Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Why there is no such thing as a free book

On Sunday night I sent an e-mail newsletter and told my subscribers I was running a quickie contest: The first three people to e-mail me and give me their U.S. mailing addresses would each get a free autographed copy of my new book.

Three subscribers wrote to ask why I was excluding non-U.S. residents. Here's how I responded in the message announcing the contest winners:

Three people have e-mailed to ask why I made this offer only to people with U.S. addresses. It's a fair question, and here's the answer: Mailing one of these books to a U.S. address costs $1.59. I can affix the proper postage to my padded envelopes and shove them into any mailbox. But to send a book to another country requires that I make a trip to the post office, where I must stand in line to have the packages weighed. I must also fill out a Customs form for every package sent outside the U.S. And the postage will be quite a bit more than for a U.S. address.

I hope you all understand that while I am trying to give away lots of free books (last week I mailed 40 books to bloggers as a publicity experiment), I'm just not going to be able to make everybody happy.

One of the non-U.S. residents who had objected e-mailed again to complain that she was annoyed that so many U.S. authors don't "appreciate" their foreign audiences. She wrote about selfish authors who refuse to "give back" to their foreign readers, and--

Aha. Finally, I understood. This lady believes book giveaways are about thanking readers. Well, they aren't about that at all.

The primary purpose of a book giveaway is to generate buzz for the book. If I send you a free book, I'm going to autograph it, put my business card inside it, and probably even write you a personal note. Yes, I'm grateful for your interest in my writing. But make no mistake: I am hoping you'll do something for me in return. I'm hoping you'll show the book to your mom, tell your hairdresser and your best friend about it, and maybe even buy another copy to give as a gift. I'm hoping you'll lend your book to the women who work in your office, and I'm hoping a couple of them will want to buy their own copies.

This, my friends, is called promotion. If any author says her book giveaways are all about "giving back" to her readers and not stimulating sales, I'm going to raise a skeptical eyebrow. If you see an author gushing on her blog about how she is "giving back," maybe you ought to wonder why she's so eager for us to know what she's doing.

Hey, I'm all in favor of publicity. But I think we should be upfront about it. When a major corporation writes a fat check to fund a charity project and then sends out a press release about the donation, we all know exactly what's going on. Why should anyone be surprised that authors--who are small-business owners--might operate in the same way?

The books I send out "for free" are not free to me. I buy them, and then I snuggle them into expensive little padded envelopes and tuck in a snazzy purple pen (I ran out of pens last week, but I expect to order some more). The total cost for me to send one of those packages to a U.S. mailing address (including the book, envelope, pen, and postage) is nearly $7.00. Can you blame me for hoping I'll get some payback for all the time and money I've invested? And is it at all difficult to understand why I might decline to spend even more time and money sending these packages to countries where people can't even go into a store and buy my book?

Most of the romance authors I know are struggling to earn a decent living. Very few are "comfortable," and fewer still could be considered wealthy. In general, when the author of a $4.99 mass-market paperback answers a letter from a reader, she spends several cents more on the stamp than she made in royalties on the book purchased by that U.S. reader. Maybe that will put things into perspective for anyone who insists authors owe their readers something more than a thank-you because of "all the business" those readers have given them.

I'm wildly delighted whenever somebody plunks down money and buys one of my books. But in the end, these are ordinary business transactions. You're paying for a story and I'm giving you one. I've strained my brain but simply cannot understand why any bookbuyer would believe I owed her more than a simple thank-you.


Mirtika said...

Human selfishness is a global problem. What's new? :)

Your reader was only thinking about herself. Oooh, a freebie. What? I can't have it? Why shouldn't this writer pay what it cost to buy her book (and more) so I can have it. (Throw a tantrum.)

You know what? I got a book. It's not free. To get that book, I had to agree TO YOUR TERMS about reading it, reviewing it, blogging about it, time contstraints, etc. I understood PERFECTLY that this is about promoting YOUR HARD WORK, not making lil ole me feel tingly to her toes. (Although, if I enjoy the book, I'm sure I will tingle a bit somewhere thereabouts.)

To your cranky reader: Grow up!

I consider it A FREAKING PRIVILEGE to PAY HARD-EARNED MONEY in order to buy a book THAT WILL GIVE ME HOURS OF PLEASURE AND JUST MAYBE ENCOURAGEMENT AND INTELLECTUAL STIMULATION(depending on the author). I slobber in slavering appreciation when an author gives me a transcendent moment of gorgeous literary beauty and will happily throw dollar bills at them for the joy they bestow into my days.

YOu know what. Yeah, I'll say it again: STOP WALLOWING IN SELFISHNESS AND GROW UP.

Mir--who has been known to actually PAY, yes PAY, for two and three copies of particularly good books to GIVE AWAY....crazy Cuban that I am.

Brenda Coulter said...

Sheesh, Mir, I'm glad you're on my side.

