ARRT GENRE STUDY WEBSITE

CLICK HERE for quick access to the materials for the 2016-17 Speculative Fiction Genre Study.
The website now features UNRESTRICTED access, including notes from our meetings; however, in order to attend the meetings in person, you must be a member of ARRT. Click here for information about how you can join.

RA FOR ALL...THE ROAD SHOW!

I can come to your library, book club meeting, or conference to talk about how to help your readers find their next good read. Click here for more information.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Great Resource: Williamsburg Regional Library

I just got home from a whole day helping my Cook County IL fifth grader and his classmates travel back in time to Colonial Williamsburg.

Our “trip” reminded me to remind all of you that the Williamsburg Regional Library has one of the most useful websites when it comes to helping adult leisure readers. And you can use it to help leisure readers all over the country.

Click here to check out hundreds of adult reading lists, here to see their quarterly TV show about reading (yes, they are so good at this that they are local TV stars) or here for the no longer updated [but still full of thousands of suggestions you can use right now] Blogging for a Good Book.

You don’t have to travel back to Colonial times, or even make it to modern day VA to learn something from Williamsburg. The staff there go out of their way to provide superior service to leisure readers near and far.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Good RA Advice-- Know A Lot About A Little

Today I was multitasking on the RA education front. I was watching Rebecca Vnuk’s Booklist webinar entitled Book Review Basics: Using Reviews and Annotations for Readers Advisory while writing contracts for a few libraries who are interested in having me train their staff.

In the last few days, I have been receiving a noticeable uptick in the number of libraries and library systems [from all over the country] who are making RA service a priority this year.

I am so happy that so many administrators are realizing that improving their staff’s service to leisure readers is one of the most cost effective ways to serve their patrons better.

However, I also understand that I physically cannot get to every library-- well not this year at least. Between the in person trainings and webinars I have and will be doing, I have reached thousands of you, but there are many more who want, and quite frankly need, quick and easy advice to get started as soon as possible.

Which leads me back to this post’s open... Rebecca’s webinar.  During that webinar (which will be available here, for free, very soon), Rebecca mentioned a 2011 article she wrote for Public Libraries Online, one I had read back then but had since forgotten about.

Entitled "Jack of All Trades Readers’ Advisory: How To Learn a Little About a Lot,” Rebecca [with a little help from some friends] sets out some basic RA tips and info for many genres. It is the bare minimum you need to know to help someone find a good read.

For example, here is her Mystery entry (Courtesy of Barry Trott, author of Read On . . . Crime Fiction):
  • Five must-know classic mystery authors: Dorothy Sayers, Robert B. Parker, P. D. James, Walter Mosley, Anne Perry.
  • Five up-and-coming mystery authors: Ariana Franklin, Louise Penny, Michael Genelin, Charles Todd, Colin Cotterill.
  • Five must-know mystery books: The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie, The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler, Indemnity Only by Sarah Paretsky, A Morbid Taste for Bones by Ellis Peters, Cover Her Face by P. D. James.
  • Five trends/subgenres in mystery: paranormal crime fiction, historical mysteries, contemporary cozies, hobby mysteries, police procedural
Check out the entire article.  While it is from a few years ago, I went through it all today and yes, some of the trends have passed, and new ones are now in place, but overall, it is still an article you can use both to educate yourself and help your patrons find their next good read.

And then keep Rebecca’s title in mind because when it comes to RA service, knowing a little about a lot is a mantra that will serve you well for years to come.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

What I’m Reading: Beside Myself

I heard about Beside Myself by Ann Morgan back in the Fall as part of one of the 2016 book previews arranged by the publishers and put it on hold immediately. [Thanks "On-Order" catalog records]

Here is the publisher's summary [which gives a very good set up in terms of the bare bones plot AND sets the ominous tone perfectly]:
Beside Myself is a literary thriller about identical twins, Ellie and Helen, who swap places aged six. At first it is just a game, but then Ellie refuses to swap back. Forced into her new identity, Helen develops a host of behavioural problems, delinquency and chronic instability. With their lives diverging sharply, one twin headed for stardom and the other locked in a spiral of addiction and mental illness, how will the deception ever be uncovered? Exploring questions of identity, selfhood, and how other people's expectations affect human behavior, this novel is as gripping as it is psychologically complex. 
Here’s what you need to know to tell patrons about the appeal of this novel.

The story is told in two alternating voices. The first is Helen from age six moving forward in time. The second is told by adult Ellie (who is really Helen) in the present moving forward from when Helen (who is really Ellie) has been in a terrible accident. The chapters are short and fast paced, switching back and forth every other chapter without anything to mark the shifts.

If you think that sounds confusing, you are correct, but it is also AWESOME.

Yes you need to pay attention here. Not only is it confusing because Helen is Ellie and Ellie is Helen, but the time frame is constantly shifting. It is purposely disorienting. And as a reader of a lot of psychological suspense, I am grateful for this. The way this novel is written and structured adds to the book's appeal. The swirling, twisting, spinning plot adds to the tension and anxiety of the story as well as underlining the issues of identity at the story's core.

You cannot escape the tension, ominous tone, and identity confusion even for a second. And it is that tension that lies at the heart of why people enjoy psychological suspense. Nicely done.

Even though you have to pay attention, the writing is so effortless and the narrative voice so compelling that the novel still moves briskly. You want to keep turning the pages to see what did or will happen. You can read this book in a sitting or two.

Besides Ellie and Helen, there are other family characters here including the mom, stepdad, half brother, a husband to one of the sisters and their daughter. Every character in this story is flawed. No one escapes unscathed. This also adds to the unease and tension Morgan means for you to feel.

There is also a great, evil twist at the end. I got angry at the character who admitted to the twist in a way I haven’t felt since reading Gone Girl or even Atonement.

This book will make you question the concept of familial love. It will make you look askance at your parents, siblings, and spouse. Talk about extreme unease. In fact, more than anything this is a book about the tone and mood. Everything that happens leads back to the tension. If you cannot handle serious psychological suspense, this one is not for you. Me? I love it.

