Think Authors Profit From Book Banning?

[tweetmeme source=”sarahockler” only_single=false]Lots of people think that authors want to have our books challenged. We’ve all joked about the merits of stirring up a little controversy to boost sales, right? I know I have, because on the surface, yeah, it’s pretty cool to write a book that pisses someone off so badly he wants to hide it from everyone else. And that’s often the fastest way to ensure it will never be hidden. Banned books are discussed in the media, through social networks, in bookstores and libraries, in schools, at home, and soon people are flocking to stores and libraries to see what all the fuss is about. Sounds great for authors, right?

Hmmm.

When Ellen Hopkins recently blogged about the experience of being booted (i.e., censored) from the Humble Teen Book Festival, some people accused her of intentionally trying to profit from the situation. I was shocked. I mean, Ellen obviously cares about teens. She cares about sharing powerful stories in ways that save lives. Why would she try to profit from a situation that was preventing her from interacting with the very teens who so desperately need her work? Why did these people find it appropriate to personally attack an author who’s trying to do some good for teens in this world? Baffling.

Ellen, of course, handled (and continues to handle, each time her books are challenged) the whole thing with class and determination, an example to us all. But it really got me thinking about how I might react if my book was ever challenged.

I never expected I’d get to test that theory so soon.

In reading about Ellen’s struggles against censorship, I came across a story about a conference in which Judy Blume spoke about book banning. An author in the audience jokingly asked her for tips on how to get his own book challenged, and Judy replied something like:

“Your book will be challenged. And you won’t like it.”

People laughed. But you know what? Aunt Judy was absolutely right.

Book Challenges Actually, Um, Suck

When I heard about Wesley Scroggins challenging Twenty Boy Summer as part of his 29-page manifesto against sex education, separation of church and state, evolution, and groundbreaking books like Speak and Slaughterhouse Five, I wasn’t excited at the prospect of increased sales. I didn’t do my happy dance at the thought of increased media exposure. Instead, my heart sank in a way I didn’t think possible over one man’s personal agenda. He said my work — something I’d put my heart and soul and years of my life into creating — was immoral, filthy, and un-Christian (the implication being that I personally am immoral, filthy, etc.). Ouch.

I don’t deny him the right to his opinion, and if he would’ve shared it in an email to me or a public book review on Goodreads, I would’ve shrugged it off, like I must with any negative review. But Scroggins didn’t post a review or give me the dreaded one-star rating on Amazon. He didn’t even read the book. He’s simply attempting to remove it — along with the other books — from the public school library. He’s attempting to infringe on the intellectual freedoms of the student body, parent children who are not his own, and disempower teens by sweeping the discussion and validation of their very real issues under the rug.

Essentially, the message he’s sending to kids in Republic, Missouri — including his own kids, who don’t even attend the public school — is this:

We don’t care about you. We don’t want to discuss your problems because they don’t exist. If you’re the victim or rape or assault, it’s your fault. Shut up. Do not SPEAK of it. And if you’re a “good, clean, moral, Christian kid,” you obviously aren’t capable of reasoned thought, because reading these books will brainwash you into experimenting with alcohol and sex when you otherwise wouldn’t have known these vices existed.

When the dust settles and this issue is resolved, whether the books are burned in the Republic school parking lot by Scorggins and his cronies, or put front and center on every bookshelf in the state by champions of literary choice, Scroggins’ attitude still disgusts me. It infuriates me. Hate me and my work all you want, but in this country, you don’t get to do it for other people. Calling for institutionalized censorship of any kind is an outrage, and Judy was right. I don’t like it one bit.

Now on to this so-called financial profiteering. I was inspired to blog about this today after reading this post: Book Banning for Profit.

I agree with the author’s point that the teachers standing up for our books in Republic should absolutely be involved in the conversation and in sharing their important perspectives on what’s going on inside the school walls. What incenses me about the article, however, is the assertion that Wesley Scroggins “might as well have written a check to those authors.” That the controversy has resulted in “money for a beautiful webpage called ‘Speak Loudly.’ Moving up 2,000 spots on the Amazon seller list.” The author goes on to say:

“Frankly, shouldn’t some of those who have co-opted this issue for their own profit write a thank you note to Mr. Scroggins and to the teachers of Republic. I think they can do better than send 20 books. These authors and supporters of YA lit do believe in protecting our right to read, but let’s not overlook the profit to be made from being a part of this conversation.”

Profit being made? I know that the Speak Loudly web site is a labor of love for founders David Macinnis Gill and Paul Hankins, who host and maintain the site out of their own pockets. Same goes for Paul and the #speakloudly campaign he so bravely spearheaded.

