So You’ve Stolen From Me: A Forgiveness Primer

Let’s just say, theoretically, you managed to acquire a copy of one of my books in an illegal manner, and after reading the tome, you’ve become filled with intense regret that your illegal procurement has deprived me of my rightful income and have resolved to correct the issue. Alternately, you borrowed the book from somewhere and after reading the book have the urge to compensate me. Thanks! Now, how to do it? Here are some easy-to-follow steps. Any of these work for me.

1. Buy the book for yourself. Because, really, I don’t care if you read it first. Buying the book at any point is a good thing.

2. Buy the book for someone else. If you don’t see the point in getting yourself a copy, seeing that you already have one, no doubt there’s someone else you know who might like it. Give them a gift. You look good, and I get paid. Simple.

3. Buy the book for your local library. Do you know how much library book budgets have been slashed recently? Chances are pretty good that if you showed up at your local library and offered them a copy of the book, you’d make a librarian really happy. And there are very few things in one’s life that are better than making a librarian happy. And certainly I’d be pleased to have my book in another library. You know why? Because I like people reading my book, and this is a fine way to make it happen.

4. Buy a book for a child. If you decide I am simply rolling in the dough and don’t need any more cash — which is false, by the way, but never mind that — then do the next best thing, which is to take a little of your money and buy a book for a kid you know. It doesn’t even have to be an equivalent amount of cash as my book. But don’t buy a cheap book; get something nice — a book you would have wanted to been given as a child. A $1 coloring book from Wal-Mart ain’t gonna cut it. The point is to cultivate the next generation of readers, and the way to do that is with a really cool kid’s book. Do that, and we’ll call it even.

5. Donate to Reading is Fundamental (or First Book, other literacy charity). Don’t know any kids, or know some kids, but can’t stand them and don’t want to give them something nice, like a book? Fine. Reading is Fundamental sponsors literacy programs and initiatives all over the US, which is fairly important because people who are not literate have lives that truly suck, and the number of people who are functionally illiterate in our country is rather greater than most people expect.

Any organization that helps people to read is doing us all a mitzvah. If you take $10 (or more) and donate it to RIF while thinking of my book, an angel will get its wings, and some kid somewhere might learn how to read and thus have a better chance of a life that is worth having. I’ll take that.

6. If you can’t do any of the above, then for God’s sake, the next time someone says “read anything good recently?” Say, “Why, yes! Yes, I have.” And tell them about my book. And then tell them that they can find it at their local book store or any online bookstore of their choice. Encourage someone else to buy my book. It’s the least you can do.

13 Comments on “So You’ve Stolen From Me: A Forgiveness Primer”

  1. Six excellent ideas, John. I especially like the RIF approach (anyone else remember Lavar Burton when we were kids? “How did you get so smart? Reading….” Some memories never fade away).

    Anyway, to continue from my comment on the previous post, why isn’t #1 “drop me an e-mail and tell me you want to send me money?” Are you really saying you wouldn’t accept cash directly from a reader (or anyone, for that matter) who wanted to send it to you?

    Not as noble as donating to charity, mind you, but after all – you wrote the book!

    (DISCLAIMER: After an exhaustive search last Decmeber, I bought the book in an honest-to-goodness bookstore, so I’ve made my contribution the old fashioned way. Worth every penny…)

  2. The reason I don’t ask for a direct cash infusion is for a reason which Scott Westerfeld noted recently on his blog, which is that making a published book involves more than just the author. It also includes the editor who edited the book, the copyeditor who cleaned up the errors, the art director and artist who did the cover, the publicist who helped promote it, and so on — i.e., it’s a group effort. It’s not quite right for me to take all the money for myself and leave them out in the cold. They deserve compensation, too, and that’s why I placed emphasis on buying the actual book, because it’s through those sales that they get their paychecks.

  3. I spent five years of my life with a woman who was trying to make a living as a book editor (she switched to tech writing when we broke up – it’s practically impossible to make a real living as an editor, as far as I could tell from her experience). So I have to agree that just sending you a check doesn’t sound like the right answer, and I apologize for glossing over this in my comment on your previous blog entry. :’}

  4. All the way down at #6: do you have any idea how long it’s been since anybody has asked me if I’ve read anything good lately? My advice for anyone thinking of taking advantage of that one is to ask it yourself, and see if you can get somebody to reciprocate.
    Of course, I say this who shouldn’t, as I borrowed OMW from the library, as with almost all the books I read, and honestly haven’t felt the urge to compensate, although, you know, I enjoyed it and all. On the other hand, I was planning on buying a kid a book today—heck, the only books I buy these days are kid’s books—so perhaps it’s all part of the big web of compensation. What do you think?

  5. Vardibidian:

    “My advice for anyone thinking of taking advantage of that one is to ask it yourself, and see if you can get somebody to reciprocate.”

    Indeed — no reason not to be proactive!

  6. When you buy a book for your local library you may (surprisingly) encounter some resistance. At larger libraries is just as likely to turn up on sale at their next fundraiser for $.25 instead of in the collection. Between stepping on the toes of the collection manager: “I didn’t order this” to getting the technical services folks bent out of shape “This didn’t come from our regular wholesaler with 90% of our job done already” it’s astonishing the resistance you can get to adding something to a library collection.

  7. Really? I contribute books all the time to the local library and they are always happy to see them. It may vary from library to library.

