Lissa Staley | June 8, 2016
Trends in the romance genre and readership are evolving as quickly as the technology. Direct access to a huge variety of new print books and ebooks is exciting for voracious romance readers. At the same time, the ability to control the publishing process and market books directly to interested readers is exciting for emerging and established romance writers.
However, as more and more authors continue to self-publish new romance titles, the responsibility of spending limited public funds wisely on books of interest to the local community can be overwhelming for librarians. Some of the major challenges they face include the sheer volume of romance novels published each year, a shortage of objective and professional reviews for romance novels, the short shelf life for print romance books, restrictive collection policies, customer demand for titles in multiple formats (including regular print, large print, ebook and both downloadable and CDs of audio books), ebook licensing restrictions and more.
In speaking with romance authors and librarians involved with Library Journal’s Indie Ebook Awards, I found that authors trying to increase sales and readership for books labeled as “self-published” or marketed as romance novels face their own challenges in trying to overcome negative stereotypes.
Several of the librarians I spoke with weighed in on the stigma associated with romance novels. “The quality of the book doesn’t matter; people hear ‘romance’ and make a set of assumptions that rarely have any relation to the actual book they’re talking about. The entire genre is treated as if it’s one book, being written over and over again,” said Robin Bradford, a librarian at Timberland Regional Library.
Jenna Friebel, a librarian at Deerfield Public Library, took a proactive stance on the issue: “change will happen as romance readers and writers continue to speak up for these books and refuse to feel shame or buy into the ‘they’re just guilty pleasures’ nonsense.”
Popular discussions and academic examinations of romance novel readership have existed for dozens of years now, but the proliferation of ebooks and increase in self-published books have complicated the issue of romance novels in libraries. Joyce Sparrow, a former public librarian and current romance reviewer for Library Journal, explained that for some librarians, “self-published books are viewed as unedited, unpolished vanity publications that cannot withstand critical review.”
As technology has progressed to support print-on-demand publishing and ebook distribution models, more aspiring authors have been able to bring their books to market more quickly. “I think the relative ease of self-publishing has lulled many authors into publishing too soon. I’ve seen quite a few self-published books, while published with love and pride, needing a good edit and proofread, as well as knowledgeable beta readers to check continuity,” said Brenda Patterson, a librarian at Lakeland Public Library.
While the name of a major publishing house on the spine of a book conveys expectations of quality and consistency for librarians, the absence of a recognizable brand can cause confusion. “People don’t recognize that ‘self-published book’ isn’t a catchall, and that there are wild variations in subject, quality, style and popularity among them,” said Bradford.
On the other hand, it is important to note that readers look at books differently. “The average reader today doesn’t care who published the book they are reading. They care only that they have access to it, that it is well-written and that it is well-presented,” said author Natasha Boyd. Her new adult romance novel Eversea was named a 2015 Library Journal SELF-e Select title.
As more romance novels are brought to market, libraries want the same thing for their customers that readers want themselves — more great books. “You can’t buy them if you don’t know where they are, or that they exist,” said Bradford when describing the issue of discoverability for libraries and readers.
“Being free of the conventions of large publishing companies, self-published authors may, in fact, have a truer voice. Anyone who cherishes books and knows the important role books and knowledge have played in human history should absolutely be supporting and encouraging the voices of their community,” said Boyd regarding the benefits of encouraging self-published writers.
Today, self-published romance authors seeking success must plan to produce and market quality work that is objectively reviewed and recommended for inclusion in library collections based on its merits. Though holding a book signing in a favorite hometown library is a meaningful celebration of a writer’s accomplishment, reaching the broadest readership means national or international distribution, and is usually accomplished using print-on-demand and ebook publishing technology.
“Libraries can and should invest in supporting these local self-published authors, from building writing skills of emerging writers in library programming to buying quality self-published books for library collections.”
Libraries can and should invest in supporting these local self-published authors, from building writing skills of emerging writers in library programming to buying quality self-published books for library collections. “Each year we encourage our writing community and aspiring authors to take the NaNoWriMo challenge. We organize write-ins and critique groups to help support our patrons that write,” said Suzanne Moore, a librarian at Ashe County Public Library. Sparrow suggested that libraries organize “writing workshops, how-to self-publish and lessons-learned workshops and book fairs for self-published authors.”
In addition to encouraging libraries to facilitate and support their local self-published and emerging authors, there are some crucial takeaways for authors to focus on if they want to get their books into libraries. The first thing to acknowledge is that great fiction writers aren’t automatically good at all of the other tasks involved in publishing and marketing a book. Authors should write a business plan and hire continuity readers and copy editors, book designers and cover artists, marketing consultants and tax professionals as needed to produce the highest quality product. “The book’s outer appearance is almost as important as the contents,” said Patterson, confirming this notion.
Another crucial element of getting self-published ebooks into libraries is doing the research to figure out where your library and other libraries are getting their ebooks from. “Make sure you know who the library ebook vendors are, and contact them to find out how to get your books onto their platforms,” said Bradford.
And above all, it is important to support other romance authors’ books that are already in the library system, as well as those that might be available for your library to subscribe to. “My advice on a local level would be to check out romance titles, request romance titles that are not yet available in your library and encourage your local library to subscribe to various ebook channels to meet the needs of romance readers,” said Boyd.
Overall, making a book available for purchase through library vendors and ebook platforms and ensuring a book is discoverable through major review sources may be the best ways for self-published romance authors to reach the library market. Librarians and SELF-e authors agree that objective reviews from trusted sources are key for both self-published authors and romance authors to help distinguish their work from that of their competitors.
Titles achieving hundreds of positive online ratings, a contest win or promotion through a curated collection may also garner attention from library selectors. Contests like Library Journal’s Indie Ebook Awards offer solutions to this need for positive reviews since, in addition to the prestige and monetary award associated with the top prizes for this contest, the top three books in each category also receive professional reviews in Library Journal’s print magazine and blog.
Lissa Staley has worked as a Public Services Librarian at the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library since 2001. When visiting the library, one will find her at the Reference Desk, leading book discussions, writing reviews and helping her customers find the information they need. Lissa is a 2016 judge for the romance category of Library Journal’s Indie Ebook Awards.