So, I sent Miss Manners a letter, and she printed and answered it. A): I think this is really cool. 2): I think she has a valid argument. III): It doesn’t address the whole of the problem. d): What do you think?
So, I sent Miss Manners a letter, and she printed and answered it. A): I think this is really cool. 2): I think she has a valid argument. III): It doesn’t address the whole of the problem. d): What do you think?
0 thoughts on “Miss Manners, me, and begging for alms”
I think Miss Manners is mistaken. A “donate” button on a web site isn’t the equivalent of begging in the street, it’s the equivalent of a performer passing the hat. Except even less intrusive.
Miss Manners has historically been predisposed to the idea that the basic norms of courtesy and pleasant social interaction aren’t as transformed by the internet as we sometimes kid ourselves that they are. And that’s a pretty sensible predisposition to have. But it doesn’t immunize you from the mistakes that ensue when you let similes do your thinking for you and choose the wrong simile, and that’s what’s happened here.
The fact is, the emotions people feel on spotting a “donate” or “tip jar” button on a web site are nothing like the emotions people feel when accosted in person by someone begging.
It’s not like you’re an active fundraiser. If people like your stuff enough to give you unsolicited funds, cool. Providing a place on a website to give money is not in my eyes begging. You’re not asking for it, you just provided the place to do it.
Definition of donte: To present as a gift to a fund or cause; contribute
To help ensure a persons financial stability is a cause… if it is important to you as a contributor.
Not that I wouldn’t give YOU money (except for the I’m poor and only get books thru credits from doing surveys or review copies. Sigh) I personally hate donate buttons, because yeah, they do seem like begging in most cases.
However, since I actually respect you and unlike most people with a website, a mouth and fingers, doesn’t bug me here. Maybe cause I’m reading Jhegaala at the moment as well.
I think it’s a matter of context more than anything. I enjoy your books and your posts here. Others….not so much.
I still think you should come up with something cool you can charge a premium for and have it be somewhat uncommon, that way the people that donate a fair amount feel like they’re not only doing a good deed, but are’ buying’ something nifty.
Not sure what that something would be… but you’re a creative guy. I’m sure you could think of something.
I wouldn’t consider a donate button even remotely in the same league as street begging though. I wouldn’t even say it’s like passing the hat. It’s more like you’re a lounge singer sitting at a piano in a smoke filled bar where there’s lots of chatter going on and there’s a big oversized brandy snifter sitting on that piano. You don’t really talk about it, but it’s there if someone likes the song you’ve sung or wants to do a request. Or whatever.
I agree with Patrick that I think Miss Manners misses some of the larger context. If Steve had “Donate to me!” in 60-point font blinky letters scrolling across the top of the main page (or worse, as a pop-up window), that might be closer to the begging end of the analogy.
I would suggest that a simple “donate” button could actually be viewed as providing a helpful service for a certain type of reader. I know I am the sort of art consumer who prefers to deal directly with the artist rather than with middlemen whenever possible. If I can buy a CD directly from a show or an artist, rather than through a music store, I do. The same with preferring to purchase a piece of visual art from the creator rather than an art gallery. Our current publishing industry isn’t set up for me to as easily get my stories directly from a source (though aspects of the internet may be changing some of this), so providing an option for people like me–who often get reading material from used bookstores where I know the author isn’t making any direct money from that sale–to be able to more directly show my appreciation for an author I like is hardly an imposition or a rudeness.
I think that a reasonable compromise, for any author that doesn’t want to close the door on potential incidental income from donations but is worried about the begging subtext, is to phrase the link to the donation page less directly than a “donate” button while still conveying the purpose of the link. For example, have a small line at the top or bottom of a webpage that says “If you wish to more directly support this artist, click here” and takes you to the donation page.
Another idea, potentially more problematic so worth considering carefully, might be to provide on the “donate” page creative ways for fans to contribute that are not directly money. A list of three or four things where the first is the link to the author’s paypal or other donate account, and the other points on the list are helpful or random things like: “I could use two pages of active links to interesting articles on the subject of mollusk mating habits for an upcoming project I’m working on” or “Translation of the phrase ‘Breaking the minds of the unworthy’ into Latin” or other useful trivia that mining the minds of fans might help with but that you don’t have time or energy for. This approach might also help alleviate the implication of begging if you’re worried about that.
I think everything is a matter of context. In your case I wouldn’t call it begging. You work and produce things people want to read. If you have a donate button people are not required to donate. It’s not like you are in their face appealing to their compassion. In fact, you are open and honest that you are bad with money.
I would certainly consider donating to you as your books are a value to me, and I would like you to keep writing.
Do you sacrafice your pride to ask for donations? I don’t think Ms. Manners can say that without knowing you. That is a question that you have to answer yourself.
I would certainly suggest you take the time to understand why you are bad with money. Understadning your choices and actions will help you to get into a better place.
(Side note: We aren’t actually looking for links on mollusk mating habits, it was intended as a humorous example. Thank you.)
I can’t agree with Miss Manners’ distinction. She says a donation is only a donation if it’s in a good cause.
Who donates money to bad causes?
If someone makes a donation, they think the cause — whatever it is — is a good one. I think it’s their call.
I agree with Ms. Martin. The word “donate” has a specific connotation of giving to a charity with the understanding it will be passed on to others in much worse circumstances.
When I see a gimme button on a private web site, I feel somewhere between uncomfortable and repulsed, and I admit it’s a matter of word choice. Donate means someone wants charity but is trying to make it sound less pathetic.
There have been many good suggestions to help with money so that such a button may not be needed in the future. There are many items that could be offered for sale via your site, and I know there must be several people well versed enough in web-based marketing who would be happy to assist with it all.
Also a list of specific needs (not wants) for giving is a good idea. I know many people who would never give money but are happy to give away items they no longer want, and most would jump at the chance to offer links or book recommendations on cerithiopsidae mating.
I don’t know the situation in the US, but there are a reasonable number of scholarships for writers provided by foundations and often financed by donations. So what your button effectively does is cutting out the middleman. Has that ever been a bad thing?
Also, remembering all the fun i had reading your books i still feel indebted to you. And i’ll gladly support your writing with a bit of my money if it prevents you from writing vampire porn as anyone else does these days.
I disagree with Miss Manners. When I click a Donate button on a non-charity website, I don’t feel like I’m giving to a cause to help a group of needy people. I agree with other posters that the word “Donate” is misleading. Instead, I feel like I’m sponsoring an artist to help them complete their next project.
In other words, in general I want books to be cheap and accessible. But sometimes I would be willing to pay more for a quality book. The way I think this works in my little capitalist world, is that books are generally priced the same, and a person can show appreciation for an author by supporting them in other ways above and beyond buying books.
I think Judith Martin has never been poor.
And after checking her Wikipedia bio, I think she’s giving extremely clever upper-class advice. If you need upper-class advice, accept hers.
I am sure her servants never embarrass her.
MzHartz is onto something. Create a Paypal button that says, “Do you wish to be a patron of the arts?”
Also, do you have the electronic and hardcover rights to any of your books? I’m researching possibilities for Shadow Unit, and in a few days, I’ll post what I learn.
Will: I think I have electronic and hc rights to a few of them, but I’d have to ask Val to be sure.
Ask her. There are possibilities that could be helpful for you and a number of folks. Sorry to be vague now, but I’m still researching.
I don’t know if I’d consider it donation. I come here because:
1) I’m a fan of your books and I hope to read spoilers and gain inside information
2) I’m a fan of your daily blogs.
If you put a mechanism for paying on the web page, but didn’t make it mandatory for payment to access your content, it’d be more like you have a volunteer pay site.
I have a fairly simple scale for how much value I’m getting from a creative (fun) work. Movies are about $10/hr of fun. Based on that formula, you’re undercharging for your books.
A tip jar/donate button helps redress that imbalance.
Become the sole distributor for your ARCs, I’ve seen 2 of Iorich go for $100 each on ebay already.
“Donate” may be a somewhat misleading term, but patronage is an old and well-accepted tradition in the arts. Mrs. Manners herself has pointed out that etiquette rules lag behind other changes in society. This is certainly one of those cases; the electronic equivalent of a tip jar is not yet well recognized yet, despite the fact that it is already well-established in many circles (webcomics, Amanda Palmer, etc.).
Why don’t you just relabel the button, from “Donate” to “Tip Jar” and readjust feelings accordingly?
Nobody thinks tips are donations or that tip jars are begging. This is money you voluntarily give to someone, such as a musician, because you particularly enjoy what they do and want to express that materially, above and beyond mere patronage of the place they perform/purchase of their novels — because you want to encourage them to keep doing what they do.
(Or in some cases, because the thought of them driving a truck on the public highways is terrifying.)
Maybe you should consider relabeling the button from “donate” to “begging”, and include a link to the Miss Manners article.
I mean, if this is how it makes you feel, why not be up-front about it?
To me, the Miss Manners link would make it kinda cool.
Actually, I was considering labeling it “give alms.” The link is an interesting idea.
Fan and lurker here. I have a crazy suggestion, why not use the proceeds from the “Arts Patron” button to hire a financial planner?
In the meantime, I’ll try to buy all my Christmas gifts from the Adrilankha Gift Shop, which I didn’t even realize existed until today!
Erm Steve I love your books..and I have been able to find and re-read them in every county i’ve visited in the world…I think I’ve bought at least 8 copies of phoenix guards in my life alone..its blows my mind that you have money problems. I live on $2500 a month, eat way too much sushi..and still manage to rent nice places and never worry about $$…
If one were to donate does it go to some horrible crack habit or gambling addiction ? Maybe you should be like House and check yourself in somewhere..or at the very least take some life skills class..
Yes, the words can probably be interchanged without changing the dictionary meaning, but that’s hardly useful. Words come with connotations and there’s no similarity between shaking a tin can in peoples faces and providing a mechanism for fans to show their fanaticism.
Where’s my wiffle bat.. I feel the urge to ask Mrs. Manners a question myself. :)
I strongly second Will’s question about electronic rights. I’d _really_ like to re-buy all of your novels. I stopped reading paper books a couple years ago and I like re-reading the Vlad series every couple years. Get ’em available through amazon and I’ll do some publicity for ya.. :)
I enjoyed the Miss Manners’ article. Her view on etiquette is a throw back to another time. I agree with Will Shetterly (which as a staunch conservative and capitalist is a shock to me) that her advice is geared toward the upper classes. They would never dream of begging, primarily because it would mean that they were no longer upper class.
And I think begging is an overly negative a term, in this context. A beggar seeks out persons to beg from. A “donate” or “tip jar” link on your website is not the same, as the potential donors are seeking you out. If they elect to donate or tip, it is in recognition for the entertainment you have provided them, not because of any pity or concern, misplaced or otherwise, and is also entirely free of any pressure. Comparing begging to providing an opportunity to show appreciation via a gratuity, in my mind, means that Ms. Manners views waitresses and others in the service industry as beggars. There is nothing wrong in allowing others to reward good service through a purely voluntary gratuity. It is certainly not begging.
On the concern front (I hope misplaced) I have to believe that you are at least as succesful novelist as John Scalzi. Both of you are outstandingly talented writers, but you have a larger number of novels to your credit. John Scalzi is very free with information on his earnings, which I would place as solidly middle income (note- I did not use the term middle class, I hate that term. It is offensive as it equates wealth to class which is not the case). I would think you would be at least as succesful economically. You either need a checkbook balancing class or a new agent, I’m not sure which.
Keep the donate button.
Add a button to donate love, because that’s all I can do right now.
Seriously, Mr. Brust, the joy and entertainment I’ve gotten from reading your books has far outweighed how much I’ve spent on them.
Buying the new one in January.
I think you should market Vlad Taltos brand knives.
When you just have to stab someone in the eye, make it a Taltos.
I recall a story from a dear friend of mine who is a moderately successful non-fiction writer which I found terribly enlightening at the time. She was talking to a very well noted science fiction author and each had sought out the other to discover whether there was more money in the other’s type of writing. Obviously there isn’t. The point is that though we get great enjoyment from reading, there is very little money in it for the authors.
Because of this, my friend has a donate button displayed on her web page (which itself is worth visiting because of the news and commentary) and though we are dear friends, and though I certainly have little myself, I regularly donate because of the great enjoyment I get from her work.
