Telephone Support for the Price of a Book?

Not likely.

I was driving down to the Phoenix area yesterday — my first time driving down there in months. It was a beautiful day, sunny with temperatures in the 70s. I was driving my little Honda with the top down and my iPod, connected to the stereo, blasting some classic rock. I had a 30-mile drive ahead of me on Route 60 (Grand Avenue) to get to the nearest PetSmart (or is it PetCo?), where I planned to buy some tropical fish for my aquarium. Route 60 isn’t the most pleasant road to drive on, but it’s nothing to complain about in the stretch I was driving.

I was having a good time.

My cell phone rang. The only reason I heard it is because it’s on vibrate mode and my ears were not necessary. I hit the mute button on the stereo and answered the phone.

The woman on the other end was difficult to hear at 65 mph in a convertible, so I pulled over. After all, she could be a customer for Flying M Air and I needed to hear what she wanted and to give her my full attention.

The words started coming through: QuickBooks. Book. Non-profit. How do I print checks?

It took all my patience not to explode. Apparently, this woman thought that since I’d written a book about Quicken for Windows and another book about QuickBooks for Macintosh, I could help her figure out how to print checks from the non-profit version of QuickBooks for Windows, which I had never even used, let alone written about. I don’t know where she got my phone number — it’s no longer on this site because of calls like hers — and I don’t know where she got the idea that the author of a book about a software product would be her free, technical support hotline.

I set her straight, hung up, and got back on the road. I was fuming for a short while, but the music and wind and great weather soon soothed me.

Here’s what people don’t seem to understand:

  • A book’s content is determined, in part, by the book’s project editor and page count. So an author cannot include coverage of every single nuance of a software program. The least used features are left out to make sure there’s room for the most used features.
  • An author cannot write a book about a topic unless the publisher feels that there’s enough of a market for the book to sell. That’s probably why this person could not find a book covering the not-for-profit version of QuickBooks for Windows. It’s also why I did not update my QuickBooks for Macintosh book to cover QuickBooks 2007 or my Quicken for Macintosh book for any version after 2003 (I think).
  • An author receives, on average, less than $1 per book sold. I don’t know where anyone can get one-on-one, completely personalized technical support by telephone for $1. (Even the folks in India use a script.) My point: buying one of my books does not entitle the reader to interrupt my day by telephone to ask questions about the book’s content or topics not covered in the book at all.
  • An author certainly cannot be expected to provide support for another author’s book. True story: I once got a question in my old FAQ system from someone who told me he’d bought a book by [insert author name here] and was having trouble understanding it. Could I help him? He wasn’t joking. Neither was I when I told him to contact the author of that book, not me.

This might seem like a hard line to take, but I don’t think so. I do a lot to support my work and provide content above and beyond what’s between a book’s covers. The Book Support categories you see listed near the top of the navigation bar are just an example — each one provides additional articles somehow related to a specific book. My Q & A system is also set up to receive questions that I can answer in a place where all readers can benefit from them.

That should be enough.

What do you think?