Writers deserve to be paid for their products: How to kindly turn down requests for freebies

This is a guest post by Suzanne Gochenouer

In a conversation recently, an author friend revealed how hard it is to realize even a couple dollars profit on the hardback version of her novel when readers, family, and friends continually request free copies.

I cringed, because I’ve been there. It’s painful to hear people ask around to find someone with a copy of your book, only to say, “Well, I’ll just read yours so I don’t have to buy it.”

She confessed to feeling bad when mentioning the price of the book and in asking for shipping costs. My question to her was, “You are in the business of writing, aren’t you?”


Freebies Add Up

Perhaps readers believe that if they’re going to write a review they deserve a copy because you may benefit. Friends and family often believe writing isn’t real work; therefore, the author doesn’t need, or perhaps deserve, to be paid for what’s perceived as your hobby.

If every author wrote solely for the pleasure derived from staring at a computer screen until her dry eyes blur, until her muscles seize, wracking her brain to find that one perfect word – then no problem. If no author ever intended to make money from his work, we could all afford to be wondrously generous and give away every hard-won word.

Most of us do hope to realize some monetary gain from our books. We have families and pets to house, feed, and clothe. (Okay, most of us aren’t clothing our pets.) Most of our writing work happens after we “work for a living.” We struggle to make ends meet but we never quit writing. Hmm, doesn’t sound like a fun hobby to me.

We writers:

• Buy and read a gazillion books to learn how successful writers do it, how agents select authors to represent, how editors analyze manuscripts.

• Take innumerable classes so we can create a better story each time we sit down at the keyboard.

• Do extensive research to get the details correct, right down to the last belt buckle.

• Finagle our schedules to participate in every event at our children’s schools, support our spouses, cook, clean, carpool, and do everything else that needs to be done before we can write while the household sleeps around us.

• Subject ourselves to constant rejection – “Your story does not fit our needs.”

• File those form rejection letters, and start all over again.


Books Are Our Products

Despite all this, we still find it hard to ask someone to pay for our books. This is most often a function of our belief in our own worth.

If you respect the work you have invested in your book, others will too.

If you always give your work away, people will think it is worth nothing.

There are exceptions. For example, you may have a special event on your website or blog or offer a copy or two of your book as an award in a contest. If you share your book in eBook format, you may wish to run a special, offering your book for $0.99, but it should be for a limited time.

Your book is your product. It’s not greedy or mercenary to expect readers to pay for it. Especially if you self-publish, you’ve already invested thousands of dollars in the production of your book. Each time someone asks for a freebie, that’s money spent on which you see no return.


The Business of Writing

In business, a fair exchange of value between yourself and your customer is expected.

In the business of writing, the author offers:

• The value of his education in the craft of writing.

• The hours of research necessary to make the story truthful or believable.

• The value of the days, months, and sometimes years of work he or she expends in order to write something worth reading.

• An education, an escape, or an inspiration for the reader.

As a customer of your business, the reader offers:

• The monetary amount decided upon between the author and publisher for the author’s product.

• An eager visitor to the worlds the author has created.

• Appreciation of the author’s skill in the craft of writing.

• Validation of the author’s efforts.


Preparation Stops the Money Drain

Sometimes at the moment a person requests free books, we struggle with our answer. Our Author Brain says it’s better to have someone, anyone, reading our book even if we lose money to get it into her hands. Our Financial Brain sternly replies that we cannot meet our responsibilities if we go into debt providing free books to everyone who asks.

A little preparation can seal that drain on our finances, while encouraging the reader to come back to find our new books.

Stand in front of a mirror, meet your own eyes and matter-of-factly state the price of your book and the shipping costs. “I can offer you a copy at $xx.xx, with an additional $x.xx shipping charges.” Then add, “I reserve my author copies for special events and contests on my website, and for blog tours. Be sure to visit my website often for news about these events.” Practice until it these sentences flow from the tongue.

By phrasing your need for payment in this manner, you offer a legitimate reason why the reader won’t receive a free book, without closing the door on the possibility that he may under circumstances you choose.

Your goal is to make every free or discounted copy of your book a special treat for your readers.


Value Your Work

If you don’t acknowledge the value of your education, experience, and time spent in producing each article or book, how will you convince anyone else?

If you truly don’t believe your book is worth the price printed on the cover, you may have some self-belief issues to work on. (But that’s another post.) Re-read this article until you believe you are a craftsperson, and that your particular skill has as much value as any.

If the price on your book is a valid reflection of your efforts, then own that. Affirm that you are a writer, and you intend to make money with your craft. It’s time to acknowledge that this means receiving fair compensation for your book.


About this post’s author:

Suzanne G writes and reads before doing any housework. She freely admits an addiction to words, reading an average of 500 books annually. After twenty years with an aerospace company, working on classified government contracts, she estimates she wrote and edited more than 200 manuals. However, she has no clips from that work. If she could show you any of it, someone would have to kill you – and her. Just kidding. She hopes. Co-author of The Gratitude Book Project: Celebrating 365 Days of Gratitude, 2012 Edition, Suzanne writes articles and novels, edits and coaches writers, and blogs at www.TransformationalEditor.com.

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