A Reader’s Responsibility

27th March 2013

This morning, while my eyes were still trying to adjust to the “open” position, I was perusing Twitter. One tweet in particular brought me into the land of the living a bit more quickly than normal.

tweetI was, as you can imagine, irritated by this, but I was also puzzled. First off, does Sara J. Henry believe only libraries are buying her books? I see photos of author signings in her Twitter history, so obviously not. The tone of her tweet is quite sarcastic, and I phrased my response thus: “Dear author, out of all books, I chose yours, library or no. & if I told you I enjoyed it, might I not tell others?”

I wanted this author to understand that the library is typically not going to make or break an author, but an attitude of disdain toward a reader may. Now, I say all this, but I in no means want to deride Sara J. Henry. I’ve followed her on Twitter for quite some time. However, after last month’s hullabaloo with Terry Deary discussing libraries costing him money, I thought it might be time to speak up, particularly after Henry tweeted a link to this blog post about readers helping writers.

Of course, this is quite a large topic, and Terry Deary’s article bothers me particularly because he writes children’s books – books that are expensive to make but are also expensive to buy and finished quite quickly. Not only that, but low-income families are very often the ones to use the library. I was part of one of those when I was young.

Sara Henry, on the other hand, writes adult fiction. Last year I read 150 mostly adult, fiction books. No, I did not buy them all, but for about 16 years, I have sustained my reading habit and been responsible for my reading material. At even an average of $10 a book (so I’m knocking out hardcovers, which I own plenty of), and assuming I don’t buy more than I read (ha!) that’s over $1,000 a year. For many, including myself, that number is shocking. When my bank first allowed me to divvy up my expenses, and I saw my book purchases a few years back, I was appalled. I began to use the library more frequently.

As a blogger, even though I receive copies of books from publishers, I still buy entirely too many books (30 last month alone…I know, it’s an illness).

So I was curious. For a mid-level author (meaning, not Stephen King), about how many times will the book be checked out? I called my local branch to figure this out. Unless it’s a hugely popular author, they only order one copy per branch, and there are five branches total in my city. We looked up Lawrence Block. Four of the branches each had one copy of his 2011 novel A Drop of the Hard Stuff. The total number of checkouts for this book was 26. The most popular branch checked out the book 19 times. The other branches had a significantly lower number. We looked up several other mid-list authors and discovered the same thing. We determined that, on average, each mid-list book is checked out approximately seven times. So perhaps that is money out of the author’s pocket, but wait – many readers check out books they’d never buy (and end up buying others by the author), and libraries also buy a large percentage of books.

This post by Kristin Laughtin, “Are Libraries Good for Authors?” looks into this in greater detail:

How much?

Publishers count on a significant portion of their revenue from libraries. In 2009, public libraries and educational institutions (which include school and college libraries) bought $14.6 billion of the $40 billion in books sold. Over a tenth of net book sales are to libraries. The absence of libraries would be noticed! (Link.)

A tenth of book sales. That’s quite a lot, considering again that many library patrons will check out a book he or she would never otherwise buy. Laughtin also points out that a library isn’t 100% free. Taxes go toward the maintenance of libraries, and those outside of city limits pay fees to enjoy the library. The cost may be minimal, but it is indeed there.

Plus, in this community of readers, though it may be anecdotal, many of you have indicated if you enjoy a book at the library, you will likely buy it for your shelves. When I was an adjunct instructor on a meager salary, the library became my only source for reading material. Did I like that? Well, I loved that it was available, even if I didn’t love not owning the books I wanted.

But beyond that, referring back to author Jody Hedlund’s post about readers helping to promote writers – I want to talk about responsibility. It’s a word that comes up quite often these days in reference to books, authors, and bookstores. Jeff O’Neal at Book Riot is one of the most recent to discuss the guilt inherent in many articles supporting indie bookstores, but I’ve noticed it more and more often in terms of the author/reader relationship. From the opening of Hedlund’s post, it rankled:

Dear readers, did you know authors need YOUR help in promoting their books? Yes, they really do!

Many readers already do a superb job promoting the books and authors they love.

Now let me stop right here and say: I do not consider bloggers average readers. By virtue of the blogger/publisher, blogger/author relationship (one I avoid), responsibility is or should be considered. However, an average reader? It’s those words “superb job” that stick in my throat, as it is indeed a job to complete the “twenty easy but effective” things a reader can do to help an author.

So just what is the responsibility of an average reader? I can think of only one: to read. (oh, and not to pirate.)

