Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Books for a Cause

So, I've been thinking lately about book related charity drives. I'm all for helping out good causes but when charity events involve artists or entertainers (including authors) they typically also have the ulterior motive of promotion.

And I guess there's nothing wrong with that, but there's an invisible line somewhere and I'm just not sure where it is.

Cases in point...

Several times a year there are auctions for charities where authors and others involved in publishing give away books or critiques or other book or publishing related prizes to raise money. Fans and aspiring authors bid on the prizes. Those auctions are great, I think. Do they maybe increase the visibility of the people donating prizes? Perhaps. But the "publicity" involved seems minor to me compared to the money raised for the cause. And other than a tiny bit of publicity, the authors don't get anything in return. I have no qualms about being involved in one of those auctions.

On the other hand, mega-best-selling non-fiction author Tim Ferriss is running this thing right now where he's donating part of this royalties to charity if people help him sell/promote his new book. I'm not sure exactly how it all works, but what feels wrong about it isn't the donation part, it's the fact that he's claiming his books have been banned in order to entice people to participate/help him sell books which, yes, will peripherally mean that he donates more money to charity.

The reason this one has a squick factor for me isn't that he's giving away part of his royalties. No... it's that banned is a loaded word when it comes to books. And based on how that word is normally used in the book world, his books have not been "banned".

However, it is true that his publisher and therefore his book, have been boycotted by virtually every bookseller in North America...  And, um, Ferriss and I have the same publisher so I know how much that sucks... but I'd never try to convince people that my books have been banned. I think boycotted is a less-loaded word that describes the situation better. (And if you want to buy my book, I suggest you order it from an online retailer because the chances of finding it in a physical bookstore are slim to nil. See boycott.)

I also heard of another charity drive, recently, involving an author that also had a squick feeling for me, but I think that author's heart was in the right place... so I don't think I'll describe it here in detail.

And now I've been asked to be part of a charity program too. During the month of December, participating authors (including me) are partnering with Amazon Children's Publishing to give e-books to Worldreader. For every one of our books sold, an e-book will be donated to Worldreader. I won't be paid royalties for the donated books, but on the other hand, if the promotion surrounding the charity drive means I sell more books in December, I will get my normal royalties on the books sold...

That scheme feels okay to me. Yes, I'm getting some promotion for being involved, (at least I hope I will), but the books are being freely given to the charity by both me and my publisher. Am I rationalizing? Do I have a double standard?

FYI Here's some info on Worldreader.

Do you have clear lines when it comes to charitable giving? I'm clearly feeling ethically challenged these days.


Molly O'Keefe said...

I don't think you have a double-standard at all and your charity sounds amazing!

I don't have a hard and fast rule about this - but the squick factor seems appropriate. Sometimes it's just the balancing of the phrasing between promotion and charity. too much one way and something totally legitimate seems really sketchy. And vice versa.

Anonymous said...

There is a squick factor involved, because the wording he chooses would incite controversy and it definitely seems overblown, banned is a strange word choice.

Eileen said...

It's a tough one. I know some people who are getting tired of being hit up for charitable donations to the auctions. No one wants to talk about it publicly because it makes them seem hard-hearted.

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