Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

GUEST OPINION: How Do Romances Get on the Shelves–Library Shelves...

book review Sherry Thomas is a Bantam historical author whose latest release, Not Quite a Husband,  is in stores today.   

In the summer of 2007 I picked up Shana Abé’s The Smoke Thief and The Dream Thief from my local public library. I loved them so much that I immediately went out and bought those titles for my home library. Around the same time I also bought the paperback release of Susan Elizabeth Phillips’s Match Me If You Can. I’d been reading SEP a long time, checking out her books from the library. With Match Me If You Can I finally made the leap from simply reader into buyer. I bought her release, Natural Born Charmer, in hardcover. And just a few days ago, after reading and loving the library’s copy of Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen, I purchased my own copy at Target.

The library is–for me and probably a good segment of the romance reading population–a great way to try out new authors and new books. It is risk-free. It is cost-effective. And if the first book I read of an author does not entirely work for me, I am much more likely to give the author another chance if his/her other books can be found at the library.

But how, exactly, does a romance get into a public library?

The Nuts and Bolts

First, not all libraries purchase romances from their book funds. "I’ve worked in a library that just plain didn’t buy them out of the book budget, and would only cull them from donations or purchase them with Friends of the Library money," recalls Tessa Dare, public librarian and debut author (Goddess of the Hunt, Ballantine, 2009).

Second, not all romances that find a home in library are catalogued. "Even when a title is donated to the library, it costs the system about $5 per copy to process it. We have to download cataloging entries, for which we are charged, from a national library cataloging database called OCLC [Online Computer Library Center]," explains Cindy Beno, fiction selector for Austin Public Library, which does catalogue all the titles in its collection. But because cataloguing is an expense, in some library systems romance titles available on shelves are not searchable in the catalogue. Library patrons must be physically present in a library branch to see what it has to offer.

But the state of romance collection in public libraries "is getting better every year" in the assessment of John Charles, reference librarian and fiction selector at Scottsdale Public Library and recipient of RWA’s first Veritas award. "The first break came in 1995 when PLA [Public Library Association] had a preconference on romance fiction. It was a day and a half and speakers included Nora Roberts, Joyce Saricks, a readers advisory expert, and Cathie Linz who at that time was RWA’s library liaison."

In 1996, in her address to the PLA National Conference in Portland, Oregon, best-selling author and former librarian Jayne Ann Krentz would exclaim, "Yes. Yes, a thousand times yes, romance has arrived."

For library patrons and librarians in the trenches building their romance collection, however, the most significant change that took place-’besides the regular appearance of romance titles on best-seller lists–was the inclusion of romance in professional review journals such as Library Journal, Booklist, and Publishers Weekly.

Library Journal started with three romance columns in 1992. It now publishes six romance columns a year. Booklist made the leap in 1999, and reviews between 100-200 romance titles a year, according to John Charles, who reviews romance for both Booklist and The Chicago Tribune. Publishers Weekly has also been reviewing romance since the 1990s.

A full-time fiction selector in a 20-branch system often has a budget that runs into hundreds of thousands of dollars and must select several thousands of titles a year. It is humanly impossible to read that many books, therefore fiction selectors rely heavily on these aforementioned trade publications in the course of their work. The other major trade review source book selectors consult closely is Kirkus Reviews, which does not review mass market paperbacks, the format in which the vast majority of romance titles are published. Book selectors also read the New York Times Book Review, Los Angeles Times Book Review, and Entertainment Weekly, to name a few, but given the relative paucity of romance coverage in mainstream media, those trade journals that give the genre regular column inches matter all the more.

Who Gets Selected?

Does a good review in Romantic Times matter to fiction selectors? The short answer is that a Romantic Times Top Pick does not directly translate into library orders the way a starred review in Publishers Weekly does. Do fiction selectors draw on RT at all in their jobs? Cindy Beno recently started subscribing to RT, because Ingram, the vendor that supplies Austin Public Library, uses it as a review source. (Ingram and Baker&Taylor are the two largest vendors for the library market.) Wendy Crutcher, fiction buyer for Orange County Public Library, does not use genre review publications much in her work, but finds RT useful for information on reprints.

What about an ad in a publication like RWA’s RomanceSells? Cindy Beno says, "In general, the advertising I pay attention to is what I come across in my normal review sources, such as a big splashy one-page ad in Publishers Weekly or New York Times Book Review." Wendy Crutcher has a slightly different take. "When I do receive material like this, I always look through it. A huge chunk of my job is staying on top of what’s in the works, and this type of material is helpful on that front. I can’t guarantee that I’ll buy your book just because you put it in something like Romance$ells, but it does succeed in putting your name in front of my face."

