Thursday, May 15, 2008

Money for Nothing

by G.M. Malliet

An author with a book due out begins to divide the world into two categories of people.

The first category will say, when you tell them about your book, "That's great! When and where can I buy it?" One friend of mine was actually sensitive enough to ask, "Where should I buy it so you get the bigger royalty? Online or in the stores?" These people are going straight to author's heaven.

The second category of person (and this is rare, fortunately) will say, when you tell them you have a book coming out: "That's great! When do I get my free copy?" While you are tempted to think they're kidding - they must be kidding - they're not.

Now, think about it. Would you ask me to paint your house for free? Alter your jacket? Wash your dog? But writing a book also involves actual labor, possibly spanning many years.

I'm still working on a snappy comeback to this. After all, I think this request for a free book has everything to do with ignorance of the writing biz and nothing to do with greed. I think the request is even meant to be flattering ("I am curious to read your book, just not curious enough to pay for it" may be the subtext). But the fact is, I would rather take $14 out of my purse and set fire to it than give my work away - to treat it as something of no value.

The belief that authors receive all the free copies of their books they want may play into this. But MI authors get only ten copies of their books, and mine are long since ear-marked for people who, like, saved me from drowning. I got ONE free copy from the publisher of an anthology in which my short story appeared.

It's a simple equation: Books cost money. Selling books is how authors pay the bills. Please don't ever ask an author for a free copy of his/her book.

And don't even think about asking to borrow the book so you can read it.

Thank you. The rant has ended; go in peace.


Paul Lamb said...

Where do you categorize the people who are eager to go to the library to check out your book? They bought it indirectly with their tax dollars, but in a sense they are also getting it for free.

Mark Terry said...

I'm with Paul on this.

Also, you're right. Most people seem to think the author gets the books for free. What GM didn't say is, we then have to buy any additional copies and typically our discount is identical to the one the bookstores get.

Joe Moore said...

I think someone requesting a book for free comes mainly from ignorance. Most of us have either painted our house or at least watched someone do it. The time and effort are obvious as is the value. But for those who have never written a book, it is a mysterious activity, perhaps even a black art. And the fact that an author gets published must mean instant stardom and wealth. But I’ve never hesitated to give away copies of my books when I feel strongly that doing so will build new readership.

Terri Thayer said...

I had a snappy comeback I was quite proud of. But to a different comment.

A "friend" said she was sooooo busy, so busy she didn't know if she'd have time to read my book. I told her she didn't have to read it, she just had to BUY it.

I tell that story all the time and it gets the point across: I need you to purchase da book. Feel free to use it.

I also tell my fans if they want to see more books of mine, they need to let the marketplace know. Money talks.

G.M. Malliet said...

Paul - I'd actually be flattered if someone checked my book out of the library. At least at my library, there's a certain amount of hassle involved. I'm usually put on a wait list for whatever I want; then I have to go pick it up and remember to return it.

I didn't mean to lay so much emphasis on the money aspect. It's more that writers don't get no respect. I'd be willing to bet even Stephen King has been asked for free copies of his books. It's just the weird nature of the business, as Joe described.

Mark - One other thing most people aren't aware of is that when an author buys copies from his/her publisher, those copies don't count as sales. And sales figures are what the publisher looks at in deciding whether to keep a series alive.

Terri - Great story, great comeback.

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

What really kills me is that the people asking for a free copy aren't even close to me. They are barely acquaintances! My family and friends all buy their copies and wouldn't even consider asking for a freebie.

I give away a lot of free copies to raffles, charity auctions, etc., but these do have a return of some kind down the road, especially in publicity. And I don't mind people going to the library to get my books at all. Libraries buy LOTS of my books and not everyone can afford to buy books.

Recently, someone who should have known better asked me, not for one free book, but for a free copy of all three that are out. I told him I'd be "handing out free books to celebrate my first million dollars, so stick around and get in line."

But I think the most ballsy thing that's happened has been the person who wrote and asked me for a copy of my latest Odelia Grey manuscript "because she wanted to read it before anyone else."

People never cease to surprise and astound me.

Nina Wright said...

Like Joe, Sue Ann and others, I give away books--maybe more than I should--as incentives and thank-you's. That being said, after publishing six novels, I find myself feeling annoyed when friends who got a free copy once *expect* a free copy again. And again. Especially when I know they could easily afford to buy something and get change for a twenty.

Rant continues: Nobody is offering to cut my hair, do my taxes, or bring me flowers for free. I love all my friends, and a few are wildly supportive of my work. God bless 'em! As for the rest, they swear they're fans. But fans prove their fandom by actually supporting--as in spending money--for someone's work.

Ahhhhhh. I feel so much better now.... ;<)

Keith Raffel said...

Gosh, Sue Ann, why didn't you tell the person who wanted to see the manuscript that your agent required you to charge $100 for "first looks."

Bill Cameron said...

My neighbor across the street asked about which library it was at. I told him. I grew up on libraries, and I'm not about to start resenting them now.

Mark Terry said...

Well, as I told some of my friends...

Buy my book! Buy it for your friends. Buy it for your relatives! So what if they don't read! They can use them as drink coasters. Everyone needs drink coasters.

Come to think of it, this particular component of my marketing plan didn't work any better or worse than any other component of my marketing plan.

My agent tells me my next royalty check is $11!


Felicia Donovan said...

Joe nailed it when he said that general ignorance has people thinking writing a book is a "black art."

This has been one of my biggest frustrations with people I know who think I just sit around for a weekend or two and produce a book. I've said it before and I'll say it again - this "black art" involves at least 20 hours of work a week (usually much more) on top of my 40+ hour "day" job. It is my second job and should be taken just as seriously as if I was going to pull a second shift somewhere, but try to convince people who have no idea what is involved in the writing and marketing process that you're really "going back to work" as soon as you get home.

As for libraries, they have proven to be an invaluable source of readers and I juse love them. And I'm not just saying that because I'm a Library Trustee.

G.M. Malliet said...

Me again. I am told that books purchased by the author from the publisher do count as sales.

As to donating books, that's different! In a good cause I'll probably be donating lots of copies. An individual angling for a freebie is not a good cause, in my book. Excuse the pun.

Kim Smith said...

*bowing* Thank you SO much for this honest post. You said it so much better than I!

jbstanley said...

So G.M....can I have a free book? I love the cover and I could write a nice blurb for you...

After all. I'm a writer. I'm too poor to buy books. Thank God for libraries and the dumpster behind B&N (where I can have my pick of mass market titles with their covers ripped off).