When I get a little money, I buy books

Now that the price of a gallon of gas in the US is creeping nearer and nearer to the price of gas in the rest of the world, people are paying more attention to what they spend and how much they drive. I live in New Jersey and work in Manhattan, so I cross two types of driving cultures in my day. In Manhattan, there’s about fourteen bazillion different types of mass transportation I could choose, from subways to trains to cabs to pedi-cab bikes to buses—to helicopters if I’m feeling really frisky. Most people don’t own cars, because it costs as much as the car itself is worth to park that car for a day. Or an hour.

In New Jersey, it’s the land of the big box store and the land of driving pretty much everywhere. I once received some mass email that told me, and no word as to whether this is true or not, at any given moment, no matter where you are in New Jersey, you are never more than 15 miles from a mall. That’s a lot of malls. And a lot of mall hair.

But I have a feeling that the time of shopping as entertainment and driving to a mall to do so is rapidly coming to an end – not that I spend much time shopping as a form of joyful enterprise. There are some things, however, which I will always shop for, and which are not entertainment purchases or miscellaneous items in my budget. Up there with items like “mortgage,” “health care,” “food,” and “more food, oh my God with the EATING,” is an immovable entry: books.

No matter how high the price of gas, by hook or by crook, I will buy me some books. Maybe they will be digital Kindle books, or maybe they will be paper books, but there will be books. It’s not optional.

So what do folks like us do when the price of a gallon of gas is nearly the price of a paperback? Good question. Here are some options:

1. Obvious: the library. If you have a local library, the books are free, cheezy bread, free. Head on over, get yourself a library card, and gorge on the awesomeness.

My local library participates in a rather kickin’ program called ListenNJ, in which patrons can download and check out audio books for free, with a limit of five titles for a 10 day loan period. That’s kick ASS right there.

But what if library wonderment isn’t an option? Coupons and cheaper options ahoy!

2. Obvious, Part Deux: Used Bookstores Every now and again there’s a minor kerfuffle over used bookstores, with some authors loathing them and the lost profit, and some readers who can’t reach for the $9 paperback pricepoint loving every moment of their local used store’s hours of business. I’m personally a big fan of the local used store in my area, because it’s a treasure trove of cover snark, it’s bloody huge, it’s up the road from my favorite pet supply store, and it smells like Used Books, which is about as good as New Car and New Baby smells. So if you like to own, abuse, and drop your books in the bathtub without worrying over lost dollars, used stores rock. And seriously, the cover snark potential is just awesome.

And if you don’t like #1 and #2? Damn you’re picky.

#3: Start haunting your local bookstore’s rewards program. I work near a Borders, so I’ve got a Borders Rewards account, and every now and again I get a coupon for 20% off a purchase, or an opportunity to buy three books from a selected list, and get the fourth free. For my birthday, I received a 25%-off-one-item coupon, and I’d say I get at least a coupon a month, though I don’t necessarily use them all. Borders’ program is free to join.

Barnes and Noble also has a membership club, which offers bigger discounts on every purchase, but costs $25 to join. With their membership you get 40% hardcover bestsellers, 20% adult hardcovers (rwor!), and 10% off almost everything else. There are also member email newsletters with additional discounts. Personally, I don’t buy enough hardcover books that this is worth it for me, but I did learn something clever. A book club I know of signed up for a membership by pooling $5 a person. All you need to access the membership discount is the phone number of the member who joined. So if you round up a posse and join together, you can all access the membership benefits via one phone number.

Rounding out the big box book survey, Books a Million also has a discount club, which, for $15.00 a year, offers an additional 10% off every purchase.

If big box stores are not to your liking, and you prefer your local independent, try talking to the owner or manager about your book habit and see if there’s a discount they would be willing to offer you in exchange for goods or services you might provide. That might be a longshot since everyone is tightening the fiscal belt these days, but you never know if they might need some graphic design work, a newsletter template, some help at busy times, or what.

And what about publishers? Do they feel your pain? Oh, yes. Your inability to buy as much as you like is their pain, too. So keep your eye out for #4: Publisher Specials From package deals like Harlequin’s current buy three get the fourth free deal, to the one that caught my eye at my last trip to the store: Kensington’s Zebra Debut program.

You might have noticed the books on the shelf – they retail for $3.99 or $4.99, and are marketed as “tomorrow’s bestsellers at yesterday’s prices.” Yeah, if my local gas station had a sign like that, the line would stretch into Pennsylvania.

