Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Libraries and book promotion: How to make it work for you!

Myra Johnson
Since this is National Library Week, I’m reprising and updating a blog post that originally appeared here a few years ago. Why does this bear repeating? Because readers are an author’s best friend. And where do many readers hang out?

You guessed it—THE LIBRARY!

But . . . library patrons check out books for free, right? How does that help an author’s book sales?

The number one answer is . . . building your readership!

And let’s face it. We want and need those readers. Faithful readers. Readers who tell their friends what great writers we are so their family and friends will look for our books, whether in their local library or favorite bookstore.

And that leads us to the dreaded word promotion, which in turns brings us to one of the primary methods writers use to promote their books.

[Cue scary music here]


When I first dreamed of becoming a published novelist, it never occurred to me that I’d eventually be called upon to speak in front of various sized groups whose interest varied from “You are beyond fascinating!” to “Where’s the nearest exit?” 

My first few post-publication speaking gigs were for church gatherings or my local writers group, where I knew I’d be among friends. For some authors--the extroverts among us--public speaking is a breeze. Others, like introverted moi, need some encouragement.

That’s why I was very grateful after moving to the Carolinas to connect with Dora Hiers, a writer who has developed a real knack for working with area libraries to schedule author events. (Be sure to check out Dora’s guest post from November 2012.)

Although I’ve done several library programs with Dora, I certainly don’t consider myself an expert on the subject. But these experiences have brought a few things to light that I believe are worth passing along to other authors interested in braving the library circuit.

The first couple of programs I shared with Dora were author panels where each author gave a short talk describing our journey to publication, providing background about our novels, and sharing a few thoughts about writing Christian fiction. Afterward, we took questions and then visited with attendees and autographed books.

Sharing the program with one or more author colleagues definitely takes the pressure off! That’s why, when Dora asked if I’d be interested in working up joint programs for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library System Summer Reading Series, I immediately said yes. Our first was a talk on “Writing Inspirational Fiction,” and the following year we developed a program on “Creating Characters that Come Alive.” Both were repeated at numerous area libraries.

We ended our programs with Q&A, which was a great opportunity to zero in on participants’ individual needs and interests. Afterward, we stayed around for book browsing and more casual conversation. Naturally, we provided bookmarks, business cards, and plenty of chocolate, all of which helped make those valuable reader/writer connections.

Now for a summary of some of the things I’ve learned about working with libraries:

People who attend library events are avid readers.

BUT—Library patrons like to check out books, not necessarily buy them.

HOWEVER—Librarians are your friends. Get to know them and they will recommend your books to readers and suggest upcoming releases as possible library additions.

It’s fun and energizing to chat with people who are really interested in books and writing.

BUT—Turnout is unpredictable. At some events we had 10-15 or more in attendance. At one of the summer programs we had only two.

What works: Contacting libraries well in advance of your desired program dates.

What doesn’t work: Expecting the library to get you on the program calendar within a month or two. It can take several weeks to several months to get library approval.

What works: Planning ahead of time whether your program will target readers, writers, or both, and adjusting your content accordingly.

What doesn’t work:
Not clearly advertising your program as Christian or “inspirational” (if that’s the case). People have been known to walk out at the first mention of faith.

What works:
Promoting the event on Facebook, Twitter, your blog, etc. Also ask what forms of promotion the library will be using.

What doesn’t work: Scheduling your program either too early or too late on a weeknight evening.

What works: Arriving early enough to get your table and book display set up, visit the ladies’ room, get some water, and mingle with attendees as they arrive.

What doesn’t work: Trusting your smartphone map app to send you to the right location, then arriving so close to start time that you’re flustered and out of breath. (Yes, this happened to me! App announced “You are here!” at a dead end next to an empty lot.)

What works: Giveaways (bookmarks, postcards, chocolate, etc.), newsletter signup lists, and handouts containing supplemental information related to your program.

What doesn’t work:
Sitting shyly behind your book table and waiting for people to talk to you.

What works: Interacting with attendees, asking them about their reading interests, and suggesting other authors (yes, your competition!) you think they might enjoy.

