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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Finding and Using Information About the Author

I am frequently asked by patrons and librarians about the best places to find out more information about authors.  In this case "information" falls into a few different categories.  First, there is information (aka marketing) that the author puts out about him or herself,  Second, there are third party interviews and information which authors also use as a marketing tool when they have something new out.  And third, there is professionally provided, neutral information about authors and their appeal.

It is important to understand that each category will provide a slightly different perspective on the author.  Depending on what you are looking for, you may go about accessing this information in different ways.  I will break down the three categories for you, explain how and when each is best used, and suggest resources.

Author Generated Info
This is pretty easy to obtain.  Anytime you or a patron want more information about an author from said author's point of view you should check three sources: the author's website, their Twitter feed, and their Facebook page.  Just Google the author to find his or her website.  From their you can expect to find the official author approved bio, lists of books, links to Twitter and Facebook, a possible blog, and news.

Click here to run the Google search for James Patterson.  Notice his "official" page is the first result. Author generated info pages are best used by fans.  Authors use these resources to market themselves.  Nothing critical will show up here; it is all happy and positive. These resources also allow readers to get up close and personal with their favorite authors in a way that was impossible even 5 years ago.

Twitter in particular has become an intimate place for the author to interact with their fans.  Check out Neil Gaiman's Twitter Feed. He is having personal conversations with his fans, commenting on their opinions and thoughts, and even reposting their tweets. Fans also like to follow authors to see what their favorite author is reading, listening to, eating, etc...

If you have a patron who really loves a specific author, you should definitely ask them if they have visited their web site, considered following them on Twitter, or liked them on Facebook.

Third Party Interviews
When an author has something new to sell, they start offering interviews.  Thanks to the web, we can now access more than just current interviews.  In fact, many major media outlets have caught on the the readers' desire to access author interviews both past and present and have begun to create entire sites which archive this information.  Here are some of my favorite places to go to find author interviews; however, if you want to find interviews with a specific author, Google the author's name and the word interview.  Here is the link for said search run on Michael Chabon.

  • Amazon's new page called "The Backstory" compiles all of their author interviews (along with other info) in order to provide readers with a central place to go when they want to access author information.
  • The NPR Books page has an author interview archive.  I use this frequently, especially because NPR tends to interview the widest range of authors from popular to literary, fiction to nonfiction, self-help to controversial.  Their interviewers are also not afraid to be critical or ask the difficult questions.
  • On The NY Times' Books Page you can use a drop down menu to search "Times Topics" for a specific author.  Using this search feature gives you access to everything the Times has ever written about an author, including interviews.  Click here to see the Times Topics for Stephen King.  You can do this on most major newspaper sites by using the search feature, but the NYT puts it all in one easy to access place.
  • Bookslut does a lot of author interviews.
  • Many of the Discussion Guides on Reading Group Guides contain author interviews that are particularly geared toward book discussion groups.

Who are interviews for?  This resource is not for every fan.  Third party interviews are great for book club groups, readers who want to know more about how an author got their ideas for a book, patrons who want to be writers themselves, and for hard core fans of a specific author.  Of course others may find these interviews interesting, I am merely suggesting situations in which you, the librarian, may want to go out of your way to identify a patron who would benefit from reading an author interview.  Remember, patrons rely on us to point them to the resources they did not think of accessing themselves. We need to let them know these resources are out there.  Do not assume they are already using them.

Professionally Generated Information
This third category is very different.  Here I am talking about independent and professionally compiled information about an author.  Here it less about who they are and more about how they write.  What can readers expect from a book by a specific author?

I write short, 100 word appeals statements about authors (along with many other contributors) over on NoveList.  They are written to a standard so that no matter who is writing the author description, users can expect similar information in each entry.  Also, these entries are looked over by an editor, so unlike a blog (even this one) where a librarian is sharing his or her opinion about an author's appeal, these are vetted by someone else.  THe BPL offers access to NoveList from home or in the library.

Also, most public libraries offer access to the online versions of the old print Contemporary Authors.  Oh, you know you remember using these for reports when you were a kid.  Instead of paging through hundreds of old volumes, you can now just put the author name into the database and get every entry in which he or she is listed.  Again, the information is researched by professionals and vetted by an editor.

All of this information will not be tied to marketing efforts by the author and is a great resource for any reader. Although there is much that shows up when a patron Googles an author, this professionally generated information, accessed through the library, is one of the only places where a neutral professional is writing about an author.

I find that librarians often forget to offer this information to readers.  We use it for ourselves, but readers are more sophisticated these days and I think they would appreciate having access to it.  We librarians need to remember to teach our patrons how to access these databases from our websites.  Their tax dollars are paying for the resources, but many don't even know they can access a wealth of author information, from any computer, as long as they have a library card.

So I am going to make an effort to show more patrons how to find this information on their own.  Not only will they be happy with my "above and beyond" customer service, but also, they will better appreciate all they get for their library tax dollars.

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