  8. I recently decided to get rid of my comic books. I have GN’s of what I re-read and the rest I haven’t done anything with in years other than move them from place to place and complain because they are so heavy.

    So I called RIF and they called me back a few hours later with a person in my local area who would be happy to take 250+ comic books off my hands. So the next day I had off, I dropped them at my local high school.

    These were not potentially money making comics, these were just something I didn’t want anymore that I could hand off to someone who could put them to good use. I was delighted with RIFs response and so next time I decide it’s time to cull my 700+ book collection, it will be them I go to, to find someone locally who can make use of them.

  9. Larger libraries are resistive to donated books, especially at the enter/desk worker level. Most have “review” panels that read the book first, fail to understand genre work, and don’t put it on the shelf. There are ways around it. Talk to the head librarian and impress on them how much the book meant to you. Donate to smaller local libraries instead of big city main branches. Get the author to sign the copy before you donate it. (This one is especially effective. Very few authors will refuse a request for a signed book and even the most callous library takes pride in having a signed book. You can really cement the deal by having the author sign the book to the library.) Also a good vector, especially for books like “Old Man’s War”, is to donate them to school libraries. These are usually even more desperate for good literature (especially for boys) than the main public ones. I would also add to the list of things to do, add the book to the recommendations for “Guys Read” (


  10. I work in a bookstore, and I was looking forward to your book after I read about it in a tor catalog. Great, I thought, a book I can put next to Starship Troopers, Armor, and Forever War on my shelf. Not so because someone bought it before I even saw it.

    I borrowed Old Man’s War from a friend. I loved it. When we got it back in stock I bought a copy. I look forward to the sequel. I will up our store requests for the title, and I will put it on an endcap. If you are a bookseller, you should do the same thing.

    Drop your books in the local library return bins when you are done with them, or resell them at a used bookstore. I love both places. I have found that many things I have resold or donated have found themselves in the hands of others and on library shelves.

    Support the things you like with your dollars and your actions. Stealing will not support the great authors, musicians, and filmmakers. Using your money in a positive way will.

    Just one story, and I will go. We once had newspapers on the sales floor. It was insulting to see the people just reading the paper and not paying for it. It ended up being a lot of work for nothing. I moved the papers behind the counter, and the first question I got was, “You mean I have to pay for the paper?” These are the people that walk among us.

  11. To add to the library-gift idea, many libraries now have Amazon wish lists (or, presumably, wish lists at other on-line booksellers), which would make the whole process much easier for them as long as they have OMW on that wish list. Libraries differ one to another, of course, on what they want on the shelves, responsiveness to individual donors, and technological savvy. At my local, if I drop off a dozen books as donations, they probably will be sold off for a few bits, rather than put through acquisitions. If, on the other hand, I want to donate a particular book, I can fill out a form with the info on the book, and they will let me know the (discounted) cost of buying it through their usual channels, which I would then donate. It’s a workaround, but it makes some sense. In the case of OMW, though, my library already has a copy (as does the local bookstore, by the way).
    Oh, and my own way of being proactive on that front is to blog every damn’ thing I read … which, come to think of it, may well be why nobody bothers asking me about it.

  12. Libraries are resistant to add donated books to their collections for more reasons than that they are bureaucratic jerks, as Costa and Keaton imply.

    Principal reason: It costs more to process a book than it does to buy it. It has to be inventoried, cataloged, stamped, and shelved, and this takes personnel time. It takes up space on the shelves, which is limited. By processing this book – and even by taking the time to decide whether it’s something they want in their collection – the librarians are spending time that they would be spending on other books.

    Also, yes, the collection development managers like to have control over their sections. This is not arrogance or selfishness: would you like random strangers to come in and add books to your collection? A good CD policy has coherence, and while the book you donate may be just what the librarian has always wanted, it could equally be some piece of crap they’ve never heard of.

    Does this mean you should not donate books to libraries? NO! Here’s things you can do:

    1) Donate to the library booksale. Even crap that nobody’s heard of will make a little discretionary money for the library when it’s sold.

    2) Donate your own time as a volunteer, or money to the library’s donations fund if it has one. (Public libraries sometimes don’t have such funds. But I bet your church’s library has one.)

    3) If you really think your book(s) would be a worthwhile addition to the library, talk to the librarians first. Go to the main library reference desk (not a branch library, and not the circulation desk) and ask to speak to the collection development person for science-fiction, or whatever the subject area is. It might be the very person you’re talking to, or it might be somebody not on duty and you’ll have to make an appointment to come back later. Or get their work e-mail address and send a note: if you only have one or two books that might be best. Say what the books are, why (briefly) you think they’re worthwhile, and ask politely if the library would be interested. (And make sure beforehand that you know whether they already have copies.)

    If this person turns out to be uninterested or a jerk, go to some other library. But most librarians will respond politely with a “yes, thank you” or a “sorry, thanks, but we don’t have space or money for these.”

  13. All the points made here about libraries are valid, and well worth reading. As the husband of a librarian, I would add one more that no one mentioned:

    Libraries want HARD COVER books for their collections, typically with intact slip covers, if the book is sold with one. If you have a library that accepts donated books and is willing to add them to the collection, it should be a hardcover.

    Paperbacks are flimsy and have a short life span, and aren’t usually worth the time to process, catalog, etc. That’s not to say you can’t donate those; you can. But don’t be surprised to see them on the book sale table, or, possibly, an “honor system” rack.

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