How do you research a book in the most appropriate way? How can you keep track of your sources and attribute them correctly, as well as avoiding inadvertent plagiarism? How can you get your book/s into libraries? Vikki Carter talks about all these questions and more.
In the intro, Has Amazon Changed Fiction? [New Republic]; The Bigger the Publisher, The Blander the Books [The Atlantic]; A basic income pilot scheme for artists [Irish Times]; Struggles we face as authors [6 Figure Authors]; My 5-day solo walk along the St Cuthbert’s Way.
This episode is sponsored by Publisher Rocket, which will help you get your book in front of more Amazon readers so you can spend less time marketing and more time writing. I use Publisher Rocket for researching book titles, categories, and keywords — for new books and for updating my backlist. Check it out at www.PublisherRocket.com
Vikki Carter is the author of Research Like a Librarian: Research Help and Tips for Writers for Researching in the Digital Age.
You can listen above or on your favorite podcast app or read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and the full transcript is below.
- Overcoming dyslexia and learning to love books
- Research as a discipline
- Choosing where to focus research
- Different ways to research your book
- How do we know when a source is good enough?
- How to avoid accidental plagiarism
- How to cite sources
- How to get your books into libraries — this article will also help.
You can find Vikki Carter at TheAuthorsLibrarian.com and on Twitter @theauthorslib
Transcript of Interview with Vikki Carter
Joanna: Vikki Carter is the author of Research Like a Librarian: Research Help and Tips for Writers for Researching in the Digital Age. Welcome, Vikki.
Vikki: Hi there, Joanna. Hi, everyone.
Joanna: I’m excited to talk to you today about this because I think it’s so important.
Before we get into it, tell us a bit more about your background because I know you struggled a bit in your early experiences with books.
Vikki: Oh, I did. And it’s such an interesting part of my story and I just actually started to talk about it with people as I wrote my first book.
When I was younger, in elementary school, I had a speech impediment and I also was a very slow reader and very slow learner. We didn’t discover this until about halfway through first grade.
When I was in school, I didn’t talk very often, which surprises everybody when they know me now, like all she does is talk. I really struggled with reading and seeing words formulate on a page or on a chalkboard. My brain couldn’t quite grasp that concept.
Now we know it’s dyslexia, and it was very severe dyslexia. But at the time when I was little, I didn’t know that. And then compounded with a speech impediment, I just turned super shy because I would get teased all the time, as kids do that.
So when I was little, I wouldn’t go out and play on recess very often. I would hide myself away in the libraries of our schools because the librarians were awesome. They let me come in, get books, and I’d always get picture books. I would sit and I would look at the picture books, trying to decipher how the pictures were related to the words until I did get some help.
I had two amazing teachers that identified that there was some possibility of some help for me, and I started with speech therapy and then we started with reading and writing therapy. So about the fifth grade, I caught up a little bit with everybody else but I’ve always been painfully slow reader and a very painfully slow writer.
That experience of being around the library and the librarians, it became a sanctuary to me. So books have become my sanctuary now.
Joanna: I think for many of us, the library is a sanctuary. It certainly was for me as an introvert child, totally bookish. I spent a lot of time in the library and I think that’s why so many of us care about libraries now. It’s because of how they’ve affected us in earlier life.
You actually became a librarian, is that right?
Vikki: I did. I had this interesting journey to a librarian. It was a little later on in life. I went back to college/university as an adult student with two children in tow and I wasn’t sure what I really wanted to do. I kept going back to the idea of books, writing, researching, but I didn’t know how that would work out into a career.
It didn’t really dawn on me as a librarian until I started to work in the school district where my daughters were and I worked in the school library, and I’m like, ‘Oh, this could be a thing.’ It dawned on me.
I started to go back to school and I ended up working at the public library in our area while I was working on my bachelor’s because I really felt like I wanted to have a broad experience.
I worked in the public library, and I loved that. And then finally when I started on my master’s, I was recruited to work at the community college library in our area in the library department. I finished my master’s and stayed with academic library work. So that was my journey.
