It's a love match between librarians and romance publishers. "Romance novels do better here than any other genre," says Anna Mickelsen of the Springfield City Library in Springfield, Mass. "Romance makes up 35% of our more-than-5,000-item collection but accounts for over 43% of the circulation. On average, romance paperbacks circulate more than eight times, while items in other genres circulate fewer than six. The cost of romance novels is generally less than [the cost of novels from] many of the other genres, and with high circulations this results in a better return overall on the library's investment."
Publishers are just as smitten, recognizing how valuable librarians are in helping romance readers find the books they want. "Romance novels have always been extremely popular in the library market," says Cindy Hwang, vice president and executive editor of Berkley. "Romance readers are some of the most voracious and—especially in tough economic times—the library allows those readers to enjoy as many books as they would like to read."
Craig Swinwood, Harlequin's chief operating officer for North American retail marketing, agrees. "Harlequin has always enjoyed a very beneficial relationship with the library market," says Swinwood. "We believe in the vital role libraries play and have found them to be an increasingly important location for title and author discovery. With technology and genre evolutions, the library market continues to adapt and provide value-added services to readers everywhere."
Librarians say they depend on Romantic Times, PW, Library Journal, and Booklist reviews when choosing which titles to buy, as well as on recommendations gleaned at conferences such as the American Library Association (ALA) meeting and the Romance Writers of America (RWA) annual meeting. When publishers work to get their authors speaking engagements at book-related conventions—giving keynote addresses, participating in panels, and signing books—they're particularly motivated by knowing how many librarians will be in the audience.
"Libraries are critical to discovery and are a big part of our promotional efforts," says Laurie Parkin, publisher of Kensington Books. "Our departments work together to develop 360-degree campaigns for our titles, and we put libraries right at the center. Kensington as a whole is very involved with both the ALA and the Public Library Association, as well as the conventions that are well attended by librarians, such as RWA and RT Booklovers. We also work with distributors such as B&T and Ingram to market our books directly to the libraries they sell to."
"Conferences such as the ALA are incredibly helpful because we hear directly from librarians what's working—and what is needed," says Virginia Stanley, director of academic and library marketing for HarperCollins. "This information is invaluable to us. We present titles at national and regional library conferences. We advertise our books in trade publications (print and online), participate in library webinars and promote our titles through e-newsletters, blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and videos, which we record in our studio."
"Mostly we use the standard review journals," says Maggie Hite, head of circulation for the Chapel Hill Public Library in Chapel Hill, N.C., "and I supplement that a bit with things I read on NetGalley or Romantic Times to choose books that I think our folks will like. Contemporary and paranormal and Regency romances are all popular. Paranormal had a huge upsurge a few years ago and has stayed pretty high. We are getting more Christian romance than before as patrons are asking for it, and, although not strictly romance, a lot of African-American literature. We just created a separate romance collection because so many patrons are looking for it these days."
GoodReads and NetGalley are on many librarians' checklists. "NetGalley has been a really helpful discovery tool for me because I'll see titles and authors outside of mainstream publishing that I wouldn't have seen otherwise," says Erin Horst, reference and collection librarian for the Cedar Rapids Public Library in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Her library serves about 110,000 patrons.
Plenty of Demand, Plenty of Supply
Speaking of patrons, they may have more power than they realize. Librarians cited reader requests as one of the most important factors in their purchasing decisions. "Patron requests mean everything," says Horst. "A lot of big romance fans keep informed about their favorite authors' new releases and will request them far in advance. There's a lot of loyalty in this genre."
"Patron requests influence our selection heavily," says Marcia K. Hull, whose Ponca City, Okla., library serves a population of about 45,000. "If a title they suggest has been reviewed and those reviews are positive, and if we have the funds, we almost never turn these requests down."
And Fifty Shades of Grey and other erotic romances? Bring them on, say librarians. "I have ordered erotic romance for our collection for the past five or six years," says A. Lynne Wall of the Aurora Public Library in Aurora, Ill. "Kensington Aphrodisia, Berkley Heat, and Samhain Publishing's erotic romance lines have been and remain popular with our patrons. We order about the same amount as before, but we are now getting requests from Fifty Shades readers who are new to the genre and want more. In the years I have been ordering, I have only heard one negative comment by a patron about erotic romance titles. I don't think most readers knew that we had erotic romance books in the library. Fifty Shades changed that." She adds, "Readers of erotic romance are more self-sufficient. They only come to the reference desk to request titles and authors they can't find. The circulation numbers are the biggest evidence that they like the books."
Elissa Chistakos of the Chesapeake, Md., library system says she and her coworkers had to explain Fifty Shades of Grey to their patrons, but now those same patrons are eager for explicit romances. "Urban fiction is a very popular item to check out in both physical and e-book formats," she says, "and our patrons are always looking for the next new title. Paranormal erotica and paranormal romance are also highly popular."
