Mistake No. 49: “Don’t be soft! I’ll send you a copy!”

This may be the first time I’ve featured a mistake that I have not only made, but that I continue to make.

More interested followers will have noticed I’ve been quiet of late, and dedicated fans may even know that the reason is I’ve just published my fourth book. It’s called Coeliac Disease: What you need to know, it’s about the eponymous form of gluten intolerance, and it’s fair to say it’s a bit of a niche area – albeit a specialism of mine.

And some people want a free copy.

Part of me thinks that’s fine, because I like free things too.

But the part of me writing this doesn’t think it’s quite so fine.

I’ve already written on my (other) blog about my (mostly) enjoyable experience of signing and selling books at the Allergy and Gluten Free Show some weeks back, where some sticky-fingered old crow wanted a free copy so much she took it and walked off with it while I was distracted, I suspect dropping it casually into her bag or tucking it under her shoulder – although I like to fantasise that in an attempt to evade suspicion, a possible bag search or a light frisking from an eagle-eyed security guard, she was compelled to stuff it sharply into her drawers and was rewarded with a hyperlocal paper cut in the process.

Others hovered about my display of modest health books and ummd and ahhd and ohd and dithered and, you know, hoped. “Are you giving these away?” one or two ventured. No, sorry, I’m not. And off they went. Not one who asked for a freebie went on to buy one.

So I salute the fine people who did buy, many of whom thanked me for writing and researching the book they so obviously needed, and couldn’t wait to press their cash into my hand. They value books, value writers, and I hope some are reading so they can know how important they are to what we do. It is they who deserve to be given a complementary copy, if anyone, not those who rank books and authors so lowly they don’t expect to pay the seven or (later) six measly pounds I was charging – which is the equivalent of a drink for them and a drink for their partner, both of which spend an hour in their body before being lost to the sewers.

Since then, assorted types have chanced their luck too. Various levels of acquaintance – one of whom could not spell the name of the disease the book concerned – wanted a free copy. “I’d be delighted to be sent a book!” chirped one optimist. I’m left wondering whether “Can I have a copy?” is the most irritating question asked of authors – or is it the equally sigh-worthy “Where can I find a copy of your book?”?

Nobody’s been rude. They’ve just asked or hinted, quite politely. It’s not about one individual. It’s just the collective weight of it all that’s making my head hang low a bit.

By now you’ll possibly think me a bit moany and stingy, so I’ll stress that I have of course given copies away – to people who helped me, or who took particular interest, or who otherwise deserved one, or friends who supported me, or to whom I just wanted to give one. I don’t begrudge a single one.

And that is only right.

But I feel it is also right that the slightly cheeky strangers or virtual strangers or passing acquaintances who ask for one be politely declined. I don’t think it’s being mean. I think it’s being proud. It is valuing your work (five months’ worth, in this case). I have decided – but need to keep telling myself – that refusing to casually give away your book helps other writers sell their books. It engenders a belief in the value of knowledge – and that new knowledge should be paid for. And at the end of the clichéd day, I am trying to make a living.

Where I’ve gone wrong is when flattery has been involved.

Nice person them: “How marvellous! You’re so clever! I must buy your book!”

Silly person me: “Don’t be soft! I’ll send you a copy!”

It sort of slips out before I can stop myself.

I kind of feel the need to draw the line now or I’ll just get down about it.

So.

So now if people say they want a copy, I’m going to thank them and tell them where the best deal is.

And, obviously, as this is a blog of writerly advice, I’m going to advise you to do likewise – whether you’re an author present or you’re an author future – if only because it’ll make me look less scroogy…

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