This is “Everything you never wanted to know about authors, books and libraries.”
This all began with a discussion of authors and libraries. Tina, who has some experience in libraries as an employee and patron, was saying that many authors are confused about the advantages of getting their works into libraries and how to go about it. I, foolishly in retrospect, pointed out that RWA has a librarian day where they invite librarians but has it ever thought about having a session introducing authors to the library process. Well. That was all it took and suddenly I went from passing the salt to agreeing to write up Dos and Don’ts of the library world as they relate to authors.
Tina immediately gave me a list of points to cover, which makes me think this was not as spontaneous as she claims…
Now, I know I should re-number these questions, but Tina made the below question number 8 and it just begs to be the first.
8. Do libraries matter to authors?
Darlings, Darlings, Darlings. The answer can only be, “Yes! Yes! Yes!”
The American Library Association has finally started gathering information about library users and their purchasing of books. What they found, which is not a surprise to most library users, is that heavy library users are also heavy purchasers of books for their private collections. Many of the books that are purchased by these library patrons were discovered from reading the title or the author’s earlier works at the library.
I am not joking. One of the best ways to get to the people who buy books is to get your books into the library. Libraries are your friends.
Don’t be one of those dreary, whiny writers who view every checkout of their title as a sale that was lost. It wasn’t. You never had that sale. You were lucky the library bought a copy. Harsh words but true.
You are developing core readers when your books are in libraries. It leads to people reading this book, deciding they love your book, and then looking for more of your books or authors like you. These people, in turn, recommend your books to their friends. As gift giving occasions arise, your books get requested and purchased in real life. The more they love your books, the more they are willing to do without dining out and purchase your book instead.
I check out books at the library and I buy books. In fact, back when I collected the hyper-modern mystery, I bought 1st printing, autographed copies of new titles but never read those copies. I checked out the same title at the library. If I really loved the title, I bought the paperback to have to read when it became available. If I really, really loved it, I bought multiple paperbacks to give to friends and family who needed something to read on plane rides. (I had to. People would need things to read and we would go through my shelves of paperbacks, looking for something they would like and I would send it off with them. Only to realize that I didn’t have a reading copy anymore…)
Laugh all you want at word of mouth but then think of the authors who built careers based on word of mouth. A lot of the people who left my house with paperbacks bought more titles by whatever author wrote it.
Darlings, you want your books in libraries and you want libraries thinking happy thoughts about you. The rest of these words of wisdom will help you on both counts.
1. Who’s in charge at the library?
Such a simple question, such a difficult answer.
Generally the answer is “The Library Director.” But this isn’t as simple as it sounds.
You need to know if you have walked into a branch library or the main library or if there is only one physical building for your public library. Here’s what I mean. Some towns have their own library and it is one building. Generally the person in charge of that building is the library director.
But when you are in a city, you probably have a main library and several/lots of branch libraries. (Chicago Public Library has a lot of branches. Kansas City Public Library has fewer branches but still a lot.) In cases where you have walked into a branch, the person in charge varies a lot.
Libraries can also belong to a Library District, which may be across municipalities or counties. But there’s still a main library and a library director.
Library directors also have to report to Library Boards and/or County/City managers/mayors.
But the good news is that you really don’t need to care who’s in charge. Library directors don’t tend to have anything to do with getting your book into a library. (No, that’s not a joke. Keep reading.) As for library boards…they work best when they stay out of the day to day operations of libraries, such as material selection.
2. Who are all of these people working in the library?
Hard to say. It will vary from library to library. Here’s why I say this:
The people working the area where you check out materials are generally not considered librarians. They tend to be paraprofessionals who check out library materials and handle fines and maybe put the materials back on the shelves.
The people working the reference desk tend to be librarians. Even that can mean different things. Generally, librarians have master degrees in librarianship/library science. They answer questions like, “Where is the bathroom?” (which is a classic reference question), “How much tonnage of wheat did Canada export in 2008?” (I have no idea.) “I like to read Tina Radcliffe. Who else writes like her?”
Children’s librarians keep up with new children’s titles and authors and trends. They’re also the people doing story time or homework time.
The person putting materials back on the shelf is generally a library page or shelver.
