This weekend, a number of CQ authors will be attending the Fairfax Library Foundation’s Barnes & Noble Bookfair. This event wouldn’t be possible without Fairfax Library Foundation’s Director of Development Abigail Fine, who met CQ managing partner Alisa Gus, when she entered a Twitter pitch event. Alisa faved the pitch, requested the full (at which point they found out they’re neighbors). Alisa ultimately ended up having to pass (but only because CQ have a couple of similar stories - it really is Survival Kit’s Apocalypse meets President’s Daughter! - not because she ended up not liking). Then they started talking about a joint promotion - and the rest is social media history!
Alisa and Abigail recently got together to dicuss books, libraries, the publishing industry, coffee and cats!
Alisa: Interesting how social media works. We wouldn’t have met if not for that Tweet pitch contest. Are you a believer? Or do you think person-to-person, live interaction is where it’s at, when it comes to building yourself up as an author?
Abigail: The writing, reading and library communities on social media are quite impressive, and I’m a total believer. I’ve found countless book recommendations, critique partners and beta readers for my writing projects, fantastic articles with advice for writing, publishing and library programming, and I’ve connected with industry professionals through the Twitter contests and hashtags. I can’t say the person-to-person is not important, but there is a lot of connecting to do online. And we have Twitter to thank for this partnership that will turn into person-to-person in a few short days on April 15!
Alisa: We are local to one another, both around DC area. Do you think there’s something to having a local publisher, or do Big 5 have it right, keeping themselves to NYC? Oh, and have you heard about an attempt to move BEA to Chicago as response to the skyrocketing prices at the traditional Big Apple venue? Unfortunately, the attendance dropped like a rock, and I am wondering - is there a reason geographical location still carries so much weight in this business?
Abigail: Change is hard, isn’t it? Our library system did send folks to BEA in Chicago, but we heard the turn-out wasn’t the same. It’s too bad. I’ll report in the next section that reputation does matter for our library selectors, and that industry reputation is still centered on NYC.
But at the library branch level, we love all things local. The Library and Library Foundation cannot afford to bring in guest authors from out of town very often, unless the author or their publisher agrees to cover their own expenses as an in-kind donation. So connecting with local authors and publishers is critical for us in creating exciting, meaningful programming for our library patrons.
Alisa: Say you could have anyone review your book - publisher, author, film director - who would it be, and what sort of commentary would be most useful? A blurb? An editorial review? A professional review? What would your library most care about - whom it is published by? Which distributor it is coming from? (inquiring minds - in our marketing department! - want to know)
Abigail: I’ll skip the first part of the question because…. That’s a tough question! I’ll get right to what you really want to know. Here’s the inside scoop from one of our library selectors about what she looks for when purchasing books for the library collection (and remember, when budgets are as constrained as they are, there is pressure on every purchase):
“Basically, reviews from professional journals are the gold standard for selectors. Journals like Library Journal, School Library Journal, Kirkus, Hornbook, Booklist, VOYA, etc. have the reputation and cache that really provides a reassuring basis for selecting (or not selecting) a title to be added to our collection. In the absence of professional reviews, we will go to Amazon or Goodreads to look at reader reviews there, but we always have to be careful since those can so easily be biased (a lot of times it seems like the reviews are mostly from the authors’ family and friends).
For books without reviews, the publisher also is something we look at - for example, a lot of children’s non-fiction does not get reviewed, but if it comes from a publisher whose titles I’m familiar with as generally being of high quality, I will be more likely to purchase.
Distributors don’t make too much of a difference, but we do purchase a lot through wholesale vendors who provide us with a volume discount, so it is always preferable if we can purchase through these vendors.
Blurbs can be helpful in a way, but professional journal reviews are much more useful. I tend to think of blurbs more as a potential boost to the book’s popularity because of the well-known name providing the blurb. Since all the blurbs I’ve ever seen are positive and pithy, they don’t usually tell me too much about the book itself. But, for example, if John Green or Maggie Stiefvater were to blurb a YA book, I’d know that their name/blurb on the book would help it out a bit if I did buy it for the system.” -Library Selector
Alisa: Now that we’re working closely together, are you finding it would end up useful for the libraries to foster closer relationship with the publishers, and how do you think we can mutually help each other?
Abigail: Absolutely. Connecting library patrons more directly with publishers and authors is very exciting to us. As the Library Foundation, our mission is to enhance the library. Connecting with Curiosity Quills allows us to enhance the library experience for library patrons who are interested in discovering new writers, or interested in learning about the publishing industry.
Plus, we always get more interest for our organization—and therefore more donations—when we invite fancy folks like yourselves to our events! On our own, we’re not that interesting. So we like bringing authors and publishers along to elevate the image of our organization! Thank you!
Alisa: If your library system could get its hands on anything - or have it be created to order - what’s missing? What piece of technology, software, manpower is most lacking, and does fund raising usually help in making up the lack?
Abigail: The library is always serving the community, so what we want to get our hands on most is what the community tells us they need. The library Board of Trustees completed a big public engagement survey in 2016 and found the #1 interest in our county is increasing library programming and materials for children age 12 and younger. So we are in the early stages of planning updates to our children’s areas—and figuring out how to raise funds for it—as part of a strategic planning process.
Another major priority that emerged in the survey was support for English Language Learners. The Foundation recently launched a funding campaign for this purpose: The New American Initiative. We want to refresh the English Language Learning materials in our branches. Many beloved materials are more than 20 years old, and still faithfully checked out by immigrants in our county.
Our fundraising helps close the gaps where county funding falls short, but there is never extra funding lying around for dream projects. We (libraries and Foundations) have to budget and plan very carefully to expand our programs and services at all. At least in this economy.
