I’ve been lucky to experience public libraries from both sides of the reference desk: as a Children’s Services Supervisor at Carroll County (MD) Public Library (where I still work as a substitute), and also for thirteen years as an American Sign Language storyteller performing in libraries up and down the East Coast. As I gear up to promote my YA debut Sword and Verse (HarperTeen, January 19, 2016), I’m putting everything I’ve learned to good use—and thought maybe other authors could benefit from these tips too.
How Public Libraries are Structured
Public libraries come in all different sizes and shapes. Some are part of a state or local government. Some are independent entities. In my home state of Maryland, most public libraries exist within county systems of central headquarters administering multiple branches. In some places, libraries function as individual units, and multiple independent libraries may serve overlapping geographic areas.
The first step in connecting with libraries is to figure out the structure—that will give you an idea about where collection and programming decisions are made. Front-line librarians may need to direct you to higher-ups for decisions about programming and whether the library will carry your book. Some branch managers or department heads may be able to schedule a program for their branches, but you’d need to connect with a systemwide coordinator to get into the other branches. You can find directories online by searching for your state library or state library association. Or just call the library and ask – most librarians will be happy to help!
Book Signings and Other Programs
While your publisher may set up some appearances, most authors cannot count on this. It’s definitely in your best interest to make contact yourself.
To charge or not to charge: It’s up to you whether you are willing to make appearances for free or charge for them, but one thing is certain: public libraries LOVE free programs. They routinely face budget constraints. Consider the type of program you are offering. Will you be doing a promotional reading/Q&A/signing? A lower cost or free program might be appropriate. If you’re offering something more substantial, like a class or workshop, you should absolutely and unapologetically charge for your time.
Library Friends Groups: Many libraries have Friends groups that provide program funding and volunteers to help out at programs. The programs themselves are usually booked by the library staff. If you have a contact in a library Friends group, ask him or her to suggest you as a presenter!
Publicity Lead Time: Libraries generally have a long lead time—much longer than bookstores or schools—for scheduling events. The deadline is usually about 3 months before the event, and some require publicity information for all summer programs to be submitted by December 31 of the previous year. So contact early and think ahead!
Summer Reading Program: Summer reading is HUGE—it’s the busiest time of year, and most libraries do much more programming in the summer than the rest of the year. That’s because most public libraries run reading incentive programs for preschoolers, school age kids, teens, and adults, with prizes ranging from coupons and local business gift certificates to chances to win iPads and Kindles. Librarians spend many spring days in local schools talking up books and the summer reading program. Most libraries also have larger budgets for summer programming. So if you want to pitch a workshop or other paid program, summer is a good bet.
Many libraries throughout the U.S. participate in the Collaborative Summer Reading Program (http://www.cslpreads.org), a consortium of shared thematic summer reading materials for all ages. The themes for the next two years are available on the site.
Upcoming themes are:
2016: wellness, fitness, and sports
2017: architecture, building, construction
If your book ties in to one of these themes, you’re golden! But if it doesn’t, think about how you can make your presentation relate to the theme. For example, could you talk about the architecture of your plot and give your presentation a catchy title to match? I guarantee that will catch the interest of program schedulers. Tying your presentation to the summer reading theme will also allow you to pitch that program to multiple libraries that follow the collaborative theme.
Public libraries can be an author’s best friend! I hope these tips have given you some ideas on how to start connecting with libraries far and near. I’ll be back on PubCrawl on November 30th to share more advice on things like planning a program and getting the library to carry your book.
Got more tips for working with libraries? Share them in the comments!
KATHY MACMILLAN is a writer, American Sign Language interpreter, librarian, founder of The Sweet Sixteens (www.thesweetsixteens.com) and avowed Hufflepuff. Her debut young adult novel, Sword and Verse, is an epic fantasy that explores questions of power and prejudice. Find her at www.kathymacmillan.com and on Twitter at @kathys_quill.