If reviews in RT and ads in RomanceSells don’t make much of a difference where fiction selectors are concerned, then what does, other than hard-to-come-by reviews in trade journals? Sales. A book on the New York Times best-seller list will find its way into many public libraries. "To judge popularity, the New York Times best-seller list is our gold standard," says Cindy Beno. "If a book is a blockbuster best-seller, I will make sure that there are 2-3 copies for every branch in the system."

While it is reassuring to know that at least a part of the system is democratic, a spot on the New York Times best-seller list is far more difficult to come by than a review in Library Journal. What about authors who don’t yet have the numbers to land on best-seller lists and whose titles didn’t quite manage to catch the attention of the trade journals?

This is where the internet rides to the rescue, with its highly trafficked romance sites, devoted readers, and vibrant discussions. Cindy Beno reads TheRomanceReader.com and RomanceInColor.com. Wendy Crutcher does not read online reviews all that often, but does monitor "buzz." "If a book or author is generating a lot of discussion, I take notice and often times add them to our collection," she says. "Some examples from recent memory are J.R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood series and Anna Campbell’s debut novel, Claiming The Courtesan.

An even more recent example is Joanna Bourne’s 2008 release The Spymaster’s Lady. The Spymaster’s Lady flew under the radar of most trade journals. But it was a sensation online–word-of-mouth at the speed of electrons–and garnered instant and passionate fans. As of this writing, according to WorldCat, the world’s largest bibliographic database, The Spymaster’s Lady is catalogued in 184 library systems worldwide. Compared to On the Way to the Wedding, the last in Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton series, which is collected in 765 library systems, 184 doesn’t seem too many. But it is a tremendous showing for a title that is for all intents and purposes a debut book. So yes, the old adage about inventing a better mousetrap still applies.

(Update: In January 2009, American Library Association’s Reference and User Services Assocation selected The Spymaster’s Lady as its Reading List winner in Romance. As of May 2009, The Spymaster’s Lady is catalogued in 329 library systems worldwide.)

Give Them What They Want

"There’s this philosophical divide among public librarians that’s often referred to as "give them what they need’ versus "give them what they want.’ Meaning, the first group focuses on building a collection for the ages, amassing a library with breadth and depth and not worrying so much about what’s popular. The second group is more of a “we’re here to serve the public now” mindset, and will spend more money on things like
bestsellers and duplicate copies and genre fiction," says Tessa Dare.

The librarians I have interviewed for this article happen to all share the "serve the public now" mindset. "We want to have on hand what the public is clamoring to read," says Cindy Beno. Wendy Crutcher agrees. "The minute my job becomes about personal taste is the day I hope I get fired. It’s not about what I think people should read. It’s about providing people with what they would like to read."

They are not alone. Reference & User Services Quarterly, the official journal of the Reference and User Services Association, the research arm of the American Library Association, recently published a guideline called Core Collection in Genre Studies: Romance Fiction 101, part of a series that honors the best in genre fiction. Librarians seeking to add to their romance collection these days have at their disposal romance-specific reference books such as Romance Today: An A to Z Guide to Contemporary American Romance Writers (2006) by John Charles and Shelley Mosley and Romance Fiction: A Guide to the Genre (1999) by Kristin Ramsdell.

John Charles and Shelley Mosley, both past recipients of RWA’s Librarian of the Year award, also conduct romance reader advisory workshops at state and national library association conferences and at RWA’s annual Librarians’ Day program. These workshops cover the basics: defining romance, defining the subgenres, working with readers, developing a collection, and marketing a romance collection to library patrons.

Marketing, you say? Marketing in our libraries?

Yes. Libraries too have bottom lines: circulation numbers. Municipal budgets are always tight and libraries compete with other basic services for resources. The greater the circulation number a library generates, the better to justify continued support and increasing funding.

"Smart library systems now realize how important romance fiction is and most larger public library systems now purchase romance fiction," says John Charles.

Gaining Respect

Despite romance’s dominance in the marketplace, it is not the most bought genre in libraries. That honor currently belongs to mystery, which generate the largest circulation numbers. But more and more romance titles are selected into library collections every day as romance gains greater respect in the library community.

