The misconception about ‘free’ author copies

Great, you are an author now! So Mr Author, when am I getting my complimentary copy? Oh c’mon, don’t act like a stingy business-man now, 1 copy won’t hurt.
If you’ve ever said this (or might say it in the future) to your good-friend-turned-author, read on to know the truth behind ‘free’ author copies. Maybe you’ll have some newfound sympathy and support for your friend.

How many free copies does an author get?

Authors who’ve got their book published usually get a few copies from the publisher from the first print run. ‘Few’ being the operative word (which could also be in single digits). ‘Poof!’ goes the impression of a truckload of copies lying piled up in the author’s backyard. The actual number depends upon many things like the size of the print run, the marketing plan for the book, the stature of the author and his negotiating power.

A first time author generally doesn’t have too much of a say in these matters. You get what they give you. The number of free copies that an author is entitled to is specified in the publishing contract. Publishers have to keep track of every single copy that’s gone out of their gates, including the complimentary copies.

Why do publishers give away free copies?

It is another marketing tool for them. A sample that folks get read and recommend to others, to increase the ripple effect. From the publisher’s perspective, a free / complimentary copy is anything but free. They expect these free copies to be used to promote the book.

Apart from the author, many others get complimentary copies as well. Institutions, professional book reviewers, bloggers who specialise in the genre of the book and anybody else who they think is important enough to spread the word, so that the expense of their free copies can be not only recovered, but the investment gets multiplied manifold.

So why do authors get free copies?

For exactly the same reason. Authors are also expected to use the free copies to help their publishers recoup the marketing investment. The free copies don’t count towards the official sales number, so author’s don’t get a royalty commission on it.

Of course, authors don’t always think about it that way. And several copies get shared with or shipped to family and friends, purely for sentimental (as opposed to commercial) reasons.

Who are you kidding? Authors make a lot of money.

First books usually never make money for the author. 95 percent of the books will never earn their advances. The royalty rates can be peanuts.

In a country like India, getting a book published has very little to do with making money. It is more about getting the sales numbers up and salvaging the reputation of first time authors, so there’s still scope for them to approach publishers with their next book proposal.

Hmmm…[no question, but a troubled, introspective expression on your face]

If you have a friend who’s published a book, by all means, ask for free copies. But rather than make the poor guy morally obliged to buy from the market (his quota of free books has probably been exhausted in the first week itself) and ship it across to you, also think about how you can help him spread the word. Ultimately, word-of-mouth publicity is what makes or breaks a book.

If you have author friends, you can play an instrumental role in the success of their books. Help them in their tough journey and you’d get more than just your free copy…maybe a special thank you dinner…or maybe a paid trip to Hawaii for your efforts.


  1. I believe its a good way for self branding,especially for those Authors who are upcoming.
    Great insight.

  2. Thanks Sameer,

    I was beginning to wonder what should I do with all the author copies that I was given for my book, “Songs of a Ruin”. I read somewhere it would be deemed useful for promotion, like going to a shop and offering the book to be placed in their front window. Are you aware of that scenario? If yes I would like to know what would be their cut and how to negotiate your way through that?

    Thanks and Regards,

  3. Prashant: This is where you’ll have to wear your creativity hat and think about entrepreneurial ways to use the free copies. There are no standard answers, and it doesn’t even have to only in the form of a higher cut.

    The way I approached i was to promote the book for free in specific shops. Read the story here:

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