When discussing tools needed for a beginning writer, one often overlooked is the public library. As a librarian, I may be a bit biased, but it can be one of the most powerful tools. In reality, you should fall down on your knees and worship librarians. I would say I am kidding, but no really, you should worship your librarian. At the very least build a relationship with her or him, as the case may be. Building a relationship with a librarian is like creating a writer platform. To be successful, you need to do more than just try to sell your book. Talk to your librarian about other topics than just adding your book to the collection. Cold calling is hard and rarely successful. Build that relationship. The payoff is enormous. Below are just five of the things a library can provide for you, the writer.
1. Promote your book.
Many writers are afraid that since libraries offer print and ebooks for free, libraries cost them money. Au contraire mon frère, libraries mean more book sales. I am not just referring to the fact that libraries buy books, but that library users themselves buy more books than the average reader and bookstores. An independent bookstore may buy seven copies of a major author, my buyers purchase 150 of the same book. Many regular users buy books they have enjoyed after they have read them at the library, especially when they find a new author. Do not underestimate the power of discovery. Your name gets in a catalog, and you get promoted for what? For free! What a bargain!
In addition, we defend the right of people to read your book if it is ever challenged. (Talk about free publicity.) Yes, we carry Fifty Shades of Grey: Book One of the Fifty Shades Trilogy and also The New Captain Underpants Collection (Books 1-5) which has actually been challenged more than 50 Shades. We do all of the above even if we do not like the book. Despite the fact that he advocates AGAINST making it easy for libraries to carry ebooks, I have even recommend Scott Turow. As you may have guessed, I do not personally agree with his philosophies, but I defend other peoples right to read him.
Intrigued yet? To promote books, librarians recommend books, pick titles for their book clubs (captive audience), and use books in displays. A book that is displayed faced out has a greater chance of being checked out than one which is spine out on the shelf. I love doing book displays. It is gratifying when patrons come back to the library and tell me about a book that they found on a display and want to know where they can find other books like it. We also often get asked to recommend books. I get positively giddy when they want a recommendation for urban fantasy or fantasy (my areas).
2. Writing Resources
Libraries have books on writing books. Who knew? We also carry books on how to sell your books and whether you should take the traditional route with an agent and publisher or if you should consider Indie publishing. The best part is that they are free. Sensing a theme here?
3. Research Help
As Neil Gaiman, a big library supporter, stated, “In a world where Google can bring you back 100,000 answers, a librarian can bring you back the right one.” There is a great interview in the Guardian where Neil discusses the importance of libraries. Google can be a powerful tool if used correctly. I use it on a daily basis, but Google does not contain everything. Breathe. I know it is a shock. Don’t worry. All is still right with the world. In addition to having Google, the library subscribes to (very expensive) databases that contained paid content. (I cried the first time I signed an invoice for one. I could have bought a mansion!) We have everything from daily life in medieval history (or your chosen time period) to how a certain poison effects the circulatory system. Better yet, we can connect you with those resources with our super searching skills. Some days, I even wear a cape to emphasize the librarian superpowers. Ok, maybe not a cape, but I do have a super librarian t-shirt. Despite the common misconception, librarians don’t know everything. It is even better. We know how to find everything.
4. People Watching/Story Ideas
Outside of books, the library can still be an inspirational place for writing. It is full of characters both those in print and those in real life. A busy public library has people ranging from the elite to People of Walmart. (Actually, one of our regulars was featured on People of Walmart.) There are even famous writers that stop in to pick up books. We have one NY Time bestseller writer that uses our library on a regular basis. He’s even a pretty cool guy. If you cannot find character inspiration here, you are not looking.
5. Classes/Writing Groups
Libraries offers classes, cultural programs, and entertainment for free. You may find classes or programs in an area in which you are researching, or there may even be classes on writing. An even more radical idea is that you can offer to be a presenter at the library for a class in your area of expertise, whether that is 10 Ways to Murder a Fictional Character, Brewing Beer, or How to Find an Agent. This creates publicity for you, the writer. Programs tend to be more successful than book signings, and depending on the library, you may even be able to sell you books or at least promote the book. This works best if the program you are presenting is somehow tied to a subject in your book. While libraries do occasionally pay presenters, keep in mind that we rely on tax base for our revenue which we compete with the fire department, police department, schools… You can see where I am going. Offer to present for free and earn the gratitude of your librarian and get good karma.
So build a relationship with a librarian, and comment below to tell me how you use or would like to use the library.