If my friend were a mechanic and she maintained my truck for me, I’d be giving her money directly, not necessarily through her employer alone, so why should it be any different with the world of ideas? Why would I give the publisher money only to have it trickle down in pennies to the author?
The analogy to the musician passing the hat, is fairly apt. Keep the button and do so unapologetically. There is nothing shameful in even detailing the piss-poor situation that exists for authors with regard to compensation for their efforts. We all clearly are entertained by your work Steven, and by contributing we can feel not only that we are helping someone who has given us great pleasure, but also selfishly (not a bad thing inho) we can know that we have helped keep the books coming.
All voluntary exchange is good. After all it is not like you are sending Mario after us.. :)
I agree with Patrick and dkl. A “Donate” button on a website is the equivalent of a tip jar or a hat being passed around.
The question is, a tip for what? Steven is already receiving our money for his books. You wouldn’t put money in a hat for a band you paid money to see, nor would you tip the proprietor of a restaurant.
I would say this tip jar is for the blog itself – Steve does post things here after all and provides entertainment and intelligent discussion. This is the equivalent to a “set your own price” scheme for content.
I assumed you were asking only about the web site, but given the comments about rights, there are many others you may have forgotten about but that could be a good source of income, like book clubs, electronic rights, excerpt rights, film/TV/other media, foreign rights, reprints, revised editions, serial (comic books?), translations and, of course, merchandising, anything from House symbols to character images in a variety of forms.
And once the money arrives, a financial advisor would be a good investment, or at least someone who works with a reputable brokerage firm who offers free assistance to customers. I hesitate to go so far, but I’ve dealt with such an advisor in Austin whom I’d recommend to anyone if you’re interested in names.
I have to say I agree with Ms. Martin. I also agree that changing the button to read “Give Alms” is a charming solution.
I’m not so sure that’s entirely accurate. After all, it’s not like Steve gets all (or even a major portion) of the money from book sales. If I pay $25.95, Steve gets maybe $4.
Which is not to blame the publisher for wanting to make money, but does establish that you’re not just “paying Steve” for delivering a book to you.
That said, I like the “Give alms” solution. It’s whimsical, and I like whimsical. And if you want to downsize expectations you can always have it say “Give an alm,” which also has the virtue of being confusing.
I think there’s nothing at all wrong with a donations button on one’s website. How else can people who only find one’s book in a used bookstore or a library kick in a little something toward the author’s wellbeing?
On another subject entirely, what’s so bad about begging? Seriously. In a world where jobs are scarce, where most of the wealth is controlled by the already-wealthy, people grit their teeth and do work they don’t want to do. Most of the people who approach me in parking lots and on street corners asking if I have change for a phone call, a buck for gas, whatever the story, are doing exactly that. “Begging” is just another job people have to take because they can’t find or keep something that pays better and takes less out of the worker. Begging is hard work, made harder by the shame that comes with it.
Asking for help is hard only because we think we should be ashamed of doing it.
There’s a distinct difference between a beggar on the street and someone asking for web donations, in a society’s eyes if nothing else. While I can see Miss Manners’ point, I think she’s drawing a parallel between displaying what is essentially a digital tip jar, to someone on the street with a styrofoam cup, but that’s just my opinion.
Whether or not this can be classified as begging depends on your own perspective as to what people are giving you money for.
If you phrase it as asking for money because you are financially strained, then it was to be expected Miss Manners would make a connection to begging for cash.
But I think if you were to say that you’re simply providing your fans with a means to give a little extra for the enjoyment they get out of reading your books or this blog (Because there IS ample enjoyment to be had there!) then the begging viewpoint no longer holds water, and the donation button really becomes more of a donation: voluntary payment for services rendered.
It’s all how one looks at it, really.
d) Miss Manners understands little, but as the embodiment of an anachronistic notion, why should that be a surprise?
I do not mean that manners are a thing of the past, but the world is sufficiently fragmented that the notion of there being one standard of etiquette for all places and times is even more absurd now than when first proposed. Even begging has it’s place.
I once was approached while walking in New York by a fellow who looked at a friend I was walking with, then at me and uttered the line: “Hey, lucky guy, do you have five bucks for a poor homeless man trying to make a down payment on a condo?” I was sufficiently charmed and disarmed that I realized I did.
If on were to throw a large party, and happened to mention to those who stay the longest that the larder will be a little light for a while due to the outlay for the party, there’d be nothing wrong accepting any offers of assistance that might be forthcoming.
So, let’s see, author maintains a website that I enjoy visiting for a variety of reasons. I pay nothing for this. The thing is not festooned with flashing banner ads or a platform for anoying pop-ups. I come in, and happen to notice a donate button. How in the hell does that become either offensive to me or demeaning to the author?
Sir, it is supposed to be a free country and you are free to conduct business however you like. Fuck shame and fuck over intellectualizing this.
Your writing is the product of your brilliant creative mind. Sure you have shared and learned from others but claim your shit man! Collect however you like in fair exchange for what you produce and share with the world.
Fuck labels and false pride, be proud of what you are. You have no gawdamn clue who I am yet I think and feel you are incredible and have deeply luved your work since I was a teen. We are out there in the market place the trick is not being shy to barter and collect however you can. You deserve to live well and get whatever you can for your work. Ask for money however you like what matters is how wonderful what you produce is…and it is truly wonderful!
I used to make a practice of giving $20 each month to whatever web-comic most tickled my fancy. Supporting artists one likes online is no big deal. The only complication here is that normally you’re doing that when you get the works for free online, rather than having to subsequently purchase the books.
You might try turning things up a notch by seeking sponsors for your next book. Print a thank-you to them as part of the acknowledgements. List their names. You gain financial support. They get publicly acknowledged for supporting your work. Wasn’t that the bargain that the great masters had with their patrons?
Oh, and please do a reading here in Austin some time. I don’t do the fanboy thing, but hearing authors I respect talk about their works is always worthwhile. I’m not sure if people would look at you funny for putting out a tip jar at Book People, but doing an occasional reading couldn’t hurt your sales.
again – how do we know the money isnt going to feed a bad habit that will in the end hurt steve ? I think one needs to know more about the situation not wanting to throw gas on a fire.
It’s really none of our business. Steve is an adult, and free to make his own choices. You, of course, are free not to support those choices, financially or otherwise, but you don’t have the right to demand he justify his spending to you.
You have written a novel which you made available for free download for folks. You write Texas Wisdom sayings free for anyone who wants to read them, as well as all the other contents of this blog. Why not have a tip jar? If you were playing music somewhere, you likely would— unless the people running the bar or the festival were tightassed creeps.
Why should the internet be any different?
Adding on to 43’s comments, I still think you should roll up the Texas wisdom comments in a small book (Douglas Adams did so with his “The Meaning of Liff”).
Emma (pardon the familiarity) hits on an important aspect of this. I fully admit that few of my copies of the Vlad series, and not all of the Khaavren Romances were purchased new. I am a very frugal person to say the least so I do buy used. However, that does not mean that I am not generous or that I won’t pay those responsible for my entertainment.
I see little if any reason to pay the publisher when I can get the book for less without paying them extra. However I recognize that the entertainment comes from the author, not the publisher so when I can buy books for a few dollars used, I see no problem in choosing at the same time to pay the author to continue writing those books I love.
Just as I will pre-order CDs from obscure scottish poets (singers..etc.. ) why not be willing to pay authors either before or after for their work?
I can easily state that I’d pre-order any new Vlad book or Khaavren Romance. How is that different in type from the donate button?
As someone who’s done some fundraising for good causes, I’m already starting from the assumption that of course it’s ok to ask for money for your situation and/or work. We can quibble about the how’s of it all, but I’m more curious about the nature of Steve’s (if I may be briefly permitted the familiarity) discomfort, and how best to address it.
Most people who start out asking are initially fearing rejection, but that’s probably not the problem for any experienced writer (and former organizer)!
Is it the feeling that he’s already gotten his “fair share” via traditional means (ie. book sales)? Is it embarrassment around his personal situation that prompted this question to begin with? Going further, is it discomfort in asking for money for a personal situation of his own making that in some ways is unrelated to his actual work? That as opposed to his books, he is, in effect, asking for something for nothing even though he had the means to avoid this situation?
While those thoughts would be understandable, it seems like most everyone (or everyone?) including myself would completely disagree.
First, asking for money is in some ways less about the asker and more about the giver. By doing so, you give the donor/patron/whatever the opportunity to further express their appreciation for your work in other ways, if they so choose. If you don’t ask, then you’re making a presumption about what you think is best for others.
Secondly, Steven Brust the man and his work are inextricably linked. If his personal life is affecting his ability to work, and others have a vested interest in that work, then why not give folks a no-string opportunity to support that work by supporting him?
Ah, it’s getting late, and it sounds like my son’s waking up. But trust me, the third and fourth points were brilliant! :)
Steve, I would respectfully ask you to let us have the opportunity to express our support for your work in other ways.
And yes, please get a damn financial planner/accountant/friend/lover/somebody who’s competent to help you manage your money. You don’t owe it to anybody (ie. your fans/patrons) to do so, but it sure would be a relief to hear if you did.
Personally I would agree with MzHartz and Will Shetterly that Miss Manners stuffed up and incorrectly equated the ‘donation button’ with begging. I think that it is quite clear that the closest analogy is that of providing people with the opportunity to offer an artist (or novelist) patronage.
In the olden days members of the wealthy upper class would give significant sums to support painters, poets etc – giving them the opportunity to create future works. It was NOT a payment-in-advance for specific goods from the artist.
Having a patron was good for the artist because it would prevent them from having to beg for money from their relatives or become street beggars in truth. Seeking a Patron was not done overtly, but it was clearly not the same as begging. In return the Patron received considerable social credit for supporting those who created the physical manifestations of Culture (not to mention a warm fuzzy glow for giving money to someone who was not a beggar).
In essence patronage allows an artist the opportunity to continue to produce goods of worth, which the patron can then enjoy at a later date. The Patron can purchase these works or even commission specific goods as a separate transaction if that is their wish.
This is different to a tip jar from a busker, because a busker provides something immediate (eg music or dancing to entertain the giver).
It is also different from begging as there is no ongoing relationship between a beggar and the giver. The beggar does not at any point produce anything of value for the giver.
Miss Manners made an artificial distinction of her own when talking about Charitable donations. Such donations are a specific legal entity in their own right, but what happens if you take away the rose colored glasses? Instead of a needy person begging for alms you have a middle-man (the charitable organization) which funnels the resources from the giver to the receiver. The only difference is the filter between the beggar and the giver. Just like begging the donor is not provided with any direct goods or services. Yes I’m simplifying things, but that is what these analogies are all about in any case. I would say that a charitable donation is much more closely linked to begging than is the relationship between a patron and an artist.
These days it is no longer necessary to subtly maneuver a wealthy person into offering to be your patron. You simply utilize the power of the web and subtly place a button on the page. Then anyone who is sufficiently enamored with your work can become a patron of your art, and can later purchase and enjoy the works that their patronage made possible.
plenty of adult addicts out there who need help changing their life not money thrown at them. If his losses are due to poor financial management and not illness then what a wonderful example you are setting with your blind ignorant whimsical trust.
Just to be clear, this topic is not about whether I deserve or need money, but about the principle of “donate” buttons on the web sites of writers. Most of you have responded to this with thought-provoking comments, for which I thank you.
Rather than take the time for a well reasoned, thoroughly researched response to this issue, I will just quote Steve Martin in My Blue Heaven:
“It’s not tipping I believe in. It’s over-tipping.”
Entertainers are definitely in the class that deserves gratitude expressed in currency, and there are few more entertaining than you, sir! Gifts given in gratitude for a job well done create a virtuous cycle of accomplishment and reward.
JD, you’re assuming a number of things which are not true.
As for the principle of whether or not artists/writers should have donation buttons, others have addressed it well enough that I feel anything I say would be redundant. In short, I’m for it, as long as they aren’t obnoxious about it.
JD must be a real hoot in restaurants. “Before I leave a tip, what will you be spending it on?”
Your work is art, and art does not (in general) pay. Artists always have and probably always will need patronage. The ‘Donate’ button is a well understood internet meme – miss manners can stuff it.
There is a difference between a beggar and a street performer; the latter is offering you something, the former is pressing your guilt button. I often give money to street artists, never to beggars. I make very considerable charitable contributions to feed and clothe the hungry, including cooking for them, but it’s not on the basis of my selecting individuals for largesse.
