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I Have a Dream

Please note:  I don’t mean to be preachy, but it is Martin Luther King Junior’s Day…and I have a dream.


Yes, I have a dream.  I have a dream that every writer will give back to the world, not just with our words but with our actions. 


Today, I want to give a shout out to writers who put serious action behind their words.  Authors like James Patterson who is giving away $500,000 for literacy with his PageTurner Awards, and Dave Eggers who started 826 National to help kids 6-18 with writing, and Isabel Allende who created a foundation that helps literacy, women empowerment & peace.  There are countless other writers doing amazing philanthropy, I’m sure.  So a heartfelt thanks to all of them.


The wonderful part about this dream is that you can be at any part of your writing career—on the cusp, breaking out, or at the top, like James, Dave and Isabel.


Say publication is a dream itself for you.  Guess what?  Your skills are in demand:  read aloud to kids at a public school.  Lend your writing skills to a non-profit organization; pen an article or two for them.  If you’re in any of the cities where 826 National, volunteer there.  All of us can give some time to our local SCBWI chapter.  They are always looking for great, cheerful, can-do, will-do volunteers, and what they do to bond and promote our writing community is priceless.  Or, heck, all of us have time to write a fan letter to our favorite overlooked authors—perhaps your best friend in your critique group who just got her umpteenth rejection letter.  The bottom line is:  let’s add goodness to our world.


If you have published a book, celebrate and honor it with a philanthropic act.  It can be as simple as releasing a few copies of your book in unexpected places:  leaving it in a hospital lobby or at a park (preferably during nice, dry weather) for that right someone to happen on it, right day, right time.  Perhaps it’s donating as many copies as you can possibly afford to First Book.


But I think there’s a bigger opportunity to do more good with your work.  Obviously, there was a reason why you wrote what you did, explored the theme that you chose (or that chose you):  depression, body image, abandonment, friendship, peace.  Perhaps your YA novel is about an alcoholic father, an abusive mother, a friend with anorexia.  Maybe your middle grade novel is a fantasy featuring an orphaned boy...


As we all know, virtually every issue has a corresponding non-profit.  And those non-profit organizations are looking for ways to connect people to their cause, to educate the world about their issue, and to get their organization in the news.  Literature—from picture books to novels—are the best bridges to do just that--they impassion and illustrate and educate.  

Think about it:  a soon-to-be-published book is a news hook that they could potentially use to highlight their organization and raise awareness about their mission.  So be brave.  Do your research.  Find wonderful non-profit organizations that map to your book's purpose.  Ask around to see if anyone you know has worked at the organization (six degrees really does work).  Contact the organization (the VP of communication is a good place to start).  Send them your ARC.  Ask them if there is a way for you to work together to promote—not your book (that’s icky and self-serving), but their group!  

Trust me.  You words will help so many more people by aligning with a philanthropic group.  Your books will help the kids who you imagined as you typed at three in the morning.  The ones who haunted you when you thought you'd just toss your manuscript because, gosh, who really cares...  But they were there.  They always are:  our readers who need our words.

So to my writer-buddies who asked me:  What's YOUR New Year's Resolution?  I tell them:  it's actually my career resolution.  As soon as I got my first contract, I promised myself to tie every book I publish with something philanthropic. 


Let’s start a movement!  Sara Zarr and Debbi Florence and Janet Lee Carey and Dia Calhoun and Lorie Ann Grover are all getting on the philanthropic wagon.  Join us!  And if you've already been leading the charge, we salute you!

(And if you want more info about this, let me know.  I could blog for months about this.)


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 14th, 2007 02:33 am (UTC)
I love this, Justina, and you are so right! My first book will be released in June, and I do have plans to give back. I want to get my publisher on board with my idea before I go into details but I will blog about it asap! Thanks for reminding me to get moving on it!
Jan. 15th, 2007 04:24 am (UTC)
How exciting!! You'll have to let us know once your publisher is on board. Very, very cool, Miss Lisa.
Jan. 14th, 2007 01:20 pm (UTC)
Great post! I've long felt and lived this way, not just with books, but that's a different story. When A Bad Boy Can Be Good for a Girl came out last January, I decided to do something that would both involve community and give back to it.

My book is about female empowerment, self-awareness, and self-respect. I staged a dramatic performance, involving teens who had an interest in theater, at a downtown venue and involved as many people who wanted to participate as I could. I also invited the Studio 2B Program of the Girl Scouts to come and donated money to their organization, as their mission is to promote self-respect and self-expression through creative writing and visual art projects for girls.

I'll never forget that night. it was about community--and the community showed up--big time. We had more than 200 people. It felt good all around.

And for the introvert types out there, it also takes the spotlight off of you and puts it on something larger, which can make a shy writer feel more comfortable about putting themself out there.

Thanks for bringing up these themes, Justina!
Jan. 15th, 2007 04:27 am (UTC)
I love this, soul sister. It's absolutely brilliant how you turned a dramatic performance into a fundraiser for a non-profit group, especially Studio 2B. That's just so wonderful. You are a superstar. A Bad Boy Can Be Great for a Girl--Especially When it Helps the Right People.

Jan. 15th, 2007 06:26 pm (UTC)
aw shucks--and right back at ya! ;-)
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )

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