Should You Make Your Book for Charity?

A discussion of whether you should publicly pledge a portion of your book sales to a charity.

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It seems like a good idea on paper, right? Dedicating a book to a chosen charity. Surely people will pick up the book in order to donate. Maybe the charity will help market the book. It might buy you some good PR and attention in the local press. But often, in my day job as a publisher, I read proposals from poets who suggest giving the sales to charity, and at about this point, I lose interest.

Now, this isn’t because I don’t want the money to go to a good cause, but it does tell me something about the commitment of the poet. Often, this charitable aim is a secondary concern—a cynical attempt at pushing sales without properly marketing or touring the book.

Perhaps the more relevant question is, “When should I dedicate my book to charity?”

Firstly, I should say there are dozens of ways a charity and a writer can work together in a sincere fashion. You can provide mentoring to writers whom the charity supports, you could lead workshops or talks, you could interview the people supported by the charity or involved in the cause the charity fights for and work with those interviews to create work. But these are proper investments, building relationships over a period of time.

A writer, a poet in particular, should 100% try and get involved in the charity sector, but slapping a charity’s name on your book and calling it a day is not the answer. Adding a financial stake in your book pushes you to move as many units as possible, to earn the money from writing. What you do with the money after that is entirely up to you, but divorcing yourself from the earnings isn’t the solution.

If you want to donate to a charity, then do so yourself. I’ve known people to donate paycheques to charities on a one-off basis. This is great because it provides the incentive to sell units, encourages you to build your marketing, and then lets you make the choice to donate based on your financial situation and the needs of the charity.

If you want to support a charity through your work, then do it properly. Partnering with a charity is often not the boon you’d think. Charities have so much work to do, supporting people and causes, that adding ‘help a writer sell their book’ is so far down their list of priorities as to not register. Charities are not there to help you professionally; you are there to help them.

If you can build a project together, a charity will be more inclined to help you, because there’s a mutual benefit. Trying to take their time because you don’t want to market your book isn’t just selfish, it reveals exactly why the charity shouldn’t work with you. The best partnerships are those where everybody wins. If your only aim is to get your writing read, slap it up on the internet or pop it in a journal. You aren’t ready for a book. A book should be a testament to the writer you are, and you should be so proud of that you won’t want to share it with anybody. Partnering with a charity should be a goal in and of itself, not a way to sell books.

Connor Sansby is a Margate-based writer, editor, poet and publisher through his super-indie Whisky & Beards publishing label.

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