Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.
When discussing tools for taking advantage of digital publishing, the public library might not be the first topic to get a mention, let alone the fourth or fortieth. But don’t sleep on this age-old institution when exploring the opportunities of the e-age. Not only are libraries still relevant, they are a wonderful means of reaching readers that you might not otherwise think to market to.
Sure, it has become fashionable in online forums and across social media to pit the public library against Amazon or the Internet as a whole. Often times this comes in the form of “Why do I need libraries if there’s the Internet?” or “They should just give everyone Kindles.” While I’m a fan of disruption and embracing new technologies in general, I firmly believe that such statements are as misguided as the once popular opinion that the dawn of e-books would signal the extinction of physical books. These institutions can and often do coexist and even support each other within the grand publishing ecosystem.
ALA ANNUAL CONFERENCE: LIBRARIES GONE DIGITAL
Naturally, I was excited heading into the American Library Association’s recent annual conference in Chicago. With the current federal efforts to defund the Institute of Museum and Library Services, I knew I was entering into a world of urgency. Though I expected a lot of doom and gloom, I was surprised to find the focus instead on opportunities, outreach, and an almost righteous conviction that libraries are vital to modern society.
Most surprising of all, this opinion wasn’t confined to the inherent bias of the librarians themselves—the publishers I spoke to were adamant as well. There was even some casual speculation about the usefulness of Book Expo, the American publishing industry’s premier trade show, in relation to ALA Annual, with some publishers even going so far as to suggest wrapping both up into a more robust ALA event.
Like Book Expo, ALA Annual once again had a strong presence of publishers offering physical books and advance copies. However, there was an impressive and multifaceted digital representation as well.
#1: EBOOKS ON LOAN
Of the several thousand exhibitors at ALA, one necessary stop was the Overdrive booth. Overdrive is a massive distributor of digital content, including e-books, audiobooks, and videos. They reach over 30,000 libraries in over 40 countries, and the service is available 24/7. I was lucky enough to get a personal, behind-the-scenes peek by Steve Potash, President and CEO. When he pulled up the figures in real time, I had to check twice to make sure we weren’t looking at the national debt clock. A series of massive tickers showed that, as we spoke, e-books were being lent out quicker than I could count. If anyone is still wondering how long it will take for libraries to finally embrace digital publishing, they can put that concern to rest.
Individual library systems are also making it easier for local patrons to obtain digital content. Tony Marx of the New York Public Library introduced their new, free, Simply E app for iTunes and for Android, which allows patrons to borrow from over 100,000 e-books with two clicks on their phone or tablet.
#2: LIBRARIES HELP AUTHORS GROW MARKET REACH
If you’re hesitant at the thought of having your books out there to be lent for free, I suggest you put that to rest as well. Libraries must first buy the copies they lend out, and while that initial sale is nice, it’s almost beside the point. As with bookstores, if one of your titles performs well at a particular location, that library is more likely to want your others. Additional sales, yes, but again, let’s look beyond that.
In making your books available through libraries, you’re also expanding your market reach to those who, at least currently, don’t have the financial resources to spend on books by authors they aren’t familiar with. Often enough, library patrons will end up buying an author’s books after they discovered them at the library—even those same books that they had checked out for free. You’re effectively lowering the barrier to entry and making it easier for someone to become a lifelong fan of your work. Let’s not forget that dedicated fans tend to recommend their favorite books to fellow readers. And among the best at doing so? You guessed it: librarians.
#3 BEYOND BOOKS: MAKER SPACES, AUDIO, AND CODING IN LIBRARIES
Another major focus at ALA Annual was the work that libraries do other than lending out books. In addition to maker spaces, like the sound studio in the Chicago Public Library that inspired a young Chance the Rapper, there was much emphasis on educating the less fortunate in modern technical disciplines. Easily the most talked about new program at ALA was a partnership with Google called Libraries Ready to Code.
This is a means for folks from low-income backgrounds to train in computer science. According to Brian Bannon of the Chicago Public Library, their program already has a wait list of over 5,000. These are people who stand to change how we live our lives and potentially bring about the next big digital reading revolution.
#4 GET INVOLVED IN YOUR LIBRARY AND EXPAND YOUR WRITING CAREER
So, what can you do to help? If you have the time, you can volunteer. If you have the disposable income, you can contribute to the ALA or EveryLibrary. Join your local Friends of the Library group. Attend library events and fundraisers. Talk to your library’s program director and offer your own events or workshops. Become a politically active member of your community, and when a measure inevitably comes up to either fund or defund your local library, you’ll know what to do.
So, what do you get out of it? I mean, other than facilitating literacy, which your job as an author depends upon? Increased visibility, for one. You’ll build and strengthen your relationship with your community, folks who tend to support local artists simply because they’re local artists. And let’s not forget those new fans who were able to access your e-books through the library.
LIBRARIES: NEIGHBORHOOD OPPORTUNITIES WITH BROAD REACH
This is all in addition to the benefits you might receive from using the library’s services yourself. Need a quiet place to work? Somewhere out of the house with free internet and no obligation to buy something? Need access to trade publications that are out of your price range? Need to research to help you write your new novel or perhaps to find agents to submit it to?
My favorite thing about the presence of digital media in publishing is the opportunity to cast off limitations. Don’t limit where you offer your work by overlooking libraries. If you’re with a major publisher’s digital line, this will likely be taken care of. If you’re considering a self-publishing service or an independent press, this is an important question to ask. And then remember to support those institutions that in turn support you.
Trump’s proposal to eliminate the Institute of Museum and Library Services: http://www.ala.org/news/press-releases/2017/03/president-s-budget-proposal-eliminate-federal-library-funding
Simply E (Android): https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=org.nypl.simplified.simplye&hl=en
Libraries Ready to Code: http://www.ala.org/tools/readytocode
This post is by Literary Agent Gordon Warnock. Warnock is a Founding Partner at Fuse Literary and Publisher of their digital-first Short Fuse Publishing program. Prior to co-founding Fuse, Warnock served as a senior agent at another firm, marketing director at an independent publisher, freelance editor, and publishing consultant. He frequently teaches workshops and gives keynote speeches at conferences and MFA programs nationwide. He represents an eclectic list of fiction and nonfiction including Everything We Keep by Kerry Lonsdale and This Is What a Librarian Looks Like by Kyle Cassidy.