acquaintances don't let acquaintances be awkward about free books

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!"

or

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.

Comments

  1. I've never asked an accountant friend to do my taxes for free. I have, however, bought books penned by friends that I would not have otherwise read on a bet.

    Not cool. Not cool at all. Even if you are strapped for cash checking it out at the library and telling said friend how much you loved it is okay. Unless the author is an asshat they will totally get that and be glad you took the time to read it.

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  2. Asking for a free copy is pretty tawdry if there isn't some likelyhood that one would be in the offing anyway. I sometimes get no more than six HBs of my picture books, and if I have any spare I tell people I'm saving them as birthday presents for kids. And I am.

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  3. I think another great thing to do is offer to read and review it, but only if you truly enjoy it and can leave an honest positive review. Those reviews go a long way and for her might be worth more than the cost of a copy.

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  4. "This works best when you are a high school or college student and your acquaintance is significantly older than you."

    Speaking from experience there? :P

    I agree--it's cheap to expect acquaintances to give you a copy of their book. When my friends come out with a new novel, I usually buy it, or borrow from a friend to decide whether I like it enough to support them by buying it. For Dan Well's recent book, I Am Not a Serial Killer, I borrowed the UK copy from a friend, loved it, didn't have enough money at a con to buy it from him then, but told him I'd buy it when it came out in the US.

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  5. Your acquaintance can do a review for Amazon or any other electronic avenues she has in the cybershere. Let's support our authors and buy the book (or take it out of the library).

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  6. I know this scenario, and I don't have a book published yet. I'm practicing no! I'm asked all the time to do readings for free. I'm expected to know everything. There's writing and then there's sales. I can live in a tent or feed my family in a house.

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  7. Another great thing to do would be to go to your local library and request that they purchase the book. My library actually listens to such requests.

    Also -- keep in mind that the cost of a hardcover may be steep but there will be a huge payoff in friendship and writerly gratitude if you purchase the book and then ask your friend to sign it.

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  8. I doubt I'd have any copies for "acquaintances", unless those acquaintances were leading book clubs or married to buyers for chains or something. I'll have a couple for my closest friends and a couple for marketing type purposes. As you said, author copies are pretty scarce.

    If I had an acquaintance who was publishing the book, I'd buy the book. Even if i knew it wasn't my genre, and feared I'd never complete it, I would be the first to support the author. I'd brobably ask for an Arc though (even if only to borrow), so I could plaster reviews everywhere before the book's release.

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  9. If you can't afford to buy it but still want to support the author, go to your local library and check out the book. If they don't have it, put in a request for it, which means the library may buy it. And chat it up to the librarian in question, especially if the author is local--it could mean an invitation for the author to speak, which can involve an honorarium and/or selling more books. The author is happy, the library is happy, and you've just generated some seriously good karma for yourself. Possibly enough to score a copy of the author's next book. ;)

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  10. I think the average Joe actually does not realize that authors don't get unlimited free copies for life. It is worth educating them.

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  11. Hunh. I work with computers, and everyone assumes that I'll help them for free with their computer and networking problems. And I'm not alone in that.

    But back to books… as another alternative, they could buy the e-book for about half of the hardcover price.

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  12. I think if you're close enough to the author to feel awkward about not reading it, you're close enough to cough up the 10-15 bucks for their book. That's about the same as buying them a celebratory drink (if you live in NYC), which most people wouldn't think twice about. It's amazing how cheap some people are.

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  13. Advice to authors on what to say when someone requests a free book:

    "Oh, you know, I haven't had time to see if the library has a copy yet. It's so great you want to check out where the librarians have it shelved, let me know, OK? If you can't find it on the shelves, you do know to request if they have it, right? That will be awesome. Happy reading!"

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  14. Ask your local librarian to purchase a copy for the library. They're especially happy to comply if you can arrange to have the library's copy signed by your acquaintance, or if you can arrange for your acquaintance to pay the library a friendly visit. That way your writerly acquaintance can promote his/her book, and you can read the book for free when it arrives at your library. It's a win/win situation.

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  15. This is definitely one of those things where publishing reality comes to the average person.

    Still, I admit I was like that once, but with the music industry. I thought that since I'd helped a band with everything from hauling amps to recording demos to a place to sleep, I'd get a free copy of their CD when they got signed.

    But it's just like publishing, only that the free copies get divided between all the members of the band, and those go straight to their folks.

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  16. If you can't afford the book, you can help your author friend out by asking your library to order it.

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  17. Every author should donate a copy of her book to her local library. Solves all problems.

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  18. If it's really a friend and you want to read it, buy the book. My friend had a book published and offered me a freebie, but I bought more copies and gave them out to people. If you don't care to own it, then get it from the library and tell them how good it is.

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  19. Hard not to look like a cheapskate. I always fall back on the fact that I used to be a book reviewer and still do the odd feature, so most people figure it's worth giving me one. Sometimes I'll make a point of buying it, though, if it's a friend ... unless that friend gives me a free copy, of course.

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  20. Hey, Intern. Would it be possible to get, like...ahem...you know... a free copy of your book? Signed, of course.

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  21. I think I'd be torn between saying something rude and saying something awkward. Knowing me, it'll probably be one or the other. I'll push for awkward, I guess. :)

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  22. I just read in my most recent contract that I will get five print books for my own use. Then I can buy them at a discount.
    Hey, I'm down with that. The publisher needs to make money, too, after all. Times are, you know, sucky right now.
    :)
    G.

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