I didn’t come out of high school, go right to college. I lived a life, traveled with my kids and husband, and then went back to school as an adult and I landed in the library world and I absolutely loved it. And now I’m in higher education. I work as a librarian as a faculty member as well as a faculty member for university online.
Joanna: I love your story because I really think that dyslexia, speech impediment, slow learner, all these words that you say, many people would think, ‘Well, you’ll never have a future with books.’
But you know what, it’s not a problem with books, it’s a problem with seeing how the words fit in a page, as you say, and in the world. I love that you’ve come through that and I know, obviously, you help other people and there are lots of people listening who know people with learning difficulties, I guess, we call them now. I hope that encourages people if their kids are going through it or whatever, or even as an adult.
It’s not that you need to fix it — because you’re not broken — but there are ways that you can adapt either yourself or the world to make it make sense.
Vikki: Yeah. And that’s exactly what I learned. I didn’t learn that out of the bat. I did feel like all the way through high school that I was broken. Even when I was working, I worked in journalism in high school in our newspaper, and I had a teacher, she was really harsh on me, and instead of sitting down and helping me find the tools to edit my work, she was really a challenge for me to work with.
It wasn’t until I got older and in college and started working with adult education myself, I realized there’s some awesome tools out there. For dyslexics, the number one awesome tool is audio. Having things read back to you in an audio version or having somebody else read it back to you, or even reading it back to yourself, that’s going to help you find a lot of your errors.
When I discovered that, I’m like, ‘Oh, the world is now open. Forget it. I’m writing my books.’
Joanna: Oh, excellent. I’m so glad. So let’s get into this book then.
Why is research important regardless of genre and how can it help us as writers?
Vikki: I love that question, and it’s a question I get asked a lot.
As a librarian, I really believe that authors can have their voice strengthened very well with excellent research, and it gives their voice an awesome authority.
Research is a discipline, just like the writing craft is a discipline, and it’s a learned discipline. None of us came out of the womb knowing how to write epic novels and most of us don’t come out knowing how to do excellent research.
Research is a higher-level thinking skill. As you’re processing questions that you may need to go define and redefine your storyline, it’s actually helping you in a higher-level thinking.
I look at it this way, the truth is in the world. There’s a lot of literary voices out there and not all of them are necessarily excellent in their researching skills. But what makes researching fabulous for authors is it lends to their voice.
Let me give an example of that. You probably have seen this before in conferences or in online chats or whatever with an author and an author’s character or plot development or even some of their aspects of their work was challenged by a reader. “That didn’t really happen that way,” or “I don’t believe that’s realistic.”
With those challenges come the opportunity for authors to really show their authority in their voice if they’ve done research prior to writing.
Even if it’s a fantasy world, I believe that you can do some research to really lend to authority and it strengthens author’s voices because it gives them the ability to stand up on what they’ve created.
I have to stop and say, not all challenges are necessarily meaningful for authors to get into. Some are just based on subjective ideas or taste or value, that kind of a thing. But as far as an author goes, if they had a source that inspired them and they have research that helped inspire them creating their world, their story that they’re telling, and they do get challenged, what’s really great is that authority gives them the ability to stand up on what they’ve created.
I really feel like when authors do research well, that’s what that authority in creating their voice is all about.
Joanna: And yes, just to stress, this is for fiction and nonfiction. I think you’re right, you have to choose what you research.
I was just thinking then around Tom Clancy, well-known for highly technical details of certain guns and tanks and things, and I couldn’t care less about that, but if you read one of my novels, you’re going to get the architectural details of a particular cathedral. And if we find a work of art, it’s going to be described in an exactly researched way.
You have to choose what you’re going to research. It doesn’t have to be every single thing.
Vikki: Exactly. For example, I’ll give you an example of a book I’m working on right now is around the planning of the city that I live in. It’s going to have its hundredth-year anniversary in two years, its birthday. And I live in one of the original homes.