"Having RWA create a library liaison position to work with libraries was a brilliant idea," says John Charles. "And their annual Librarian’s Day event has also helped to create more connections with librarians."

Even better, remember the old lament that winning the RITA doesn’t translate into sales? "I will order Rita winners and nominees, if they are not already in our collection," says Cindy Beno.

And that is something to celebrate indeed.

Sherry Thomas is a long-time patron of the Austin Public Library. Her third historical romance, Not Quite a Husband, hits the shelves today.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

38 Comments

  1. Tae
    May 19, 2009 @ 06:21:27

    Thankfully I worked for a very good library system that cataloged all romance novels, even if they did shelve them in spinners by letters so it was a PITA to look for specific books. I can see how some libraries with small budgets would not buy romance books because romance books seem to be the biggest donation to the library.

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  2. Jane O
    May 19, 2009 @ 06:39:52

    My public library is an absolute treasure. Both it and the county system are online, so I can sit at my computer and request any book in the county or ask my library to buy it if it’s new. So far, the library has acquired all my requests.

    This is important for me, since there is no way I could afford to buy all the books I read. I only buy the ones I have read and know I will want to keep and read again, or the ones by the (very few) authors whose books I am sure I will like.

    Thank heaven for libraries.

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  3. Jessica
    May 19, 2009 @ 07:15:01

    What a wonderfully informative article. Thank you! I had never considered the link between library purchases and consumer purchases, and now see that it works both ways: more sales leads to a better chance the library will buy a title, and if the library has the title, and a patron borrows it, that’s a an increased chance for another sale.

    And my Kindle version of NQAH was delivered wirelessly this morning. Woo hoo!!!

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  4. Jill Sorenson
    May 19, 2009 @ 07:36:38

    Thank you, Sherry! Great article. I’m a big fan of the public library. My local branch has an amazing romance selection.

    Can’t wait to read Not Quite a Husband!

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  5. Kim
    May 19, 2009 @ 08:14:43

    My library is terrific. They carry all the bestselling romance authors, many mid-list authors and several debut authors. I know they carried both your debut novel and Joanna Bourne’s. Whenever a book is not in the library database, if I ask for it, the library will usually order it.

    I picked up Not Quite a Husband over the weekend and am busy reading it.

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  6. Marianne
    May 19, 2009 @ 08:37:50

    I select books for the Large Print section at our public library. We have a category “Large Print Romance” and PB also has a “romance” category, but regular print does not categorize romance (but does categorize Western, Mystery & Sci-Fi). The LP Romance category is one of my top-circulating categories each year.

    In these tough economic times, Romances are flying off the shelves. Possibly because they typically have a happy resolution.

    The major Large Print publishers, Center Point & Thorndike/Gale have embraced “Romance” and have sub-categories of romance. I’m looking forward to reprints of some “older” favorite romances…it is difficult to replace copies that have circ’ed a hundred or more times years later…

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  7. Terry Odell
    May 19, 2009 @ 08:42:13

    I’ve been learning a lot of this the ‘hard way’ as one of my recent releases is with a publisher that targets the library market. Their marketing model, however, is based on their larger textbook division, and they don’t distribute to libraries via the normal (and discounted) routes.

    Even my hometown library, where I have done numerous speaking programs, didn’t carry it except for the copy I donated. They’ve since added 2 copies to their collection, but I had to deal directly with the acquisitions department and plead my case. The RT review I’d recently received helped too. One county over, the librarian loves my books and buys them out of her own pocket for their collection.

    If you don’t get those Big 4 reviews, it’s an uphill battle.

    I LOVE libraries. I try new authors. I read new releases I can’t afford until they hit paperback or e-book. I LOVE that my book targets libraries. I just wish it wasn’t so hard to get it onto the shelves. I know people can’t afford the cost of my gorgeous hard cover book, and I get little goose bumps when I check World Cat and see which libraries are buying it.

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  8. hapax
    May 19, 2009 @ 09:15:02

    As a fiction selector for a public library, I rely on the trade pub reviews, internet buzz, patron requests, donations (both for adding to the collection and for seeing which authors and sub-genres are “hot”) and just browsing the bookstores.

    One of my big frustrations with romance is the trend towards e-publishing, although I understand how it is a boon to readers. We do provide a large selection of e-books, but if you think that DRM is a pain for the individual reader, it is *insane* for those of us trying to set up circulating collections.

