How Librarians and Authors Work Together
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Megan: I’m doing all right, how about you?
Hannah: Perfect. I am–this is a topic that I’m actually not super familiar with so I’m excited to hear what you have to say about it.
Megan: And I’m always excited to ramble about libraries forever so great.
Hannah: Awesome, all right so for people who are listening who may not know, Megan is an author of young adult fiction and her debut YA space opera titled The Disasters is releasing on December 18th, 2018. Megan, can you tell us a bit about both The Disasters and your work as a librarian?
Megan: Sure, so I kind of split my two lives by splitting two names as well, so I’m a librarian as Megan England and you’ll find my fiction written under M.K. England. So I specialize in young adult right now for both–I’ve been a YA librarian for about five years or so and I adore it, it’s pretty much my perfect career because I am never bored, I’m always doing a million different things, and I’m doing like graphic design and event planning and budgeting and customer service and it’s you know it’s wonderful that I get to do all of those things and that it’s very teen focused. For my fiction, The Disasters is exactly the kind of book that I always wanted as a teen which is you know a fun, rollicking space adventure full of queer kids doing amazing things and saving the galaxy. It’s about a guy named Max who has a history of making terrible life choices, and he’s really trying so hard to get his life together like ‘you’re doing a good job buddy’ but it’s not exactly a surprise when he gets kicked out of space college on his first day. So he’s about to take the fail train back down to earth when the station that the academy is on is attacked, and so he and his fellow failures end up hopping a ship out of there, crashing that ship about five seconds later, and the adventure spirals out of control from there. So I had a great time writing and I hope that everybody has a great time reading.
Hannah: Wow, that sounds like so much fun. Because you seem to have kind of a special vantage point as both an author and a librarian, in what ways has that helped–has that been helpful to you being part of both of those worlds?
Megan: Boy they dovetail together so well. I really feel lucky to be able to do both of these things. I’m definitely way more up on current literature than I would be either as like just an author or just a librarian, because both of those get to feed into that same thing. You know as a writer I’m always up on the latest news of the publishing world, which really informs my collection development, and just like really simple things like day-to-day interactions with my patrons across the service counter or my co-workers. I think the biggest thing though is that being a librarian means that I am constantly in contact with people. It is a front-line customer service kind of job so I’m seeing people every day, I’m you know getting so many different points of view throughout the day and especially teens. I just absolutely adore all the teens that I work with, at all three libraries that I’ve worked with teens at, and they just bring so much creative energy and they’re just like really cool people, and so getting to you know serve them and talk to them and make sure that their voice is heard in the community, that just plays into my writing in a huge, huge way.
Hannah: Wow, that’s so cool. So I imagine being in such close contact with the exact audience that you’re writing for is pretty helpful. Have you found that there are specific types of books that teenagers are wanting nowadays that maybe are not quite being published yet?
Megan: Somewhat yes and no, I mean every community is gonna be very, very different and so you know when I used to work in a very urban, very economically disadvantaged library, they have very, very different reading tastes from the library that I’m at right now where it seems like you know almost half of the teens that I serve or identify somewhere in the LGBTQ+ area. And so in my current library, I’d say absolutely need more gender-variant characters out there and the more diverse experiences we can get in literature the better because that is absolutely what they’re craving, and not just endless coming-out novels but more novels that are just genre fiction with characters who happen to be queer and they’re going on adventures and it’s great.
Hannah: Awesome, all right, so if–for if you aren’t published yet, how can you begin kind of building a relationship with your libraries?
Megan: I mean the number one thing I’m always gonna say is like go be a patron, like go get a library card, you know actually use your library, and that sounds really simple but I think you might be surprised how powerful that can be, and not just going in and checking out some books once in a while, but if you have the time, it is awesome if you can actually attend some of the programs and events that libraries have. Most libraries have art classes and writing workshops and book clubs and movie nights and like you know all kinds of stuff like how to like you know do accounting for your small business just like everything under the sun. So see if there’s something going on there that you might be interested in, and if you have any special skills yourself outside of writing, anything that you have credentials in, you know if you are an accountant who specializes in small businesses, maybe you can be leading that workshop, and then that way you already have a foot in the door once you actually have some coming out or something and you’re looking to set up a book-related event, they already know you, they’ve already worked with you, you know, you’re there.
Hannah: Yeah, that makes sense. What about if you’re just a reader and you really want to help promote your favorite books at your local library, what are some ways that you can go about doing that?
