Notes from August Event: Libraries and Writers, A Mutual Admiration Society

Did you miss our last meeting, at the Oakland Public Library? Well, Laurie King was there, and she took notes! Enjoy, and don’t forget our forthcoming October meeting, also in Oakland.

Writers and libraries have long made for a mutual admiration society: without us, their shelves would collect dust; without them, we’d have grown up puzzling over our parents’ books. And librarians love to host writers—with two concerns:

Does it serve my patrons?

Does it cost me (money or time)?

For MWA NorCal’s August meeting (with traditional, independent, and would-be writers) I interviewed Emily Weak, adult services librarian of the Oakland public library, about how libraries and writers can work together. Some of the answers below are hers, others a compilation of experience.

To begin with:

Why should I reach out to libraries when selling books pays my rent? The library is a place to build a community (i.e., fan base.) If someone falls in love with your book in the library, they’ll tell their friends, and look for the next one: you’ll sell more in the long run.

Besides, as Neil Gaiman says, “Libraries are the thin red line between civilisation and barbarism.” Don’t be barbaric: support your library.

Traditionally published authors:

Once I’m published, how do I get you to buy my book? Most libraries have a central purchasing system, although sometimes the local branch has a budget. Notify your library when you have a book coming out—put together a one-page printout with publishing details, professional reviews, and anything timely or of local interest. Ask (or look online) for your library’s submission policy.

…Or should I donate a copy? Books are reviewed before they’re entered into a collection: a library won’t promise that your baby will go onto their shelves, rather than the Friends’ sale bin. (Again, check the submission policy.)

Indie-published Authors:

(This a heavily e-pub category—and MWA are discussing a change in the bye-laws to let Indie authors become Active members.)

How can I get your library to buy my ebook?

Libraries’ ebook policies vary wildly, but there are two questions: the approval process, and the practical matter of where the book is.

Ebooks need to be approved like printed ones—more so, since self-published work is infamously uneven in content and editing. The best approaches are 1) edit your book to the bone, 2) pull together reviews from Amazon etc, and 3) ask your library’s policy.

Who hosts your book? Who handles digital rights? Most libraries have contracts with ebook vendors (who curate their collections) and may be locked into that service. If your books isn’t in the collection, they can’t buy it.

Can I donate my ebook?

A new program called SELF-e, sponsored by Library Journal and BiblioBoard (an e-content provider) lets Indie writers make ebooks available to libraries. (No royalties—yet.)

Indie & Traditional Authors:

Can you help me with research and writing? A research librarian can save a writer hours of frustration. However, according to Emily Weak, the goal is ten minutes per patron. Librarians can get you started, but won’t research for you. (They may know a cheap grad student…) Or write for you. Try their how-to collections, book clubs, writers’ groups, and classes. (Or, offer to start one.)

What about book events? Will my library host one? And sell books? As Emily gently pointed out, “Authors are always interested in themselves, but…” Remember those concerns: Does this author have something my patrons want? How much will it cost me—in time, printing, electricity…? As for selling, many libraries don’t. Some have rules against it, others permit the author to sell (or a bookstore, or the library’s Friends.)

How can I reach readers (and writers)? Get creative! Is there a local event your books links to? Oakland libraries are commemorating the life of home-town boy Jack London: is your novel set in 19th century Oakland? You write YA stories: would the summer reading program enjoy a YA panel? Group talks expand not only the topic, but the audience.

And don’t overlook the ongoing relationship. Even if a library charges for room use—more likely for regular meetings—it can be worth it for the ease of access, safety, etc.

Because we love libraries.

Some writer/library resources:

MWA-NY’s library-hosted Bones & Scones is a counterpart to Noir at the Bar

MWA’s Library List (members only)

Reader to Reader (MWA)—donates books to libraries in underserved communities

Authors for Libraries (ALA; annual fee)—links libraries to local authors

SELF-e Program (Library Journal)—for Indie authors to donate their e-books to libraries.

Indie Author Day—local events linking Indie writers and library users, plus a “digital gathering” with writers, agents, and industry professionals.