The Outfit – Libby Fischer Hellman and Friends

On Friday, June 16, the New York Times carried a story about Libby Fischer Hellman and friends, Chicago authors writing mysteries set in Chicago and often about crimes committed in Chicago.  Together they established a blog, The Outfit, to publicize their books, a job no longer being done for mid-list authors by their publishers.   In order to get the books we like into print there needs to be a partnership of sorts between authors and their fans.

As mentioned in the About section of this blog, the goal of Murder By Type is to introduce mid-list authors to a wider audience. Publishing seems to be contracting rather than expanding.  Authors whose books appear on best-seller lists have no difficulty getting published.  Some authors  append their names to books written by others who use the authors brand, getting multiple books into print each year.  Books written to fill a template aren’t likely to be award winners; they fall instead into the category of a beach read, a book that doesn’t suffer if the reader’s attention is diverted by sun, sand, or sleep.

One of my favorite writers was the late Robert Parker.  I never missed a book until I realized that the words on each page were getting bigger and the margins were getting wider.  That’s cheating and the publisher abets the cheating because fewer pages make a book cheaper to print.  Readers lost because the truncated stories were no longer like the work of the Parker we admired.

It seems insulting that publishers won’t pay to publicize the authors from whom they take the lion’s share of the profit from book sales.  Wouldn’t publishers make more money if they supported their authors?

Publishing seems to be moving readers toward e-books.  Amazon has announced that it has sold more e-books recently than hardcover books.  I understand that fans of the Kindle like being able to carry a seemingly infinite number of books on one device but the sticking point for me is the device.  A library card costs nothing.  E-readers cost over $100.00 at the low end of the spectrum.  That makes them unaffordable for a significant percentage of the population.   However one may feel about the state of public education in the United States, public schools and public libraries have helped level the playing fields for children since  free books and free education became available to all.

Libraries have seen significant increases in circulation as people search out inexpensive, or free, sources of entertainment.  I know that a lot of library patrons come in to check out DVDs but an attractive display of books pulls people to the printed word, too.  An authors circulation numbers goes a long way in helping librarians decide which books to buy within their limited budgets.

Mid-list authors need the support of their fans.  A contract for the next book depends on sales of the most recent one.  It is a frightening thought that publishers may choose to publish authors who sell greater quantities of books over authors whose books are of greater quality.

So bang the drum loudly, even in the library. If a reader hears good things about an author but can’t find that author’s books in their library, talk to the librarian.  Explain why other patrons would really like this author, too.

Mid-list authors are becoming an endangered species.  Maybe someone can come up with a bumper sticker?

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4 Responses to The Outfit – Libby Fischer Hellman and Friends

  1. Libby says:

    Thanks so much for “hitting the nail,” Beth. It’s appreciated. Especially the value of libraries. When people tell me they can’t find my books in the library, I suggest they ask the library to get them. Some actually do. Every little bit helps.

    And here’s an interesting corollary: my library system has purchased half a dozen Kindles which they lend out to patrons — for free. Granted, my library is part of a fabulous system, but I see this as a terrific opportunity for both the library to stay relevant and patrons to continue to read in whatever format they choose.

    • Beth says:

      Libby, I wonder how many library systems can afford to do that. The overdue fee on a Kindle would help the libraries’ budget.

      Anything that gets people reading is worth supporting.

  2. My big concern about libraries handing out Kindles to patrons is that they would be stolen or damaged. I don’t think people are as careful with something they haven’t paid for as they would be if they’d had to at least put up collateral to guarantee its safe return.

    I’m a great supporter of libraries, and I have hated seeing their budgets slashed ruthlessly over the past few years. Smaller library systems are really hurting and can hardly afford to buy new books. That means less income for writers, especially small press writers whose sales are primarily to libraries, and fewer choices for readers. We can’t let the gutting of public library budgets continue. It hurts everyone.

    • Beth says:

      School libraries are also being closed; librarians aren’t as necessary as classroom teachers if keeping the library open is going to significantly increase the pupil/teacher ratio.

      The problem for all cities and towns is setting priorities for services that are paid for by real estate taxes. That covers just about everything provided by the cities and towns. If a town has to choose between books for the library and a police officer, residents are going to opt for public safety first. The economy impacts things that most people don’t think about.

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