Creating a Thrums book requires a large cast of characters. There’s the author, or authors; a photographer; a “fixer,” or local person or persons to make introductions and set up interviews; driver; guide; translator; and so on. All these people receive some compensation—book royalties, expenses, daily fees, depending on their contribution to the project.
But what about the people featured in the books? The artisans who open their homes and hearts to this flock of strangers who want to tell their stories to the world? Our encounters are brief, usually no more than a few hours, but they are the raw material from which each book is made. These people are most often thrilled to participate, to have their stories told.
Thrums Books is theoretically a “for profit” publisher (though its tax returns haven’t recorded any to date). The idea is to sell enough books to offset the expenses so we can keep publishing more. It’s what one of my future authors calls a “spirit business,” or what one of my colleagues calls a “mission business.” So figuring out how to deal fairly with the artisans in the books is an interesting budget exercise.
For Faces of Tradition: Weaving Elders of the Andes, which features dozens of people living on the edge (figuratively and literally), we made a substantial donation to a health care fund that provides basic medications—analgesics for arthritis, skin creams for cracked and frost-bitten hands and feet, insulin for diabetes.
For Traditional Weavers of Guatemala: Their Stories, Their Lives, we paid a fee to each of the twenty or so participants: a fee that may seem trivial by U.S. standards, but which represents perhaps half of a typical monthly income in their part of the world.
For a future book on a group of embroiderers in Afghanistan, the payback will probably be a fund for transportation from their remote villages to their cooperative in Kandahar. In every case, participants receive prints of their photographs, family group photos, and one or more copies of the book.
Each book is different, but each endeavors to improve the lives of its participants in some small way, beyond giving recognition to the cultural value of the work they do. So if you notice us waving our “Buy This Book” messages on social media and wherever else we can, remember the backstory to this shameless self-promotion. And Buy This Book!