And as for my personal profits from this, well…

*scratches head*
*looks in wallet*
*looks under couch cushions*
*scratches head again*

Fuzzy Math

Donating copies of challenged books is not something authors do for profit or fame. We do it to ensure that readers still have access to books that are being challenged or banned and to meet a library’s newly increased demand for books that are suddenly being debated and discussed in the local media.

Consider the numbers here. I can’t speak for Laurie, but for me, to donate 20 paperback copies of Twenty Boy Summer out of my own pocket, I’d have to sell more than 200 paperback copies at full price at my current royalty rate to cover my purchase and shipping costs. To donate hardcovers, I’d have to sell almost 400 of those copies. And since Twenty Boy Summer is my first book and I haven’t yet earned out my initial advance, I won’t see any royalties for quite a while, despite the momentary jump in sales this controversy may have sparked. So while I’m grateful that Wesley Scroggins has brought my book and the others into the spotlight despite his attempts to bury them, thereby earning me some new readers who might never have otherwise heard about Twenty Boy Summer, that spotlight won’t last forever, and it won’t pay my bills. If it did, I certainly wouldn’t be celebrating the long-term notoriety and increased cash flow. I’d be stocking up on duct tape and canned goods because folks, if a quiet little book like mine can be challenged or banned on that level, free society as we know it is over.

Time is Money

I’m self-employed. Writing, whether its fiction or corporate freelance, is my sole source of income. My corporate rates are upwards of $100 an hour. Since Scroggins publicly voiced his opinion, I’ve spent entire work days — going into week two, actually — not working on my usual income-generating projects, but responding to emails, phone and print interview requests, Tweets, blog posts, news article commentary, and other information requests sparked by the news in Missouri. I’m happy to be involved in defending intellectual freedom and proud to be in such good company as Laurie Halse Anderson and Kurt Vonnegut, and I won’t deny that all this effort has increased visibility for my book. But to earn back my full investment on the time I’ve spent managing this issue, I’d have to sell over 5,000 full price copies of Twenty Boy Summer (and counting). When you’re not Stephenie Meyer or J.K. Rowling, that’s a lot of books, my friends.

War is Good for the Economy

Yes, book challenges are controversial and controversy increases publicity, which often increases sales. But saying that authors are eager to profit from challenges or bans is a bit like saying war is good for the economy. Whenever a book is challenged, someone — either in an official capacity or not — is advocating the challenge of basic intellectual freedoms and free choice. Someone is advocating his or her personal right to make reading decisions for other people. Someone is advocating censorship. It doesn’t matter if challenged books see a bump in sales when the sole reason for that bump is a potential loss of freedom, realized or not.

As an author of a recently challenged book, I will not trade freedom for profit. And I wouldn’t trade freedom for profit, even if the math was on my side.[tweetmeme source=”sarahockler” only_single=false]

I Speak Loudly for SPEAK: Video

[tweetmeme source=”sarahockler” only_single=false]
After sharing many thoughts on the Wesley Scroggins wingnuttery here and here, I have a few more things to say today as part of Hot Topic Tuesday with The Contemps, specifically in defense of Laurie Halse Anderson’s SPEAK.

(Cheers to fellow writer, friend, and Lighthouse faculty member Jennifer Itell, who introduced me to SPEAK several years ago as part of our young adult novel workshop curriculum. Jenny knows a kick ass book when she sees it, and thanks to her, so do I.)

Here’s what the Anderson’s bookshop sexy librarian and I have to say about SPEAK:

Hugs to all of you for your ongoing support and encouragement!

Win a Wesley Scroggins Filthy Books Prize Pack!

[tweetmeme source=”sarahockler” only_single=false]Update: This contest is from the original book challenge in 2010, not the ban in 2011. The prizes have been awarded and the contest is now closed. Feel free to comment, though!

The outpouring of support from the book loving community over the Wesley Scroggins Crazytrain Manifesto has been amazing, especially through the #SpeakLoudly Twitter campaign. As a gesture of thanks to Dr. Scroggins for reminding me and thousands of others about the awesomeness of challenged books, I’m giving away two Filthy Books Prize Packs, containing one copy of each of his challenged “filthy, immoral” books, including:

SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE by the masterful Kurt Vonnegut,
SPEAK by trailblazer Laurie Halse Anderson, and
TWENTY BOY SUMMER by yours truly!

I’m going to add some dark chocolate, too. Because it’s dangerous and naughty and it goes great with banned books!

To enter, simply leave a comment below telling us what you’re doing to #SpeakLoudly against censorship. Next Friday, I’ll randomly select 2 winners from the entries.

