A comment from Jill the Librarian on yesterday’s It’s the Reader, Stupid post:
Self-publishing is going nuts right now. Bowker says that “148,424 print books were self-published in 2011, and 87,201 ebooks were self-published. … So as a librarian (or bookstore buyer) with extremely limited staff and resources, how do we choose? We don’t yet have any real volume of ebooks being reviewed by known review sources. In my library, we do try to grab books once they clearly rise to the top of the heap — like WOOL– but that leaves an awful lot of perfectly respectable books flying under our radar.
I, for one, WANT to represent independent authors in my collection. I want to bring new voices to readers. I want to provide access via print, ebook, audiobook, cuneiform manuscript, or any other format anyone wants. But it’s hard to make it happen in the current model.
Jill brings up an issue that is affecting distributors (both bookstores and libraries), as well as readers and aspiring authors. There isn’t one perfect solution, but I think one place to start is local. Every library and bookstore should have a section for community authors. We had one at our bookstore. Authors came in all the time to pitch their book to us, and we would invariably agree to carry a copy or two. Here’s what I noticed from my info-desk perch:
Some authors would go on to hand-sell their book to friends, family members, and strangers in the community while directing them to our bookstore for the transaction. These authors would check in regularly to see about our stock, and we would re-order. We provided respectability and a cashier. They acted just like sales reps from publishing houses . . . but for their own books.
All of the local authors, I noticed, were given pride of place. Most just wanted to know that their book was on a shelf, somewhere, available. Local authors would pop by and scan the section, see their books next to those from their writing groups, and smile. I can tell you that I used to do the same with my own books in that bookstore. It was like peeking into a crib to check a sleeping baby. It was motivation to continue writing. To have more of them.
The most important observation, though, is seeing what customers did. It wasn’t the majority, not by a mile, but there are shoppers who want to support local artists. These are the same people you see at art crawls and local art fairs. They came to our shop because they knew we had not only a local interest section but a local author section. And they would take a chance on a book based on the cover and blurb.
If every bookstore and library had a section like this that someone cared about maintaining, it would give tens of thousands of aspiring authors at least a small chance of being discovered. A tiny chance, but still a chance. And the psychological rewards are enormous. What this does is distribute the burden of selecting which indie books to carry. You are guided by hometown loyalty. Each town carries a small number of books. All it takes is one reader being blown away and telling their friends. Or one bookstore or library employee discovering some local and hidden talent and arranging a talk or a signing.
It can be overwhelming, seeing how many books are published every year. But how many books were published by authors in your town? Do they have a public, physical forum for celebrating their achievement? Does any bookstore or library have a twice-yearly Book Release Party where community authors come together to toast their accomplishments and swap copies of their books? Why not?
We have art fairs and craft fairs. We have music festivals, and bars and restaurants do a great job of giving musicians some kind of start. Yes, there are book festivals, but very few local authors get to attend in any way other than setting up a table in the dealer room. I think those of us who love books can be more involved in nurturing the local variety. I have enjoyed participating in writing groups and working with NaNoWriMo here in Jupiter as well as back in Boone. Geeking out about books and writing just fuels more writing.
Authors are a passionate lot. It might be a good idea for bookstores and libraries to focus a little more on the creation side to go with the consumption. Writing groups to go with reading groups. Mix local authors with young writers on Saturday workshops. Turn November and NaNoWriMo into a national holiday. Encourage young writers to self-publish and put their works on display (we do this with their artwork, don’t we?). Have a bio with headshots to go with staff picks in these sections. Set up meeting times for writing workshops and critique groups. My mother’s yarn shop was built on a foundation of local knitters who spent a lot of time in her shop, stitching and bitching, teaching classes, forming the base of a creative community. I would love to see bookstores and libraries reach out to local authors, making them feel welcome, giving them some shelf space and a place to meet their peers. I think it would be good for everyone.