Sunday, February 6, 2011

Libraries change lives

Drum roll please..................its post number 400!!!!!!! Jeepers, I can talk a lot.

When I first started out as a writer I thought it was all very simple. You write a story that's good enough, the publishers say yes, it is turned into a book and people buy it. Rinse and repeat. I have since learned that it doesn't work like that at all. You can write a story that is good enough but that's as far as you get. You can write a story that is good enough and the publishers say yes but that's as far as you get. You can write a story thats good enough, the publishers say yes and it is turned into a book but thats as far as you get. You can rinse as much as you like but never get to repeat the process. And at every point there can be many more steps in the process but not necessarily. If your head does not explode you are doing very well. It is much more complex and tricky than I could have imagined but I am determined to be as knowledgeable as I can be and I devote a considerable amount of time to learning about it.

As a writer it is useful to know how your income can be supplemented. Not too many writers can live on royalties alone. Many writers do school visits, run workshops, and provide assessment or editing services. And we breathe a sigh of relief when the Public Lending Right cheque turns up just before Christmas. I have often thought it unfair that School Libraries are not included with Public Libraries in the PLR, especially if you are a children's author and I mentioned this in my last post. After all, if the PLR makes up for books that are not sold as the result of folk being able to borrow them from the library, should this not be true of all libraries. Well folks, as with everything else to do with writing, it is just not that simple. I had this fabulous comment posted by a school librarian in response to my last post:

Of course you knew you were going to get at least one response from a School Librarian!
1] Those purchases are sales, sales are good. There would probably be fewer sales in NZ if it weren't for school libraries as most school librarians that I know consider it very important to support local authors in order to present the students with a representation of their world.

In quite a few cases [not particularly with yours as yours are not 'noticeably' NZ books], these books are bought because of the local content - not just because the writing and production value is as good as most of the books they buy from outside of NZ.
However the feedback we get is that generally NZ books are attractive with way better art work [than seen in the US for example] and we generally feel that a high majority of NZ authors are definitely worth buying. What we are often faced with is paperback books which fall apart quickly and books which go out of print /supply rather faster than they should.

2] School libraries are funded from parents' fundraising efforts, not by the MInistry of Education, rates or taxes and are not covered by the relevant government Act. There is no official body which could demand school librarians to send in a print out of their lendings each year/quarter. It is an interesting complication not easily solved. The only thing I can suggest is to balance a lending fee loss with getting paid to give readings, visits and writing classes - something NZ children's authors used to do for free in the bad old days.
We do know it takes months and years to produce each book and there is a lot of awareness that children's authors have a hard time making a living just from writing. We are also faced with the gamble of buying as many different books as we can for many different age, taste and ability levels and hoping that those books will be read more than a few times. Our budgets are mostly very constricted, so I wonder what would happen if we were paying lending royalties as well?

I am a huge fan of libraries, both public and school. I think I lived in the school library throughout the days of my school life and was often a librarian. I got my borrowing card from the Public library system at about 8 or 9 and still use the service regularly now. Libraries rock and I have been watching the situation with public libraries in the UK with a lump in my throat. Libraries change lives.

I have been so grateful to receive my pre-christmas cheque I have never stopped to wonder how it is funded apart from wishing the pie from which we are paid was a tad bigger. Although more authors and titles are regularly added the pie stays the same size. Do libraries pay a fee to cover the PLR like companies pay an ACC levy? I am gobsmacked that School Libraries are not funded from Ministry of Education money. Isn't reading and its encouragement a fundamental part of every child's education? Of course the other side of the coin is how many book sales do I actually lose from children borrowing my books. Another librarian commenter on another blog said that research has shown book borrowers also buy the most books. The study I referenced in my last blog post also showed that people buy books by authors they know. I need readers to get to know me through library borrowings of my books. So as you can see its a completely different can of worms to the one I thought I opened.

I guess the bottom line (for me anyway) is I want my titles in libraries, both Public and School. The bottom line is I want my stories to reach children. More money would be nice but I write so I can share my stories with the people I write them for. And librarians help me make that connection. And the good news is my next picture book will be in hardback so if libraries buy it it should last a bit longer :)


Old Kitty said...

The things libraries have to do to stay alive. Yay that your school library are stocking and supporting local childrens' authors!!!! Why they're not covered by the Ministry of Education is beyond weird especially when a school library is and instrinsic part of the school!

Yes, yesterday was save our public libraries day here in the UK. A big SHHHH!!! was sent to this darned government!!! I can only hope they listen.

Take care

Anonymous said...

Yes, we feel very much for you all in the UK and US [public and school library services], and it is very heartening that so many authors and celebrities have spoken with such eloquence about the value of libraries - especially the value to them when they were growing up.

We also worry whether the next kick of the recession could affect us in the same way but so far no politician dares to cut libraries further. I did have a smile about one article though; some UK library staff were to lose their jobs in favour of self issuing machines. Most public libraries of a decent size here already have those. It does stop a certain amount of OUS for librarians but it probably doesn't cut the work load much as then we have time to answer more interesting queries.

Anonymous said...

I'm not going to hog the comment boxes every day but just to give you an idea of spending power of school libraries: our per head figure is $19.30 this year - and we will receive a few donations too, sometimes as many as 200 out of a total annual purchase of about 600 items. Total number of items, culled every year to keep it manageable, is about 10,000. Mostly we would buy only one copy of a book unless it was needed for a topic study - exceptions would be Harry Potter, Emily Rodda, Zac Power series, etc. We would have a medium sized budget compared with other schools - and there are many schools who have no budget- they have to fund raise through book sales to parents and such things as Scholastic Book Clubs.
I'm not sure what this shows about the effects on general NZ bookselling but we would probably not buy more than one copy of around 80% of children's titles. I think a survey such as the one Scholastic released [which referred to the US] would be very useful.

TK Roxborogh said...

wahh, I love that kids are reading my books. Four of my current students have library issues of my books but wahh I want to be able to earn a living from writing and not have to teach as well but waaahh (again) I love teaching.

Met a man today whose brother is a sci fi writer just had his first novel picked up in the US. I kinda hate stories like that.

Chris said...

Sheesh what would I do without you? I didn't even know about the Public Lending Right. Am I the dumbest author out there (don't answer!) So have downloaded the forms to send off. Thanks Melinda. That's great news about your new picture book too, looking forward to seeing it. How refreshing to have it all happen so speedily for once!