By Josi S. Kilpack
Included in traditional publishing contracts is a clause called "Author Copies", which are exactly that--copies of the book that are given to the author at the time the book is released. I've been offered between 10 or 20, but I write in that I want 20 and no one has argued with me about it yet. I know other authors that receive more, and a few that have received less. The coolest part is that they are FREE. However, once these books are used up, you have to buy your books--at a price outlined in your contract (usually 40-60% of the retail price).
Thus, it behooves us to use our Author Copies wisely.
For my first book I gave away all 20 of my copies to family and friends. I was excited and wanted to share my excitement. It was a good feeling to hand over the books and get people's compliments and such. However, a couple months later I was asked to come to a book group and donate a book--I didn't have any books. I ended up buying a case of books--for about $120 and wished I'd held on to a few of those author copies. I learned from that to be more careful on who I gave my free books to and also to make sure I always had copies of my books on hand--even if I had to buy them.
I also learned, the hard way, that some people think I get unlimited free books. People would just ask for a copy--and I gave a few away thinking they would pay me later. They didn't. I still have people that think this, that because they know me and since I have infinite copies to just throw away, they are entitled to one. I've had to learn all kinds of nice ways of letting people know that my books aren't free--which makes those author copies even more valuble because they were.
I also learned later that several people I gave the author copies to never even read it.
On my next book I ran into another problem. Because I had given those 20 people free books, they expected free books again. I was older and wiser and had a different plan for these author copies, wanting to use them in a way that would adequately thank those people that had sacrificed on behalf of the book or in a way that would create more sales rather than just giving them away. A couple people commented on it and a couple other people just never bothered to find a copy, therefore they never read my second book at all. To me, this was pretty clear feedback--author copies should only go to people that appreciate the book.
Now a day's I have it figured out in a way that works best for me, yours might be different, but the point is to think it out and decide what do do with those author copies so that they aren't wasted.
1--The first person to get a book is myself. I write a note about the writing process, where I am in my life, things I learned or wish I'd done differently. It becomes a kind of journal entry about that book in particular. It then goes into my cedar chest. Eight books in--it's fun to go back and read my entries that now span a decade.
2--The second book goes to my husband--who is the person other than myself that sacrifices the most to have any book published. I write a little note in it, pointing out anything specific he did with that particular book.
3--The next two books go to my mom and my mother in law--two women who are very supportive about my writing.
4--The next copy (or copies) go to whoever I dedicated the book to, if they aren't already included in the first two categories. I figure if they inspired me enough to be in my dedication, they deserve a book. I don't do this if I've dedicated the book to a group--just if it's individuals.
5--The next copies go to anyone that did susbstantial editing for me before I turned it in. These are freinds/other writers that usually read through the whole book--I usually have three or four people that have earned their book.
6--The next copies go to professionals that might have given me a lot of guidance on details I used in the book--details I needed help with. I don't give a book to everyone that helped me, just those that made significant differneces.
7--At this point I'm usually out of books or nearly so. If I have enough I dedicate one to each of my children--I'm keeping a set of my books for each of them but don't give it to them until they are old enough to take care of them. I want it to be a keepsake for them. If I'm out of books, I'll often work on this later on when I have to order a case for something else.
**One thing to check out with your publisher is what happens to returned copies of your book. They are unable to sell returned copies for full retail, so they often sell them through an outlet, or to individuals that buy in bulk and then put them on Amazon for $2. I try to buy as many of these copies as possible--either through my publisher (if they will, not all of them do), through the outlets, or even on Amazon. If I pay 60% of retail, that's anywhere from $8-$12 a copy. If I can buy those for $3 instead--I'm much happier. I think use these books to give away or sell at a discount etc. A freind called me a few weeks ago, she'd found one of my books on a clearance table for .99. She bought 40 copies--I'm set!
In the beginning I thought review copies and author copies were the same thing--but they aren't. In your contract there should be an outlined amount of books that are set aside as review copies--generally your publisher will send these out to reviewers, trying to get your name out there by garnering reviews from places readers will then read and want to go buy the book. Some publishers expect their authors to send the review copies out, and yet some authors don't know this and therefore no review copies are sent. If you send out your own, spend some time finding those reviewers that have a large enough audience to make it worth while--for instance if they have a blog, but only two or three comments on average, you won't be reaching many readers. If your publisher takes care of review copies for you, ask for a list of who recieved a book so that you can look for the review, follow up, or add other reviewers you may have a relationship with.
Check your contract, get familiar with how author copies and review copies work, and plan accordingly. Both can be easily fettered away, or can be adequately taken advantage of so as to be an asset in your tools of promotion.