Reading a bookIn the last three months, I’ve read sixteen books. Two were ARCs and one was an ebook I purchased. The other thirteen, I checked out from the library.

This makes me feel guilty. Not about using the library – libraries are pretty much the greatest thing on the planet. But the fact is, I’m an author and I hope to one day earning a living because people are buying my books. And I want very much to support other authors who share this goal. I want to buy their books. I want to own books.

But I can’t buy all the books I want to read. (Who can?) And then there’s the books I’m not sure whether I want to read. The library is particularly great in those cases – if I’m closing it after a few chapters, it’s nice to know I haven’t wasted my money.

And please don’t think I’m pulling the “I can’t afford it!” card. I’m a freelance writer and my husband is a freelance musician, so there’s that. But I buy overpriced coffee drinks and spend the extra dollar for organic eggs and spinach and own an iPhone and a Macbook – I budget for the stuff that’s important to me, basically. And books are important to me.

However, my to-read list is long. I really can’t buy them all.

So how do you decide which books to buy, and which to check out?

Buying as a “Reward”

One common practice I’ve heard about from fellow writers goes like this: check a book out from the library, read it, then buy it if you LOVED it. That’s definitely a great way to ensure that your bookshelf is stocked with awesome. Of course, just because you love a book doesn’t guarantee you’re going to read it again and again. So do you just buy the books you know are going to be repeat-reads?

Hardcover, Paperback, Ebook

Listed, obviously, in order of most to least expensive. Here’s another little mental battle I go through when I hear a book I’m curious about is having one of those temporary, $1.99 ebook sales. First, my instinct kicks in – cheaper than an americano! Buy it NOW! Then, the guilt – ugh, but the author gets so much less.

Before the existence of ebooks, I went through something similar with hardcovers. If a book came out I was desperate for, I had no problem shelling out the cash for the hardcover. But there were, and still are, plenty of titles that I want – but I could wait for the paperback. That can be a long wait, though…

The ARC Conundrum

ARCs are a source of consternation for me. Obviously, I love the concept – read the book before everyone else, and it’s free? Score! But again, that guilt sets in. Yes, I’ll review the book, do a giveaway to share it, and help spread the word. And I’ll tell myself that by doing so, I’m helping that author. But sometimes, when I watch the book community pass a few ARCs of a much-anticipated title around – posting reviews and tweets and promoting it all the while – I can’t help but think…that’s a LOT of readers who are not customers, but could have been.

I don’t mean this in any sort of accusatory way. ARCs exist for a reason – to create buzz. And buzz ideally leads to revenue. But man oh man…there are just so many ARCs floating around out there. I wonder about them sometimes.

I Want My Own Library

When I moved overseas in 2007, I sold almost all of my books. (I know. Ow.) I sold a whole lot of stuff, and it was nice – stuff ties you down. But books are different. A decade from now, I want to have shelves and shelves loaded with books.

I know I’m overthinking this. It’s really not so complicated. I’ll continue checking books out from the library, taking ARCs when they come, and buying books I really really want. But I’m curious to hear what you think…because if being a part of the online writing community has taught me anything, it’s that I’m not the only person who obsesses over things like this.

So what say you? What determines whether or not you buy a book?