Robert J. Sawyer

Hugo and Nebula Award-Winning Science Fiction Writer

More authors’ copies means more press

by Rob - June 19th, 2010.
Filed under: Promotion, Publishing.

I was asked at the Canadian Book Summit yesterday if I could change one thing about what my publishers do, what would that be? A better answer than the one I gave has occurred to me: Give the author more free copies to distribute for promotional purposes. (Believe it or not, boilerplate contracts from most publishers specify that authors get just ten copies of their own books.)

Yes, I know I can ask my publisher to send out a review copy, and hope they actually do it, but in addition please give us a couple of dozen copies to spread around as we see fit.

I first made the major Canadian bestsellers lists (The Globe and Mail and Maclean’s) a decade ago, back in 2000, because Carolyn ran into Toronto Star religion editor Tom Harpur at a conference and had the presence of mind to hand him a copy of my book Calculating God then and there from my personal stock. The Star is the largest-circulation newspaper in Canada, and Harpur’s subsequent article about the book without question is what boosted my novel onto the best-sellers list.

Trust your authors to effectively distribute the extra copies to their influential contacts or even to long-shots that might pan out. An extra 24 hardcover, at manufacturing cost, even with shipping, will cost the publisher maybe $100; how can it not be cost-effective to do this?

Robert J. Sawyer online:

7 Responses to More authors’ copies means more press

  1. I agree, and yet as you imply some publishers are stingy despite the fact it’s so useful.

  2. Hey, Jeff, great to see you here! After my talk, I gave out flyers for your wonderful book Booklife about being an author in the 21st century.

  3. Sounds like publishers are approaching this more from an accountant’s perspective that from a marketer’s point of view. That doesn’t make any sense really. An effective publisher should know how to play both roles where appropriate, and this definitely strikes me as an area where they should doff the marketer’s hat.

  4. I absolutely agree with this. Like in visual and dramatic arts, it’s not really what you know, but who you know, who knows you AND more importantly, who has seen you. Word of mouth is key in this industry, and the louder your audience, the greater your chances. Publishers should know this. Authors (at least those just starting out) are limited with their resources and if they now have to be picky about who they can promote to, suddenly the six degrees of separation do not work as well as they should.

  5. I agree one hundred percent! Not that I’ve had a problem getting extra copies of my books for promotion when I ask for them, but that’s always for anticipated needs. There are often excellent opportunities that come along unexpectedly, and it would be super to have some copies on hand when that happens.

    I think, as well, that when an author speaks to someone directly and then hands over a book, the personal exchange that’s taken place is more likely to encourage a response than if a copy was mailed to that person at his or her place of employment.

  6. A lot of things in publishing continue unchanged because that is simply how they have been done in the past. I suspect this is one of those.

    I adopt Robert’s advice (from some article somewhere) and buy a bunch of discounted copies with money from my advance. (Right now I’m publishing poetry, so the advance is so small I basically blow it on copies.) It doesn’t hurt to give them out to people, whether strategically or just for fun. I gave Robert a copy of EX MACHINA for allowing me to teach some of his web articles in my creative writing class and generally being a nice guy whenever I’ve emailed him about something. And I’ve given others out to people I just think would like the book but probably wouldn’t think to buy it. I haven’t seen any real benefit yet but this kind of thing is cumulative, so I haven’t expected to see it yet.

    What I’ve found too is that you can use these books as currency. So I might pay $10 for a copy of the book, and then trade my book for another author’s book I was planning to buy. Only it would have cost me $16-18 to buy their book. (From their perspective, it probably looks like the same deal.) I’ve had people offer to buy me a $25 lunch for a copy of my book as well. I even got a nice hardcover graphic novel as trade once. And it doesn’t hurt to have copies to sell. I’ve had people contact me from Greece to buy copies of the book directly, since it wasn’t published/available there. (Not sure how they heard about it.)

  7. Scratch that one comment — I remembered now that an editor called to request my novel (when it’s done) after hearing great recommendations about me from people who I’d given free books of poetry.

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