What doesn’t work: Not verifying whether the library has copies of your books in circulation.

What works: Donating a copy of your book to the library prior to or, at the latest, the day of your program.

What works: Remembering to send a thank-you note to the program organizer and mentioning your interest in working with him or her in the future.

Preparing talks and doing programs definitely takes its toll on your writing time.

BUT—in the end, it’s usually worth the sacrifice!
Have you braved the library program circuit yet? What do you like most about speaking events? What do you find most challenging?

If you’re a librarian, what advice would you offer authors interested in presenting a program to your patrons?

Join the conversation today to be entered in a drawing for The Oregon Trail Romance Collection, which includes my novella Settled Hearts. Be sure to mention in your comment if you would like to be entered in the drawing.

Nine romantic adventures take readers along for a ride on the Oregon Trail where daily challenges force travelers to evaluate the things that are most precious to them—including love. Enjoy the trip through a fascinating part of history through the eyes of remarkably strong characters who stop at famous landmarks along the way. Watch as their faith is strengthened and as love is born despite unique circumstances. Discover where the journey ends for each of nine couples.

Settled Hearts
: 1852—Desperate to find her father in Oregon for her ill mother, Emma Clarke teams up with John Patrick, a loyal uncle who is determined to hide his niece and nephew from abusive adoptive parents. Will Emma and John find the hope they seek for their futures along the trail?


Though Myra Johnson’s roots go deep into Texas soil, she now enjoys living amidst the scenic beauty of the Carolinas, but she does miss real Texas beef barbecue! Empty-nesters, Myra and her husband share their home with two pampered rescue dogs. Myra's awards include the 2005 RWA Golden Heart and two ACFW Carol Award finals. When the Clouds Roll By, book 1 of the historical romance series “Till We Meet Again” (Abingdon Press), won the historical fiction category of the 2014 Christian Retailer’s Best Award. Book 2, Whisper Goodbye, and book 3, Every Tear a Memory, both received 4½-star reviews from Romantic Times. Follow Myra on Twitter at @MyraJohnson and @TheGrammarQueen, and on her Facebook author page.



Marianne Barkman said...

As a reader, meeting an author who writes in a genre I read will make that author a favorite of mine and I will collect her books. It doesn't have to be a library event, (I met both TINA and SANDRA elsewhere). I would love to be entered for the giveaway! Thanks, Myra

Debby Giusti said...

Thanks, Myra! I need to start working with my local library.

Congrats to you and Dora for putting together such great programs. Love the info you shared.

Lyndee H said...

Hi Myra,
Lots of meat in this post!

I often attend library programs observe how people use the equipment, since I'm mechanically challenged!

A few years ago my Christmas gift was a slide projector. That's because of a near disaster when the library rented out theirs and didn't tell me until the night I arrived to give a slide-show!

Luckily, I had everything on my computer and my speech went on fine, but I knew it wasn't as planned. Talk about shaking in my shoes, lol.

Cindy W. said...

Hi Myra! I don't believe our local library have any opportunities for readers to meet authors. If there were, I would be there. Maybe I need to talk to them....

I would love to be entered into your giveaway,

Smiles & Blessings,
Cindy W.

Mary Preston said...

I wish my library had authors visiting.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

I love libraries so much... and I love doing things with them. They are such an equalizer across gender lines, across financial thresholds and what a blessing to kids who don't have access to computers. Libraries have grown with the times, and one of the best tax dollar expenditures.

Jessica Nelson said...

Although the library was always my favorite place, I haven't done a whole lot with them. Maybe it's time to start. Thank you for the tips!

Kelly Bridgewater said...

I love my local library. One of my friends from grad school is the purchasing and community coordinator, so I'm always giving her suggestions. Especially when an author accepts me on their street team, I make doubly sure we have their book. In return, she points to The Christian Manifesto, where I am the Assistant Editor, to guide fellow browser what books she recommends. Love my library!!

Heidi Robbins said...

Fabulous ideas and advice! I love my library's online system of requesting books- it makes it easy to find what I want and reserve it.