Three Words That Describe This Book: extremely tense, intricately plotted, flawed characters

Readalikes: As I read Beside Myself I wrote down a few notes about readalikes.  The style of writing with the back and forth points of view and timeline with the unreliable narrator, and the narrative voice was definitely reminiscent of Girl on the Train, but the intense menace, unease, and identity issues here are also important. In those ways, I think this novel is more similar to Before I Go To Sleep. Use the links I provided to my reviews for these two titles to find a few more readalike options.

Besides Myself is also a great option for people on the long waiting list for the about to be released The Girl in the Red Coat by Kate Hamer. Both are British, psychological suspense tales that involve “missing” children and a back and forth story telling style.

And I know the comparison is overused, but in this case, Gone Girl is an excellent option. Between the tension, intricate plot, many flawed characters and big twists all framed by an intense family drama, fans of Flynn’s blockbuster will find much to enjoy here.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Diversity in Publishing: Baseline Survey Results

I was going to publish a review today, but with the release of the long awaited Lee and Low report on the state of diversity in publishing today, I am switching it up.
Below is the introduction to the report with a link to the results. One of my contract employers, Booklist was a willing participant in this survey. 
Please take a moment to read the results. Who decides what gets published and then who decides what gets reviewed matters. 
I am not going to tell you what to think about these results. I feel strongly about diversity and opening readers, especially my children, to as many voices as possible, but that is hard if the publishing world is not diverse.
But if nothing else, look at this survey to know where your informations is coming from. Be an informed consumer AND book advocate. We all work in a library. We know the importance of understanding where your information comes from before you trust it and use it.
Well, for those of us who work with leisure readers, this is how we understand our sources.
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DBS_caption1
By now it’s no secret that publishing suffers from a major lack of diversity problem. Thanks to years of research by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, we have ample data to confirm what many readers have always suspected: the number of diverse books published each year over the past twenty years has been stuck in neutral, never exceeding, on average, 10 percent.
Countless panels, articles, and even conferences have been dedicated to exploring the causes and effects of this lack of diversity. Yet one key piece of the puzzle remained a question mark: diversity among publishing staff. While the lack of diversity among publishing staff was often spoken about, there was very little hard data about who exactly works in publishing.
At the beginning of 2015 we decided to conduct a survey to establish a baseline that would measure the amount of diversity among publishing staff. We believed in the power of hard numbers to illuminate a problem that can otherwise be dismissed or swept under the rug. We felt that having hard numbers released publicly would help publishers take ownership of the problem and increase accountability. We also felt that a baseline was needed to measure whether or not initiatives to increase diversity among publishing staff were actually working.
Our Diversity Baseline Survey took a year to complete. The results include responses from 8 review journals and 34 publishers of all sizes from across North America. Here are the results.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Tales of a Fifth Grade Book Discussion: Part 2-- Icebreakers and Introductions

Today was the first meeting of the fifth grade book club that I am leading with two other parents.  You can click here to bring up all of the posts in this series.

The point of these posts if for me to chronicle these discussions much like I do for adult book clubs. I figure I am going to learn a lot about being a book discussion facilitator through this weekly exercise, and if I can learn something, I am sure the rest of you will also take something useful away.

So let’s get to it.

For this first meeting the kids did not have to read anything. We simply got them together to talk abut the expectations of the group and to introduce Echo.

The kids all knew each other, so we didn’t need to do introductions. Instead, I asked them to go around and say WHY they wanted to join this lunchtime book club.  Overall it was because they like reading. Most of them also mentioned missing being part of Battle of the Books last year [a 4th grade only event at our school] and they thought this would bring back some of that fun.

After everyone had a turn sharing why they joined book club [even the 3 grownups], we started priming them for talking about books by asking each kid to share a favorite book from when they were little. The kids shared books and the memories that they have attached to those titles. One girl mentioned how much she loved when her Dad read her The Giving Tree, while another girl shared how her older sister taught her to read using Green Eggs and Ham, and my son shared the first book he ever read all by himself, Watch Out for Jabba the Hut!, and how silly and simple it seems now.

This discussion got the kids loosened up and talking to each other about books.

I then switched the conversation over to the book at hand Echo. I introduced the book by talking about the novel’s genres (historical fiction and fantasy). I asked the kids to talk about what those terms meant to them. I also read out the subject headings and we talked about those. I then read a letter by the author to readers where she shares her inspiration to writing the book.  You can find all of this documentation here in the study guide I compiled for the group.

We handed out the book and the assignments next. We are reading this book over 6 meetings. Here is the breakdown and the ground rules I came up with.
Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan
Monday Book Club Reading Assignments 
February 1: Pages 1-104 (Part 1 Chapters 1-9)
February 8: Pages 105-190 (Part 1 Chapters 10-26 which is the end of Part 1)
February 15: No School 
February 22: Pages 191-299 (Part 2 Chapters 1-13)
February 29: Pages 300-400 (Part 2 Chapter 14- Part 3 Chapter 3)
March 7: Pages 401-488 (Part 3 Chapters 4-13)
March 14: Pages 489-End of Book (Part 3 Chapter 14-End of book) 
Please do not read ahead so you do not accidentally spoil anything for your fellow book club members at our meetings. Come each week with the assignment completed and be ready to both share your thoughts AND listen to your fellow book club members share their thoughts. Oh, and most importantly—HAVE FUN!
They got this exact copy on a sheet of yellow paper which they cut out and taped on the inside of their books. That was a fantastic idea by one of my co-leaders!

Since we are dealing with kids in a voluntary club, I also communicated a few other things to them that I then shared with the parents (along with also sending the adults the assignments).

Here is that list:
  1. We are encouraging the kids to write in the books. They can underline words, make notes, etc... You paid for these books. They are for the kids to keep. We want them to interact with the text as much as possible while they are reading so that they are energized to share in book club.
  2. The book is almost 600 pages, BUT as we showed the kids, the pages themselves are not full sized and the type is big. So, while they have about 100 pages to read each week, it is not as much as it seems.
  3. That being said, this is a “for fun” activity. If at any time your child is feeling overwhelmed by the amount of reading, they can drop out of book club. There are no consequences here. This club should not cause any stress. The kids all shared that they were in book club because they love to read, so I think we will be fine.
  4. As you see below, we ask that you remind the kids that they are NOT supposed to get ahead. We talked about how if we read ahead, we might accidentally give something away to everyone else. Everyone agreed that spoilers would be bad
Unlike running an adult book club, with kids, it is important to keep the parents involved. If they know what is going on, they will support their children and encourage them. 

