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.

[jbox]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.[/jbox]

 

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.

[jbox]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.[/jbox]

[jbox]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. [/jbox]

 

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.

Carol

This is a great idea for all the writers. it is not only help them their get popular from it.

Sabrynne McLain

Hi Suzanne,

Perfect timing – yes, even though the vast majority of my friends are not expecting me to hand out freebies, I find that I seem to WANT to give my books away. No idea why, as you said, massive amounts of time and effort went into my debut novel, and I think it’s pretty good besides. I suppose it is that I am subconsciously devaluing my book.

I did just tell a very close friend I would send her a hardback signed copy if she paid for the book plus shipping. That really took a lot though.

Sherri (Sabrynne McLain)

    SuzanneG

    Oh, good for you, Sabrynne. I wonder how many thousands of books we have to sell before we believe what we create is worth something? The “wanting” to give our books away may come from the feeling that no one will know about it, and definitely no one will read it, if you don’t put your book into everyone’s hands. Not so! There are millions of readers out there, searching for a book like yours right now, and they’re going to be buying it online, at a big bookstore, or the local indie shop. Just do your best to promote your own work on your website or blog. If you write it, the readers will come. Then your job will be to keep them reading.

Rebecca Emin

This is such a good post. I have given away far too many copies of my first novel with the aim of “getting my name out there”.

I will not be doing this again with my second.

SuzanneG

Thanks, Rebecca. From your reviews it looks like you should have no problem getting people to read your next book.

Pamela Kay Noble Brown

This is such a timely article. Especially in this economy. It is very difficult at times to insist close friends and family pay full price for your work. But I like the practice in the mirror idea, with select contests and giveaways from time to time. Very informative article Suzanne.

Pamela

    SuzanneG

    Thank you, Pamela. I find the mirror exercise helps me in many situations where I feel less than confident in stating my needs. Practice makes me sound firm and sure of what I state, and looking into my own eyes reminds me that I need to respect my own needs.

Sarah

This post highlights some of the reasons why I have never requested a review copy from an author. I will gladly accept one when offered, preferably as an ebook so less cost to the author, but I can’t bring myself to ask for one.

    SuzanneG

    We authors thank you, Sarah. I always try to think how I would feel if the situation was turned around. Your consideration for the authors surely comes back to you in other blessings.

Inga Kupp-Silberg

Hi Suzanne!

I was about to close up my day and go to bed (it’s 1:12 am here) and then I saw you post and just had to reply to it!

First, I would like to say, that it is a great article you have written. I do agree with you, that many authors get paid too little for their books, no argument about that.

What made me comment is something else what you wrote. You mentioned reviewers.

You see, I review books and I do ask for review copies sometimes. I did that mostly when I started to post my reviews to my book blog and still do it once in a while. Today I get many review requests from authors and publicists and publishers, so I unfortunately have to turn some authors down.

Let’s make a quick calulation here. Let’s say, that you give a book blogger/reviewer 1 copy of your book which costs depending if it is e-book or paperbook everything between 0.99 – 26$. To make it fair, let’s say, that the price of your book is 1$. My blog has averagely 1000 readers per day. If I post a review which reaches even 1/3 of my readers, you have potentially ca 333 book purchases. That would make 333$ of sales revenue. I do understand, that authors get only part of the market price, but still, if you make 100$ by giving me a book which costs 1$ on the market, then I would say your turnout wouldn’t be so bad, even if you deduct the cost for mailing the book. If you multiply it with the number of good book blogs which are out there, then it doesn’t sound bad at all, right?

My point here is, that if authors learn how to use book bloggers/reviewers as a proper marketing tool, you as an author can only win, especially if you are an author whose books are well-written.

I am well aware, that my calculation is very rough and does not always work in the competitive book market. There are too many strong players on the market.

The reason why I took the book price that low, is simply because I personally think the prices on e-books are incredibly low on the market. It all starts with the demand and supply on the market. You know probably better than I do, that everybody can become a writer today. There are so many possibilities for authors to publish a book and I have seen many, many authors who have published their book which in my opinion would not be worth of reading, much less paying for the book.

I have difficulties with understanding, how and especially why would anyone sell their books (e-books) with so low price? I truly believe that if author’s would speak up, the market would be different.

It is a question of choice – do you want to get published and sell your books or not.

Regards,
Inga

    SuzanneG

    Hello Inga! Greetings to a fellow night owl.