    I’ve even tried going directly to the publishers (Samhain and Ellora’s Cave) to try and set up individual deals, but just couldn’t work out the rights issues and the technical ability to integrate downloads with our catalog.

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  9. Jane Sevier » Sherry Thomas On Test-Driving Books
    May 19, 2009 @ 09:25:41

    [...] brilliiant, gifted, all-around fabulous Sherry Thomas is blogging at Dear Author about how books get to your library shelves. Check out what she has to say about why the library is [...]

  10. Kiersten
    May 19, 2009 @ 10:21:39

    We have a really good library system here in Northern NJ. What my local library doesn’t have the BCCLS computer system (I may have gotten the acronym wrong there) can find somewhere else for me and send over to my local haunt. Many of the larger libraries (coinciding with their larger towns) have more romance titles than mine and so I can get titles like The Courtesan’s Daughter that my library wasn’t stocking. Plus, I can do it all from my computer and get an e-mail when it’s arrived and is waiting for me. Not as good as being stocked everywhere, but certain a workable solution to keep titles accessible.

    Great post Sherry. Really informative. Thanks!

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  11. Mischa
    May 19, 2009 @ 10:34:26

    It also helps if library patrons request books. The few times I’ve done that, the library ends up purchasing the book within the next 6 months. (Of course they were rather popular books, so I probably wasn’t the only one to request them.)

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  12. Keira
    May 19, 2009 @ 11:20:12

    I always wanted to know this and now I do! Thanks for sharing!

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  13. LauraB
    May 19, 2009 @ 12:40:31

    Thank you for the article. I went out to the B&N in the Arboretum over lunch to get a copy. Imagine my pleasure in holding your book and disappointment in realizing that I missed getting a signed copy as you were coming by this afternoon.

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  14. Robinb
    May 19, 2009 @ 13:00:57

    I’m going to buck the tide here and say that I rarely base buying decisions on reviews. Someone may give a book a terrible review because they hate writers using first person pov and, what’s more, this author didn’t even do it that well. But what about my patrons who LOVE first person pov? They deserve a chance to read that book and see for themselves. Also, we buy so far in advance (up to 4 months) that by the time I’m seeing reviews, we probably already have the book.

    I’m seeing hella long hold lists across the board for romance (and genre fiction in general.) And not just for print. Audiobooks, and downloadable CD have also exploded. More and more romance books are finding their way to audio and more patrons are giving it a try.

    Nothing makes me more sad than to hear people online talking about how their library won’t buy category romance, or paranormals, or etc. Talk about putting yourself out to pasture! I understand that my budget (even though likely to be cut next year) isn’t everyone’s budget, but to exclude something wholesale like that is not really a service to anyone, is it? Usually, these are people who WANT to use the library, but can’t find books they are interested in.

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  15. Sandy
    May 19, 2009 @ 13:26:33

    The public library system I work for catalogues its romance fiction, but it doesn’t order much of it. Most romance novels we have our donations we’ve processed. There are five libraries in my system, and usually we’ll only have one or two copies of a popular book spread out among them. We have had (one is ‘lost’) only one copy of Joanna Bourne’s The Spymaster’s Lady. I had to get on a wait list to check it out and, because it’s a paperback, it’s not in the greatest condition anymore.

    And I think that’s part of the reason why some libraries don’t have a huge romance collection. Many romances are only published in paperbacks, and because of the relatively short shelf-life, libraries are reluctant to order copies.

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  16. SonomaLass
    May 19, 2009 @ 15:43:00

    Sandy made an important point — mass market paperbacks don’t last long when circulated. My county library system is wonderful; they laminate MMPs sometimes to make them last longer, and if a book disintegrates due to popularity, they put it on the list to be replaced (buying it if it is still in print, otherwise watching for a donated copy coming through). Even so, a book that’s more than a year or two old is a lot more likely to be available if it is hardbound.

    I would never have gotten back into reading romance if it hadn’t been for my public library. Moreover, I would never have been able to afford to catch up on the backlists of authors I discovered — I think the “In Death” series was about 20 books long when I borrowed the first one from the library!

    Because I believe in payback, I recently became a library volunteer. I figure the least I can do is give a few hours a week in return for all those books I read!

    In my experience, Sherry is right about how being able to read new authors from the library leads to later sales. I borrowed Private Arrangements and loved it, then bought my own copy of Delicious because I knew I liked her writing. I’ll be getting Not Quite a Husband next time I’m in the bookstore (later this week, after finals!). I have since purchased my own copy of Private Arrangements to re-read and to loan to friends, and two copies of Delicious as gifts. I have to buy another one, too, because I loaned it to a friend who says I can’t have it back!

