Miss Manners

Alms, alms for the novelist!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Dear Miss Manners:

I am a moderately successful novelist. Things are a bit dicey for me financially, mostly because I am appallingly incompetent when it comes to money management.

Some friends with whom I discussed this problem were kind enough not to offer unwanted loans, but instead recommended that I put a "Donate" button on the inevitable Web site everyone in my field seems obligated to have.

I wasn't initially comfortable with the idea of asking my fans to support me beyond buying my books -- that ought to be plenty -- but I eventually agreed, and it did help. Now, a couple of years later (and in the same financial position, alas), I find that I'm still uncomfortable with asking for help in this way. The discussions with my friends over the subject have become passionate. I would very much appreciate your perspective.

As a novelist, you undoubtedly have a high respect for the correct use of words to reveal truth. And yet Miss Manners fears that you have adopted a euphemism to disguise from yourself the truth of what you have been doing.

"Donations" are given to institutions or charities that do good works. Individuals may earn money, as you do in selling books; they may receive it through grants to do work; they may inherit it; they may be given it in lieu of presents; they may find it on the street.

But the act of asking others to give you money simply because you are needy is called begging. It requires a sacrifice of pride, and therefore self-respecting people resort to it only if they are totally destitute.

Dear Miss Manners:

A few months ago, my former college roommate and good friend committed suicide at the age of 25 after suffering from bipolar disorder for several years. I had stayed at her family's house on school breaks a few times and became somewhat friendly with her parents, but I don't know them intimately. They live in another state, and I haven't had any contact with them since their daughter's memorial service.

When her birthday comes around, I would like to send them something, maybe just a postcard, because I know it will be a difficult day for them. I wouldn't make any direct reference to either her birthday or her death, but I'd like them to know I'm thinking of them.

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