Today I have a guest post from “Anonymous”. I’m happy to host the occasional anonymous post when a harsh truth needs to be shared. And the subject of this post is something I’ve experienced myself from time to time over the years. Since Anonymous had a book come out a couple of months ago, they’ve discovered a strange yet not uncommon attitude among many people close to them. Many of their workmates, friends and family have expressed a desire for a copy of Anonymous’s book. The vast majority of those people are wonderful folk who, when told where they can purchase a copy, are more than happy to trot off and do exactly that. But there is a percentage of people, larger than you might think, who expect, on asking, a free copy of the book. Like they simply deserve one for… what? Just being there? Knowing you? Like it’s a favour, in a, “Sure, I’ll take one!” kinda way. But no, that’s very much not the case, as Anonymous eloquently explains below:
Simply not wanting a book at all is a totally different matter to asking for a free book. If you don’t want a book, that’s fine, you needn’t buy one. Although I would ask: if a writer can’t rely on friends and family to shell out for their book, who can they rely on?
Similarly, not being able to afford a book is obviously nothing to be ashamed of and not something anyone should apologise for or feel hassled about. If you can’t afford a book, you needn’t buy one.
And lastly, if an author/publisher actually approaches you and says “Here! I’d like to give you this free book!” that is, of course, also totally fine. Take it. Take it and run.
So, we’re working on these assumptions: you know someone who wrote a book, you want the book your friend wrote, you can afford to obtain a copy, and the author/publisher has not offered you a free copy of their own volition – but you want a free copy. You wants it, you wants your precious, and you does not wants to paysies.
Many people I know spend an astonishing amount of money each day on assorted items of whatever (y’know – three lattes, two Sauv Blancs, a burger and fries, a trashy magazine, and a lemon slice later) without batting an eyelid. Now, people may spend their hard-earned money on whatever they like, that’s not the issue – I’m not suggesting people cut down on their caffeine consumption so they can altruistically increase their word intake for the greater good (the greater good).
The issue is: do you know how insulting it is to have your friends (or even just your associates, acquaintances, and that man who just walked past you on the street eating his own navel lint) say to your face that they don’t want to spend a far smaller amount on your book than the amount they spend on trivialities every day; that they want a copy, but that they expect it to be free? Can you see how that might feel a little…I don’t know…rude to the writer whose ol’ buddy ol’ pal is saying such things to them? It says that you don’t truly believe a book has value. That’s what it says. It says that you don’t truly believe my book has value. That’s a horrible thing to say to a writer, and I don’t think anyone would really want to come right out and say that – but they do say it, when they ask for a free copy and express incredulity when said free copy is not forthcoming.
Books do have value. Writing is not something everyone could do if they only had a little more time. It’s a specialised skill, it involves a lot of sacrifice and pure hard work, it contributes much to our society, and it has value. You may have noticed I feel quite strongly about this. Did I mention books have value?
Please also understand that a “free” book is not free at all. Ever. Never ever. Even reviewers don’t get free books. They get books in exchange for payment, just like everyone else (and in the case of ARCs – Advance Review Copies – they accept pre-publication books, warts and all, with possible typos, non-essential bits missing, etc). The difference between their payment and everyone else’s is that their payment comes in the form of them most likely writing a review which may be suitable for use for promotional purposes (i.e. TO SELL MORE BOOKS). Reviewers put a helluva lot of time and effort into what they do. They don’t get free books. They work for their books, just like writers work to write books.
Books don’t grow on magical book trees planted in writers’ backyards. Someone has to pay for that copy you want, and if that someone isn’t you, then it will either be the publisher (who, if they’re a small publisher, almost certainly can’t afford it, especially when multiplied by the number of people who want one), or the writer. You’re asking the publisher/writer to buy their own product so that you can enjoy it without paying. Does that sound fair? Does it sound logical within the context of a business model?
If a writer does happen to have copies of their own books lying around, they’ve probably paid for them (aside from the allocated number of copies they got from their publisher as a form of payment for writing the thing, which will probably not be a massive number of books, and which the writer may understandably want to keep for their own purposes or to distribute to reviewers). So no, you can’t just have one for free from their stash. Again, you’re asking them to buy their own book for you to read. Hey, they might choose to gift you one for whatever reason, in which case, yay; but if they don’t, don’t just demand one like it’s your due.
Things I haven’t said often enough yet: books have value. There’s no such thing as a free book.
People seem to think this sort of behaviour is ok when it comes to the arts. It isn’t. If you were a builder, I wouldn’t expect you to give me a free house, especially as a friend. So don’t ask me for free books.
Now go buy my book.