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Why Libraries Are Good for Authors and Publishers

Today I learned that the San Antonio Public Library has installed kiosks in local airports, which travelers can use to browse the catalog and check out eBooks. This news made me happy and excited for the future of libraries.

Unfortunately, I learned this through the snarky Tweet of a literary agent I used to like. Her attitude made me incredibly angry.

And author earnings are? "San Antonio Library installs digital catalog access in the airport" @melvillehouse mhpbooks.com/san-antonio-public-library-installs-digital-catalog-access-in-the-airport/

Needless to say, this person is no longer on my list of agents to query with future projects. An agent who believes that libraries don't benefit authors—or who implies that libraries rob writers of their dues—is illogical, short-sighted, and could ultimately hurt her clients' careers.

1. These kiosks don't offer anything people couldn't get online.

Every library in the country offers some sort of eBook lending, and many airports offer free wireless internet. Anyone in the San Antonio area airports could visit their hometown library's catalog on their phones, tablets, or laptops to take advantage of the exact same service offered by the kiosks.

The only new thing these kiosks do is make the service more visible and accessible. People who don't use libraries regularly might see them and say, "Hey, the library has eBooks? Awesome!" It's a fancy marketing device, nothing more.

2. Authors don't lose sales to libraries, because library patrons wouldn't buy their books anyway.

Publishers who refuse to sell eBooks to libraries, and agents like the one who's now on my black list, must believe that if people can't get books through their libraries, they'll cave and buy them instead. This is not the case.

People go to libraries to find free entertainment. They use libraries because they're cash-strapped students or seniors, or they're avid readers who gobble up multiple books a week, or they're simply frugal. Many are patient beyond belief and are willing to wait months on a holds list to read one popular tome, rather than paying five bucks for it on Amazon.

When people like this find that a novel they'd like to read isn't available through their library, they don't snap their fingers and say, "Gosh darn it! Guess I'll have to buy it." They instead say, "Eff that! I'll pirate it or read something else!"

Or they'll go to Netflix or Hulu, read web comics, play free games, or listen to music through Pandora. People looking for low-cost entertainment today don't want for options.

Authors are in no danger of losing customers to libraries. Libraries have to fight tooth and nail to get people in the door. But if an author's work isn't easily acquired, they're in serious danger of losing potential readers to other authors and YouTube.

3. Libraries create readers, and readers grow up and buy books.

I'm an avid reader thanks to three things: libraries, the internet, and a mother who's addicted to used bookstores. My childhood home could have been a public library in and of itself. Every room in the house had a massive book or movie shelf. I slept very little in my formative years, thanks to complete sets of Nancy Drew, Harry Potter, Sweet Valley Twins, Jane Austen and George Eliot, Ursula Le Guin and Lois Lowry, and so on and so forth.

Libraries promote reading by lowering barriers to it. Library eBooks are "free" (or at least, you've already paid for them through taxes), they're easily available through a couple of clicks, and you don't even have to worry about incurring fines or hauling your cookies downtown to return them. If people don't have to invest time, energy, and money into acquiring books, they're more likely to get into reading. They'll read more widely and take chances on authors they've never heard of before.

This post from 2011 contains hundreds of comments from readers who became lifelong book addicts thanks to libraries. They try the works of new authors because there's no risk, and then they fall in love with them and buy all their books for their personal collections. They review, blog about, and recommend these authors to their friends. They pass the book bug on to their children. Libraries are a boon, not a bane, to authors' careers.

4. Libraries spend a lot of money on books.

If any author, agent, or publisher reading this still believes libraries are bad for business, I remind them that US public libraries spend approximately $1.2 billion annually on books, eBooks, audiobooks, magazines, and more (source). That doesn't even count the expenditures of giant academic libraries at every college and university, the school media centers at many K-12 schools, or smaller special and government libraries.

If you increase circulation with innovations like these airport kiosks, libraries can survive and continue to spend billions on books for people who can't (or won't) buy them for themselves. But if you disparage and suppress libraries because you resent an imagined loss of a few extra sales, over time the libraries will fade away, and you can kiss that big chunk of change goodbye.

Funny Bits 10-15-14: Pinterest Finds

How to Save Your Self-Esteem

There seems to be a society-wide conspiracy to teach people that confidence is bad and low self-esteem is good. Look at the way we portray heroes and heroines in fiction.

  • Loveable heroines are modest "good girls" who feel insecure about their pasty skin and big thighs. They're shocked, shocked, to discover that any man could desire them.
  • Villanesses wear revealing outfits and have brash personalities. They take the initiative with men and aren't afraid of their fellow women and are, therefore, bad people.
  • Loveable heroes are weak. Superheroes will stand there, looking righteously appalled, as villains do horrible things. They often get beat up, never lifting a finger to defend themselves. This makes them good men.
  • Villains are arrogant and pushy. They brag about how smart and strong they are. This makes them bad men.

