Sunday, February 26, 2012


Last week the UPS man delivered a nice big box to me. I did not recognize the return address.

I began unwrapping the package and was very impressed with the billowy quantity of tissue paper and bubble-wrap. This is breakable--cool!

I carefully removed the final layer of bubble-wrap only to find a beautiful and quite expensive item. (The exact nature of the item shall remain untold to protect the sender.)

The next layer of the package contained an advance copy of an unpublished book and a query letter from a hopeful author. The author said that the beautiful item was a gift. Jon looked at the beautiful object and said, "You have to send it back."

"I do?" I said, cradling said item and getting quite fond of it. "Why? I didn't order this; it's a gift."

"No," he said. "It's a bribe."

"That's so cold," I sniffed, setting the lovely thing on my hutch. (It looked quite beautiful there, glinting seductively in the waning afternoon sun.)

"It's gotta go," he said.

"But, I'll have to pay postage for a thing I didn't order! It's not fair!"

"No, it's not fair," he said. "Send it back."

I'm not going to tell you the rest of the story. What is the ethical thing to do? What would you have done?

I'll tell you what I did in the next post.


B.E. Sanderson said...

The person sending the item has no expectation that you'll offer representation on his manuscript based on the item. You never asked anyone to send you items for a slot farther up on the slushpile or a special read. True, the writer in question is hoping you'll love the gift so much you'll keep it and feel guilty. Shame on him. I'd say keep it anyway, but of course, every time you look at the thing, you're going to think of him and feel bad one way or the other. He doesn't deserve it back, so I vote for giving it to charity, or you could raffle it off and send the money to charity. Let his bad idea turn into something good.

Charley said...

Darn those ethics, anyway. Just when we thought bribery might become acceptable. Of course, we'd always be out-bribed by somebody richer or cleverer, so it's just as well we're back to relying on good writing. Sigh. ;-)

Rob F. said...

This is a tough question, and it happens in the magazine business, as well as the newspaper business, all the time. Most newspapers (I believe) have a strict rule against accepting any items like this. I think the Portland Press-Herald (in Maine) has an annual auction of the items the reporters receive, and I assume the money goes to charity. So that would be one option--auction it away and give the proceeds to a charity. With magazines, it's a little fuzzier, and I have to admit that I've kept some items that have been sent to me over the years. I didn't really consider them as "bribes," though of course the PR people who sent the items sought positive comments about whatever entity they were representing (though I always tried to be honest in whatever I wrote). In this case, however, I think Jon is right. But instead of sending it back and incurring costs, maybe donate it to a good cause?

Vincent Rupp said...

Obviously you keep it, treat the query exactly as you would any other, and then blog about how your love of beautiful things doesn't affect your judgment, but everyone else is welcome to waste their money designing your house if they so choose.

Or return it. Depends on your temperament.

P.S. If it worked, please give details about other items you might like.