Monday, February 8, 2010

Just what DO Librarians Want?

Sheila Connolly
Vice-President/Library Liaison
Sisters in Crime–New England

In November 2009 Sisters in Crime-New England and New England Mystery Writers of America for the first time included a librarians panel in their jointly-sponsored New England Crime Bake conference. The panel brought together three New England librarians: Jennifer C. Harris from the Plymouth (MA) Public Library; Kathy Meeker, director of the Scituate (MA) Town Library; and Jane Murphy of the Westport (CT) Public Library. The audience included equal numbers of librarians and writers, all looking for ways to help each other promote mysteries and attract readers.

The librarians (who together represented nearly a century of experience) agreed that mysteries are among the most popular books in their libraries, which should be good news for mystery writers. The focus of the panel was how to get the librarians and the writers together, and emphasized two main issues:

–how librarians can utilize writers for library programs, and
–how writers should approach libraries to make themselves known.

The resulting panel discussion, and the questions that followed, were stimulating and in some cases surprising.

One point that the librarians on the panel raised more than once: writers, use your librarians! Don't wait until you're published or nearly there–they can help you with:

–research for your books
–information on the publishing community
–information on how to find an agent or a local writers group.

The bonus is, if you do this you have already established a relationship with your local library when your book comes out.

What should a writer do once the book is published?

–If your local Sisters in Crime chapter has Speakers Bureau (which matches libraries, bookstores, and other organizations with local writers), use it!
–If you have no local chapter, or your chapter doesn't have a speaker coordinator, how do you get your books in front of the right people in a library? It's easier than you think. Libraries love programs that are affordable and don't require a lot of planning on their part; in return, they can publicize your appearance and your book to their patrons and to the local community, through newsletters and the press. Contact your local library and ask if they're interested.
–Find out if there is a Friends of the Library group or a mystery readers group associated with a particular library. They may even manage the programming opportunities for the library.

How can you make sure libraries buy your books? Libraries rely on the major review sources such as Library Journal and Publishers Weekly, and the catalogs that publishers send out or make available on line. Since reviewers pay little attention to original mass-market books, a paperback writer has to make a greater effort to capture librarians' attention. You should:

–Send a short letter or email describing your book and offering to speak at the library.
–If you use snail-mail, include a few bookmarks.
–Do not swamp the library with frequent updates or long appeals–simply let them know when you have a new book coming out, and that you're interested in talking to the library's patrons.

If you haven't discussed audio book options with your agent and publisher, you should. These have become increasingly popular with library patrons.

The bottom line is: Librarians can be valuable resources in spreading the word about your books, and you as a writer need to make the most of the opportunities that libraries present. Get to know your local libraries–not just the one in your town, but those in surrounding towns or even the state. Stop by, introduce yourself, leave a few bookmarks. If your budget permits, give them a book. Use your libraries wisely, and everybody wins!


Sharon said...

Great recommendations, thank you!

Jeanne said...

As a librarian, I am always amazed at the contortions writers use to find out information that I could have gotten them in a few minutes. As a writer, I know how hard it is to push your book. So let's work together. Jeanne M. Bracken

Maggie Toussaint said...

These are great tips, Lorraine. I've had both paperback books and hardcovers come out. I've donated a few copies of each to libraries but I wish they would pick up more of the paperbacks.


Sheila Connolly said...

What I didn't have room to say in this blog was that libraries face real hardships in our current economy, yet they provide important services to our communities. The more we make use of libraries and librarians, the better off we all are.

Avery Aames said...

I'm working with Speakers Bureau for SinC in LA and the librarians I've talked to so far are delightful, caring people who are eager to have programs that inspire their readers! Hurray for all librarians!
Mystery Lovers' Kitchen

June Shaw said...

Great suggestions! Librarians are tremendous helps to me for researching and promoting my novels. They're terrific!
June Shaw

Triss Stein said...

What a great idea for a panel. Thank,Sheila, for sharing. As a former public librarian,and sometimes mystery writer, I think it's dead-on info!