ALA Summer Conference Remarks

I was recently privileged to participate in a panel discussion at the American Library Association’s summer conference. Each author on the panel had a few minutes to discuss a recent release, and I chose A Rogue of Her Own. (A few spoilers ahead). I think Charlotte and Sherbourne got a good book, and their story has stuck with me. I similarly think libraries are among our finest institutions, for reasons as follows:

I got lucky with A Rogue of Her Own, because Charlotte Windham and Lucas Sherbourne ended up in a two-party, single-issue, values conflict, which is the hardest kind of conflict to resolve within the context of an ongoing relationship. Makes for good tension.

Charlotte Windham is the only one of twelve ducal cousins to remain unmarried, and she thinks she can do the feisty spinster thing, but her feisty is fizzling. She’s not a woman to suffer fools, especially prancing lordling fools. Her best friend was ruined by such a man, and then died shortly after giving birth to his illegitimate son. Eight years later, Charlotte is running something of an underground railroad for fallen women, which matters to her much more than snagging a husband. She is no pushover.

Lucas Sherbourne isn’t looking for a pushover. He’s a wealthy Welsh commoner who seeks to better his circumstances, also the circumstances of the families in his valley back home, and the circumstances of his children, should he be blessed to have any. Lucas is determined to marry up, not only because a good match will open social doors, but also because it will improve the probability that he’ll find titled Englishmen willing to invest in his mining venture.

Lucas likes and respects Charlotte’s blunt nature and pragmatism. Charlotte likes his brash confidence and honesty, also his loud waistcoats. Liking leads to smoochin’, and to a wedding when Lucas and Charlotte are caught in flagrante smoochie.

UK Cover

All goes well at first—of course—as the marriage turns into a romance. Lucas seeks Charlotte’s opinion on matters at the mine; Charlotte begins to campaign socially on Lucas’s behalf with the local gentry. They are becoming partners and lovers, and maybe even the crooked pot with the crooked lid can have a happily ever after… except Charlotte learns that the first and only wealthy English investor Lucas has been able to attract is the very man who ruined Charlotte’s friend and turned his back on his own child.

Charlotte’s like, “Dude, you are my husband. How can you allow your hard work and expertise to enrich a monster?”

Lucas is like, “Madam, you are my wife. How can you expect me to break my contractual word to this this man who outranks me, who can ruin my chances of ever finding other investors of his stature, and humiliate me before your entire blue-blooded family over an old hurt I can’t fix?”

Charlotte wants a powerful man held accountable for past sins; Lucas wants to preserve the greater good even if it means a misdeed remains unaddressed.

My objective when writing a romance is to fit into Joanna Bourne’s plotting rubric: Liking, attraction, and respect pull the couple (or threesome, foursome, whatever) together; something real, interesting, and substantial pushes them apart. The book worked out well, and yes, there’s a happily ever after, but you will have to read about that at the library.

I want to use my remaining few minutes to say thank you. I don’t find myself in a room full of librarians very often, so I will seize this opportunity now to tell you how much I appreciate what you do. In my humble opinion as an author, libraries are the only subscription model worth participating in, and I wish libraries had the ability to sell my books to the readers who’d like the occasional keeper copy or download.

Subscription models always promise that they will help an author’s books reach new readers.

Only libraries deliver on that claim in a meaningful sense. I see at least three reasons why library discover is the best discovery.

First, to state the obvious, librarians are literary professionals, not marketers, retailers, or programmers. You are educated, trained, and hard-wired to take joy in connecting the right books with the right readers. No algorithm or bot can come close to the expertise with which a librarian can assess a reader’s preferences.

Librarians don’t process a load of mined data about a reader, you notice she has kid in a kangaroo pack. You recall that she was in the Tuesday night knitting group, you see that she’s tired… and you recommend the perfect author for an overwhelmed new mom who’s into fabric crafts.

Here comes the part where I end my career: We’ve seen what results when a large automated subscription collection is maintained without library expertise or values. And this is where, as Walter Scott said, I’d like to descend into oaths too foul to be rendered on the page, which digression time fortunately does not permit.

You know your calling. A recommendation from a librarian is word-of-mouth on steroids, and as we all know, word of mouth is, was, and every shall be, even in this age of cyber wonders, the gold standard for discovery.

The second reason I think library discovery is the best discovery, has to with the fact that the library demographic is not a shopping demographic, picking up a book between ordering pet food and stocking up on jasmine green tea, it’s a reading demographic. Library readers are sufficiently passionate about books that they’ve established a relationship with an institution that’s all about book culture. Those readers might not have a lot of disposable income—who does?– but they are very likely to have big mouths about books. I want the name of my book on their lips, and libraries are how I get it there.

Third, my tagline is “I believe in love.” Wonder Woman stole that from me, except you can’t steal love. In my small town, the library is the only daytime cold weather shelter we have, the only free public cooling station. We get 100 degree days, we get zero degree days. Libraries are bomb shelters and hurricane shelters. They are public gathering places where everybody is welcome, no cost to walk through the door.

And the library doors are open, no matter what, though you might not feel that libraries should be responsible for public safety. Fair enough, but my county library is also the only place people can go for free access to the internet. My county has nearly a twenty percent adult illiteracy rate and the institution doing battle with that dragon most consistently is the county library.

If I believe in love—and I do—then I am exceedingly gratified to think that when I reduce the compensation I receive for my books in the hope that I’ll find new readers, some small residual benefit might also go to an institution that’s keeping people safe, championing book culture, and teaching people to read, rather than to a lot of shareholders who revere the buck rather than the book.

Libraries are compatible with my brand at the level of my values, which is where all solid HEAs must rest. For those reasons, you have my unending thanks for what you have done for me, for my neighbors, and for my readers.

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7 comments on “ALA Summer Conference Remarks

  1. Pingback: Once Upon a Library Conference - Grace BurrowesGrace Burrowes

  2. Libraries are everything you say and more. When I retired 10 years ago, the first thing that I did was apply for a new library card. I hadn’t had one in years. As a result of that, I renewed my love of Romance novels. The library is where I first met you and so many other authors I enjoy so much.

  3. Hi Grace
    This is just a big thank you for all your posts. I enjoy them so much and more often then not I think the way you do. The South is a bastion of people who think very differently than I do. You are keeping me sane while we clean out the house and downsize to the Pacific Coast.

  4. I recently discvovred your books and love them. I am 93m an avaid reqader losing my vision
    I d my first libnrary vcard at age 4 in Baltimore Md and wet all the time. Now thanks to Linbrary of Congress and talking books I get a lot of good books from them in the mail, coimg and goig Lovely. My contact at library is a vaery prudish man and I tell him over and over, I do not mind explicit sex. It usually means a happy romance story and please stop sending me explicit violence which i hate.
    love you Leigh Hoover in New Smyrna Beach fl and I tell all on my contact list about any good books I have read. You are on my list

  5. I donate my books to our library & often they are put into circulation. The ones they can’t use, go to the book sale, which supports the computer stations.
    I used to donate my time & provide a service to our library & recently volunteered to read to the little ones. I enjoy poetry & thought reading them my childhood favorites would be fun for all of us.

  6. From a purchasing librarian in a public library, thank you! Your books circulate briskly here and I have to admit I started buying more of them once I started reading THE HEIR. Plus library conferences are always such fun when I get to attend – authors, free books, what more could you want??