There are some connected thoughts here such as reader engagement, but ultimately, they boil down to this: Readers should read. They should read if they can’t afford it (by visiting the library), or if they can afford it (by buying). I am not personally responsible if an author doesn’t get the kind of coverage he/she desires or deserves. Similarly, I take no part in the negotiations that happen between authors/agents, authors/publishers, authors/editors. All of those relationships directly affect an author’s pocketbook. My desire to check out one book from the library most likely does not, particularly when we keep in mind the average number of checkouts on a mid-list book.

If I read said book, I do not have an obligation to write about it, tweet about it, tell my book club about it, or talk about it, in general.

I do do those things. But it isn’t my responsibility.

Are there authors I really like and choose to support? Most definitely. I will buy anything Rainbow Rowell or Ian Rankin writes. And I will attempt to buy that book on its publication date (if I can afford to, after bills and food) – because I want to help an author. Because I chose to put my money where my mouth is. Because ultimately, I want to read that book, and I want these authors to write more books. Might they still choose not to write more? Most certainly, but if that’s the case, it won’t be because Jennifer Ravey in Texas did or did not buy the most recent book they’ve written. Because the writing of that book, the process of getting that book published, and the marketing of that book are not my responsibility. Period.

Ultimately, Jody Hedlund is correct. If a reader really wants to help an author whom he or she likes or admires out of the goodness of his or her heart, by all means, promote the heck out of that book. But understand, authors and readers, it is not your job or your responsibility, and don’t you dare feel guilty for that.

  • Excellent excellent article Jenn. And this can be spinned in so many directions–is it our responsibility to save bookstores? I TRY to buy books from my Independent bookstore but I spent $18 on a copy of Chu’s Day for Elle last month. Good news is she loves the book but had I known that I was going to be spending over $20 (with tax) on a picture book that will take us 5 minutes to read, I probably would have put it back on the shelf and gone to the library. If I bought every book that I read from said bookstore, I would quickly break my book reading habit. Yes, as consumers we play our part but a word like “responsibility” is a big one.

    • Agreed, Trish. I by no means fleshed out all the implications, but there’s a lot there. Consumerism is consumerism. I just don’t think it should be looked at any differently than other businesses.

  • Yeah, that tweet really irritated me as well. I noticed she’s since taken it down.

    • She has, and I get that. I’d want to take it down, too, but it’s an attitude I’ve seen a lot of lately.

      • And I get that HER tweet was probably coming from a place of irritation too, but… that’s the thing about the internet. Once you say it, it’s out there. You can delete it, but you can’t take it back. I am glad you got a screen shot of it.

        As for the attitude… for many of us, it’s not an option between buying a book or borrowing it from the library, it’s an option between borrowing it from the library or never reading it at all. Is there seriously no difference in their eyes? Because that’s what this attitude implies to me. That a non-sale is a non-sale, period.

        • There’s a big difference, and it’s just one *small* reason libraries are important.

  • *slow clap*

  • Great points! I work for a book publisher, both of my parents are librarians, I’m an avid reader (114 books last year), and very avid library user and pretty much every part of my brain, taking all those things into consideration, loves libraries. As someone who works for a publisher I can say that library wholesalers are so important to the publishing business and, as your numbers state, a big consumer of books. Plus librarians are so important in promoting books.

    As as a reader (and someone who would like to see my parents employed until retirement) libraries are really important to communities. I know I wouldn’t read early as much if I couldn’t take books out of the library and I definitely buy books that I really like (but I agree with you that I’m among a small percentage of people). And libraries provide countless other services.

    It’s a shame when authors have such terrible attitudes.

    • I think a lot goes into that attitude, and I think it’s part of why there is so much tension between authors and readers (I refer specifically to Goodreads and the drama I steer clear from). First off, it’s hard to find an agent to find a publisher to find a good deal to publish a book. Beyond that, many authors are expected to do quite a lot of the marketing themselves, particularly if it’s a relatively unknown author. And it’s hard work, particularly when some of them also work other jobs. So I can understand it, really. But, at the same time, I think the derision is aimed at the wrong people.

      Criticizing institutions that do much more than check out books to people isn’t the place to start. Like you, I hold libraries near and dear to my heart. And I use mine and donate to mine and will continue to support it in any way possible. And honestly, it has broadened my reading, something I’ll never complain about.

  • Honestly, I can’;t afford to buy all of the books that I want to read. With a hardback costing $30 these days, it’s the library for me or the Kindle version which is usually a little cheaper, but not always by much. I think the tone of her tweet was a little bitchy but I get what she is saying. But if you give me a dollar for every time I recommend a book that I loved, I’d be rich. That cheapskate that just checked out the book, and loved it, is now going to tell ten other people, probably half of which will buy it.

