Kate Flora: Last year, I jokingly said that it was my goal to visit every library in Maine. I failed, but that just means there are many more libraries to discover and librarians to meet. It’s a happy part of every author’s life to get to speak at libraries and connect with readers who like our books and new readers who haven’t discovered us yet. But sometimes, we travel long distances for disappointedly small audiences. For library week, we’ve been having a discussion among ourselves about two issues: What libraries can do to make library visits successful for writers and readers; and what authors can do to help.
Years ago, when I was chapter liaison for the international board of Sisters in Crime, I surveyed librarians and compiled a list for authors and librarians of strategies for drawing audiences and working to create a successful event for all involved. Among those suggestions:
Make it an event: Give the author presentation a title. Invite more than one author. Create a library
display with author’s books, some spooky props, some crime scene tape.
Serve food. Better yet, get the library friends or patrons involved in serving food. That suggestion evolved into two very special events: A Mystery Dessert Party, often titled “Death and Desserts” or “Death and Chocolate,” and a lunch time or evening event where the library serves soup and homemade bread, titled “Soup and Suspense,” where the soup is often served in library mugs the patrons purchase.
This week, I asked the same questions of some of our Maine crime writers. Here are some of the suggestions:
Barbara Ross: Several years now of library visits, both for The Death of an Ambitious Woman and for the Level Best Books anthologies have taught me there are two kinds of libraries. There’s the kind where you show up. The librarians or a delegate from the library friend’s committee greets you enthusiastically. The room is set up and there are cheerful flyers advertising your talk by the circulation desk. You can tell as you look around the library is not just a place to borrow books, but a thriving community center. Your talk has been on the library’s online calendar for at least a month and there have been notices in the local papers both print and online. The room is crowded and there are snacks. The patrons are cheerful and you can tell from their interactions with the staff that many of them are “regulars.” This library is a delight.
Your job, as an author, is to make things as easy for the events person as possible. Have a bio, photo, book description and cover and a description of the topic of your talk available on your website. Send them along early and respond in a timely way to any requests you get. Let your own social network know you’ll be there to help build the audience. If your book is new and you have one, send along an Advance Reader Copy for the librarians so they can read it and talk up the book. I’ll address the second kind, where the event isn’t being promoted, in my tips for authors.
Lea Wait: Among my tips for the library is one about scheduling. Think about what day of the week, what time, will work best to attract people to your event. What else is happening in town? Will it draw a crowd to the event or compete with it? Don’t schedule on a holiday week or a school vacation week, when a lot of people will be out of town.
Consider what strategies might be employed to build an audience? If possible, try to work with a local book group that will read an author’s book, or a writers’s group, or a group interested in the topic of the author’s book (an historical association?) Make sure the announcement of the event is in the “coming up” section of the newspaper at least a month in advance — and the official news release is in the paper two weeks in advance, with a reminder right before the event — as well as in library newsletters, and on posters, etc., at the library, community hall, senior citizens center, Y, any other place people gather in the community. Don’t forget to include surrounding community libraries and newspapers — people will drive a town or two away to hear an author whose books they enjoy. (And advertise their events in turn, too.)
Put information on your Facebook page; your website. Consider handing out bookmarks or flyers to patrons as they check out books. If it’s a mystery book and they’re checking out a mystery, they are your, and our, natural audience.
Provide water for your visiting author to sip during his or her talk. If she or he is selling books, ask if they would like someone else to add up the totals and take in the money. (The author should bring their own change.)
Provide an honorarium if you can. Gas is expensive, and only Stephen King and Tess Gerritsen are getting rich in this business.
If there is limited parking near your library, reserve a space for the author, especially if the author is bringing books or other materials for the presentation.
Kate Flora, again. Consider inviting high school students or school classes. Students are sometimes given credit for attending author events. If you have a large potential audience of seniors, consider whether a weekend afternoon might be better for those who don’t like to drive at night. Think about creating an annual event, so your patrons look forward to meeting new authors each year.
Just as important, we writers find, are tips for the authors who want to build connections with libraries. Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett, offers this tip—make a gift to the library while you’re there. It can be a copy of the newest book, or an older one in large print, or just the one you have lots of extra copies of. It doesn’t really matter. The idea is to spread good will and get one of your titles into the collection. And it’s fairly easy to check online first to see what titles (if any) they already have so you don’t duplicate. You’re probably going to take a look at the library website anyway, to get driving directions and a visual of the building, so do it while you’re there.
John Clark: Speaking as a librarian, I tell authors to make connections OR friends with as many librarians as possible. You have no idea how much influence they have when it comes to introducing new readers to authors (that’s why members of MCW’s books are seldom found on the shelves at the Hartland Public Library)
If you’re out an about and have a few minutes when passing a library, stop and say hello. The chances a patron might be interested in your books and in meeting you is high and word of mouth still works like a charm here in Maine.
Kate Flora: We’d love to hear from our librarians–is this true? Would you really like us to stop in?
Lea Wait says: I agree with Kathy – donate a book to the library – especially an audio or large print if you have one. Libraries are always looking for those! Contact the library ahead of time and ask what you can do to help promote the event. For example — sending your author photo, book cover(s) and author bio are basic. I’ve found that sending them not only digitally but physically helps some libraries. I’ve also volunteered to write the entire press release for libraries that seemed a bit nervous about the event. I also volunteer to send posters of my book covers (I have a large printer and can send 13 x 19 inch or 8 1/2 x 11 inch posters) that they can post in the library or on bulletin boards around town. Sending bookmarks ahead of time that they can hand to people coming into the library also seems to work.
Get there early enough to meet all the librarians, not just those involved with your talk. Set your books (the ones you hope to sell) up so people can see them before you talk. Have a pad where people can sign up to be on your mailing or email list to hear about future books. Be gracious and thank everyone, no matter how many people do (or don’t) show up.
We have more thoughts, and more tips, but we don’t want to wear you all our. But librarians, what suggestions do you have for us? And what questions? Because we’re all on the same page here–we want readers to be excited about what we’re writing and they’re reading.
Have we been to your library yet?
Good ideas. I asked our library whether it would like to launch my new mystery, Her Brother’s Keeper, with some money from sales going to the library. Because of my involvement in its literacy program, Volunteers in Tutoring Adult Learners, the library decided to have any book sales benefit VITAL. We agreed on a date a month after the big VITAL event that’s finishing up tonight. They’re working with a local bookseller who will donate 25% of the book’s price to VITAL. I provided postcards with stickers publicizing my talk and book signing for VITAL. This is the library in my town, which makes it easier. But working together, you ought to be able to plan something cooperatively with any library.
I had an author stop in today with his book about endangered species of Viet Nam and he was so enthusiastic, I made sure our programming librarian got his pr materials!