For a long time, I’ve had the idea of writing historical fiction around the planned city in the 1920s. And it was literally planned by the lumber baron and there’s tons of history around it.
I’m not going for accuracy here. I really want to tell the story of the feeling of what it would have been like to come and live here and help build a city.
Even though I’m researching a lot about what the buildings would have looked like and how they would have created the city and all the ups and downs it would have done, I’m not going to go accurate detail verbatim. There’s already a book out there that tells that in a factual way.
I’m going for that as an inspirational way to give the feeling of what it would have been like for the people that came here to help build that city. That’s inspiration, but I still have to do a tremendous amount of research.
I’m not living in the ’20s and I’m looking for firsthand accounts of those experiences, if I can find them, and read what their words were, and then I’m retelling that story in a fictional version of it.
Joanna: You mentioned firsthand accounts there, so that would probably be newspapers or maybe books at the time. I love to go places. Physically visiting, obviously difficult in the pandemic, but I find that going places really helps me find details that I find interesting.
What are some of the other ways that authors can do research?
Vikki: I love it. I call what you just described living research. The traveling to different regions, even going online and watching travel channels, TV shows, YouTube channels, things like that are what I consider living research. Anything that you do in your daily life to be considered research, amazingly enough. So that’s one thing.
The other thing is in the digital age, we can definitely conduct research online. But I would always encourage authors to steer clear of just doing research on just Google or Wikipedia, to totally broaden themselves. I talk a lot in my book about academic library websites, museum websites, using library research guides on academic libraries.
There’s a wealth of information out online that is reliable besides Google and Wikipedia. Google and Wikipedia can be useful but online, you can go to so many things. I had a girlfriend remind me how great YouTube is for doing some research. And so there’s just a lot on there.
The other one that I really encourage individuals, authors to use is to conduct research using what I call expert witnesses or firsthand accounts. In the digital age, we have such a great opportunity for that because there’s many libraries, major libraries, like here in the United States, the Library of Congress has done a lot of digital archiving of firsthand interviews of individuals from all parts of history and they have volunteers that do this, that will go out and interview individuals from their past, in the 1920s, and even beyond if they got those.
They’re putting those in digital records so that people can go and listen to those firsthand accounts, as well as a lot of journals and newspapers and those kinds of things are being digitized. So you can access those things, which I feel are a goldmine for an author.
And then also, I feel like everybody kind of looks at research as going to these big, gigantic caverns of a library, the big archives and dusting off the old books and sitting there, and I think that is valuable and it’s fun and you can do that. When the pandemic, I think, comes back, we could go do some of that again.
But it also is not necessarily the most effective way of doing research because it’s hard to really grasp what’s going on in those gigantic archives. Luckily for us in the digital age, most major libraries are putting a lot of their archives in museums and things like that are putting their collections online for us to do research.
Joanna: I researched Cologne Cathedral, they only recently just put on this amazing 3D scrolling thing. So you could stand at different points in the cathedral and then turn the mouse and things and look up to the ceiling and see the colors. I really just wanted to go to Cologne and see the cathedral.
Vikki: Isn’t it fantastic? I think there’s a lot more of that because I saw at the beginning of the pandemic, I put together a whole bunch of resources for my students who are adult students, on museums that were trying to get people to visit virtual museums and there were so many of them and they’re keeping them online. It’s phenomenal to me.
Joanna: It’s definitely changed since the pandemic started. I think in the first sort of six months, they didn’t do anything, and then suddenly, there was this acceleration of everything going online. So that’s really good.
I think one of the issues is when a source is good enough. And again, that will depend on the situation. Say, for example, I watched a video at an Appalachian snake-handling church.
Vikki: Right up my alley.
Joanna: It was about an hour and it was actually a church service in the Appalachian Mountains and I essentially just wrote down what I saw and that became my first scene in my thriller End of Days.
In a way, it doesn’t matter so much in that situation whether I got specific details right because it was for fiction, but I still got enough right for that to matter. But if it’s nonfiction, if it’s, like you said, historical fiction, which people get really upset about, how do we know when a source is good enough? Like you said, don’t just use Google or Wikipedia. Even these days with plenty of self-publishers out there.