We had a little bit of time at the end, so one of the other parents had the kids look at the cover and talk about what clues this gave them as to what was going to happen in the book. This included encouraging them to talk about the meaning of the word “Echo” and how it might some into play n the story.  Those of you who lead book clubs with adults know that talking about the title is a key part of any discussion. Introducing this idea before reading a single page really did much to stimulate interest.

I think we did a good job getting the kids primed for being in a discussion and excited to read the book. But, I will have to wait and see until we meet after reading the first 100 or so pages. Will they want to discuss it? Will they have even read it? 

Tune in next week for the next installment of Tales of a Fifth Grade Book Club to find out. Even I am dying to know.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Libraires and Self Published Authors: Part 3-- The Ebook Problem

As I proclaimed in my 2016 Reading Resolutions, this year I am going to make an effort to be more informed about self published authors. From that post:
Not only will I make sure I read a few self published titles in a variety of genres, but I will also be blogging about self published books and specifically how we can and should handle them in libraries.
You can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

Today I am back with self published author/librarian Sydney Bristow who I asked to also tackle the topic of ebooks in libraries.  Since self published works are very popular in ebook form, I knew Sydney would have a unique take on this issue.

I have talked to a few other librarians to help me in my quest to be more informed about self published authors, so look for more posts on this topic in the coming months. If you have ideas about self published authors and libraries, contact me.

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My name is Sydney Bristow, Chicagoland librarian and indie author, and this is the companion post that Becky asked me to provide: where I think ebooks are headed in the public library world as well as upcoming options that self-published authors have to place their works into public library collections. I’m not amazingly up-to-date on subscription models when it comes to ebooks within public libraries, but I hope to provide a decent introductory to the subject.

As I stated in my last post, publishers are concerned with their profit margins. In the book world, they have a stronghold on print books, because some small publishers (and especially indie authors) cannot compete with their reach when it comes to mass producing print books. 

For this reason, publishers are able to print mass quantities of print books at low prices. But with the popularity of ebooks, they are compelled to keep their prices high when it comes to public libraries for a few reasons:
  1. If you can charge a lot for something, and you know that customers will pay that price, why would you lower the price? This was most apparent during the height of popularity for E.L. James’s Fifty Shades trilogy. Our library paid $75 per copy. I think we ordered 12 copies for a total of $900. (We had more than 60 people on reserve for it, and our collection development policy stated that we would permit no more than 5 cardholder requests for any given item.)
  2. Publishers want to maintain their domination of the print market. By charging high prices for ebooks, they can certainly profit from those sales, but it also discourages libraries from purchasing multiple copies. As backwards as it seems, publishers prefer not to make the majority of their profits from ebooks: if customers (libraries and individuals) pay for those items at low price points, what stops any given author under contract with a publisher from self-publishing and perhaps receiving a greater percentage of the profits? (Please see my previous post for more on this subject.) This way, with fewer sales of ebooks, publishers can continue serving their authors by selling both print and electronic units.
  3. Ebooks do not get damaged. Therefore, libraries do not need to replace old or worn copies. While publishers maintain that they enjoy doing business with libraries, it does seem to be a love/hate relationship. They appreciate that library employees recommend titles and authors to their patrons, who then might go on to purchase those items. But every print copy they sell to any given library might be read numerous times. Of course, publishers would prefer that customers pay for each book they read.
Lately, some of the Big 5 publishers (Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Simon & Schuster, and Penguin Random House) have made changes to their ebook policies when it comes to libraries. Some lease books, others sell them outright, some charge high prices, others charge fair prices. You can find out more from this article in Library Journal: Ebook Usage in U.S. Public Libraries.

Plenty of ink has been written in trade journals about decreasing sales of ebooks, and I like how LJ remains bias-free: they mention that these statistics are skewed. (For more information about this and probably more data than you can ever ask for about ebook sales, please visit this article from Author Earnings, a non-profit group that analyzes ebook sales data.) 

The bottom line is that public libraries don’t have the best bargaining chip when it comes to getting a wide berth of ebooks available for their patrons. Other than the Big 5 publishers, there are hundreds of smaller publishers that produce great books each year. And while Overdrive and 3M collect some of the best books available on the market in a bundle that many public libraries take part in, they cannot possibly have every book that patrons want to read.

Other vendors may provide for different licensing models, but public libraries would prefer to deal with very few vendors. It’s not the same as databases, where depending on any given library’s budget, they might subscribe to either few or many. Each database product specializes in a specific category, whereas when it comes to ebooks, we’re just talking about…more ebooks! 
Some models provide for consortiums to buy into a plan. Others like Douglas County Public Library have decided upon a different strategy

Regarding indie books, Library Journal, along with BiblioBoard, has started the Self-E program, where indie authors can gain discoverability through public libraries by submitting their work for inclusion in a program that libraries will eventually be able to subscribe to. Another program that plans to offer self-published titles to libraries is Ebooks are Forever. One large difference between both programs is that Ebooks are Forever compensates authors for inclusion in their product, whereas Self-E does not. At this point, both still seem to be in the beta stage, so they are not yet open for libraries to begin subscribing to their services.

One of the main drawbacks of being an indie writer is discoverability. There are at least 1.5 million indie writers working to get the same traction: visibility from readers. It is difficult to get readers to know you exist…but not impossible. It just takes patience and dedication. 

Some indie writers may want to include their works into the Self-E program to get that exposure from public library patrons in hopes that those same patrons might go on to purchase their ebooks or print books. But while many indie writers are willing to offer their novels for free for a limited time, fewer writers are now willing to do so permanently. After all, writers would like to be reimbursed for the hundreds, if not thousands, of hours they spent on any given piece of work.

