As vaccination rates are rising and folks are preparing again for in-person large-scale festivals, conventions, conferences, and symposia, I am starting to hear questions about how to sell books at a book table at one of these events.
There are several important things to consider, but here's one question from a person who just discovered that the festival host isn't offering till services (cashiers and cash registers) for authors who are selling their own books. This author asks,
...if I set a price of $10 for one of my books, if I understand you correctly, I have to calculate the sales tax on a $10 book and charge the new amount to the customer, correct? I handle giving out change, correct? I don’t have a cash register or anything. Do I report the total amount earned at the end of the day in sales tax on my taxes or something? Again, I’m sorry. I’m just a little confused and want to be prepared...
My rule of thumb here: "Never charge tax when selling books in person for cash. Take their cash and pay the tax out of it yourself." If you feel this small transaction cost erodes too much of the revenue, just raise your price by a whole dollar or two. The only time it's worthwhile to add sales tax to the price the buyer is paying is when you're using Square or QuickBooks Payments to take a credit or debit card payment on the spot, and you can do it automatically without pausing, thinking, fussing.
Fiddling with dimes, nickels, and pennies when someone just handed you cash for your book wastes their time and puts off the folks in line behind them. And at a book table, time is extremely limited. Even if you have your own booth and plan to sit there all day, the event will be over before you know it, and you will regret having spent any significant amount of time counting out coins. Be ready to make change for a $20 bill, of course, but only in whole dollars. Keep it quick and easy, for your sake and for theirs.
The only time it is crucial for a business to add sales tax on top of a purchase price is when it is handling tens of thousands of transactions with small profit margins. When you're selling just five (or even fifty) books at a booth or book table, don't fuss with sales tax. It's too much bother for too little benefit.
If a customer asks you why you aren't charging sales tax, tell them "Don't worry about it. I'll pay your tax." If such a person cared enough to ask, you'll have made their day. (And you do need to pay it.)
At any public event like that, enjoying the people around you is far more important than nickels and dimes. It's better to make your future fans happy than to make change for them.