Writers and the Library

I'm a confessed lover of the library. I check out books there at least weekly, love the fact I can manage a list of requests online and can find pretty much anything I want, and especially love the fact that it's free.

I feel strongly libraries are good things, that they should be free, and that they should be plentiful and accessible to anyone. I'm a strong believer also that if the facilities are there people will take advantage of them and as a whole they will benefit society.

Now, that said, I also have big plans to be a writer, a novelist. And no matter what any writer tells you, they want the book they write and get published to sell well. Selling a lot of copies not only gets you a contract to write more books without having to have a real job (I don't think of it as "work"), and in the best case scenario can allow a person to live a very comfortable lifestyle. Again, ideally - for most it doesn't work out that way.

But this brings me to a bit of a dilemma. As a consumer I very, very rarely spend money on fiction. I used to, when I first got a job after college that allowed for extra money to be spent on books. I'd buy the new novels from all my favorite authors from Amazon as soon as possible, then consume quickly. And then the book would go on a shelf or in a box and probably hasn't been touched since (well, that's not true - we revamped the storage system a couple years ago, so they HAVE been touched).

I'm not the kind of person who reads books more than once. Maybe I'm not reading the books or maybe I just can't stand spending time on something when I know what happens when I could be spending that time on a new novel. There's no doubt I'll never get to all the things I would like to read, so why read something twice even if I did enjoy it immensely?

I also freely admit this is a personal quirk - a lot of people will read a book twice or more.

But it leads me back to my findings, which were I was spending $17 on a new book, reading it for a few days, and then never looking at it again. Instead, I can get on a list at the library for a new novel, receive an email when it's being held, read it and return it, and never spend a dime. Isn't that a fantastic deal?

However, I want to write a novel. Or multiple novels. I want these novels to be published and sell a million copies. I want that novel to become immensely popular. And do to that, I have an inherent expectation that people must BUY the novel. Not check it out the library.

Sure, libraries have to buy books too, but just selling to them isn't going to get me out of 90 minutes in the car every day commuting and getting up at 5:30 in the morning to avoid the worst of rush hour.

Can I ask someone to do something that is going to make my life better (hopefully) if it's not something I do myself? Can I really expect someone to buy my novel if I pimp it out at a book signing at a local bookstore, when if the tables were turned I'd probably just go to the library?

Published or non-published writers out there, what do you do? Readers, would you even care? Leave a much-appreciated comment - maybe I'm overthinking things (and getting way ahead of myself since, you know, I haven't even started...).


  1. This is something I wrestle with as well, both as a cheapskate reader and as an author with three books scheduled to hit shelves starting next August.

    I'm actually heading to Seattle in a couple weeks for an event that's been described to me as "librarian speed dating." A bunch of authors in my genre will be meeting with about 50 authors in the Seattle/Puget Sound area to convince them to buy our books. While certainly I'd love it if every individual on the planet went out and bought my books, I know that's not realistic -- especially for a debut author with no name recognition. Having my books in libraries will put me in front of a whole lot of readers who might not otherwise have taken a $7.99 gamble on an unknown author.

    My hope is that if they like what they read, they'll recommend me to friends and family, and will go out of their way to buy my subsequent releases.


  2. As a reader, especially one for whom actual money is often in short supply, I am a library lover.

    As a writer, I'm even more of a library lover. So many times people have said, half-apologetically, "I got your book from the library," as if they felt bad telling me they didn't actually buy it. My reaction is always the same: "Thank you!" I'm thrilled when a reader finds her way to my books, and so I couldn't be happier that libraries help make that happen.

  3. I have two little cards on my keychain - one for Borders books and the other for the Public Library.

    As a reader, I like the chance to discover new authors through the safety of the library, and if I like the new author, I'm more likely to go buy their next tome at the bookstore.

    I don't believe that libraries will make bookstores extinct, any more than instant coffee affects Starbucks. ;-)

  4. I love the library. I read a lot of books that I would never pay for (like the Twilight series) and I don't have space to keep many books. There are a few that I prefer to buy, but I realized years ago that amazon.com was getting a ton of money from me, only for me to turn around and donate the books to Goodwill.

    What I will say, is a book that provides some unique physical "thing": a CD, a tear-out, postcards, magic decoder ring ... those will get my attention. A friend of mine wrote a book on Mail Art and in the book where sample postcards and stickers. Hello! Gotta have that! :-)

    My bigger concern is the rise of the e-book. It widens the digital divide and makes me wonder about the fate of the library and the printed book.

  5. Wow, actual writers posting comments, thanks!

    Bill and Tawna, you both make excellent points, which feed right into what Jessica said. It's all about making that first contact and hoping it makes an impression. And when you do and it's good, it should hopefully lead to future sales.

    Which I guess means I should write more than one book. :)

    And Bill, I told you this on Twitter, but I got Lost Dog at the library and enjoyed it - others to come. :)

    @ Zuko's Mom - I wasn't even thinking of e-book v. library when I wrote this, but it's an interesting point. I haven't followed the intense discussions on the subject other than to know they exist, but as a writer and a reader I don't think the medium of the book will matter. I think people will always want to read long fiction, whether that's in classic book form or a new digital reader. And as a writer, I'm not sure it matters to me at all what the format it is, as long as it's being read, you know?

    Thanks everyon!