I asked Kate Duffy all kinds of nosy questions, and she said that the program “was the brainchild of the publisher, Laurie Parkin.  It was her idea of a possible way to build a bigger audience for a brand new author.It has been very successful.  Very. Sally MacKenzie was our first debut author to hit the USA Today list with her subsequent “Naked” titles.  But for every debut author, initial print orders were increased beyond what we used to experience.”

Historicals, Duffy says, in particular are doing well in that program, and the line is exclusively for authors who have never before been published. Their first book is priced at $3.99, and the second novel is priced at $4.99.

And what’s the very, very best kind of book? See #1 – the free book. Duffy has offered up the six June, July and August releases for the Zebra Debut program, including Dark and Dangerous by Jeanne Adams, Lord Scandal by Kalen Hughes (which I reviewed and gave away copies of in May), Her One Desire by Kimberly Killion, To Wed a Highlander by Michele Sinclair, Lost in You by Alix Rickloff, and A Rake’s Guide to Pleasure by Victoria Dahl.

I’ll do a random comment drawing here to select six lucky folks who will each receive a free book – woo! So drop a comment, and if you’re so inclined, share your secret for feeding your need to read when you’re short on green (or red or blue or whatever color your currency is). Comments are open for 24 hours starting now.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Wendy says:

    Another suggestion – look at your credit card.  I have a Borders Visa card, and I earn points towards Borders gift certificates.  It’s the only credit card I use – so every time I buy gas or groceries, I’m earning money to spend on my book addiction.

    Amazon also has a credit card where, you guessed it, you can earn points to be used on Amazon purchases.

  2. 2
    Stephanie says:

    Comment comment comment!

    Another option is recycling books—you can sell books on Amazon.com and get store credit. You can also sell your books/cds/whatever to Half-Price Books (if you’re lucky enough to live near one) and you can get store credit that way, too. I know; this means giving up books, but I’m sure we’ve all got at least ONE book somewhere we can stand to part with. (For me, it’s mostly duplicates. But still.)

  3. 3
    Cori says:

    I do what every graduate student does with just about every expense: mooch off my family! =D My mom is a big romance fan too, and while she generally leans more towards the inspirational and cheesy, our tastes coincide in enough places that I can always yoink a few out of her library when I’m at home.

    Also, yard sales are a MUST for any broke romance reader. One in three yardsales will likely have some romance novels going cheap, and you never know what you’re going to find. Sure, a lot of them may be awful, but at a quarter or a dime apiece, you can afford the risk. Same for the library’s used book sale. Go on the last day, get ‘em by the bagful!

  4. 4

    I exchange books with a friend in NY. Today it cost me $2.50 to mail her 4 paperbacks that I did not want to keep in an envelope. She’ll send me hers when she’s done. We write funny stuff on stickies on each cover as warnings/critiques. We share similar taste and e-mail when we’ve been book shopping to stop the other from duplicate buying. I also go to my local library at least once every 2 weeks. I’ve been making a super-serious effort to cut down on book-buying and it seems to be working.

  5. 5
    Sarah S says:

    There’s a lot of stuff online, for free. Try Bartleby.com, for starters, and Daniel Pinkwater has one of his manic YA comic oddities serialized online for free at: http://www.theyggyssey.com/

    Yay Books!


  6. 6
    Kaite says:

    If push comes to shove, my office has a book exchange thing going. Most of the stuff is pretty dry (lots of non-fiction, which I typically don’t bother reading) but someone, not me, has a serious Jaid Black addiction. Which, for some obscure reason, amuses me.

  7. 7
    Black Val says:

    Another option for limited budgets is places like Project Gutenberg.  The books may be old, but you can’t beat the price, when it’s free.  http://www.gutenberg.org/wiki/Main_Page

  8. 8
    TracyS says:

    I use the library a lot!!  I have a much loved independent UBS that I love also.

    Oh, and Paperbackswap.com. LURVE that place!

  9. 9
    Denise says:

    I always sign up for any contest that gives away free books. And I use my sister-in-law’s B&N;discount every time I go in. Plus, they usually screw up the coupons and end up giving me a little bit better discount than expected. Oftentimes I get an extra 5-10% off because they combine the coupon and book club membership incorrectly. I do have an addiction and spend about $75-100/month for books (even after discounts). I haven’t cut back yet but may have to soon if prices keep rising.