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  17. Julia Quinn
    May 19, 2009 @ 15:48:47

    Thank you so much for that article, Sherry. It was fascinating.

    I always donate books to my local library (including copies of my own stuff), but I am usually told that they no matter the condition (most look like new), they will go to the library sale rather than onto the shelves. I am happy to support the library in however they see fit, but I do wish they’d put more of the books into circulation. I finally pulled my own (brand new) titles aside and said, “I wrote these, and I live within walking distance of this branch. Do you think you could put them into circulation?” (I have no idea if this worked; as far as I can tell, my branch only carries one of my books. That said, it’s a TEENY branch.)

    Another great way for authors to support libraries is to donate foreign editions. It takes a little research, but you can get names and addresses of libraries around the countries with a need for books in foreign languages. I’ve donated Polish, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Czech, Spanish, French, Italian… I can’t find anyone who needs books in Slovak, though!

    JQ

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  18. shel
    May 19, 2009 @ 16:00:51

    Very informative, thanks Sherry. While I heart my libraries, both of the systems I use do not catalogue most mass market paperbacks, much to my frustration. I didn’t know it costs something to catalogue books though, so that explains things.

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  19. veedee
    May 19, 2009 @ 16:40:41

    What an enlightening article, thanks! I love our awesome Hawaii Public Library System! It might take a while to get on the shelves but they have a good collection of new historical romance books!

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  20. Trisha
    May 19, 2009 @ 18:02:59

    I wasn’t going to comment until I saw veedee’s comment (an HSPLS patron! w00t!), but I since I’m here, I do want to mention that not all large library systems rely on centralized collection development, in which one person selects books for all libraries. Which has its advantages and disadvantages for staff, patrons, and, I would imagine, for authors, because it can be that much tougher for a book to make it on to the library shelves if it has not been reviewed by a trade journal and is not a bestseller when the librarian(s) making purchasing decisions is busy with non-collection development duties. For readers, if you want to read a book your library doesn’t have, do what Mischa said and request that the library purchase it, although we may not be able to buy (read: afford) everything requested.

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  21. Sherry Thomas
    May 19, 2009 @ 20:10:16

    LauraB,

    LOL, it was you! When I got to the Arboretum B&N I saw that they had 6 copies laid out for me at the help desk, instead of 7 as they told they had. The bookseller said you’d just picked one up. She made an announcement in the store hoping you’d come back. And I was awfully sorry to have missed you–not knowing who you were–because I’d forgotten my lovely gel pens at the previous store and went back to get them.

    But since it’s you, we’ll hook up and I’ll somehow get my John Hancock in your NOT QUITE A HUSBAND. (Why does it sound naughty to me?) :-P

    Robinb,

    I would love to know how your title-selection criteria. Do you base it on popularity? Patron requests? And how do you decide which new authors to acquire, when they do not have any circulation numbers etc to back up their selection?

    SonomaLass,

    Wow, I need to write a thank-you card to the fiction selector of your library for introducing me to you! <3

    I have so many other examples of library reads leading to purchases. I have yet to buy an Ariana Franklin book for myself, but I did buy City of Shadows for Janine, after getting it from the library and loving it.

    Julia Quinn,

    When you find a library that wants Slovak romances, let me know. Maybe they’ll want my Slovene editions too!

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  22. Sherry Thomas
    May 19, 2009 @ 20:12:09

    And just want to thank everyone for the comments. I had no idea we had so many librarians here at DA. I really should have known, since librarians are world-class book lovers and DA is nothing if not a gathering place for world-class book lovers.

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  23. Evangeline
    May 19, 2009 @ 22:19:02

    My local library only began cataloging paperback romances within the past few years, but the many they haven’t are left to molder on these creaky, ancient turntable stacks pushed in the back of the library. I used to donate to my library–until I was told donations were immediately given to the book sales, regardless if it was a new release or not (which annoys me because it takes my library 3-4 months after the initial release date to get a new book!). What’s funny is that I began college majoring in Library Technology, until my brain melted from all of the call numbers and regulations. But the library is my second home. Great post, Sherry!

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  24. Kerry D.
    May 19, 2009 @ 22:36:18

    I’ll add to the recommendation for us patrons to request books if the library doesn’t have it. So far, almost everything I’ve requested my library buy has turned up in the system. Surely, even if they can’t afford a particular book, it brings that books and author some attention.