I feel that Ebooks are Forever offers a better platform for indie authors when it comes to trying to get their work into libraries. While both this program and Self-E ensure that any given piece of work is up to current industry standards (properly edited, enticing book cover, entertaining plot, etc.), Ebooks are Forever gives authors a chance to offer their work at low prices to public libraries. And public library material selectors have a long history of fighting to ensure that authors get compensated for their work. (After all, if writers don’t get paid, why should they write? And if they don’t write, libraries don’t have material for their patrons to check out.)

Therefore, while public libraries have options when it comes to including ebooks into their collections, the price, offerings, and stipulations vary, depending on the model and the vendor. If there were only a handful (or even a dozen) publishers in the U.S., public libraries might have a better opportunity to acquire larger ebook collections. But with so many individual publishers, each with their own notions of how they offer should ebooks to institutions, public libraries cannot provide the same number of ebooks they offer to their patronage…in comparison to their print counterparts.
And the results from a recent Publishers Weekly article revealed that there wasn’t a great desire from patrons to check out ebooks from their public libraries. Of course, results will vary based on the location and size of any given public library’s budget. But when a library cannot get access to the number of copies they’d prefer to purchase (whether due to cost or availability), patrons will look elsewhere: either for the print version or purchase an ebook.

In today’s environment, we have become somewhat impatient when it comes to consuming information. We want it now. If we want news, we can find it online. If we want entertainment, we can watch a movie instantly through Netflix or borrow a book from Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited program. Of course, public libraries have been offering some of these services such as offering databases, and allowing for streaming videos and downloading music, but we still want our patrons to visit us. However, as service models begin to change, so does human activity. 

After all, how often do you visit a teller inside a bank? How often do you rush into McDonald’s to get a meal? We don’t send letters through the USPS anymore, we send that info through Facebook or just text a friend. For this reason, I believe public libraries will always be a place where people congregate and socialize to learn, be entertained, and to grow as individuals.

For those reasons, I predict that publishers will begin lowering their ebook prices as the next few years tick by. I’m not saying they’ll be close to the price they offer to individual readers, but the price points will be lower than we currently pay. Why? Because publishers spend very little to produce ebooks, and they can do quite well financially by selling them to public libraries. 

Sure, some readers may decide not to place a request for an ebook at their public library and instead purchase the ebook. But at the same time, publishers won’t want to completely alienate public libraries because like small independent bookstores, readers visit these places and ask for readers advisory assistance from staff…if they don’t already do that with friends on Goodreads or through recommendations on Amazon. Publishers will want to hang onto that big profit margin, even if it means the size of their profit margins begin to dwindle as the years pass. 

So that wraps up this installment about the current (and future) state of ebooks in public libraries. I hope some of it was enlightening. If it didn’t, I’m sure you’ll know where to go to find more information about ebooks in public libraries. After all, I hear librarians are good at that sort of thing!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

ARRT Crime Fiction Genre Study Notes Now Available To Everyone

Long time readers of the blog know that throughout 2014 and 2015 I was the Coordinator of the ARRT Crime Fiction Genre Study.

Well, now that it is all done, I have updated the website and opened up all of the notes from our meetings.

That's right, now anyone who is interested in running their own crime fiction genre study, or those of you who just want to learn a bit more about helping Crime Fiction readers can access our assignments AND the notes for each meeting here on the genre study's website.

You can go to each assignment/topic page and pull up specific notes, as seen here on the page for our meeting on Espionage and Forensic Thrillers.

Or you can use this link to access the folder with all of the notes in one place.

At ARRT we take our mission to develop readers’ advisory skills and promote reading for pleasure through public libraries very seriously. And while only members of ARRT can join the actual genre study meetings as they happen, we want to help as many of you as possible in your work with leisure readers.

So, please feel free to go to website and use our agendas and notes to help craft your own genre study; just make sure you credit ARRT if you do.

As I put the finishing touches on the website today, I have to say I was a little sad.  Running the genre study was a lot of work, but it was also really fun. Thank you to all who helped coordinate and those who attended.

I hope to see many of you on February 4th as we introduce the brand new Speculative Fiction Genre Study.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Libraries and Self Published Authors: Part 2-- Meet Author and Librarian Sydney Bristow

As I proclaimed in my 2016 Reading Resolutions, this year I am going to make an effort to be more informed about self published authors. From that post:
Not only will I make sure I read a few self published titles in a variety of genres, but I will also be blogging about self published books and specifically how we can and should handle them in libraries.

In Part 1 I featured Robin Bradford, a collection development librarian who is a champion of putting good self published authors in libraries.

Today, I have the first of a two part series from a self published author who is also an Illinois librarian, Sydney Bristow. I thought that this was an important perspective for all of us to hear.

So here is one librarian's take on why, at least for Sydney, self publishing was the best choice.

And then check back soon for another post from Sydney, where we’ll be looking at the future of ebooks in public libraries.

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My name is Sydney Bristow, and I met Becky during the wonderful Readers Advisory program she presented for our library during our staff in-service day. Becky’s knowledge is top-notch and her enthusiasm is infectious, so if you haven’t had the opportunity to procure her services at your public library, I highly recommend her; your staff will thank you for it! 

Becky was surprised to discover that I’m not only a librarian in the Chicagoland area, but also a self-published author. She asked if I’d spend a little time focusing on my life as an indie in this post, followed by a separate post about where I see the ebook market going in public libraries. 
I began work in libraries as a Page in 1989 and slowly moved my way up the ladder, so that by 2000, I received my MLS. Around that time, I began writing historical thrillers. I majored in history, and discovered that, with the exception of Ken Follett, very few authors wrote historical thrillers. Most of the “thrillers” contained very little action or suspense, and I wondered: so what makes them so thrilling? 

I spent the next decade writing five historical thrillers. No author is great at every aspect of writing: dialogue, plot, action, suspense, romance, etc. In my experience, I’ve discovered its best to pick a few areas that you’re best at and try to either limit those which you don’t excel at…or do the best you can and hope readers don’t notice your shortcomings! I concentrated on dialogue, plot, character, suspense, and action. I don’t write literary prose because I’m horrible at it, and I rarely add metaphors and similes to my work because I don’t want to spend five minutes thinking about how I should write…rather than just getting the words down on the page. 

