this great new book I just bought,” a familiar voice behind me said.
I spun around in my chair,
wondering who had let my plumber, Sam, into the house. “What are you
Sam grinned at me. “Just came
to show you this new gadget. Betcha you ain’t seen one of these yet.
They’re the hottest thing.” He held out a sparkling new Kindle from
“I hate to break the news, but
I’ve had one of those for a year.” I pointed to my desk.
Sam’s mouth fell open. “You
telling me I ain’t the first feller on the block to buy one of these?”
“That’s right. You ain’t.
I expected this to deflate Sam
a bit, but he just stood there, smiling at me with an expectant look on
his face. After a full minute, I said, “Well, um, it’s great that
you’ve joined the rest of humanity and have a Kindle, but I really need
to get some work—”
Sam held his Kindle and a USB
cable out to me. “Thought you’d never get the point. Just plug it in
with this here cable.”
“Plug it . . . in?” I stared at
him. “You want me to plug your Kindle into my computer?”
“Well, a course. How else you
going to give them to me? Case you didn’t notice, cell phone service
sucks right here where you live.”
“Give what to you?” I usually
understand Sam perfectly, but this time he had me mystified.
“Yer books. That’s what I
bought this thing for, ain’t it? To put books on?”
I forced a short laugh. “Sam,
just log on to Amazon and buy my books there. Do it at your own house
and Amazon will download the books wirelessly to your Kindle. It
couldn’t be simpler.”
“Well sure it could be simpler.
You lost me there when you started yapping about buying
yer books on Amazon. I already bought this Kindle thing here. So now I
want the books loaded on. Don’t go complifying things on me.”
I stared at him. “You do
realize that you still need to buy e-books, don’t
you? They don’t just magically appear on your Kindle. You know that,
Sam held up both hands. “Now
you just hold on there. What kind of a ninny do you take me for? I
bought this thing with good money that I earned the old-fashioned way—”
“By overcharging your
customers,” I said.
“—and now you want me to go
paying more money to put books on it? That ain’t
fair. You got any idea how much this thing costs?”
“Yes, I own a Kindle, remember?
Now if you don’t mind, I’ve got work to do.” I stood up and tried to
guide Sam toward the door, which is a little bit like a rowboat trying
to guide an aircraft carrier, since Sam is about three hundred pounds
of solid plumber.
Sam didn’t move, but his face
had turned red. “Now you just wait one second. I ain’t going to let you
cheat me outta my free books.”
“I’m not trying to cheat you
out of anything. But books aren’t free.”
“Sure they is. Ain’t you been
on Amazon lately? Lotsa books are free on Kindle. Tons of ’em. A guy
won’t never need to buy books again. Ain’t that the point of the
Kindle? Kinda like a buffet line—you pay once and then you get all you
“No, that is not the point!” I
shouted, suddenly furious. “How do you think authors are going to get
paid if our books are free?”
“Now don’t go getting all hot
at me. All you big-shot authors been getting rich fer years, charging
twenty, thirty dollars fer yer books, and now you don’t want to give
nothing back. That ain’t right.”
“Sam, how much do you think an
author earns for each book that gets sold?”
Sam’s eyebrows knotted as he
concentrated. “Well, say a book goes fer twenty bucks in the store.
Then taking out gas money fer the truck driver and the cost of paper
for the feller that printed it . . . I guess you probably get about
eighteen, maybe nineteen dollars. Right?”
“Try a dollar. Or maybe a
Sam shook his head with the
expression of a man who’s been offered a fantastic deal on the Golden
Gate Bridge. “I wasn’t born yesterday. What are you trying to pull on
me? That’s like me putting in a hunnert-dollar faucet and then only
charging five bucks to do the install. It don’t work that way.”
works that way in publishing.”
Sam scowled at me. “What idiot
would sign that kinda deal? You authors is supposed to be smarties, all
of you. Although some of you ain’t got the sense God gave a cockroach.”
He gave me a
look, then caught himself. “Not trying to be
offensible, but that’s just the truth. Even if you ain’t the shiniest
nail in the outhouse, there’s gotta be some authors out there who know
better’n to sign a deal like that.”
For a second, I wanted to punch
Sam in the face. I took a deep breath and counted to ten.
That didn’t help, so I kept
counting. The higher I counted, the madder I got.
When I reached fifty, Sam
handed me his Kindle. “Now, time’s wasting away, and I got faucets to
put in, at a hunnert-per, so if you don’t mind, I’ll take my books and
get on the road.”
I made an instant decision, one
I thought I might live to regret. But sometimes an author’s got to do
what he’s got to do. “You’ve got the wrong cable,” I said. “Come with
me, I’ve got just the thing.” I strode out of my office, across my
dining room, and out onto the deck.
Sam trotted after me. “Now yer
talking. I thought that cable looked kinda flimsy. Whaddaya use for
I didn’t say a word but just
kept walking to my garage.
Sam followed along beside me.
“And hey, sorry fer that thing I said about authors being stupid. Now
if any of you was actually dumb enough to only take a dollar fer yer
books, that’d be stupid, but ain’t nobody that thickheaded, right?”
I pointed to the switch over by
the freezer. “Sam, can you hit that switch and open the door and give
me a little light? It’s dark in here.”
Sam scurried over to the garage
I quietly set his Kindle down
on the hard concrete floor.
He punched the button with his
enormous thumb and then turned to grin back at me.
I picked up a case of unsold
copies of my first book, long out of print. “Here’s how we download
free copies to the Kindle.” I raised the box high overhead and slammed
it down on the small plastic device. The box split open and dozens of
copies of my book spilled out on the floor.
Sam screeched and dived onto
the pile, scooping away books, gibbering, and finally emerging with a
broken mass of plastic. “I . . . you . . . that ain’t right!” he
I picked up a copy of my book
and heaved it out the door. “A buck a book ain’t right,” I shouted. I
slung another one after it. “Buying unsold copies that sit in the
garage ain’t right.” I grabbed Sam’s shattered Kindle out of his hands
and threw it out on the driveway. “Free e-books ain’t right.”
“Okay, okay!” Sam stood up and
dusted off his hands. “You made yer point. But if it ain’t right, then
why is all them publishers so keen to give away free e-books?”
He stalked out of my garage
grumbling and climbed into his truck. He started the engine, and then
leaned out of his window to yell at me.
“It ain’t right fer you
big-shot authors to teach customers that e-books is free unless you