I am fortunate to have two careers that overlap and complement each other quite a bit. As a public librarian, keeping up-to-date on the latest trends in literature is part of my day job. To do this, I read professional publications like Library Journal and Publisher’s Weekly, which not only discuss new trends in librarianship but also contain news about the publishing industry and reviews of upcoming books, audiobooks, and movies. I also read blogs like the Young Adult Library Services Association’s The Hub, which contains reviews of teen books, recommended reading lists, author interviews, and more. And if I still can’t come up with something good to read, I have a group of professional reader’s advisors in my co-workers.
I try to read a variety of genres so that I can make informed recommendations to patrons, which means that I get exposed to a lot of great books (and great writing) that I probably wouldn’t have chosen otherwise. For example, my “currently reading” shelf on Goodreads last week included an existential adult mystery (Eric Lundgren’s The Facades), a history of fourteenth century England (Ian Mortimer’s The Time Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England), and a young adult fantasy audiobook (Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys, read by Will Patton). I encourage all writers to read widely — I’ve learned a lot about setting from Mortimer’s book, and a few mysteries (a genre I don’t typically read) have taught me a good deal about structure and pacing.
In addition to all this great reading (and therefore exposure to great writing), I have an “in” with the local libraries, as I interact professionally with librarians at other branches in the area. I’ve helped out with and even organized author talks and author signings as part of my day job. This means that I know the ropes from an organizational standpoint, so I’ll know how to approach local libraries when I’m ready to start giving talks of my own. True, libraries may not be the best venues to sell books (especially when I’d donate at least one copy of my book to any library where I spoke), but library talks are great for generating interest in an author and her work. Of course, I’d love for everyone who attends a talk or a signing to buy a copy of my book, plus copies for all of their friends; but I’m more interested in generating readers than generating sales. And if you think library visits are a waste of time, just check out Mike Mullin’s blog post on his own library-generated success.
Writers who aren’t librarians needn’t despair; you too can reap these benefits. You don’t need to be a librarian to read Library Journal or any of the American Library Association’s blogs. And you can get the same “in” at your own library by developing a relationship with the librarians there now. Stop by sometime and ask for help with your research (if you’re doing any right now) or a book recommendation. If you’ve published a book, feel free to mention that, but please don’t try to sell it on the spot. Instead, ask about the library’s policies for adding something to the collection. Many libraries order materials from one or two major companies that deliver shelf-ready books (books already barcoded and complete with catalog records), so it’s highly unlikely that a library worker will buy your book directly from you the same day you walk in the door. Donations have their own set of policies, not because we don’t like donations, but because we need to be consistent. We have to treat you and your steampunk thriller (or whatever) the same way we would treat someone who wants to give us his self-published three-volume family history or the woman with a set of encyclopedias from 1960 that has been gathering dust in her basement.
If you’re polite and respectful, you could develop a valuable relationship with your local librarians. We’ll remember you when we’re looking for someone to speak on a topic you write about, or when we’re organizing an author visit. And who knows, we may just recommend your book the next time someone asks for a steampunk thriller.