How do we know when a source is good enough?
Vikki: That’s such a great question, Joanna, and that’s what us librarians call information literacy. It’s what we teach in academic universities to our students and it’s something that I feel like everybody in this decade needs to know an understanding of information literacy because there’s so much vast information out there.
There’s quite a few criteria that us librarians like to teach, but I boiled it down to three of them and made it really easy with the letter A: accuracy, authority, and aim.
When you’re looking at a resource, if you can remember those three things as you’re evaluating, using that higher-level thinking skill as you’re looking at a source, there are some things that you need to really consider.
How accurate is information are you using? And now that might be where your question comes from, right? How accurate is, I don’t know. Do I need to go and look for other sources that show me that this was accurate? And that’s a possibility.
Does that source show authority? Who put that source out there? What is their authority? And I’ll go into some of the questions in that in a second.
Aim is what is the objectivity of that particular source? What’s the whole point of what they’re doing? Why are they sharing their information with the world? And so for accuracy, does that information correlate and line with information you can find in other reputable sources?
For example, for you with that source, that if you really wanted to use it in historical fiction or maybe nonfiction, you can go and verify if that is how a church setting would have been done possibly through other sources and you can collaborate those two together and then you can say, ‘Okay, this is accurate’?
For authority, the credentials, the background of the authors, the training and the experience of the authors, and that could be the creators, that’s something you might have to do a little digging on to see, what is their background? Do they have any authority to be talking about this subject?
In that example that you gave to us, it might have been their pastors that wanted to evangelize using the medium of showing off what they do. What’s their background? I would seriously be doing digging on the background, because that’s just me, but that’s kind of one thing you want to look for in authority.
And these are just one question. In my book, I have quite a few more questions that authors can ask as you’re evaluating sources. And finally, I missed one, aim.
Aim: what is the purpose of this particular piece, the source, this content? Are they trying to sell me something? Are they trying to persuade me? If so, you know, what is that that they’re trying to sell? What are they trying to persuade? What are they trying to give, you know, that information? What’s the point of it?
If you can remember those three things and do that higher-level thinking, and then finally try to collaborate your source as close to a primary or an original or an authoritative source as possible, then that is going to be the best you’re going to get for knowing if this source is good enough and reliable enough.
Joanna: I think that’s great. And again, we’re not suggesting that authors need to do this for every single thing that they’re writing about, it’s more a case of, when you said aim, the aim of the source but also your aim as the author is important to know how much you should research and when it’s important.
One of the things that I find very important when I’m researching is if I’m reading a book, I will write notes in quotes. So if I am copying a quote down, I’ve got quote marks.
At the top of the page, it will say the book name and the author name, and then I’ll have quote marks and then I’ll have my own thoughts, won’t have quote marks. So that’s a way that I make sure that I keep information in a certain way.
What are your recommendations for keeping notes as we research so we don’t plagiarize or do something bad?
Vikki: I love it. And your example is exactly what I would suggest. Here’s one thing I wanted to touch on as far as the last few things I talked about. There’s a difference between, and this needs to be talked about in your notes too, is what is used for your inspiration and what might be used for actual source, like, quoting, right?
Joanna: A quote.
Vikki: Yes, a quote. So what I do in my notes, which is really important is I will also write, how will I use this work, or how is this work or this source going to be used in my work? I’ll just do how to use it.
If it’s for inspiration, I’ll just say for inspiration or inspirational idea or something like that. But if I’m going to be using it for direct quotation or whatever that, then I’ll say, ‘Use for direct quotation on this topic.’ My memory is not fantastic so I have to make sure I put down in my notes that.
Note-taking is probably one of the best questions I get all the time and notes are really about a personal preference but I think notes should be incredibly short for memory purposes. And I think that’s where people get a little sidetracked or put off on doing research is that they’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, I gotta take all these notes.’ And in reality, you really don’t.
