For Writers

Behind the Collection Development Curtain: De-mystifying Library Book Buying

The MG fiction section of the Ronald H. Roberts Temecula Public Library

Earlier this year, Publisher’s Weekly published the experience of an author who was frustrated in his attempts to get his local library to buy his book. The author, who published with an academic press, looked at the library as a way to sell a few extra copies. For writers of kidlit, libraries play a far more vital role in that they are one of the few ways to directly reach our audience.

So, how does your book get into libraries? Like so many things in publishing, the answer is subjective. It depends on the library. However, as is also the case in publishing, there are a few things that you can do to improve your chances.

Make sure that your book is available through our vendors. Like any government entity, libraries work with a list of approved vendors. The three major vendors for libraries are Brodart, Baker & Taylor, and Ingram. If your book is available through these three companies, it makes it a lot easier for your local library to purchase your title. There have been titles that authors have sent to me that would have been a great addition to the library’s collection, but because the book was only available through the author’s website or Amazon, I couldn’t purchase it.

Reviews, patron requests, and word-of-mouth help to guide purchasing decisions. LitReactor published a reaction piece to the Publisher’s Weekly article with great advice for authors about interacting with libraries. The main takeaway was that libraries don’t serve the interests of the collection development librarian — (if they did, my library would only have spooky middle-grade books). Libraries serve the interests of their community, which is where reviews come in handy. From professional journals like School Library Journal and Booklist to crowd sourced review sites like Goodreads, reviews tell librarians about the book and about the reactions we can expect from patrons. Many librarians also follow book blogs and BookTube to gauge patron interest. Some libraries even have policies that prohibit them from buying books that have not been reviewed by a professional source.

Word-of-mouth means that our patrons will hear about your book and request it. Patron requests help to drive purchasing decisions because if a book is requested, librarians know that at the very least, the requester will check out the book without staff having to hand-sell it to patrons. And don’t request your own book as a patron. In this case, you’re attempting to sell your book to your libraries. (After all, you’ve read your book, you’re probably not going to check it out to read it again.)

About Advanced Readers Copies and donated copies. Librarians love ARCs. They help us gauge how excited the publisher is about a book but sending librarians ARCs doesn’t guarantee that a librarian will read it. It definitely doesn’t guarantee that the book will be added to the collection. More often than not, ARCs end up as giveaways and prizes for our patrons. You would be better served getting those ARCs into the hands of reviewers.

Similarly, donated copies often meet the same fate or are sold in book sales. Even though the book may be free, there is still a cost to process it (all the stickers, labels, adding the book to the online catalog). Often, this type of processing is handled by the vendor, which goes back to my earlier point of making sure that your book is available through those vendors.

Some libraries offer local author collections, and donated copies will sometimes make their way into those collections if you are a local author or the book holds particular local interest.

A short note on formats and covers. Most libraries purchasing kidlit want to purchase hardcover copies because they’ll be able to be checked out more. They are more visible than paperbacks, which tend to either get destroyed after only a few checkouts or lost in the shelves. Also, a professional-looking cover is a big plus. Librarians must judge a book by its cover because we know that our patrons will too.

So, what’s the best way to get your book into libraries? Just like in publishing, the answer is research. Research the library’s collection development policy. Research the community. Find the best way to contact the collection development librarian with the pertinent information about your book, including a pitch, reviews, and the ISBN. If your book fits our community’s needs (and our budget), there’s a good chance we will buy it.

This article is reprinted from SCBWI ProInsider.

When Life Gets in the Way: Writing through Tough Times

Four months after my debut novel, Kat Greene Comes Clean, was published, my father went missing. It was late December, bitterly cold, and he left without a coat. And his cane. At 95, my dad was extremely frail, and he suffered from dementia. I called 911 in a panic.

Within minutes, NYPD detectives flooded my parents’ Manhattan apartment, asking questions and taking notes. They issued a Silver Alert, and promised to find my dad. “The old guys never get far,” the lead detective assured me. “Don’t worry.”

My mom wasn’t worried because, like my dad, she has dementia and had no idea what was going on. But I was a nervous wreck. New York is a big place, and my dad was probably confused, hungry, and cold. I feared the worst.