Throughout those years, I submitted my work to literary agents, who work on behalf of authors (and take a 15% cut on every book an author sells) and determine if they would like to represent any given author. If they decide to take on any given client, literary agents contact publishing houses in hopes of obtaining a publishing contract for their client. 

During those ten years, I was rejected over 285 times by literary agents. In the meantime, I worked as a librarian, and then as a library manager, where I remain in my current position. Rejection is never fun. But after a while, it becomes commonplace. I believe in the mantra, “You can never fail…if you never give up!” 

During the 2010s, my family encouraged me to write contemporary romance novels because I’ve always enjoyed romantic comedy films. I recalled lyrics from an Aerosmith song: “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got!” After heeding their advice, I decided to give writing romance a shot. 

I completed my first romance novel titled, One Step Away, in mid-2012. Taking place in a fictional Chicago suburb that is reminiscent of Bedford Falls, the fictional town from my favorite film, It’s a Wonderful Life, the book centers on a pair of best friends in their late 20s. The hero manages the Adult Services Department at a public library and is secretly in love with his colleague, who manages the Youth Services Department at that same library. 

Rather than submit this novel to agents, I decided to self-publish for many reasons:
  • I didn’t like that it could take 3-4 months to hear back from an agent.
  • I didn’t like having to interview to get an agent, who then regards you as the client. I mean, as an entrepreneur, I would be responsible for hiring an agent and paying him or her to work for me. But when it comes to the publishing world, it’s the other way around. That said, if you’re a pretty successful author, you will probably need an agent to help with foreign sales, contracts, film/television contracts, etc.
  • Five years ago, Publishers Weekly tallied a financial breakdown of a $28.95 John Grisham hardcover. After adding up all of the production and distribution costs, Grisham ended up getting about $4 per book. Think about that: Grisham writes the entire book and through the publishing house, he basically hires editors, a marketing team and more, not to mention his agent, and he only grosses about 14%...before taxes are taken into account. And he’s only making 14% because he’s a bestselling author! Take a look at another traditionally published author, Alan Jacobson, who isn’t nearly as popular as Grisham (but how many are?) to get a more typical breakdown.
  • Ever notice how most traditionally published YA book covers look awesome? Not only are YA authors putting out some of the best books nowadays, but the publishing houses hire incredibly talented graphic artists to represent their work. That’s not the case with adult book covers. Most look like absolute trash, as though the publishing company hired a middle-school kid to slap a photo and some words onto a dust jacket. Since readers judge a book by its cover, it’s mandatory to have a pleasing, if not amazing, book cover. Publishers ask for insight from the author regarding book covers, but writers don’t get to make the final decision when it comes to a book cover. Needless to say, I am not impressed with many of the designers some publishing houses use.
  • Unless you’re a bestselling author or an upcoming author with a lot of in-house buzz, publishing houses don’t do much in the way of marketing. It’s up to the author to build their own platform: website, social media, online newsletters, etc. 
So back in 2012, I thought: why should I continue wasting my time trying to get an agent, who if I’m lucky might get an advance (usually $5,000 or less per book for unknown authors) from a publishing house, that will probably not spend much effort on creating an eye-catching book cover and do little, if any, promotion for my novel? I mean, why would I hand over so much control of something I created, especially if I only earn so little from the deal? 

After all, I could hire an editor, a book designer, a website designer, and contract out for book promotion. When it comes to the editor and book designer, I pay them once. I pay a website designer and book promotion companies on an as needed basis. But again, under a traditional publishing contract, an author pays each of those services for every single book they sell…for as long as a publisher controls the rights to their books! 

Not only that, but my books don’t need to get loaded into a truck or plane, driven to bookstores, and placed on book shelves. If those books don’t sell, they then go back on the truck and get flown or driven back to the publishers. Why not just print on demand? There’s no need to move product all over the country (or world!) And if people buy the ebook, there are no costs for paper, ink, or the machines that create the binding, much less manufacture the book. For those reasons, authors typically get about 25% of the cover price of every ebook sold. (Indie authors, through Amazon at least, make 35-70% of the cover price.)

Yet publishers sometimes price an ebook similar to that of a print book. Why? Because they want to maintain proprietary rights over the print book industry. When you think about it, that’s what they excel at: producing paper books in large quantities and having distribution channels that indie authors do not have access to. That’s where their power lies. If they price their ebooks high enough, some people may be dissuaded from buying ebooks. And if customers do buy their ebooks, they make a big profit. It’s a win-win for them.

Since that first romantic comedy, I’ve added two more in that series. I recently finished my first urban fantasy novel, Nightwish, and I’m in the editing stages of the 2nd book in the series, tentatively titled, Silverthorn. (Note: in this novel, I set a suspense scene and an action scene at the Schaumburg Township District Public Library…because how many cool scenes are set at a library?) My fantasy series is sort of a mash-up of every paranormal television show you’ve seen on the air in the past decade or so: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Charmed, Supernatural, The Vampire Diaries, etc.

How has my luck panned out? Meh! It’s difficult for any author to gain visibility, whether self-published or traditionally published. A lot of it comes down to being in the right place at the right time…with the right product. Throw in a little bit of luck, and no matter who you are, or what you’ve written, you can breakout. I’m convinced that 2016 will be the year I break out. 

Since I’ve supplied background as to why I decided to self-publish, please don’t get the impression that I’m anti-publisher. The decisions I made were based on my personal experiences and the available information I had available starting in 2012. My circumstances are certainly different from many other authors, and each of us has factors (and interests) that sway our decision-making processes. But technology changes. So do business models. Therefore, if a publisher approached me with a book deal, I would definitely consider it, given the right circumstances.  

You can find more information about me on my website or my Amazon page.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

RA for All Roadshow: Recharge Your Book Club Visits Fountaindale Public Library District

This afternoon I will be in Bolingbrook, IL  at the Fountaindale Public Library District doing book club leader training with the staff of a few libraries.

What I am most excited about here is that I am normally asked to give book discussion training to larger groups of library workers from dozens of libraries at once. This smaller gathering of only a few libraries from a small radius creates new opportunities for more targeted training.

While we will begin with an updated version of my popular “Recharge Your Book Club” program, I am also going to be working with these staffs to address their specific concerns and issues pertaining to their patrons and their community. I am excited to help them begin to put my plan for having dynamic and successful book discussion groups into action.