What you need to be doing is writing at least the title, the author, possibly the publication of the information, how you accessed it because I don’t know about you, Joanna, but like I said, my memory can be bad and I could forget where that book, I found it, or where that online source was that I found.
And then again, paraphrasing. You can paraphrase what that source is talking about. If it’s a document that has some data, statistics data for deaths in the 1920s, that I was really going for one thing, right, then I’ll say, ‘This talks about examples for A, B, and C.’
And then like I said, how am I going to use that in my work? That’s kind of the minimum when it comes to note-taking, in my opinion.
All of the title, author, publication, all that, that can all be handled very well with a citation.
If you’re using an online citation generator, which I talk about a little in my book and also I talk about in a workshop that I’m going to be doing here soon, how to do that, you can cut out a lot of that with just getting all of that, the reference information in that and then use the rest of that note of paraphrasing what the source is about and how are you going to use it in your work. And that’s really to help your memory.
Joanna: I think that citations, footnotes, etc., I think they are very common in academic books and certain types of nonfiction. But with fiction or even just more pop-nonfiction like I write, I use appendices, I use an author’s note, I use a resource list.
Obviously, if I quote people within the text, that’s usually a nonfiction and I’ll have their name and the book and everything, but I personally don’t use footnotes or citations but I always, in my fiction, if you read the author’s note, I’m going to tell you where I got the ideas and also a book list. I always have a bibliography as well.
You said there about using citations, but what should authors do? What’s the minimum? We have to do something.
Vikki: I love this question. I just had this conversation with another author on our Patreon group this weekend because we were talking about this. This is in my mind how I separate the two, and this is for fiction.
Nonfiction, we’ve already established. For most nonfiction, almost all nonfiction, there will be some sort of citations, in-text citations, or at the end, there’ll be a list.
For fiction, where do we come into this? That’s where the number one question I get a lot, in fiction, what are you talking about, Vikki? Why do I need to do this?
I love when authors use author notes or they use acknowledgments in fiction work at the end where what inspired them or how this world or this book or storyline was created from resources that they’ve used, and they somehow let me know what those are.
As a reader, I love that because once again, that goes back to the authority of the author. I know they’ve taken the time to do some higher-level thinking about their storyline, and even if it was inspiration.
What I challenge fiction authors, regardless if you use a source or not and it was just inspiration, you should at least keep it in your personal notes as a log of what those research basics were, which is the title of the book, possibly how it inspired you, or the source, and how you did use it or you planned on using it in your book, for two reasons.
One, you never know when that inspiration is going to hit for something else later, for another storyline or another book. Number two, once again, if there’s ever a reason for any sorts of challenges from anywhere, you know that you can go back, ‘Oh, wait, I know how this inspiration came.’
You can go back to your notes and you can verify where that inspiration came and you can address anything that may come up. It doesn’t always come up. I don’t want people to think that every book is going to get challenged but it is very uncomfortable in a situation when it does happen. And it just lends to that authority as an author that says, ‘I know how I created this book in this world and it was inspired by people.’
I also believe that keeping a log of what inspired authors in your work is giving a kind of acknowledgment to where you’re inspired is very important. So that’s that karma aspect in my mind.
If you do that at the end of your fiction book and say, ‘This is what inspired me,’ that also gives the readers an opportunity to explore other opportunities of how this writer was inspired, which gives the reader more knowledge of who you are as a writer. And that also just brings in so much good things for writers in my world.
Joanna: I agree with you. As a reader, I want an author’s note. I get upset if there isn’t one.
Vikki: I do too.
Joanna: I want the book list and I will often go and follow, and this is for fiction, let alone nonfiction. And then it was interesting hearing you talk because I’ve definitely always done this, I have a lot of journals and I write out notes from books and things. So I’ve always got a kind of log but I realized that not everyone does this in the same way.
What we’re also saying is it’s important to do it for acknowledgments and attribution to stop plagiarism.
Joanna: The other thing is we can try our very hardest and something might creep in that we didn’t mean. I’m assuming that people are not doing it on purpose.