But your button isn’t for your performance here, is it? We’re really paying you because we like your books, or your persona, rather than your blog. So it’s more like begging than performing.
Does it matter? My wife happily gives money to beggars.
What is the opposite of a fan? I can’t come up with the word, but I may have spotted a couple of them.
I think the comparison of the Donate button to a tip jar is an apt one. It would be different if this was a news letter and you solicited funds at the end of each. As it is you don’t even pass around the hat, choosing instead to put it off to the side (so far in fact that I couldn’t find it).
I work in downtown San Francisco and walk about a mile or so to and from work each day. Trust me; I see a lot of people begging for money. I also see street performers and merchants trying to earn some money. There is a world of difference.
As others have pointed out, those of us who come to this site do so not just because we enjoy you’re books, but because we enjoy what you write here. There is nothing wrong with putting a preverbal hat out, letting those can and wish to have the chance to show their appreciation.
Another perspective, http://www.onthemedia.org/transcripts/2009/10/23/06
My own perspective. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a tip jar, a donate button, a “premium content” section, a set of side projects, or anything else that keeps someone in a living who has demonstrated that they can provide value. My difficulty with beggars on the street, and where I personally draw the distinction is that all beggars on the street are selling me is my own good feelings. Masturbation achieves that just as well, and I still have the change in my pocket to buy a beer.
But, you know, if I donate to Steve and he’s then able to have the time to write another book, then I may no longer have the change in my pocket for the beer but I’ve bought his good feelings, my own good feelings, and another book. It’s a much better situation all around.
Also, less seriously.
Why has nobody else suggested you rename it the “Pay your Socialism Tax” button yet?
Site donation requests are commonplace, increasingly so, in this decade. Indeed, some P2P sites survive on donations alone. (I cite this independently of what anybody thinks about P2P itself.) Pretending that it doesn’t happen, or should not, is frankly stupid.
I am very much in favor of politeness, of manners and treating others well.
However, I believe Miss Manners has outlived her usefulness. She expresses sentiments and opinions that are entirely outdated. Her job ought not to be making snippy comparisons to begging.
She ought, instead, to be suggesting polite and well-mannered ways to ask for and receive donations. If she has nothing constructive or useful to say about existing contemporary processes, and how to do them better, then the polite and well-mannered thing for Miss Manners to do would be to shut up about it.
What use is she in the 21st century, if she can’t provide relevance with the world as it is, instead of as she would like it to have remained? Nobody needs or can afford quaint 19th century affectations and snobbishness anymore. This has become the new rudeness.
We don’t begin emails with “Dear Sir”, nor end them with “Your Obd’t.”. Anyone who does is rightly regarded as pretentious and probably a spammer anyway. Those who do not, are not considered rude. We need an etiquette for THIS century, and Miss Manners isn’t doing the job anymore.
If you haven’t got any place for me to hang my hat and don’t offer to take it, where do you get off expecting me to remove it, eh? When the former went out of fashion, so did the latter.
There is no more fixed standard of good manners than there is a fixed vocabulary for language. Words are created, used, change meanings, go out of fashion constantly. So do manners. They are both dynamic, and stick-in-the-mud doyens pronouncing on the subject simply need to get with the times.
I don’t think you or anyone should pay any attention at all to what Miss Manners thinks. It’s past time for Miss Manners 2.0
GWW@29: I think you should market Vlad Taltos brand knives.
I’m torn between thinking this is awesome and finding it terrifying. I give my husband ten mintues before he causes him or myself serious injury.
Also, I’m afraid that, armed, he’ll remember that I broke his Valabar’s mug.
I also think “tip jar” or “alms” are better terms for it.
I also think there is nothign wrong with it. I love that you do these blogs and Texas Wisdom and actually correspond with your fans.
I would tip, except I am in the same boat with terrible spending habits that leave me perpetually broke.
Under marketing ideas, when I am flush, I would love to purchase maps, family/association trees and such to go along with the stories. I don’t know if there are such things created for your books , but I would love to own them.
Thanks for your work. I greatly appreciate all of it.
Miss Manners notes that “Individuals may … receive it through grants to do work.”
A ‘donate button’ related to your work – on your website, publicizing your work – clearly seeks support for doing that work. I agree with those who suggested that Miss Manners missed the distinction between accosting strangers and putting out a ‘tip jar’ for a performance.
You could always relable the button as ‘tip jar’ or ‘become a patron.’
Hysterically enough, I feel like I have something significant to contribute to this discussion. It’s hysterical to me, because I’ve been out of work for over a year now. (The unemployment rate in California is over 10% and here in the Bay area, it’s estimated to be closer to 20%…)
A friend of mine runs a web comic, and has done so for several years. He’s got a “donate” button on his site. He also runs “fund drives” every so often, where he offers sketches, Christmas cards or whatever small, cheap things he can get away with to make people feel like they’re getting something in return, in order to help support him and his wife. And I don’t particularly see the problem with it.
What Miss Manners fails to understand is that artistic endeavors are a pain in the ass, and generally pay next to squat. Being creative ain’t worth the paper it’s printed on, most of the time. I’ve been trying to get a novel printed myself now for at least a few years. But I also wrote a web comic for a few years. And we took donations too. Why? Because we needed the money, honestly. Maintaining a website wasn’t particularly cheap. Was it begging? Could’ve been. Do I give a shit? Fuck no. I don’t recall twisting anyone’s arm to give me money.
The division between the upper class and the rest of us is greater now than it’s been in quite some time, and those of us who can’t afford our fifth pair of His’n’Hers sportcars are entitled to spend our money however we damn well please. I find it insulting and preposterous that Miss Manners thinks begging is degrading. I’m allowed to pass on my spare change to anyone I see fit, and honestly Steve, you’ve given me more than enough entertainment over the years, that I’m please to toss you what little I can, because I think in the end, that karma means you’ll provide more entertainment for me, and that kind of mental enjoyment’s worth more than money.
And yes, I have to agree with the people listed above – get a professional financial adviser, someone whose job it is to keep track of where the money’s coming and going, and how to invest it.
I was going to disagree, but many more interesting and august people have made that point better than I could.
I will say that I think it’s very much like tipping. Blogging is very much a tipping position.
I also have to disagree with Ms. Manners. In a sense, “donations” from your page are grants by individuals. We like your work. We want it to continue. While there are commercial ways to support it (if I don’t get an Iorich pre-order for Christmas, I’m making one on the 25th), some people also make contributions to enable you to continue your work. For my part, I tell the Houston Public Library to buy everything you write, check things out to make sure they pop up as being read, etc.
I think Devinoch may be on to something. Maps. Perhaps portraits of characters. There are people on the Renderocity(?) site who do great work for little money or a share of the proceeds.
A trustworthy account/financial advisor is almost priceless. And some of the most honest work for reasonable rates. Get referrals from those you know. The CPA and other accounting designations are not necessary when dealing with smaller accounts. Those are only needed if you are at risk from the IRS or the Estate Tax auditors (who are not accountants, but are lawyers).
FYI the Estate Tax Is aimed at people who are worth more than $1,000,000 but less than $20,000,000 when they die. Those above the high amount can pay for all the high-priced lawyers and tax specialists. They do not ever pay that 55% rate the government demands. Only family owned businesses and farms or those whose home appreciated too much just before dying. For every dollare collected, less than five cents go into the government coffers. It has the highest overhead of any government fundraising program. Sorry for the digression.
I’ll state up front that I haven’t really read any of the other comments (I skimmed a few), so sorry if I’m repeating anything already said.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. How artists relate to their fans is changing day by day, especially due to this fancy interwebs thing.
If you feel bad asking for donations, maybe give it value, such as a special short story to anyone who gives more than $15 or something. Fans will pay for this.
True example: When Rikki Simons (the voice of Gir on Invader Zim) was having computer issues before launching his new web comic Tavicat, he asked for donations and said that anyone who donated any amount and gave an email address would get a signed Gir poster. Didn’t take anything more than that to get me to give him $5. I love my signed Gir poster.
Ohh…write slash for your own characters and charge $5 for it. Fans eat this stuff up!
I see you have a link to Amanda Palmer’s blog. Go read/re-read this post: http://blog.amandapalmer.net/post/200582690/why-i-am-not-afraid-to-take-your-money-by-amanda What do you think Miss Manners would make of that?
A. That is pretty cool. 2. Her argument is valid because everyone has the right to an opinion. And in case of rudeness and manners, everything depends on opinion. III. I don’t think she realizes that the internet has it’s own set of manners and behaviors. Being less personal, the internet provides a forum of communication and interaction that is totally different than face to face encounters.
d. I think most people see a “Donate” button as a means to finance the website and work put into it, not as begging.
I appreciate the honesty regarding the money management aspect of things as well as the fact that asking for money makes you uncomfortable. Having said that, how many best selling authors engage their fans in such a direct manner without charging for it? You should feel no remorse whatsoever for placing a donate button that is completely optional for people who participate in the site, be they occasional posters or regulars. Further, I think most people would view (As Tim B said above me) the donation as participating in the maintenance of the site.
At the end of the day, how others view it doesn’t matter, but rather how you view it. If it makes you feel better, one idea is to send a modest gift to those who donate. That way you can view it as an exchange rather than begging. I’m thinking an autographed bookmark or something that doesn’t eat too much into the donation but represents a token of appreciation for someone who is a fan of your work.
And of course, by not reading other comments prior to posting, I sound like a parrot. My bad.
Autographed bookmarks. Hey. I like that idea. I like it a lot.
I also like the knife idea.
I like autographed bookmarks, I’d also kill for a autographed photo of Steven with a superimposed little winged (sarcastic) friend on his shoulder!
If/When I get a PayPal account, I’ll appreciate the opportunity to click on your “Donate” button.
It’s not entirely a matter of the fact that several of the volumes on my Brust Shelf were bought second-hand, or that I’ve gotten significant enjoyment from your blog; it’s also that I like to help-out causes & individuals who seem to me to deserve it — if only because they are (IMO) doing something to make the world a somewhat better place than it would otherwise be.
Mind you, I generally find blatant pitches — most often coming from people who seem to believe, inaccurately, that the world owes them a living — to be somewhat off-turning. A Donate/Tips/Alms jar, however, strikes me as being an entirely different matter.
I agree with PNH and most of the other posters in the thread that “begging” is the wrong term for an unobtrusive “tip jar” or “donate” button on a website. I don’t consider begging, or giving to beggars, to be wrong, but that isn’t begging.
I’m not sure what the best model is. If we consider it as a voluntary payment for free/undercompensated work already done (the blog and other free content on the website, or Steve’s books we’ve borrowed from the library or from friends or bought used copies of), “tipping” seems appropriate. If we view it as forward-looking, supporting him financially so he’s less likely to need to take a day job that would leave him less time to write, then patronizing the arts seems like a better description.
JD: I find your comments offensive. I don’t inquire into the lifestyle or habits of a beggar before giving him money; a fortiori why would I do so when tipping a waiter or patronizing an artist?
A Post-Joycean hat would be more suitable than a preverbal one.
dkl @59: “We don’t begin emails with “Dear Sir”,…”
That’s the custom in English-language Internet circles; it’s not universal. When I was first corresponding with a certain Brazilian Esperanto speaker he was surprised that I started off my emails without any salutation other than the email header.
Interestingly enough, I do begin my work emails with a formal salutation.
Dear Sir isn’t uncommon for me.
But my emails tend to be written like I was hand writing them. Which is often why I struggle on subject lines.
Which just goes to show you… there is no such thing as universal laws and to preach otherwise is a farce.
I still want a Taltos brand dagger or stiletto. Does not necessairly need to destroy souls when cut with. Might be hard to find a maker for that version.
Jim – Anytime you invest money you should thoughly research your target first. Artist or Begger, if there is an illness like a drug habit or a gambling addiction you are going to hurt the one you are trying to help.
Brust didnt frame this as a tip jar scenario. He admits incredibly bad financial management and apparently is unwilling to get a regular job. He is smart enough to come up with memorabilia ideas on his own (and surrounded by authors and publishists who likely suggested these things already). He is asking for money with no effort involved and no questions asked. . Brust knows for any 10 people there is 1 who will fall for it. Too many red flags in my book
An investment suggests the expectation of a return. Could JD be any more off-base?
JD, that’s why different people read different books. I bet my collection of books is rather different from yours.
