In last week’s article, The Rise of the Indie Author in Libraries, we looked at the indie author phenomenon and why it is important to libraries. We found that with the development of the worldwide web and easy access to computing equipment, self-publishing has grown from being a money-maker for vanity presses, but not for authors, to becoming a money-maker for the authors. While one still finds poorly written books being self-published, a new breed of highly professional authors has arisen—writers like John Locke (the current author, not the English philosopher)—who consistently write and publish bestsellers, who outsource to get expert editing, cover creation and book design (just as most traditional publishers now do), and who operate more like mini publishing houses than like the self-published authors many librarians feel cannot produce books that meet good editorial standards.
There are huge financial incentives for authors to self-publish their ebooks, rather than accept the 19th century two-year publishing schedule and Scrooge-like royalties that come with traditional print publishing. As the analysis at Author Earnings has demonstrated, authors are already making money by self-publishing in e. Some, such as Hugh Howey, then hand off print editions to a traditional publisher that can distribute printed books through wholesalers to bookstores and other retail outlets. With the new publishing technology and the global digital marketplace, the author gets the best of two worlds instead of the worst of the one traditional world. The effect of this new financial model and the technologies behind it cannot be overestimated.
In time, we will see strong authors—authors confident of the salability and popularity of their works, as well as of their ability to found and operate a publishing business—increasingly choosing to self-publish in e, and then go trad in p by using traditional publishers to handle only what will become the smaller subsidiary right of publishing in print. Traditional publishers may be left behind as specialty distributors serving shrinking offline markets with inexpensive paperback editions, for readers that do not own tablets or smartphones, and expensive hardbacks, the latter for the collector market. Their highly skilled editors, publicists and marketers long-since pushed into freelance status by downsizing, they will have to compete with indie authors for the services of their former employees.
If libraries ignore this trend and continue to rely on print circulation to justify their existence, they will suffer along with the traditional print publishers. Now is the time for libraries to embrace indie authors and to take advantage of this new wave of literary creation.
In this and following articles, we will begin our exploration of Indie Author Day, an annual event in which libraries celebrate indie authors. We will look at what Indie Author Day is, who sponsors it (NSR is a media sponsor, along with LJ, BiblioBoard, PW and many other trusted and committed friends of libraries), and how Indie Author Day helps libraries take the first steps away from their addiction to print books from the Big Five to the freedom of providing the indie books their patrons now want—and will want even more in the future—while maintaining cost controls and high collection development literary standards.
Because Indie Author Day addresses so many of the issues libraries have with indie authors, anyone who understands Indie Author Day will also have a good understanding of indie author issues and related ebook issues in libraries.
A Parallel Universe of Ebook Publishing…
To begin looking at Indie Author Day, let’s examine some of the library issues that Indie Author Day addresses, so we understand why libraries participated in it last year, and how it benefited them and their patrons, as well as why it is worth beginning or continuing in libraries.
Indie Author Day comes with a great deal of support for libraries. It is not simply an event to be treated like a program. The sponsors and librarians involved in creating it provide deep expertise in the issues surrounding indie authors, and some of the sponsors offer products designed to help libraries integrate indie authors into their collections. Indie Author Day can be considered as a package that addresses a constellation of indie author issues.
As described above and documented in last week’s article, there is a trend toward more readers reading more indie authors. Likewise, more readers are shifting from print to digital. These major shifts in the world of publishing put the library into a position of needing to provide not only ebooks from traditional publishers, but ebooks from indie authors as well. Otherwise, readers will look away from the library in their search for their next great read. Traditional publishing continues to thrive, especially in print, but we—publishers, librarians and readers—now have to deal with a parallel universe of ebook publishing and distribution systems that do not easily integrate with libraries, such as Amazon. Currently, over 90% of libraries offer ebooks from traditional publishers through OverDrive, Axis360, Cloud Library and other services, but only 20% of libraries carry self-published ebooks. So, libraries need a practical way to add self-published ebooks to their offerings. If libraries do not find a way to offer these books to their patrons, they will be left behind as the patrons increasingly prefer e to p and indie to trad.
This is essentially a platform issue. Libraries need a platform for indie authors’ ebooks. Indie Author Day addresses this with the BiblioBoard platform. We will look more deeply into ebook platforms and indie books, later, since there are other options, but the important point to understand is that this is not an insurmountable problem. Libraries can and do deal with it. If 20% of libraries are able to add indie ebooks to their collections, then the other 80% can follow along.
A second issue is the lack of reliable reviews of indie books. Lack of reliable reviews puts off a lot of librarians. They do not want to buy badly written books. In the past, indie authors did not have ways to get their books reviewed by reliable third party sources, such as Booklist or PW, but this has changed, and is less of a problem. We will explore how this ties into Indie Author Day, later, as well as the resources available.
A third issue has to do with collecting books from local authors and building state-specific collections. Libraries often make a special effort to build such collections, but with indie authors who publish digitally, this has been difficult. Indie Author Day can help with this, both as a way of discovering these authors and as a way to connect with the technology to make this happen.