    Plus, do you find that you will buy books from the author’s you know personally no matter what the cost?? There are authors on FB that are just too darn humble for their own good. Sweet, nice folks who write well, I’ll skip a meal to buy one of their books just because of how nice they are. Okay, I am rambling now.

    • Oh, yes. I do get where she’s coming from, though I think it’s nearly always a mistake to criticize readers on such a public platform.

      And yes, yes, yes. I have bought several books that way, even if they aren’t necessarily my typical read.

  • Susan

    I agree. Bloggers can’t afford to buy books all the time. I split getting books between the library, on the Kindle and in print. That’s the best we can do

    • And there is not a darn thing wrong with that. I don’t see anyone saying we shouldn’t share books, though I’m sure that’s incumbent in this attitude.

  • Ditto.

  • Peter Dudley

    I don’t really get the idea that “novelist” must be a job title that pays all a person’s bills. There’s this sense in some quarters that a person who chooses to write novels is somehow entitled to a solid living from that pursuit, and that somehow the rest of the world is responsible for providing it. I don’t see it that way.

    I am one of those who has a very demanding day job but who has managed to write several novels over the past decade as well as raise kids, lead scouts, coach soccer, maintain a house and marriage, etc. Yay for me, right? Even with all my success (I am quite well known and respected in my day job), I still feel a huge debt of gratitude to any person who dedicates a few hours of their life to enjoying a book I wrote. So they downloaded it for free or got it at a library? The hours they spent reading it, and the few minutes they spent writing me an email or an Amazon review, are a finite currency that I can’t ever take for granted and which is way more valuable to me than the $2.17 or whatever I “lost” in royalty.

    Which isn’t a loss at all because you can’t lose what you never had.

    I am SO on your side with this that I not only donated copies of my book to my local library, I also donated all my royalties last summer (don’t get excited, it was only $150 or so) to their summer youth reading program.

    Anyway, I lost my point. My point is that people shouldn’t EXPECT to make a living writing novels. Get a job to pay the bills. Write novels to entertain.

    • Peter Dudley

      (by the way, shout out to @thebooksluts who tweeted this link today.)

      • Peter Dudley

        Another BTW to all the commenters apologizing for using the library: Any author who makes you feel guilty about reading their books is doing it wrong.

        • I’ll just go ahead and shout an “Amen!” to that.

        • Judy Bobalik

          Amen, Peter. Great post, Jenn.

    • Elyse over at Pop Culture Nerd made this point earlier, and I loved it. (And p.s., you’re the type of writer at whom I marvel…I can’t imagine writing a novel with all that on my plate.)

      And I can understand that feeling of gratitude, but I’d go so far as to say, you don’t owe that to a reader, either. You feel it, and that’s great, but there’s this odd (and relatively new, from what I’ve seen) attitude that this relationship should go beyond my reading experience and your writing experience. It’s one I’m uncomfortable with, which is why I mostly avoid following writers whom I read on Twitter. It breaches a wall that I’m ok with being firmly where it is. I think it’s the breakdown of that wall (if you have seen ANY of the Goodreads drama you likely know this) that causes issues between readers and writers.

      But I’m veering way off topic. I’m a firm believer that libraries increase sales more than hurt them, and I think most of the numbers support that very notion.

      [And I know it isn’t why you said it, but THANK YOU for donating to summer reading programs. They saved me when I was young.]

    • David Fuller

      I agree with this to the extent that it is the reality for many, if not most writers. Novels have long since been overtaken by movies and TV shows as the dominant form of popular entertainment. So people have less money to buy books, so there is less money going to authors.
      I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect to make a living writing. But it behooves the writer to remember the point Jenn is making — the reader’s only obligation is to read, and do it legally.
      The economics of bookselling were always unfair to publishers and authors — Amazon and the rise of e-publishing have turned it even more upside down. I don’t know what the future holds for writers, but the one thing they can’t survive without are readers.

      • Yes. It stinks, it really does, but it’s truth for many. And I think people have less expendable income, in general. You’re looking at someone with no cable and who rarely goes to the movies (maybe 3-4 times in one year). I don’t buy DVDs at all (though I really want the new Bond flick.) And even with that and a modest lifestyle, books are expensive.

        And regarding the economics of bookselling, I have read some horror stories lately of imprints trying to sign gullible writers to contracts with horrible terms. Again, this is hugely problematic, but the problem at least begins before the reader ever has an opportunity to make a difference.