"Personally, I've been buying erotica for the library for years—especially since all the major publishers started erotica lines a few years ago, such as Spice, Aphrodisia, Heat, and Brava," says Dena Heilik, department head of Philbrick Hall at the Free Library of Philadelphia. "We never really had an official guideline for where the line was, but for me, as long as the sex serves the story, I'll buy it. I actually think I buy less erotica now than I once did; until Fifty Shades, less was being published by the Big-Six publishers. If you wanted to find erotica for the past few years, you had to look at paranormal books—authors like Nalini Singh. It's starting to ramp up again in the contemporary and historical genres. If erotica gets big again, our shelves will be stocked with it."
"Currently the most popular romance genres for us are paranormal and erotic romance," says Lindsay Chittle, adult and teen services librarian for the Waterford Township Public Library in Waterford, Mich. "Interest in erotic romance has increased with the popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey. We have been purchasing more erotic romance titles, because patrons will come to us and ask for recommendations after reading Fifty Shades. Before Fifty Shades, we did purchase some erotic romance, but we definitely buy more now."
Publishers are helping lead the charge to erotic romances with subtle covers that readers won't mind displaying in public. "With erotic romance, the new object-focused covers, like the ones for Maya Banks's Rush, Fever, and Burn, have certainly encouraged and enabled libraries to acquire this specific subgenre in greater quantities," says Berkley editor Hwang.
"We really weren't influenced by Fifty Shades of Grey—we were purchasing this genre in large quantities starting five years ago," says Noel Rutherford of the Nashville Public Library. "Authors like Sylvia Day, Lori Foster, Jaci Burton, Cherise Sinclair, and Maya Banks have been popular for quite some time. The best erotica author to come along recently is Tiffany Reisz. Publishers have started to carry more erotica with less-graphic cover art—that does make it easier for libraries to display, so there has been some upsurge in buying print copies." The only complaints about erotic titles that Rutherford received have come from patrons bothered by cover art that is too explicit.
Librarians' support of the erotic romance subgenre is well appreciated by publishers. "As a group, I've found librarians to be some of the most vigorous proponents of freedom of expression, anywhere," says Virginia Stanley, director, academic and library marketing for HarperCollins, who noted that between 7% and 8% of the publisher's sales are to libraries.
A Big Market for Small Presses
Libraries' increasing use of e-books means smaller digital publishers can get in on the library game. "More libraries have seen an increase in digital lending," says April Flores, manager of digital relations for Loveswept. "Loveswept editorially focuses on what digital readers want—exciting, accessible books by great authors. It makes our titles a perfect fit for digitally savvy library patrons."
Almost all the librarians we spoke with for this article named OverDrive as their e-book facilitator; most partner with consortiums of libraries from nearby cities or counties to offer digital books. "We do distribute to libraries through OverDrive, and are looking at several other distribution channels for libraries," says Raelene Gorlinsky, publisher of Ellora's Cave. "In the past, many libraries, especially in the South, did not want to carry our print books. They felt having them visible on library shelves could stir up complaints from patrons. But for e-books, no one has to see them or be aware they are there unless they go searching for them in the library's e-book catalogue. So libraries are a lot more interested in the digital versions of erotic books." Only about 1% of the house's overall sales are done in the library market, she noted.
Kristin Fletcher-Spear, administrative librarian for the Foothills Branch Library in Glendale, Ariz., notes that many of her system's e-books circulate through the Greater Phoenix Digital Library, a consortium of which her library is a part. "Our consortium has other people responsible for e-book purchasing, and they heavily order romance titles," says Fletcher-Spear. "Romance and erotic titles are more highly circulating items in e-book form than they are in print form. Patrons go to the Greater Phoenix Digital Library site to check out the materials on their own e-readers, computers, or tablets."
Chapel Hill librarian Hite also purchases e-books. "We use OverDrive so folks can download e-books onto their own devices," she says. "We did a study with donated Kindles. We put a variety of books on the Kindles—patrons could not download or choose what was on the Kindle—and allowed checkout of the Kindles. But we found that most people just check them out to see if they want to buy an e-reader. Our survey questions showed that they'd rather we spend the money on new materials than the equipment."
Suzy Baker, information services librarian at the Cold Spring Harbor Library & Environmental Center in Cold Spring, N.Y., purchases for a stand-alone library serving 8,500 residents in nearby Cold Spring Harbor, Lloyd Harbor, and Laurel Hollow. She says that her patrons, on average, download 1,500 e-books a month, of which at least 10% are in the romance genre. Her library is part of the Suffolk County consortium with OverDrive. "Contemporary romance and romantic suspense are the most popular genres, followed by historical romance," she says. "Other than one or two well-known authors, paranormal romance does not circulate here. I think our patrons like to read what they already know they like. They are willing to try new authors in a certain genre but are not comfortable experimenting with new genres."
Betty Shubeck, reference librarian and head of interlibrary loans for the 14,000-resident Prospect Heights Public Library district in Prospect Heights, Ill., also lends e-books via OverDrive. "There are separate selectors for hard copies and e-books at our library, so there are no joint decisions about what will be purchased as hard copies and what will be purchased in e-book form," she says. "The e-books are selected as part of a library consortium. We also circulate preloaded e-readers, which contain a variety of titles."
