Sunday, January 16, 2011

Be very selective about giving your books away!

In marketing their wares, authors are always faced with the promotional problem of "planting seeds," in order to grow more sales.

When my book first arrived on the scene, I listened to those with experience in the marketplace who recommend giving copies to certain opinion makers, as a way of promoting the work. I have to say, this has had spotty results for me.

My dad always said, "You'll never learn how to play poker if you play for matches." (It was a common practice back then to use wooden matches as poker currency, and as the adage claimed, if it didn't cost you anything, you wouldn't learn anything.) Thus, it has been my belief that when someone gets something for free, they don't place the same value on it they would if they had to pay for it. Secondly, people in the book business who receive free copies, seem to think nothing of selling them on outlets such as Amazon or eBay. Thirdly, they often re-gift books to friends or relatives.

Once, when I was a guest at a banquet, I was introduced to the audience as an author who happened to have a few books with him for sale. A young lady approached afterwards saying said she heard good things about the book and would like to buy one. Before she could open her purse, a gentleman standing nearby interrupted to say, "You don't have to buy one, I'll let you have my copy. No need to spend your money." This person was a clergyman who had been given a free copy as a promotional inducement for considering me as a speaker at future events for his congregation. No engagements were ever scheduled, as his flock "weren't readers," he said. It never crossed his mind that authors are all about selling books, or that he was using his gratis copy to thwart a sale for the author.

There is no way around the problem of giving books to reviewers because, like it or not, it's part of the writing game. I always write to reviewers beforehand, and send books only if they reply positively. No one has ever turned down a free book, but it is disheartening that all too often I never knew if the book was received or read, and no review, good or bad, came forth.

Oh, I know, this is all part of the game. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. But, I believe caution should be used, and books given away only to very select audiences. A lot of people mistakenly think that the author has a huge supply of cheap books, waiting to be given away. They also wonder why you don't give them a copy. I tell most of them up front—if you don't pay for the book you won't value it. And, most seem to understand that.

Writing, contrary to some, is not a lucrative endeavor—especially when you consider the time and effort involved. I liken it to professional sports. For every notable success you read about, there are a million aspirants trailing behind who never make it. Every author's book embodies a part of his or her life—something that can never be reflected in its price. Treasure it, and don't toss it around as if it doesn't have any worth, because if you do, other people won't value it either.