by Jacob M. Appel
The American Library Association’s “Declaration for the Right to Libraries” describes libraries as “the great equalizer,” institutions that provide access to knowledge for any person — of any age, background, class or creed — endowed with intellectual curiosity. Libraries are among the only places on earth that truly welcome everyone. As a lifelong public library fanatic — I have visited nearly one thousand in forty-nine states — I certainly appreciate the joy of walking into a two-room Carnegie library in an unfamiliar town or a sleepy branch library in an alien metropolis and suddenly feeling at home. But for small press authors, public libraries serve as equalizers of a different sort too. In an era when the “Big Five” publishers dominate the literary marketplace, rendering a book review in a major newspaper or even shelf space at Barnes & Noble a pipe dream for many talented authors, the local public library offers a welcome opportunity for partnership.
To paraphrase President John F. Kennedy, the first step in building this partnership is to ask not what your library can do for you, but what you can do for your library. So what do public libraries want? I have found — with the exception of a few large urban library systems — most libraries want two things from local authors: books and time. First, books. As an author, no investment in marketing is ever spent more wisely than donating your books to your local library and to any other public libraries with which you have an affiliation or connection. Often, the library will add your books to circulation — making your work available to potential readers. Alternatively, the library may sell your books as part of a book drive — but this also benefits you, as your books have now found homes with interested owners. Second, time. In order to attract patrons, most libraries seek volunteers to give lectures or to teach free courses. Preparing an engaging talk about your book, or teaching a writing course on similar theme, is an excellent way to share your expertise with an audience while filling the library’s program. Independent Authors Day affords a chance to make the most of both of these opportunities.
My own involvement with Independent Authors Day 2016 began many years earlier. Not only do I donate copies of my books to my hometown library, but I also make a practice of giving copies to several dozen nearby libraries that I frequently visit. So I was already on the radar screen of a library in an adjacent town when the librarian invited me to speak on IAD. I was actually at a book festival out of state the previous day, and had a reading scheduled in a third state that evening, but I drove six hours to the library and I set aside another four hours for the event — and I am so glad that I did. Part of my afternoon was spent visiting a creative writing class and part talking about independent publishing to a larger crowd. Snacks were served. I made a point of giving free paperback books to each of the guests. Several of them later wrote me lovely notes, thanking me for the books and promising to recommend them to others, so I am optimistic that my initial investment will pay off economically and well as literarily. To my delight, the event was so successful that the librarian invited me back again for the following year.
I keep track through WorldCat of how often the books I have donated to my local libraries have been checked out, and the figure is now well into the hundreds. And I have also noticed that many of the audience members from the IAD visit have reviewed my books on Amazon, Goodreads, LibraryThing, or similar sites — not only the paperbacks that I gave them, but other books by me as well, meaning they have purchased more of my work on their own.
As an independent author, what you should want most — more than money, or fame, or even the pleasure of writing — is readership. That is what your local library has to offer you. Your local librarian is often the best publicist you will ever have.
Jacob M. Appel is the author of twelve books including the forthcoming Millard Salter’s Last Day. He divides his time between the Hudson Valley and New York City, where he teaches creative writing and practices medicine.. To learn more about Jacob, visit his website or Amazon Author Central page.