I already have a copy of The Oregon Trail collection, but please put my name in the hat for the library card pouch!

Becky Dempsey said...

I haven't ever been to an author talk anywhere. I've been to library events before. I have a friend who is a librarian, though ;)

I already have Oregon Trails (Yay!) but I'd love to win the library card pouch :)

Rose said...


These are great tips.

And you can't stress starting early to get on a library calendar. They are booked months ahead of time.

kaybee said...

Thank you, Myra. Don't underestimate the power of libraries, even in the matter of selling books. I often "discover" a writer through the library, and then buy their book for my permanent collection or as a gift. It's a wonderful resource on so many levels.
Please enter my name in the drawing; love anything on Oregon Trail.
KathY Bailey

Dora Hiers said...

Smiling as I read this, Myra. Standing in front of a large crowd can be a frightening experience, but you are a fabulous public speaker. Thanks for braving the library circuit with me!

kaybee said...

Congratulations to Connie Queen, Kav and Erica on making Blurb-To-Book's cut and to anyone from here that I missed. I didn't make it but God has something else for me. Good luck and hope to Read Your Books soon.
Kathy Bailey

Audra Harders said...

Who would've ever thought public speaking and library would ever be in the sentence?? What happened to "shhhh, quiet!" ?

LOL, great tips on making the most of the library, Myra!

Myra Johnson said...

Good morning, Seekerville!

MARIANNE--first commenter of the day! I don't know about you night owls--or early risers (can't tell which).

You're right, though--I do tend to gravitate toward books by authors I've met in person. It's almost like reading their books helps me get to know them a little better.

Myra Johnson said...

DEBBY, I'm not sure I would ever have made those library connections without Dora's encouragement.

And WOW, you always impress me with your well-attended book signing events! I am in awe!

Myra Johnson said...

LYNDEE, equipment problems are the bane of every public speaker! When I've had to use PowerPoint for a presentation, I always make sure to arrive plenty early to try out the setup. And I ALWAYS bring backup notes and handouts just in case!

Myra Johnson said...

CINDY, it's certainly worth asking about author programs at your library. It probably helps that I live in a large metropolitan area with not only several branch libraries but also a good number of published authors in many genres.

But if your library is open to the idea of sponsoring author programs, I bet you could find nearby authors willing to visit.

Janet Dean said...

Myra, thanks for the practical post on getting the word out about our books to library patrons and sharing writing tips or the journey on panels.

I've been on a panel at our local library and spoken alone to a writers group that met at a library out of town. Both were fun and energizing. Neither produced many sales, but I enjoy connecting with readers and writers. And who knows, those few sold books can lead to word of mouth promotion. But bottom line I see it as giving back.


Myra Johnson said...

MARY P, see my reply to CINDY. It never hurts to ask.

Myra Johnson said...

RUTHY, you are so right. Libraries have become gathering places for communities. And there's nothing so rewarding as seeing kids excited about reading!

Myra Johnson said...

JESSICA, it's been a really long time since I actually checked out books from the library, but it's nice to know they're there. Also, as libraries make more and more of their materials available online, research gets easier. You can find out quickly where resources you might need are available. Some are even in digital format you can access right there on the Internet!

Myra Johnson said...

KELLY! What a great way to promote authors! Thank you!

Myra Johnson said...

HEIDI, I agree--the Internet has made finding books at the library even easier.

Actually, my memories of researching at the library are those long card drawers I used to have to flip through and hope I had the right keywords to find what I needed.

Myra Johnson said...

Hi, BECKY! Maybe you could ask your librarian friend about bringing in some local authors to speak at the library.

Last year my husband and I drove an hour to a library north of us because author Robert Whitlow was speaking. We love his novels, so it was fun to meet him in person!

Myra Johnson said...

ROSE, thanks for the confirmation! Yes, you really do have to book early if you want to present at the library. They need lead time to reserve a spot in their schedule and also to get the word out.

Myra Johnson said...

KAYBEE, thank you for supporting your favorite authors this way!