Afternoon turned into evening, and then into night. Finally, my father was located at the Empire Hotel, two blocks from Lincoln Center. He had taken a cab, the fare paid in coins from a velvet Alexander McQueen makeup bag. If I found this detail confounding, imagine my surprise when the hotel manager informed me that my dad had checked himself into a room, raided the minibar, and owed $685 plus tax. I would have paid anything, of course. My dad was safe.

But then, four months and three health-care aides later, my dad went missing… again. This time, he was found wandering the streets of SoHo, with a broken finger and lacerations on his face. He was rushed to the hospital, where I met him in the ER. He wasn’t as lucky this time. He developed a severe kidney infection and, after half a year in hospice care, passed away at home. He was 96 years old.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: This story is depressing! You write funny stuff. BE FUNNY!

I wish I could. But at the time, there was no room in my life for humor—or for writing. I tried, but I didn’t have the emotional bandwidth to succeed. I was always on edge, waiting for the other shoe to drop. And it did. Again, and again, and again.

I’m still dealing with my fair share of stress (my mom now has advanced dementia), but I’ve found a way to balance life-related responsibilities with my writing. Here’s how you can, too:

Adjust your expectations. If you’re going through tough times—and, like me, juggling a zillion things at once—there’s no way you can be as productive, or as focused, as you were before. Think about it: Your brain has to work overtime just to keep up! Plus, stress has a sneaky way of sapping your emotional and physical energy. So, if you can, cut yourself some slack. Set realistic, manageable writing goals. If you’re used to writing 2,000 words a day, write a thousand. Or five hundred, or 250. Or whatever number your schedule, and emotional energy, allows. If you don’t hit a specific target, that’s okay too. Just write every day, even if it’s for 15 minutes. You’ll feel good for having done it.

Try journaling. Expressing your thoughts and feelings in written form is an excellent stress-management tool. It’s also been shown to be highly therapeutic. So, if you don’t keep a journal already, now would be a good time to start. You don’t have to write pages and pages; just a few lines a day. Or one line, if that’s all you’ve got in you. Just get your thoughts (and more often, your frustrations) down on paper, and see where it leads. There are many ways to journal, but if you find that journaling is not for you, give yourself permission to stop. You can always try again later. Or don’t. Make (or break) the rules as you see fit. This is something you’re doing for you.

 

Limit social media. It’s tempting to mindlessly scroll through social media—or binge-watch Netflix, or spend hours searching YouTube for cute-kitty videos—when you’re stressed and in need of distraction. (When my dad was sick, I played Wordscapes until my vision was blurry.) But the hours you engage in unproductive phone activities are hours you can’t get back. Plus, screen time wreaks havoc on your concentration. Removing apps from your phone is the obvious solution, but it’s unlikely you will do this (I still have Wordscapes on mine). Instead, think of screen time as a reward for writing time. Five hundred words = fifteen minutes of Wordscapes; one thousand words = an episode of 90 Day Fiancé (or pick your poison). The point is, you’re allowed to zone out when the time is right—but don’t make a habit of it. Your time is too valuable to waste. (For advice on how to walk away from social media completely, check out this post from Salon.)

You do YOU. Writers often compare themselves to others. That’s what we do. But as Teddy Roosevelt famously said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” He was right. Knowing that your friend’s debut MG novel sold eight billion copies and has been optioned for a movie starring Kylie Jenner (or Kendall Jenner, if you prefer) while yours is languishing in a bargain bin at Costco is a fact of life—but don’t dwell on it. You have enough on your plate to worry about! By all means celebrate your friends’ achievements, but don’t let their success(es) overshadow your own. Sometimes getting out bed in the morning is enough.

Practice self-care. This should be a given, but if you’re busy looking out for others’ needs, you tend to ignore your own—or put them last. This is understandable (I’m guilty of this, too), but try to put yourself first once in a while. Squeeze in a run, or have coffee with a friend. Get a massage, if that’s your thing, or sneak out to a museum or art gallery. Catch up on your sleep; eat Frito’s Corn Chips. Dance. Whatever it takes to bring you to your happy place, do it!