        • David Fuller

          I wonder, I’ve been buying at least half the books I buy at used bookstores — am I supposed to feel guilty about that? 😛 But I rely on the library, and borrowing from friends, and sometimes books I’m interested in that I get for review, for a lot of what I read. And still my house is full of books!
          It’s been said elsewhere, but I learned to love reading at home, at school, at the school library, at the public library, and devouring comic books on long trips and at the lake. I have loved it all my life. I didn’t learn to love reading in a bookstore. If I had, I’d have learned to read seldom and do something else with my time!

          • That’s such a great way to state it, and as I said in response to Lauren: My mom made me a reader; my library made me an avid reader.

            Reading has long been my mainstay and my source of entertainment. I’m sure it’s rough. I know it must be, but again, I don’t think readers are necessarily the problem.

  • Amen. That’s quite a sense of entitlement that writer’s got going on. In a time we’re trying so hard to promote literacy and keep kids reading, just seeing people in public reading a book gives me a warm, fuzzy, feeling.

    • It is, and if my livelihood were dependent on readers buying books, I might feel otherwise. But mine doesn’t, and I don’t. 🙂

  • Lauren

    Amen, Jenn. I, like you and many of your commenters, read a fairly high volume of books each year. Buying each one is not an option. I feel fortunate to be able to buy the number of books I DO buy, which I buy for many different reasons. A beloved series, a newly touted author, an author I want to support personally. But there are times I would like to TRY something, take a chance on a total unknown to me – be it author, subject matter, genre. If I had to pay for all of my books, discovering new things would be much more difficult. And how sad that would be?
    I’ve shared with you the story of one of my favorite reads from last year. Hadn’t heard of the author before, didn’t really know much about the book, but it just *sounded* good. Was lucky enough to find it at the library and it became one of my top 5 reads of 2012. What did I do? I bought a copy for my shelf. I offered to buy a copy for the first person to respond to a tweet on Twitter. Bought my mother a copy for Christmas. I raved about the book online and to all my reading friends. Why? Not because I felt obligated. Certainly not because it was my responsibility. Not because I paid for the book. Because I loved it and wanted to share. If my library hadn’t bought that book, not only would I have missed a magnificent read, but I would never have had the chance to spread the wealth. That library bought one book, which resulted in at least 5 sales. Does that always happen? Of course not. But it could NEVER have happened without the library. Thanks for this post.

    • YES! This is exactly my point. I’ve done this too. I know you didn’t like The Book Thief (right? maybe I’m remembering incorrectly), but after I read that book, I bought four copies and shoved them under the noses of people I loved because they had to read it right then. Period. You can’t dismiss these incidents.

      And aside from that, the library serves a much broader purpose, bringing literature and information to those who, unlike you and me, can absolutely not afford it. I definitely feel privileged to be able to buy the books I do, but that hasn’t always been the case. I will go so far as to make this statement: My parents (specifically, my mother) made me a reader. The library made me an avid reader.

      • Lauren

        It was not me who did not like The Book Thief. In fact, I haven’t read it and this reminds me I have to shove it up the TBR. Have heard wonderful things.
        The broader purpose cannot be understated (one reason I’m hesitant to read the link to the post by the children’s author, as I think it will only further serve to irk me). We are all best served by our kids being encouraged to read, widely and without worry as to cost, from a very young age. Kudos to your parents for instilling that. I remember having a library card and the thrill of picking out new things. But then you come across ONE book booger and your borrowing habits are changed forever. TMI?

  • I love this article to the moon and back. Fantastic Jenn, thank you!

    Readers should read and that is that.

    • Thank you. I love readers to the moon and back – and I love our book blogging community the same. But I tire easily of all the stipulations and shoulds and should nots we impose on ourselves or have other impose upon us.

      • We do impose so much on ourselves and there are so many landmines. Why can’t we just read and let read.

  • Sara (wordyevidenceofthefact.b

    Oh. My. Goodness. You are firing on all cylinders here, girl. Amazing argument-building. Also, to all y’all who are saying “I try to buy from indie bookstores” and “I can’t afford to buy all the books I read” with the guilt underneath, I say: “which does more for your community? An individual writer or an individual library?” The system may be broken, but it is (if I may quote) “not your responsibility”!

    • Thank you, especially as I worry when I write/publish a post so quickly that I’ve missed something.

      And yes, even in these comments, you can see the guilt. I don’t have an indie, so I worry about that guilty much less. In terms of community, the library wins hands down, for providing any number of services (including the checkout of movies and books).