Megan: Absolutely, you can do a purchase request, and a lot of places you can do that online if you’re you know a little anxious about actually going and speaking to somebody–which don’t be we’re nice–but you know definitely if there are books that you’re interested in, put in a purchase request, ask about you know author programs about readings about signings about writing workshops. If there are particular people you want to see, then say something. You know nothing drives public library service more than public feedback, so the more you can make your voice heard the better.
Hannah: Oh cool, ’cause I think a lot of people are very passive about how they just you know go to the library, pick out the books that are there, but they never really talk to the librarians and so … that’s good to hear that that’s actually something that is encouraged.
Megan: Absolutely, please.
Hannah: Awesome. Now, is there a difference between how you can go about getting connected with school libraries or university libraries versus your local libraries?
Megan: Gosh, it’s a whole different world and there is so much more red tape as soon as you’re in an academic environment. For university libraries, I honestly couldn’t speak to that a whole lot, they are quite a bit more structured and there’s just so many levels to work through there. K-12 school libraries, those can be really difficult as well just in terms of getting in touch. K-12 librarians are so, so overworked, and even though you know I as a public librarian, I have a great relationship with my local high school and middle school librarians, even I can barely get in touch with them sometimes because they are so swamped. You know if you have a child in that school, then you know you have a little bit more access than other people might, so if you happen to be an author who has a child in that school, then you know use your in, go visit the school, go visit the library, and like express interest in the library, don’t just go in there like, ‘hi, I’m an author, like please promote my book,’ you know nobody likes to hear that, like sweet-talk us a little, take us out to dinner first, you know. Yeah, the schools are a tough nut to crack and I was just talking about that with some other authors earlier today and it’s just hard, but I think some things that always help are you know that personal touch if you can be face to face–and this is public library or school libraries or academic–if you can get that face to face interaction you know and build that relationship, that’s the number one thing you can do. If you can’t, if you are sending out like swag, if you’re sending postcards or letters or something like that, like put a little handwritten note on there, sign it in a fun gel pen, put a sticker on it, I don’t know like you know just recently we had a wonderful graphic novel author at my library and like honestly we were like, ‘oh look at the cute sticker she put on her letter,’ and like, ‘aww her signature is so pretty’ and like it helped that we already knew who she was and we liked her work, but those kinds of silly things actually caught our eye you know among all of the junk mail that comes into the library. If you can’t do any of these things, pick up the phone and you know if you’re calling a public library like, ‘hey do you have a teen specialist there, are they in right now?’ you know or if you’re calling the school library so you know, ‘hey can I have the extension for the library?’ and see if you can just call in. But anytime you’re sort of leading with a sales pitch like, ‘I’m an author and I want to do whatever,’ that–you’re gonna get pushback and it’s gonna be tough because we get that a lot. You know that’s why building that relationship is so important.
Hannah: Right, now in that instance of that author who sent in all the cool stickers, what typically–when authors write to you or call–what is it that they’re asking for?
Megan: A lot of people just want to come do a reading and a signing and sell books, and that’s the kind of thing that we really don’t do terribly often unless there is like a specific tie, like we try to offer more you know active educational programs like a workshop that you could participate in or something like that. You know, readings and selling stuff is more of a bookstore kind of thing and some of the libraries do do that and we do do that occasionally, but I think a lot of what we get is people wanting to like–pushing their book is their number one agenda, and our number one agenda as a library is of course to get books in people’s hands but it’s to provide valuable services to the community, and as a publicly funded organization we can never be the people like pushing people to spend money, like that’s not our role and it’s also kind of a political no-no. So we really have to tread that line and we have to make sure that we’re booking authors who are interested in making connections in you know giving more of a talk more of an educational approach, just giving something other than ‘buy my book’ you know.
Hannah: Cool. So what are some of the things that they could be doing that–aside from ‘buy the book,’ you mentioned workshops. Is it any type of workshop or are there some that are specifically needed more at libraries and are there other types of things that could be offering to do?
