Archive | March 25, 2011

Getting Your Self Published Book in a Library Part Four – Author Events at Libraries

This is the fifth in a series of posts by Eseme. The Intro; Part One, Part Two, Part Three

Getting Your Self Published Book in a Library Part Four
Author Events at Libraries

Welcome back. The past three posts have focused on getting your book into a library, be it a physical copy or an electronic one. It’s not easy. The response will vary widely from library to library. This is really unfortunate, as it means that one indie author may get her book into three libraries and another with a book that is just as cool gets her book into zero libraries. Library policies can and do change, but they do so slowly. They may seem draconian from the outside, which is why I’m writing this series of guest posts. Knowledge is power, and understanding how things work can help you as an author.

So, perhaps you have visited your local library, book in hand.

Some libraries will happily take donated self-published books from a local author, but might be inclined to toss that box which was mailed from halfway across the continent which contains the complete opus of a hopeful self-published author. And yes, we do get boxes like that, and every now and then the Church of Scientology sends us heavy boxes of books (often the very same books they sent two years ago). Imagine how thrilled we are. If it wasn’t clear in Part Two, this is why libraries don’t accept everything that is donated to them.

Some libraries won’t take a self-published book at all.

Or maybe your book is currently only available in electronic format, and Smashwords has not yet hooked up with OverDrive (I’m hoping that they will) and your local library doesn’t own an ereader?

So you tried, and you cross the local library off your list.

Wait! Not yet!

Now we’ve reached the topic of today’s post : Author Events at Libraries. The library may not put your book on their shelf, but that same library might be willing to have you come in person to talk about your book and do a reading. Yes, this seems hypocritical. I’ll try to explain what could cause this (though, again, all libraries are different and have their own way of handling books and programming).

And that is what you, as a local author are: Programming.

Library programming is often a really interesting mix of stuff. We try to find presenters who will speak on topics of interest to our community (everything from gardening to local history to solar power to internet safety), authors to promote their books, music, and the ever-popular craft program. Programming is a line item on every library’s budget. However, it has always been a smaller line item than the materials (book, magazine, audiobook, DVD, etc) budget. Right now, many libraries are experiencing budget cuts. We try to cut the materials and the staff last, because without new materials we are not current or of interest to the community, and with cuts to staff we often have to cut hours (because there are no longer enough people to staff the library for the hours that are currently open).

So programming budgets get cut. Here is an actual quote from one of my coworkers (only the names have been changed for anonymity):

Sharon: “Jane, can you find more programming? It needs to be free and not suck.”

Jane: “Well, that second part makes it harder.”

I am not making this up. Libraries do try to pay for big ticket programming: a concert series over the course of a month or more, a bestselling author who will draw a big crowd, puppet shows or other children’s entertainment for the summer reading program. But sometimes it is hard to find money for even those programs, and many libraries have large programs only a handful of times per year. The rest of the time we want local authors who may not be as well known but who also don’t have travel expenses or appearance fees. Small local bands just getting started. Craft programs with little to no material costs (or a small materials fee).

Did you see that bit about local authors with no transportation costs or appearance fees? That can be you. Even if your book is not in the local library, you can be, and you can often sell your books at your author event (though some libraries, often due to their non-profit status may not be able to allow commerce to take place in their building). Even if you can’t sell your books, you can meet readers and tell them about your books (and hand out business cards or other material with your website address).

Approaching the library about an author event has a lot of similar elements to donating your books to the library, so make sure you have read Part Two. The best way to start is with a phone call, to find out who organizes programming. Calling during normal business hours works best, but be prepared to go to someone’s voicemail if they are busy. You may end up arranging things over email, or the phone, or you may meet someone in person once and then follow up over email.

The most important thing to remember is that libraries plan programming in advance. And we are not talking one month in advance. At least two months in advance. So if your next book is due out in May, call them in March or earlier (sometimes much earlier). The reason for this is simple: publicity. Most libraries put out a monthly newsletter. In March, they are working on the April newsletter, and already have all the April events booked. Libraries also send out press releases to their local papers. If it is a really small-town paper, these can go out a week to a week and a half in advance. For larger papers, they like two to three weeks notice. The library will also make flyers for their events which get posted around the library building (and sometimes in other places around town, like grocery store bulletin boards or in the windows of local businesses). All this takes time, so things get planned in advance. I know when I contacted Sharon Lee and Steve Miller in May or June, I checked with the programming committee first and learned that we were planning September, not October (there was themed programming that month), and November.