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  25. Terry Odell
    May 20, 2009 @ 05:21:14

    I’ll echo Kerry D’s (and the other) suggestions to request books. Donated books to my library system go on the dollar sale cart. I had to tap dance like crazy to convince them to add mine to their collection after I gave them a copy to ‘consider’ along with my “I’m a local author, and I’ve done programs for a bunch of libraries in your system” spiel. When I was finally permitted to speak to the acquititions manager (that’s another story altogether), she said they look at reviews by the Big 4, but considered RT for romance as well. She also said if they get a fair number of requests, they’ll consider buying a copy or two.

    Right now, as a matter of fact, I’m having a contest on my website where I ask people to check their library for my book, and if it’s not there, to request it.

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  26. Robinb
    May 20, 2009 @ 06:18:50

    Hey Sherry,

    I’m sending you an email.

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  27. Joanna Bourne
    May 20, 2009 @ 07:55:10

    Hi Sherry,

    Thank you so much for the kind mention of The Spymaster’s Lady as an example. I am utterly delighted to think of TSL in libraries all over the world.

    Now, TSL is not in my own small town library system.
    They will neither buy it nor accept it as a gift.
    I am considering blackmail options.

    Looking through the catalog here in small-but-intellectual-ville …
    I find we have 4 books by Julia Quinn. (Yeah!) And a similar 4 for Eloisa James. Jo Beverley, 10. Mary Jo Putney, 9. Laura Kinsale, 2. Mary Balogh, 8. Patricia Briggs, 2. Rachel Gibson, 3. Sherrilyn Kenyon, 8. J.R. Ward, 1.

    OTOH, we have 15 titles by Francine Rivers and 18 by Wanda Brunstetter.

    These last two are Inspirational Romances, acquired, largely, in hardcover.
    So possibly a perception of ‘wholesomeness’ helps an author get placement in my own particular library system.

    And we have 36 copies of Marion Chesney’s works.
    While Chesney is, of course, a lively Romance writer, she’s better known for writing mystery, as M.C. Beaton.
    So maybe another way for a Romance author to get on the shelves is to . . . write Mystery.

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  28. Robinb
    May 20, 2009 @ 08:55:30

    Sherry asked me to post my email to her so here it is.

    Hi Sherry,

    That was an incredible article you posted on Dear Author! I was so glad to see someone linking sales to library use. I know, personally, I have found many authors (both new and “new to me”) by checking things out from the library. I may not have bought them on a whim from a bookstore, but libraries really are no risk endeavors. I didn't recognize your name, but when I went to your webpage and saw the cover of your book (Private Arrangements), I realized I have it sitting on my coffee table right now. I checked it out at the end of March (!!!!) and haven't started it yet. I'm not sure what made me pick it up, whether it was a recommendation from someone, or blog chatter, or what.

    As far as ordering goes, it all starts with money. It took me a long time to understand that, but nothing like a recession to drive that point home! I have a very healthy budget this year for print fiction. With that budget comes an amazing amount of freedom. I do realize that and I am grateful for it. It does, however, make it hard for me to understand the point of view of other libraries and how they select.

    For Romance, I select from many sources. Romantic Times is the best, not for their reviews but because it is a comprehensive look at the industry. There are author interviews, many of which list older titles by an author or readalikes for an author or books in the same sub-genre as the author. There are ads, and not just from big publishers, but small ones as well. I may not heed the content of the reviews, but the fact that a book title & author is listed is priceless. I don't care if they gave 2 stars to an author, the fact that you mentioned it is one more title I see & can potentially buy. 80% of these titles would not be noticed if not for RT. Baker & Taylor's Forecast and Ingram's Advance are wonderful and I use them as well. But they don't come close to the depth. June's Forecast had 46 mass market romance titles. June RT had 74 titles in the series romance category alone. I check each title in RT and see what the author has done before to base the number of copies. If their past books have done well, then I might increase the number of copies. If their past books haven't done well, then I might decrease the number. If the author is new, then I take a closer look at the description. If the plot centers around something that patrons are interested in (re: paranormal) then I'll buy it. I'll take a closer look at the review, and generally won't buy it if the review of the writing (sentence structure, etc) is bad. If the reviewer simply didn't like that the person used first person, or hated the hero or heroine, I'll probably still buy it. That is too subjective a reason to deny a book. But if there are serious problems with the writing, I will take that into consideration. If it isn't in RT or in Forecast or Advance, then I rely on patron requests and websites. RT does review some Ellora's Cave titles, but not nearly enough to sustain the love our patrons have for them. I go to their website and go through the same process. Check to see if we have other books by that author. If so, how have they done? If not, and there are no reviews, then I hit Amazon to see what other people are saying about it. Because this a process that is repeated for science fiction/fantasy, mystery, general fiction, literary fiction, genre specific magazines really help bring titles to my attention in a convenient way. If it wasn't for RT, I don't know that I would buy as many romance titles as I do.

