I’ll admit it: I have a tendency to overspend on books. I buy books impulsively after reading a recommendation on Instagram or seeing it on a listicle of new books. This led to me reading some great books in 2018 from a variety of small presses, but it also keeps filling up my shelves with books that I’m not committed to reading anytime soon. I’m not going so far as to drastically KonMari my book collection, but I am rethinking my book buying habits this year—both because shelf space is low and because freelancing full time doesn’t leave a lot of wiggle room in the budget.
My goal is to buy books more intentionally while still allowing myself to read widely, buy new releases, and stay up-to-date on the book market. Here’s how I’m buying books in 2019.
I’m using the Goodreads to-read list.
I’ve used to-read lists in the past on other platforms: I would save books to a TBR collection on Instagram or add them to my Amazon wishlist. But the main way that I would mark a book as to-read was to just buy a copy of it, put it on my shelf, and then keep thinking “Oh I want to read that!” instead of actually reading it. This is a bad habit for someone with a limited budget.
Instead of doing this, I’m leaning on the Goodreads to-read list function so that I have a definite list of books I’m interested in. I’ve never used the to-read list before, but seeing as I use Goodreads to track the books I have read, it makes sense to consolidate all my reading lists on one platform. Using Goodreads also functions as a way to incentivize myself to finish the book I’m currently reading so that I can go buy a new book to read.
I’m browsing more.
In 2019, I want to go to indie bookstores more often just to browse. These stores provide the best browsing experience. I’m always curious when I see a book on the front table that I haven’t heard of, because it means that a bookseller read it, liked it, and gave it that visibility. And I’ve spent hours just reading the recommendations that booksellers write about books in the store. As a reader, these recommendations help me figure out what to read. As an editor and writer, these recommendations help me better understand which books and authors are like others in their category—and developing a sense of the publishing landscape in this way is very helpful.
By being in bookstores more and browsing more frequently, I’ll be less likely to make impulse buys because I know I’ll be returning soon and the book will still be there. I’ll also be able to explore more book options and recommendations rather than just walking in to buy a book I’ve already decided I’m going to buy.
I’m giving myself a budget.
I tried giving myself a monthly budget to spend on books right after graduating from college, but it didn’t worked. Now that I’m freelancing, I need to be more diligent about what I’m spending money on. But that doesn’t mean cutting out books entirely. In fact, the monthly budget I set for books ($50) seems high to me. But it’s not that high when you consider that my job is editing and that I’m a writer, and the best way to improve both editing and writing is by reading, reading, reading. (Or when you consider that a new hardcover is around $27.)
I’m only buying a book if I’m going to read it right away.
I know that only buying a book if I’m going to read it immediately probably won’t last long, but I’ll try. One reason I’m attempting this strategy is because it encourages me to read more. I’m trying to form better habits with screen time and read before bed each night. Carving out this reading time means I’m able to read a book at a steadier pace and finish it quicker, and then I get to reward myself when I finish it by buying a book I want to read next.
This strategy also forces me to be more intentional about what books I’m buying. If I know that I’m not going to read a particular book anytime soon, then I need to wait to buy it until I’m ready to read it. For example, I still haven’t bought a copy of Dreyer’s English because it hasn’t been the right time to read it, but I know that I will absolutely buy that book in the next few months when I’m ready to sit down and enjoy it.
I’m not buying from Amazon.
I didn’t buy from Amazon throughout most of 2018; instead, I’m buying from almost anywhere else. I’m supporting local indie bookstores. I’m in a city that has fantastic indie bookstores (shoutout to Left Bank Books and Subterranean Books!), and their selection is always spot-on. If they don’t have a book I want, it’s easy enough to order it from them online. Yes, it’s less convenient than two-day Prime shipping, but indie bookstores make up for it in other ways: a curated selection, a better browsing experience, getting to know the booksellers, and more.
As a writer, it’s also in the back of my mind that making connections with local bookstores is good in case I ever manage to write and publish a book. That’s a bit Slytherin of me, but it’s a relevant factor in supporting from local bookstores. Amazon isn’t going to host an event and tell people about your book (unless you pay for ads), but local booksellers will.
I also buy books from Barnes & Noble. I don’t want to find out how the publishing industry would be affected if B&N goes under, so I don’t mind throwing money at it occasionally. And rather than turn to Amazon for discounted new books, I can use my B&N membership and coupon codes to get more books for my budget.
I also buy books from Book Depository if the book is out in the United Kingdom but not in the US. I have only recently learned it’s owned by Amazon (literally as I write this blog post), and I’m so disappointed and am not quite ready to sort out the ethics of supporting an Amazon-owned company.
Above: Supporting Left Bank Books in February *and* buying a book that I’m actually reading!
In 2019, I hope to browse indie bookstores more often and keep a more consistent to-read list on Goodreads so that I know exactly what I want to read. By putting constraints on my book buying habits, I want to think more deeply about which books I want to buy and read and what companies I’m supporting when I buy books. What are your book buying habits? Are you trying to change them? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.