Megan: I mean play to your strengths. If you love to–you know if you have a passion for young writers then maybe you want to do a workshop you know on like opportunities for teen writers or a children’s poetry workshop or you know how to get published step-by-step and you know how to craft a great query letter you know. I’m just spouting off random things but like whatever portion of this publishing journey appeals to you the most, if it’s revising then think about doing a revision workshop or even like heck if you’re like really good at a particular kind of craft, we host so many craft programs like I don’t know maybe do a book-themed craft program or something you know just try and have something else to offer other than like ‘I am a human who wrote a book, please buy it and I’ll read a couple pages’ you know anything to sweeten that deal especially if you’re going to be asking for money, because public libraries in general don’t have big budgets to bring in authors, and so usually when I am gonna bring somebody in, it’s gonna be somebody I sought out because my teens asked for them. You know if you’re charging $250 for a school visit, well that’s two and a half months of programming budget for me so it’s a pretty big sacrifice to be able to do that, so I want to make sure that it’s absolutely gonna be worth it. And that sounds maybe a little mercenary but like hey we’re publicly funded so gotta make the dollars go.
Hannah: Right, that makes perfect sense. What about reading programs? How do libraries feel about writers and authors getting involved with like summer reading programs?
Megan: It’s really kind of all the same thing, the summer reading, the only thing that’s different from what we do year-round is we do more of it. You know summer reading for us is usually instead of doing like one teen program a week I might do two or three, you know there’s kids programs going on like almost every day, so we just kind of step everything up, so there’s gonna be more opportunities for authors to get involved in the library over the summer, and then the reading program itself varies so much from library to library but it’s usually just a–you know read a certain number of books read a certain number of pages. We do like a bingo card style one here in central Virginia. You know there are so many different ways to do that portion of it and it really doesn’t have a whole lot to do with outside authors. The only thing I can think of that I’m just thinking of off the top of my head right this second is, if an author wanted to like do the summer reading challenge along with everybody else and then be kind of public about it like you know, ‘oh I just you know accomplished this for summer reading,’ or ‘I just crossed this big milestone for summer reading,’ and you know in that way you’re kind of driving enthusiasm for reading, you’re driving enthusiasm for the library, you know you could be sort of a–mascot’s not the [right word] but you know what I mean like sort of a public kind of figure you know pushing that, and then just by your very visibility and enthusiasm that naturally makes people interested in like who are you, what do you do, oh you’ve written a book, let me check that out. I think that kind of organic engagement is … longer lasting and is ultimately gonna serve you better as an author.
Hannah: Right, yeah, so that actually ties into my next question was, we talked a lot about how libraries can help authors, but what are some ways that authors can use their writing platform to help promote libraries, either just really broadly with tweets and you know that kind of thing or is there anything really specific that they can be doing?
Megan: Yeah I mean libraries are constantly … having their funding cut–at the national level, at the local level, all over the place, state libraries, all kinds of stuff. I would definitely recommend following the American Library Association on Twitter, maybe follow the Intellectual Freedom Committee of the American Library Association, they’re the ones that deal with book challenges and stuff like that and censorship issues, and then you know ALA has a bunch of different divisions that might be relevant to whatever you write, like the young adult library services section, YALSA, for YA, just so that you’re aware of issues in general, you’re aware of what’s going on in libraries, and I think it’ll really make you aware of the breadth of what libraries do because I–you know I somehow I don’t know how we haven’t like gotten past this yet but people still think of libraries just as like big silent buildings full of books, and I’m like that is so much not what it’s like at all, so I think encouraging your followers who can’t afford your books to go use their public libraries and to request that their libraries purchase the books is huge, that benefits both of you really. The more your books circulate at the library, the more copies we will buy and the more justification we have for buying your future books, and really just I think helping people get over their intimidation factor of libraries by sharing any positive experiences that you’ve had at your library, like you know check-in on Facebook, take a selfie at the library, like you know say, ‘oh my god I just got like you know 300 holds at the library today and I don’t know how to pick which one to read but I love them all,’ like you know try and get that like positive library you know branding and energy out into the world–that’d be fantastic.
Hannah: Right, now you mentioned that obviously libraries are not just a place to store books, but for people who are listening who may kind of have that idea, could you enlighten us on all of the different things that libraries do?
Megan: I would love to, thank you. So obviously we do have lots of books and we would love for you to come in and check them out and if that’s all you do at your library then that is still great and I’m still happy for you. But you know that events and programming and workshops is a huge, huge part of what we do, it’s a huge focus it’s like at least half of my job is you know just dedicated to doing that kind of programming. We also do a lot with technology literacy, we do a lot of computer instruction, we provide free internet access to people who don’t have access, you know we provide access to printing/scanning/faxing/copying like all of that kind of you know stuff people often need to do, and we like instruct people on how to use their devices, their e-readers you know use your phone to download ebooks and audiobooks for free through your library–hey go look that up that’s a thing pretty much everywhere–gosh we do outreach you know we go do school visits, we participate in community events you know…gosh I don’t know all kinds of stuff. We’re pretty much everywhere in the community if we can be, like if they’ll let us be there then we’re there.
