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 (http://www.maryrobinettekowal.com/). 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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