In some libraries, if there’s a backlog in shelving, everyone will shelve. In other libraries, the job duties are specific and people are not allowed to move between these jobs. So when you ask the person shelving the books where you can find a book on glutten free cooking and are told you need to go to the reference desk and ask there, s/he’s not trying to be a jerk. S/he may not know or may know but not be willing to be written up for answering your question. Also, the reference desk doesn’t generally have change so they may not be able to take your library fines and will send you to the circulation desk. People are not trying to make your life difficult when they move you to another desk. They may not be able to do what you need and are sending you to the group that can help.
There’s also an army of people that you don’t see who are involved with libraries. We’ll get to them as we go along.
3. Where do the books come from?
(Is it wrong of me to want to say, “When a mommy and daddy book love each other very much…?” Oh, all right.)
You all have a good idea what it takes to get a book published. And you have access to information on how physical books get sold/distributed. (I know this because I wrote that blog and answered tons of questions.)
Libraries have a section in their budget generally known as Collection Development. This is to buy new materials and replace old copies of things. (“Green eggs and ham” needs to be replaced on a regular basis.) Depending on the size of the library and library staff, there is either a backroom of people who research and order materials or it’s one of the duties on the person working the reference desk. (Remember the reference desk from the last question?) In either case, specific people are assigned to order either certain types of materials (DVDs, e-books, books on cd, database access) or topic ranges. (Fiction, computer and technology, health and cookbooks, children’s materials, foreign language materials, etc.)
Most of the time, only the Fiction person can order Fiction. If you have befriended the DVD ordering person (and who doesn’t want to befriend this person), this guy can’t get your book purchased by the library. (We will address other ideas many of you have later as a way to circumvent this. But let me give you a teaser and tell you to start letting those ideas go now and avoid the rush later.)
A lot of libraries will have online or paper forms to allow patron to make requests of titles to be added to the collection. USE THESE. (We’ll come back to it.) But don’t assume that your request will get your book into the library. Library budgets are tight right now. (Many library districts/city libraries are cutting back hours the library is opened and closing branches. What most people don’t realize is that before it gets to that point, the collection development budget has been gutted and only materials that the community really, really wants are being purchased. So where a library district might have bought 75 copies of Nora Roberts latest hardback, they are now buying 30 copies. Or 15.)
Also, most places are getting their materials completely or partially processed by the material distributor. What this means is that the books are being sent with the plastic covers on them, the property stamps on the item added and may actually be ready to unpack and put on the shelves. This tends to happen when libraries have fewer staff to perform these functions. (The back room staff tend to get gutted first.)
4. Okay, how can I get my book on the shelf?
That’s an excellent question. I’m going to answer you and then list all the ways that your book won’t get on the shelf and tell you again why to do what I’m about to tell you.
Fill out a patron request form for your book. Don’t do this until your title is within 4 weeks of release. Many libraries can only order 30 days in advance. If you fill out the form too early, it will “timeout” before your book is due to be released.
Get your friends who live in your library district to fill out the form requesting your book. (Yes, this is playing the system. So what? Do you want your book on the shelf or not?) If your friends don’t have library cards, arrange a van, go to the library, have them all get library cards and then have lunch. Then let them go in one by one to request your book. Make a day of it.
Encourage members of a Red Hat Society each to request your book. Odds are they were going out to lunch anyway. They can stop at the library on the way.
There will generally be a section “How did you learn about this book?” on the form. Either refer to a website that has reviewed an early copy or say, “Stumbled across it on Amazon.” Don’t say, “I know the author.” That gives people the idea that you’re trying to scam the system. (Tight, tight library budgets, My Darlings. Don’t be obvious about scamming the system. Do it with finesse.)
Now, I’ll give you these variations:
4.a. Find out how to volunteer to be a speaker at your library. Libraries tend to be looking for people to speak at free programs. If you are speaking about what it takes to get a book published, the library will generally try to make sure it has a copy of your book. (If it doesn’t, don’t worry. The parts of the group who heard you speak will fill out the patron request for your book. So make sure you have a card listing the title, publisher, ISBN, price, etc. so they have that information easily and correctly at hand. Make it easy for everyone. It’s the polite thing to do.)
4.b.Volunteer at your local public library and try to see other ways to get your book into the library.
