Here’s a wild tidbit for you, there are more libraries in the United States than there are world-wide McDonald’s restaurants. (The American Library Association says that there are 119,487 of them, and there are 35,000 Micky Ds in the world.) Here’s an even wilder fact for your face: library book sales don’t count towards your book’s ranking in those ever important BestSeller lists. Isn’t that… weird? I think it’s weird, but then, the NYT didn’t ask me, so there you go.
So you have an author wanting to build and maintain a career, and that means selling books, and anyone buying a book is a saint. This also means building a reputation as someone who produces an excellent product–that’s how you make your money, on the come back.
Which brings us back to the library. Let’s say your local library is super awesome and buys four–four!!–copies of your latest book. They’re going to keep that on the shelf for years, and hundreds (I’m being optimistic) of people are going to read it!
…those originally purchased four books. Welp, that’s a loss.
NO. IT ISN’T. And this is why we’re here: libraries are amazing sources for authors. You should love and thank every dang library that buys your book, and I’ll tell you why:
Remember that bit about building a reputation as someone who produces an excellent product? Well guess who loves books, loves talking about books, and loves recommending books?
These magical creatures can often be located reading dirty stories or high lit at the circulation desk, wandering the computer station to help people use email, find jobs, or research a paper, or more likely are hiding in the stacks, trying to calm down because the dadgum 3-D printer is on the fritz again, and Florence McKibben*, head librarian and the one who fought admin for a month to get the dang thing in the first place, is off today. And the local science club is due any minute.
The best thing about librarians, though, is that THEY ARE ALWAYS TALKING ABOUT BOOKS. Cocktail party at the Nareens? They’ve got the perfect Bollywood-inspired romance for the host’s college-age offspring who secretly devours them when not studying astrophysics. Sidelines at the peewee soccer game Saturday morning, and they know just the right series to get the Washington’s eight-year-old son to like to read. “Kids don’t hate to read, after all, they just hate to read the wrong book,” she says before shouting down the ref for not calling offsides on the opposing team. That nervous looking teenager who looks lost, confused and hopeless? That leads to a quiet conversation about reading David Levithan or Ellen Wittlinger, or books by the imprint Duet, because the kid could read those at home and not be terrified the cover will give anything away, but will still allow them to explore their sexuality in a safe and smart way.
(Seriously. If you’re scared to ask a librarian a question because you think they’re going to judge you, they won’t. Promise. Nobody fights censorship or for the expansion of wide-ranging reading materials like librarians do. Plus, no one gets asked weirder questions than a librarian. They’re totally unphased.)
So yeah, you’re not making money hand over fist as an author by having libraries buy your book, because unless you’re writing about a boy wizard or your name rhymes with Even Fling, all 199,000+ aren’t buying multiple copies. But what are you are building is a base of loyal readers, and there’s no more loyal reader than a librarian. (Boy, if they like your book, you’ve done something right. Think of how much they read in a year! They know, okay?)
And maybe your typical library patron is like me: where you read it enough that you decide to go ahead and buy it, finally having a copy of your own. (I mean, Florence gives you the stink eye every time you put that dang book on hold because “maybe someone else might like a turn, hmm?” Well, she’s not wrong.)
But it isn’t even about sales. It’s about READERS. It’s about people finding this world you created and enjoying it. You want this, because they’re going to tell someone else about that great summer read, that amazing sci-fi series they stumbled across, the chill-inducing thriller they couldn’t put down. And as an author, there is nothing better than knowing someone liked the words I put on a page. That’s… man, that’s the best.
And hey, with 199,000+ libraries out there? It may not add up to NYT Best Seller stats, but who cares? Pfft, a lot of those spots are paid for, anyway. I just want Florence to tell her patrons about this terrific little indie press novel about love lost and found, set in both England and New York with a Shakespearean musical thrown in, or the other lovely little indie press novel about a gay vaquero in 1870 Texas who falls in love with a mesteñero while mesteñeroing out on the Llano Estacado.
(And if she described it as like a Jane Austen-edited-by-Larry McMurtry-meets-the Gay, WIld West, then that would be even better. And yeah, that was my actual pitch to my publisher.)
So when authors like me encourage you to ask your local library to get a copy of our book, it’s because we know not everyone can afford the (often) expensive hardbacks and new releases. We just want you to read. And hey, look at that, there’s a whole infrastructure set up to help facilitate free books being put directly into your hand! WHAT A TIME TO BE ALIVE.
*Tay, your librarian name on the fly is perfect.