Not long after the release of my debut YA-novel, Honeysuckle Holiday, I was invited to present the work to a group of low-income summer campers as a study in diversity and acceptance. I was honored and overwhelmed at the book's reception. The individual had read my novel and had expressed their appreciation for its focus on those topics. I expressed my gratitude to the individual who offered the invitation, and then what happened next was completely unexpected. They asked to contact my publisher to "beg a discussion set of 10-15 copies" of the book. They went on to suggest that a reporter might write a piece on the event, thereby "drawing more interest for people to buy the book." A quite similar situation presented itself a few months later with a group of children who would be attending a local church camp during that same summer. When I contacted my publisher for direction -- for these situations had never before presented themselves -- I was counseled to not give my books away for free. That there was value in my work. That I might propose to these event leaders that the books could be purchased at wholesale. That I might even ship the books at my cost. But, according to my publisher, to never give away the books. To never start that practice. I listened, and I discussed these options with the event leaders, who, quite simply, broke off all communications with me. I had even gone so far as to remind them that while these young readers found the funds to go to lunch and go to the movies and go shopping, that if they were required to pay for the books, that a strong and lasting lesson in pride in ownership would become a part of their value system -- it fell on deaf ears. What a shame. What a missed opportunity for the students.
Suddenly, it was not about Honeysuckle Holliday. It was about missing that valuable opportunity to instill in these groups of young people the belief -- the firm belief -- that our dedicated efforts at creating -- art, music, writing, etc -- have value. And that if we contribute to recognizing that value that the artist is not the only one who benefits. The recipient of that work that the artist has dedicated years and years to perfecting has stepped into a whole new world of possibilities -- for themselves. They begin to dream. They begin to believe that they, too, can be a writer, a musician, a painter. They begin to hope. And the hope that fuels their dreams becomes more important than Honeysuckle Holiday. More important than the wholesale price tag for a debut novel by a West Virginia author. It becomes more important than just about anything.
Image Credit: "The Poor Poet," Carl Spitzweg, 1835