On Book Banning Zealots & Ostriches

UPDATE: Thanks everyone for your ongoing support and awesomeness, especially on the #SpeakLoudly Twitter thread! Keep reading and keep speaking loudly against book banning!

[tweetmeme source=”sarahockler” only_single=false]Most of you know I’m getting pretty riled up about this whole censorship thing. There was the Ellen Hopkins un-invite from the Humble Texas book event. The Stockton, MO banning of Sherman Alexie’s THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART TIME INDIAN. Then the news that TWENTY BOY SUMMER was being challenged in a Missouri school library because one parent thought the title was “promiscuous.”

One parent’s challenge of TBS isn’t a big deal, really. But it speaks to the larger issues of censorship that I talked about last week, and that’s why I was so upset.

But then I got an update on the “minor” TBS situation, and it’s actually much worse than I thought.

Dr. Wesley Scroggins, a fundamentalist Christian and parent in Republic, MO, has issued a 29-page missive to the Republic school board calling for the removal of TBS, SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE, and most shocking of all — Laurie Halse Anderson’s SPEAK — a book about the date rape of a teen girl which Scroggins calls “soft pornography.” Not surprisingly, he’s also fighting to kill the sex ed curriculum, removing any pamphlets that discuss HIV or condoms and disallowing teachers to talk about reproduction and sex, stating that “…children at the middle school are being introduced to concepts such as homosexuality, oral sex, anal sex and specific instructions on how to use a condom and have sex.” Note that in Republic, kids (or their parents) can opt out of the sex ed curriculum, which is abstinence-based, but that’s not good enough for Scroggins. Apparently he doesn’t want anyone unmarried and under the age of 25 to know about “female parts.”

You all know how I feel about the head in the sand mentality, right? Because I’m sure us girls never even knew we had vaginas (yes, Dr. Scroggins, it’s called a vagina) until we took sex ed and learned “how to use a condom and have sex.”

*rolls eyes*

Sex and girl parts aside, he’s also got a problem with the school’s teaching of the Constitution and lots of history and science books that teach anything other than the strictest Christian interpretation of those subjects.

In his whackadoo-from-the-zoo article, “Filthy books demeaning to Republic education,” he says this about TWENTY BOY SUMMER:

This book glorifies drunken teen parties, where teen girls lose their clothes in games of strip beer pong. In this book, drunken teens also end up on the beach, where they use their condoms to have sex. I confronted the school board with these issues at the June school board meeting. As far as I know, nothing has been done to address these issues to date. This is unacceptable, considering that most of the school board members and administrators claim to be Christian. How can Christian men and women expose children to such immorality? Parents, it is time you get involved!

I’m not going to spend a lot of time defending my book other than to say what those who’ve read it already know — despite its lighthearted title, TBS is not about parties and sex. It’s about two girls struggling in the aftermath of a major tragedy, with grieving parents and unfamiliar situations and secrets that threaten to kill their friendship. It’s a scary world for them, and my job as a writer is to tell their story honestly, without judgment. And I know I’ve done my job because I hear from teens who’ve experienced devastating loss, and they tell me how much the book meant to them or how they could relate to the characters more than they can relate to their own friends somtimes. One email like that is all I needed to know that I did what I set out to do.

But here’s the thing that really gets me about Scoggins’ comments: When he says, “Parents, it is time you get involved,” he’s not really asking parents to get involved in what might actually be a good discussion and healthy debate. Truly asking for parental involvement would mean encouraging parents to read the books in question, discuss issues and themes with their kids, and come to their own decisions about what’s best for their own families. Scroggins is just calling people out, bating them with accusations of being immoral or “unchristian,” looking for a few good upstanding parents to join his lynch mob.

(And another kick in the ass? According to comments on the article [still trying to find out the source and confirm — anyone know?], his own children are home schooled. If that’s true, this guy is just stirring up shit for other people’s kids, all under the banner of his version of Jesus.)

So we’re back to the whole issue of what censorship teaches our kids, and it’s not something I’m willing to stand for.

If you’re riled up about this to, here’s how you can get involved:

[tweetmeme source=”sarahockler” only_single=false]- Retweet this post by clicking the retweet button to the right
– Blog about your thoughts and reaction
– Join the #SpeakLoudly thread on Twitter
– Voice your opinion on Scroggins’ original article here
– Write a letter to the editor of Springfield’s News-Leader
– Write to the administrators in the Republic school district

You can also check out Laurie Halse Anderson’s response to the nonsense here: This guy thinks SPEAK is pornography

And don’t forget to enter to win a Wesley Scroggins Filthy Books Prize Pack now through Friday, September 24!

Thanks everyone for your support!