  • David Fuller

    One thing I’m curious about, is whether U.S. authors get any royalties for books in libraries. In Canada there is the Public Lending Right program, under which authors get a (small) royalty, or payment, based on their books being bought and used by libraries. I don’t know all the details, but there’s more info here: http://plr-dpp.ca/PLR/faq.aspx

    • I’m so so curious about this. From my understanding, the U.S. has no such program, but it’s interesting. And as a patron of my library (an active one who also donates books and time), I’d be willing to pay to support something similar. I wouldn’t want it to be required (for lower-income families and individuals to still be able to use it), but I think many would be willing to do that.

      • David Fuller

        It’s paid & adminístered by the Canada Council for the Arts, a public arm’s-length funding body that also provides grants to artists of all kinds and supports publishing, filmmaking, visual arts and music (not as sure about music, I think there is another body for that). Anyway, CCA is taxpayer-funded. I’m not sure of a similar public institution in the U.S., but there are similar PLR programs in Australia, New Zealand and Israel.
        I can’t speak for the other countries’ programs (or even Canada’s really), but a lot of what the CCA was founded to do was nurture Canadian writers/artists/etc.’s careers so they could have their work available in Canada to a similar extent as U.S. and British work.

  • Eeek, I really don’t like the whole authors vs. library war (battle? skirmish?). I am a huge advocate of the library. I can’t begin to tell you how many authors I’ve discovered through the library whose books are now on my must-buy list. They are books that I may have never bought from a book store because I wasn’t familiar with the book or the author but because they were at the library, I picked them up. When I go to the bookstore, I usually know exactly what I’m looking for and I don’t do a whole lot of browsing and therefore I don’t really discover a lot of new books at the store.

    You make a lot of really amazing points!!! I’m sharing this on Twitter!

    • No, it’s not nice to see for sure. And you’re very right about the store. Books are expensive, so if I’m going there to buy a book, I’m going in for that particular book. I’m not browsing because even if I wanted to buy 5 books instead of 3, I’d be stressing about where I’m taking that money from. That’s never good.

  • Thumbs up. I missed most of these tweets/posts when they went up, but I’m sort of glad of that. They’d probably just annoy me. I have a very “get off my lawn” attitude when it comes to some of this stuff, and don’t like to be told what my obligations are or are not. If I love a book, I will write about it and share it and recommend it because I think it will make other readers happy… not because of what I think it will do for the industry.

    • Oh, let me just say: ME TOO. Just as I don’t like being judged for what I read or when I read or how I read, I also don’t want to be told I have obligations as a reader. Says who? And who are you that I should listen to you? Gets under my skin super fast.

  • Charlie

    Jenn, whoa, amazing post. Timely here, as around the time you posted it I’d said to a writer that I’ll try and write about his book – the offer being mine without him asking. And that is it, exactly as you say. We can help if we choose, and yes as bloggers there’s a difference there, but readers are spending rather than getting paid at all whilst there are indeed people who are paid to market, aptly known as marketers. And any mockery of libraries is completely distasteful and shows a lack of care for those who rely on them for books. If children from poor families can’t take books from the library how are tomorrow’s authors going to make more money anyway? There would be fewer readers by virtue of there being less routes and opportunities to become readers.

    • Thanks, Charlie. And excellent point re: libraries cultivating readers. That is so so important. Period. And, as you say, access for lower-income readers. Been there, done that. I bought zero books during that time and would have really been miserable without anything to read.

  • Nadia

    What a great article! I loved it! I’m with Jennifer – “readers should read and that is that.” And as far as the author’s tweet goes, I found it to be rather bitchy. I get what she means, but come on! Anyhow, I love the way you tackled this topic and that tweet 😉

    • Well, I can understand if she actually sees hits from that. But I cannot imagine she does or at least, that she can quantify them, if so. I don’t want authors losing money, certainly not, but these books aren’t pirated. They’re bought and then shared, much as I am free to share my book with every member of my family, if I so choose. What’s the difference? Should I no longer lend books either?

  • Bravo, Jenn! The only responsibility an average reader has is to read. Great post.

    • Thanks so much, V! It was one I just had to write.

  • Christine @ BookishlyB

    This is an excellent post. I understand that the publishing company is cut throat and it all comes down to money for publishers, but where did appreciation for story and readership go? Now I’m irritated.

    • But again you hit on part of the problem – the readers aren’t cutthroat (mostly). It’s on the business end where authors should look if they don’t like their terms. I cannot imagine that royalties are so high that checkouts are costing them. The books are still bought. I don’t know. I’d like more information about it, honestly.

