Arizona library starts program to promote self-published authors

By BlueInk Staff

As the idea of “eating local” catches on across the country, Dana Braccia wants to take the concept one step further: Why not “read local,” too?

To that end, the collection development manager of The City of Scottsdale Public Library  launched a program inviting local authors to donate their books — including self-published titles — to be stocked on the library’s shelves and available for checkout.

A take-off on the “eat local” movement that encourages people to buy and eat food grown in their own communities, the program’s goal, notes a press release, is “to showcase emerging literary efforts of our community, introduce readers to unique homegrown talent that is not yet nationally known,” as well as give local authors “a tangible way to connect with Arizona readers.”

“We want people to be able to experience what’s been written in our own backyard, so to speak,” explains Braccia.

We recently chatted with Braccia and Ann Betts, community relations coordinator for the library, about “READ Local — Arizona Author Collection” and a recent expo that celebrated “READ Local.”

Why did you decided to start this program?

Braccia: “I think it was quite a few months back, we were noticing the same trend you did (the explosion in self-published books). A lot of members in the community were exploring this, creating these wonderful books, then contacting the library…Authors were telling us that they get such a sense of excitement, thinking of seeing their books in the library. (Also), with self-published authors, sometimes its hard to connect with your readers; you don’t have the traditional distribution outlets. Lots of authors wanted to give community members the opportunity to read their books. Of course, the library is the perfect spot for that. So we put together a task force. We wanted to expand our collection philosophy, to broaden it to include a way to accommodate local authors. We were thinking of that whole trend, like locally grown food, that type of thing. We want people to be able to experience what’s been written in our own backyard, so to speak.”

Was there a discussion about whether or not to open the door to self-published books?

Braccia: “We asked the authors to donate one copy of their book for the collection, meaning we are not using our collection budget to purchase these…Because the library is not making a financial outlay, we said, ‘You know what? Let’s be a little more flexible here.’ “

Betts: “I handle the promotion of all these types of programs. I was reaching out to local bookstores, and (the staff members) were saying, ‘Don’t promote it too much because you might get hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of (self-published) books.’ But that’s what we wanted…not only would we be getting in customers, but it would also benefit our local community…I get emails and letters and things in the mail saying, ‘Please consider my work’ from writers who really want to get their work into people’s hands. It’s really important to be supportive of the literary community.”

Can you explain that a little bit further? Why is it necessary to appeal to the writing community?

Braccia: “One of our main products is books. It’s just a natural fit. Years ago, when Twilight (link to amazon page) first came out, Stephenie Meyer (link to her page) was one of our speakers…Here’s little Stephenie Meyer coming out at our event and look what happened…”

Betts: “Libraries are trying to step outside of the typical story times for kids (and similar programs)… We really want to let the community know that we can support their interests and help further their careers, hobbies, learning. Every library has a different focus, but that’s how we’ve decided to position ourselves.’”

Braccia: “This is just getting our toes in the water. I could see (stocking) locally produced music and movies. Society is in such a creation mode, it’s amazing.”

How has the program been received?

Braccia: “When we first started, we had great promotional display shelving. We started with 122 titles. Within the first ten days, over 70 of the books had been checked out…Now we have the books on regular shelving, and they’ve been checking out very well.

“…It seems to have a good, healthy turnover. It’s a picked-over collection with a lot of stuff checked out all the time. Traditionally, about one-third of our collection is checked out (at any given time) and two-thirds is on the shelf. For me, success (with this program) is if we achieve the regular standard 1/3 checkout at any given time…

“I usually get in five (new) books a week, so the whole ‘flood’ everyone was talking about, I’m still waiting (for it to materialize). We would definitely like to build the collection…”

Do you have an idea of who is checking these books out?

Betts: “We have some statistics. We do a survey every year, and one of the main questions we ask is, ‘Did you find what you were looking for?’ Ninety percent say ‘Yes.’ We also ask, ‘Did you pick anything else up?’ And ninety percent say ‘Yes.’ And that comes from browsing. Customers come up and say, ‘I need a good book that’s a mystery or a western’ and we refer them to the (local) section. (We say), ‘Here’s a book I can guarantee you haven’t read. Check it out.’”

Do authors tell you that the program has helps with their sales?

Braccia: “Not so much, but I tell you, the letters I get from them are just heartwarming. It’s amazing how much heart and soul authors put into these books. They’re just so excited (to see them in the library).”

Betts: “I was in my office and a man, probably in his 70s, asked if I could put his book in our collection…He asked me to read it, give him feedback. It was a book of poems. He was really sweet, friendly, and I was walking in the neighborhood and bumped into him. He was my neighbor! I just think it meant a lot to him to share what he had put so much of his heart and soul into.”

Braccia: “You (BlueInk Reviews) are providing actual validation (of a book’s worth), if you will — or not. For us, we don’t have to be in the judgmental role. We’re just setting out the buffet.”

Tell us about the recent expo.

Betts: “The purpose of the expo was to really reinforce the community support we’ve been talking about. We’ve had all these authors who said, ‘Please take my book, put it in your collection.’ We thought it would be great to have a day when they could sell copies of their books, network with each other. That idea parlayed into the thought, ‘What if we did a day, a local author day, and get in authors and also local instructors who could talk about how to get books published — someone like Stephenie Meyer who could say, ‘When I was in your shoes, this is how I made it happen.’ “

Braccia: “Self-publishers as well. Think of a vendor like Sir Speedy that does actual printing of self-published books. (We thought we’d do) a trade show type of thing — inviting a lot of different vendors who could explain what they have to offer. There are so many people out there thinking, ‘I’d like to write my memoir, or a cookbook.’ Sometimes it can be very inspiring to see all these other books, let them talk to local authors and also have all these other resources available. Pursue the dream! … Before, it was such a world of gatekeeping, and that can be a good thing, but I think we should be in the business of helping people pursue their dreams versus squashing their dreams.

So how was the event received? How many authors turned out — and did they find a willing audience to buy their books?”¨

Braccia: The event was very well received. We had over 200 people attend, and all of author tables were fully booked. We’ve already started planning for next year, and based on the feedback of our participants, we’d like to reshape the program into several unique events and activities that happen throughout the year. These will include writing workshops, informal networking meetings with presentations on topics including book marketing and promotion, and a big holiday book sale. We’ll also continue to add to our lineup of library resources. We would like the library to be the first and best place for all aspiring authors to begin their creative journey.

That’s a great note to end on. Thank you both for your time, and best of luck with your program!

Check out more information on the Scottsdale program.