Hey guys! With my a release date hanging over my head (granted, it’s like 9 months away), I decided it might be good to learn about getting my book into crucial places: bookstores, libraries, and schools. I’m going to try and post a how-to for each of these categories for all you writerly folk learning the ropes along with me. Enjoy!
Today, I’ve got Karen Jensen with me. She’s been a Young Adult/Teen Services Librarian for 19 years (Pow!), and has a master’s degree in library service from Kent State. Karen is also the founder of the extremely popular Teen Librarian’s Toolbox, and has agreed (possibly against better judgement) to be interviewed. 🙂
1) So, Karen. Say I’m a published YA author, how do I get my book into your library?
Each library has its own specific collection development policy which governs the details of how librarians can purchase books for their libraries. On the whole, libraries are looking for high quality, well reviewed or popular titles (bonus points if you are both popular and well reviewed). At the end of the day, they want books that are going to circulate.
Libraries also want to make sure that they have a diverse collection that meets a wide variety of needs of a wide variety of people. If you write a well written book outside of the norm that fills a collection hole, we are looking for those. Dystopian and paranormal may be high sellers, but we also want to have titles for our GLBTQ teens, sports fanatics, etc.
Most librarians turn to professional review journals when looking for information about titles to add to their collections. So you want to make sure you are reviewed by journals like VOYA, SLJ, Booklist and more. In fact, some libraries require a professional review of a title before it can be added.
Many librarians will, of course, look at the biggies – like B&N and Amazon.com – to see what is popular and high selling. Now, most librarians also follow a lot of blogs and look at things like Goodreads or Shelfair.
The key, of course, is that before we can evaluate whether or not a title is right for our collection, we have to be aware of it. Good synopsis and evaluation is also a crucial tool.
I recommend signing up for the yalsa-bk listserv and spending some time reading the discussions that librarians have about titles, collections, etc. They have really strict rules about self-promotion so you’ll want to read and follow those. But knowing your audience is always a good action plan.
I am currently working at my 4th library in 19 years and it is interesting to see the difference in procedures – and budgets – among libraries. On the whole, library budgets are shrinking and us librarians are having to make harder and harder decisions about what we put into our collections. Our number one goal is to keep our teens reading and satisfied customers.
2) Interesting! If budgets are shrinking, can YA authors or publishers donate copies of their books to libraries? If so, does that automatically mean it will be shelved?
The truth is, not always. Again, each library has its own policy and libraries are definitely changing their tunes about book donations because it does help with the budget issue. But, some libraries still have a strong stance regarding self-published titles. BUT, that doesn’t always include local authors. Most libraries will take donations from local authors because we are community oriented so of course we are going to take them.
When I get a book donation in the mail, I am going to add it to the collection more often than not. The only things that would make me hesitate is if I looked around online and it had bad reviews, if when thumbing through the pages and reading some of the text it is obvious that it is poorly written, or if it has a cover that makes me immediately think that it will sit on my shelf for 2 years and then I’m just going to have to discard it for not circulating any way.
As I use ARCs more and more, I do find that reading a title helps me determine whether or not I am going to purchase titles for my library. If I read it and love it and think my teens will love it, I will buy multiple copies because the guess-work is taken out of the equation. Granted, it is highly sophisticated, educated guess-work, but when you buy books based on reviews, you are still taking someone else’s word for it as opposed to reading it and formulating your own opinion based on your library and your teens.
3) Speaking of ARCs, are you able to read most of the ones you receive? I guess a better question might be: if a YA author or publisher sent you an ARC, what are the chances it’ll get read, then ultimately bought?
I read probably about 75% of the ARCs that I receive. I keep them stashed in my office and hand them out to teens at various times or use them for my SRC. For example, if a teen comes into my library and says they like The Hunger Games and I don’t have any read-alikes in on my shelf, or the first book of a series, I will run into my office and grab an ARC that they may like and ask them to read it and let me know what they think. It makes them feel wicked cool, and I get valuable feedback.
The other day I was with a teen volunteer in the teen area and she said a certain book on the shelf was her favorite and I happened to have an ARC of it, so I gave it to her. She now thinks I am da bomb!
Bottom line: If I read an ARC and like it, it gets bought for the collection. I get most of my ARCs right now via Netgalley or Edelweiss and highly recommend them both.
4) I’ve heard from other YA authors, “Make friends with your local librarians. It’ll help your career.” Could this be true? If you know an author, or meet them at a convention and have a good chat (as an example), are you more likely to look into, and ultimately buy their book?
Yes, I think this is good advice for several reasons. Everyone responds more to something they are familiar with or someone they have a relationship with. We follow our favorite recording artists, movie stars and even authors. The authors that I love, I am anticipating their next release, know when it is going to happen, and looking out for it. Also, when someone asks for a book recommendation, we all have our go to authors/titles. When we are familiar with something and can attest to its quality, we feel more comfortable recommending it and endorsing it. Whereas if there is a title I haven’t read, I can simply say “I’ve heard” such and such about a title or “It is popular with a lot of the teen readers.” But if a teen walks into my library and asks if we have any good zombie books, I will gush about the books that I love and that enthusiasm is catchy.
When I recently went to TLA and they had the YA lunch where we met authors, I went back to my library and looked up information on every one of those books to see if I would purchase them for my library. I had a starting point and followed up on it. It is much easier than starting from scratch and going in looking blindly for new books.
5) I’m guessing when when you like a book, you recommend it to buyers at other libraries. Is this true? If so, are there specific website or in-person conferences where a lot of this happens?
100% true. On the yalsa-bk list serv someone throws out a question daily and we all respond with books that we love that fit the bill. We will actually mention all titles that fall into the category, but we often talk differently about the titles we have read, loved and genuinely recommend. When we get together and talk, whether online or in person, one of our favorite topics is – of course – books! And I think it is human nature to talk about the extremes, the books you love and the books you hate or have a question about. I know I go into my library every day and the first thing I do is gush about what I read last night (and many of my co-workers end up reading and loving the books I recommend – as do my teens of course). Many of us also have blogs, either independently or for our library, and we will share books there. And of course we share books via our Facebook and Twitter accounts. But yeah, one of my favorite places to get recommendations is from my fellow teen librarians because they are working towards the same goals I am and have an understanding and passion for teens and teen services. I feel like I can trust their recommendations and hope they feel the same way about mine.
I hope you guys found this interview helpful. I’d love to hear what authors, readers, and other librarians have to say about this interview, or any of the questions listed above!