      And another commenter discussed that in Canada, authors actually do make a small bit of money each time a book is checked out. That seems fair, and if my checkouts really cost an author, I’d be willing to pay for my membership in a similar system.

  • Thank you for writing this! I love libraries and end up reading random books I never would’ve thought to purchase in a store. I will continue to read for fun without guilt!

    • Good for you!

  • Aparatchick

    Goodness, that tweet certainly has a patronizing tone to my ear. But in any case I believe you are correct: a reader’s responsibility is to read. And I don’t know why an author would think that a library check-out means less money for them; that assumes (always dangerous!) that the reader would have purchased their book if they could not get it from a library. And that’s simply not true.

    • This is what I wish I could get across or at least have some evidence for. The library is my place to experiment. I check out books that are real risks. That way, if I don’t like it, no skin off my back. If I don’t finish it, same thing. And many of those books I would never ever have bought. It’s insurance in case I finish something I know I’ll like.

  • Leah

    Great post! You’re absolutely right!

    I also think some people forget that libraries are a great “gateway” to future income for authors. How many times do you check a book out from the library by an author you’ve never heard of? If it truly is a spectacular novel, you’re more likely to purchase their next novel, which increases the future revenue stream for authors. Instead of bashing libraries, these authors should be considering how they’re useful for converting readers into their fans.

    • Yes, yes. So true. I first checked out the Elizabeth Peters Amelia Peabody at the library. One book. I’ve since bought at least 8 or 9 myself.

  • Shannon Clark
  • Excellent piece Jenn – the facts and logical argument always win over short-sighted thinking. Libraries are both an investment in society and the way society invests in authors – their existence is dependent on the other long term.

    • That’s such a great way to put it, Jo. Libraries are most definitely investments – in a whole lot of ways.

  • Sheila DeChantal

    What a great post! I am a huge advocate of the library and like you – a huge purchaser of books as well. As a blogger i review the snot out of a book I enjoy from the library no differently then I would if I had purchased it myself – and being a bookaholic, many times I do purchase books I have originally read from the library as I want to own it.

    However we are getting the books… we are reading them and we are talking them up if they are good. Any author should be thrilled to see someone reading their book, not saddened to see that alas… it is a library book 🙂

    My first look into Harry Potter was a paperback library book copy. I wanted to see what the big “hype” was about and why my kids were fascinated with them. Fast forward to today and I own every one of the books in paperback and hardcover and audio. I also own Harry Potter trivia games, Scene It Games, a twenty year anniversary edition of the first book, books about the author… did I mention I totally got my geek on last November at Harry Potter world in Orlando? (Too much? 😉 ) Anyhoo… you are spot on here – bug name author or not, any reading of the book is awesome.

    • Hahaha! Too funny. Harry Potter world sounds fun. 🙂

      But yes, there is no hard and fast research that I’m aware of re: buying books you love after checking it out at the library, but I wish there were.

  • Ellen Clair Lamb

    Well said. Bravo. Readers: read. Thank you.

    • Thank you for stopping by and commenting.

  • bybee

    I haven’t read these authors, but their comments make me want to NOT read them. Great post!

    • I can certainly understand that. It’s partially why I try to avoid a lot of interaction with authors. Before I got so involved in the book world, I knew relatively little about the authors whose work I enjoyed.

  • Fantastic post! I especially loved that you called your library to determine how times books are checked out. You little sleuth you!

    I have discovered countless authors thru the library and have gone on to buy new releases from them. These are authors I’ve never heard of and never would have bought from if it weren’t for the library. Plus, libraries create insatiable readers like you and I from a young age who will beg and borrow to read well into their 80s.

    • Haha! I thought about it and then just dialed. Nothing like a little research. 😉

  • What’s funny is that I recently saw a tweet from a reader asking an author if she minded people getting her book and the library and she tweeted back that she LOVES that people get her book in the library because it means people are reading and, hopefully, sharing her name and book. Now I wish I remembered who it was!

    • I think that a good many authors feel that way. And honestly, I can understand at least thinking the way this author did, but I don’t think it’s necessarily smart to broadcast it.

      • Sara J. Henry

        Absolutely, which is why I deleted the tweet once I realized how it could be perceived. (Twitter doesn’t allow much room for nuance or details, and it is, I realized belatedly, NOT the place to try to suggest that if more people don’t buy books, the author they love may not be publishing another book.)

