by L.J. Sellers, author of provocative mysteries & thrillers
news story this week asked “Is ABC Going too Far in Covering Robin Roberts Illness?” The journalist was speculating about whether the network’s “concern” had crossed the line to exploitation in an attempt to boost ratings.
It’s a very fine line and a subject I’ve been thinking about a lot lately because it applies to authors, charity, and book sales. Many authors have donated the profit, or part of the profit, of a new book to charity, typically a charity or medical cause that corresponds with a theme in the story. And in doing so, they boost their sales and visibility.
On the surface, this seems noble, and we did it here on this blog when the tornado tore apart Joplin Missouri. Those of us with published books donated all our profits during a certain time period—and others made cash donations—to a Joplin family, who was very grateful for the help. I even think it was my idea.
But the more I ponder this trend, the more I believe that for myself, charity needs to be separate from commerce. Any donation I make should be done out of compassion and goodwill alone—without profiting from it directly through increased sales.
But why not accomplish both things at once, when it seems so expedient? I’m not sure I can articulate why I’ve come to feel this way. Except that rooting for your book to sell is a completely different emotion and experience than sending money to help others in need—perhaps even a contradictory one.
I understand why authors do this. Their hearts are in the right place. And the readers who buy those books are even more commendable. They’re figure they’re going to spend money on books anyway, so why not make a donation to charity at the same time?
Many businesses also run these campaigns. A pizza parlor down the street often donates part of its one-day profits to a charity, school, or foundation. Everybody wins.
And I understand what ABC is trying to accomplish: educate viewers, raise money for medical research, and boost its ratings. But has it gone too far? Probably. Charities are by definition nonprofit, and raising money for, or donating to, a cause without directly profiting from the effort seems more noble. Yet goodwill results naturally from generosity, so indirect benefits are inevitable.
I’m not saying it’s wrong for authors to connect their books to a charity. It’s just not something I’m comfortable doing myself. But I'm probably in the minority here. What do you think?