A number of years ago a friend approached me with a compelling idea. Would I be willing to write a book (under a pen name) that his organization could use as a fundraiser? I suppose this idea had been used many times and in countless ways, but it was new to me. My friend knew that I was interested in the cause he represented so it was an easy sell. It also appealed to me because I could keep my writing sharp while lulling through those “between project” times. There was no downside to the idea.
Fast forward. I’ve done this same thing a few times in the intervening years and found it to be a terrific experience. I loved the projects because I believed in the causes. As a writing workout, it had everything I wanted in terms of interest and freedom. I got to choose the topics, present them my own way, and know they would be appreciated and used in a positive manner.
When this kind of writing was still new to me I did some fumbling around to find the right formula. It took a little time, but it all finally came together. Now, I’m a true believer. My hope is that other writers will take up this kind of project for their favorite causes.
Here’s what I learned about this type of writing. It’s a personal formula, so there’s lots of room for improvements and tweaks. Just some highlights.
Make no pitch in the book. It’s only necessary to add a single, discreet line to let readers know that your book will funnel all profits to the chosen cause. I like to add this as a brief line in the Introduction and within the traditional back-cover teaser. This seems to work best. There’s no reason to beat the drums. If you do a “hard sell” in the book you risk a big turn-off with the reader. Not good.
It must be relevant. Obviously, you want the topic to be relevant to the cause. There must be a clear tie-in that the reader cannot overlook. If you’re trying to fund-raise for a hunger project there’s no point in writing a tome about aircraft design. This is the point at which you work closely with the cause folks to come up with just the right idea.
It should be timeless. These writing projects need to stand the test of time and go on for years to be really effective. Time-sensitive topics don’t work well when you’re doing a fundraiser. What does work well is a topic that remains relevant over a long period of time. You want the book to have a strong shelf life.
It should not be unnecessarily long. With this type of writing project, the usual rules of novel length do not apply. In fact, I’ve found that a rather short book with tight, easy to digest chapters works well for most readers. It’s not necessary to spend thousands of words on character development or story line meanderings. Simple is best. Also, the book must move along.
Chapters need not be sequential. It’s OK to write a book that a reader can pick up at a moment’s notice, turn to any chapter, and begin reading. This seems to work better than creating a work that demands linear reading, front to back. The formula I prefer is to create a book in which any chapter can be read as a standalone piece of work. Obviously, there must be an overall tie-in that holds everything together. Readers seem to like this technique.
Graphics are not always necessary. Although graphics can enhance any literary work, they are not critical to this type of writing. Graphics help, but a book written for the purpose we’re discussing can be quite simple and still be very effective. I point this out because the cost of printing and publication can directly relate to the graphics content of the book regardless of how it is to be published.
Go to the events. It really helps your cause if you can attend events and sign copies of the book as they are purchased. This is not only a great way to thank the cause supporters but also a means to generate interest from potential readers.
Keep your causes separate. It’s not wise, nor proper, to mix your messages when promoting a cause-related book. This must be a personal decision, though. Just as you use a pen name for these creations, it’s best to keep your other work apart. Focus on the cause and the book it represents. There should never be any selling involved when you promote this kind of book. That responsibility belongs to others involved in the cause.
Feel good about yourself. This is the reward point of your contribution. With each book sale, your cause can grow and become more powerful. That’s the “feel good” part of the process that should not be overlooked. As writers, we all want others to read our words. If we can put our books in front of new readers, and feel good about it at the same time, we’ve been well rewarded.
So, why not give it a try? It’s the kind of offer that any forward-looking cause can appreciate and you’ll feel very good about your labor. A guaranteed return on your investment.