Alisa: Has the library ever considered doubling as something like a co-working space / alternative to Starbucks? Charging for that, even - because I for one would love to have an office among the books, and I bet a ton of our authors would as well.
Abigail: Yes, but it hasn’t happened yet in Fairfax County. One reason is that our libraries are already full—there’s just no room for more writers or other professionals to hang and drink coffee all day. If you’ve ever been in a library branch after school or on the weekend, you’ll see a crowd at the door before the branch opens, every table full, and lines to use the computers. Meeting spaces get booked up weeks or even months in advance. As the branches slowly renovate, we create more room for work stations and other innovative spaces. The newly renovated Pohick Regional Library has a teen area with comfy seating and everything you need to play video games—with headphones on.
But no coffee shop yet!
Abigail: How are things these days for an indie publisher? What are the biggest challenges you face now? What are you most excited about for the upcoming year? What does Curiosity Quills dream about?
Alisa: Hey Abbie, thoughtful questions - and tough ones!
Things are… not easy, I have to admit. We are one of the bigger independent publishers left that can trace its origins to the Kindle revolution. But… what Amazon giveth, it taketh away. The visibility is utterly dependent on its ecosystem, and as such we live and die by constantly putting in resources to drive traffic to… you have guessed it, Amazon. It’s really a terrific business model, I have to give props to Jeff Bezos for growing what used to be an-out-of-his-garage operation into the stunning octopus with its arms reaching up into skies and in every industry below.
BUT… I am glad to say we are keeping strong, and we do have a ton of stuff cooking up this year that will not only let us continue keeping on, but really turn things around for many of our fellow authors, publishers - and even folks in other industries. WishKnish is a subscription marketplace we’re about to launch (literally next week), and is something we hope we can use to sell physical books to households, schools, libraries - bypassing the traditional distribution model - AND offering the same opportunity to any other creator that wants to do the same.
That’s kind of what we’re dreaming, eating, talking, breathing this year - and beyond!
Abigail: Responding to your question about location—how does location affect you, the publisher? Are you finding pros or cons to being based outside of NYC? Do you have preference for working with authors that are geographically close to you?
Alisa: For us…. there really isn’t any difference, believe it or not, especially considering we’re close to such hubs as Washington DC, Baltimore, Reston, Fairfax, to bring in the awareness and the crowds - at least to the press as a whole, and to the local authors. As for the rest of the authors - they are still constrained by their own location, and willingness / ability to travel. As for social media, e-book sales, etc - luckily, these days, one can do it from anywhere. And should!
I do know that some authors prefer the press be based out of NYC, however, as these is definitely a perception of status attached, but it is becoming progressively less weighty now that things are becoming more decentralized - with editors coming from across the world, illustrators being found on Behance to match an individual project, and publicists setting up podcast events all over the internet.
For me, personally - I do like having authors close, but it’s not really for any business reason, so much as because a lot of them become personal friends, and it’s nice to have a chance to meet up every once in a while, which is obviously less of a possibility if someone is say in Australia — as is one of our authors and a close friend, Tyrolin Puxty, whom I’m hoping to lure to the US (and our neck of the woods) one of these days.
Abigail: What is one thing you wish librarians knew about small publishers? What is something the average reader should know?
Alisa: For the professionals in our industry, I guess I would say I want you guys to know that we (quite a lot of us, anyway!) work just as hard as the Big 5 to bring the perfectly edited, entertaining content to our readers, libraries, and partner bookstores.
And as for the readers… well, that - and that we can get away with cooler, edgier, timelier material - because of our shorter time to production, and our ability to pick based on what we and our readers would like - rather than please the accountants only after the bottom line in their P&Ls.
Abigail: We’re so glad to be connected on this first event, and we have plans for the future! What are your thoughts on how libraries (and library Foundations) and publishers can work together?
I am pretty psyched as well! SOOO glad you invited us join in. I think joining together two sides of the publishing coin can only benefit the readers, AND help us get the best bang for our buck, in terms of offering discounts, building joint awareness of the challenges we’re all facing today, bringing the books in even before publication for readers to check out - and render their opinions on, and letting both social networks comingle - if you ask me (which yeah, you kinda did!) - there can never be enough books, just like there can never be enough bookworms to gobble them up!
Abigail: What would you want to see in the library or library programs that you don’t find already? (I’m guessing, coffee!)
Alisa: OK, how did you know? Also cats! A lot of cats. Cats are the writer’s (and editor’s) best friends.
Seriously though - I think more beta readers would not never be amiss, as well as a way to facilitate more opportunities for writer talks and author connections for the purpose of forming crit groups.
I have a young author acquaintance (she’s a sophomore in high school!) who is looking to work with other authors in her area - and so far found her opportunities limited in this respect. I am thinking authors would very much benefit from the libraries functioning as this sort of resource - and the libraries would find being visited, talked about, and donated to a hell of a lot more often.
Abigail Fine is the Director of Development for Fairfax Library Foundation, with ten years of experience at nonprofit arts and culture organizations. On the business side, Abigail has an MBA from George Mason University and is an Adjunct Professor of Management. As for creative pursuits, she is a professional theatre director and fiction writer. Abigail is a local girl, born and raised in Fairfax County.
Fairfax Library Foundation is a nonprofit organization committed to providing supplementary support to Fairfax County Public Library. The Foundation, while reinforcing the need for continued and increased public support for the Library, serves as a catalyst for attracting private funding from individuals, businesses, organizations, and foundations to enhance library services for our community. www.FairfaxLibraryFoundation.org.