Tips Jars and “Conscience Money”

In talking about self-publishing and ways to monetize online short fiction, several people mentioned an online Tip Jar, a way for readers and fans to contribute a few bucks and support me as a writer.

It’s a nice thought, and I truly appreciate it.  But it’s not something I’m going to do.  My reasoning comes down to two things.

1. I don’t need the money.  I want to get paid for my fiction, sure.  (The blogging I do for free, for the community and the secondary promotional benefits.)  But giving me a little extra money, just because you like me/my work?  Thank you … but for the moment, my family and I are doing okay, and there are many other causes out there that need the money more than we do.

2. Another reason people sometimes talk about tip jars is because they’ve downloaded something without paying for it, and want to give back to the author.  Again, a good and much appreciated thought … but not one I’m comfortable with.  I tend to agree with Charlie Stross on “conscience money.”

In short, paying me for something you downloaded off a torrent site or whatever is nice, but giving me a few bucks doesn’t pay the editor, typesetter, artist, copyeditor, sales force, or any of the other folks who worked to create the book.

If you really want to “tip” me, buy one of my books.[1. Author tipping. A new sport, coming to a convention bar near you.]  If you want to tip me more, buy another copy and give it to a friend.  (Word of mouth is one of the best things you can do for an author!)

That leads to a new issue, though — sometimes people download illegal copies because it’s difficult/expensive/impossible to get a legal copy of a book.  In which case, me asking you to buy another of my books misses the whole point.

I have no perfect answer.  I would love for my books to be available in every country and language and format.  (My agent is working on this.) Electronic format should increase availability, and does to some extent, but there are frustrating regional limits.

I still don’t want your money.  I’m glad you want to read my work, and I’m truly sorry it might not be available.  But I don’t believe that justifies illegal downloads.

Wanting something doesn’t entitle you to just take it.

I’m not trying to preach, and I’m not 100% innocent either.[2. I was around when Napster came out…]  But if you really want to support me as an author, and my books aren’t available in your country?

  1. E-mail publishers.  Tell them you really want to buy so-and-so’s work.  If publishers know there’s a demand, they might take the first step of contacting me and my agent to make it available.
  2. Double-check for legitimate possibilities.  I’ve been told my books are unavailable in Australia, for example.  But I also know some stores in Australia do stock my stuff.  It might be a special-order, or your bookstore might be able to get one shipped from a sister store.  Maybe not, but give ’em a call and check what they can do.
  3. Check with local libraries, if you have them.  They might be able to order overseas titles.
  4. ETA: tsubaki_ny suggested The Book Depository, “an international bookseller shipping our books free of charge, worldwide, to nearly 90 countries.”

I know that doesn’t solve everything.  But regarding a Tip Jar, in addition to not needing the money right now, accepting tips as informal repayment for illegal downloads just isn’t something I’m okay with.

Discussion and disagreement welcome, as always.