Read BEFORE You Invite an Author (Or ask for donations of books . . . ):
1. Authors do not get free unlimited supplies of their books. Generally, an author will get anywhere between five and twenty-five free copies. That’s it, folks! After that, authors must buy their own books—though at a discounted rate. So event organizers, or teachers: when you are seeking “donations” for various causes, know that most authors will only donate based upon a family decision. The cost of the book(s) will be coming out of the author’s pocket.
2. The majority of authors make very little money. Surprised? Do the math. The basic contract for a novel is 10%. That’s $1.50 for a $15 novel. Generally, first or second print runs are a few thousand copies. For picture books, it’s worse! The 10% must be shared with the illustrator. (No one magically comes up with another 10% for the illustrator.) Thus, 5% of a $16 hard-cover picture book is only 80¢! So event organizers: most authors will not travel long distances for “the opportunity” to sell a few copies of their books—the price of gas would eat up any royalties made on sales. (The exception to this is bookstore signings or conferences when networking is of more importance than selling.)
3. To extend #1 a bit: unless an author is self-published (or published through a print-on-demand company, or a subsidized/vanity publisher), most authors cannot purchase author copies of their titles at a discount price and then turn around and sell them at the listed price—you can see that would cut out most of the profits made by the publishers. In fact, some contracts expressly forbid this . . . so most authors who are not self-published do not rent tables to be vendors at book fairs. Don’t expect them to self-sell their books. However, many authors ARE VERY HAPPY to appear and autograph books if the sponsoring agencies handle the book ordering and sales. (p.s.: I would also venture to guess that most mainstream authors do not have sales tax licenses for all the states to which they are invited.) And then think of the authors who are only published online. To rent a table and sit by a poster that tells readers to go online . . . not terribly useful.
4. Finally, most authors do not have the time to be online pen pals with you or your very talented students/children. We love children, we love schools and teachers, and parents who care. It’s just that there are not enough hours in the day to do it all—there are barely enough hours to be available to love our own children, spouses, and students. (Due to #2 above, some of us must hold down day jobs, as well—like teaching.)
I hope this short list has given you some insight into a few of the hard facts of a writer’s life. It’s not all rosy.