Indie Author Day: Librarians and authors sound off on the benefits of participating

In anticipation of Indie Author Day 2017, to take place on October 14, this article will summarize what I found after speaking with several librarians and an author who had participated in Indie Author Day last October.

Four themes emerged:

  • The Indie Author Day name sends too narrow a message
  • Libraries need to do more, and earlier, promotion to bring in readers as well as authors
  • The most successful aspect of Indie Author Day was networking among the authors. In one case, this resulted in the founding of a writers group at a library.
  • …and what about paying the authors for the books?

Mel Parish, the author who organized Eastchester Public Library’s Indie Author Day 2016 spoke to me at length about her experiences with it. 

“It was good to get together with other authors,” she said. However, the name of the event conveyed the message that it was a day for authors, and not for  readers (and book purchasers). 

Calling it Indie Author Day sends the message that it is a day for authors, rather than for readers, so it attracts authors. At Eastchester, several of the people in the audience were actually either writing books or planning to, and they wanted to learn more about how to become an indie author. It wasn’t clear that the event was for readers as well as for authors, so people thought that it was especially for authors who hoped to get their books into public libraries, which can be difficult, since librarians see being published by one of the Big Five as the stamp of approval for a book, and they won’t buy books from the smaller independent presses or from indie authors. 

The same issue came up when I talked with Karen Dettloff of the Lake Jackson Branch of the Brazoria County Library System, in Texas. Libraries will need to do more advance publicity to bring in readers to meet and listen to the authors. Her event brought in twenty audience members and about eight authors, but some of the audience were would-be authors who had come to learn how to write and self-publish their own books. The Lake Jackson event was listed in the local newspaper’s events page and on the library website, but did not receive other advance publicity. 

On the up side, Indie Author Day at Lake Jackson helped inspire one of the librarians to form a writers group, and the group is still going strong, so even though attendance was modest, the day did lead to a new service that the library can offer. As with Eastchester, networking among authors was the greatest benefit of the event. 

Mel Parish also thought that there needed to be more promotion, and from an earlier date. For next year, she plans to do more and earlier advertising so more readers will be able to fit the event into their schedules. Also, she hopes the library will buy print copies of the indie books and have them face out in a special display, ready to be checked out. This would produce more reading than having the authors try to sell them, and it might lead to subsequent sales to readers. As for ebooks, they are more difficult to work with, so focusing on print first makes sense to her. 

Terry Kirchner Executive Director of the Westchester Library System, of which Eastchester is a member, said that he has looked at Indie Author Day, but as a large collaborative serving a population of a million, they would need a program to support the indie books so they did not get lost in the library’s massive catalog. He does not want to add a separate ebook platform for indie books, since this would create an information silo that would not work well to promote the books. He needs a way to have vetted (well-reviewed) indie books automatically added to the catalog. I asked him about getting indie authors’ books through OverDrive, and he echoed what I had already heard from a Lessa Spitzer, a collection development librarian at San Jose Public Library, in California. Lessa wrote me that:

Overdrive has a completely separate section of their website where they show the self-published or indie titles. If you just do a regular search or are browsing through any of the usual channels, the self-published titles don’t show up. You have to actually select a setting to shop specifically for self-published titles (and then none of the regular titles show up – you can only see one thing at a time). 

The setting isn’t hard to use, but it is sort of hidden and the only reason I even know about it is from a meeting with our Overdrive rep. However, having to change a setting and do an additional search is enough of a burden that it makes me much less likely to purchase those titles. Most of the time I forgot that it is even an option unless specifically reminded of it.

This verified what I had read in a 2014 article by Nate Hoffelder on The Digital Reader titled OverDrive Carries Self-Published eBooks, but Don’t Worry – They’re in a Ghetto. In other words, getting them from OverDrive is outside the normal workflow of collection development librarians, so it is unlikely to happen.

The last theme that came up was payment to authors. 

“If the library is saying we want your book…we think the library will pay for the book. It was a bit of a surprise to find out they expected a donation.”

This was author Mel Parish’s comment. She and other authors were surprised to find that libraries want indie authors to donate ebooks, much as they have printed books. She went on to explain that for her, as for other serious indie authors, they have not written books simply for their personal gratification. She has invested in a website, various editorial services, a professional cover designer, etc. She makes money selling her books. Why should she give them to the library for free, when the library pays for other books they acquire? 

This is an important issue, particularly when libraries want to acquire books from popular indie authors. Perhaps authors whose books are not selling will gratefully donate a copy to the library, but for authors who are earning their living by selling books, it is a different question. 

3 thoughts on “Indie Author Day: Librarians and authors sound off on the benefits of participating”

  1. One more comment related to the scope of the day. The most successful Indie Author Days are a blend of author education (this year IAD will have video workshops to let libraries build their own curriculum) and reader facing events. Some best practices are emerging, such as do Author education from 10-12. from 12-1:30 have a lunch / mixer for readers and authors to mingle and network. From 1:30-3:00 have readings and reader facing events. It can be marketed towards the particular audience that is participating in that part of the day. IAD helps all libraries coordinate local publishing professionals and authors as well if they need support in that area. The IAD community will be producing a series of webinars leading up to the event that are focused on making the day successful. Details will be posted on the website. Thank you again.

  2. Mitch,

    Thank you for the clarification about the benefits of SELF-e to authors. Since both librarians and authors understand the importance of paying the authors, I think an article devoted to how SELF-e deals with this would be appropriate.

    Peyton

  3. Thank you for the insightful coverage of the event, there is a lot of great feedback in here and it will take a village and lots of feedback to fulfill the potential. We were a founding sponsor of the event (along with about a dozen other organizations) and could not be happier about the engagement for an event so new.

    As a company that runs a library focused self publishing program called SELF-e (our most popular program to date) I wanted to provide a bit more color on the royalty issue that is raised. Of course, this is just one opinion, but having run this successful program for over three years, we have some perspective on it.

    SELF-e is positioned to self published authors as a discovery program. As you mention there are other channels for indie authors looking to sell their books to libraries. We encourage authors to use the SELF-e service strategically to work cooperatively with libraries to find new readers (i.e. – put in the first book in a series, to promote the other books they can then sell to readers). I would argue that this is different than donating books to the library.

    Many of the most successful self published authors (like Hugh Howey, etc.) have used this perma-free strategy to launch their careers. This is the same principle but at scale and in partnership with a national network of libraries. We have connected hundreds of our SELF-e authors with speaking gigs, library tours, and other marketing opportunities. We have paid their way to book festivals to talk about their books and provide other benefits to their writing career that can have more value than a small royalty check. It is just a different currency.

    However, I should add that our technology is also being used to power dozens of custom self publishing projects that are not SELF-e. Some of these libraries want to pay their authors for participating in particular self published ebook programs.

    This typically takes two forms: 1) the libraries pay the authors directly through a stipend or award up front, or 2) we provide them usage data and they determine how much each author should receive based on that usage data (pay per download, etc.). Obviously, the former is an easier system to manage for the libraries.

    In our particular case, we also have numerous partnerships with distributors of self published books that pay royalties and we maintain our own module called Indie Rocks Stars, where we make indie and self-published authors that have become more popular commercially available . These modules also pay royalties. There is no one size fits all, approach, so we built our platform to be flexible enough to handle whatever a library wants to do.

    Thank you again for the attention to Indie Author Day. Everyone working hard on it appreciates the support.

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