Libraries, Authors, & Promotion: An Interview with RWA Librarian of the Year Deborah Schneider

Even though my inbox overfloweth with the messages, I love reading my email from readers of the site because invariably I learn something or end up having a cool conversation with someone… from whom I learn something. Brain, be filled with info.

Last week, I met Deborah Schneider, who is the RWA Librarian of the Year for 2009. She coordinates the public programs for 44 libraries in and around Seattle in the King County Library System, and books a ton of events with authors and aspiring writers. Deborah is also a new author – her book Promise Me comes out in January 2010.

I am always curious about what works for author networking and marketing opportunities in the days of the shrinky-dink promotional budget – and what brings people in to libraries, which are also feeling the shrinky-dink like damn and whoa. So I got all nebby and asked Deborah questions about the programs she thinks are successful, and how authors looking for unique venues for networking and indirect promotion can best connect with their local libraries.

Sarah: Tell me about the presentations you create. What do you focus on? 

Deborah: As the Public Programming Coordinator for one the busiest libraries in the country, organizing author events is part of my job. (I know – how cool is that, I get paid to hang out with smart, talented people). After eight years, and hundreds of author events, you get pretty good at figuring out what will work and what is pretty lame.

The “Reading” is probably the most boring thing an author can offer me. It’s hard enough to get people off their couches at the end of the day, but even more difficult if you can’t offer something special. So, we call our author events, “Meet the Author” because it sounds interesting, as if you are going to have the chance to sit down and chat with this famous person. (Patrons think all authors are famous, not to mention rich).

I encourage authors to think creatively, after all – they are immensely creative people, but it doesn’t always show when they make a presentation. Personally, I’m in love with PowerPoint, because you can put in slides, cover art, music, movement, and make it entertaining. Susan Wiggs did a wonderful presentation for us a few years ago, and her topic was, “Where Do You Get Your Ideas?” It was fabulous, because at nearly every author event I’ve ever attended, someone will ask that question. She used a lot of artwork, then talked about her covers, (even the horrible ones) and answered questions.

We’ve also done some programs that combine music, food and an author event, and they’ve been very successful. We’ve provided the food and music, and the author does their part of the program. For many people, it’s like a night out on the town, and it’s free.

How do you think authors can best work with libraries,  and vice versa? How should an author approach libraries?

Deborah:  Usually you call and ask who arranges author events. If it is a Library System, (many libraries under one umbrella) there is usually one Programming Librarian or Coordinator. If it’s a smaller library, there will be someone on staff who arranges this. A key thing to remember – is that they are very busy people, so have your act together about who you are, what you want to do and when you want to do it. When authors call me, if they can’t tell me in a few sentences what they can present, I lose interest. (I really understand the whole rejection process with editors and agents much more than I used to).

What do you get from presenting programs at libraries? Well, our website gets over 2 million hits per month, we create flyers for 44 libraries, have a newsletter that goes out to nearly 50,000 subscribers, and we have a Community Relations department that sends news articles to every outlet in the greater Seattle area. Free publicity – and if there’s a better price than free, please let me know! And we allow authors to sell their books at their programs. For bigger events we arrange for a bookseller to sell the books.

What types of slideshow presentations work? Instructional or humorous? Do you have advice for anyone giving a slideshow as to how to build a really good one? What topics do you think romance authors are best suited to discuss? 

Deborah: The presentation can be serious, or funny and that depends on the author giving the program. I’m inclined to make jokes and be humorous- but that’s my style. At the RWA program in DC, the tone was a bit more serious. At the Pacific Northwest Writer’s Conference here in Seattle this year, Kate Austin and I gave a presentation called, “Romance 101” and it was hilarious because of the interaction between us. I suggest an author do what is comfortable for them.

Writing workshops, research and background, historical information: all of these make good topics. Every RWA chapter across the country hosts programs throughout the year, and that’s what makes romance authors such a great fit for library programs—we already have a training ground.

And the slide show isn’t the only option. I’ve done some really successful panel discussions. Last year we hosted an all day event in May called, “Romance Extravaganza” and it was a huge success. We had Jayne Ann Krentz as a keynote speaker, a historical panel with Jayne, Gerri Russell and me, (filling in for Elizabeth Boyle – who was sick) and then a book signing. Later we had a paranormal author panel with Stella Cameron, Cherry Adair, Alexis Morgan and Yasmine Galenorn. The Friends of the Library provided refreshments, and we started the day with the regular meeting of the RWA Seattle Chapter, since they meet in our libraries. People stayed all day!

I’ve done successful staff training events too, in conjunction with the Emerald City Writer’s Conference. We use a speed-dating format and place authors at sub-genre tables. Staff get meet a lot of different types of authors, and they get credit for training as part of Reader’s Advisory.

I notice that so many of your events seem to be collaborative, which – AWESOME. What are some of the best ways authors can support and promote one another – aside from presentations like yours?

