Author, Actor, Playwright, Excellent Parallel Parker

Rules of the Lake and Ashes to Water are now available for Kindle and Nook!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Want Libraries to Acquire Your Book or Invite You to Speak? Here's How to Ask.

In my never-ending quest to find a readership, I decided to contact libraries in Florida (where Ashes to Water and Rules of the Lake are set), and ask them to acquire my books. I also wanted to let them know that I would be excited to participate in a “Meet the Author” or other appropriate adult program they may host.

I wrote to Cathy Camper, a youth service outreach librarian at Multnomah County Library in Portland OR, and asked her the best way to go about this. Her generous response blew me away, and when I asked if I could share it with you, she said yes.

So here it is, folks. Invaluable information from an invaluable source, on how to ask a library to acquire your book(s) and consider you as a guest speaker:

Hi Irene,

Here's my thoughts from when I used to select books for the Minneapolis library.

First, we are inundated by books, mainstream reviews and publishing PR. So that means small press, indie or alternative publications have to battle twice as hard to get a librarian's attention. Since I personally have an interest in those areas, I would try to seek out those kinds of publications, but many librarians (for many reasons) don't. If your book is self-published, it will be even harder.

So, if you want a library to buy your book, you have to tailor your letter to them, and tell them up front what your book will do for them. I'd worry less about telling them its status (ie self-published, small press etc.), and include more about why they need it. Use bullet points, keep the letter to one page. Here's some things you can use for ASHES TO WATER:

-Set in Florida.
-Set in your town.
-Enhances your library’s mystery collection.
-Got good reviews; mention important local and/or national ones.

If you want to speak at the library, you need to hype your content. In other words, even if they don't pay you, why will your talk be a beneficial draw to library patrons?

You need a catchy hook. Here’s an example off the top of my head:
Somebody has been slitting the throats of hairdressers in Florida. It's up to Stella Lane to find the murderer.
Curl Up and Die is a mystery set on the beaches and in the beauty shops of Florida. When a tough divorce forces Stella Lane to set up her own beauty shop, she chooses cosmetology for her second career. Little did she know that between haircuts and lip waxes she'd be tracking down a killer...a man who kills because of a bad haircut!

I'm interested in doing a free presentation about my beauty shop mystery at your library. My hour-long talk includes a 30-minute power point presentation which delves into the historic beauty shop murders, upon which this book is based. These killings occurred in Florida in the 1950's, many of them within 25 miles of your town. I'd also like to include at least 15 minutes for questions and answers. If I could offer my book for sale after the talk, that would be great, though I realize that may depend on your library's regulations.
I've done this talk at 15 other libraries, including Miami-Dade County and Hennepin County. I've had great response from women readers especially. One woman even added to the story...her dad had actually met the real killer! I think my book might also connect readers with other books in your collection including mysteries and books about the recent history of Florida.
I'm flexible and will do my best to work with your schedule. Thanks for your time and attention. I hope to hear from you soon.”

OK this is rough, but see what I'm doing? First thing, hook the librarian...draw them into the book! Next thing, tell them very professionally

-What you'll do for free.
-What the performance is and length.
-What you want out of it (you want to sell your books).
-Tell them your experience. Give them some anecdotal audience reaction.
-Tell them who the audience is (to your best knowledge...women? Gay readers? Kids? History buffs?)
-Make it clear how the library a) will possibly benefit by connecting your book to their books/collections,  and b) making clear how your talk jibes with what they do. Do they have women mystery readers? Do they want something on local history? Can they work with 45mins-hour presentation?

They still may turn you down, but if I got a letter like this, it would spark my interest. It tells me this person is professional (as opposed to a hack or nut case), and it shows me what kind of bang I'll get for my buck. (Even free can cost something in time, preparation etc.)

Also know that sometimes libraries book MANY months ahead...we are booking things in November for presentations in it's very rare that our system books spontaneous talks.

Mainly, remember this is like applying for a job. Rather than send a generic mass-email, personalize the letter as much as you can. It takes longer, but you can tell from how I wrote the letter that tweaking it to each locale may be what makes or breaks it. Or at least personalize as many of the letters as you can, for cities/towns you know, and do a mass mailing for the next tier.

Hope this helps. You’ll still get rejections, but if your hook is good, even a rejection might lead to a purchase, or something else down the line...

Best wishes, Cathy

Cathy Camper is the author of Bugs Before Time; Prehistoric Insects and Their Relatives (Simon and Schuster, 2002). Visit her website at <> .

(Update: I've had six responses from Florida, and have booked three program dates, with more pending. Next week: Libraries in Virginia.)