Debbi Mack | June 29, 2016
When I decided to participate in the SELF-e program I did so because I saw it as a boon for indie authors, librarians and readers. Since I write in the very popular crime fiction genre I often find it difficult to make my work stand out as a relatively unknown author and to establish a platform and loyal readership. I’ve also found this to be true with the first young adult novel that I’ve written. Today, there are so many great books available by both traditionally published and indie published authors that it is more difficult than ever to catch the attention of new readers. That’s why programs like SELF-e that help to get indie ebooks featured in libraries are so important for authors to consider.
After becoming more involved in the SELF-e program, I reached out to several librarians who serve as judges for Library Journal’s Indie Ebook Awards to get a feel for their views on indie publishing in general, as well as their thoughts on the role self-publishing can play in encouraging young people to write. I also inquired about whether crime fiction is a genre of interest to young adults, and the ways indie authors and libraries can work together to bolster readership and to help authors build their platforms.
Although not all of the librarians were conversant with the work of indie authors, the ones who were gave encouraging responses. Shauntee Burns-Simpson of the New York Public Library described indie author stories as “raw and unconventional.” Annice Sevett of New Hanover County Public Library noted, “indie authors can write quality mysteries. The key is to have good final editing. Many people read the popular authors because they like to stick to what they know, but if they branched out to indie authors, I think many readers would be surprised at the quality of the writing.” According to Cassidy Charles of the Madison Public Library in New Jersey, “Indie authors are willing to take more risks with their plots and premises. They don’t provide the cookie-cutter story that I’ve read before.” This could be because, as librarian Teva Hutchinson of the Atlanta University Center Library put it, “they don’t have a publisher forcing them to fit a specific mold.”
While the mystery genre is often perceived as having an older readership, the librarians I queried saw the possibilities for crime authors to reach a younger audience. Hutchinson pointed out that children love mysteries and that series like Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys continue to appeal to them throughout the generations. When it comes to adolescents and teens, most of the respondents emphasized the need for crime fiction authors to create stories geared toward subjects that demographic would care about; in other words, we need stories that will hit teens and adolescents where they live, deal with their problems and interests and offer a compelling mystery or other crime fiction storyline.
Most of the librarians that discussed these issues with me agreed that self-publishing can be a great way to encourage young people to read and write, especially given our culture’s move toward the online, digital world. In fact, Burns-Simpson described self-publishing as “HUGE for young adults.” Charles thought that the potential for self-publishing to be used to encourage young people to read and write could be even more fully realized by partnering more with schools or school districts.
“Many indie authors write books for self-fulfillment rather than money. If those wishing to write a book see that self-publishing is a viable and supported option, I think it will encourage people, especially young people, to explore this creative outlet,” Sevett said.
With respect to acquiring indie author books, librarians emphasized the importance of authors making a connection with local readers. This can be done through author events, book clubs and workshops the author holds at the library. Since there are so many self-published authors these days, spurring interest among local readers is essential before most libraries will stock your book in print. That’s not to say that they won’t do it, but to help librarians stay within budget and be responsive to their patrons, self-published authors should make an effort to engender local demand for their work so that purchasing their books is an easy decision for their librarians.
There are probably myriad ways that indie authors can do more than promote themselves online or do bookstore signings in order to establish their platform. If they’re willing to think outside the box, indie crime fiction authors can form alliances with their local libraries and writing organizations (including those focused on their genre) to create their own imaginative events to be held at libraries. For instance, hard-boiled mystery writers could hold 1940s-themed reading parties, since that sub-genre ties in so well with the novels of that period.
In addition to ways that authors can increase their efforts to connect with local readers and get their books into libraries, there are ways that librarians can help to feature those books that are already in their system. For instance, Charles worked jointly with the local chapter of Mystery Writers of America to create a program called “Bones & Scones”, which highlights local authors in the cozy mystery genre. She developed the program based on circulation data showing that cozy mysteries circulated well among her patrons. In her opinion, libraries should “provide dynamic programming that highlights the interests of their community in an exciting and different way.”
There is a delightful irony in the notion that the Internet has made self-publishing so easy and that creative expression is readily available to anyone willing to put their work out there, but that this ability has not rendered the local library obsolete. If anything, librarians are now more important than ever in working with authors and organizations to raise awareness of local writers and their work.
Debbi Mack is a mystery / crime fiction and YA author as well as a SELF-e Ambassador. Two of her books, Identity Crisis and Five Uneasy pieces, have been selected by Library Journal for inclusion in the SELF-e Select collections. Visit her blog to learn about her experiences as an author working with her local librarians.