Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Extend Your Shelf Life: Tackling the Library Market

by Cat Woods

Personally, I love libraries. I love the atmosphere, the sense of peace and the very smell of thousands of amassed books. I hope someday, my books will love the library as well. As a writer of juvenile literature, I fully realize the library market has the ability to make a title.

Young kids take weekly trips to the library from their classrooms. There, they are exposed to hundreds of books and authors they otherwise would never hear about. Think of libraries as television commercials for the elementary student. Students are captive audiences to the books on the shelves, and when they find one they like, they become instantly gratified. Books are checked out and drug home in back packs for use as bed time stories. In this scenario, both parents and children can fall in love with an author and look for new titles to grace their private collections at home.

In middle school and high school, books are often bought for classroom curriculum. If your title is picked, multiple copies are purchased to be read year after year. Not to mention, teens and preteens visit the library to check out the newest author-of-the-month. This age-group reads voraciously and will often latch onto a genre or two with such gusto that librarians struggle to keep titles on the shelves. This can lead to outside sales, as youth are notoriously impatient when it comes to waiting.

Each month, library boards wrack their brains to find presenters who will bring patrons into their facility. They adore authors who can offer a fun or exciting program to any age group. They use you to make their library a happening place to be. After all, their funding is impacted by their circulation. And more funding means more sales and more choices, which in turn feeds circulation. It's a win-win situation for all involved.

Yet, some writers I know shy away from the library market, pooh-poohing it as an unnecessary avenue in which to sell their books. After all, library books are free, no?

Well yes, to the public. But not really, because every book on library shelves has been purchased with real money. Often times at double or triple the cost of a book store edition. Thinking e-books? Many libraries have already weighed in on the great debate and are showing their support to both patrons and writers by connecting them through e-book subscriptions.

Check out Books and Such Literary Agency's blog for a low-down on how it all works and how this motivated agency is making inroads in the marketing world. With over 2,500 on the Library Locator—the nifty thing Books and Such is part of—this "free" market could help an author sell-through and earn back an advance.

So, is the library market an untapped avenue for you as a writer, or does this free service seem a bit too trifling to pursue? Which shelves would you like to see you work on and why?


RSMellette said...

This kind of reminds me of Neil Gaiman's argument in favor of digital piracy. He claims that in markets where his books have been pirated, he sells more books.

For an author, libraries offer that kind of "service" while still paying for the work. I like the bit about libraries paying more per book. I didn't know that.

I would bet that, if a publisher were looking to increase sales, one way to do it would be to offer the book at retail price to libraries - to get that Gaiman Effect.

Jemi Fraser said...

I discovered most of my favourite authors through the library! I started reading voraciously at an early age and walked back and forth to the library with my 2 bags of books every couple of weeks. I cruised for authors who had lots of books so I could swallow entire series in a row. Having my book show up in a library one day would be the ultimate thrill!

Marcia said...

Really, I still think of libraries as THE market. I could never have afforded to read as widely as I have throughout my whole life so far if it weren't for public libraries. Just today, there were several dire articles in my morning paper about the rise of poverty and low income families all over this nation. Even with tightening budgets I believe libraries will survive because readers will want to band together somehow and share books.

Kelley said...

LIBRARY power! :)

E.B. Black said...

I completely agree with this article and don't understand authors who say otherwise.

Donna K. Weaver said...

Great observation! I think I realized that deep down, but you're right. People talk about book they enjoyed. And even I function as a library of sorts for my office. I buy the books, and my coworkers borrow them. Then they talk about them to other people. NY Times best selling author Brandon Sanderson said in a presentation at my library (for The Big Read) that one of the hardest things for authors to overcome is obscurity.