Monday, June 13, 2011

Writing for a good cause

Perhaps because of my ten-year+ experience in fundraising, I'm often asked for advice on how to market/fund production of cause-related books.

These are books, often on medical topics, that are designed to help children understand and cope with new situations in their lives - diabetes, autism, hospital visits, loss of a family member or pet...
And many people wanting to produce these books themselves, are looking for potential funding sources,  partnerships amd marketing opportunities.

These are a few tips I include when responding to such queries:
1. Explore what is currently available on the topic.
  • Check library catalogues (as nonfiction topics, and as 'autism', but also 'autism--fiction'
  • Check out websites of organizations that support and educate people about such conditions - they often have useful reading lists.
  • Ask teachers, nurses, doctors for their recommended reading titles.
Then check out these resources to ensure you are not duplicating similiar books that are readily available, and/or that yours is very different. This information will also be useful in pitching your project to publishers, funders, etc.

2. Be realistic about where/how to get funding.
  • Individuals are rarely eligible for corporate or foundation grants.
  • While partnering with an agency that deals with the same issue as your book might be a possibility, be aware that most non profits operate with very limited resources. Unless a book of the type you are proposing has already been identified as a priority, they are unlikely to be able to accomodate a partnership.
        However, if you are able to attract a non profit partner, they would be eligible to apply for grants, and their publicity and marketing machines would help get informaton about your project in potential readers' hands.
  • If your book is part of a broader projecy, you may want to explore developing a non profit society or foundation, which would make you eligible to apply for grants, provide tax receipts to donors, etc. Try Charity Village for useful resources, and check your local provincial/state government website for info on how to create a nonprofit society.
3. Find a publisher

If you are looking for a mainstream publisher for your project, your query/book proposal should include detialed information about what is already on the market on the topic, and your book must be able to compete on a craft level with other books in the marketplace.
   It may help if you have a 'platform' that allows you to reach potential readers easily - if you are active in a support organization as a staff or board member or volunteer, work with affected clients, pr whose writing onthe topic is widely known.
   If you plan to self publish, ensure the writing and production values are sound, and that you have a good marketing plan that outlines how you expect to reach your readership, your key prospects and key messages, etc.

4. Think of story

Many sound ideas are bogged down by pedantic writing and old fashioned moralizing. Rather than writing a book that tells the reader about the condition/situation and offers didactic solutons create a compelling character who has to negotiate the situations in a realist way. Use all the elements of story characterization, dialogue, good plot development, rising action, to draw the reader in and engage them rather than instruct them.

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