by Marlene Harris
This post is an edited version of the Keynote Address that Marlene gave at the 2013 Gay Romance Northwest Meet-Up on September 13, 2014 at the Seattle Central Public Library.
My name is Marlene Harris and I’m a biblioholic. I’m addicted to reading. I read for fun and I read a LOT. While my first loves are science fiction and fantasy, I also read just about every kind of romance, including gay romance.
But I am also a professional book-pusher. That’s right, I’m a librarian. My current position is at The Seattle Public Library, but for the record, I am not speaking or writing officially on behalf of that library.
I’m here to talk about how readers can work with their libraries to get what they want to read on the shelves, both physical and “virtual”.
In order to get your book into the library’s collection, you have to navigate your way through the library’s methods for getting material into its collection. In other words, what are the rules for navigating past the gatekeepers?
I’m going to get specific about things you can do to get books you want to read into your local library and/or books you’ve written into libraries. Before I do this, I want to make one very big caveat.
“All politics is local”.
Public libraries are creatures of local politics. They are governed by locally elected or appointed boards and are funded by local tax dollars. Therefore, to paraphrase the gentleman who said the original phrase (Tip O’Neill, former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives), “All Libraries is local.”
Ask for What You Want
If you are a reader and want more gay romance in your library, every library has a request mechanism for the library to purchase a book. For this method to work, some points to note:
- You have to be a user of that library.
- If your library is in a budget crunch, there may be a limit on how many books they order per month. (Also requests may work better on January 15 than December 15, as libraries have budget cycles)
- Be kind to whoever has to handle the back-end of this process and fill the form out as completely as possible.
- If you want an ebook, even if the form doesn’t say you can ask for one, as long as the library has ebooks, you can still ask.
By asking for what you want, you are demonstrating that there is demand in the community. If no one asks, then the library does not know that their users will check out gay romances.
Also, because gay romances are not published by big name publishers, they are not heavily reviewed by the review sources that libraries use. Requesting a specific title is a big up-vote that the library should buy it, even without a review.
One warning for any author that is thinking about getting their spouse and/or parent and/or child to request their book; please don’t trick us. We’re librarians and we do research.Does the amount of sex in a book matter?
Does the amount of sex in a book matter?
I’ve been asked whether the amount or graphic-ness of the sex matters in whether or not gay romance, or any romance, will be purchased for a library collection.
This is an “All Libraries is Local” answer. Sex hasn’t mattered at the libraries I’ve worked at (and that just reads wrong when I write it) but I’ve worked for most of my career in either big cities or college towns, and they tend to skew liberal. If you live in a community where your local library doesn’t carry het erotica, they’re not going to buy any gay erotica either. On the other hand, if the het romances get extremely steamy, then it’s reasonable to ask them to purchase equally steamy gay romances.
Getting Reviewed Matters
Besides patron requests, how do libraries decide what to buy? And how can you as an author get a library to buy your book?
The best thing is to get your book reviewed by one of the major review magazines.
- The review magazines that libraries use are Library Journal, Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, and Booklist.
- If you write YA, there is also an offshoot of Library Journal, School Library Journal.
- For romance specifically, RT Book Reviews is relevant, and middle-sized and bigger public libraries subscribe and use it.
- Library Journal also reviews e-original romances, including LGBTQ romances, in their online Xpress Reviews every week.
And Kirkus and PW will let authors buy reviews, but it’s expensive. (And even if you buy a review with Kirkus, there is no guarantee that it will be a good review. Kirkus is notoriously snarky!)
As a recommendation, Library Journal Xpress Reviews is always looking for more ebook-only or digital first publishers to work with. (Full disclosure, I’m one of their reviewers.)
Work with Libraries
Librarians hand-sell books they love, just like local bookstores.
For authors, you can approach your library about doing an event there. Libraries do author events, and have many of the same types of author-related programming that bookstores do.
If you do an author event at your local library the library will also stock your books for circulation. No matter what they have to do to get them. If you are the event, people will be curious about your work and want to check your work out.
Also, many libraries will either allow an author to sell their books after an author event or partner with a local bookstore to sell the author’s books.
You promote your library event; you promote the library. The library promotes your event; it promotes the library and you. Everybody wins.
Ask your local library if they accept donations. Many libraries are thrilled to have local authors donate copies of their books. My experience is that the smaller the library is, the more likely this method is to work.
Whatever you do, don’t drop donated books through the book drop and expect them to magically appear in the collection. Also don’t drop them at the circulation desk. (Yes, I’ve seen both things happen.)
Let’s talk about ebooks.
When a library buys a print book it buys a book. Just like you. We own the book; we can do what we want with it. Including sell it or give it away later.
Ebooks are not like print books. Nobody owns their ebooks. It’s software and it’s a license. The licensor, meaning the publisher, controls the terms of the license.
Also the technology for handling the Digital Rights Management is a pain in the patootie for everyone. There are very few companies who deal in the niche market of managing the DRM for ebook library checkouts. The big name is Overdrive, but 3M (yes the Scotch Tape people) have also jumped into the game.
So for a library to get your ebook, we have to know about it, and it has to be available to us through the supplier or suppliers that the library uses for ebooks.
For most libraries, that’s still Overdrive. Overdrive deals with publishers rather than with individual authors as a general rule. That being said, there are certainly publishers listed in Overdrive who are really just the publishers of a single author’s work.
In Conclusion and Real Life Examples
LGBTQ romance belongs in libraries.
If you are a reader and want more LGBTQ romance in your library, suggest titles.
For authors, we really do need to see where you’ve been reviewed.
If you are an author, working with your local library can give you more exposure.
I will bring up one local example. The Gay Romance Northwest Meet-Up was held at the Seattle Public Library’s Central Library on September 14, (And GRNW asked if I would give a keynote to attendees about how they can interact with libraries to help expand LGBT collections.) In the month prior to the conference, the Seattle Public Library purchased 240 new ebook titles of LGBTQ romance, including titles by most of the authors attending the conference.
From the library perspective, what was great to see was that almost all those titles went out in circulation immediately, and some titles developed hold lists. (As I write this some titles still have hold lists, I’m on hold for a few things myself!) The immediate circulation plus hold queues exhibited demand to the library system, which means the library will purchase more titles.
This is something that libraries do. We (libraries in general) like to meet the demands of our users, and when we see that there is a demonstrated demand, we’ll keep meeting it.
Your library wants to give you what you want. You are our customers, our patrons, our users. You know what’s hot in the genre that you love and what’s not.
Help us do better.
Marlene Harris is the Technical Services Manager at The Seattle Public Library. This posting is an edited version of her keynote address that she gave on September 14, 2013 at the Gay Romance Northwest Meet-Up. You can read more of Marlene’s writings at her blog.
This post was originally published on the genre blog Reviews by Jesswave on October 4, 2013.