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Wednesday, May 18, 2016

RA for All: Call to Action-- Our ARC Problem

As I mentioned in this post, I am starting a Call to Action series here on the blog.  I currently have notes for at least 5 posts and will try to get them written as soon as possible. You can access all of them with this link.

The reasons I have been energized to bring the hard truths to the RA community are outlined in that first post, so click on the link if you need some context here.

Today I want to address the Librarian-Publisher working relationship briefly, and then I want to spend most of this post calling out library workers, in general, for their misguided attitudes and behavior when it comes to this relationship.

I warned you, I am bringing some hard truth people. I was not kidding. This post in particular will pull no punches, but please know that the overall goal here is to help us ALL to be better at our job-- and that job is putting books in READERS’ hands. Hint, notice I did not say putting books in OUR hands.

Okay, first let me briefly talk to all of you about the importance of the Librarian-Publisher relationship. Over the last 15 years, publishers went from not caring about the purchasing and recommendation power of librarians to creating entire divisions within their corporate structure to actively market to and support library workers. They get it that we have the power to turn books into best sellers. So you need to know who these people are.

You can easily see a full list of every publisher and the contact for libraries in the Early Word index of the Adult Library Marketing people.

Honestly, for most library workers, simply subscribing to the newsletter from each of the major library marketing departments is all you need. Even for me, someone who is fairly high profile when it comes to adult leisure reading, this is plenty.  You can stay abreast of the newest titles and get directions on how to download eARCs if you are interested in reading them ahead of time.

I only cultivate personal relationships with publishing reps who specialize in horror for obvious reasons. I have no need to communicate directly with the marketing people beyond their excellent and useful e-newsletters.

At BEA, the publisher reps did a program for library workers where they made sure we knew who they were and how to contact them. This basic information was probably useful to a lot of people there.

But I have 2 problems with the publishing reps, and after assessing my feelings and thoughts, I realize those problems are OUR fault as library workers, and in fact, have nothing to do with the publishers themselves. This was big revelation for me personally.  Let me explain.

  1. All the library marketing reps do is focus on the newest books,
  2. ...and after promotion of the new titles they focus the rest of the time on giveaways of ARCs to us.
All I kept thinking about while they were presenting was, I know how to get a list of hot upcoming titles from you, and I don’t need more books. I have so many. What I really want from the publishers is to help me to promote my backlist and midlist titles which I have already purchased. As I said in a talk 2 hours before their presentation [on the same stage]:

Promoting leisure reading, specifically the backlist, those titles that are great reads, but out of the spotlight, and incidentally, filling most of your shelves just waiting for the perfect reader, meaning they are there right now for that reader who “has nothing to read,” is actually quite easy to do virtually. The one thing the library has in stock that the bookstores do not is the backlist. The thousands of great reads just waiting on the shelf to be matched with just the right reader. In fact, backlist books are your best bet to target your virtual promotion of books, as I will show you. The new books are all over the web on other sites, they are all over magazines, tv and radio. But the backlist is a great asset and it is unique to the library. What do you do with your best asset when you are getting all dolled up? You play up to it people!  
THE BACKLIST is your secret weapon to getting your information to standout both in your buildings and in whichever online arena you choose to focus on. It’s what you’ve got over other online book promoters, so it you focus on older titles in your virtual work with leisure readers, you have already taken a big step toward rising above the overwhelming din of online book chatter. You have made yourself stand out without being a social networking expert.
If the backlist is our best asset, why aren’t the publisher’s focusing on that.  We are going to buy the hot new books already. They promote themselves.  Send us the emails and we will buy them, but the vast majority of the books we already have on our shelves...those  are the ones we need help getting into readers' hands.  Why aren’t they helping us with that?

I expressed this frustration to a few people and Magan Szwarek, Head of Adult Services at Forest Park Library said something that was really the inspiration for this entire post. She told me [and I paraphrase], Becky I agree with you that this is what you and I need, but sadly, the vast majority of library workers out there don’t know enough about the good new books. They need to be on top of that first and then move on to backlist. She reminded me that the reasons the publishers spend so much time trying to attract our colleagues attention with the new shiny books is because most library workers who are doing RA are not even aware that these publishing reps are there to help us. 

