Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Giving Away Book copies

Since we write books and have them published, family members and friends sometimes expect to receive free copies. However, authors can’t afford to give them away, as much as we might like to. Here are the reasons.

Publishers don’t just give authors copies of their books free. For print books, the paper, ink, and printing all incur cost. So does shipping. If a traditional publisher publishes the book, they usually provide editing services and the cover art at their expense. When the book sells, the publisher and the printer receive the bulk of the proceeds. The author is paid only a small percentage.

Publishers charge for author copies, although at a reduced rate from the retail cost. In addition, the author must pay for shipping.

For self-published books, the cost is reduced, but not enough to hand out copies to everyone who might want one.

Even though it is possible to self-publish at no cost, additional expenses are required.

To produce a professional book, it is necessary to pay for unique cover art as well as hire a professional to lay out the print cover. It is possible to download stock cover art at little or no cost, but your book will look “generic,” and others may share the same cover design.

For The Memory Keeper, our friend and artist, Robert Schwenck, allowed us to use his beautiful painting of the ruins of the old stone church of Mission San Juan Capistrano on the cover. We hired Melissa Summers, who designed quite a few of our other books, to create the print cover. We are delighted with the result.

Larry is an artist himself. Several of his pieces decorate our home. He was able to create the covers for his sci-fi series, The McGregor Chronicles, using NASA star field photos, which are in the public domain. He was also able to create his own layout using the CreateSpace templates. Because this series came after we had already published several previous books, he understood the requirements. Most authors do not.

Regardless of which way the book will be published, every writer should hire a professional editor before submission to ensure the integrity and professionalism of the finished product. I am a professional editor, but even I can miss critical issues in my own books.

Additional hidden expenses surround each book launch. In the past, we ordered inexpensive business cards printed with the name of the book, and handed them out for several weeks prior to publication.

We've also created our own video trailers for each book. However, some of our author friends pay others to create professional trailers and post them to their social media and websites.

Every author should have both a blog and a website. Website hosting and web design can be quite expensive, but the site should look professional. We are blessed with a son who took over the design and maintenance of our site several years ago. He does this for a living, so he has the necessary skills to produce an eye-catching and user-friendly website (www.lornalarry.com). Most people do not have this resource, so they need to pay someone as their webmaster.

We also plan a book launch event in conjunction with each new book. During the event, we serve refreshments and hold a drawing for prizes. All incur cost.

Unfortunately, published authors make considerably less today than in the past for a number of reasons. Even ebooks are not free. We can gift copies to people, but we have to buy them in order to do so.

So, although we’d like to be able to give our books to all our friends and family members, we are not independently wealthy enough to do so. When we do give someone a copy, please understand it is a gift with inherent cost to us.


  1. Lorna, I completely agree with you. People don't understand the publishing process - how much work it is to write a book and how expensive it is to publish and market it. When friends tell me they've loaned my book to multiple friends, I have to paste a smile on my face and grit my teeth in order to not tell them they are literally stealing from me the same as when music is pirated. I've even been told that I write for the sheer joy of it and that the money is irrelevant. Right! I hope your blog gets wide play.

    1. The misunderstandings are rampant. Some people think because we are multi-published authors (15 titles to date) we are wealthy. Far from it! We have shown a negative income on our business for ten years.

  2. This is true. Getting started in the book business is very expensive. and most authors get 15-25% from a book sale. My three print books sell for $14.65, $16.95, & $18.95; so I get between $2.93 & $3.79 depending on the book. For me to buy a book from my publisher costs about ten dollars per copy with my author discount, but I get no royalties, so it's actually costing me twelve dollars a book.

    However, as part of my marketing, I give away a lot of books to family and friends, to reviewers, book sellers, contests, and as prizes at events. When an author starts out they have no readers, and nobody has even heard of them, so getting your book into hands of readers, getting publicity from reviews and contests, and giving a sample book to a store manager to read are good ways to build readership.

    I learned from my tax man that I do a terrible job of tracking my expenses, so am resolved to now keep track of books I comp for any reason; it is a legitimate business expense and helps with the taxes. This is a nice article Lorna, thanks.

    1. Good reminder about keeping track of the books we give away. Each time we publish a book, we decide how many we'll give away. One complaint I often hear from other authors is giving someone who says they'll publish a review a book. Most do not. In fact, many just resell the book. After fifteen published books, we are much more selective about the ones we give away.

  3. The reading public are blissfully ignorant of these facts. Good post.

  4. I hope a few readers will read it!

  5. Excellent post, Lorna....and I would like to add that giving your book to a retailer is rarely a good idea. I have found that they often toss them in with their returns going back to the wholesalers, and then my account is charged and, ultimately, I charge the author back for his royalties on those returns. That is assuming there is anything there to charge against! Often OTP is just stuck for the loss.

    Shops are horrible on this point! They will also allow an author to think that inscribing the books will prevent them from being returned. This is totally misleading. Those signed books zoom right back to us along with a big fat debit to our account.

    Further, some stores have been completely frank with me (most notably a well-regarded Seattle shop). I was explaining to them that OTP would honor any returns (for a certain book that was not yet showing in Ingram.) And the store manager interrupted me, saying frankly that they want to be able to reorder off the credit on the returns. This is called churning...and while it is likely not illegal, it is certainly unethical and totally contrary to being supportive of an author.

    Billie Johnson

    1. Wow! Good to know. We have been fortunate. We sell our books directly to the Mission Store in San Juan Capistrano. If they buy a dozen at a time, we give them a larger discount. We sell others on consignment to several stores in town. We give them an invoice, and they copy us with a receipt for each sale and a check for our share. But these are local vendors, and we support them on social media. The Cottage Gallery on Los Rios in San Juan carries "Ghost Writer." They have sold about a dozen in the past few months. They have also allowed us to take part in their big author events. But those are the only local stores who will carry any of our books.

  6. Hopefully this will be read by some of those who forget "free" is never free. I am very selective with my giveaways and happy to report many of the recipients, as well as those I sold author copies to at my cost, have reviewed and some even bought stacks of the paperback for their friends and had me sign :) Worth every penny of the "Castle" experience as was the free copy I donated to our library. Bottom line, yes, we authors must set a budget for "free" and stick to it.

    1. Like Billie said above, we need to be strategic about how we distribute free copies.