How can we make sure we have not plagiarized someone else’s work even if we didn’t do it on purpose?
Vikki: When I get asked this question, that’s the number one thing I like to point out. As a librarian, especially in the academic world, I’ve had to be involved in cases where students had been flagged for their work for plagiarism. And what’s interesting in all the cases, which there have been a few, right, in my world, I have discovered when I sat down and talked with that student, and we’ll call them an author at this point, I find out that it’s not intentional.
Almost 99% of plagiarism is unintentional. Now, if you’re asking the question, how can I avoid plagiarism, it’s pretty safe and sound that you’re probably not going to plagiarize.
The intentional plagiarism is a whole different animal, and I wrote a piece just recently that came out here in the United States, about how I was actually plagiarized at the very beginning of my writing career when I was very young, and the devastation that happens for the writer when you realize your work was intentionally plagiarized and how to recover from that.
But as far as how to avoid plagiarism, there’s some really wonderful aspects that every writer, author should remember, and this goes for if you’re doing this in your notes or if you’re going to use this in your work.
If you do use quotes or somebody else’s work in your work, you can use signal words, which means ‘according to’ and there’s quite a few lists of signal words that you can use to indicate that you’re not the one that’s speaking these words, even if you paraphrase.
And then you should paraphrase. You should never directly take somebody’s work, cut and paste and put it directly into your work and claim it as your own. I know that sounds very basic but you would be surprised how often that happens.
Once again, I don’t think it’s intentional. I think what happens is that people will use a cut and paste as a marker for them to go back and try to remember to rewrite that or re-paraphrase, but then they forget, they get rushed or whatever and they don’t do that. And so that’s where it’s just best not to cut and paste.
What’s best is to immediately paraphrase in your notes or in your work what that author was saying, and then acknowledge that, acknowledge who the original creator was. And then once again, citations are valuable.
If you do those in your own work when you go to publish, or in your notes, I think that will help to keep us from accidentally plagiarizing because it really is not intentional for a majority of people.
Joanna: You’re exactly right. Do not cut and paste or copy and paste. If I want to describe, let’s say, Cologne Cathedral, I do not copy and paste from Wikipedia into my Scrivener document.
What I might well do is open up my notebook and copy out from Wikipedia, Gothic spire, whatever, I might write down words that come from Wikipedia, but into my Scrivener, I am then paraphrasing from my written notes.
And we should say, it is okay to use a direct quote in quotation marks as long as either you have permission or it is fair use. So for example, me quoting one line out of a very long book is completely fine, me quoting a song lyric is not okay.
Vikki: Song lyrics are a nightmare. Just stay away from the song lyrics.
[From Joanna: For more legal info on fair use, lyrics etc, check out The Self-Publisher’s Legal Handbook by Helen Sedwick]
Joanna: Yes, exactly. So I think you’re exactly right. The main thing is do not cut and paste or copy and paste from one thing into your master manuscripts. I think that’s a good point. However, where you take your notes is a different place to what your actual manuscript is.
What about plagiarism checkers?
Vikki: They’re useful and I think they’re valuable that you can run your pieces through plagiarism checkers. We do instruct our students in the university that they have to do that before they submit to us for grading. You cannot have more than I think it’s 20% of anything. It will trigger us to just immediately kick it back to a student and say, ‘Okay, let’s have a discussion about how you handle citations, notations, and things like that.’
I think that if you’re really that concerned about your writing as far as if you’re plagiarizing or not, I think the first step is to really practice paraphrasing in your notes first and practice creating citations. And then if you’ve done all that and you still are concerned, then run it through a checker.
I feel like if you really work that higher-order level of paraphrasing a source, you’re probably not going to plagiarize, but it could be possible that you do.
Joanna: Even with paraphrasing, still, let’s say I paraphrase an idea that came from someone else.
Vikki: Oh, heavens. Acknowledge where you got that inspiration. Absolutely.
