Publishing U: A Crime Fiction Writer Explains How to Kill ’Em at the Library

Publishing UOur readers are often curious about the process of writing books, and we’re happy to provide access to the experts! In this installment of our Publishing U series, award-winning crime writer Brad Parks shares pro tips on one of the most important, but under-appreciated, avenues of publicity open to an author: the library visit.


Mystery Month 2015Brad Parks: He was That Guy in the bar at a writer’s conference.

“Libraries,” he scoffed. “They buy one lousy copy of your book and then they let forty people read it for free. That costs me thirty-nine sales!”

This was a few years back, when I was still a debut author, still uncertain in the ways of the publishing world. So I kept my mouth shut. But, all the while I was thinking, Wait a second . . . that means forty people read you. Forty people who would have never been exposed to you otherwise. Isn’t that a good thing?

A handful of years and books later—my sixth novel, The Fraud, releases in July—I am more convinced than ever: You don’t want to be That Guy.

Libraries are the keys to the kingdom.

It’s simple, really. Readers go to the bookstore to buy their current favorite authors. But they go to the library to discover their new favorite authors.

BradParksAuthorPhotoTherefore, if you want to build a lasting readership—and the enduring career that comes with it—libraries are the keys to the kingdom. And there’s no better way to begin a relationship with a library and its patrons than by making a personal appearance at one.

How do you do it as a rookie author? Here are some tips from a guy who has been in more libraries than the Dewey Decimal system:

Get someone else to make the first call. Library directors and program managers are constantly approached by authors, and they have to make a very quick decision about whether the proposed event is worth their time. If you make the call yourself, chances are they’ll think, “Oh, small potatoes. Pass.” But if the call is made by the publicist at your publishing company? Or the publicist you hire? Or even just someone who is acting as your publicist, a friend with a gift of gab (and an email with your website’s domain name) or a spouse with a different last name? Well, then you must be an Important Author. You’ve subtly been shifted into a different category in the librarian’s mind.

Make a publicity plan. What you don’t want is a library whose idea of publicity is to put up a few posters on their already crowded bulletin boards and hope people show up. What you do want is a library that, with your help, gets articles and announcements about your visit placed in local newspapers/websites, sends email blasts to its patrons specifically about you (not just with you buried in there somewhere), and—this is probably most important—has its staff personally invite patrons to the event. If possible, see if you can have your event coincide with a Friends of the Library meeting (they can sell your books as a fundraiser) or with the regular meeting of a library book group. There’s nothing like having a built-in audience.

Relax, Shakespeare. If you’ve written a book,
you already have all the tools needed
to put on a great library show.

Prepare with your pen. I know what half of you are already thinking: But when I try to talk in front of people, I sound like a rambling moron! I’m a writer, not a public speaker! Relax, Shakespeare. If you’ve written a book, you already have all the tools needed to put on a great library show. Just write out what you want to say ahead of time, crafting it like The Fraudyou would any piece you’re going to publish, until you get it just right. Then read it aloud every day for two weeks. Before you know it, you’ll be able to deliver your spiel without notes. Then you can start practicing it in the car, in the shower, wherever. By the time your event comes, you’ll look like a gifted extemporaneous speaker, comfortable and confident that you won’t sound like a rambling moron.

Tell stories. Here, again, I am paraphrasing the thoughts of the nervous half of you. But I’m the most boring person I know! If the topic is me, I have nothing to say! Sure you do. Just speak in anecdotes. Tell the story of what made you want to be a writer, or the first thing you wrote that really connected with people, or how the idea for your book came to you, or how you overcame a particularly crippling case of writer’s block, or how you got published, or what a typical writing day is like. Look, being an author is a cool job. It may surprise you, but people really do want to be able to see what’s under the hood. Be funny, if at all possible. Be warm. Be human. Be you.

If you do a reading, keep it short. Legend has it coyotes will gnaw off their own legs to escape a hunter’s trap. This also pertains to library audiences who are forced to listen to an author reading some incongruous and inexplicable passage from deep within his novel for a half an hour. A reading should be five, maybe ten minutes. And it had better be suspenseful, heart-wrenching, funny, beautiful or, in some very obvious way, entertaining. If you don’t have a passage like that? Don’t read.

Have fun, damnit. If you seem to be enjoying yourself, your audience will, too. The good news is, it’s not hard. Most librarians chose their careers because they love books and the people who create them. Likewise, true readers are always thrilled to discover a new author. That means your typical library audience is filled with people who really want to like you. And what’s more fun than that?

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Brad Parks is the only author to have won the Shamus, Nero and Lefty Awards, three of crime fiction’s most coveted prizes. The Washington Post has called his Carter Ross series “one of the best portraits of a working reporter since Michael Connelly’s The Poet.” He is notorious for bursting into song at writing conferences, bookstore appearances and, yes, library shows. For more, visit




About the Author:

Keir Graff is Executive Editor of Booklist Publications and the author of six books. His most recent is the middle-grade novel, The Phantom Tower (2018). Follow him on Twitter at @Booklist_Keir.

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