    Thank you for your kind words about my article. I appreciate the thoughtful reply to the premise I stated. You make several good points.

    Your website indicates that you are very active in blog tours, many of which provide the book for review. You also solicit donations for giveaways, and have affiliate links to books. I can tell you spend a lot of time and effort on your blog. (I so wish I could read Estonian – I’d love to read about your life on your other blog!) Therefore, you are generating some amount of income from your blog. And that is wonderful. We all hope to see some income from our efforts. However, the author, especially the new author, usually has fewer means of creating those streams of income because she is focusing on writing the next novel, rather than on maintaining and building a blog following to provide additional income.

    Most author contracts provide only a handful of books as author copies, some contracts provide only one. After that, we must purchase copies ourselves, if we wish to do book signings, run contests, provide review copies, gift copies to our parents and siblings, and so on.

    In your example, you made the price of the author’s book $1.00, but mention later that the book would be mailed. So, you’re really talking about the paperback, which you’ve priced at a realistic $26.00. You are located overseas and the shipping rate for a 13-ounce paperback to your country would be $74.95 for an Express Mail International Flat Rate box (3 to 5 business days), or Express Mail International Flat Rate envelope for $38.00. My packing choice, as the author, is the box, because I want my book to be in pristine condition when you receive it. Priority mail (6 to 10 business days) would cost $47.95 in a box, or $16.95 in an envelope. Again, I would choose the box because there is too much chance for damage when using an envelope that is essentially heavy stock paper.
    So far, I have the cost of the book at $26.00, the cheapest postage for a box that will ship in a reasonable amount of time at $47.95. The United States Post Office will no longer accept boxes or envelopes of this size and weight from our curbside mailboxes. They must be hand-delivered to a post office. Therefore, I must add the cost of gas to drive into town and back. For me, that would be a little over two gallons of gas, so let’s add another $8.00.

    Now the agent takes his share of my royalties on the sale of my novel. (Remember, I bought it myself). Let’s be moderate and say his fee is 15%. Because I purchased the book, I must add his fee to my actual cost for this copy. We’ll have to add another couple of dollars to the cost of providing a free copy for review.

    Before I even count the time away from my writing, it is costing me more than $83.00 to send you a free book. In your example, that $100 sale revenue is virtually gone before the book even leaves my hands. Now imagine, the same scenario with hundreds of book reviewers/bloggers asking for free copies. Even at domestic shipping rates it doesn’t look that rosy when the author receives many requests for free books. I haven’t even touched on the cost to provide a free review copy if the book was self-published. In that case, the author has invested thousands of dollars to get the book ready for publication, before it even sees the ink of the printer’s machine. She has to consider those costs to publish.

    I agree with your analysis of the number of the total number of your readers who will actually see the review on any given day. Of those 333 readers, statistically only a third will end up purchasing the book. This brings the potential sales revenue down. With the abundance of e-readers in use these days, a large percentage of those readers who do buy will purchase the $0.99 eBook. This brings the potential sales revenue down.

    It sounds like I’ve placed a lot of focus on income from the author’s book in this reply. Let’s face it, if the author did not hope to make money on his novel, he could post it as a chapter serial on his website, or provide it in a free PDF file to readers of his blog. Can we agree, that any author whose book can be found on Amazon or any other bookseller website, most likely wants to see a monetary return on their investment of time and effort?

    I agree wholeheartedly, that if new authors learn how to use book bloggers/reviewers as a marketing tool, there is a distinct advantage to the author in that relationship. Unfortunately, most newbies flounder through self-promotion and marketing. No one teaches them how to do it. If they happen to get something right, they may not know why or how to follow up. Many authors do not even realize the advantages to making friends with bloggers and their readers. Some writers focus so completely on finishing that first or second novel that they haven’t realized today’s publishing world places most of the responsibility for promotion on their shoulders. They deliver their first book to the publisher or printer, spin around in their desk chair three times, make a new cup of tea, and dive headfirst into their next book. Months later, they are disappointed to discover that no one has even found their book on Amazon. But it’s not their fault if they don’t know better, if there’s no system in place for new authors to find and absorb the necessary knowledge they need to understand the business side of writing.

    If all authors played on a level field, this whole conversation would be different. However, for every New York Times best-selling author, there are hundreds of thousands of new authors who never reach that stature. Maybe their writing is not the best, maybe they don’t know how to market, or maybe there are just too many authors writing about the same thing and doing it better.