And finally…

Expect setbacks. It’s important to remember that most things in life are out of your control, like when a parent develops dementia–and dies. When a child is sick or disabled and needs constant care. Unemployment; bankruptcy; a house fire; divorce… You can only do so much to keep afloat emotionally. Sometimes, it will feel like an impossible struggle. You’ll miss deadlines. Bills will go unpaid; birthday cards unsent. For every step forward, you can expect two—or fifty—steps back.

Grieving isn’t linear, and I miss my dad every day. Still, he would have wanted me to keep writing, and that’s what I’m trying to do. I hope you will, too.

Diversity in MG Lit #13 A Look At the Numbers

I am so happy to be back at the Mixed Up Files after a hiatus of a few months. I wanted to kick off the new decade of my series Diversity in MG Lit with a look at the numbers. Many of you are familiar with this infographic from Reflection Press by Maya Gonzalez. I like this one because it shows both where we are and how far we need to go to achieve something that looks like equity.

The number of books published in a given year don’t tell the whole story. Here are some other statistics that give both a fuller and a more encouraging picture.
  1. The NY Public Library recently published its list of the 10 most checked out books in NYPL history. Obviously this structure gives great advantage to the oldest books. Even so the number one spot went to The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats first published in 1962.  Fifty-eight years ago it was the first picture boy to feature a black boy as a main character. It was popular immediately and has been ever since As a bookseller I listen to authors and illustrators a lot. Hundreds of them over the years and many of our most prominent POC writers and illustrators, black men in particular, have pointed to The Snowy Day as a seminal influence on their work and their belief that there was a place for them in the world of books.
  2. The Flying Start feature of Publishers Weekly is designed to highlight up and coming authors and illustrators. In 2019 the Spring Flying Start list featured  2 of 5 or 40% diverse writers including Tina Athaide for Orange for the Sunset and Carlos Hernandez for Sal & Gabi Break the Universe. The Fall Flying Starts included 4 of 6 or 66% diverse creators: Brittney Morris for Slay, Christine Day for I Can Make This Promise, Joowon Oh for Our Favorite Day, and Kwame Mbalia for Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky,
  3. Our newest National Ambassador for Young Peoples Literature is Jason Reynolds, a brilliant choice. Even better, his selection makes 4 of the 7 people (57%) to hold this position Persons of Color. The others are Walter Dean Myers, Gene Luen Yang, & Jacqueline Woodson. 
  4. The American Booksellers Association holds its Children’s Institute every spring. In 2019 five out of seven (71%) keynote or featured presenters were POC. Of the 67 authors and illstrators that publishers brought to the conference to meet independent children’s booksellers from all over the country, 38 or 57% were of diverse backgrounds. (including disabled and LGBT+)
  5. The National Council of Teachers of English was held in November of 2019. Seven of their 10 keynote speakers were diverse. If you looked at all 28 of their featured speakers, you’d find 57% of them were POC.
  6. And finally the 2020 midwinter American Library Association will meet in just a few weeks. This year all six of their featured speakers are diverse. 100%!
I find those data points encouraging. We still have a long way to go, but it is nice to see that teachers, librarians and booksellers are taking leadership in demanding a more diverse representation at our professional conferences. And if you are wondering what you can do—just one person—to make a difference I have three suggestions.
  • Buy diverse books from an independent bookstore. Big box and on line retailers are never going to care about the welfare of authors or readers of any demographic. Indie booksellers do care and they have consistently over decades proven the best venue for making best sellers of little known or debuting authors.
  • Take a moment on social media to call out the folks that are working hard to help diverse books find parity. I’ll start: Hey fellow Portlanders our 2020 Everybody Reads author is Tommy Orange who wrote There There. He is Cheyenne and Arapaho and lives the urban Indian experience in California. His book is amazing! I can’t wait to talk about it with my neighbors and friends.
  • If you don’t see a diverse book you love in your school or library or bookstore, ask for it. Ask regularly. Schools, libraries and bookstores are here to serve you, the public. We spend a lot of time thinking and talking about what you want and what you need. Help us out! Change comes when we stand up and say something.