Vikki: And that is a professionalism. That’s giving credit where credit is due. And unfortunately, not everybody does that. We just have to look at blogs, writing blogs, or whatever, and there’s been a lot of controversy over that not happening and it’s devastating. So in all honesty, if you’re going to paraphrase, give credit to where that inspiration is.
Joanna: You mentioned karma, it’s about respect, it’s about copyright. As you said, it’s professionalism. Also, it’s about marketing each other.
With my nonfiction, in particular, I always look for author friends who I can quote things from so that I can link to their books.
Vikki: Yes. I did that with my book with you.
Joanna: Thank you.
Vikki: You talked very distinctly, and it was funny because I was listening to one of your books and I was writing mine and you were talking about Wikipedia and not cut and paste. I’m like, ‘Oh, I don’t even have to say it. Joanna just said it so I’ll just quote her in the book.’
Joanna: Exactly. And we want that. As authors, we want other people to quote our work in a respectful way and link back to us, and then it creates this web of referrals.
I think what we’re saying is it’s a very positive thing to quote people, to cite people, to reference other people, and that that is an important part of the process.
Vikki: It really is. And what it does as well is, once again, it gives that authority to the writer because it acknowledges that that writer is exploring their craft and their world and they’re learning from others and they want to share what they’ve learned from others and they’re presenting that to their reader from what they have learned from somebody else in an authoritative way.
That lends authority to your voice when you do it and you do it correctly and you give credit and then it just does create that really great community connection for readers as well as in the writer’s community.
Joanna: Absolutely. So the book is Research Like a Librarian and many listeners want to get their books into libraries.
As a librarian, and what are your tips for authors on approaching librarians in an appropriate way rather than just like, ‘Hey, here is my book?’
Vikki: Appropriate way is fantastic. You just said the right word, appropriate way. So this comes all down to, once again, a lot of things.
Some of the keys to remember to getting your book in a library is I am a big believer in relationship building and libraries and librarians are humans as well. And so the appropriate way is to start out by thinking about getting your books in the library as a relationship builder as well.
If you haven’t already connected with that library somehow, it’s probably really important to get connected with that library without selling your book first, if there’s a way that you can do that.
Prior to COVID, there’s a lot of libraries, local libraries, and other libraries that will hold events, call for speakers, especially authors. They love to bring authors in.
If you jump on that, then you can get to know those individual players in the library that might be the potential buyers. And that’s where it comes down to doing a little bit of research as well because in the library industry and in the library world, there are specific purchase requirements and criteria for every library. Not every person that stands behind a desk at a library is going to be able to purchase a book for the library. There’s very specific guidelines.
For example, the public library that I worked at, we could make formal recommendations to our library director and he would take the written document that we had, we could email to him if we had a book we wanted him to purchase for the collection, and then he would take those, and he only had a budget and a specific time that he would be purchasing.
So that’s another thing you need to remember is that the library doesn’t have infinite amount of funds. Most libraries are funded by municipal properties, taxes, things like that, and they have budgets, and they will only do some spending at certain times of the year for books as well.
That’s where that relationships of getting to know people in the library and also doing your research on them, you’re going to be able to target when you do your pitch for them to buy in a more appropriate manner. What would happen with us is that he would take all those recommendations and when it was time for him to purchase, he would go through the catalogs. So that’s another tip.
You have to know what distribution that library is going to be purchasing from. As independent authors, we now have great opportunities to get our books in specific distributions to be able to get your books into the hands of libraries.
Joanna: On that, is it e-book, print book, audio, does it still work for print?
Vikki: Libraries, from what I’ve heard in the industry, is they are going a lot with e-books as well. Print is fantastic but they tend to be more expensive. So they can purchase more and have access more for e-books.
There is just the issue with some libraries of how they distribute those to individuals. But there is a lot of availability for e-books as well. I want to share with the listeners two amazing resources that I have found about this particular question. And one is really funny because it’s on your page. It’s from Eric Simmons and his book marketing, how to get your book into a library.