Here are things NOT TO DO:
DO NOT walk in the library building and ask to speak to the person who orders fiction. For one thing, this person may not be at work. (If your library is opened 72 hours a week, this person will be scheduled to be there for 40 hours. And they may be leading the monthly Library Knitters program when you appear and can’t leave to talk to you. Or they may be scheduled to work the reference desk. Or just working on reports.) If you really, really, really want to talk to this person, ask how to schedule a time to talk to this person, assuming anyone will tell you who it is. Generally, just leave this person alone. Otherwise, you’re going to peeve them unduly and they will remember your name as “Someone whose books we don’t order until they show up on the NYT bestseller’s list.” Sometimes bad name recognition really is a problem.
Even if you make an appointment with this person, it is unlikely that the book can be purchased while you are there. Most places have purchasing systems that require things like purchase orders and vendor numbers. DO NOT expect to walk in and have the library buy your book from you. It might have happened in the past, but those were still the exceptions and not the rule. Remember, you’re looking for a long-term relationship with libraries. As long as you have a book to be purchased, you want libraries trying to get a copy for their collections.
DO NOT send flowers/cookie bouquet/box of chocolates to the Collection Development department with a card including your name, title of the book, ISBN, release date, and price. It’s not that people wouldn’t love that but most library districts/cities/counties have specific rules about staff not allowed to accept gratuities from people trying to influence purchases by the library district/city/county. That includes your book. I know you don’t mean any harm and it sounds like a lovely idea but it can cause a lot of problems.
There’s nothing more sad than a perfectly good cookie bouquet having to be thrown out uneaten. Please don’t tell me that this would never happen. I have seen this happen. I have seen people get in trouble when they ignored the “City employees may not accept things from vendors while doing their job” rules. Don’t try to get these people in trouble just because you don’t like the rules. Again, that’s not the name recognition that you want.
- DO NOT decide that a flash mob would be a good idea in a library to promote your book.
- DO NOT put a copy of your book on the shelf. That’s not helpful. The title won’t be in the catalog and there won’t be a barcode to allow it to checkout.
- DO NOT put a copy of your book into the book drop. That just means it has to go in the Lost Items box until someone realizes that no one has asked for this and then it will generally get thrown out. It might end up in the library book sale but probably not.
- DO NOT start passing out copies of your book at the library. Most libraries have restrictions about no solicitors. (And I don’t mean the British type, for those of you living the “Downton Abbey” lifestyle. Every so often, Tina believes she is British and I have to explain gently, lovingly, and firmly that she is not.)
Just try what I listed at the beginning of this section. That should get a copy on the shelf. (Be happy with a copy. We’ll go over how to keep the copy on the shelf later.)
5. I donated books. Why aren’t they on the shelf?
One hesitates to say, “There’s a special place in library hell for people who donate books and then want to track what happens to these books” but only because of breeding. Here’s why.
Think of your donated books as a gift. Once you give a gift, you don’t get a say in what happens to it.
Under no circumstances are you to send a question or a comment saying, “But it’s a free book.” I, Madame S, am emphatic on this topic. But because one of you Little Dears will ask, let me just say, “NO! IT IS NOT FREE.” (And yes, I do mean all caps.) See above. You need staff to do the work, you need materials to process the book, and it will take physical space on the shelf. “Free books” can be very expensive for a library. That’s why many libraries have a policy that they do not allow donated materials to be added to collection.
Darlings, it’s not personal. Libraries have been cutting backroom staff through the ‘90s. (And those were the boom times.) Follow what I wrote in the first part of #4. Do not deviate.
6. What do the numbers on the book spine mean?
These are call numbers. Here’s how it works. (Or should work.)
In a back room, generally in the basement, lives a group of people who catalog materials. We’ll use your book as an example.
Your book arrives and they create how your name will be searchable in the library catalog. They will use what is on the title page of your book. (I can tell you why the odds are that you won’t get a date even if you want one but let’s skip that right now.)
Then they add the title as it appears on the title page. They add the publisher. The number of pages, whether there are any illustrations, and the height of the book. They will also add the series if it’s published as part of a series. They might add a summary but that’s not a constant. They probably will add some subject headings but again they may not.
They will add a call number. (Remember call numbers? That’s how this question got started.) I’m going to stick to Fiction since most of you write fiction. The call number will look something like this:
There may be some variations. Sometimes the Genre is a part of the call number.
ISBN: 9780373877027 (pbk.) : $5.75
ISBN: 0373877021 (pbk.) : $5.75
Local call number: FICTION RADCLIFF
Personal Author: Radcliffe, Tina.