Hannah: Wow, that’s so cool, is that pretty typical for most libraries just across the board?
Megan: So much depends on funding and local support, you know I am fortunate now to work in a place where the library is very well loved and very well used and so it’s one of those like chicken-and-egg things, it’s like the more the library is loved the more we can do things that you will love, and it’s hard to pull out of a rut if you’re in a community that just for whatever reason does not value its local library, but I think that those are things that pretty much all libraries have in common, it’s just the extent to which they’re actually able to do that stuff that tends to vary.
Hannah: Got it. Are there volunteer opportunities that writers and authors can get involved with to kind of support their libraries and promote reading in general?
Megan: I mean your local library might have some basic volunteer positions, but you know look in and see if they have social media volunteering opportunities, you know we always love it when people want to come in and do a workshop for free or something like that because that’s always–I get a phone call and it’s like, ‘oh I do these workshops, I would–‘ you know and I’m like, ‘oh it sounds so cool, I would love to be able to do this, what’s your price tag?’ and then that’s where it falls apart. And most of the time I can’t do it so whenever somebody calls and you know wants to do something for free, then I’m always like absolutely, let’s find a place for you on the schedule, which I know is terrible because like as an author I would love to get paid for you know the time and effort that I put into these things and you know people deserve to get paid for their speaking engagements, but I also have to be realistic about my budget for the year. Yeah, other than that, I guess look into some of the major events throughout the year; Poem in Your Pocket Day is one that we do every year and we have volunteers and staff members hand out poems like out on the Downtown Mall in Charlottesville or you know all over the place just to kind of spread that around. Summer reading kick-off parties, stuff like that.
Hannah: Cool. Now if you are a writer and you want to do a workshop, do you have to be published or do libraries–are they open to unpublished authors, or maybe authors who have a book but it hasn’t been released yet or is it specifically for people who have been published?
Megan: I think it–as with everything—it depends; I hate to be like wishy-washy but like if you can show some kind of credential, like if you have an English degree or something and you know or your day job is in copywriting or something, like we just want to make sure that the programming that we’re offering the public is of a high and consistent quality, so we don’t want somebody to come in and be like ‘I’m a writer, can I do a writing workshop?’ and then the experience is not good for our patrons. You know even if it’s free we want it to be a good and useful experience, it’s gonna reflect well on the library. So if you have some way to prove credentials and you know at all then you know I think you can get your foot in the door. Without that it’s gonna be a little harder and that’s where building those personal relationships is really gonna help. If they can get to know you and trust that you are a person that’s not going to you know represent them poorly, then you know you might still be able to get in there.
Hannah: Alright, so my next question is kind of rambley because it’s based off of something that just happened to me today. Okay so I went–I live–I’m located in San Diego and there’s this massive library, the San Diego Central Library, and I’d never been there before so I went to visit today and they are having an event next week and it’s for all local authors, and so they’re having this huge event where they’re supporting any local authors, there’s gonna be a photographer there, and they’re taking pictures of all these authors and they have a shelf for the local authors’ books specifically and it’s this kind of big event that’s promoting reading and these local authors and the library all at once, and I had never seen an event like this before. Is this something that’s kind of specific to larger libraries or do other–is that common among libraries I guess is the question.
Megan: I don’t think it’s necessarily among the larger libraries, I think it’s in communities where there is a large and active writing community. We actually do the exact same thing here. Charlottesville has a huge writing community and we have a local authors’ collection, I think it’s called The Local Voices Collection at our main library branch, and it’s you know just a shelf dedicated to you know all of our local authors and mostly people who we couldn’t acquire normally through our collection development policy, like it’s mostly self-published stuff that we otherwise would not be able to acquire, so we have The Local Voices Collection and we–I think we try to do like every other year we do a … read local fair, and we do do some read local events throughout the year, so we definitely do a lot of similar stuff and I think it’s just whether there’s a big enough and active enough writing community in the area to support that. But that’s another thing where like your voice as a patron could be really important; if that’s something that you want then you know, step up and say something, and if you really, really want it to happen, then step up and volunteer to organize it.