So, plan ahead!

Here are some tips for contacting a library and scheduling an event:

You remember that “free but doesn’t suck” comment? Some libraries are going to assume that a self-published book, and therefore a self-published author, will suck. Possibly because they have encountered some really terrible self-published books. Things you can do to mitigate this include being calm and not getting upset, offering to send links to reviews of your book, and sending a sample of your book. Let the staff see that you wrote a cool book.

Mention that you are local, and that you do not charge any sort of fee. People like local authors. If you have a bunch of friends and family in the area, mention them (especially if you have a rough idea of how many might show up – libraries use event attendance in their statistics).

Be flexible about when. Remember that many libraries close early, at 5:00 or so, on Fridays. Often, a Friday night event is just not possible. Sometimes Saturday morning or afternoon events work well, other times they don’t (often depending on the weather). Be willing to try a weeknight – the programming person at the library knows which nights are better in terms of attendance at their library. At the libraries I have worked at, that tends to be Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday night. People seem to stay home on Mondays.

Ask about selling books at the event – can you do it? Does the library have a partnership with a local independent bookstore to sell books at events? If so, is your book available through book distributors (two big ones are Ingram and Baker and Taylor)? Find these things out before the event. If you can’t sell your books at all, you’ll have time to make up postcards or business cards or even just quarter sheets of paper with your website address and book titles and descriptions.

Can you have food at the event? “Light refreshments will be served” can bring in crowds. Some libraries will let you bring food, others will not. Do you want there to be food? The “free food” crowd may or may not be what you want.

Be prepared to send over some images. Book cover art, maybe an author photo (the libraries I have worked at have generally just used book covers, but a library may ask for a photo of you). The library will use them in flyers, the newsletter, and other publicity.

Keep in touch with the library, and make sure that the contact info you gave them stays current! The librarian will probably email you a month before the program, maybe asking for publicity materials. They may also email the week before, just to touch base.

Also, the library may say no. This can happen for a variety of reasons. They may have already booked the next six months, for instance. You write in a genre that isn’t popular at their library – if you write Westerns and the librarian knows that Westerns don’t go our much, you and your book may not be a good fit. Westerns are one example, at many smaller libraries, science fiction and fantasy are less popular. Try a different library, maybe one a bit farther away. If you are willing to drive an hour, see how many libraries are in your area.

Once you have a program scheduled, great! Here are some things to keep in mind at the event itself:

Pick a good piece to read, and practice it. You don’t want to read for too long. You also want a piece that is indicative of your work, and makes people curious. One author I know picked chapter four of her novel. For advice on picking something to read, see my links below to the reading out loud series by Mary Robinette Kowal.

Make sure you know how to get to the library, and where to park. If you aren’t sure because you haven’t been in a while, ask.

Figure out what you need to bring, and how you will transport it. The most organized authors I have seen had a small folding wheeled dolly that their boxes of books fit on. Great plan! Also, bring water, in a well-sealed container (we should be able to get you water, but it’s a good idea to have your own).

Arrive early, a half an hour early is not bad, to familiarize yourself with the room (and set up your books if you are selling them). Be aware that some of your audience may show up fifteen minutes early.

It’s OK to ask for a copy of any flyers or newsletters that the library made for your publicity file. This is a great way to convince other libraries to host an event (“I did a reading and signed books at Library A two months ago” is a great selling point, just don’t make the visits too close together and saturate the market). Also, if the library made a display with your books (if they have them) bring a camera and ask if you can take a photo.

The library staff will probably want to take photos of you, to put on their website or their Facebook (yes, libraries are on Facebook, so search for yours and “like” them). You may need to sign a form. If you are not comfortable with photos, let the staff know (preferably earlier than the event itself).

