPLE: Where the Chill Waits by T. Chris Martindale has great buzz among people who follow the Windigo myth. As the go-to book for the use of that creature, it is sought at a disproportionate level compared to his other titles and can easily pull from $15-$40 depending on condition. This, despite the fact that that author only wrote four horror novels over fifteen years ago.
6) Waiting too long can be a bad thing.
Fame is fleeting. Many authors’ works will maintain a stable level of interest even after they die or stop publishing, but far more see interest in their older work dry up over time. It doesn’t go away, but it diminishes to the point where there are enough copies to fill the demand of the readership… or, if there still aren’t, the prospective readership is still smaller, causing the price to drop. A good rule of thumb is that if an author goes two years without publishing a novel or collection (mass market, trade, or major small press), and you’re looking to sell their “hot” titles eventually, it may be the time.
EXAMPLE: C. Dean Andersson is an exemplary writer; he was short-listed for a Stoker award in 2007, and is a good bet to make that list again this year. But he hasn’t been producing novels, and that has caused his readership to shrink. People cycle out of any field’s fan base all the time, and new people cycle in. The easiest and strongest way to garner attention is through novels. His fan base remains high enough to cause there to be a reasonable demand for hard to find early titles like Raw Pain Max and Torture Tomb, or even very early pseudonym work such as Crimson Kisses as by Asa Drake. But while these titles may have easily netted $20 to $50 a decade ago, with RPM sometimes fetching three figures, they now sell for half of those prices.
7) Notice the trends.
Publishers are like anyone else: they want to make money. One of the most certain ways to make money is to put out books that work along the same lines of recent successes. This can go a long way toward everything from a boom in slasher films or remakes of Japanese ghost stories to zombie novels or paranormal romances. When trends start to blossom, it’s worth looking at the books that are sitting on your shelves. Often there will be books that predate the trend, and they will enjoy a resurgence of popularity.
EXAMPLE: Lee Killough has been writing mystery novels featuring supernatural or sf elements for the duration of her career. Two of her most successful novels have been Blood Hunt and Blood Links, originally produced as paperback originals in the late 1980s and featuring a police detective who runs afoul of a lady vampire. After the Vampire/PI (usually a team, sometimes a single character) started booming in the 90s with the Tanya Huff blood novels, the P.N. Elrod novels, and the Laurell K. Hamilton books, fans started trying to track down the Killough books referenced by some of these authors when they talked of their influences. For a while, the books were both highly sought and hard to find, and they rose in price accordingly.
EXAMPLE: C.J. Henderson wrote a series of supernatural detective novels under a pseudonym, the Teddy London books by Robert Morgan. When the supernatural detective trend developed a sudden large following about eight years ago, there was a spike of interest in the Morgan novels, where they were each demanding $20 and up on the secondary market. Interest has since passed along to authors like Jim Butcher and Kelley Armstrong; the Morgan novels still maintain a baseline of interest for fans of Henderson’s Kolchak comics, horror short fiction and collectors of Cthulhu mythos fiction, but the price surge has gone away, leaving the six books findable for $5-$10 each in good condition.
8) Watch for reprints.
Nothing tanks a collectible paperback’s value faster than a reprint. The vast majority of purchasers of rare paperbacks are simply looking for a copy of the story to read, and when a new copy is made available, the old copies are relegated to the collector’s shelves. There aren’t as many paperback collectors as there are hardcover collectors, though, and so reissues are famous for dropping a price on a rare paperback through the floor. If you have access to information about what novels are expected to be released in upcoming days, it pays to go through and see what “reading copies” of those reissues you may have, and check to see if they’re currently worth anything. Getting them out for sale before the new version comes out may be the only way you can get money for them.
EXAMPLE: Fans are rightfully pleased that Jack Ketchum’s works have been reprinted by Leisure. But before The Girl Next Door, She Wakes and Off Season were reissued, copies of the first two novels would fetch $35 to $75, and Off Season ranged as low as $10 and as high as $100 depending on condition. The price of the books has fallen by more than two thirds for anything less than high-end, collector’s grade books.
Hopefully, these guidelines will be helpful to some readers. Curious people trying to estimate the turn-around value of their books can find out how much other people are selling any given title by visiting ABEbooks, Ebay Shops, Amazon.com, and the completed auction listings on Ebay. This is a bad time for selling books; in a distressed economy, people are leery about spending money on what are to most luxury items. But bad does not mean untenable, and while you can expect to get less than you would have between 2002 and 2007, you can still get something. If you’re in a pinch, something is far better than nothing.