    You are right about the cost of many e-books being too low to reflect the value of the author’s work in producing that book. You are right about the many authors publishing their own books, ones we would not pay to read. I’m not sure that authors raising their voices in protest over the low prices could effect changes in the traditional publishing world. And, yes, self-published authors, as well as those traditionally published, rightly or wrongly, often use low prices as a marketing tool.

    I do know many readers would feel the pinch in their pocketbook if prices on paperbacks and hardbacks were higher. Many of us already ration our book purchases. (I read an average of 500 books per year, and I purchase 99% of them. Not from used bookstores at reduced prices. From online vendors and local bookstores at the asking price. So I can attest to the need for reasonable prices.) I do know that the business of writing is changing rapidly and there will continue to be furious growth in the self-publishing side of the business. I hope we’ll refine a way to winnow the good from the bad as the list of available books in the market grows every second of every day.

    As for authors selling their books at too low a price, that’s because that supply and demand principle is working overtime. The number of brand new authors rises daily, while the number of available readers remains relatively level, as do hours in the day available in which to read. With the glut of new books on the market, eager authors perceive price reduction as a means of attracting new readers. Sometimes that may work. I suspect that most times the readers do not fall in love with the author’s work and never return to buy anything that author has to offer.

    As I continue reviewing books, I will continue purchasing those books, unless they are provided as a part of a blog tour. Even then, I am willing to pay for the paperback version (I don’t enjoy reading on my PC and don’t yet have an e-reader.)

    I think we agree on many aspects, but I believe the question of ‘do I want to be published and sell my books’ should not ride on whether I will, or can afford to, provide free books to every blogger/reviewer.

    I am grateful for your detailed response, Inga. It was a pleasure to think through the points you made and reflect on how that affected my original view. Thank you!

    Suzanne

Mary

Wonderful article! I think the issue comes down to two common scenarios:

1) Artists of any kind are their own worst critics and tend to devalue or undervalue their work.

2) Non-artists don’t understand the time and effort that goes into something – they only see the time it takes for them to experience the piece of art.

I am friends with an author who published a short story on the kindle last year that amounted to about 60 printed pages, and offered it for 99cents. The book itself was amazing and I immediately purchased books 2 and 3 once I finished, but he received a lot of criticism for the length of that first novella – with critics citing the 45 minutes or so that it took them to read it, and somehow feeling cheated of their dollar. I wanted to point out to the nay-sayers that they were not just paying for the 45 minutes, but for the months of writing, editing, and in the case of us self-published folks, formatting and cover design. My own short novel is only about 90 pages and I have to constantly remind myself of the time and effort I put into every word.

    SuzanneG

    Hmmm. I’ve never considered grading a book by how long it takes me to read it. There are many popular books I’ve read in 45 minutes to an hour (yes, I am a fast reader). Just means I can read more books that day. 😉

    You’ve got it right, Mary. Being a writer is mostly behind-the-scenes work. Otherwise, we’d all be sitting in a store window somewhere, banging away on the keys, smoking a pipe, wearing ascots while admiring fans pointed while oohing and ahhing.

    It’s all about quality, not quantity. But you know that. Don’t forget it as you continue your writing career. Your work has immense value.

Lilian Harry

I absolutely concur. I gave my brother, who lives in Australia, a copy of my new book while he was here and he asked me to post it home to save his weight allowance! I didn’t offer again.

And this also goes for those who ask you to give talks for nothing. I do it for libraries because they help me by stocking my books and I always sell well at such talks, but for a Rotary Christmas dinner with no fee offered, I asked for a fee to giive to a charity I support. They agreed to this, but I wondered why local businessmen, enjoying an expensive dinner at a smart location, should expect me to sing for my supper just for the privilege of speaking to them from years of experience and hard work. A few pounds added to their cost would have given them a decent fee and they would barely have noticed it.

Some people prepare their talks beforehand, often taking days to do so. This takes away writing time. There are always expenses involved – travel, maybe a meal, maybe even a night or more away from home. If this makes it too expensive for them, too bad – stay at home and write. Bu never undervalue yourself unless there is some other benefit, such as guaranteed sales or excellent exposure.

If a society wants to be entertained by a speaker, they should be prepared to pay for it. Don’t give your time and energy away – they are too valuable and can’t be recouped.

SuzanneG

Amen, Lilian! We need to keep working on our self-esteem so we aren’t afraid to say, “No thank you.”

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