Deborah: The important thing is that authors consider ways to work together and approach their libraries. I’ve heard many authors talk about the big box stores being reluctant to host author events in the current economic climate, and at the same time – librarians ask me how to get authors to come to their libraries. All across America, there are people who support books, reading and literature.

One of the challenges I face is trying to land authors on tour for our libraries. For some reason a publisher would rather have an author speak to 3 or 4 people in a bookstore than send an author to a library. Why?

There are libraries all over the country that offer amazing author events. Most of them work with bookstores to get authors for events though, because it’s so difficult to convince publishing PR departments that the library can be a great venue. This doesn’t apply to all publishers, there are a few I’ve worked with that make an effort to find libraries to work with, but often the reason I get an author on tour is because the author suggests a library. Terry Brooks is wonderful, because he told me that he insists on going to libraries as part of his book tours.

Authors can be proactive like that, asking the PR department to find libraries that might host programs, or going on-line themselves to do it and make the contact. Many authors don’t have programs during the day or late afternoon when they are touring, and there are libraries that could host programs in that time slot. We often have programs at 1pm at one of our libraries, and because it’s surrounded by condos with seniors living in them, we get a great turn-out. And if you’re going to a conference, consider going a day early or staying an additional day to present a program at some local libraries. You’re in town anyway, so make the most of it.

If you’ve developed a writing workshop for RWA – use it! I just put together nearly 50 programs for NaNoWriMo, (National Novel Writing Month) in November. We discovered last year that people loved the idea of participating in NaNoWriMo, attending writing workshops to keep them motivated and using the library as a Write In site. All my presenters are published authors.


Thank you, Deborah, for putting up with my nosy questions.

During the Tour du Bosoms, I did two library events. One was in Durham, NC, which was one of the best-attended events I did, and gave me the opportunity to meet a ton of Bitchery readers. If you’re a romance writer, head to Durham, is all I’m saying. The event was held at the local Barnes & Noble booksellers, working in tandem with the library, and both venues promoted it. Not only did powerhouse librarian Jennifer Lohmann (who gives seminars and lectures to library students about romance readers and how to serve them as potential library patrons) work her tail off, but the bookstore manager worked like crazysauce as well – and it showed.

The other library event I did was in a small town named Carroll, Iowa. I kid you not, my appearance at the local library was front page news in the newspaper. (Yes, of course I have a copy!) The Library Director in Carroll, Kelly Fischbach told me that in towns like Carroll, the library can be a major community center of activity – and a great venue for an author. I was drawn to Carroll because I know someone there who is locally very active, but making the trip was totally worth it in terms of that evening’s attendance.

Have you done a library workshop? Have you attended one? How did it work for you? What library events would you love to do or see?

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    SheaLuna says:

    This post was full of AWESOME!  As a writer who aspires to be published one day in the not-too-distant-future, these were fantastic tips.  Despite my life-long adoration of public libraries, I’d have never imagined the library as a place to present my work.  Coming soon to your local library…

  2. 2
    eilis flynn says:

    Deborah, great information as always!

    And fyi, SBs, this is Deb’s second book she’s got coming out—the first was from Dorchester a few years ago.

  3. 3

    Wow. My head is now FULL of ideas that weren’t there before. I’ve actually got a librarian wanting to schedule an event for next year, and I really had no clue about what to do there! Now I know. Cooking demo! LOL, thank you so much to both Sarah and Deb for taking the time to do such an amazing, in-depth interview.

  4. 4
    Patrice says:

    Great post! As a reader who is using our local library system more often due to the recession/layoff this post gives me all kinds of ideas to suggest for events. My library is in a newer beautiful building and part of a cooperative. I particularly like the idea of collaborative events, there is a local RWA chapter and several local romance authors. Our library staffing has been cut back as well, so they are actively seeking more volunteer help. This could be beneficial for everyone!
    :-)

  5. 5
    Susan Lyons says:

    Great post, Deb. And, as an author who has participated in events she’s organized, I can attest to how great they are.

    My local RWA Chapter (Greater Vancouver) has a nice working relationship with our library. Every year for the past 6 or so, often around Valentine’s Day, we do a panel presentation where 3 or 4 published authors discuss a topic (in 2009 it was where writers get their ideas; in 2010 it will be the changing face of romance). We draw an audience of about 50 people, and there are generally lots of questions. It’s not only good promo for the authors and for the romance publishing industry in general, but it’s also great for our RWA Chapter because it attracts writers and wannabe writers as well as readers.

    We have to submit a proposal for approval and prepare the posters ourselves (in accordance with the library’s guidelines), then the library distributes the posters to their 25 branches. We also send out media releases. It’s not a lot of work, and it’s definitely a lot of fun.

    The other kind of event I really enjoy, which Deb has organized, is “speed dating” where authors representing different subgenres sit at tables and a group of librarians circulates among them. At any given time, an author may be talking to half a dozen librarians who want to know more about her subgenre. It’s educational on both sides, and again, lots of fun!