Be prepared for more people than you expect, and for far less. Some author events get one person. Some get none. Some get a roomful. It varies so wildly, even libraries can’t really predict (we know a New York Times bestselling author will get a good number of people, but will it be more or less than last time?). Having friends or family members come will prevent you from being in a room alone (I’ve had that happen to me, when I was running a program, so it can be endured, but it is no fun). But also be prepared for more people, and people you don’t know. There are some people who show up to nearly every library event. They are regulars. You may also get… well… the public. This can mean all sorts of people, including some who don’t quite know how to behave at a library program. I’ll address them a bit more later. You will also probably have a library staff member in attendance.

Because of that last bit, please don’t go on any sort of rant about Big Publishing. The library buys books from all sorts of publishers, and you ranting about how Big Publishing or Traditional Publishing does not pay authors enough in royalties, or how they are elitists, or anything else is not going to leave the library staff member with a good impression of you. If the library does not have a copy of your book, this is your chance to impress them and maybe they will reconsider their decision to accept a donation of your book. If they do have your book, you want them to stay impressed with you so they might buy the next one.

Leave time for and be prepared for a Q&A session. People at author events ask questions. There will be at least one person who wants to know how they can get their book published, and they will ask you publishing questions. There is ALWAYS at least one. I’d advise at least telling them about the Big Publishing system, in the form of, “Well, you can submit your book to agents, and once you have an agent, they submit it to publishers. I chose a different route…” Again, don’t bash publishers. Definitely talk about what you did, and the pros and cons. Also, you may get some totally bizarre questions, or people who ramble a lot. See my mention above that anyone can attend your program. Be polite, and it is all right to say “I’m not sure how to answer that.”

Be prepared for people to walk in ten minutes late, in the middle of your reading. This happens a lot.

Leave time for not only Q&A, but for selling your books if you are able to.

And finally, be aware that some people are so excited to talk to a real live author that they will hang around after the program to talk. The library will have scheduled your program to end at least a half an hour before the library closes for this reason. Some people may have questions they didn’t want to ask in front of the group. If anyone is lingering too much, be polite, pack up your things, and go find a staff member. I have in the past escorted presenters to their car.

Here are some other great tips on author events, by author and puppeteer Mary Robinette Kowal ( She knows about audiences!
She has advice for reading aloud (16 part series!) and for podcasts:
Her series of posts for Debut Authors contain a bunch of good advice for meeting fans and such, and as a performer she knows her stuff:

And here’s some advice from Gail Carriger, author of the Parasol Protectorate series:

Good luck! And as a brief, non-library note, if there is a science fiction and fantasy con in your area, be a panelist! A lot of this advice applies there too (go to local ones, don’t expect a fee, bring water, be prepared!).

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Getting Your Self Published Book in a Library Part Three: Ebooks in Libraries

This is the fourth in a series of posts by Eseme. The Intro; Part One, Part Two

Getting Your Self Published Book in a Library Part Three
Ebooks in Libraries

So, the first two parts of this series focused on getting a physical copy of your book into a library. It’s not as easy as I’d like or as you’d like. But it is possible. The library I work at has had me add one self-published book in the adult section, with another on my desk. I have also added a couple of children’s books and a few CDs from local bands.

But the best way to get a physical copy of your book into a library is to buy one and give it away. We’ve got ebooks though – they cost less, and libraries are lending them.

Yes. Libraries have ebooks. Many people still don’t know this, but we do. Heck, it recently made the New York Times (when Harper Collins announced it would only allow libraries to lend out an ebook twenty-six times before the library has to buy a new copy). But people still may not know that their local library (even ones in small towns) have ebooks.

At public libraries, this works one of two ways: the library owns ereaders and lets patrons borrow the ereader, or the library lends out ebooks to people who have ereaders (or a home computer) using special software.

So, visit your library, or their website. Find out if they have Kindles or Sony Readers or Nooks that they lend out. Each ereader is loaded with a selection of ebooks. Most of those are either free out of print books or current bestsellers (every one I have seen has had The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo on it). Most people who check these out from libraries want to try out an ereader before buying one. Or they want to read a bestseller without waiting in a longer line for a print copy (though sometimes the ereader lines are longer!).

Could the library buy a copy of your ebook and put it on one of their readers? If you made the EPUB file or a MOBI file, can you donate one to the library which they can load on one of their readers? I believe that Kindles can read the latter, but if a Kindle owner wants to jump in and confirm, that would be great.

