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Saturday, February 16, 2008

About Giving Away Your Book

In my last post, I mentioned that an overly enthusiastic author pushed a copy of his book into my hands at Love Is Murder.

I received a lot of comments about that…both here and in my personal email account.

So I need to be very clear: I wasn’t angry with him. No, he wasn’t a bad guy. He was a very nice man. And his book might be just fabulous. It was nicely done from what I could see.

I don’t blame him. I wasn’t writing about what he did to blame him. In fact, I identified with him. A lot.

See, Paper, Scissors, Death will be my eleventh published book. I still get really, really pumped about seeing my work in print. But along the way I’ve learned to temper my exuberance.

I’ve also noticed something else. When I think back to conferences I’ve attended, I realized that over the past year I’ve not only had people push their books into my hands, I’ve actually been given three books free by the authors. All the books were self-published. Does that mean the books are no good? Not at all. (This isn’t an A plus B equals C sort of thing.) Does it mean the authors were selling themselves short? I think so. I mean, something about these folks handing over their work devalued it. I guess the very act, while generous and well-meaning, gave me the message they didn’t trust me to seek out their work. Or to buy it. And maybe, just maybe, they were also telling me they weren’t sure their work was worth the price on the cover either.

So I tried to imagine a few of my favorite authors handing over copies of their books. (I conjured up images of Anne Perry and Nancy Pickard, both lovely women whose work I admire.) And I just couldn’t. In fact, last week when I met Leighton Gage, author of Blood of the Wicked, he mentioned his daughter wanted to give away a copy of his book. He told her, “Authors don’t give away their books.” There was this tone in his voice of fatherly advice and I really took it to heart. (Thanks, Leighton!)

But I truly do understand that urge. I used to be just like that guy at Love Is Murder. In fact, I was probably worse. I’d give away copies of my books at the merest hint anyone was interested. For example, a home repair guy was walking through our house. He noticed my scrapbooking supplies. He commented his wife likes to scrapbook. So I did the logical next thing…I gave him a book.

Duh. Do you think he discounted his work for that? No.

Finally, my husband took me aside. “I don’t give away Steinways,” David said.

“But this is a book. It’s not a Steinway,” I said.

“Joanna, you put yourself through college. You’ve worked for years as a writer. Your work has value. You need to stop giving stuff away. Give yourself a little credit,” David said.

He was right. I remembered something I learned at good old Ball State U during a psychology class. They found that therapists who charged indigent patients a buck for a session found their patients improved faster than those who did sessions for free. It’s just human nature. We value what we pay for.

So if you’re at a conference and you are carrying a copy of your book, resist RESIST resist the urge to press it into someone’s hands. And if the urge to give away your book hits you…go up to your room lie down, take two aspirins, and call your favorite bookseller in the morning. And if you see me doing it—give me a swift kick in the butt, okay?

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