A few days ago I posted a (blurry) photograph (taken on my phone) to Twitter and Facebook. It showed an open carton of books, specifically of CHANCE OF A GHOST, the Haunted Guesthouse mystery by E.J. Copperman which will publish on Feb. 5. The points I was trying to make were: 1. It's fun for an author to open that box of promotional copies and 2. You should definitely consider buying a copy of said book when it publishes.
On February 5.
Immediately, the emails asking for free books began.
Now, don't get me wrong: I expected the requests; this is not my first book. And I'm not trying to sound ungrateful to the readers who made it possible for a fourth installment of the Haunted Guesthouse series even to exist. I am nothing but grateful to anyone who has ever read anything I've written (except for that wiseguy who used to look over my shoulder during social studies class in sixth grade, but that's an entirely different story).
But what's interesting when you make it known that you've received the promotional copies--which are included in a publishing contract, by the way--the requests for free books start up. And while I certainly understand the impulse to ask for something when it seems the author has an unlimited supply of his/her own work, I still find it interesting that people ask.
Three weeks from tomorrow, CHANCE OF A GHOST will appear on bookshelves all over the country (unless something goes horribly wrong). The ebook version will be available from any number of online vendors. Those who don't want to spend $7.99 or thereabouts on the book might--or might now--be able to find it in the local library. It's not like it's going to be that hard to find one if you really want it.
But the requests come in. Most of them, as I said, are very polite and understandable: "You have so many copies; could you please send me one?" Others have a rather demanding tone to them that seems just a touch bizarre: "After all, I've read all your other books."
I completely appreciate those who read my books. I would like to go to each of their homes and thank them personally. I totally get that without readers, authors would have to actually work for a living.
But if you have your plumber's email address, do you ask him or her to come fix your leaky pipe for nothing because you've always called when you had leaky pipes in the past? Do you expect your doctor not to charge for your annual checkup because you paid for the one last year?
Just because a writer can't agree to every request for a free copy of his/her work does not mean that writer is a nasty, bitter, pennypinching ogre. We're on limited budgets--in many cases, really limited--and giving out free books when it's not for the intended purpose (promotion of the title) means two things are happening that don't help the cause: One sale that might have been made will not happen, and the author has to pay to send out the book. Also, a copy that would be used for promotion will no longer be avaiable. Okay, three things.
An author does not have unlimited access to copies of a book when it's published. We get that one book from the publisher, and when those are gone, we have to pay for any replacements as any bookseller would. Personally, I prefer when people patronize their local bookstores rather than buy from me. And I give out promotional copies when necessary for, you know, promotional purposes. There's a limited supply--it's 25 books in this case, and that's not a lot--so I have to consider each one carefully.
If a reviewer asks for a copy, I usually ask the publisher's publicity department to send one rather than dip into the 25 copies. If a bookseller who doesn't know me wants one to determine if the book should be stocked, her or she gets one. I usually try to make one or two available to fans in a contest. Again, that's partially because I appreciate the readers, and partially because it's a good promotional tactic (for more on the current contest, which offers an ereader and all five Haunted Guesthouse titles to the winner, see here).
I honestly wish I could give a free copy to everyone who asks. But if I did, the odds of there being any subsequent books would drop to nothing and I'd go broke on postage. So please, if you're thinking of asking, keep in mind that I'd love to send you a free book.
It's just that I probably can't.
P.S. Pitchers and catchers report in 28 days.