The answer to those questions is that I’m not sure. I have yet to work at a library that owns an ereader. The libraries I have worked at have not had the budget. So I’m not sure if a library would buy a local author’s ebook from Amazon for a Kindle, or if they would let you load a file onto their Nook. This is another thing that varies library to library. Please, don’t be upset if a library says no to a free copy of your EPUB file. The library paid for that Nook, and I can see a tech manager being concerned about a virus getting onto their device (to address that, I’d suggest finding a way for the library to get it for free from a trusted vendor, like issuing a coupon that makes the book free and only giving the code to the library and limiting the timeframe it could be used). Also, the staff may want to see reviews or a sample, to get some idea of the book’s quality. Finally, all their ereaders might be checked out the day you arrive, so be aware that
even if they say yes, this could take time.

Honestly, I think it is worth talking to your library about if you can. Ereaders can hold lots of books, why not one more? Now, it is harder for a library to add an ebook to an ereader than it is for most owners. Some libraries try to keep their ereaders locked down so that books cannot be added or deleted, while others erase the contents and reload the books when the device is returned. Also, ebooks are just like paper books in that they have to be cataloged. Most libraries make extra-scant records for ebooks (as little information in them as necessary) for ebooks because they can be easily deleted off the device if the book is no longer a popular title. But this will still take staff time. Again, libraries do things slowly.

And libraries do like local authors. The next post will go into detail as to why. I’d say that if your book gets on an ereader at a local library, it is likely to stay there along with Huckleberry Finn and Sherlock Holmes after bestsellers fade.

What if your local library, like the one I work at, doesn’t lend out ereaders? They may still loan out ebooks, typically through a company that makes special software. The biggest company doing this is called OverDrive, but there are others. Check your library’s website. If there is a link about ebooks, check it out. Or give them a call. If they don’t loan ebooks at all, they probably keep track of the reference questions they get over the phone. People calling about ebooks can give them the idea that there is interest in ebooks.

If your library has OverDrive or another system, how does that work? I can talk best about OverDrive, as it is the company that the library I work for uses. Overdrive contracts with publishers to make ebooks available (both text and audiobooks). The publishers provide the files, and OverDrive makes software that adds DRM (digital rights management). Yes, everyone hates DRM. In this case, it does make sense. What this DRM does is it lets you download the file, and then either read it on your ereader or listen to it on an iPod or MP3 player for a set period of time (usually one or two weeks). After the time is up, the file becomes gibberish, and you can’t open it, you just delete it off your device (it has been “checked in” to the library and now someone else can download it).

I won’t go into the specifics of how to use the OverDrive, although I have done so before and can add that into the comments if someone asks. What I can say is that for text ebooks it works on everything from a desktop computer to a smartphone to an iPad to a Nook. The biggest downside is that it does not work with a Kindle, because Amazon refuses to support the EPUB file format that every other device can read.

How to get your book on OverDrive? I don’t know for sure. I do know that publishers can contact them, but they are probably used to dealing with Big Publishing companies who contract for hundreds or thousands of books at a time. So just contacting them on your own may or may not be effective.

However, I would imagine that a company like Smashwords, with thousands of authors, could better negotiate with OverDrive. In fact, I would suggest contacting Smashwords about that if you are an author or a reader.

Your book still has the problem of ordering: libraries choose the ebooks that they get from OverDrive by ordering from a catalog (a digital one, but still). They will be looking for titles that they recognize. Also, my library and all the others in Maine are part of a consortium – the books are ordered by the state library and we all use the collection. So my library doesn’t choose titles (although there is a form to suggest titles). However, if Smashwords can get your ebook into OverDrive, you can contact you library and let them know. Let them know the pricing too – your book probably costs less, and unlike Harper Collins, you are probably not trying to make a library only lend your book out twenty-six times. Examples of reviews are also helpful, if you have them from review sites or book blogs.

It’s an exciting world out there, and I think that indie ebooks in libraries really work. It just may take time to get Smashwords and OverDrive talking, and to get librarian buy-in. The other thing that OverDrive does is give us statistics. We can see which titles go out the most, just like we can in our database systems for physical items. If a title circulates well as an ebook, that’s a sign to a library that doesn’t own the book that maybe they should order it. Again, ebooks can act as a gateway, and not just to publishers.

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