The library is a small publisher’s (and self publisher’s) best friend

The Independent Book Publishers Association (of which we are members) recently held a conference down in the Bay Area. We weren’t able to attend, but we did discover a recording of an excellent session on how to market your books to libraries.

Here is the recording.

The session is an hour long, but it’s well worth the listen if you’re an author or a small publisher.

And if you don’t have the time, here are some key takeaways:

  1. The local library is a local author’s best friend. Libraries go out of their way to stock works by local authors (provided they have the shelf space). And they genuinely want to hear from local authors (not just their publishers). If you’re an author, don’t be shy about sending an email or dropping off a review copy. But be sure to emphasize your local connection. Better yet, suggest a speaking event. Perhaps you wrote a murder mystery that takes place in Yellowstone National Park and you’ve become an expert on the area and even visited a few times. You could suggest a talk on the area and the stories that the region has inspired (including yours). Or consider proposing collaborative events with authors who have written related works — in topic or in genre.
  2. Libraries are eager to purchase ebooks but are frustrated by the sky-high prices major publishers are asking these days. As one of the speakers asked: $80 for one book? That’s right. But the good news is that  libraries are open to ebooks from smaller publishers and from self-published authors.
  3. That said, keep in mind that libraries don’t generally “stock” their own ebooks. That is, they need some type of software platform that can store the books and serve them directly to patrons through their Kindles, Nooks, etc. So don’t approach a library offering your ebook for sale; instead approach the platform provider.
  4. OverDrive is the dominant ebook platform used by libraries, so if you want to get your ebook into libraries you’ll probably need to connect with OverDrive. Ebrary is another platform. And then there is the very intriguing Open Library platform supported by the fine folks at the Internet Archive. If this all sounds a bit confusing, that’s because it is a bit confusing. But I do see opportunities for small publishers and self-published authors to find their way onto those ebookshelves.
  5. Authors should also consider trying to get their books into universities via “first-year experience” programs. These are programs for incoming freshmen, and they often include recommended books. It’s a long shot for smaller publishers and lesser-known authors, but definitely a shot worth taking — most first-year titles recommended by faculty members, so a good way to start is to talk up your book and what students can learn from it to instructors you know.
  6. Finally, don’t overlook the importance of reviews. Booklist was cited as one of the more popular magazines read by libraries, and we submit all our books to them (Out of Breath received a very nice Booklist review, and this is one reason the book has been so popular with libraries).

Here at Ashland Creek Press, we love libraries and have been very successful getting books and authors placed throughout the state of Oregon. And keep in mind that you don’t have to be local to be interesting to a library: Two of our authors, both from out of state, will be speaking at Oregon libraries this summer: John Wood will be talking about his novel, The Names of Things, at the public libraries in Eugene and Ashland, and Cher Fischer will also appear at both libraries to discuss her eco-mystery, Falling Into Green.


Tips for authors: On reading aloud

While this post touches on some of the points from Tips for authors: Giving good readings, I wanted to devote a little extra time to the art of reading aloud, especially given the wonderful tips I received last fall from Jack Straw Productions and Elizabeth Austen.

As part of the preparation for our joint book tour, Wendy Call and I visited Seattle’s Jack Straw Productions, the Northwest’s only non-profit multidisciplinary audio arts center, to record excerpts from our books.

Producer Moe Provencher had wonderful advice for me as I stumbled through a practice reading — an excerpt I’d never rehearsed until that afternoon — and I found her tips  as relevant and useful for live readings as they are for audio recordings:

  • Mark up the text from which you’re reading so that you’ll know when to pause, what to emphasize, etc.
  • Develop a facial expression that reflects a character’s voice and/or mood; when you use your face to express something, this mood and tone will come through in your voice.
  • Read far more slowly than you think you need to — to the point at which you feel ridiculous — and this will likely be the perfect pace.
  • Practice. Aloud. Many times.
  • Breathe.

The good news for those of you who are Seattle-area writers is that Jack Straw offers a Writers Program (Wendy, pictured above, was a 2008 Jack Straw Writer) in which writers spend several months developing a project while learning tips for readings, doing interviews, and more.

I learned a few more invaluable tips when I attended Elizabeth Austen‘s workshop at the Port Townsend Writers’ Conference: “Beyond the Page: Poems Aloud, Poems Alive” (excellent for prose writers as well). Elizabeth, with her background in theater, has a gift for the spoken word, and she reminded us first and foremost that language is physical, that we need to remember this when we read aloud, and that we need to feel every word. She offered a few examples — words such as awe, hiss, tip, trapeze — and in speaking them we could hear and appreciate their pitch and length, their sharpness or languidness. (Give it a try, right now. It’s pretty cool.) Elizabeth gave us tips on everything from rehearsing (avoid mirrors or recordings; ask a friend to listen and offer feedback instead) to what to wear to a reading (whatever makes you feel comfortable and confident; also, avoid high heels, and rehearse in the shoes you’ll be wearing at the event).

Among Elizabeth’s wisest tips was this: “The performance requires you, but it’s not about you.” As readers, she explains, we are conduits for getting the words out into the room and to the audience. I love this eye-opening tip, not only because it takes the edge off the self-consciousness most of us feel when we read, but because it reminds us that our words need to speak for themselves — that, now that we’ve written them, it’s time to let them shine on their own.


Raising awareness of a plant-based life, one book at a time


Every year, the Farm Animal Rights Movement sponsors a Meatout day to, well, urge people to give up meat.

