• Ellen Cassedy
  • [TIPS OF THE TRADE] A Writer's Best Resource -- Right in Your Neighborhood
[TIPS OF THE TRADE] A Writer's Best Resource -- Right in Your Neighborhood
Written by
Ellen Cassedy
December 2013
Written by
Ellen Cassedy
December 2013

What’s the world’s best resource for writers?  No contest!   The hands-down answer is:  libraries!


Chances are you’re underutilizing this supremely valuable resource.  Here are six ways you can make the most of the library in your community and beyond.


1.  Plan your writing project.


Your library and librarians can be tremendously useful in helping you decide what you’re going to write. 


“The best time to approach librarians is actually before you write your book,” says Dana Lynn Smith.  “Chatting with librarians in your subject area can be a big help in determining the demand for a particular topic and refining your approach to the topic.”


Nothing beats plopping yourself down on the floor in the relevant section of your library’s stacks and taking a look at what’s there – and what’s not.  How have other writers approached your subject?  What gaps need filling?


A library is a super-efficient place to find out which publishers are interested in a book like yours. In addition to browsing the stacks, visit the reference section to consult such resources as Literary Marketplace, with its useful lists of publishers and agents.  The librarian can direct you.



2.  Research your subject.   


Use your library to read widely for background information, or to search for something very specific.  Do you need to know what your 19th-century character would have worn on a cold winter’s day?  Your librarian can point you to an illustrated reference book that will answer that question in a flash.  I’m big on using non-fiction children’s books for a quick education on a topic I’m new to.   


If the local public library isn’t quite enough, check out your local college or university library.  Most allow access to community members, and many will even allow you to borrow books for an annual subscription fee. 



3.  Recharge.


Are you stuck?  Spend a couple of hours at the library looking at, for example, the first pages of half a dozen novels.  Or what memoirists do to draw the reader in.  Or how authors structure their tables of contents.   Take notes.


Consider sitting down at a library table and doing a little writing – or a lot.  Working in a space that honors literature can comfort and inspire.   



4.  Be a Local Author. 


Many libraries have a special display section for books by local authors.  Suggest that your librarian acquire your book, or donate a signed copy for circulation. “Local” can mean where you live now, where you once lived, or the place your book is about.


Upload a video about your book to your library’s “social catalog.”


Speak.  Explore giving a one-hour talk at your library, especially after publication but possibly even before. 


Use the bulletin board to post a book flyer, start a writers’ group, or connect to a book club.



5.  Sell your book to libraries.


Libraries account for 10 percent of all book sales.  Don’t be afraid that selling to libraries will depress other sales.  In fact, the opposite is true.  Library readers increase sales by spreading the word to others.


I’m in the midst of sending out several mailings about my book to libraries.  I’m including a cover letter; a “sell sheet” including the book’s cataloguing number, keywords, price, distributor, format, and synopsis; a brief bio; and – very important – reviews. (The vast majority of libraries depend on reviews to help guide their acquisitions.)     


To put the mailings together, I used these resources:



  • The American Library Association’s state-by-state directory of public and academic libraries.  Includes addresses and websites, which allow you to access catalogs. 


  • www.WorldCat.org (free) tells you which libraries carry your book, lets you search the collections of 10,000 libraries worldwide, and offers social media features.  (For example, you can post reviews of your book.)    



Specialty libraries – e.g., religious, business, or medical – can be important markets. In keeping with the theme of my book, I searched online to create mailing lists of Jewish- and Lithuanian-themed libraries. 



6.  Expand your reach.


Visit libraries when you travel.  Let them know you’re coming and explore scheduling a talk.   Or simply drop in and suggest they acquire your book, or donate a copy


ALA’s “Authors for Libraries” program offers several ways to connect with librarians around the country, including putting your name on a list of authors invited to speak at libraries ($39 annual fee).



Love your library!  Give thanks, and support, to the libraries and librarians who are vital to the literary life.




Join the conversation:  Share with us how libraries have helped you as a writer.




Ellen Cassedy’s book is We Are Here: Memories of the Lithuanian Holocaust (University of Nebraska Press, 2012), which won the 2013 Grub Street National Book Prize for non-fiction, the 2013 Towson Prize for Literature awarded annually to a resident of Maryland, and the 2012 Silver Medal in History awarded by ForeWord Reviews. Her first post for She Writes was “Who Cares about Your Family Story? Ten Tips to Ensure Readers Will ...” Her [TIPS OF THE TRADE] series appears monthly. See all of Ellen's Tips for Writers.






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  • Ellen Cassedy

    Wow, great advice, Patricia!  Librarians these days are required to be "media specialists."  Go for it!

  • Patricia Robertson

    Libraries can also be a good place to learn about technology. I just spent an hour with staff at the library going over my new Windows Android, getting help with how to use it and pointers on my blog. It's a great resource!

  • Ellen Cassedy

    Excellent advice, Karen.  Thank you.

  • Karen Lynne Klink

    Libraries across the country are connected and you can search for them online. I needed books my local library didn't have and ordered them online to be delivered to my local library where I could pick them up and return them. Just ask your local library how to get on their inter-library loan program.

  • Rossandra White

    VERY helpful. Thanks Ellen.