Myra Johnson said...

Waving to DORA!!!! Thank YOU so much for taking me under your wing and introducing me to the library circuit! Those programs we've done together are favorite memories!

Myra Johnson said...

AUDRA, I can't remember where now, but recently I heard or read that libraries aren't the quiet places they used to be. People are using libraries nowadays for more than just reading. They really are more like community centers that also happen to have lots of great books!

Myra Johnson said...

YES! Also congratulating all our Blurb2Book finalists!!! How exciting!!!

Myra Johnson said...

JANET, yes, author library events are really about giving back. Many readers are also wannabe writers, and sharing our journey can encourage and teach them.

Wilani Wahl said...

I agree with Marianne that meeting an author in person causes you to desire even more to read that author's books.

I have also discovered that being connected with authors via facebook or other social media is another big drawing card to reading their books.

I would love to be entered in the drawing for your book.

Myra Johnson said...

Hi, WILANI! I agree--social media has really opened the doors for reader/author communication and making lasting connections.

May the K9 Spy (and KC Frantzen) said...

Great boost, Myra.
I've given 3 library programs but not in the past couple years. Need to get back on that (too!) along with a bunch of other things...

And finish this mss SOON!

Thank you for the what works/doesn't aspect of this post too. Quite helpful!

Myra Johnson said...

KC, everything takes time, doesn't it? Once I retreat to my writing cave, it sometimes takes an earthquake (or a persuasive friend like Dora Hiers!) to get me back out there in public again.

Kav said...

Myra, you are scary brave!!!!! And very good point about making sure your audience knows you write Christian fiction. How mortifying to have people walk out over that!

These are all great tips. From a librarian's stand point, we're on the same side -- we want to promote books, encourage reading, so I'd say don't be worried about approaching the library about doing an author visit, but do be respectful of their process. Like you said, it could take a few months to get scheduled in. But if it's a large library system they'll likely have one contact in the main branch so your local librarian isn't giving you the brush off by referring you to someone else. It's just how the system works.

And I'd share the kind of advertising you are willing to do up front when you make your initial request. Like your social media campaign. Because librarians want their events to be a success so if they know you are willing to do some of that kind of work they'll likely work even harder for you.

Oh -- and I'd suggest seeing if you can advertise your library event in church bulletins in the area. Drumming up some support for Christian fiction. Plus, it would be a great missionary tool -- think non-threatening, in a library not a church, no preaching -- for Believers to bring friends too.

Meghan Carver said...

Good morning, Myra! Bless you for providing such terrific tips! I have never been a speaker at the library (maybe someday!), but I've attended many events. As my children have advanced into interest in the adult programs, I have been so grateful for a wonderful library. I need to pop in this week and say thank you to the librarians for all their work.

Would love to be entered in the drawing, and thank you!

Myra Johnson said...

KAV, thank you for the additional suggestions! Yes, it's important to let the library know what kind of promo you can help with. The libraries we have worked with have active websites and Twitter accounts, so we were able to cross-promote.

Janet Dean said...

Author talks have always encouraged and energized me, given me hope. The same things I receive here in Seekerville.


Myra Johnson said...

MEGHAN, it's true--libraries offer all kinds of informative programs. Dora has done some independently that aren't strictly writing-related, including one on learning how to use social media effectively.

Jill Weatherholt said...

I would love to see more authors visiting my public library. It doesn't seem to happen often.
I love the library, but I must confess, I miss the library of yesteryear with the card catalog and the rule of silence.

Myra Johnson said...

Amen, JANET!

Myra Johnson said...

JILL, these aren't the libraries we grew up with, are they? :)

Do you know of any authors in your area who might be willing to present a program either individually or on a panel? Suggest it to your librarian!

Jamie Adams said...

Great information, Myra! Our local library schedules events for writers with low turnout. There are several well know authors in this area. I think I'll share some of your suggestions with the librarian.

Please put my name in the drawing!

Sarah Claucherty said...