    Patron requests: We limit our patrons to 5 requests per week, per cardholder AND to books that have already been released. What this does is stops the requests for things we are already going to get (the new Nora Roberts) and lets other things through. It was through patron requests that I discovered our patrons love of m/m romance. RT does not review this with any kind of consistency, but patrons still wanted to read in this genre. Some of these books are available through Baker & Taylor (our main vendor) and others we buy from Amazon or wherever we can find it. For the month of March, 30% of my requests were for romance books. A number of them were out of print, a number were things that were already in the catalog by the time I got around to look at the requests and the patrons requesting already had a hold on the book. Some of them were e-books which we have not started collecting in any sort of coherent manner. Some were for books in other formats (Large Type, Audio, Downloadable Audio.)

    Blogs and Demand: Seeing what people are buzzing about is key to determining the number of copies of things we might need. It doesn't always equate, of course, but it helps with trends. If everyone is talking about Laurell K. Hamilton and how they are not going to buy her next book, then I know I need to buy more because people are going to come looking for it at the library. (Skin Trade currently has 95 holds, which is way up from Blood Noir.) Or when authors switch from mass market to hardcover (JR Ward) there is also an increase in library circ for a title. I bought 30 Lover Enshrined and I bought 50 Lover Avenged. I bought 100 of Vision in White and there are 267 current holds (with all copies currently checked out) and I probably should buy more. We aim for a 2 holds to 1 copy ratio, but that is a very flexible guideline and becomes 3 and 4 holds/copy the more the budget shrinks, with an “understanding” that we don't buy more than 300 copies of a title by any one author. A majority of those copies end up in our booksale when the initial rush is over. I feel better making people wait their turn and using that money to buy new authors, more copies of mid-list authors, and filling in the backlist. James Patterson doesn't care if I buy 200 or 300 of his six(or more!) titles per year. But to a mid-list author the fact I can buy 20 instead of 5, or a new author that I can buy 5 instead of 2 (or none) can make a big difference. I'd like to believe there is a balance there that goes beyond just mere numbers. Yes, Finger Lickin' Fifteen has 540 holds, and we only have 200 copies on order which is over our standard ratio. But the people who come in the library looking for their little known mass market mystery or romance author can also find titles they like on our shelves. I'm sure Janet Evanovich won't mind us helping out up and coming authors. I feel that is one of the great things that libraries can do and I try to spread our money around as much as possible.

    A little bit about our library system: we have 22 branch locations plus a Central library. Our patrons are very loyal and pretty understanding. They don't mind waiting for big titles, and we hear from them both when they're happy about what they find in our catalog and when they aren't happy. The only thing I wish we had was a more comprehensive e-book selection, but I am keeping hope alive!

    Thanks again for bringing up such a great blog topic!

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  29. Jason
    May 20, 2009 @ 10:28:02

    I second/third the comments from other acquisitions librarians above. Just wanted to note that RT is THE most important romance mag/rag for me due to their grocery-checklist style list of series updates (never included in other trades and I otherwise have to rely on patron requests), reprints list (hey publisher jerks quit changing the titles!), pretty glossy ads (sorry self-published authors, no matter the $ spent on ads if your cover art is a pixelated flower on a mismatched color background I’m turned off…and so are the patrons), and the EROTICA REVIEWS (thank you thank you!!). I have many hats at my medium-size library so I don’t have time to read a review in RT, I rely on star ratings for those authors that I don’t already have in our collection (sorry!).

