“Can I have your book?”

Jane Author shifts uncomfortably and wishes daggers upon the eyes of her acquaintance. “Uh, here’s where you can BUY it.”

Intern has a good post about acquaintances putting authors on the spot for a freebie book. As a writer and publisher, I’m familiar with the woe-is-me-I’d-love-to-read-your-book-but-I’m-saving-for-that-trip-to-Bermuda. I always have a stack of my author’s books in the trunk of my car because I do a lot of speaking at local libraries and bookstores and display them them to show off my authors’ brilliance and bitchen covers. I’ve had a number of people come up after my seminars and ask if they could have a book. One pushy woman had the temerity to insist that we “published it for pennies, so why not give a few away?” This is after I’ve already had a drawing where I did give away a couple free books.

Wha’? Is she barking mad? Of course, I don’t expect her to know that I’ve already “given away” hundreds of books to reviewers, media, publicists, but I would expect Madame DingbatEmptyWallet to appreciate that we’re in the business to SELL books. Like, for profit. That’s how we keep the beagle in designer tequila and our authors from storming the castle.

As Intern so aptly states, one wouldn’t ask a barber, all whistlely-like, “ssssay, where would I go for a shave?”expecting the barber to trip over himself begging to give Mr. Hairball a free shave.

Given the nature of how some people have devolved over the years, it’s now perfectly normal to want something for nothing – no matter how abhorrent this still-old-fashioned-gal finds the idea. Begging is plain rude. Expecting a handout is presumptuous. Authors, you don’t get a ton of freebie books – usually around 20-50-ish, right? – and you’re going to hand those puppies out to your nearest and dearest.

Over the years, authors have shared with me their various replies to Mr. or Ms. Handout-itis:

The worst:

Question: Can I have a free copy of your book? I’m hurting for money and can’t afford to buy it.

Answer: I noticed you have a brand new iPhone, you just got back from two weeks in Hawaii, and, ooo, nice diamond tennis bracelet. Bite me. Buy a copy like everyone else. [this is a good way to have people start saying nasty things about you.]


Question: Can I have a free copy of your book? I’m hurting for money and can’t afford to buy it.

Answer: Sure! Can I borrow your Mercedes for the week? I’m dying to go to Vegas and blow my advance on the slots. [I have to admit that it’s probably not much better than the first one, but I appreciate the symmetry and the author’s fast-charging cerebellum]

The best:

Question: Can I have a free copy of your book? I’m hurting for money and can’t afford to buy it.

Answer: Oh gosh, I’m so sorry, but I ran clean out of copies. But here’s where you may buy it. [this gives the idea that had the author still possessed freebies, she’d happily hand one over to Ms. Cheapiepants – which we all know is a steaming pile of yak dootie]

Lastly, don’t let anyone rude themselves out to you [yes, I’m creating new verbs as I type]. You worked insanely hard to get where you are, and you don’t owe anyone a free anything. Be prepared for the lop-headed boor who asks for a free copy because it’s a guar-an-tee that at some point, someone will.

Pinky swear.

15 Responses to “Can I have your book?”

  1. Relatives are the worst. They seem to expect freebies as a matter of course. I guess they don’t view the writing pursuit seriously when the writer is related to them.

  2. Oh, this is so true, David. Or co-workers. Since you still have a day job, they conclude that you’re not really a “serious writer” and, therefore, would be delighted to hand over a freebie. Meh.

  3. Dan Holloway says:

    YES!! Relatives, the people you imagine will buy your book whatever because they’re SOOO proud of you, they’re the people least likely to be first in the queue, and most likely to ask for handouts. I think David’s spot-on with the reasoning, too – I think they think “ah, it’s only such and such. They CAN’T be a real writer”

  4. NinjaFingers says:

    Well, IF I get 20-25 books, I already have a list of people who will get them.

    I think the ‘Sorry, I only got so many and I’m out’ answer is…the best. I’d never ask another writer for a free copy (although I wouldn’t turn one DOWN, either).

  5. Harry Markov says:

    I’d sent mine to reviewer contacts and create an extra publicity buzz. Hehe, the evil advantage of being a book reviewer and a writer undercover. I do have some people to hand books as a token of hearing me whine and conspire… eh, I mean aspire.

  6. AstonWest says:

    Funny…the Google ad is for createspace…”self-publish your book”


    I usually run contests, so I can just tell people to follow me online and eventually they might get one for free. In the meantime, they have to wade through me talking about my short stories that come out in publications and other such fun.

  7. Google ad? What Google ad?

  8. Wonderful information, warning and advice. Although I have not yet published a book, I am prepared for this from having recorded a self produced CD with my jazz combo. Rather than say I sunk my dough into it and would like to recoup before death, I would say my ‘label’ only permitted x number of freebies which they sent to radio and media.

    Still, this was a great reminder. And after all that one goes through to see that beautiful book published, any perks belong to the trusted core of support. That is to say, designer margaritas for the beagle et al!

  9. Webb says:

    This doens’t sound like a bad problem to have, does it? Anyway, you could always just send them to the library.

  10. Angie says:


    Alternate answer to Mr./Ms. Freebie-snatcher:

    “I’ll be glad to give ya a free book…just as soon as you pay my utility bill. For some reason, my provider just doesn’t wanna trade utilities for copies of my book! Isn’t that rude?” 😀

  11. You’re a-preachin’ to the choir, Angie. But I’m afraid it falls into “not the best idea” category. One of the many things I’ve learned over the years is that snark goes viral within nanoseconds, while nice-nice spreads like thick molasses.

  12. NinjaFingers says:

    Library is a great idea…if your local library is actually acquiring books. I’m not holding my breath on any of mine ending up there unless I donate them, and possibly not even then. Sigh. Libraries here seem to have very little priority. I understand that they’re broke, but…

  13. Pelotard says:

    How about “I’ve come to hand out books and kick ass… and I’m all out of books”?

    If I’m ever in that happy situation, I’ll probably give away any free copies I have in a matter of minutes, so the “I’m all out” reply would actually be the honest truth.

  14. Leslie says:

    I could not believe how many demands – not requests, actual DEMANDS – for freebies I received when my book came out. What was even more galling? Not a single person who made this request ever even followed up with a friendly Amazon review.

    In exasperation, I finally posted the following notice on my website:

    “Stop asking me for free books. Seriously. If I can’t depend on my friends and family to shell out a measly $12.95 for one copy of my book, how the hell can I expect total strangers to? Besides, it’s not like I have this flowering book tree growing in my back yard. I received from my publisher a very small number of copies, which I keep under lock and key in a filing cabinet in my office, to distribute for promotional purposes. You know what I use them for? PROMOTIONAL PURPOSES. You know who gets them? Reporters. Reviewers. Radio show hosts. Famous people with lots of influential friends. My hairdresser. In short – people who do stuff for me and/or make me look good. That’s it.”

    Haven’t gotten a freebie demand since.

  15. Thanks for the laughs this morning. Sure beat crying. I hope that some of these comments will come flooding back the next time I get ‘the question’.

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