In my correspondent's eyes, I was doing nothing more than showing appreciation to my faithful readers by offering them a chance to win free books--and I was excluding non-U.S. residents from sharing that "appreciation" simply because of high postage costs (which I could easily afford, being a Rich Author and all). Since this lady complained about authors like me making her feel like a second-class reader, I figured there must be others who feel equally abused but just haven't spoken up. That's why I posted what I did. I hope it makes sense and doesn't sound like a tirade.

Dennie McDonald said...

After dealing with a sister-in-law with entitlement issues, I have learned some people just feel that the world is owed to them. There is nothing you can do to change their mindset and it will only drive yourself to frustration to try.

I see the freebies as promo - but I am a writer, so I guess my mindset is from that angle anyway.

Jaynie R said...

I won't take up all your commenting space by responding here. You can visit my blog www.jaynier.blospot.com to find out what I think.

I am disappointed in your rewriting of the facts of our conservation however.

...and to your commenter. Pot, meet kettle.

Brenda Coulter said...

Jaynie, I won't be visiting your blog because I believe I already know what's on your mind, and it's that you're spoiling for a fight. Please excuse me.

Julana said...

Please don't overwater the primrose. It has over two weeks to go.

Brenda Coulter said...

I'm sorry, Julana. The primrose is not looking good.

All of those contest entries are packed away in a folder. When I've finally decided to take the primrose out and dump it on the compost pile, I will then look inside the folder and see who came closest to calling the date of the plant funeral.

Mirtika said...

Hey, I'm not bothering with that site either. If the best response is "pot, meet kettle", there won't be anything worth reading. Clearly, this person wasn't reading what I was saying.

I don't expect anything for free from authors. Period. If I ever get offered something, I am hugely grateful. But I don't expect it.

My fave band only tours Europe. I get their cds a year or more after they come out, and I pay more for them if they're export sales. I don't write to complain that they have fans in the US and should come tour here. I don't complain that I pay more for their music. I don't complain that I get it one or two years after England and Holland and Germany.

I'm just happy as a peach when I CAN HEAR THEM, any way I cn hear them. :D

Not black pot here. Just a tan gal who doesn't feel "entitled."


Millenia Black said...

I don't agree that American authors don't appreciate their foreign readers.

It's clear she just wants a free book - at your expense.

Now if you have a publisher in that country, perhaps the same promotional efforts could be considered for those readers. It's all about the investment you're willing to make.

Dakota Cassidy said...

I never would have found this blog, simply because we write in very differnt genres of romance. However, I read the other blog and I was very interested in what you had to say.

I respectfully, of course, have to disagree about limiting a contest to the US only. I can't see the big deal in paying seven dollars for shipping a book.

If in fact, you hope word of mouth is what sells more books, then I'd have to assume sending one overseas could only be a good thing in the interest of branching out. I don't know what the contest entailed, but I believe there was only three books involved. Even if the shipping were seven dollars a book, plus the cost of the book, we're not talking a lot of money to see fruition for sales in a venue as large as Europe.

And of course she wants a free book. Much the way you want free promo by word of mouth. One hand washes the other in my mind.

Maybe less is more. Offer one book to ALL contest seekers...

As to not being able to buy your book in a store. Well, yes, that might be true, but the Internet is a powerful promotional tool and if they like you enough, want to see more from you, I feel certain they'll hit Amazon to purchase your book. Even with the extra expense of having it sent to them overseas.

Just my 02.

Dakota :)

Jaynie R said...

Wow, I honestly don't know what to say. You guys aren't even willing to give me a chance by reading what I had to say. That's awefully immature IMO.

I was trying to be polite by not taking up all the comment space, hence why I moved it to my blog.

...and I'm not allowed to have an opinion? Just because you've decided I'm wrong, then I'm not even worth talking too or discussing things with?

I'm not looking for a fight - I just wanted an adult discussion.

I just don't understand why y'all feel the need to bitch about me when you won't even go over and read my side of the story.

You don't know me and your opinions are being based on one blog post.

Brenda Coulter said...

Dakota, I'm afraid we'll just have to disagree on what is the best use of my time and money. ;-) And Jaynie, may I suggest that I am the best person to decide which blogs I should visit and which arguments I should take up?

I didn't post this entry to spark a debate. I simply thought it would interest my readers.

Mirtika said...

While Dakota makes some good points, it comes down to where an author can best promote her work. IF the book is not widely available to a EU audience, why spend the 10+ bucks to mail a book to the EU? I wouldn't. The only way I'd promote a book globally is if I believed it would sell well globally. If I thought 99% of the market was going to be U.S., because the publisher was not going to distribute outside of N.A., then that decides where promotions will go.

I know many, many writers. Their promotional budgets are really tight, so they have to decide where each dollar might do the most good. Gotta side with Brenda on this one.

And the simple fact remains: An author, being the one making the offer, has a right to limit the scope of her promotion in any way she feels like it. Period. There is not global obligation. There is only her druthers. If I own it, I do what I please with it. :)

But your points are well taken, Dakota.


Erin said...

May I just point out that Jaynie was only asking for the same chances you're giving to your American readers? I know from the experience of sending her stuff (and she does the same to me) that it really doesn't cost all that much to put it on the slow boat to Australia. It also takes up a whole oh lets say 5 minutes of my time (on busy days) to stand in line to pay the postage. If time and money is your argument I don't believe you.