I am fairly cynical in most of my outlook, but deep down, I find I must trust the basic goodness of people. Yes, most of the people I give money to, whether it is on the street or givign to recognized charities, probably screw me. (Lots of ogranized charities are wasting the donations.) But if even one person in need is helped by me, that makes up for it.
Better ten guilty men go free than one innocent man lose his freedom. (Reverse it for charity.)
JD, I’ve never felt compelled to answer a post before, but now I do.
If that’s the case, WHY are you here? Surely you have better things to do with your time and energy.
In the meantime, I’m off to find that donate button and click it a couple of times. Let’s see–if I’ve paid something on the order of $400 on Steve’s books over a lifetime of enjoyment, and he’s received, oh … $50 of that on the high side, then don’t I owe him a little extra, given how many times I’ve read them?
Think on that for a minute.
I notice you didn’t mention to her how hard it is to find the donate button. I have a bookmark for your blog, but not your homepage.
As an actual thought on the subject, I don’t find donate buttons off-putting at all. Some people constantly ask for money in their blogs and/or “news” posts, and that *does* bother me a bit.
Some come up with donation incentives (like a computer wallpaper only given to the people who donate), and advertising those doesn’t bother me at all.
One last note. Radiohead released an album online for the price of “whatever you feel like paying for it.” Crappy business model, fantastic statement.
Can I make a suggestion? Yes.
Get an artist to design for you an open guitar–or violin–case, with bills and change scattered. You know, the kind that buskers use. Then use that in place of your donate button. This is not only more humerous, but also more accurate.
I have certainly gotten much more than I paid for SKZB’s books, even though I bought them all new.
One way of making more money is to write more books. I am licking my lips.
The artist is entitled to collect for his work. Your work is writing — and thus you misrepresented yourself to Miss M. by calling yourself a novelist. A novelist charges solely by novel; I pay 30 bux or however much and get a copy of your novel and you get to collect 11 cents or whatever to spend on beers. That’s the traditional model.
However, you are not solely a novelist — you spend untold hours and resources to maintain and update this website, through which you publish countless clever words which I, a customer, ravenously consume. You could do this and consider the work advertising — your writing here serving no greater end than promoting your novels — but if you were doing that, you’d be doing a rotten job. A website to that end would have a prominent release schedule and would avoid portraying you as an objectionable broke literary socialist hoodlum.
In your case, you have a website which provides a very different, yet complementary, product that cannot possibly be considered the same as your novels. You’re entirely justified in asking for payment for your work. Working for tips, and occasionally calling attention to it, is a time-honored business model — ask NPR. They too call it donations, but they would object strenuously to it being called panhandling. I would suggest that your work here bears a greater resemblance to that than the other.
“an objectionable broke literary socialist hoodlum”
I think that is my favorite description of myself ever.
Steve, Not to go too far off topic, it seems to me that for a modest investment on the order of $1000 you could create a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation for the support of artistic endeavors. As president of the foundation you would be entitled to a salary, unless of course you preferred to receive grants. Web site donations would thus be tax-deductible for the giver and could inure to your sole benefit…
Plus, you could have a neat competition to name the foundation! (The Loiosh Fund? The Adrilankha Eleemosynary Society?)
I was bored, and tuned this image into an icon — it’s Creative Commons licensed; details found by clicking “Some rights reserved” on that page. (Short form: there’s some attribution code to include if you want to use my derivative work.) The icon is here.
Someone who’s more skilled at image editing can probably do better.
Yes, that’s the sort of thing I had in mind. Except someone should fill it with some coins and bills (seed money, I assume it is called). I can’t do that, but I am sure someone skilled at image manipulation programs could.
Yeah, that was the only open case I found with the right kind of licensing that didn’t have a guitar in it. My skills are pretty rudimentary, so adding money is a bit beyond me, at least without a good reference to clip.
I think perhaps its the word donate itself that causes Miss Manner’s to interpret the situation without regard for the special circumstances of the internet.
‘Donate’ in the internet age has come to refer to any payment offered for a service that would otherwise be provided to the user for free but at the cost of the creator/author/artist. Web comics, for example, could not really exist without the ‘donate button’. And how many of us have downloaded a free program which asks us to donate to its creators if we find it useful? In the context of the internet the definition of the word donate has shifted away from charity and towards something like ‘pay if you want to’. It is a way of asking internet users to recognize that time, energy and cost go into putting up and maintaining web content, which they are viewing and enjoying for free. Its come to mean, essentially, please tip your web presenter.
If I’m donating money to you so that you can continue writing books for my (and my daughter, and my husband’s) entertainment, then I am, in fact, giving money to a good cause.
I like the idea of being a patron of the arts. I haven’t donated yet, but this is making me want to. :P
I just now read the Miss Manners column in question, off Neil Gaiman’s journal. My 2 cents: Judith Martin has never even been broke one single day in her life, let alone struggling to make ends meet. I have gladly donated to writers — including this one — in the past, and plan to continue doing so in the future. But I do like the idea of making the button say “become a patron” or “alms for the writer” or “tip jar.”
I don’t have any issue with someone having a donate button on their website. I do, however, have an issue with the fact that you considered it as an option only because you were having financial issues you admit that you brought upon yourself. Why would you expect that anyone would be interested in helping you support your continued bad financial choices?
I couldn’t read through all of the comments, so if I’m duplicating what someone has said, sorry.
Would I click on a ‘donate’ button if it was just there and going to someone’s pocket for their house payment or phone bill? No. I have enough trouble ensuring my lights and phone stay on; no one’s donating to me.
However, I would consider donating towards the upkeep and maintenance of a website, especially one that rewards me with exclusive content. Websites aren’t exactly cheap to maintain – I’ve got two, and believe me, they’d be a lot more productive – and pretty – if I could afford to hire someone to keep those bells and whistles going.
And as someone who has worked in the non-profit and governmental sectors, people are far more willing to give when they know precisely where their money is going. I don’t mind investing in a website that brings me joy in return.
Oh, and unless the IRS has increased its fee since the last time I submitted an organization for 501(c)(3) status, their fee is $500.00. You don’t automatically get approved, either. Add to that the fee your state charges to register a company/organization, plus any legal fees if you want to involve an attorney, and you’re over $1,000, easy.
But I will say this: you’ve given me an idea. I’ll see if I can put a donate button on my concert series webpage in order to be able to continue it next year…
Change the link to “Become a Patron” and go with the open guitar case. The autographed bookmarks also is an excellent idea. But why not play to your fans?
Sell titles to the house of Jhereg.
I don’t have time to read all the comments here, but as a writer and a reader and a busker-supporter, I think donating has a lot more to do with putting money in a hat for a good performance than begging. That said, offering content, a short story, a novella – something they can get only here, is a nice way to do it, too. My free magazine will soon have a donation button. We do pay our authors and maintain a website, out of own pockets and with a little help from a friend.
Miss Manners has the benefit of syndication in the Washington Post and is therefore quite likely unaware that maintaining a website that many people access is not cheap. There is no reason not to allow people who enjoy your content to help you pay for your bandwidth and server space, particularly since you don’t sell advertising (for which I am grateful, as so much of it is harmful to viewers’ computers–I use Adblock not because I begrudge other people their advertising money but because I don’t want to load potentially damaging and memory hogging flash, malware, &c).
A few of thoughts.
1. A donation button to support the website is neither charity nor alms, it is the cost of having a place to gather. If there were a physical meet up with costs, everyone would be expected to chip in. The brick and mortar costs, if you will allow me a mixed metaphor.
2. A donation button to help you pay your bills. Well, this is a bit like charity or alms but if you displayed it as paying for running the website and it collected more money than was needed for just the website who would know or care? If you consider your writing and interaction with fans as content then receiving monies for your time would be reasonable.
3. The patronage idea is an interesting one. On top of the old tradition of artists supported by patrons there exist new traditions of patrons. I am reminded of the first season of the web series The Guild (Felicia Day) which was financed by donations by fans. As has been mentioned you could even offer levels of publicity on your website or in a book.
4. I never paid for My Own Kind of Freedom. It is often customary when offering a product online for free to allow readers to offer to pay for it. You can add a Paypal button to that page and to any other work that you offer for free on this site.
Entirely tangential to the main discussion: I know a knifemaker who would be just thrilled to make and sell Taltos knives. He’s been a Brust fan even longer than he’s been making knives. If you are interested in talking with him, I’ll put you in touch.
And back on topic: yes, tip jar. Patronage. I agree with everyone here, pretty much, except Miss Manners.
$2500 a month? Good grief. That’s *wealth*. I’d be severely envious, if I had the energy. I’m disabled, and get about half that a month – and I still do manage to click on some of those “donate” buttons, even though I have to limit my book and bead purchasing, and only allow myself one inexpensive (i.e. $15, max, including tip) meal out a month.
It might be nice if the buttons said “sponsor” instead of “donate”, but I have no real problem with “donate” – other than not being able to afford to, far too often. *wry*
“I once was approached while walking in New York by a fellow who looked at a friend I was walking with, then at me and uttered the line: ‘Hey, lucky guy, do you have five bucks for a poor homeless man trying to make a down payment on a condo?’ I was sufficiently charmed and disarmed that I realized I did.”
I have often been known to spare a buck for the gentleman in downtown SF who solicits for “The United Negro Beer Fund” (his words, not mine) because I’m amused enough that I don’t care if he spends his money on beer.
I feel *awful* when people confront me with huge problems that I as a passer-by with little spare money of my own cannot fix except slowly, in the voting booth. Happy people who have been approached as equals are more inclined to be generous, and I’ve never in my life been disturbed by a tip jar or an open guitar case.
I guess I agree with Miss Manners about this issue (sorry Steve!). You are asking for donations because you are financially strapped, not for a specific cause or goal. Essentially because you are irresponsible/poor at financial management. What differentiates you from me? How would my physically standing on a street with a “Please Help” sign mean that I am begging yet when you place a “Donate” button on your website it isn’t? Would it matter if my sign said “Donate” instead? Is the physicality of the act (standing outside) what makes it repugnant to people?
Overall the fact is that because you are a person of some renown (a popular genre author) you are able to place a “Donate” button on your website and people will give you the benefit of the doubt. If I were to set up a website and solicit for money via a donate button I would get nowhere, as I am not a famous writer and there is no reason for anyone to visit my site. What I am saying is that essentially you are cashing in on your name (literally).
If you were to offer even a little something (the autographed bookmark idea) it moves away from being begging (a pure solicitation for money) to offering a product.
As a knife enthusiast and a huge fan of Brust, I would buy both Taltos knives and signed copies.
I’d love a signed first edition of Jhereg. That’s one of the few Brust books that I don’t own in a very nice edition.
I have gotten my boyfriend involved in your books recently though, and he has The Book of Jhereg version.
Phiala : Yes, please!
Yeah, I meant “condition” in the second paragraph instead of “edition.” Two passes at proof reading and you’d think I would have noticed that before I clicked the “post” button.
Dan @ 101: What I am saying is that essentially you are cashing in on your name (literally).
. . . welcome to real life? I mean, cashing in on a name is the entire purpose of branding. If you’ve ever eaten or shopped at a chain, you’ve contributed to someone cashing in on a name. Most people in marketing, management or that have professional reputations cash in on their names.
Presumably though, if Brust continues to write at all, he’ll be doing something that I am interested in seeing him continue to do. That is more than a sufficiently specific goal to me for me to support him.
I think there are serious misconceptions about how much authors make from their books, as well. I’ve been in the book business for more than 20 years, in bookselling and publishing and I’d say that the vast majority of the authors I’ve known personally were very firmly middle income. Financial irresponsibility when you make $35,000 a year looks very different than financial irresponsibility for the six figure set.
As a culture, we don’t do a very good job of supporting artists. I find nothing offensive in a donate button at all. If it will allow one of my favorite artists to continue providing me with wonderful works to enjoy, why should I care what the button says? Is this truly an argument about semantics?
Our culture seems to frown upon work that does not adhere to the 9-5 blue or white collar labor system. It takes time to think, to feed the creative fires. I’d like to think that my $5 or $10 dollars provides a log or two.
What about all the people who don’t buy your books, but rather borrow them from friends or the library, and feel moved to gift you monetarily?