Hannah: Right, so that was my next question … can non-librarians kind of say ‘hey this is something I’d like to do’ and partner with the library to get that off the ground?
Megan: Yeah, sure, and you know for so many of these things it’s definitely an issue of time. You know on top of all my other obligations, can I take on this other huge event. And if you have somebody else to help shoulder that burden then you know that might be the tipping point for it, you never know.
Hannah: Cool. Now I was interested in something you just said a while back was that for those local writers that you can find a way to shelve self-published books, which was interesting because for whatever reason I had it in my head that if you are indie-published you can’t get in the library unless you have some kind of specific ISBN number. Can you talk a little bit about that because I don’t know how that works at all.
Megan: So most libraries have a collection development policy that guides what we are allowed to purchase, and it’s pretty broad, it doesn’t say like ‘you must buy these authors’ or ‘you may not buy books on these topics’ or anything horrible like that. It mostly says stuff like you know ‘you must acquire through these specific vendors,’ like we are not allowed to buy from Amazon. We buy mostly through Baker & Taylor and Ingram and that’s who most libraries use, so books have to be available through there and you know they have to be of demonstrable quality which usually means like reviewed somewhere and you know there’s a variety of other criteria that just vary wildly from library to library. And some libraries may be able to buy from Amazon and they may you know have no qualms about buying self-published stuff and so they do it you know but the last–I think the last three libraries I’ve worked at–they’ve all had collection development policies that you know made that in some way prohibitive. So for that local voices collection, we usually have to have the self-published author like donate a copy of the book to the library so that we can put it on the shelf.
Hannah: Oh, got it. Alright so I think we’re actually coming up near the end of our time–did you have anything else you wanted to say about authors and libraries and how that all works?
Megan: Yeah, I guess just one other bit of maybe useful information is like the timeline for how you might want to get in contact with your libraries and of course the sooner the better for things like building those relationships–going in, being a patron, attending programs, like the sooner you can go in there and start getting to know people the better, but in terms of actually getting your book purchased, you know say for me, my book coming out in December, I would not send out postcards to libraries until two months before, until like probably late October because we actually cannot–at my library, at the last three libraries I’ve been at–we couldn’t buy things more than two months out. Now I personally have a like a cart in Baker & Taylor that I just labeled forthcoming so I can just like kind of shove things in there and so that I won’t forget about them but I know not everybody does that this … you know have centralized collection development so I would say like if your local library doesn’t have your book, like don’t glare daggers at your teen librarian or something because they may not have direct control, that may be done at like the central library or something so, everybody structured different ways and everybody does different things, but I think you know if you send your postcards and stuff about two months out, you’ll probably be pretty safe. And I guess if I could end on one note, it would be to come back to you know authors and libraries working together to try and change that perception of libraries, to try and make them you know more known as that center for the community, as a place that like readers should not be afraid to go to, you shouldn’t be afraid to go talk to your local librarians, to request the books you want if there’s an author you want, ask for it, like public libraries are all about serving their communities, and so make your voice heard and you know, you never know what you might be able to do.
Hannah: Awesome. All sorts of really good information, thank you so much for coming on and sharing all of this with us, we appreciate it.
Megan: Thank you for having me.
Hannah: Our pleasure. Now before you go, can you tell us where we can find you online and specifically where we can find The Disasters when it comes out?
Megan: Oh gosh, well you can add The Disasters to Goodreads right now it–I actually made a short link for it, so instead of searching for it you can just go to bit.ly/@thedisasters and find it that way, all lowercase, and it’s coming out from HarperCollins Children’s so you should be able to find it wherever books are sold. On social media you can find me on Instagram, I’m M.K. England, on Twitter I’m @GeektasticLib, short for librarian. Where else am I…I have a like semi-active tumblr at just MK England, no dots, that’s about it, that’s where I hang out. Oh no YouTube, man I’m on YouTube, I have a channel called Tea & Type and I run a weekly live show on there with one of my critique partners and fellow Pitch Wars mentors, Jamie Pacton, so you can find us at youtube.com/c/teatype …
Hannah: Awesome. All right, so once again everybody this has been Megan England about how authors and libraries can work together, so go say hello to her online and then head over to your libraries and start supporting your local libraries.
Megan: Yay, please do.
Hannah: Yay, all right, bye Megan, thank you.