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  30. jayn.
    May 20, 2009 @ 12:11:41

    I work for a large mid-western library system with 30 branches and 1 genealogy center. I’m at the large central branch, and I’ve been happy to note that our system is not shy about noting trends and what is being read by the public. As a result, we have a pretty constant parade of new romances pouring in with new book arrivals, and not just the standard top sellers. We are pretty well rounded in all fiction genres, and I think it makes a library more “public” oriented to be so. I know that the person who does the ordering here relies on RT, PW, and LJ to find new and interesting reads, and she is constantly asking those of us with specific and different tastes what we in particular read, who is writing what, etc, so she actually orders a lot of lesser known authors and we recommend them to our patrons.

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  31. Sherry Thomas
    May 20, 2009 @ 12:34:52

    Jo,

    Austin Public Library has 1 copy of TSL and 4 of MLAS. I believe the latter was reviewed in PW?

    Anyway, you need to hit the folks at your library over the head about the Reading List win and tell them that TSL needs to be in every town lib’s core collection, even if it is small and snooty, uh, intellectual. :-)

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  32. Mary M.
    May 20, 2009 @ 13:12:40

    Very interesting insight into the American Public library system :). I wonder how the book selection process works in the libraries of my province, as to my knowledge, we don’t have an equivalent to Publishers Weekly or the NYT bestseller list. Pretty much all of the fiction in my language makes it to the libraries but romance ? There is little original romance in French (and it’s mostly historical, although chick lit is gaining somewhat) and that is considered mainstream; as for translations or English romance novels (some lines specialize in that), I’d say about 20% of them make it to one of the libraries in my sector, and a lot of English romances aren’t translated at all. As for buying original English version, these are much lower on their priority list as English-speakers are a minority, and romance is even lower. To give you an, the central library of the biggest town (a bit under 2 million people) has one single copy of an Elizabeth Hoyt book (Raven Prince, in French), 3 copies of Vision of White (none of them ready yet) and has only one J.R Ward book, Lover Eternal. They haven’t bought a copy of Lover Avenged yet and I’ll fall off my chair if they do. So I think most people who want to read English romance here do as I do: we buy them.

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  33. SonomaLass
    May 20, 2009 @ 15:13:57

    My library doesn’t have The Spymaster’s Lady either. I just checked. They do have some MMP romance, though, including Julia Quinn, Eloisa James, and (newer to the field, I think) Elizabeth Hoyt (one of which is currently checked out to me). I expect a lot of the ones I can’t find in the library, I could find in the Friends of the Library store, or at one of their sales. I always buy too many books, though!

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  34. Susan Wilbanks
    May 20, 2009 @ 16:24:10

    My local library system (Seattle Public Library) is reasonably romance-friendly and quite responsive to patron suggestions. I probably average 2-3 suggestions for purchase per month, in multiple genres, and they buy at least four copies of almost all of them, even if I’m the only patron who’s requested a particular title. (I can tell, because once they preorder the book, it goes up in my holds queue, and I can see how many other patrons are waiting for it.) Their rule is you can’t request a book more than three months before the publication date.

    The one exception to SPL’s “Buy Anything That Susan Chick Requests” rule seems to be the obscure titles I use for research, but that’s what interlibrary loan is for…

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  35. Ellen Hartman
    May 20, 2009 @ 17:19:22

    This post got me to check for my books in my hometown library. Nada. So then I emailed the librarian asking if she’d be interested in a donation for the collection.

    Yes, please.

    I’m delivering books to the library next week. Taking my kids along–it’s going to be cool. Thanks for the inspiration!

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  36. do we get a gold star? « Collection Developments @ Sno-Isle
    May 28, 2009 @ 11:33:27

    [...] No Comments Sherry Thomas guest blogged on Dear Author last week describing the process of how romances get on the shelves at your local [...]

  37. Linda
    Jun 01, 2009 @ 14:53:17

    The public library I work for recognized the popularity of mass market paperbacks and set aside part of their book budget to purchase these books. I do the ordering and rely heavily on Romantic Times Book Review magazine. It is a wonderful source for all genres. All the books I buy are original publications with the bulk being romance. They fly off the shelves! The circulation numbers have soared by double digits for new mass market titles – versus new hardcovers which have had declining numbers. Our collection is fully cataloged and numbers over 5,000 titles. I pre-order the books so that they are on the shelf the same time as they hit the book stores. In many cases, our savy patrons have placed a hold on many of the new books. I enjoyed reading your post and all the comments!

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  38. Elaine Charton
    Jun 20, 2009 @ 07:32:42

    One of the biggest thrills was to log on to the local library catalog one day and realize they had bought several copies of my first book, EZ Lovin’. I got as excited as I did seeing the book in a bookstore for the first time.

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