  10. 10
    MaryKate says:

    I’m a big fan of passing on books I’ve read. Sure, I have a keeper shelf. But I pass on a ton of books too. Also, many, many consignment shops, the Salvation Army, Goodwill have books for next to nothing. I’ve found some real gems there.

    And then, there’s when Sarah gives away books.

  11. 11
    Sara says:

    I’ve had good luck with thrift stores such as the Goodwill, Salvation Army, etc., especially if it’s a wealthier community that has readers of new releases who donate their castoffs. Or you’ll find people who got sick of looking at their backlist of a particular author and just donated them all. In short, you’ll find some great deals, and some stores only charge a quarter for paperbacks. Sweet!

  12. 12
    Cat Marsters says:

    Clearly, I’d prefer readers to buy new whenever possible—because then I get money from royalties and I can spend it on lovely books.  What goes around comes around, see: boosting the economy, one book at a time.  But yeah, sometimes—just sometimes—other things take precedence on the budget.  Boring stuff like food.  Cheap books are, regrettably, necessary.

    You forgot option #4 for when fuel is expensive (and oh my golly gosh, isn’t it!). Let someone else do the driving.  Save the money you’d spend on driving to your local bookstore and order your books online: someone will deliver them to you!

    I don’t think I’ve bought a single book from Amazon at retail price—whereas most of the brick-and-mortar shops I go to (some chains, some indies) pretty much just sell for the cover price, especially on paperbacks.  Also, you can shop around on Kelkoo or whatever and see who has offers on.

    Plus, Amazon has its affiliates program for earning credit to spend there.

    Oh, and since we were talking about His Stigness the other day, I thought I’d share JC’s intro for the first ep. of the new series.  “Some say that after making love, he bites the head off his partner, and that he’s had to give up binge-drinking now it’s £1.18 a litre.  All we know is, he’s called The Stig.”

  13. 13
    Randi says:

    Denise, I’m right there with you. I have two sins: shoes and books, with books wayyyyyyyyyyyyyy outbuying shoes. I probably spend more than $200/month on books; how much more I do not want to contemplate. Along with the other suggestions (reward memberships, yard sales, library, paperbookswap), Thrift stores likes St. Vincent De Paul and Salvation Army have been a bibliowetdream for me. Not in PA though; MN and MT specifically. But boy-howdy, did I score.

    I do have a goal to cut down on book buying (sorry authors-oh how I love to support thee..), and so am going to attempt the bookswap online deal. I have a slew of copies and books I didn’t like that I would like to get rid of.

  14. 14
    MoJo says:

    My hairdresser’s shop has a book exchange in a plastic bin by the door.  Take a book, leave a book.

  15. 15
    KimberlyD says:

    Most libraries can exchange books with other libraries in the county. So if you live near a small library, you can still get lots of books using the interlibrary loan system.

  16. 16
    CT says:

    I second paperbackswap.com!

    I haven’t yet made any attempts to curb my book-spending habits. In fact, I just bought a whole stack from B&N;this weekend. Shame!

  17. 17
    Rene says:

    The library is my friend!  Both to rent and for their used sale.  It’s not just finances, it’s also shelf space.  I need more walls! 

    I just cleaned out a whack of books and donated them to a) goodwill and b) to soldiers.  God knows LK Hamilton lost me a while back, maybe someone needs a little purple prose overseas.  Let someone else experience the fun of throwing whichever book loses it for them against the wall.

    And it’s not romance, but Shadow Unit is completely free (donate to the authors if you like it and can afford to, well worth it IMO) and extremely well-written suspense/ police procedural/ sci fi narrative.  Totally free, and they update a lot.

    And my mom and sister and I all lend books back and forth.

  18. 18
    Rene says:

    I’m not sure how I screwed up that link, but Shadow Unit is at:


  19. 19
    corrine says:

    My way to save money on my books: my job! Okay, not a viable option for everyone to run out and get a job at an international book wholesaler, but damn, the discounts are good! 40% off any book or book on CD (besides college texty stuff) and 20% off any entertainment product (CD or DVD). On my last paycheck of the year, my total employee purchases was higher than the amount I pay for a year of dental insurance. Extra bonus: They give us $25-30 at Christmas time for product.

    For OOP I hit up both Amazon.com used (well, I used to before the whole DAM/Reba Belle thing) or paperbackswap.com.

