Yesterday's Associated Press article that appeared in numerous newspapers across the country underscored the problem with well-intentioned folks making donations to victims of Hurricane Sandy. These donations are causing "a disaster after the disaster"—what to do with all the donations. According to Geoff Mulvihill's article:
It's a common quandary after natural disasters displace lots of people and destroy homes and possessions. Relief groups need very specific things, along with cash and organization. Instead, they get vases and vacuum cleaners, or interference from well-intentioned volunteers who think they're helping but are just hindering efforts.I recently came across a site wherein "indie" authors decided to donate their books to libraries that had been destroyed—or at least damaged—by Hurricane Sandy. On the surface, this seems like a great idea. Only it isn't.
What is an "indie" author, you may ask? Opinions vary. Publisher Lynn Price, on her Behler Blog, defines "indie" as a "small independent commercial press." Thus, indie authors would be published by small independent presses. However, a lot of folks define "indie" authors as those who pay all the costs of publishing, own their own ISBNs, make all the decisions, and reap all the profits. A few of the many sites that have offered a definition of "indie" author are this one, this one, and this one. And there are lots more.
Since I am self-published (once), vanity-published (four times), and small press-published (twice), I fit most definitions of "indie" author and I know some of the pitfalls. Indies generally aren't well known beyond their immediate region. Bookstores, aside from some local independent ones, rarely carry their books. Libraries rarely shelve books by independent authors who don't live in the region the library serves.
Because I serve on my county library's Board of Trustees, I know a bit about how libraries work. I know that shelf space is limited. (Nonetheless, our main library and its branch have a local authors' section where they do shelve books by folks they actually know and whose books patrons actually request.) I know the library procures books (usually by ordering from a distributor) that patrons are likely to check out. I know that when new books are ordered, older books—or books that haven't been checked out for a long time—might be culled to free up shelf space. The library staff has to spend time ordering, cataloguing, and covering books before they can be put on the shelf.
Some donated books are, of course, welcomed. They're books that patrons want to read. But other donations present a problem. Will patrons even check them out? If not, why spend time in cataloguing and covering them? Why waste shelf space that could be used for more popular books? While the library accepts donated books, most end up in the monthly used book sale held by the Friends of the Library.
A few years ago, an acquaintance I met at a writers conference wanted me to buy her vanity-published book about a subject that I wasn't interested in and that a cost a bit more than a commercially published book. When I said that the subject matter wasn't what I usually read, she insisted I could buy it and donate it to my local library. I had to explain that doing so wasn't cost effective—that her $$ book was highly unlikely to be shelved and would be sold for a dollar at the monthly sale.
Now picture if you will a library that has sustained major structural damage and has lost most of its books in a flood. The over-stressed staff can't process new books because they have no place to store them until the building has been repaired. For a while, they won't even have space to work in. When they finally are able order replacement copies of their damaged inventory, they'll spend hundreds of hours processing and shelving those replacement copies. If hundreds of indies were to flood (no pun intended) them with books they've never heard of and that none of their patrons has requested, what would they do? Where would they put them? Even taking the unwanted books to a dumpster requires precious man-hours.
So that's why I think those indie authors' motive might seem like a good idea but really isn't. The best thing to do would be to donate money instead of books.
*If you haven't read any indie-pubbed ebooks, take a look at the free ones on Smashwords. Click on a title and scroll down to the format you'd like to read.