I love interacting with authors who write in my favorite genres! Those more personal moments, whether face-to-face or virtual, endear them to me, and I start actively seeking out new releases, blogs, etc. That's actually how I found Seekerville--I was wandering through Julie Lessman's website and blog after reading a number of her books!

I'd love to be entered for the giveaway!

Missy Tippens said...

Great into, Myra! Thanks for sharing your experiences!

Myra Johnson said...

Hi, JAMIE! Yes, sometimes our turnouts have been pretty low. But even with one or two interested guests, we haven't felt our time was wasted. It's all about making connections.

Myra Johnson said...

SARAH! We are so glad you found us through Julie's website! It's true, a personal connection means everything!

Myra Johnson said...

You're welcome, MISSY!

Julie Lessman said...

EXCELLENT POST, Myra, and very inspirational for me, in particular.

Since "speech" was one of my best classes, I always figured I would do a lot of public speaking as an author, and I did in the beginning. But I discovered I'm such a perfectionist (read, "Queen of Anality"), that it would take a lot of work and energy to prepare for a talk, something I found was too draining, so I backed off from speaking to groups.

BUT this post today has truly inspired me to get back into the speaking game, at least with libraries, so maybe I'll start soon.


Mary Hicks said...

Myra, this is a timely post for me. I have my first novel finished and I'm working on the sequel now.

My local library is pretty good to work with people in the community.
The head of the library is the grandmother of my Monday evening art student, and I've done photography for her.

I plan to have a library book signing when everything is as close to ready as I can get it. :-)
Thank you for sharing!

Mary Hicks said...

I'm playing with my avatar, so ignore the changes.:-)

Myra Johnson said...

JULIE, I can't imagine you are ever at a loss for words! ;-D But I totally understand perfectionism. I have to have my entire talk written out verbatim, or I will completely lose my train of thought!

Myra Johnson said...

MARY HICKS, it's not too soon to start making those library connections and get some programming on the schedule! Revisit Rose Ross Zediker's post from last Friday if you need any topic ideas!

Sherida Stewart said...

Great suggestions, Myra, for if I'm ever brave enough to try *your scary music* public speaking! Doing a talk with another author might work for me. I laughed at your problem with app directions...yes! I wonder where in the world our GPS thinks it is sometimes!

I do love going to the library for author talks. Our local museum also does local author presentations occasionally.

Please enter me for the Oregon Trail collection. Thanks!

Myra Johnson said...

Hi, SHERIDA! It really does help to share the program with a friend--so much less pressure!

Those GPS thingies are insane. Sometimes Siri gets it right and Google doesn't, and sometimes it's the other way around. Still, it's kind of amazing when you think about it that a little gadget in my hand can figure out exactly where I am and where I want to be!!!

DebH said...

I think I'm under using the libraries in my area. I think I should look to see what's going on at them and see how often I can take my little guy there. He's at the age where he's beginning to know words (not necessarily read them...yet). He does like books though. He'll set a stack next to my chair and say "let's read, Momma!"

as for GPS stuff: my birth father's Tom Tom mis-directed him so many times, he started calling it his Dumb Dumb.

please put my name in the drawing. thanks for the good ideas for utilizing libraries Myra.

Myra Johnson said...

Dumb-Dumb--love it, DEB H!!!

My grandkids just love the library. I'm so glad they are avid readers. Last year, when one of the granddaughters was about three years old, anytime we were keeping her and she would get super grumpy and ready to throw a tantrum, I'd sit down with a picture book and quietly start reading aloud. Within seconds, she was quiet and sitting next to me to hear the story!

Sandy Smith said...

Interesting post, Myra. I am certainly not at the stage to be promoting myself, but a library would be a good place if I was.

Please enter me into the drawing. I would love to win the Oregon Trails book.

Myra Johnson said...

You're welcome, SANDY! In the meantime, you might want to see if your library is offering any programs for writers.

CatMom said...

Wonderful post, Myra - - and it's going into my Keeper File for *after* I'm published (yes...trying to stay positive here). ;)

Sounds like you and Dora make a great team when speaking together and presenting programs. If I lived in your area I'd be there, happily telling other attendees what a marvelous author you are!