Along with these internal issues that libraries must face when working with indie authors, there are also community and educational or programming issues. Most libraries try to support local authors, but don’t want to be put into the position of acting as indie author publishing consultants and having to master the intricacies of commercially available self-publishing platforms and tools, much less the practicalities of small business marketing and accounting, or book design and illustration. Libraries are well equipped to produce programs that feature local experts and business consultants, but they are not equipped to become experts and consultants in these specialized fields. Libraries don’t give tax advice. They should not try to give indie publishing and small business development advice, either. Indie Author Day provides an unparalleled opportunity for libraries to cement relationships with local experts and to put them in front of indie authors for educational panel discussions and presentations.
Lastly, we need to ask what if anything indie authors can do for libraries. Obviously, libraries can help authors, but can indie authors reciprocate by helping libraries?
These are the issues we need to look at in order to understand Indie Author Day and how it fits into libraries’ goals and other projects.
Next, let’s take a look at the first Indie Author Day, the 2016 event. This was the first Indie Author Day, so the idea and its implementation are both quite new. If you have worked in library marketing, you know that getting anything new off the ground is difficult. If a new program or programming series attracts even a few patrons, that is good news. So, let’s keep these realities in mind as we review Indie Author Day 2016. Let’s not compare it with the CSLP, which has decades of build-up behind it. Indie Author Day is a new event and will take several years to build a following.
Most libraries held their inaugural Indie Author Day on October 8, 2016, though due to hurricanes and other events, some libraries postponed the event or held it early. Altogether, over 250 libraries participated. They were located in all but five states. Seven-hundred-fifty authors attended, and the total number of participants came to over 3,000. I don’t need to do the math for you, but that averages out to 12 participants per library. Not bad for a first try, but obviously there is a lot of room for growth, and room for massive improvement in library marketing to patrons. Authors showed up. Getting them an audience was more difficult.
I contacted several librarians and an author who had been in charge of Indie Author Day 2016 at a library to find out their experiences, and here is what they told me. Two of the librarians I contacted had diametrically opposed experiences. Let’s look at them and assume that the average experience was probably in the middle. Next week, I will report on results from several other libraries, but I don’t think we will see any significant changes.
Martha Iwan, Head of Reference for the Mount Kisco Public Library in New York began planning for Indie Author Day 2016, last June. She brought together a panel of speakers that included a literary agent, a memoir writer, an author of mysteries and love stories, and a business owner whose business supported self-publishing. She also found and brought in twenty local authors, each of whom set up a display table of books, flyers, and other marketing materials around the perimeter of the library’s meeting room. The event was a success as far as the authors meeting and networking with each other. Likewise, the panel was knowledgeable and followed by a question and answer period. Unfortunately, in spite of publicity in the local media, only fifteen to twenty non-authors attended. A large audience simply did not materialize, and the authors were disappointed that they did not sell any books. This turnout was better than average, but still poor for this library, and for the amount of work that went into creating the event.
Because of the low level of public interest, Martha does not intend to hold an Indie Author Day in 2017, but if the event takes off so that more public interest develops, she will certainly try it, again.
At the other end of the country, at The Ledding Library of Milwaukie, Oregon, Reference Librarian Robert Lanxon reported:
We did participate, although it was very low key without a lot of promotion. We had a table set up for drop-in… without many people. We also displayed books by indie authors that we had purchased for the event.
This year, we plan on doing much more. I just got the go-ahead to purchase Self-E, so we plan on promoting the event more heavily along with our subscription to Self-E.
Both libraries serve fairly small communities of 10-20,000. Milwaukie did not track attendance stats or provide a panel, but they got enough interest from the community to continue with Indie Author Day 2017 and to expand the project to include more support for authors via a purchase of SELF-e with Pressbooks to support local authors. We will look at SELF-e and Pressbooks in some detail, later, since they can be key elements in a library’s plan to support indie authors.
I also contacted an indie author. With five novels published as an indie, Mel Parish writes contemporary fiction with a twist of mystery and psychological suspense, in which small decisions lead to major life changes for her characters. Born in England, she has lived on three continents and is an avid traveler. It’s no surprise that after settling in Westchester County, NY, she founded the Westchester Indie Authors group and was the primary organizer of Indie Author Day at her local Eastchester Public Library (and, yes, Eastchester is in Westchester County). Here’s what Mel had to say about Indie Author Day 2016:
Indie Author Day at Eastchester Library was a wonderful opportunity to bring local authors together to share their experiences and writing process with each other and members of the local community, and also to learn about the options for indie authors to get their books into libraries. The opening up of libraries to indie authors is a big step forward in the recognition that their work is as worthy of a place on library shelves as traditionally published authors and I feel fortunate to live in an area where the director of my local library, Tracy Wright, has always been supportive of local authors. With the first Indie Author Day behind us, we look forward to working together to use the experience gained to create an even bigger and better event in October 2017.
Larger libraries, with larger budgets, more staff, and access to famous authors also participated in Indie Author Day 2016. Los Angeles Public Library, for instance, integrated it into their LAPL Writes program.
While results varied, many libraries have already signed up to doing Indie Author Day 2017, this October. You can get a list of them, here.
To conclude, Indie Author Day helps libraries address issues vital to their survival by keeping them in step with the developing trends of patrons reading more digitally while reading more indie authors. We have looked at the statistics that track these changes, and we are looking at Indie Author Day not only as an event that pulls together a variety of methods and tools that libraries can use to stay current with these trends, but as a package of tools and ideas that will help libraries plan how they will deal with the indie publishing trend.