By Matt Sinclair
As writers, we tend to write what we know. For most of my life and my entire professional career, I’ve been involved with the nonprofit sector as an active volunteer, a paid employee, and a professional journalist, and – in an unexpected way – as a publisher.
While I’m working to build a successful and profitable publishing company, Elephant’s Bookshelf Press, like many of the writers who have been published through it, has always had a little bit of “nonprofit” feel to it. Although it has been true for the anthologies, the more obvious example is our novel Battery Brothers by Steven Carman, the proceeds of which will go the Sunshine Foundation, which was the first organization to focus solely on providing seriously ill children with their wishes, such as providing a trip to Disney or setting up a visit from a celebrity.
The partnership works for both sides: Sunshine Foundation has helped spread the word about Battery Brothers in its newsletters and on its Website. We can include their logo on the EBP Website and to link to them. The organization will receive the proceeds from sales of the book. We had everything outlined in a contract between us.
But even if you haven’t spent your career in the nonprofit sector, it’s possible for just about any writer to build that type of partnership. As with any new relationship, you need to develop it; it might not happen immediately and it might not happen at all or in the way you initially hoped. Still, the potential for mutual benefit is there and worth pursuing.
How do you do it? Each organization is different, so sometimes the best contact person is in the public affairs or media office, but it could also be someone in the fundraising or development department. In my opinion, a writer’s initial goal should be to ensure that the story maintains believability. Could a person with diabetes run a marathon, for example? It’s possible, but a group like the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation or the American Diabetes Association can help you understand the conditions in which it’s most likely, or possible challenges that might add tension to your story. A call to the organization can open the door to someone who’s willing to talk to you.
It’s best when there’s a clear connection. For example, if you have a significant character who suffers from a specific disease, it’s always a good idea to do your research so the depiction is accurate. There is likely an organization that provides services or funds research that can help you. This type of relationship works best because you both have something to gain: you get accurate information and they have the opportunity to educate people. Be sure to thank the organization in an acknowledgements section of your finished work.
But even if there’s not a clear connection, you might be able to work something out. The key is communicating with the organization. Perhaps a character in your story has been beaten or abandoned. There are numerous human service organizations that help people in those situations, and they might be willing to highlight your book in a newsletter. It might only require a polite request.
As an important caveat: don’t simply use an organization’s name and say that the organization will receive a portion of the proceeds if you don’t have an actual agreement. Most organizations don’t like it when their name is used without permission; some will file suit.
The key is building a relationship, a partnership. There’s no telling where good relationships can take you.
Matt Sinclair, a New York City-based journalist and fiction writer, is also president and chief elephant officer of Elephant's Bookshelf Press, which recently published Battery Brothers, a YA novel by Steven Carman about a pair of brothers playing high school baseball and about overcoming crippling adversity. Matt also blogs at the Elephant's Bookshelf and is on Twitter @elephantguy68.