If you are interested in this more personalized and intensive training for your staff who lead book discussions, contact me about coming to your library.

I also have a very popular training for patrons who host book discussions in their homes which I can present at your library. This is a great way to identify who in your community is participating in book clubs and engage them in conversation about how the library can help.

You can also combine the two trainings [staff and patrons] in one afternoon-evening session for a lower price. Again, contact me for details.

But back to my visit to Fountaindale. Here is the link to the slides for the first part of today’s presentation. Part two will be between me and the gathered library workers.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Books to Suggest on MLK Day to Spark a RA Conversation

If you have worked in the public library for even a little while, you have probably noticed that patrons love to ask for books that are tied to current events. The MLK holiday is no exception. Whether or not the patron in front of you actually wants a book to match the holiday, it is a great way to start a conversation. The weather and current events in general are a great window to start a conversation with a patron and once you have the small talk going, it is easy to steer the topic to books-- you are in the library remember.

Unfortunately, I find that there are many more lists for kids than adults.  This troubles me because it is obvious given current events that many adults need to be reading books that embody the spirit and idea of Dr. King.

In order to help you help adult readers, I have compiled a few lists.  I hope these help you put a good and timely read into your patrons’ hands in the coming days.


Take advantage of the fact that many of your patrons are off work today by making some connections with readers. These lists are a great ice breaker to start the RA conversation.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Tales of a Fifth Grade Book Discussion: Part 1: Preparation

With only the slightest of apologies to Judy Blume, I am about to embark upon a book discussion journey of epic proportions. I am one of the volunteer leaders for my son’s 5th Grade lunch time book club. The book will be read and discussed over a series of 8 meetings.

We are reading Echo by . The title was picked months ago, so I was so glad to see Echo receive a Newbery Honor distinction earlier this month. The kids have already read and enjoyed Esperanza Rising as part of a previous grade’s curriculum, but this honor for Echo adds even more positive buzz to the impending discussions.

Since I am a book discussion expert, I offered to help out by creating a study guide for all of the groups. [It’s a big school and the lunch time book clubs are popular, so my group is not the only one; not to mention that I have 2 other parents on my team.] Working on this guide also made me realize that sharing this entire adventure here on the blog would be useful to all of you who lead book discussions.

So this is Part 1 of what will be at least a 9 part series of posts. I will title each “Tales of a Fifth Grade Book Discussion,” with the part number following [as you see above] and will use the tag “fifth grade book club” to make finding it easier on everyone-- myself included.

Not only will I be sharing general information and thoughts about the specific discussion, but son has also agreed to interject his thoughts about it all. My goal here is to share both the discussion and the process so that all of my readers, no matter what age level they serve, can take away something useful to use with their book groups.

The first book club meeting will be on January 25th when we will distribute the books and get the kids excited for being in the book club.

But let;s not get ahead of ourselves. First we must prepare for our journey.

Here is the link to the comprehensive book discussion guide I have compiled for Echo.

I look forward to chronicling this adventure for all of you. I promise to be honest and to share our failures as well as our successes, but most importantly, I promise to help you to serve your book discussion patron better as a result of these posts.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

ARRT Updates

Today is the first Adult Reading Round Table Steering Committee Meeting of 2016, and it is going to be a long one [approx. 4 hours] because we will also be working on our annual update to the Popular Fiction List which is available on NoveList.

One of the best things about ARRT, and why I continue to serve on the Steering Committee despite no longer having a library paying me for the time I spend, is that we truly believe in helping everyone interested in Readers’ Advisory. We realize that much of what we offer is of more benefit to Chicago area librarians, but we are working hard to share as much as we can with as wide of an audience as possible.

Recently, we have received multiple inquiries from librarians from all over the country asking us to provide more virtual programming.  While we have answered those specific people, we’ve had enough of these questions that I thought it would be worth mentioning our current status/position here too.

As I alluded to above, ARRT is run by a Steering Committee of librarians whose libraries graciously allow them to serve on the committee much like you would serve on an ALA committee-- the members are at the meeting “on work time,” but there is no other compensation. Anyone who has served on these types of committees knows that it is a lot of work, but worth every minute of it.

But unlike an ALA committee, where you have access to the paid administrative staff of the umbrella organization for some clerical and technical assistance, we at ARRT do everything ourselves, splitting up the work and fitting it in between our “real jobs.” It is a labor of love-- a really fun one though, surrounded by awesome people.

We are trying very hard to broaden what we can offer to library workers who cannot attend our programs [in fact, that is a topic of discussion for today], but as of right now, we do not have any plans for webinars or virtual programming. However, we are considering making all of the notes to our Literary Book Discussions and Genre Study meetings available for free to everyone and anyone. Our members who take advantage of attending these meetings regularly [membership is required to attend] felt that the largest member benefit is being a part of the in-person discussion and while the notes are nice to have after the fact, they do not undermine the value of “being there."

All this being said, I still feel like we have much to offer anyone reading this who is interested in Readers’ Advisory, no matter where you live.

Here are some of the things we have planned for 2016:

  • The YA version of our Popular Fiction List which went out to members in December will be up on NoveList any day now.
  • The full year’s schedule of Literary Book Discussions and Leadership Trainings is planned. And as of now, all of those notes and prep materials are available to all comers.
  • The new, 2 year, Speculative Fiction Genre Study begins in February.  I have and will blog about it in more detail using this tag, but please remember, you can feel free to use our schedule, structure, and assignments to run your own genre study, just make sure to credit ARRT.
  • We will be having a BIG program to coincide with the influx of library workers headed to Chicago for BookExpo in May. Please stay tuned for exciting details. You will not have to be a member of ARRT to attend this program.

And finally, for those of you in the Chicago area who follow this blog-- it’s ARRT renewal time! I have mine in hand to turn in today. We only charge $10 to be part of the RA Cool Kids.

Now off to the Downers Grove Public Library, where the police have kindly promised not to ticket our cars during the meeting [which will be longer than the 3 hour parking restriction].