The donate button is not begging, it’s providing an opportunity for people who don’t have $15-$25 for a book to give you what they can. Just because someone is less than affluent doesn’t mean they don’t *want* to support their favorite author/artist/musician/whoever. Perhaps Miss Manners was not aware of this to take it into account.
I agree with those who disagree with Miss Manners over the casting of the ‘donate’ button as begging. In the context of most web-sites, it is far more the nature of a tip-jar, as many have noted more eloquently than I.
But I actually disagree much more fundamentally with her and skimming through comments I didn’t see anyone else make this point: I disagree with the shaming of being in need, and then the further and more horrifying still shaming of daring to ask for help when in need. I was refreshed to see that Brust had the courage to admit that much of his problem lies in money management rather than cash flow: honesty about money is rather hard to come by, because we attach so much shame to the subject.
If money management is the real issue, then perhaps it would be more useful to ask for help in learning better methods of money management. Nevertheless, there should be no shame in asking for that help, or for any other.
I resent a culture that implies that we must be stoic, we must do it on our own, we must not admit our weakness, we must not ask for help from others. Which, fundamentally, is what Miss Manners is saying. And it is, I honestly believe, antithetical to true civilisation.
We live in a world in which we are, unless we choose to hermit on a mountain and live off the land, rather interdependent and we are only becoming more so. It would be far better, in light of that, to have a culture that allows people to ask graciously for help when they first need it, rather than to only permit them to ask for help when totally destitute.
Hi. I found my way over here from the LiveJournal feed of Neil Gaiman’s blog.
I don’t see a problem with putting a donate button, but let me be another one to point up the patronage option. A good example of an author who has done this is Katherynne Valente, who publishes traditional printed novels & anthologies, but who also had a short-story subscription service, AND recently concluded a pay-what-you can YA novel on her website. Shira Lipkin has also done a good bit of crowdfunded writing.
Depending on how fast you write, this may be an option to consider, if you’re uncomfortable with just putting a donate button
“Donate” buttons are everywhere, it’s how a lot of sites survive and, at the very least, will help pay for this site for your fans so they can get the word directly from you.
The donation drive thing could also work if you give an explicit page on why you need it. Saying “I’m not good with money” is not the best way to sell yourself. I’m somewhat familiar with your circumstances (medical condition and IRS problems) and I think at least the medical one is a good selling point. Look at how the Wikimedia Foundation or NaNoWriMo run their donation drives (or other open-source/community-based initiatives).
As to other ideas:
Yes, offer some other products involved with the work. Something online could work out much better than the hassle of getting a billion things signed or shipped (though those could always go for more money)
I’m not sure how well you do for short stories these days but why not self-publish some as a special treat to fans(and charge)? A screenwriter, John August, did that and did decent in his first month. You would have more people online purchase it than purchase (or even see) a copy of it in a genre mag.
Here’s the details on John’s story, The Variant, and here’s his later examination of it’s success compared to the magazine markets.
As I said above, I’m only vaguely familiar with your medical problems, but, if you aren’t already, would it be difficult to do a part time job (10-20 hrs/wk) if you could get one?
Also, look at what some other successful and busy authors out there are doing: Jeff Vandermeer offers teaching, critiquing and editing services and Nicola Griffith offers similar writerly services.
Sorry for the extra! Saw truelove’s post and mention of cashflow vs money management.
If it is a money management problem, hire a pro (if you can) for taxes and the like. If you can’t, I’ve found these blogs (though annoyingly near MLM in name) to be useful:
Get Rich Slowly – Dude is very honest about his own finances and being in debt and getting out of it. Gives reasonable advice for older folks who aren’t great with money.
I Will Teach You To Be Rich – aimed more at ppl in their 20s but still good advice on credit, and budgeting though the author is getting annoying lately. Check his archives though for the good stuff.
Sorry again for taking up so much comment space but information is the only thing I can give at the moment (young, poor, and unemployed).
@Spherical Time (104): I mean, cashing in on a name is the entire purpose of branding. If you’ve ever eaten or shopped at a chain, you’ve contributed to someone cashing in on a name.
Two entirely different things. Drinking Starbucks coffee isn’t the equivalent of giving a beggar cash. If a service or product is offered that is of a consistent quality to which I frequent only those shops that is indeed an example of branding. But that is not “cashing in” on a name.
Cashing in on a name would be more akin to a celebrity receiving preferential treatment because of who they are or what they have done, I am talking about an individual not a company or organization creating a brand name that is recognized by the public for a certain service.
If Steven is offering a product that he is capable of delivering then there is no debate as it wouldn’t be begging. Simply because he has written books I enjoy reading and he will eventually write more books doesn’t mean that in between publications I should just give him cash. In a way Steven has a brand name as there are some people who will always read anything he writes – no matter what. But when you take away the delivery of a product and say “Hi, I am Steven Brust, I suck at handling my finances. Would you please give me some money?” it becomes a decision to use his semi-famous name to generate revenue without doing anything.
Donating to help fund research into curing breast cancer and giving Steven Brust money are not in anyway equivalent.
(I would add that there should be no shame in needing help. Pride is a dangerous thing and many people are unwilling to ask for help. As someone who has suffered some catastrophic health issues that I have only survived due to luck and the charity of others I don’t believe there is anything wrong with asking for help. I have a problem with calling it a “donation”. If it were asking for alms, tip jar, sponsoring the arts, an autographed bookmark, a knife, etc. I wouldn’t be discussing this…Well, besides being a devil’s advocate.)
This is actually a question I’ve been contemplating myself. As a person who is trying to be artistically productive while coping with very real financial demands that my day job isn’t meeting. I don’t see anything wrong with it, (and I do like the idea of changing the mindset by changing the name. Give alms, Sponsor/Support the artist, Become a patron of the arts are all wonderful ideas, btw,) and I personally like the idea of supporting artists directly. It humanizes the artist/audience relationship. Miss Manners may be well-meaning, but this is advice that is hopelessly out of touch with the era and the context.
One of the realities that Miss Manners misses is that being an artist, even on a national leveled, is not a guarantee of earning a living wage from one’s art. A while back I worked on a documentary interviewing women activists. One of the women was a heroine and role model to my friends, a professor at a might-as-well-be-Ivy university, one of the leaders of a cutting edge feminist charity, and more. But she only agreed to be included if we put in that her professor status was adjunct, the charity barely paid her and that she had to take in medical transcription work to make the rent most months. Must admit, this really opened my eyes. Artists and activists both get abused by people assuming that if they really loved what they were doing the money shouldn’t matter.
As to the donate buttons – I know websites aren’t free and I just always have assumed that the money is going to site upkeep. And on sites I’ve donated to, I wouldn’t begrudge the owner spending any overage on a night on the town or whatever (or household bills).
Best street begging sign seen recently – Family kidnapped by ALIENS. Need money for lasers. Did give a few bucks.
I too agree with Miss Manners, and am sad to see how many people are not merely disregarding, but actively dissing, her opinion. I suspect it’s that your friends are worried about and want you to be supported financially.
Some people seem to be unaware that Miss Manners is herself an author and novelist, and that she is probably quite aware of how much (that is, how little) an author makes.
I agree with her as well. I say this as someone who has been reduced to begging on the street, not merely the Internet, as well as someone who has tried to live on an artist’s earnings. I’m also something of a stickler for human dignity and word use.
There is an enormous difference between “money for art”, whether it is tossed in the paper cup of a street busker or paid for an album, and “money for need”. While it is true that an artist in need is generally unable to make much more art until the situation is remedied, there is a big difference in the two situations.
One gives money to artists because their art has charmed or pleased or entertained in some way. (And in that case, it might be nice to have a “tip jar” on the blog or on the pages where one can download books.) Some artists offer patronage gifts, extra content to members, early release of new content, and so on. (What would readers pay for an early look at the first chapter?) And “grand patrons” of the arts have historically expected some oversight of the artist’s works or art – commissions or the dedication page, for instance. It isn’t about the artist’s personal life in the least, it’s about their art.
(An extra possibility to muddy the waters: folks who want to give money directly to the artist for art they already have, like downloaded music or books bought used, for which they feel the artist has been insufficiently compensated. However, this is a gift freely given by the audience, and not one that can in decency be ‘asked’ for by the recipient. It’s okay to make this possible; an address to send cash (be it PayPal or otherwise) can be posted somewhere for these folks.
One gives alms to those who are in great need, perhaps for food or medical care or a roof to sleep beneath. Such indigent folks generally have to *ask* for help – and that’s the critical difference between art and begging. We might never know someone was in need if they didn’t speak up about their situation and ask for help. And I know it’s a horrible thing to have to do. It is possible to beg with dignity, but it is not easy. Nonetheless, calling it anything else is weaselwording and misleading. (And anyway, I found that saying “I am reduced to begging” often underlined the desperation of my plight far better.)
People don’t expect art in exchange for alms. We do seem to prefer that the indigent person is either a) an innocent sufferer (hit by a tornado or cancer), or working to get out of the situation which caused the problem so it doesn’t happen again. And in these cases, the audience often likes to know what’s going on and whether there is anything non-monetary they can do to help. We like to know *what* the need is and *why*, so that we know that the need is genuine (and, in many cases, that your need is greater than our own. )While this may seem intrusive, it’s a hell of a lot less intrusive than the forms one fills out for Federal and state aid for the indigent. (At least I haven’t seen anyone here demand access to your bank accounts and financial statements.)
Some people would rather support art than give to the needy; others will cut back their book-buying habits to help someone in need. And many people will happily buy art whose purchase price is going towards the needy.
But these remain two very different kinds of expenditures. (Buying art is sadly not tax deductible, and charity is – at least through registered nonprofits. I wish it were easier to arrange nonprofit status for a suffering person!) Labeling one as the other, even in so simple a way as the ‘donate’ button, bothers me a great deal.
I very much like the ‘give alms’ button idea, and hope that the financial troubles ease up soon.
I know of many people who need a little extra to keep having a website viable – an artist I like wanted to use the ad service provided by Google, but found that it put up somewhat inappropriate ads for the users of her site. Stephen Fry sells t-shirts and stuff to keep having his website viable.
Websites cost money, even if they’re hopefully to keep people interested and buying your stuff, they can be a financial burden on top of other existing ones as well. Having a donate button isn’t begging, it’s asking for help to keep something people like to be able to continue – just like donating at free theater. You could not, or you could and next year they may have better costumes.
A Donate button is fine! Whoever is ghosting for Miss Manners these days blew this one.
Miss Manners is wrong, and so are you!
You are not begging for a handout. Your website provides a *free* service that costs *you* time, effort and money. You are making it possible for us to compensate you for that (and for the entertainment we get from all your work) directly, rather than by donating most of what we spend on your books to various parasites -such as the editors who are both less diligent and less competent than spellcheck and much less entertaining than you are- and I appreciate your thoughtfulness in doing this.
Not that that’s the only reason you should provide that service along with all the others on this site. Others have mentioned that your high-quality product’s market price is set artificially low, since the afore-mentioned parasites charge the same for your novels as for the overpriced dreck next to it, and that we sometimes don’t get a chance to compensate you *at all* for entertaining us with your talents, because we borrow books or buy them used.
I’m guilty- I can’t afford to feed my addiction at new book prices (and don’t like supporting the dimwitted decisionmakers at most publishing houses anyway).
So I buy a few new books from *good* authors every year, bug the library to buy more, and recommend them when I get a chance, just to make whatever statement that makes, and support the artists as much I can. The rest of the time I feed the monkey by supporting used bookstores instead. And I feel guilty about that. I should pay for quality entertainment, but the system makes it hard.
This button of your is less hassle, gives me a chance to show my appreciation directly, and makes me feel better about all the years you’ve entertained me for free.
More writers should do this. I like having the chance to choose which artists *I* want to support, even though I can’t give big grants. Seems very egalitarian and liberating. Maybe you’ll start a trend?
(btw, none of the above should be misconstrued as a reason not to straighten out your finances. More stress = writing less, and that makes patrons sad in the face)
They are also not good reasons not to sell Taltos knives:)
Sheila: I appreciate the sentiment, but feel obligated to point out that my current editor is Teresa Nielsen Hayden, and my previous editor was Terri Windling; so your comment about editors doesn’t apply in my case.
Autographed bookmark knives. That’s the ticket.
I agree that ‘tip jar’ works better, but I have ‘donated’ to the Foglios on more that one occasion just to get the wallpaper/graphic they were offering as a ‘thank you’.
