A few days ago, INTERN got an e-mail from a reader who had a question about the etiquette of asking recently-published acquaintances for a free copy of their book. This reader has a family friend whose first book has just come out in (oh, snap!) hardcover. "Is it cool," inquired the reader, "to just ask her for a copy? Or would that be awkward?"
Good question. Really good question. Question to which there are many possible answers.
Possible answer #1:
If you were a recently-published author, which of the following would you rather hear from a family friend:
a) "I bought your book at the local independent bookstore and simply devoured it, dah-ling!"
b) "Soooooo, where can I get a copy of your book?" (eyes stack of review copies on author-acquaintance's desk meaningfully**).
Not only does answer (a) knock a few dollars off the advance your family friend is trying to earn out, but it reassures her that you are actually interested in the book as a book and don't just want a copy as a novelty because you happen to know her—a novelty that may well go unread.
However, as per INTERN's previous post, new books are freaking expensive. The situation is made more awkward by the fact that many non-writerly/publishy people assume that authors get unlimited free copies of their books, and can therefore dispense them like Pez to anyone who's heard about the book (landlord, distant relatives, former students/teachers, etc). In fact, authors get a limited number of copies (sometimes as few as twenty-ish) and need to give them out (nay, deploy them!) strategically.
So what to do if you really want to read your acquaintance's book but can't afford to buy it?
Ask to borrow a copy. Read it right away, and when you return it, tell your acquaintance about all the fabulous people you recommended it to who are at this very moment blowing up Amazon with orders. Another thing you could do is ask your acquaintance to sell you a copy at cost (most publishers let authors buy cases of their own books at 50% off the cover price). Another thing you could do is say you're broke but very interested in the book and ask for a free copy***. Another thing you could do is wait and see if your acquaintance offers you a free copy of her own accord.
There are many options, and none of them need to include terrible awkwardness.
**A surprising number of people have asked INTERN this question since her book was published, and they always act surprised when she tells them they can find it in, you know, bookstores. Why is this surprising? If INTERN were a barber, would people look at her all skeezy-eyed and ask, "Soooooo, where can I get my beard trimmed?" At the barber shop of course!
***This works best when you are a highschool or college student and your acquaintance is significantly older than you.