The problem is that people confuse confidence with arrogance. Confidence is being aware of your true worth and skills, while still appreciating the talents of other people and being strong enough to admit you're not always right. Arrogance, on the other hand, stems from insecurity. Arrogant people feel the need to prove that they're better than everybody else. They get petty, mean, and loud if their superiority is threatened in any way.

Terrified of being seen as arrogant, many people become spineless and think they're "humble." Writers, in particular, seem to suffer from an epidemic of low self-esteem.

It's no wonder, really. The book business is highly competitive. Anyone who gives the writing thing a serious shot will quickly get used to hearing, "You're not good enough. Nobody wants to read your books. Nobody wants to read any books. You have no talent and you won't make it. You're doing everything wrong and everyone hates you and your haircut is ugly."

It can be difficult for any writer, whether a commercially successful veteran or a bushy-tailed newbie, to keep a firm grip on his or her sense of self-worth. Here are some things you do to remain confident in your work and abilities, even when it seems like the whole world is shouting, "You suck!"

Mute the Dementors.

Because this industry is so competitive, and so few people achieve financial success through fiction writing, the ones who struggle can turn all kinds of unpleasant: bitter, jealous, cynical, and just plain mean. These people like to congregate in certain places and be angry together. Occasionally they go on field trips to punish other people who express opinions they don't like.

If you find yourself in one of these toxic circles, get out ASAP and don't look back. These people are Dementors, sucking the happiness and optimism out of everyone around them.

You may also know some altruistic Dementors: friends or family who think they're saving you from heartache by advising you that you probably won't succeed, your books don't have commercial potential, and you'd best give up now and practice saying, "Want fries with that?" They mean well, but you should ask them to stop. If they won't, they're not your friends.

Don't become a Dementor.

You can avoid most of the people who shout that you suck, the industry sucks, and the universe sucks. But often the person shouting the loudest lives in the mirror.

Sometimes I have to try very hard not to become a Dementor. I have bad days and I want to complain about them. I have to remind myself that what I post online is public, and that I wouldn't step outside and start yelling, "Writing is so haaard! I hate bureaucracy so muuuch! Why are people so meeean?!"

There are rants about important issues that need to be written, and then there's venting. Are you writing vicious things for catharsis? Attacking a specific person? Unfairly generalizing about large groups of people (e.g., all literary agents are greedy vultures, all reviewers are bullies, all self-publishers are lazy hacks)? This is venting. You're being unpleasant and alienating people for no good reason. And if you're a decent person, you'll feel guilty about it later.

Don't sink to the level of the Dementors. If you feel the urge to be nasty, just turn around and waltz away on the high road. You'll feel much better about yourself, believe me.

Listen to the compliments.

I remember almost all of the negative things people have said about me and my stories. But I seldom remember all of the positive things people have said about me and my stories.

I remember the giveaway winner who said the heroine of Bubbles Pop is one of the most unlikeable characters in English literature. I remember the blogger who requested my book, then emailed me to say she wouldn't review it because it was boring.

But I don't remember all of the people who gave it four or five stars. I don't remember the reviewers who said they enjoyed the humor and couldn't put it down, or the ones who said they looked forward to reading my future books.

It's easy to discount compliments as lip service. "Oh, they're just saying that. They don't really mean it." But for some reason, when people say rude or dismissive things about us, we assume they're right.

What if the rude people are trying to drag you down because they're jealous? What if the people who gush over your stories really, truly enjoyed them? Embrace the compliments!

Reevaluate the word "failure."

We often use the word "failure" when we mean "a result that isn't as great as we'd hoped."

In the kids' movie A Boy Named Charlie Brown, Charlie Brown goes to the Big City to represent his school at a spelling bee. He gets to the final round, then misspells the word "beagle" and takes second place. Second place—what a failure face! Charlie's friends are disgusted with him. The townspeople refuse to speak to him. He barricades himself in his room to hide his shame.

Our culture tends to sneeze at silver and bronze medals, as if gold were the only one worth having. If you're not the champion, you're a loser. If you're not the lead actor, you're a nobody. And if you're not a billionaire bestselling author, you're a failure as a writer.

We need to stop saying "failure" for everything that isn't the best of the best. A real failure is something that doesn't do what it's supposed to do.

A bridge that collapses is a failure. It was supposed to stand up, and it didn't. It doesn't meet the basic requirements of being a bridge.

A rocket that fizzles out on the ground is a failure. It was supposed to fly, and it doesn't. It doesn't meet the basic requirements of being a rocket.

But a book that sells only a handful of copies isn't a failure. It's still a book. It's just a book that wasn't as popular as you hoped it would be. And a manuscript that's rejected by agents and editors isn't a failure; it's just a story that might need to be revised and/or self-published.

When you say you've "failed" at something, do you really mean you failed? Or do you mean you were disappointed with the results of your efforts? If you expect perfect success in everything you do, you're going to be disappointed in yourself for the rest of your life.

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