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Writer Wednesday: The Importance of Libraries

The sun is shining, the weed whackers are whacking, and it’s another Writer Wednesday. Today we are discussing the importance of libraries, a subject felt keenly right now in the US as some states continue to cautiously reopen.

Here, my public library is a vital facet of the community. Pre-pandemic times, there were numerous programs for kids & teens, resume help for adults, job fairs, community events, a teen media room, computers for public use, affordable printers, fax machines, and copy machines, oh and they had a breakfast and lunch program in the summer to feed kids. Now, as they reopen, they are resuming as many of these roles as they can, while adapting for public health and safety.

That is before we even get to the books and the vital role libraries play. Let’s talk about what libraries do for authors and the publishing industry.

The Reading Ecosystem

What is the reading ecosystem you might ask? Well, one of the biggest and best selling points of any book is hype and word of mouth. Never underestimate the power of word of mouth. The hype may fizzle out before you expect it to, but word of mouth can help carry a book into sleeper hit success. The reading ecosystem relies on early reviewers to help spread word of mouth and build hype. These reviewers are usually sourced either through traditional industry reviews such as Publisher’s Weekly and Kirkus, or they come from bloggers, bookstagramers, librarians, and educators who asked for review copies either via the publisher or through third party avenues such as Netgalley and Edelweiss. The hype and word of mouth born from the latter set often has more impact on a book’s long time success, because readers talk about books they love over and over, they recommend them to friends, and readers with influence spread the word further. Take it a step further, because librarians will order your book for their libraries.

“Libraries and publishers are key members of any community’s reading ecosystem, with the latter of course providing the content, and with libraries providing not only sales, through the copies we buy to make available to our neighbors, but also discoverability, exposure, and access to a wider audience than any one publisher could reach on their own.” -Andrew Medlar, Director of BookOps at the New York Public Library and Brooklyn Public Library

They buy thousands of books a year, in print and now digital, thanks to Overdrive.

Libraries are also attainable for indie authors, who can personally reach out and either ask to be included in a catalog or offer a copy to the library, a viable option depending on a library’s book buying budget. An author can also apply to have their book added to the Overdrive catalog, either by themselves if they self published, or through their publisher if they are with a smaller press. And as big publishers create friction with libraries over e-book catalogs, there could be a rising opportunity for Indie authors to seize.

The E-Gate

Publishers have been giving libraries flack for flagging e-book sales for the past year or so. John Sargent, the CEO of Macmillan, heavily suggested the e-lending system was responsible for flagging sales and author earnings last year.

“Historically, we have been able to balance the great importance of libraries with the value of your work,” Sargent claimed. “The current e-lending system does not do that.”

To blame libraries over a dozen other issues, such as economy, book pricing, promotion budgets--shall I go on? I can, but the point is, rather than supporting the symbiotic relationship between authors and libraries, Macmillan has dug their heels in, creating policy to hinder that relationship, such as putting a time limit a library can hold an e-book in their catalog. This does leave open the possibility that libraries may become even more indie friendly but it is also a strange call on the behalf of the industry.

This sort of policy might boost sales in the short term but may ultimately hurt sales in other ways. Libraries do account for a large chunk of sales, and what they can do for books is invaluable. Libraries provide a constant source of word of mouth, from the readers who take out books and review them, to the librarians themselves who include books in their recommendation lists. A librarian can absolutely make a difference in championing a book by ordering it for their library and introducing it to a whole group of readers, particularly for indie authors who struggle to achieve the same reach as trad publishers.

Reach for the Stars

Librarian recommendations can help launch a book into orbit, particularly for YA and MG, where these sort of recommendations can help a book land on much coveted summer reading lists. And librarians, traditionally, have the power to genuinely push for change within the industry. It was a push from librarians and educators that helped create Young Adult into a separate viable genre, starting with how they arranged and sectioned books on the shelf for readers.

Libraries are a vital source of community enrichment, and a necessary link in the Reading Ecosystem. It is important that the industry continues to support a symbiotic relationship with libraries, and that authors fully utilize what they have to offer. Whether you are indie or trad, libraries will support you in any way they can, whether through catalog inclusion, recommendation to patrons, or other aid. Local libraries might let you hold author events. Your local librarian may be your next book champion.

Resources & Further Reading

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