I really liked the idea of the ‘donate’ button as a way of rewarding/thanking the author when you *have* to buy a used copy of their book(s) because they are no longer in print. I just found out that someone I like had a book out a couple of years ago, and *no*one* has a copy other than used. And this was an award nominated novel!! Sheesh! With the publishing business that screwed up, a button to pass on an unofficial royalty would be a Good Thing.
Various other, very silly, ideas, like product placement (Starbucks buys out Valabars!) only semi-successfully suppressed…
Actually I have a slightly different take on it. I think this is more akin to shareware. I use a lot of shareware software, and although I ignore the nagging screens for some of it, I tend to pay for the one I use regularly. I usually can afford it and it seems fair.
Tip jar. Good cause. Paying forward, back or sideways. Helping one another. Being good to one another. Works for me. (No, really; I’ve been helped by the equivalent of a donate button in my time.)
Even Miss Manners occasionally gets it wrong, much as I adore her. Hey, how could I not, since I was largely raised by my grandmother, the 1902-born daughter of a Northern Baptist theology professor? Then again, Nana – a lady if ever there was one – occasionally commented that in a contest between manners and doing good, she knew which one was more important.
> Why don’t you just relabel the button, from “Donate” to “Tip Jar” and readjust feelings accordingly?
From a non American perspective, I see nothing wrong or suspicious about the word ‘donate’ – it’s something I’d gladly do to anyone I appreciated. Tipping on the other hand is a weird foreign custom that leaves me feeling stressed out and put upon when I’m in America.
As to the main issue – Miss Manners is quite obviously wrong.
In common with the majority of other comments, I think Miss Manners is wrong. To my mind, ‘begging’ is a one way transaction – you give to a beggar, but receive nothing in return.
With a ‘donate’ button, there is a two way process – you are giving something, by writing the blog (so as readers, we get something over and above what we might get by simply buying and reading the blog) and there is then the option to give something back by way of donating.
I think that busking / street art is the closest comparable.
I’m not convinced that your (or any other person in a similar situation’s) financial situation or motivation for putting the button up are particularly important – if I donate to someone via a donate button on their webpage, it’s because I like what I see or read, or what I have seen or enjoyed of their work in the past (whether online or elsewhere) and I want to give something back.
The fact that the reason you/they decide to put the button up and giving the option of donating instead of giving me that enjoyment as a free gift is your business, not mine.
And if you/they are generous enough to continue to give it to me even if I don’t donate then that is a bonus.
This is the best article I have seen about how an environment with economics of “free” operates is this one:
This article has a four step approach to making money in a “free” environment:
1. Redefine the market based on the benefits
2. Break the benefits down into scarce and infinite components.
3. Set the infinite components free, syndicate them, make them easy to get — all to increase the value of the scarce components
4. Charge for the scarce components that are tied to infinite components
In this case, the scarce commodities are (a) your (physical) books and (b) you.
So the “Donate” button might be an implied contract to people that you will do more writing, or make yourself available on your blog more.
But there are many other scarce products that you could charge for: autographed or personalised books, personal photographs, a short personal note, dedication or reminiscence on a topic, an evening dinner with the author etc etc.
You seem to be neglecting the possibility that some people will be prepared to pay more that the cover price for your books, and they can make up the shortfall through a donation to you directly, out of a sense of civic duty. Just putting a ‘donate’ button on your site does not obligate people to pay. They may not feel any obligation to pay. Plenty of people feel no obligation to pay a busker, some even consider busking to be a form of begging. In their eyes you may well be considered to be begging. But that’s something you will have to live with if you want to make it possible for other people to pay you patronage through your website
Miss Manners lives in an idealized world where there are no exceptions to her mannerly rules. When a person begs on the street, they tend to be a bit intrusive with their pleas and glares. A donation button just sits there on the web page without so much as a plea. The web reader does not feel pressured to give. What constitutes a good cause anyway? Not for profit? Even the Not For Profit agencies dole out big salaries to their leaders, just look at the United Way. The United Way actually lost two leaders due to greedy embezzlement. No, Miss Manners needs to be enlightened to the real “cyber world”. A simple donation button is perfectly acceptable. No on HAS to donate. The web master isn’t glaring at you and asking aloud “please give”. It is not intrusive and necessary in today’s economic situation. Bravo for bringing this subject to the forefront. Keep up the good work!
Simply put, I disagree with Miss Manners on this issue and don’t have a problem with the donate buttons (or whatever one wishes to call them). This is true whether one is an established artist or just blogging about their cats. The buttons are just there. They don’t bite. You can ignore them if you wish.
As is usually the case I am seeing other issues here that have nothing to do with the topic really, basically that poverty or financial hardship is almost always perceived to be the fault of the person financially strapped and that even if some of their choices may have led to the financial issues imho wealth in this country is distributed in such a way that it’s amazingly easy for most of us to get in trouble. I think many more Americans than the Miss Manners of the world realize are one illness, one bad business decision, one unexpected housing/transportation/employment disaster away from financial struggle if not ruin.
Have a button if you like-no one has to donate if they don’t wish to. Sell things if you like. For my part, I’ll keep buying when I can.
Or you could consider it akin to an artist asking for sponsors to support their art.
It’s the same thing as begging but with a better pedigree.
I was a little astonished and saddened to find out how little you make off of your books. I though I understood that the retail book shops and publishers need to recoup their money on the shipping, materials and printing process, etc, and, of course, get their fare share of profit. but then I was looking at the Sony Reader for electronic books and buying books online, and decided that the publishers are just flat foolish or crooks. The prices for buying electronically, hardly any real world costs involved, was just as high if not higher than buying a printed book. I looked at several books I can get in paperback for $8 or so and the costs to buy an electronic copy was $12-16.
I figured the publishers were probably a little sleazy, but ahd no idea they were that bad. Your books are great, many of my all-time favorites. It saddens me that you get the short end of the stick for all the work you do and entertainment you provide.
I think another question just as valid is why so many readers simply expect so much content for free. Nobody walks into a doctor’s office expecting not to pay for their physical examination.
Call it what it is: “Payment for Services Rendered.”
I also think Miss Manners manages to be both wrong and condescending at the same time.
This is an interesting topic. I was reading through the comments and got to about 50 when I realised that it doesn’t really matter what you call the button, what matters is (i) your comfort level in having it, and (2) whether people would be willing to click it and actually carry through on their “alms”, “donations” or, as a “patron of the arts”.
The fact of the matter is, is that most people won’t click that button, whatever the reason, if there is no personal incentive (or curiosity) to do so. Human nature says why pay for something when you can have it for free. So my suggestion is finding the incentive to give something back to your “alms-givers”. Change the button from an alms tool of getting something for “nothing” (not true, but whatever) to selling something. A “bread & butter” item. Something simple for you to produce but so irresistible that your fans will want it and will be willing to “donate” in order to get it.
It could be bookmarks, it could be something so simple as being named (with a link to that person’s blog if they have one) as a patron of the arts. A little imagination and the argument is moot.
Course, you may not want to become a “merchant”. That’s a whole nuther kettle of fish.
I do Development work for In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theater. ( I know you know our work and everybody else can click through on my name to see the theater’s web site. It’s a wonderful, world-class organization, doing amazing art.) This work means I get a lot of experience with people’s attitudes about money and giving to artists (specifically to an arts organization).
My guiding principle is that we must never say “No” for others. If people don’t want to give, that’s their choice, that’s cool. But I want never to put my organization in the position of communicating, or even have us thinking, “They don’t want to help out….” Donors will let us know their choices.
If you *don’t* have a Donate button, you’ve decided for your fans that they don’t want an easy way to support your work and your creativity. To which I reply with useful noises like “Huh?”
And there’s no confrontational situation with a Donate button, as there is when one is asked in a public place for money. To me, this means there’s no real parallel between the Donate button and begging. The patron model is more spot on. Miss Manners equates having a Donate button with asking for money. To me, it’s offering the opportunity and making it easy for people to follow their hearts.
Being an indie musician, I need that “donate” button. Although I label it a “Virtual Open Guitar Case”.
I think this has been said already – kinda at least- but I wanted to make the point that I think not only is it entirely different from begging, but more to the point; you are providing content on this website that is entirely separate from anything you publish. You are devoting time and words into maintaining this website and creating it’s content and why the hell shouldn’t people be able to show their appreciation for that? It’s kind of amazing that we can read all of this for free!
…also, for what it’s worth, I love the idea of options that don’t include money. Not to replace the money one, but just because I know there are times in my life when I’ve been entirely broke but would have loved to show my appreciation for someone I admire and certainly had the free time to do a little research or translate or just knit a fuzzy sock. I realise that’s not really the point of the discussion, but I really love it.
Hi Steve! Yeah, Miss Manners is working from a Dickensian perspective here… but then Dickens was being paid a half-cent a word… which is why he wrote the way he did (pad pad pad!).
It would be lovely to have as much as $30,000 a year. Classically, itinerant story tellers were supported by the community in exchange for their service, ie bringing something new to people’s lives. Crowdfunding for weblit is the equivalent as far as I can see.
Re: C.A. Bridges @ 94: Oh sweet Verra yes, that’s a winner! Steve, I bet you could get a local SCA calligrapher to do up scrolls conferring Jhereg titles and go 50-50 with you selling them in art shows at cons &c.
If I had any discretionary budget, I’d commission one myself. And click enthusiastically on your “Support the Arts” button as well. (That’s two dead teckla on Judith Martin’s pillow tonight.)
I haven’t read all the comments, but even if this turns out to be redundant, Iwant my vote counted: Please, god, have a tip jar. There have been so many occasions where I’ve wanted to (this is hard to find the right words for) pay for content/art/etc that I’ve experienced in some way, whether it be on blogs or sites like deviantart (or in libraries), and the artist/author doesnt have a tip jar. This is especially painful when I know the artist/author is hurting financially. A lot of artists/etc are operating under the take-what-you-like-and-pay-what-you-want model (even to the extent of listing what’s on the wishlist, i.e. ‘we need X amount to make a new album – if you’re interested in contributing, click here’). I like this.
Anyway, I’m strongly pro-tipjar, is all. Give me a chance to tell you how much I enjoyed your work, give me an easy and quick opportunity to support you. (Cory Doctorow suggests that people go and buy his books in the flesh, and even if they don’t want them, donate them to a library, but I really prefer the tip jar. More immediate, and more likely that I’ll do it.) Explain the button if you need to, apologise if you need to, and when you’re more flush, link it to a charity/cause you feel strongly about, if you want to… But +tipjar.
It appears others have said this first, but maintaining a website that gets any sort of real traffic costs money. It’s only fair that you politely ask to be reimbursed for that money (and time) from the readers. Doing so via voluntary donate buttons is significantly more internet-polite than putting up some sort of pay-wall. I feel this is true regardless of whether you are good at managing money.
The label doesn’t matter — it’s part of a movement toward a whole new way of paying artists. Direct from the readers, no middlemen.
Some very good books stay only marginally in print, because there is not enough demand to pay the middlemen and overhead. With a direct reader-to-author model, the same number of readers is enough. Thus more different books get written and read.
(Note: I’m answering because you ask. I have strong feelings about this, but I don’t think people who disagree with me are bad people or anything.)
I agree with Miss Manners. It’s *not* like passing the hat when you perform — that’s what selling your books (or other merch) is like. And I don’t agree that “it’s only fair” to ask people to “donate” to help defray the costs of a website. Websites can be free, and often are, and I think one should either actually charge money for some content one feels one is providing, or do it for free, as most of us do.
If you want to ask your friends to chip in some money because you’re broke right now, ask your friends. In private. I don’t think the default should be to panhandle on your website.
Sometimes, when I need money, I figure out what I can sell, and I sell it. Sometimes, when I see someone *else’s* need, I put up a donation button and do a good deed with the proceeds (that’s how an author friend’s kids’ stolen bikes were replaced, f’rinstance). But if the need is my own, and getting a better paying job isn’t an option, I do the following things, in order:
1) Cut any corners I can cut
2) Sell any stuff I can sell
3) Ask my family for help
4) In dire circumstances, ask my friends for help. In private.
