Saturday, April 28, 2007

Can I have one?

This has come up many times in my life as an author and a few times here in the comments on this blog: people asking authors for (free) copies of their books.

I always feel awkward when this happens: saying "I have to buy the books, just like you" is not a sentence that comes easily. In fact I don't think I have ever said it. But the fact is that authors usually get ten (10) free copies and that's it.

If a stranger asks in email I can explain fairly person it's harder and if someone I know slightly offers to BUY a book from me (me, personally) I feel even more awkward! What I usually do in that case is give them one and ask them to buy one and give it to a school or a child they know...wimpy, I know! What do other people say?

My bravest (or rudest) moment in these situations: I remember when Blow Out the Moon first came out, the guy who owned the local grocery store asked me (several times, I might add) for a copy.....the question really annoyed me and I wondered what he would say if I asked for a free chicken or something. Needless to say I never did - though once when I did a (free) visit at a library, a private library for VERY RICH PEOPLE, and a child asked her mother to buy a book and the mother said no, I did say that the book cost less than a manicure.

I wish I could say that this rich mother with perfect nails instantly saw the error of her ways and bought a book on the spot....and, okay, fine, there are times in my life when I'd rather have a manicure than a book. But I'd never go into a nail salon and ask for a free manicure. Why do people think it's okay to ask authors for free books? Are books THAT worthless to the world at large?

PS The illustration is from the delightful THIS IS JUST TO SAY by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski and reviewed here by Elaine and on my personal blog, too.


Barbara O'Connor said...

I love this topic! A pet peeve of authors everywhere, I'm sure. It's so infuriating that people think we have closets piled high with free copies. AND, why the heck don't people get that they should BUY a friggin' copy as a show of support! Grumble grumble grumble (by the way - I think you SHOULD ask for a free chicken.)

Anonymous said...

When I get a request I usually come right out and explain how copies for authors work. I think the people who ask for free copies sincerely believe we have lots to give out and would never imagine asking if they knew we only got 10 and after that we pay for them, so I think it is important to inform them and I do. In any case, it works. I start with something like "you know, everyone always thinks I have lots of free copies to give out!" to keep things nonpersonal.

In "Letters to a Young Poet" Rilke addresses this topic. That little book really does cover the bases! He wrote when asked for books that he wishes he could give them away freely but: "my books, as soon as they are published, no longer belong to me"

J. L. Bell said...

My first boss in publishing, who was also a novelist, gave me this useful line:

"If I can't ask my dear family and friends to buy my book at full price, whom can I ask?"

Anonymous said...

HA! I haven't even had this situation, yet, and already I get asked this question in jest. ("When you get published, are we going to get free books?")

Of course, it's easier to answer in jest, too.

"Are you kidding me? When I get published, I'm planning to count my friends and then count my sales, and say, 'Okay, you guys. Who didn't buy one??'"

That usually gets a hearty laugh. (And they get the point.)

Hm. That's kind of sad. Maybe I'll sign this comment as anonymous.