Hugs, Patti Jo

Myra Johnson said...

Thanks, PATTI JO! You are such a sweetheart!

Mary Hicks said...

Thanks, Myra. I saved Rose's post from last Friday. :-)

Rhonda Starnes said...

Thanks for the post, Myra! Great advice. I will file this post away for future reference for the day I'm published!!

Myra Johnson said...

Great, RHONDA! In the meantime, see what kinds of writing-related programs are offered at your local library. You might find something interesting and meet other writers you can network with.

Tina Radcliffe said...

Myra, this is so spot on.

All excellent tips.

Tina Radcliffe said...

It's a totally give and take relationship. Go to their programs. Let them know you are a local author and give them your info. Then if they need a speaker they'll call you.

Bettie said...

Thanks Myra ...I feel blessed. Our library has authors, writing workshops, concerts, and all kinds of other programs. Please register me for your book.

Jackie said...

Hi Myra,

What a great post! I love our local library, but we don't have many author visits. I like your idea of going as a group of authors. It seems like that would be less stressful.

Thanks for sharing!

Chill N said...

I am so fortunate ... several area libraries have local published authors who present programs. One library has a 'meet the authors' night with a book signing and sale. Great fun to meet the authors in person.

Thanks for sharing personal experiences I can learn from, Myra :-)

Nancy C

Mary Connealy said...

Myra, I'm so sorry I never got here until now.

I am giving TWO library speeches one last night and one next Tuesday which is AFTER Library Week but I plan to carry on as if it was still the big week.

I love your list of hints.

Natalie Monk said...

Myra! This post is just as good the second time around! I'll have to remember this! Speaking in public is a little scary to me, but I still love it. Probably because of the crazy adrenaline rush, lol.

The last time I had to talk in front of people, I took a crash course in public speaking using free Kindle books I found. Some weren't that helpful, but I did find a few gems. Of course, I should have studied those morsels of wisdom a couple months beforehand instead of the night before the big day! Preparation is half the battle, don't you think?

Thanks for these great tips to help us be prepared and to know what works and what doesn't!

ohiohomeschool said...

What a great post! I am an avid library reader, and I love suggesting purchases to our library. They are always looking for new material patrons.

I love it when authors visit our library.

ohiohomeschool said...

I forgot to ask in the comment above to enter me into the drawing. :-) I would love a copy of The Oregon Trail Romance Collection.
Thanks so much,

Myra Johnson said...

Sorry for not checking in again last evening. Got sidelined by a killer headache!

Good point about the give-and-take relationship, TINA! Getting to know your local librarians should be the first step.

Myra Johnson said...

BETTIE, it sounds like you have a lot of good things going on at your library! That's wonderful!

Myra Johnson said...

JACKIE, it's definitely less stressful doing a group author program!

Myra Johnson said...

NANCY C, I love to hear that your library is big on promoting authors. The "meet the authors" event sounds fun!

Myra Johnson said...

Yay, MARY--doing library programs! Report back on how they went!

Myra Johnson said...

NATALIE, I doubt I'll ever get completely comfortable with public speaking, but I got a Best Supporting Actress trophy in a high school UIL drama competition, so I can pretend really, really well. ;-D

C. Hope Clark, who has guested in Seekerville before, has written a great book, The Shy Writer, that has lots of tips for both speaking and networking.

Myra Johnson said...

BECKY, bless you for being so good about suggesting book additions for your library!

Deanna Stevens said...

I'm learning a lot about authors on Seekerville.. A lot of things that had never crossed my mind. Writing is hard work ! !
please inter me in the drawing for the Oregon Trail Romance Collection..
& the dish please...

Olivia said...

Hi, Myra,
A little late to the party,but your tips on library programs and author visits are invaluable. I would love to get your collection on the Oregon Trail.

Myra Johnson said...

Hi, DEANNA and OLIVIA! Thanks for stopping by!

Yes, writing is hard work, and there is so much more to being an author than some of us ever planned on--not the least intimidating of which is public speaking! Glad you found the library program tips helpful!