Title: Oklahoma reunion / Tina Radcliffe.
Publication info: New York : Love Inspired, c2011.
Physical description: 216 p. ; 17 cm.
Series: (Love Inspired inspirational romance)
Subject term: Single mothers--Fiction.
Subject term: Man-woman relationships--Fiction.
Subject term: Love stories.
Now, if there’s a number instead of FICTION, odds are it’s a Dewey Decimal call number.
Don’t try to memorize any of these numbers. The meaning changes with every new edition of the Dewey Decimal System. Granted, your favorite topics will be together and no one can beat a library shelver for knowing Dewey numbers. The time to worry is not when you have to look up the number. The time to worry is when you know what it means.
The spine label should match the call number in the catalog. I say should because sometimes it doesn’t match. There are a lot of reasons and I could do a blog on that if I ever agree to have brunch with Tina again and think I’m passing her the salt.
Some libraries don’t use the last name for the next line. They use a letter number combo. (This is known as “cuttering” because it uses a table created by Mr. Cutter. I can write long about this as well but fewer and fewer public libraries are using this option. (Although I believe the Free Library of Philadelphia is still using its original system from the time of the Library’s creation. I’m not making that up but I am having a flashback...)
7. How do I get an “in” with my library?
It depends on the library and the size of the system.
One of the best ways is to volunteer. (Hmm…I may have mentioned that before…)
One way is to contact whomever schedules programs for the library/library district and offer to do a program. (Hmm…I think I said this too…)
If you are independently wealthy, you can donate a sizeable amount that the library will find it worth its while to buy your books new, but that’s not for the average, starting author.
You can join a Friends of the Library group and see if you can influence them to request your book.
9. How do I keep a copy on the shelf of the library?
Actually, Tina didn’t ask but I promised I’d explain how to do this earlier.
Check out the book. That’s it. Check it out.
Libraries live and die by circulation statistics. Every time your book is circulated/checked out in a year, libraries get very happy. It shows the folks that fund libraries that patrons are checking out the materials that have been purchased. Three times a year is good. Five times is better.
The more your book checks out, the better the odds it will stay on the shelf. This is due to decisions that have to be made about what items to get rid of so new books have a place on the library shelves. (Yes, libraries get rid of books. It’s also known as weeding and de-accessioning items. They have to. Physics takes over. You have new materials coming into a place with a finite amount of shelf space. Unused things/lesser used things have to go so the new things have a place to be. And before everyone gets excited about libraries removing old materials, DON’T. Everything that is old does not go. You can still checkout Jane Austen and Charles Dickens and early Stephen King. Things that circulate/that people want to read, stay. Things that are outdated, such as “DOS for idiots” or the 1959 edition of “What Catholics believe” get removed from public libraries to make way for “iPhone 5 for idiots” and “Downton Abbey.”
Also the more your current book circulates, the more likely your new books will be added without having to use the patron request forms. (Remember, Darlings, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. We’re taking the long view of things.)
Now, I’ve been asked to write on libraries and e-books and publishers, oh my, but that’s going to have to wait. Tina claims I’ve said too much. (If she wants a shorter entry, she should ask someone else.) I’ll be standing by for any questions you may have and will try to give correct and easily understandable answers to questions on this topic.
Madame S has worked in and around archives and libraries and library related businesses since 1985. Well, she started volunteer work in public libraries in 1976 as a junior high student. (She was recruited and told if she put the catalog cards from various packets into alphabetic order for filing into the library catalog, she could take and read the paperbacks that hadn't been cataloged yet. So she began her professional life with an understanding of how the backroom works and who you need to make happy in order to get special benefits. Plus, she got to see all the books that came in before the rest of the patrons.)
Armed with this information, she misspent her first semi-decade working for library districts, state library networks, large city libraries, small city libraries, a library system software company and book distributor. She was taken to the library when she was very young and realized she had found heaven on earth. In 1968, she got her first library card with her name on it and has never looked back. She continues to ensure any library or library branch she uses has higher circulation statistics than it did before she arrived in the area.
Today we have a special birthday giveaway in honor of this visit to Seekerville by Madame S. We'll be giving away a $15.00 Amazon gift card to one commenter. Winner announced tomorrow in the Weekend Edition.
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