Why Getting to Know Your Library is Crucial for Book Promotion

The challenge now is book promotion and getting it in the hands of readers. There are many ways to do this of course, but libraries can offer a few ways to spread the word that are less costly than the lone table at the local bookstore.

Not everyone is aware of the resources libraries can offer published authors, or the challenges involved. Here are a few roadblocks, as well as methods authors (and librarians) can use to get around them.

Challenges for librarians

When it comes to library programs, the main challenge is ensuring the library gets a return on its investment.

It’s hard to justify keeping and maintaining programs that get little/no attendance or keep taking away from the library budget without giving back.

Unfortunately, author visits can fall into this category, especially if they are only a one-time thing.

If the author isn’t overly well-known, attendance can be an issue. Libraries keep active tallies of program attendance to determine how they use their resources throughout the year, and if author programs tend to demonstrate that the community doesn’t have an active interest despite advertising efforts, the library then has to determine how to better use its finite resources.

Another issue librarians have to contend with is space. Public community rooms are often booked, sometimes as early as several months in advance.

Group rooms that aren’t designated specifically for an event or program can often have time limits. Some libraries are so small that they don’t have community rooms at all — and then it falls on the libraries to figure out a viable venue for visiting authors.

Challenges for authors

Conversely, the idea of library and school visits can seem daunting to authors, especially for the more introverted among us.

Like libraries, authors have limited budgets to work with, whether it’s money to book travel and hotel, or receiving compensation for their time.

This gets even stickier for ebook-only authors, since libraries often cannot gift ebooks to patrons. It’s also challenging because ebooks are often accessed through a platform called Overdrive, which not all libraries have access to.

So what are some solutions to these issues?

Authors and librarians are coming up with some creative ways to bridge the gaps in ways that benefit everyone involved.

Ways libraries reach out to authors

Many libraries have made important strides in reaching out to authors.

For example, San Diego Public Library’s Local Author Program has helped a lot of local authors feature their books within the Local Author Exhibit, the program’s centerpiece.

According to Rachel Esguerra, library clerk and head of the program, the Local Author Program was built around the spirit of writing and building a community. Since its inception, the program has featured writers in a variety of different age groups, including kids and teens.

Other libraries are following in these footsteps too — including Berkeley Public Library, which will be having its 15th Annual Author Dinner in February, and the Author Events program through the Philadelphia Public Library system. And, as part of its annual Summer Reading Program, the Sacramento Public Library has a system-wide lock-in event for teens, where authors can Skype in and join the fun.

Author events not only help local communities feature creativity, it encourages patrons to read more books, which is definitely a huge incentive for librarians.

And, programs like the one in San Diego are also earning income for the library by offering a pay-for-plate model for its main event.

Ways authors can reach out to librarians

First and foremost, authors should plan long-term if they plan to collaborate with the local library  — and it’s usually easier to capitalize on events that already exist.

It’s also helpful to find out who in the library is in charge of room scheduling, and figure out how to make available spaces work for everyone involved.

“Public libraries are servants to the public,” Esguerra said. “You can speak with branch manager about things you’ve noticed about the library. Most people are open to ideas, and are more than willing to provide community and writer resources. And, smaller libraries that might not have the same kind of programming budget can still provide spaces to meet other writers.”

Another option is to join Friends of the Library — a committee that most libraries have to ensure funding for various programs and resources. It’s not only a way to help the library further connect with the community at large, but also to find out where the library’s resources are being used and why.

One author who’s done this is Zoe Ghahremani, who became involved in San Diego’s Local Author Program after her book, The Sky of Red Poppies was selected for One Book, One San Diego. She’s not only been a keynote speaker, but has also advocated for a larger room and space for the program. And, as a part of the library’s Friends, she’s involved in finding ways the library can get funding for the program and others like it.

She does this work because she wants to give back to the community organizations that have helped her as an author.

“I believe in karma,” she said. “Libraries are worthy of our support in so many ways. It is important for the butterfly to remember that it was once a worm. Some authors, when they gain success, sometimes forget that just being in the library building can offer a way to discover new stories.”

And of course, authors can benefit from libraries too. After all, being an event speaker definitely trumps that lonely meet-and-greet table at the bookstore.

Ultimately, the hope is that more librarians and authors will work together, that these collaborations will expand community involvement, and further ensure more good books get into the hands of readers that need them.

Then, everyone wins.

What else do you think we can do to convince librarians of ways author events can benefit communities as a whole?