“Can I have your book?”

June 15, 2010

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.]

Better:

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.


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