I think it was a couple of years ago, he was on your website, and he wrote an article about it and it is phenomenal. I read it quite a few years ago, when it came out, and I have it bookmarked because it’s one of the best resources.
He has done a great job of laying out some steps for authors on how to approach libraries, what distribution, and he also give a phenomenal resource for how he did it, his own database, and his email, his professional email pitch that he used for those libraries that he didn’t have a working relationship with.
I highly recommend finding that on Joanna’s website because if you’re asking that question, that’s a great resource.
And then Anne Merrick on the Alliance for Independent Authors Advice Center, she also wrote a really great article, I think was a year ago, about this subject. And the Alliance for Independent Authors Advice Center also has several other articles about how to get your e-books into libraries and it’s very up to date as well. So those are two awesome resources.
You just have to remember that it’s really about a relationship-building first, getting to know how that library purchases, and where they purchase, and what type of items, we call them items in the library, they will purchase, when they purchase, and then how to professionally pitch your particular book to them. And it’s all going to come from some sort of relationship that you’re building.
Now, if you’re doing research in that library, that’s your key in. So if you’re already there asking questions about your book while you’re writing it and you’ve made connections with the librarians at that time and you acknowledge those librarians in that book, there’s a pretty vast chance that they’re going to purchase that book for the collection. So that’s a great tip right there.
Joanna: That is great. I would also say my tips on this are to publish wide.
Make sure your e-books, print books, and audiobooks can be bought by libraries. And the second thing is ask your readers to ask.
Vikki: Oh, I forgot about that one.
Joanna: It’s a great one. So, of course, anyone listening, you can ask your library…you should be able to do this pretty much anywhere in the world now, ask your librarian to order your favorite authors’ books or mine or Vikki’s into your library.
I have found that that’s pretty much how my books have appeared in libraries is because readers have actually asked for them to be put into the catalog. Even if they’re on something like Overdrive, I think most libraries…that’s a digital e-book catalog.
Vikki: It is their main one. Yes.
Joanna: And people still need curation in some way. So asking your readers to ask librarians for your books is a really good way.
Vikki: Here’s the hierarchy that I’m going to share with you as a backstage person in the library. If a patron, we call them patrons in the library world, but they are people that come and use the services, they make a recommendation for a book, that gets put up on a higher order than if a library staff member does, because automatically that indicates to the buyer – the buyer can be the library director, it could be a subject matter expert, meaning a reference library in history, depending on how big the library is, there may be specific librarians that do specific purchasing as well.
If a patron or a customer comes and makes a recommendation, that goes up a little bit higher on the list than any other recommendations, including recommendations from blogs or publishers.
Joanna: Oh, that’s exciting.
Vikki: I forgot about that tip, Joanna, because it’s really important, and it’s because there’s already an audience that they know that is going to possibly check out this book.
Where us as authors, purchasing books is important, in a library, how often that book gets checked out or circulated is another importance because circulation numbers matters. That’s what keeps the doors open.
If it’s a high-demand book that there’s a lot of people asking to have it available in the collection, it’s going to be patrons asking, it’s going to be more than likely they’re going to get that book purchased.
Joanna: That is a great tip. So lots more tips in your books.
Where can people find you and everything you do online?
Vikki: I’ve got a lot going online. So my website is theauthorslibrarian.com, and that’s specifically for where you can go to purchase my book.
You can visit my new growing YouTube channel because I’m trying to do a YouTube channel with discussing these topics. I will be doing an online course for authors on research and I do have a checklist for authors on how to avoid plagiarism. So there’s a checklist there.
I’m on social media, Vikki J. Carter is my main Instagram, but I also have Authors Librarian. I live on Instagram. That’s the one I prefer. But I do have a Facebook and Twitter. I’m very visual so Instagram lends to that for me.
Joanna: Brilliant. Well, thanks so much for your time, Vikki. That was great.
Vikki: Thank you, Joanna.
The post How to Research Your Book With Vikki Carter, The Author’s Librarian first appeared on The Creative Penn.
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Author: Joanna Penn