At least for a day.

Or, better yet, one day a week, a very popular trend known as “Meatout Mondays.”

There is ample evidence that cutting back on meat will improve your health.

As readers of this blog well know, our focus at Ashland Creek Press has been to publish books that raise awareness of animals and the environment.

We are proud to have published three novels so far that include strong vegan characters:

And we have more on the way.

What’s important to us about these books is that they’re character-driven stories, with characters that happen to be vegan. It’s time that veganism no longer be viewed as a fringe lifestyle but a normal lifestyle — and it’s time that our literature reflects this growing trend.

Which is a large part of why we’re here today.

PS: If you’re a writer that is working on an “ecolit” novel, we welcome submissions.

Addressing the mysteries of e-publishing

Ashland Creek Press was delighted to be a part of a workshop on e-publishing last weekend at the Ashland Public Library, where authors, editors, and publishers gathered to talk about the ins and outs of e-publishing, from editorial to production to marketing.

Author Tim Wohlforth began with a State of Mystery (also a State of Publishing) address, which highlighted the fact that e-books are rapidly gaining momentum (the triple-digit percentage increases in sales have only recently begun to level off), as well as the fact that mysteries remain a bestselling genre, second only to romance. After his remarks on all the recent trends in publishing, Tim concluded with a great bit of advice for writers: Don’t get caught up in what the latest trend in mystery is. “Write what you want to write,” he advised.

We heard next from LJ Sellers, an award-winning journalist who is now a full-time author. She talked about her experiences getting her books out into the world and how she spent $12,000 on self-publishing her first novel, The Sex Club; now, thanks to user-friendly strides in digital and self-publishing, she spends an average of $600 on each. And she’s living every writer’s dream: making a living off her books. As this Mail Tribune article notes, last year, LJ’s e-books were on the Amazon Kindle bestseller crime fiction list for three months, and she estimates she has sold about 150,000 e-books in the last two years. LJ pointed out something that is important for all author-entrepreneurs to know: that she is as much businesswoman as she is author. She pointed out that she views her books as “products, not children,” and noted that this means she doesn’t hesitate to fix what may need fixing if a book isn’t selling well, whether it’s the cover copy or the keywords or even the title. Her parting advice: “Be flexible, be a risk taker, be social [as in social media], and be thick-skinned.” (By the way, I just began reading her novel The Sex Club — loving it so far!)

Author Michael Niemann gave an insightful presentation on the mechanics of creating e-books on the two most common formats, ePub and Mobi — a great overview for any author or small publisher interested in e-publishing.  Then Ken Lewis, of Krill Press, and I talked about marketing and promotion. I chatted a lot about social media and virtual book tours, and we got a great tip later from writer and photographer Liza Kendall Christian on how writers can use Pinterest in a fun way: As well as  a cover image, post a few of the best lines from your book.

Ken and I both pointed out that, ultimately, the most important thing about promotion is to have an excellent book. I especially enjoyed what Ken had to say about the importance of titles: Authors need to have titles that stand out among the rest, and cover art to match. He told the story of one of Krill Press’s popular mystery titles, formerly Full Circle, now titled Absinthe Of Malice (A Penny Mackenzie Mystery), and how good titles, matched with engaging covers, have made all the difference in selling mysteries.

After the presentations, we broke out into smaller sessions in which we got to chat with authors, answer questions, and learn more about the state of mystery — a lovely afternoon. A million thanks the event’s sponsors: the Ashland Mystery Readers GroupFriends of the Ashland Public LibraryStanding Stone Brewing Company, and Bookwagon New and Used Books.

Jane Friedman defines “author platform”

I couldn’t possibly define “author platform” any better than Jane Friedman does in this blog post, so I won’t even try. This is truly a post that anyone who wants to publish a book should read — even better, prospective authors should read this long before publication is on the horizon.

Whether fiction or nonfiction, books usually take a while to write — years, in most cases. Yet somehow, many authors seem to be rapidly approaching their publication dates before realizing they have to build a platform (a few years ago, this was me). And as Jane so accurately points out, building a platform does not happen overnight: In fact, a solid platform takes years to build (especially if you want to avoid all that she tell us a platform is not, such as “hard selling” and “annoying people,” which no author wants to do).

I have to admit that I began writing and publishing stories even before a “platform” was the first thing an editor or agent asked about. I didn’t know (or care) about having one — but fortunately for me, by the time I had a book contract, I discovered that I sort of did have one. I was a teacher who was developing a mailing list and writing a blog; I’d published stories in dozens of magazines and journals. Today, I work to keep up with all these things, including writing nonfiction articles, and even a book, on the creative process. I’m on Facebook and Twitter (a little reluctantly sometimes) and even though all this takes time away from writing, it’s all so important as it can still be a challenge for an author to find her audience.

For all of you out there who are still working on your books, know that it’s never to early to think about your platform. So many authors think that marketing isn’t their job, that it’s only about the writing — yet this couldn’t be further from reality (again, it’s not unusual for an agent or editor to consider platform even before writing). This isn’t to say that a platform should come first, only that it’s something that needs to be developed along with your creative project so that when your book is ready for the world, so are you as a writer. After all, what’s the good in writing that book when you’re not in a good position to find all the readers you possibly can?

As Jane tells us, “It’ll be a long journey.” Start now, and you’ll be able to take your time and even have a little fun.