  6. 6

    Thanks Ladies for all the great comments,
    It’s such a treat to be interviewed on a website I adore!
    I think there’s an old holdover idea that Librarians don’t “like” romance. But a key thing to remember is that libraries answer to their patrons, and don’t choose books based on the their personal tastes. But, I know many, many Librarians who LOVE reading romance.

    Hello Ellis and Susan! I hope to see you at Emerald City.

  7. 7

    Deb—

    I love how hard you work to promote authors of all kinds!  I had such a wonderful time at the Romance Extravaganza last spring. 

    Your comments on what makes an interesting presentation are most helpful. 

    Take care,

    Alexis

  8. 8
    Jen says:

    As supporters of libraries, I thought you should see this:

    http://www.dailyherald.com/story/?id=325508

  9. 9
    Cate Masters says:

    Great post! I’ve approached several libraries in central PA about book signings but had zero response. Very disappointing. I wonder if they understand that epublishers have the same submission process as print pubs. I’d never considered a Powerpoint though – maybe I’ll revamp my approach!
    Thanks for the info.

  10. 10
    Helen Hardt says:

    Wonderful information!  No, I’ve never participated in any library author events, but I’ll definitely look into it.  Thanks so much for sharing, Deborah.

  11. 11
    Jessica says:

    I’ve been attending KCLS’s author events for years, and I LOVE THEM!  Thanks for all the hard work, Deborah—they’re consistently awesome.

  12. 12
    hapax says:

    @Cate Masters—As a library programmer, I’d have said no to a book signing, too, and it has nothing to do with a prejudice against e-books.  Here’s why:

    1.  “Book signings” generally = “book sales promotions” and as a tax-supported institution, our library is forbidden from selling or sponsoring the sales of materials.  Besides, there are all sorts of tricky issues like the collection of sales tax that could get us into trouble.

    2.  Unless you’re La Nora, “book signings” at a library are going to draw less of a crowd than even a “reading”.  And when I say “less of a crowd”, I mean I won’t even be able to bully my staff into attending.

    However, if you approached me as “epublished author Cate Masters” and asked, “Would you be interested in a program about ‘How to Get Published in this Brave E World” or something like that, I’d have said “Send me an outline!” in a shot.  And if you asked me then, “Is it okay if I hand out business cards / info on purchasing my books / etc.”  I’d say, “Self-promotion is fine, as long as you don’t indicate that the library is endorsing the product.”

    But even BETTER would be to gang up with some of your fellow authors and approach me with “We’ve got this idea for a panel…”  I’d kiss your hands and feet.

    (verification word:  “try45”.  I don’t think you’d have to try nearly that many times!)

  13. 13
    Mary Ricksen says:

    What a great informative blog. Thank you so much for the useful help in arranging library signings and events. Very appreciative!

  14. 14

    Lots and lots of great information here! Thanks for sharing.

  15. 15
    Virginia says:

    I’m President of the Friends of the Library in the small town where I live in CT. Books can be sold in CT at libraries at book-signings without being taxed. It can actually be done daily. Non-profits can only sell non-book items at 3 events, according to the info I’ve received from our state tax department. So when in doubt, check with your state’s Dept. of Revenue.
    Love these ideas, will bring them up at our next Friends meeting!

  16. 16
    Maria Geraci says:

    Deborah,

    Very infomative! Not only am I a debut author but I’m also the education coordinator for my local RWA chapter and you’ve given me some great ideas. Thanks!

  17. 17

    Deborah, what a terrific post…and thanks to the SBs for hosting it!  We have a local library that’s opening in our small town—it’s a brand new, bigger building, and I’ve been on the fence about approaching them for something that would help them, and this gives me some terrific ideas to present.  Presentations versus booksignings.  Great idea.  Thanks!

  18. 18

    Great interview, thanks!

  19. 19
    Micki says:

    Excellent post! These are not just good ideas for authors, but good ideas for fans, too. Maybe you wouldn’t have to even produce the author to have a mini-convention for your favorite author at the library.

  20. 20
    Ashley Ladd says:

    I’m sold. I just don’t know how many libraries want to host erotic romance authors. Guess I won’t know until I ask.

    I wish I’d thought to ask before my trip to visit a friend in Raleigh-Durham a couple summers ago. Live and learn. Sounds like awesome publicity and a win-win.

  21. 21
    Danielle (no, not that Danielle, the other one) says:

    Library policies on selling your books/CDs/what have you vary; some are fine with it.

    Otherwise, as a library programmer, I enthusiastically co-sign everything hapax said. ANY kind of programming related to “how to get (e)published” is guaranteed a crowd, and libraries love multi-author events.

    p.s. I still hope to lure one of the Smart Bitches up here to my library in the frozen north…

  22. 22
    SB Sarah says:

    Danielle: You know I’m a big ol’ fan of O Canada. Where you at?

  23. 23
    Danielle (NNTD...) says:

    Winnipeg (think due north of Fargo). We actually exchanged emails earlier when you were planning your book tour—turned out you weren’t going to be anywhere close enough to make heading across the border worthwhile. Just wanted to make sure you knew it’s a standing invite!

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