It’s 8 p.m. and I’ve been on the road for six days and racked up 1,300 miles on my car, as an invited speaker for the West Georgia Library System, launching my newest Amour et Chocolat novel, The Chocolate Touch. The tour has taken me to little libraries in old courthouses and towns of 350 people, where, surprisingly, 10% of the population showed up. All that time and effort has sold perhaps 100 books directly, so it’s pretty obvious that, in terms of opportunity cost and immediate financial gain, the tour makes no sense. So why am I doing it?
Well, I like little courthouse libraries. I like sitting down to chat with the one person who showed up to a misannounced talk, over cupcakes from the local cupcake-challenge winner, to discuss Paris and chocolate research.
But mostly I do it because of a story that West Georgia Regional Library system director Roni Tewksbury tells: “When I used to work the circulation desk of the main library, every couple of days, two stacks of books would appear on the counter. And then two heads would peek around them—Laura and her sister. Ready to check out. Every couple of days.”
So I want to give back. And I want to pay it forward to the next generation of readers and writers. It would be nice to have fresh readers still discovering me and fresh voices for me to discover 40 years from now.
A library raised me; libraries raised my readers. A passion for reading develops through a plentiful access to books. Books aren’t nicotine—most people need more than one to get hooked for life.
Readers are a very expensive thing to grow. An author can’t grow one by herself. A whole publishing house can’t grow one. In fact, any author who worries about sales “lost” via libraries is very much missing the point. As Jennifer Lohmann, RWA Librarian of the Year and an author in her own right (Reservations for Two), puts it, “If you have a reader who can’t afford to buy your books and so stops reading, you didn’t lose an immediate sale—you lost a reader.”
And a reader is a terrible thing to waste.
I’ve spent a lot of time talking about this with Lohmann and Tewksbury, two librarians who have invested untold effort to support authors: creating festivals, spreading word-of-mouth, hosting countless author events. I also asked my own readers about their relationships with libraries, and over and over in these discussions, similar concepts are mentioned: “raising readers,” discoverability, support of midlist authors, communities, word of mouth.
“Word of mouth sells books,” Lohmann pointed out. “But you don’t buy a book because some stranger comes up to you and tells you it’s great. You buy a book because someone in your community tells you it’s great. Libraries build community and we build that community around books.”
In a publishing world in a state of flux, libraries may very well be our constants, our bastions of readership, something to support and protect.
How can authors themselves feed that vital author-library synergy? Tewksbury and Lohmann get credit for most of the following list:
Support library programs.
Let your library know you exist and what kind of things you can talk about. I often give talks on chocolate and Paris, for example, not just on my books. Think outside the box.
Let your library know about your books.
If it can’t buy one, consider donating.
Encourage your publisher to make your books available as e-books to libraries.
And if you are self-publishing, make sure your books are on Overdrive or Smashwords. (Mea culpa for my own self-published books, I realized.)
Advocate for libraries!
They face funding cuts like every other state agency these days.
Think about joining a library
discussion group or the Friends of the Library.
And, from Tewksbury: “Keep writing the wonderful books you write! Nothing is more important to libraries than that.”