    • Sara J. Henry

      Probably one third of my emails come from people who get my books at the library, who would never have found my books otherwise. Librarians are incredibly supportive to authors, including me, and I am hugely grateful. What I was trying to express to fans of specific mid-list or under authors in my ill-advised tweet (rapidly deleted, but unfortunately Twitter is not an Etch-a-Sketch) was that, in most cases, publishers won’t continue to publish books if most sales are to libraries only. (Sales to libraries do not show up in industry sales numbers, which can be a “rating system” for authors.) But I realize that eaders shouldn’t, in fact, be worrying about whether their favorite authors keep writing or not. Readers don’t need to know what goes on behind the curtain.

  • Rayna (libereading)

    Just chiming in to compliment you on a very eloquent (and true!) post.

    • Thank you so much!

  • Cerece Murphy

    *sigh* I kind of feel guilty by association reading this because I am an author (though not even a mid-tier one) and I just want to apologize for the mass freak out that so many authors seem to be having right now. None of this is the readers’ fault or responsibility. The publishing world is changing rapidly and I know it is easy for authors to feel threatened. But what’s weird is how that seems to be spilling out on to readers in the form of all these “responsibility” talks. It is a vastly more competitive world for writers than it has been and authors just need to take a breath and accept it. Just because we’ve worked hard, authors aren’t anymore entitled to success than anyone else. For the record, I love libraries and think even the notion that libraries could, in any way, be bad for authors is just silly.

    • Well, just as I don’t apologize for the way some bloggers behave, I certainly don’t expect you to do so on behalf of authors.

      I can imagine it would be incredibly difficult to be an author in today’s market, but I also don’t think blaming readers using the library is the answer. And you’re right, success isn’t guaranteed. I imagine it would be frustrating in an industry where luck/coverage have so much to do with success.

      But yes, lots of silliness. Good way to put it. 🙂

  • Great post and it has generated great comments, too. (New follower here, I don’t know how I missed your blog before.) I work at a library and have family members in the publishing field, so I get the feeling of guilt myself about not “supporting” every author I like with a book purchase, but, of course, unless I were only going to read a couple of dozen books a year, that’s not possible.

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  • Hearing that someone had found my book in a library would be an enormous compliment. It means that many steps were taken to get it into my reader’s hands: the library selection team thought enough of the description to order it, the book was placed in the library where it could be easily seen, it appealed enough to the person browsing to pick it up, and the reader cared enough to mention that they’d read it! It is not the reader’s responsibility to market the book but it is my responsibility as an author to appreciate the route each of my books take to be accessed by mystery readers and hopefully, to entertain them. Thanks for the post, which reminded me of how much I appreciate each reader who takes the time to connect.

  • Thank you so much for this post. I did not see that tweet until I read your post, but my first reaction to it was, “…dear author, I understand you are entitled to have your own opinion, but do realize that if my only option was to read books that I bought, I wouldn’t be reading at all.”

    I echo the sentiment of you and your other commenters that I wouldn’t be an avid reader without the library. The public library was an integral part of my childhood and adolescence, and the academic library got me through grad school. But in the past few years, my intense love and appreciation for libraries has grown exponentially.

    I have been unemployed for most of the past few years, and have had to minimize costs as much as possible. That means I pick between buying books and buying health insurance; buying books and buying groceries; buying books and buying train tickets to take me to interviews where hopefully, I’ll get a job. I am idealistic and I love books, but the reality is that I cannot afford to buy books.

    The interesting thing is that in the same time period that I have been un(der)employed, my reading interests have become more varied. Where once I stuck to the bestsellers, I am now more likely to explore “neglected” classics, indie press, university press, works in translation, unknown-to-me authors. The library allowed me to explore and experiment. Had I been stuck reading what I could afford to buy, I’d be buying books to which coupons apply, books which are subject to the 3-for-2 deals that are so popular at big-box stores and Amazon. And now, on the admittedly rare occasions when I do buy a book (usually with a gift card), it is one of these out-of-the-ordinary books that I discovered because I first checked it out as a library book. And because I am the known bookworm amongst family and friends, a lot of what I read is passed onto others, who do actually have the funds to purchase those books.

    Someday, I hope to have a financially stable career that allows me to purchase BOTH basic necessities and books. But until then (and honestly, even then), I have absolutely no shame in using the library for my primary source of books.

    • Believe me, I have been exactly where you are in terms of choices regarding money. No way would I just sit back and not read. The library exists for very important reasons. It’s an investment and shows that at least somewhere along the way, we valued reading so much that we thought even those who couldn’t afford books should still have access to them.

      And yes, variety is definitely the spice of my reading life and something the library encourages from me.