Unfortunately, she is correct. So all of you reading this. Be more aware of the newsletters and help that these publishing reps want to give to you. Maybe if enough of us start actually using their help, we can move beyond them only promoting the newest books to us and we can start getting the backlist help we need.

But I don’t think this awareness will be enough because of what I saw a BEA in regards to #2 above. And this is where the REALLY HARD TRUTH is coming, so sensitive readers may want to stop reading here.

The publisher’s focus on getting us ARCs because we are obsessed with them FOR THE WRONG REASONS. We need to stop with this attitude. My goodness, we work in a library. We have access to any book we could ever want to read....FOR FREE. Have you really read every book in your libraries already? Do you really need to have every advanced copy that is coming out? Why? When are you going to read them all?

The hoarding of ARCS I saw at BEA was embarrassing. People in the library sessions with suitcases on wheels to haul ARCs. The race to get as many books as possible for yourselves. But even worse, the library workers who came to BEA on their library’s dime to learn and possibly get a few ARCs for prizes and colleagues, these workers who I saw spending HOURS of their day in line to get autographs on paperback ARCs. They were in a line NOT in a session.

That is not for your patrons. Don’t lie to me. You were doing that for yourselves. Why? Is your life going to be better because you got that signature? It’s not. Besides, you are there for your patrons, not yourself.  You shouldn’t be using your access for yourself.  That is what the Saturday Book Con was for you to go as a fan.  I know plenty of library workers who went to BEA for professional reasons and then went to Book Con separately as a fan.

Okay, but Becky, I saw you with a bag full of ARCs at Library Journal Day of Dialog? Yes you did.  But not at BEA itself. I picked up maybe one or two.  But at LJ DOD I had 2 reasons for getting ARCs. Reasons that many of you reading this may have also had.
  1. That day was all about the authors and publishers promoting upcoming books, many by new or under appreciated authors. I grabbed as many as I could early and then spent the day listening to the authors tell me why their books were going to be good for my patrons. I took a ton of notes during the event. After that day, I compiled a pile of the books I thought would be the best to talk about here on the blog and took a picture. Later this week I will have a post about those books here on the blog where I will tell you why you should buy them and promote them. 
  2. After taking the picture and gathering my notes, I shipped a giant box of the ARCs and tote bags I received to a library in New Mexico where the entire budget for summer reading prizes was cut. They will use these ARCs as their adult summer reading prizes. This is an example of the ARCs not only helping connect readers with books but also, I am helping a library in need to have some incentives for their reading program. 
So I will be doing my part to help the publisher’s get the word out to libraries about some awesome new titles-- which is the only reason they give us ARCs. It is not to fill a void in our lives, a hole we want to fill with books. Sadly though, that is what many of us are doing.  It makes me sad. But more importantly, it distracts us from the work we are trying to do--help leisure readers.

Some tell me, oh but it is a perk of the job. Why? Again, we have free access to every book through the library [and ILL] already. Why do I need more? 

Another sign of how bad the problem is happened when I went to meet with Amy Lukavics, a wonderful author of YA horror on Thursday afternoon.  We had planned to meet up at the end of her signing, but she left early because they ran out of books. She messaged me to tell me the publisher had saved one advanced copy for me. [I am going to read it and put up a review on the horror blog.] When I finally got to the booth to grab it, the publishing rep came out with a sad face saying, “I have the copy for you but it isn’t signed or anything.” I said immediately, “Oh, I could care less about a signature. It’s an ARC, I just am saving them the postage of mailing it to me. I have worked with Amy before and I am going to review it.”

Sadly, he was shocked that I only wanted the book so I could help connect a great horror title with readers. HE EXPECTED ME TO WANT IT FOR MYSELF.  I know I said above that Magan’s comments were the inspiration for this post, well, this specific interaction was what forced me to write this. I was so embarrassed for us as a profession. This is what the publishers expect from us because this is how they see us behave.

The overall point here is that WE have to change. We have to stop being obsessed with getting our hands on as many ARCs as possible and instead focus to using the publisher promotion to make purchasing decisions and then handing the books out to the right readers once they arrive. Change the focus from getting stuff to helping patrons. 

Heping patrons find their next good read is why I do this. If that isn’t why you do this, go find a new job because I am sure you can make a lot more money doing something else.

It is only after we make a priority adjustment as a profession that we can expect the publishing reps to start helping us promote the backlist better. That is the true help we need.

Back soon with another Call to Action.

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