If your goal was to encourage your readers to be closed minded, and to only pursue only one side of a story then I applaude you! Good Job! It must be nice to not worry about what other opinions might be. It must be nice to not care about learning new things. Who knows! By visiting Jaynie's blog and being open to discussion you might have won more readers over your your books! They might have been introduced to a great new author. They're just going to see a closed minded, not all that inspiring (IMO at least) person who could care less about others opinions though.

Oh well. It's a shame really. Jaynie is a MASTER at talking up books and people she's been impressed with. I know her blog gets a LOT of hits too. That's quite an opportunity that's been missed.


Bonnie Calhoun said...

My, my, my, Brenda...I had my own hardcase this week. Is it a full moon!

Dakota Cassidy said...

Indeed, we will, Brenda and as always, I respect anothers POV. I certainly wouldn't ever be so arrogant as to tell you how to budget your promotional money. However, I also feel it's a genuine complaint from a reader and one who well may feel discarded after a post of this nature. I do believe that ALL readers count--overseas or not and I can't blame them for feeling slighted because they are so often counted out.

I can see both POV'S, agree or disagree.

And absolutely, Mir, the author certainly has a right to limit her promotions, but it then may limit her readership and those who take offense by the US residents only, are lost to you. 100 readers is always better than 99 :)

With that, I wish you much success :)

Dakota :)

Anonymous said...

Quote from the web site of Brenda Coulter

"I used to run quarterly prize drawings here on the website. It was fun to do and it helped build my mailing list. But now I'm thinking the nice people already on my mailing list deserve some special attention. So from now on, prize drawings will be mentioned only in my newsletter. Sign up today so you won't miss out! Subscribe to My Newsletter"

Perhaps a disclaimer added to the above quoted information on your site telling non-U.S. residents they will not be eligible for your contests would go a long way in avoiding this complaint in the future.

You, Ms. Coulter are the one who invited the internet masses to join your newsletter, maybe you should be honest with those not living in N.A. and tell them they will not be eligible to enter.

Mirtika said...

That's not a bad suggestion, Brenda, about the disclaimer. I'd go for it.

And Dakota, readership is always limited by one factor or another. You can't always have the 100, because someone will always take offense. I have yet to see an author blogging and promoting not have "disgruntled customers" of one ilk or another. It's the way of the world. If she said, "Okay, I'll mail to English Speaking countries," then folks in non-English speaking countries would cry foul. If she said, "Okay, all countries with reliable mail," someone in a country with non-reliable mail would complain.

You can't please all the people all the time, and sometimes, folks need to chill if they get a "no."


Alison Kent said...

The only way I'd promote a book globally is if I believed it would sell well globally.

Considering many many booksellers (such as those found at alibris and abebooks) will ship globally, the availability of books is no longer limited to any country - as long as the readers in question don't mind paying the postage!

That said, recently, upon learning how much international readers DO have to pay in shipping costs, I opened up my entire backlist to international readers, and had requests for books from readers in over 20 countries - from Pakistan to Haiti to Vietnam to Italy, Finland, etc. You should have seen the notes I received. Many of these readers nearly wept with joy at being able to receive books.

Yes, it is costly for me to send them. I just write it off my taxes as promo and know I've given readers hours of entertainment they would not have had otherwise. Sort of a warm and fuzzy feeling!

Dakota Cassidy said...

Bravo, Alison! And, Mir, you're right again, but what I mean is simply this, I wouldn't want to have 100 fans and lose someone because I'd excluded them in a contest for ANY reason. If there were any readers in Europe who read Brenda's work, some might not take too kindly to this kind of exclusion.

Surely, it must hurt to have your favorite author discount you because you're a fan in the UK or Indonesia and certainly, there must be one or two that exist. Much like the person you blogged about.

Putting any kind of restriction on your contests that has to do with readership anywhere just seems like a promotional choice that's not as reader friendly as it is economic.

My theory is, if the post office will ship it to you and you win it fair and square--I'll send it :)However, as I've maintained, I respect your choices.

Dakota :)

Brenda Coulter said...

To recap: Jaynie e-mailed and asked me a question. I answered it. She didn't like my answer and sent me a lengthy argument. That's when it occurred to me that this might be a subject worth blogging about. I did not mention Jaynie's name or quote from her e-mails in my post, but wrote something I thought might interest and inform my readers. As a courtesy I e-mailed Jaynie to tell her I'd posted. At that point I thought she was actually interested in hearing a more detailed explanation.

Obviously, Jaynie, you were not. You "outed" yourself here and tried to draw me into a public fight.

I believe I have stated my position very clearly, and my ego does not demand that I argue these points further. Unfortunately, no matter how busy I am elsewhere, I can't ignore any discussion that takes place on my blog because I must monitor the comments and filter them for spam, profanity, and sheer nastiness. So as soon as I send this message I will turn off the comment feature for this post.

There is no onus on me to provide a forum for people who want to talk about how stupid I am, so if you want to continue this discussion, you'll have to take it somewhere else.