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Ask the Book Doctor

About Negotiating Discounts, Selling on Amazon, and Organizing a Book

Q: The marketing director at a chain of national stores wants to carry my book but has mentioned wanting a fifty percent discount off the retail price. Do you think this is reasonable? She says fifty percent is average.

A: In the world of negotiation, the average doesn’t matter. What matters is that the other person has revealed a figure first, so you can now work that figure to your advantage. You know the store is willing to buy at a fifty percent discount. Next you need to see how negotiable that figure is. Personally, I’d tell the marketing director I usually give a thirty percent discount to stores. If she balks, you can compromise at forty, and you’ll both be happy that you both gave a little. If the marketing director will not budge off the fifty percent discount, I trust you have built in enough profit to handle that deep a discount.

Q: Would you advise me to sell my book on Amazon? Amazon takes a large (fifty-five percent) discount, I understand.

A: Only you can decide, once you know the facts. Yes, Amazon takes a large discount, but so does every other bookseller known to man, although other booksellers may take less. Shoppers use for a variety of reasons, including the ease in finding books, the ease of delivery, and the sometimes discount prices.

Personally, I’m distressed that Amazon offers, on the same page, used copies at a deeper discount, and the author gets no royalties on used copies. Amazon may sell more of your books, but you make less per book, and if shoppers buy a used version, you get nothing at all.

It’s a tossup, and it depends on what you want. Amazon takes a deep discount, but Amazon sells more books than any other single outlet. If profit is your only motive, perhaps Amazon is not the best outlet, but if getting your book out to the public is more important than profit, Amazon is a good outlet.

Q: I have many letters written by my family between the 1930s and 1950s. Many of these letters were written during WWII, including letters to and from my two uncles who fought in Europe. One of these uncles was taken prisoner of war by Germans in Italy. Some of these letters were written from prison. I have many letters from my grandmother that give day-to-day life on an East-Texan farm. My family was poor but hard-working people. I want to write a book based on these letters, but I do not know where to start. Help! Is it even possible?

A: It’s very possible, but without seeing the material, it would be hard to say where to start, and as you must be realizing, you can organize the material in many ways. You might think chronologically first and see if that works, filling in background information between each one with the history of the era in which the letters were written. You may also choose particular people first, concentrating on their correspondence back and forth. Each chapter could focus on correspondence between separate couples. You could also organize it by subject matter, but I think that way might be the least effective.

The biggest thing, though, is simply to start. Don’t worry too much about whether what you produce will be the final version; it probably won’t. As you work, though, your ideas will gel, and the book will quite possibly all come together organically in its best form. Don’t expect it to be perfect right off the bat. Just begin!

Bobbie Christmas, book doctor, author of Write In Style (Union Square Publishing), and owner of Zebra Communications, will answer your questions, too. Send them to Read more “Ask the Book Doctor” questions and answers at



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