  • Jenny

    I am committed to supporting authors I care about, of course. But I am equally committed (if not more so) to supporting my local library, which provides books and fantastic services to my entire community that they could otherwise never have access to. I get 98% of what I read from the library, and plan to continue doing so, mostly so I can support what the library does. It’s one of our country’s best public institutions.

    • I agree wholeheartedly and have written about the value of the library in the past. It’s a strange argument. Another reader and author posted that he wants to see research regarding the library not costing authors money. I’d argue the same. How can you quantify that when so many readers have said they check out books they’d never buy?

  • Nice piece! I was struggling with this (“struggling” might be too strong a word here), but I was thinking about this recently. It was more on the library vs. small bookstore, but this certainly gave me pause. I have to say I’m kind of horrified by the tweet. I get it. It makes sense. But, I think libraries provide for many who cannot provide for themselves. I am also one of those who takes out from the library, receives some free copies for review, and also purchases WAY too many books. Your $1000 freaks me out. I know I’m that bad.


    • That’s another entire discussion and one I think others have addressed well. I don’t have an indie bookstore anywhere near me (closest is nearly 2 hours away), so I don’t feel my perspective is as valuable, particularly as out of necessity, I typically look for value first and foremost.

      And YES, seeing the $$ I spent on books is pretty shocking.

  • Excellent post. Somewhat sad that you even had to write what should be so obvious. Libraries are one of the truly great inventions of society, not an engine to steal money from insecure authors. As a reader and an author, I believe it is my privilege and responsibility to respond if a reader of my work contacts me directly, usually by way of my public email or blog site. When an author addresses an individual reader, I call that “stalking.” Scary stuff.

    • Thanks, Evan! And I completely agree about libraries. I’ve seen several different discussions spawned from this one, and though there is a lot tied up in this, I keep going back to the distance between the writer and reader.

      When I was young, I wrote letters to authors on occasion, never hoping to receive a response. There was a distance there, and that distance was part of the pull. Now, though, access is so easy. I don’t particularly like it. It makes me uncomfortable for a number of reasons, not least of which you mention here.

  • Tymber Dalton

    Considering the material I write, I’d be simultaneously shocked and pleased a reader found one of my books in a library. I’m already honored when a reader trusts me with their time. As long as they don’t illegally obtain my books, frankly, I don’t care how they get them. Because I know for a fact that I’ve sold WAY more books via word of mouth.

    When people ASK me what they can do to support their favorite authors, then I say things like sharing Facebook posts, liking Amazon pages, etc. But I would NEVER presume to tell a reader how to get my book (outside of educating about the evils of file piracy) the way that author did. I am a reader as well, and as a reader who has discovered authors via libraries, I know libraries are fertile customer sources fo authors. Any author who ignores that does so at their own peril.

    • I’m going for the shallow first: I LOVE your name. Tymber. That’s beautiful.

      As for the other, yes. Illegal is never cool. But as you said in your first line – it’s amazing with as many books as are out there that non-bestsellers are read. It’s a certain magic simply because of the volume.

  • Amen. Libraries are one of the very very top ways readers find me and I bless every one. Out of a lack of understanding how word of mouth and discovery happens authors are making a mistake to underestimate libraries.

    • I agree wholeheartedly. I think that as more and more authors flood the market, each vying for space within it, we’ll see more of this. People enjoy bemoaning the fate of the novel, but from where I’m sitting, it’s alive and well…maybe too much so. Authors have a tough job getting noticed, but readers also have a tough job weeding through so many books. Libraries are great venues for discovery.

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  • Sara J. Henry

    I just stumbled across this, and I wish you had contacted me at the time so I could have responded or perhaps attempted to explain my tweet – which I deleted promptly once I realized how it could be perceived.

    I did not intend the tweet to be sarcastic. I did not intend to castigate readers for reading books they get ANYWHERE (okay, I have strong feelings regarding illegal downloads). I was trying, inadvisedly, within the limitations of 140 characters on Twitter, to say to the readers who write authors saying they love their books and when is the next one coming out and please write faster … that if not enough people buy books, there won’t be a next one.

    Was I trying to make any reader feel guilty about getting a book from the library? (or from a friend, or a used bookstore, or a garage sale?) No. I’ve done and continue to do all of these.

    No reader owes me or any other author anything. I was trying, gracelessly, to let readers know that when an author they are happy to find at the library suddenly is producing no books … maybe, just maybe, their sales simply weren’t strong enough for them to earn that next book contract. And if those readers had known, maybe they would have bought a few more books or told a few more friends about that author they loved.

    But there was no way to say that in 140 characters – and I failed abysmally, and I apologize.