I’m coming into the discussion late in the game (I’m afraid I’m more of a lurker by nature ;), but the discussion of ideas of offerings for the “tip jar”/”give alms” button and of Taltos knives (which I am 120% behind. And coming from graduate student in Mathematics, that means a lot ;), reminded me of a recent endeavor in which Jonathan Worth etsy’d signed photos of Cory Doctorow along with a signed page from a manuscript of Cory Doctorow’s upcoming novel. (CD has a lovely post about it over at boing boing http://www.boingboing.net/2009/10/20/jonathan-worth-tries.html).
It seems to me that ideas such as this might prove an additional untapped revenue source that people would be happy (and here I may very well be understating the positive feelings that would result from fans) to either directly pay money to purchase, or receive for a given donation amount, a number of semi-random things related to your work (or this website, or simply related to you).
In a semi-related note, I feel as though it’s actually terribly difficult to find the places on this site to click that would result in money going back to you. And not simply in terms of the donate button, but also the places to click to purchase things. I wonder if an expanded and more easy to find store might be possible. Particularly with Christmas coming up, those of us who come from a whole family of Taltos fans would love to be able to purchase gifts for the Taltos fan in all of us, that also supported you.
PS: I don’t have terribly much to add to the debate as a whole, which is part of why the delay in my chiming in, but I fall decidedly into the “disagree with Ms. Manners” camp. I’ve seen this question debated several places before, but this is one of the more interesting times from prospective. I do think Serene’s comment above detailing why she finds it not “only fair” to ask people to donate, comes in at a key point in the issue, which is that a discrete donate button does, to Serene and many others, feel like being panhandled on the street. And I’m not sure what the solution to that is, as I know someone who is actually *more* annoyed when a donate button is given a cute alternate name (whenever she comes across a website with such a button I usually here mutters from the vicinity of her laptop along the lines “why don’t they just call it what it is” and something about guilt and how things should be free. Then, perhaps a comment of the tastiness of peanut butter, so everything I’m typing should be taken with a rather large grain of salt).
Post-Post-Scriptum: In a similar vein to the thoughts about more places to buy things on the website, Amanda Fucking Palmer had a lovely post over at Berkleemusic a bit ago on how she leverages her online fanbase to get earnings through things like an auction through twitter of wine bottles drank during the production of an album, and sales of t-shirts to “the losers of Friday night on there computers.” ;)
Although these things obviously don’t directly apply in your case, I’d think somewhat similar ventures on your part might produce surprising (and by surprising, I mean surprisingly *awesome*, not surprisingly bad) results.
Miss Manners is incorrect. A Donate button is not necessarily cyberbegging (though those sites do exist). Where a website offers opinion and information, I see it as a tip jar. Where there is deeper content I see it as passing the hat.
But even if I was not offered any particular thing in return, I still would not necessarily see it as begging, in the case of an artist. People donate to Arts grants all the time. In the case of a Donate button, I get to choose the artist that I support directly, without an Arts council doing it for me.
In the end I think it’s a way for a person to say, ‘I value what you do enough that I will support you in continuing to do it’.
For a good philosophy of direct author to reader web posting, see
Another voice in agreement with the numerous people who’ve suggested reframing this as a patron-artist relationship. Sure, historically a patron would have been a single wealthy individual. But now the web makes it possible for the “patron” to be a decentralized group whose members aren’t necessarily wealthy. As a matter of principle, that seems like an improvement to me.
Also, just because it’s an interesting problem, I respectfully disagree with WS in 12. This piece of advice, at least, isn’t upper-class advice (at least not by traditional definitions of the upper class). It’s bourgeois: ask for and accept only value for value, be self-sufficient. Within that framework, Martin is basically correct. Both ironically / transgressively taking on the role of a beggar (your first instinct, characterizing it as “alms”), and invoking what would have historically been an upper-class patron-artist model are ways to get around that.
The merchandising solution (bookmarks, knives, t-shirts, hats) is correct from the bourgeois perspective. Probably what I’d be most comfortable with myself and likely to generate significantly more revenue with modest additional effort, which is a significant practical consideration.
(Another idea: I don’t know what the IP rights are like on your cover art, but I bet a run of prints cosigned by you and the artist would sell like hotcakes at very good prices.)
FYI, the “donation” PayPal button can currently be found on the main site, http://www.dreamcafe.com. We are definitely going to be taking many of these valuable suggestions into consideration during the forthcoming site redesign!
As a writer and a musician, I know that the fiction and poetry we write isn’t effortless–it’s more effort to write a good story or poem or new song, an polish it to publishable shape than it is to perform a song in public. The effort may be invisible to the reader (in fact, the better the story, the more effortless it will seem, in my experience) but that just means that the work that went into it was well done.
As work, it is a “product”, just as much as any t-shirt or mug or bookmark or other promotional item. Now, there’s nothing wrong with promotional items–with movie action figures or band t-shirts and the like–but they are a separate product, and not the primary one. People can see a concert and NOT get the t-shirt, and they have received value for their money. And the same with reading a story online. If it had no value to you, why did you finish reading it?
Miss Manners is missing the point entirely that a button on your webpage allows people to pay for work done and value provided.
I think it is rude to say that not only should we give away the fruits of our labors for free, but that it is “begging” or “impolite” to ask that people who got value from our work pay us if they can.
This question, which I’ve been discussing on my blog as “cyber-busking”, is part of the new internet culture that is developing which takes power from the wealthy and the corporations and makes it possible for people to connect directly. I can make my work accessible to you directly, and you can let me know directly if you like it, with your words and, yes, with tips.
This process also puts power previously reserved for editors and publishers into the reader’s hands, though many readers don’t realize it.
I know that I pay attention to which of my online stories get comments and which ones prompt people to sponsor me. I also pay special attention to the comments of people who are paying me for my work, just as I would to an editor who says “I’d like to see more of this type of story from you.”
Do you love my ghost stories and want to see more of them? Do you want to encourage me to write more science fiction? Do you like surprise endings? Do you want me to write a sequel to one of my stories?
If you’re the one paying me and recommending me to your friends, I’d be a fool to ignore you.
Art is a mysterious process, I don’t know that I could always write a quality story to order; and there’s some things I’m not interested in or don’t have the background to do (I doubt I’ll ever write a football story, for instance–but if you’re paying, I might try anyway).
Thanks for starting this discussion! I enjoyed reading people’s opinions (well, except for Miss Manners’, who I think missed the point. )
I think the term ‘donate’ could be the problem. I would probably write ‘support the artist’ on my site if I had the audience to justify such a link. ‘Support the artist’ is nice because then you can list a variety of means of support, including purchasing your books through an affiliate link, merchandise off your website, buying a book from you to send directly to a library of their choice . . . whereas ‘donate’ on the Internet connotes a direct monetary transfer, and might delimit your choices on what you could put behind the link in the future.
Anyone who has chosen to dedicate their lives to enriching the commons but has found that the commons do not immediately reciprocate, is, to my mind, fully justified in asking the audience to help support them. Is it begging for a theater to ask the audience to purchase tickets prior to a performance? Is it begging for a writer to apply for a fellowship? These funding mechanisms exist because we as a society recognize inherent value in the arts, and recognize, too, that said value does not always bring showers of green.
Dreamcafe provides a service to your fans; it takes time and effort on your part to maintain it, but you are not currently being compensated for that time and effort. A donate or ‘support the artist’ button would be a small step toward alleviating the fiscal imbalance. Think about how much time you put into your novel writing (currently compensated, but clearly not adequately) and blog posts (currently uncompensated); think about how much pleasure your audience derives from both efforts; consider that there exists a mechanism for the audience to reward you for one, but not for the other; consider that there are probably more than a few members of your audience who would like to be able to help you out, and a few of whom are actually able to do so… and then put a nice, tasteful ‘donate’ or ‘support’ button in the upper margin of your blog. Pretty much every political blog I can think of has one; many tech blogs have them; more than a few visual arts blogs have them… And those that don’t have them run ads, which are far less tasteful.
What donate button? I can’t see one.
It’s on the web site, not the blog.
LOL @ Will Entrekin @130.
She calls herself Miss Manners and holds herself up to be an authority on what is polite and what is not in an ever-evolving society. I think Condescension and Pretentiousness are a part of her shtick. I’ve never read one of her responses and not come away thinking her both wrong and condescending. Of course she begins every answer by referring to herself in the 3rd person, so that may be why….
Definitely some interesting comments here.
The way the letter to Miss Manners was written suggests this scenario:
The author has a website to promote himself and his work; he adds a donation button because he is in need.
But it seems like, on visiting here, the scenario is actually:
The author blogs and provides content of interest that also promotes himself. The content is available for free; you may pay if you like.
Scenario A is begging and Miss Manners is right – it’s shameful to beg if it’s not your last option, and one should ask one’s friends and family for help before accosting strangers, virtually or otherwise.
Scenario B is “passing the hat” or having a “tip jar” – accepting voluntary contributions from those pleased to enjoy one’s work.
I fully support providing free content and accepting voluntary donations.
I’m a professional street performer :) And I sure wish the comments had fewer characterizations of artists as never making any money and art as something that just doesn’t pay because that’s a bullshit lie and an excuse to either not be good enough, smart enough, or work hard enough to make it good and make it your living.
If you can’t be a fulltime artist because it’s not paying you, then either choose to do it in a way that makes money (by being smarter, working harder, or getting better) or accept that it’s your delightful hobby, not that you’re really a fulltime artist who just isn’t supported as you deserve by society, boo hoo.
Is IS possible to make a living as a fulltime artist, and it sends the wrong message to society as a whole when we stomp around like six year olds whose mother won’t give them ice cream until their room is clean. Nobody else gets paid unless they figure out how to do a job people will pay them for, and artists are no more entitled to societal support than any other vital, necessary function.
If you can, generate content that people are happy to pay you for. If you can’t, start figuring out what else you can sell, or how or where else you can sell it.
I would love to buy my son-in-law a Jhereg title. Please consider this. Heavy parchment. Nice stylized Jhereg at the top. Appropriate notations of priveleges granted. Formally signed and witnessed. A seal, perhaps? Worthy of framing. (Sell it framed for more.)
Have Paarfi write it up, probably with “(continued on back)” at the bottom.
I arrived via Neil Gaiman’s blog, scanned through the comments and have a different take on it for you.
This blog and website are a part of your business as a writer. It’s a form of advertising. If the internet is a community, this place is your store front on a virtual main street. At the same time you put items in your store front, you also send your “goods” off to a consigment shop for (re)sale and distribution. This is no different than a manufacturer selling goods to stores like Sears, JC Penny, Wal-Mart, Target, Waters Hardware and other retailers. You should be compensated for the goods you offer on your blog/website/storefront. So it’s not much different than getting paid for your books. Time spent here is time taken from writing your next novel. Time is money. (Yes, I have a very mercenary outlook on life.)
The suggestions for “tip jar” and “alms” are good replacements for the “donate” on a donation button. I second the person who advised saying what the money will be used for. “Blogging Tip Jar” and “Alms for the Blog” would work nicely. I would also like to add “Be My (Blogging) Patron” inside a heart (maybe with a dagger thrust through it) a la Valentine’s Day, and “Blog Busking Hat” as other options.
Even Miss Manners would not object to you selling stuff on your site. Suppose you sold, say, a short story. And you offered it to people for whatever price they felt like paying (including free, or they’d decide after reading it what it was worth).
How that differs from a donation button or tip jar I can’t say.
If someone wants to photoshop (is that a verb?) that open guitar case to put a little money in it, we’ll use it.
Artists have always had sponsors because artists are overall poorly paid. In the past, rich people kept artists as pets — painters, writers, etc., and acted as their patrons. When that system changed, patronage was awarded through scholarships and arts grants, which still goes on. In the Internet age, the donate button is not really a donation system, but a patronage button — asking people to support you so that you can keep on writing. It is moving patronage from an upper class indulgence to a socially wide support of the arts. So maybe you can change your donate button to a sponsor button if you’re sensitive about it.
The big problem is that there are a lot of writers in distress and a lot of them are asking for donations, which splits resources. On the other hand, it is sort of a development of online publishing — writers essentially asking for a voluntary donation for them writing a blog or putting up a short story.
But in any case, art is a charity cause, so you are perfectly within parameters to ask.
From your writing of the “Vlad Chronicles” you reveal your views on the world. Your assumed appropriate and inappropriate general knowledge evolves through each story. I am addressing your questions based on what I believe i know about you.
