Free Books for Friends and Family?

When an author publishes a book, he expects everyone he knows will be proud of him and be anxious to read his book, but often the opposite is the case. Authors need to give themselves reality checks before they publish their books so they are emotionally prepared for the reactions of family and friends.

Authors think of their books as being like their children, and while authors can often be thick-skinned enough to deal with critics and reviewers they don’t know, they need to be toughest when it comes to dealing with criticism and responses from family members and friends. Just what should an author’s expectations be for support from those he or she knows?

Let’s face it. Publishing your book has been a top priority for you. You’ve spent a long time working on that book and now you’ve seen your dream brought to fulfillment. But remember, your dream is not Aunt Milly’s dream, or even your best friend’s dream. They might be happy for you, but your book is not a major event for them.

I’ll say up front that the best advice I can give you is to have no expectations concerning excitement or support from family and friends. Do not coerce people into reading your book, and don’t expect anyone to do anything to promote it. Let people know your book is being published and that now you have to figure out how to promote it; then if they offer help, take them up on the offer. If they don’t, don’t badger them. In the long run, you’ll have less hurt feelings and disappointment.

Here are a few considerations regarding dealing with family and friends and their reactions when your book is published. I’ve collected several of the examples from different authors I know.

Buying Your Book

One author I know tells me that when he told his best friend his book was going to be published and it would cost “$25.95” his friend replied, “That’s a pretty big burden to put on all your family and friends.” The author of course gave his best friend a free copy, but he also realized that the cost of giving free copies away was not going to help him any. He limited free copies to his parents, siblings, and a few friends who had previously read parts of the manuscript.

While several friends and family members bought this author’s book, he heard many others tell him, “I can’t afford it.” After watching those same people going out to eat and spending money on several other non-necessities, it’s clear to him that it’s not the price that keeps them away. They are just using the cost as an excuse when they simply have no desire to read his book. As authors, we have to remember that everyone is not a reader, and everyone may not be interested in the topics of our books. Bottom line:  don’t expect people to buy your book.

Giving Away Books

If you really want people to read your book, you might decide that you will just give copies away to your family and friends—especially those people who “can’t afford it.”

I’ve heard many authors complain that they give copies of their books to people who never read the books. Even brothers, sisters, and parents don’t always read the book.

We have to remember that reading a book is a big time-commitment, but again, if people don’t read the book, or don’t express interest in reading it, there’s no point in giving books away.

One author I know has published several novels. He gave away quite a few the first time. By the third book, he had cut down the number he gave away to about just a half-dozen people. He found that the friends he no longer gave free books to did not even ask him for a free book—they simply were uninterested. He has also quit sending gifts when these people have babies or embark on their third marriages.

As for the “I can’t afford it” people, the best thing to do is to let them know they can check out the book at the library. I suspect most of them won’t.

People Reading Your Book

Believe it or not, more books get purchased than are ever read, by a huge percentage. Another author I know has a cousin who has bought all five of his books, but she’s never read a single one.

People who get free books do not necessarily read them—in fact, I suspect many people are less likely to read the books because they got the books for free—therefore, the value of the book appears to be less to them.

And always be prepared for negative criticism. You will have many people tell you they enjoy your book, but then there will be the ones who will say something like, “I found seven typos in it”—that will be the only feedback they give you. Ignore these people. Just respond with, “Thanks for telling me” and move on.

However, if someone points out good and bad things about the book, you may want to pay attention. You always want to learn how to improve as a writer.

And then there are the people who will just be plain jealous—even, and perhaps especially siblings. Even if out of kindness, you give these people free copies, do you really care whether or not they like your book? Authors are the last people who should let others’ negativity affect them.

Book Reviews

Even if people read your book, it is unlikely they will do anything beyond that. Make a point when someone tells you he or she read and liked your book to ask the person to post a book review on Amazon and to tell other people about it. The truth is that most people won’t think about how they can help an author unless it is pointed out to them.

If people ask for a free book and you feel inclined to give one to them, then make the stipulation that you only give away free books to people who promise to write a book review for you.

Exchanging books and reviews with other authors is a great idea for helping each other; however, many authors I know have found that even other authors are unlikely to reciprocate. I know an author who has written a couple of dozen different reviews for authors he knows, and yet, he has only had one or two of those authors ever reciprocate. Nevertheless, every time he writes a review, as long as his name and his book are attached to it, he still builds buzz for his own book.

In short, the lower you keep your expectations for a response from family and friends, the less disappointment you will have. Celebrate when a loved one does buy, read, or review your book, but don’t spend too much time worrying about why Uncle Joe has let your book gather dust for two years.

Plenty of readers are out there beyond your friends and family members. Remember, no man is a prophet in his own town. Similarly, few authors achieve celebrity status among those they know, but the greater world of readers may be waiting to embrace you as a favorite author.

Irene Watson is the Managing Editor of Reader Views, where avid readers can find reviews of recently published books as well as read interviews with authors. Her team also provides author publicity and a variety of other services specific to writing and publishing books.


  1. Diiarts says

    A thoughtful and intelligent article which should be required reading for any first-time author – or second- or third-time author, come to that.

    The problem is, I suspect, equally great for self-published and traditionally published authors; and Irene’s advice is spot on.

    The comment about fellow authors’ unwillingness to promote a book is particularly well made. Indeed, it can often be counterproductive to ask a fellow author for an endorsement, as they’re often more anxious to get in a surreptitious plug for their own forthcoming work, than to give your newborn its moment in the spotlight. Jealousy can be a factor here as well as between siblings.

    That said, even though Aunt Milly or Uncle Joe may not read your book, they may well feel incredibly proud of you for writing it – they just may not have the words to tell you. Or they may be afraid that they won’t “get” what you were trying to say, or won’t like it and won’t know what to say to you, so they never pluck up the courage to read it. As Irene says, don’t lose sleep over it, and don’t let it ruin the next family gathering.

    And then there’s the unsolicited rave review from a relative, friend or colleague – or even from a fellow writer. There’s nothing quite like it. Particularly when they pick up on some nuance in your writing of which even you weren’t wholly aware.