  20. 20
    snarkhunter says:

    Libraries (both the university library and the piddly local one), the awesome used bookstore in town, and trading with friends: this is how I *try* to get books.

    What do I usually wind up doing? Buying them new and skipping some other luxury I might want. Like going to the movies or out to dinner. I’m greedy and like to own my books.

    For one thing, my local public library is not great. I once described it to someone by saying, “They have about 5 books, and I’ve read them all.” Furthermore, they’re slow. I got so sick of waiting for The Unsung Hero that I bought it off of Amazon.

  21. 21
    Brandi says:

    Thrift stores are great. Books are cheap as chips—actually, a lot cheaper.

    Also keep an eye on library sales—they usually cough up all sorts of interesting things (snagged me a copy of the rather good Field Guide to Produce for $3 (it was a “premium” book so they charged a little more) and the money’s going to a good cause.

  22. 22
    Kalen Hughes says:

    So nice to see someone EXPLAIN the Zebra Deb program. I’ve actually seen reviews of my books that start out “With a price like this I figured the book couldn’t be any good, but OMG it is!” or “I can’t understand why the publisher wouldn’t stand behind this book and market it at the regular price.” Lots of readers don’t seem to *know* that it’s a special program.

    I’m both a book junkie and an independent bookstore junkie, so I still buy my books at the same little store I always have (I just drive a lot less!).

  23. 23
    Brandi says:

    Also, regarding libraries: check to see if they can get books from other branches for you, or what if any fees are levied on interlibrary loans. It’s certainly not instant gratification, but I’ve usually had requests filled within a couple of days.

  24. 24
    karmelrio says:

    someone, not me, has a serious Jaid Black addiction

    I don’t know that I’d want to know this much about most of my coworkers.

  25. 25
    Collette says:

    Now that I’m not working as a consultant (SAHM—WAY less money but the company is better), I’ve been using the public library a lot.  The Chicago public library system just got on the technological bandwagon and you may now reserve and renew books online.  It’s such a large library system that there are lots of possibilities.  And they will deliver the books (surprisingly quickly) to your local branch.  My new challenge is keeping my hold list stocked so I keep getting books delivered.  You can also download ebooks really easily.

    That said?  I still buy a lot of paper books.  As habits go, it’s better than crack.

  26. 26

    I love BookMooch.com—it’s a good place to trade for out-of-print category romances.

    I save considerable money on gas by not having a car.  But that is feasible because I live in the city.  Books are probably my highest monthly expense after rent and food, and sometimes more than food, depending on how good I’ve been about cooking for myself.

  27. 27
    Ijinx says:

    Friends with the same taste in books are a great thing. They can give you their tall-Highlander-books and you can give them your Viking-chieftain books, and it’s a win-win. Plus you can discuss them after you’ve read them. Funny enough, I found out that university libraries hoard all kinds of books, romance being one of them (ours does).

  28. 28
    Robinjn says:

    I’m using my library much more than I used to. We have the online reserve/renewal option and in fact that’s how I got to read Phyllida and the Brotherhood of Philander. I checked a few weeks ago and they already had it on order, so hey, presto!

    What I hate about the library are trying to read series books. I get sort of anal about reading books in order and of course you never get them that way at the library unless you have infinite patience, which I do not. So I still spend too much money at B&N;.

    But for me, the B&N;member discount is so worth it. I save far, far more than $25 a year. I get coupons all the freaking time and somehow they’ve managed to get me signed up on two different email accounts, so I get TWO coupons every time they send one out, and they both work!

    Further, you can use your discount to buy a slice of Cheesecake factory double godiva chocolate cheesecake. What more can I say.

  29. 29
    kelly says:

    dude, my library has an exchange program.  they had so many at one point the librarian was telling me to ‘take as many as you can carry!’  it was fantastic—new, returnable books and possible, ever-rotating possible keepers?  HOT DAMN.

    and then i moved to dc, went to school, am poor, and am subject to the dc library system, which while good, does not have paperback swap on location.  nooooooooooooo.

    please, the free pretties, i can has them?

  30. 30
    yarnho says:

    I’m part of the Border’s Rewards, and I love it – coupons every week, plus you get “Border’s Bucks” every so often, depending on how much you spend in the previous months. It’s usually enough to buy a paperback. Also, Borders is the only place around here that I can consistantly find Bitch magazine, and it has a pretty good selection of knitting mags :).

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