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Libraries and Self Published Authors-- Part 1

As I proclaimed in my 2016 Reading Resolutions, this year I am going to make an effort to be more informed about self published authors. From that post:
Not only will I make sure I read a few self published titles in a variety of genres, but I will also be blogging about self published books and specifically how we can and should handle them in libraries.
Today I am beginning this quest by going to the source of knowledge on this topic, librarian expert on self published authors, Robin Bradford, a collection-development librarian for Timberland Regional Library, Olympia, Washington, and fellow Booklist contributor.

Robin has been contributing a series of articles to the Booklist Corner Shelf Newsletter entitled. “Author Perspectives on Self Publishing" meant  "to help librarians get the creative collection-development ball rolling...to highlight some talented self-published authors in different genres.

There are currently 4 interviews in the series with the most recent one appearing in my inbox yesterday. Here are the direct links to make it easier for you to find them:

  1. Author Perspectives on Self-Publishing: Amie Stuart and Melissa Blue
  2. Author Perspectives on Self-Publishing, Part 2: Jennifer Boehner Wells
  3. Author Perspectives on Self-Publishing, Part 3: Elliott Kay
  4. Author Perspectives on Self-Publishing, Part 4: Farrah Rochon

By the way, The Corner Shelf Newsletter, whose tag line is “Where Readers’ Advisory Meets Collection Development,” is free to anyone who can click here and provide an email address. If you subscribe, you won’t miss Robin’s next interview.

You can also follow Robin on Twitter [@Tuphloswhere she shares her #collectiondevelopment work and even more self published authors.

It is inspiring to see someone finding a way to incorporate the best of self published works into a public library's collection. 

Look for more posts by me on the topic of libraries and self published authors coming soon.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

2015 Year in Horror Wrap Up and Looking Forward to 2016

This is a cross post with RA for All: Horror

RA for All: Horror is back for 2016.

As usual, I took a hiatus after Halloween until the end of the year. But before we start talking about 2016, I thought I would first post a few 2015 Horror Year in Review Best Lists.

First, let's look at what the librarians picked. Each year RUSA picks the best genre reads and announces then at the ALA Midwinter Meeting.  Here is the link to this year's Reading List, but for the lazy among you, below I have copied the entire Horror section:
Horror 
Winner: The Fifth House of the Heart: A Novel” by Ben Tripp. Gallery Books, an imprint of Simon and Schuster.Flamboyant antiques dealer Asmodeus “Sax” Saxon-Tang made his fortune by accidentally killing a vampire with a horde of treasure. To protect the only person he loves, his niece, he’s forced to return to old Europe to assemble an eccentric team of vampire hunters in this gory, witty caper. 
  • Short ListA Head Full of Ghosts” by Paul Tremblay. William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins.
  • Little Girls” by Ronald Malfi. Kensington Publishing Corp.
  • The Silence” by Tim Lebbon. Titan Books.
  • When We Were Animals: a Novel” by Joshua Gaylord. Mulholland Books, a division of Little, Brown and Company.
One of the reasons I became a member of RUSA is because of how seriously they take genre fiction. I am not exaggerating. Once they gave Horror a place, I joined right up.

Now, that is the general librarian list.  Let's dig a little deeper for some more horror fan specific options. Please note, not every book on these lists would be worth adding to all public libraries, but if you have a decent horror following (and most libraries too), these are books to consider.

The Horror Fiction Review had a 2 part Top Ten Reading list.  Part 1 is here, Part 2, here. In general, this is an excellent place to fins out information about the newest and best in horror.

But the best "best" list out there for any reader is horror author Brian Keene's personal Top 10 of 2015.  Why? Well, first as he says himself, he has years of experience and understands the genre-- both the history and those currently writing in it-- better than almost anyone. Second, he does an excellent job of explaining why he liked a book, not just what happened. [For that part you need to listen to the episode of his podcast where he unveiled the list; I liked that even more than the summaries he wrote up].  And third, he takes the writing of female horror authors seriously and gives them the attention they deserve. But it is not only that he does not dismiss them wholesale [as some horror author still do, sadly]but also, and even better, he includes them because they are good enough as writers.

In general following Brian’s website will keep you up to date on everything that is going on in horror, in general, from the broad perspective.

Which reminds me, as a new year begins, it is always important to look back at the year that just happened. How did you serve your horror patrons? There are many of them out there, just a quick peek at the most popular authors, movies, and tv shows of 2015 proves that. Did you update your collections, weed old titles, replace tired but still popular volumes, and add new authors? Did you try to educate yourself about the genre and what it has to offer today beyond Dean Koontz and Stephen King?

I appreciate that many of you took my advice in 2015 and worked hard to help your horror patrons.  How do I know that you took my advice? Well, the ebook version of my book was #1 on the ALA Edition bestseller list in the Fall. I am not only appreciative that you supported me, but I am also energized. You believed in me and now I want to help you even more.

2016 is a big year for horror and this blog. In fact, I am currently working on my Halfway to Halloween column for Library Journal and it is going to be all about major coming attractions in the genre. These are titles EVERY LIBRARY needs to own, titles so good that you may be dealing with hordes of horror fans, beating down the doors looking for more.

As menacing as that sounds, I assure you, his is a good thing because I am always here to help you to help your “scariest” patrons. Today I am cross posting this on both blogs, but that is not the norm.  Remember to check the horror blog whenever you want to help your horror patrons. I will be there with posts [new and old], updated lists, and reviews all year long. When you are ready to work on your horror collections, just give me a click; I promise to be here.

My favorite horror book of 2015? It was the same as Brian Keene's.  Click through to see what it is for yourself.

Monday, January 11, 2016

ALA Midwinter Adult Award Winners

While all eyes were on the Youth Media Awards this morning [even mine], there were many adult awards and lists unveiled last night that have gotten lost in the shuffle. Let’s not forget about our adult readers today.

In this post today I have gathered all of lists and awards, with direct links, all in one place. And while I am a huge proponent of using all awards lists as a RA tool, these lists, from our colleagues, are among the most useful.

The Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction went to The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen and the Nonfiction award went to Hold Still by Sally Mann. Click here for the full short list of nominees.