Your humility, or recognition of your imperfections, becomes more obvious as time goes on… I respect this on many levels as growth in the direction you are heading is the possible birth of some really timeless novels. The honesty needed to write great things comes from knowing your value — and your value is exactly what you are adding to the world.
When your cock-sure character Vlad was at the peak of his arrogance he was still in awe of myths that had come to life — Sethra, Morrolan and Verra come to mind. He held himself as better than most and as good as he needed to be to get by and ONLY a significantly arrogant character could stand next to a God and second guess them.
I like that arrogance – gives me that feeling while I struggle to feed myself. A Dzur hero does not rush up a hill because they know they will live through it — they do it because they are absolutely sure it is the right thing to do. And they get the title hero because even when they are dead wrong, we can respect their passion and purity of action.
Here comes the part I wish I had never said to my hero…
Don’t ask us permission to beg – fleece the Teckla. If someone thinks helping you to not write Vlad’s next chapter is a good idea… swell — get what you can. I will pay you to fight any publishing house keeping your books from the shelf but never to make you comfortable with not creating worlds and people I love to read about.
Okay — that said. Come to Portland and hang with a friend from the Minnesota days and have two slavering fans take you out for food in Portland, Oregon on our dime. There are chefs here that are pushing the bounds of food in ways you would appreciate. We’ll (as one of your slavering fans) foot the bills, maybe find a way for you to sell a few more books (arrange for a Powell’s reading), help you to feel like the hero you are and finish the next book!
Contrary to what many are writing, I believe the Donate button is clearly begging.
Some have equated that to a musician passing the hat or paying a ticket, but that’s what I do when I buy one of your books.
Still begging isn’t inherently a bad thing. You offer a free Firefly novel on your site so perhaps your donate button as quid pro quo.
And if people donate to help you finish your books I guess it is similiar to having nano-patron of the arts.
In any case, keep writing. I love recommending your books to all I meet.
I’m with the people who consider a donate button a tip jar, not begging. You provide additional content on your web site. When I buy one of your books I am enabling your book writing addiction, not your blogging addiction. (Didn’t Brenden Behan describe himself as a drinker with a writing problem?)
If you insist on calling your tip jar an “alms” button, you might consider labeling it: “Alms, alms for Belisarius”. Based on a (probably) historically inaccurate legend, and over the top besides. But calling it alms is already pretty inaccurate, so I hope in this case humor trumps accuracy.
I couldn’t read through all the comments, but my two cents: whatever the terminology a donate button is fine. Miss Manners just missed the boat here. Also, someone above mentioned signed book marks, and I think you probably know enough decent artists where you could get a few different nice designs and sell them via cafe press or some similar site. That would be pretty cool, I would certainly buy some for the holidays.
It seems to me that if you ask 100 people, “Define the word ‘donate’,” more than 90 of them are going to say something along the lines of “to give something of one’s own free will.” The “Miss Manners”s of the world might put a bunch of strings on it – “to a duly registered charitable organization whose profit/loss statements have been thoroughly scrutinized and whose political affiliations align with my own” or some such, but for most people, donate = give voluntarily. Period.
I think Allison Williams/153 fleshed out the nuances of your particular situation, and why MM got it wrong, most clearly. If you had put up a static website that listed your name, your body of work, perhaps a brief bio, and a tip jar/donate button, and that site never changed from week to week unless you added to the bio, I would look askance at that. Donate for what? Just because you asked? Just because I got to look at your name on the computer screen and go “oooooh”? Oh please.
What you have here, however, is an interactive, dynamic, “living” site where you engage your fans directly (for an internet value of “directly”). This not only adds legitimacy to the question – people are actually enjoying an ongoing experience which has value for them and prompts their donations; you’re not just sitting there with your hand out – but also is likely to make it more pressing. A static, unchanging web presence might attract a handful of visitors daily – nothing that any low-cost hosting service ($8-15/month) couldn’t handle. An interactive site like this, where people know there will be fresh content on a regular basis, is going to be much more expensive to run.
Put up the button. Call it whatever you want – no matter what you wind up with, someone is going to complain, or think it should be called something else. Make it unobtrusive enough that those not inclined to donate can easily ignore it, but not so unobtrusive that those who WANT to donate can’t find it.
At the same time, explore the other suggestions made above – offer small (or large!) items for sale, auction naming rights for future characters, offer non-monetary ways for fans to support you – or the charities/causes you support, and make the sacrifice for a financial advisor (then please send his/her name and number to me, because I desperately need one too).
You could even consider offering some content on a “paid members only” basis, although as a general rule I think that sucks a LOT more than a donate button. I have clicked many a “donate” button in my life, but I have never signed up for paid “VIP” type content, and probably never will.
I don’t remember who it was, but someone famous said something along the lines of, “People want to give us their money. We merely have to provide them a way to do so.” Some people will never want to donate a dime, and that’s fine – don’t ever try to force them. But others DO want to give money, in one way or another. Let them. (And the people who say, “I’ll give you money but first you have to tell me what you’re going to spend it on or what you did with the other money you had”? Tell them to stuff their donations up their… tell them “no thanks.”)
Last but not least, don’t waste your time with advice columnists (unless it’s just for the thrill of seeing your letter in print). They cannot possibly understand all the nuances of anyone’s situation. Make the decision that’s right for you, not the decision that some stranger came to based on a few lines of text. At best, advice columnists are like flipping a coin – when the coin comes down showing heads and you say, “Damn! I wanted tails!” then and only then is when it’s helped you make a decision.
I read through about 30 posts and then skipped to the end to post. Sorry if I repeat others ideas here…
A): Patronage of artists to afford them the necessary freedom to create has long been part of civilization. I would like to make a comparison and mention that Mozart himself was largely destitute, and died a pauper, yet I consider his works to be superb.
2): Your personal feelings of self worth for asking notwithstanding, it is abundantly clear (to me at least) that you have a large group of friends and fans that care about you and your work. The feelings that we all have won’t be changed just because you have a donate button, or because you are bad an managing money.
iii): You making your living entirely by expressing your creative thoughts through words. And yet, you charge little if anything for it! I have purchased numerous copies of your books over the years (I give them out sometimes as gifts to friends that are avid readers). But your other creative “products” like your daily blog posts, I get access to for nothing. It certainly speaks to your innate generosity. I don’t know enough of the economics of being a writer, but I have to think there might be revenue streams for you to access there.
d): ok just scanned a few later posts…part of me really believes that creative work benefits from not being constrained by financial considerations. Art should not have to be an avocation that an artist can only do in dribs and drabs in their spare time, and also Art should not be solely generated by those wealthy enough to have the available free time to do it. Maybe that’s an unrealistic belief, but eh, I have lots of unrealistic beliefs.
Had to add my thoughts. Steve, as cook as bookmarks or such are, consider selling your writing. Not wholesale, but retail. Allow me to explain . . .
You know those bits of story you have floating around in the compost pile? The odd parts that you cut for (gods forbid) brevity, or that place where you backed your way into a corner and had to abandon the chapter? The short snatches of dialog, background sketches on bits of history, etc.? The humorous “Day In The Life Of An Urban Jhereg” or “A Picnic With Kragar” that you wrote when you were drunk that time and never did anything with? Yeah, all that stuff. The parts that ended up on the cutting room floor.
Put those in a file, spend half a day fiddling with it to get it organized, and then publish it as a downloadable/print-on-demand .pdf at lulu.com. Sell it for $10 directly to your fans, a kind of “behind the scenes” or “special features” part of your work. Of that $10, you, the artist, gets around $9.50. Cash money via paypal. But you can set the royalty for anything, and if you don’t bother to get an ISDN for it, they don’t report it to the IRS. Not that you shouldn’t, of course, declare all of your income as per your legal obligation to do so, but . . .
Why do this? First, you enrich your audience and feed their greed for your work. Second, because you’re a writer, damn it, and shouldn’t be forced to beg. Not that I’m discouraging you from doing a dontate button — patronage of the arts is a hallowed tradition, after all — but it occurs to me that if you want to delete the guilt you might have, or the reluctance on the part of some to “give” you money for free, then an opportunity to support the artist by purchasing work wherein the majority of the royalty goes directly to the artist does just that. Your fan gets something cool, you get a happier fan who has more stuff to argue on web forums, you get the artistic satisfaction of seeing these timeless gems (or artistic abortions) see the light of day, and, hell, you already wrote it. Might as well get paid for it. Everybody’s happy but your agent and your publisher, bless them, and they can just look at this as a little qusi-promotional side venture that can’t but help keep sales up. You get a couple of hundred extra bucks and a venue for your exploration of Morrolon’s secret transvestism or Sethra’s fatal weakness for kittens or something.
Would we buy it? Hell, yes. I think I speak for many of us when I say the scraps from your table are more filling than half of the crap we buy while we’re waiting for the next Brust novel. If we can help you out directly and get a nifty piece of your work that isn’t technically “canon”, so much the better. I point you to the recent publication of Roger Zelazy’s lost “hard boiled” noir crime novel. I didn’t quibble that there was nothing fantastic about it. I read every word and savored the experience for what it was, an indulgence in good writing. So publish your notes and scraps, and keep the money. I’ve got a couple of books on lulu myself, under a pseudonym, and with little or no promotion I get a small but steady $40-$60 bucks — but I ain’t Steve Brust.
And hell, you already wrote it. Might as well get paid for it.
I agree with Miss Manners on this one. As an artist, if you wish to exhort patronage, then call it such. A “donate” button on a private website intended for personal gain — no matter how honest or deserved the gain may be — always seems dishonest.
I grant I’m popping into this conversation a bit late and have done minimal poking around (was just trying to figure out where in the timeline Iorich took place), but thought I’d suggest that authors consider using affiliate programs for sites that sell books, for example:
In theory this would allow an author to make money on books twice (such as when a fan comes to their site to find other books), as well as bring in a little extra money for thoughtful recommendations on other authors they respect.
There are plenty of similar ways that an author could monetize a site without “resorting” to begging, as well as drive traffic to their site from others (guest blogging on major sites, etc.).
Back on the “donate” topic, I was just having a conversation with a friend today that from what I’ve read, many authors get a much smaller (or no) cut from ebooks purchased from major retailers. I purchased a physical copy of Iorich for precisely this reason, while he purchased the ebook copy for convenience but promised he would send you an e-mail to see if you made money on it and donate if not.
Good thing you have a donate button.
I haz a check just waiting for SKZB response…or…
I haz a click waiting on the donate….whichever.
My 2 cents….for what it is worth.
An undetermined number of people are going to be offended or take exception to just about everything you do…kind of being in the limelight as you are…
If it eases your living and helps you continue your art….do it.
Consider it payment for the entertainment your website and blog provides. I just finished Iorich. Keep writing!
Old as this discussion is, I don’t see a point to stretching it out more, but I do have to wish something had come of the merchandising suggestions.
Obviously, this is still a problem.
I agree she has a point. I don’t agree she didn’t answer your question, because she left it to you to decide if you are destitute. She can’t tell if you told her the truth about your situation.
But I think I can see what some of the problem is. I don’t see any book signings advertised here. How many conventions do you attend? Speak at? Or do you avoid these things for some personal reason? (Rhetorical, I’m not asking to know the reason, only that you consider yours personally.)
There are solutions for a novelist that are not donations. But if you have decided that they are unacceptable, then you have to accept that your books will be poorly advertised, and you will need to learn how to manage your money better. It is not rocket science. It only takes self-control. And giving up things that drain your funds. Or find a way to make them less costly.
Frankly, I think you and Terry Goodkind should tour together. Do Conventions and discuss politics in SF&F. It would be like Hawk and Dove, of Marvel Comics. Except you’d probably wind up hurting each other. Well, that sells tickets, too! But then there is the medical bills…
Kreistor, how many book signings or SF cons do you go to yourself, and how much do you know about how they’re run? While they are good publicity opportunities, they aren’t typically money-making opportunities directly. They have costs — possibly significant costs — for the author, and time on the road is time not writing.
A Very Big Name author _might_ be able to get away with charging for signatures, but it’s certainly not typical. Most SF cons don’t pay their guests, either — travel, lodging, and meals for the Guest(s) of Honor, but everyone else is on their own. Actors and media figures do often charge appearance fees, which is why one doesn’t see them at most fan-run / book-oriented cons.
I don’t know what cons Steve has made it to lately. When he was in NV, we had him as the very first GoH for Conjecture here in San Diego, and he also attended LosCon up in LA.