Horst, the Cedar Rapids librarian, says that while sometimes she purchases both print and e-book editions of a title, there isn't heavy overlap. "Availability is an issue with some of the publishers, so there are some titles we'd love to have that we just can't get. On the other hand, some publishers, like Harlequin, have e-book exclusives, so that offers some variety. There is a huge demand for our e-books, and the romances are no exception. There are some authors that I'll buy in e-book form whenever they're available—especially the contemporaries and Regencies."
Publishers say that popularity in libraries—where patrons can try books risk-free and subsequently get hooked on multiple new authors—has paid dividends on the sales side. "The library market can definitely make a difference in our acquisitions," says Leah Hultenschmidt, an editorial manager for Sourcebooks. "We've successfully helped several bestselling authors in the library market—New York Times bestselling author Carolyn Brown, for example—develop a broader mass market audience. Having that credibility with libraries means a lot to us."
The market is so important to Lucia Macro, vice president and executive editor at HarperCollins, that she is currently completing a Master of Library Science degree. "I'm always thrilled to hear from librarians—who are, as a group, amazing and vocal supporters of the romance genre," says Macro.
Like Romance? Join the Club
Book clubs and author events are big draws for libraries, and publishers and authors love them too. "There are several libraries that hold romance book clubs, and when I have a romance novel or author that I'm particularly excited about, I'll send the book club several copies of the ARC so that members can read the book before it's been published and send me feedback," says Valerie Pierce, marketing manager for Sourcebooks.
"We often get author-appearance requests, and we do our best to match libraries with local authors," says Jennifer Childs, director of library marketing for Random House Adult. "We also get a lot of demand for materials and info for library book groups. We promote new books to libraries thorough many avenues: trade shows, galley distribution, advertising, e-newsletters, mailings, book buzzes, and webinars, and we do find that this influences sales."
"We have a new initiative in 2013 to do 10 times as many events with libraries, starting with the neighborhood libraries of our authors," says Cleis publisher Knight. "This helps library frequenters to realize they have great authors as neighbors. The fantastic thing about romance readers is that they finish one book and immediately want the next. They want series, and everything from a particular author—it doesn't matter if it is new or if it's backlist. We are going after libraries district by district."
Knight added, "Delilah Devlin broke new ground with Cowboy Lust—we think of her as Cleis's cool hunter. Her next books are Smokin' Hot Firemen [due in July] and High Octane Heroes [slated for September]. We love libraries because they respond to demographic information and hard numbers. Since statistics show firemen are the #1 fantasy of women, we anticipate that Smokin' Hot Firemen will be heating up libraries next. We are trying to work with local New York libraries with Laura Antoniou's The Killer Wore Leather [to be released in April], a mystery with a romance at its heart."
"On the publicity side of things, we are always eager to partner with libraries, whether we're coordinating events, setting up displays, getting advance copies of our books to enthusiastic librarians, sending them content for their Web sites, or creating raffle prizes," says Vida Engstrand, assistant director of publicity for Kensington. "We also begin each campaign by educating our authors about the importance of libraries and encouraging library outreach within their communities. I love it when librarians reach out to me to tell me about special events they're organizing. For example, the Bosler Memorial Library in Carlisle, Penn., recently got in touch about their third annual Celebrate the Book festival this fall. We arranged for one of our Maryland-based YA authors, Brigid Kemmerer, to attend the event and sign copies of her teen paranormal romance series." Kensington is sending a number of books and promo items to the library that it can use as prizes and giveaways at the event.
"The library in Fern Michaels's hometown of Edison, N.J., has been extremely supportive of her books," adds Engstrand. "When she last came to town, it hosted a huge event for her that was attended by hundreds of fans. Since Fern's deadlines prevent her from traveling much, she isn't able to do many events, but [the library continues] to help promote her new releases by setting up displays with the posters and publicity copies of books that we send it." Engstrand has also collaborated with several libraries on arranging Skype visits by authors, including an event earlier this year with author Joanne Fluke at the Barrington Area Library in Barrington, Ill.
Loyal fans can also increase awareness of authors' causes, according to Mary Alice Monroe, bestselling author of The Beach House. "Libraries are my partners in bringing public awareness to threatened species," she says. "My novels reach a broad audience and I entertain with a compelling story. But through my story and the passion of my characters, I engage, educate, and inspire my readers to learn more about the animal in the setting. For example, my upcoming novel, The Summer Girls [coming in June from Gallery Books], is set against issues facing the Atlantic bottlenose dolphin."
"I take every opportunity I can to speak to librarians," says Susan Elizabeth Phillips, a former English teacher who's now the bestselling author of Call Me Irresistible and It Had to Be You. "I just came back from the Texas Library Association conference, and what a great group they are. Even if speaking to librarians didn't influence sales, I would still do it. Librarians and romance writers accomplish one mission better than anyone, including English teachers: we create readers for life—and what could be more fulfilling than that?"