The 2016 Listen List for Outstanding Audiobook Narration for Adult Listeners:
The Listen List Council of the Collection Development and Evaluation Section (CODES) of the Reference and User Services Association (RUSA) has announced the 2016 selections of the Listen List Committee. The list was announced Sunday during the American Library Association’s Midwinter Meeting in Boston. 
The Listen List highlights extraordinary narrators and listening experiences that merit special attention by a general adult audience and the librarians who advise them. Adhering to established criteria, committee members select 12 recordings that are benchmarks of excellence and are available for purchase by libraries. Titles are named to the list because the narration creates a new experience, offering listeners something they could not create by their own visual reading; and because the narrator achieves an outstanding performance in terms of voice, accents, pitch, tone, inflection, rhythm and pace. This juried list, designed for both avid listeners and those new to the pleasures of stories read aloud, includes fiction and nonfiction and features voices that enthrall, delight, and inspire, making one reluctant to stop listening.
The list not only includes the winners but also, three listen alikes for each. This list is a treasure trove of audio book recommendations.

The 2016 Reading List-- the only list for genre fiction. The list is broken up into eight different fiction genres for adult readers. This is the first year that the Council did not include readalikes for the winners. I am not sure why that decision was made [there might be a good reason] but I do think not having those readalikes is a missed RA opportunity. The short list of runner up titles is still included, however.

The 2016 Alex Awards, 10 adult books that would appeal to teen readers. I use this list for adults as much as teens, however. These are award winning books that I know have wide appeal and are great for my adult patrons who want to try a “best” book but are afraid it might be too “hard” for them.  The “hard” is their own insecurity coming through; I do not make that judgement. By suggesting an Alex book, I can feel confident I have given them an excellent book that they will not be overwhelmed by.

And finally, the RUSA 2016 Notable Books List. This list has a very long and storied history which you can read here, but I want to highlight its purpose statement:
Since 1944, the goal of the Notable Books Council has been to make available to the nation’s readers a list of 25 very good, very readable, and at times very important fiction, nonfiction, and poetry books for the adult reader.
This purpose statement is the reason why ALL of the lists and awards given out by our colleagues last night are so useful to us as we help patrons.  Librarians, like you and I, volunteer their time to help all of our patrons to find the best, readable books. They are both critically acclaimed AND fun to read. The same can be said for all of the lists and awards in this post.

So go out today and suggest one of these titles to a reader.

Friday, January 8, 2016

2016 Reading Resolutions

To end the week I will present my official reading resolutions.  But, if you haven’t yet read my post about the importance of making reading resolutions from last month, click here and read that first.

I have three main areas of reading resolutions.

First, this one is easy because I have already committed to it. I resolve to read heavily in the speculative fiction genres paying more attention to the appeal of the story than to its specific genre classification.

After being the coordinator of the 2014-15 Crime Fiction Genre Study-- or as I have referred to it, being first string-- I have officially signed up to run third string for the 2016-17 Speculative Fiction Genre Study. Now obviously, since this includes Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror, it would have been crazy for me not to be a part of at least the Horror portions of the genre study; however, I think this is also important because as the leader of the last genre study, I provide the continuity between studies that is an important part of the experience, but also have a way to move more into the background.

That being said, I could easily phone it in here. I have already read a book or two by all of the key authors in Science Fiction and Fantasy, I review SF, FSY, and Horror for Booklist so I am aware of the newer stuff, and of course, I am the library world’s horror expert, so that’s covered.  But, I am making it my resolution to not phone it in. As you can see in the official resolution, and as I discussed in detail in this post about the upcoming genre study, we are framing the new genre study around the main appeal factor, the WHY, a reader enjoys that author. Therefore, I will frame my reading in that way also.

Second, I resolve to read more self published authors. As I talked about in my Attack of the “Best” Lists webinar for PLA last month, while self published books have been gaining in popularity, this is the year they went mainstream. In her 2015 wrap up of the best romances of 2015 in the Washington Post, Sara MacLean included Serving Pleasure by Alisha Rai, a self published book. This was the first time a major best list included such a book. I myself have only read a handful of self published books and most of them are because of my affiliation with the Soon to Be Famous Illinois Author Project, but this year, that will change.

Not only will I make sure I read a few self published titles in a variety of genres, but I will also be blogging about self published books and specifically how we can and should handle them in libraries. To kick it all off, I have  2 guest posts from an IL librarian who is also a self published author coming later this month.

And third, I resolve to do the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge. I already mentioned my intentions to do this in a previous post, but I wanted to make sure it got in this post too since I will use this post to gauge “how I did” next January. Why did I choose the Book Riot Read Harder challenge? I already said it, but it bears repeating:
If you are a library worker helping leisure readers, I think it is imperative to read outside your comfort zone. I realize sometimes it is hard to both create your own reading plan AND stick to it. If you follow the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge, you have a great plan all laid out, and it comes with a like minded community on Goodreads where you can share your plan and how you are doing with other readers. In fact, even just joining the Goodreads group without participating will greatly increase your RA skills, as you will be part of a conversation about a wide range of leisure reads. Lurking will get you far toward your training goals. 
And remember, that is the goal of making Reading Resolutions. It is not to shame yourself into reading something you wouldn’t normally pick up. It isn’t even about learning to like new types of books for your own enjoyment. Rather, it is to commit yourself to learning about as wide a range of titles as possible because you never know what kind of reader is going to step up to the service desk. You want to be ready to help everyone, but you only can be if you work at it.
If the hardest work challenge you have in 2016 is reading a book you didn’t like but was outside your comfort zone, I promise you, that mean you had a great year. 
What do you have to lose? And you have only becoming even better at helping leisure readers to gain!
So there it is. I have laid down the gauntlet. Now I am being held responsible by all of you and my own integrity to keep this up. If you want to link your reading resolutions to this post to help you to stick to them, leave a comment. I will keep them up so you can go back to them anytime. Don’t underestimate how much it helps to have publicly proclaimed your resolutions.

I have finished 2 books this year already and I think by the end of the weekend, I will have another 3, maybe 4, done. But it is not how many books we read that matters. It is that we make sure we are reading as wide a range of titles as out patrons are seeking out.

Because as has become my new mantra-- It’s not about you- it’s about your patrons!