Second-hand book stalls – author's friends?

Some authors don’t like second-hand book stalls, whether run as a businesses or for a charity fête. In fact, they hate them. The author gets no royalty nor secondary right nor anything. The books are toted around, exchanged or traded like a lump of former tree for a pound/euro/dollar or two – virtually free. I heard one author say it was verging on piracy. A bit strong in my opinion, but I respect his right to say it.

However, consider this…

If you live in a non-English speaking country as I do in France, you can’t always find books in English. Sometimes, local media stores have a small display of international best sellers, lost amongst the local language acres of shelves of not only books but games, music, DVDs and small technology. My local library has no books, let alone fiction, in English except easy readers for school age children. Of course, there’s always Amazon… (Other online retailers are available, as they say.) But there’s nothing like handling ‘real’ books, your fingers wandering among hundreds of titles by authors you’ve never heard of as well as ones by familiar authors.

Second-hand bookstalls and book exchanges, plus the pop-up summer and Christmas fairs, are an opportunity to discover new reads, new authors and to talk about books to the person running them. Usually, they’re avid readers which is why they got into selling books in the first place.

That’s the cultural argument.

Of course, I would LOVE you to buy my books first-hand and give me a little direct remuneration – I share a few thoughts on author income here.

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But there’s a parallel argument to consider. It could be that having discovered a new-to-you author in a tattered copy picked up second-hand or perhaps lent to you by a friend, you are entranced by the writing, the story and the new world the author’s words have drawn you into. You thirst for more. You are desperate to read more.

Chances are the bookstall/second-hand shop doesn’t have any more by that author. Possibly you won’t see that temporary stall until the same time next year – a whole 12 months away. Horrors!

You clutch your new treasure to your chest and dive on to the Internet and, notwithstanding the postage, order two or three more by the same author. I did exactly this after buying one book for 50 cents in a barn sale and promptly spent another £35.00 on Amazon on the rest of the series. I had discovered Vatta’s War and Elizabeth Moon netted another four full book sales.

So perhaps the second-hand bookstall or book exchange, its wares sprawled in boxes on a trestle-table once a month, aren’t demons from hell, but a spur to  buying by keen readers.


Updated 2023: Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO, CARINA (novella), PERFIDITAS, SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA, NEXUS (novella), INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO,  and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories.  Audiobooks are available for four of the series.Double Identity, a contemporary conspiracy, starts a new series of thrillers. JULIA PRIMA, a new Roma Nova story set in the late 4th century, is now out.

Find out more about Roma Nova, its origins, stories and heroines and taste world the latest contemporary thriller Double Identity… Download ‘Welcome to Alison Morton’s Thriller Worlds’, a FREE eBook, as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email update. You’ll also be among the first to know about news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.

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