Wednesday, July 17, 2013

ARCs and Relationship Building

There was a great panel on ARCs at ALA this year. I was unable to attend because of a committee meeting, but presenters Liz B and Kelly have some great recaps of what they covered.

While I was at ALA there are a few ARCs I was really excited about to pick up. Some were BIG ones, some were novels I didn't know existed but was excited to see.

A comment on Kelly's post struck me though-- a midlist author was very worried about handing out "a lot" of ARCs at a smaller local conference and that every ARC = a lost sale. Which made me think about how I use ARCs.

There's a lot in how librarians use ARCs behind the scenes--blogging about them, sharing them amongst ourselves to build internal buzz that we can then turn to external buzz, etc.

But I think many authors worry about when we share ARCs with teens. When we give this unfinished copy away to non-professionals, what are we doing, and why?

Relationship building. It's all about relationship building, and that's important for teens, and it's important for book sales.

Many people question why libraries have video games programs for teens. (Bear with me--this'll get back to ARCS). At my last library, we had a group of teen guys who used to hang out at the library all the time. They didn't necessarily like the library, but it was a place to be with computers and air-conditioning. They weren't horribly behaved, but they weren't model library users, either. We often had to remind them to keep their voices down, to not run, to turn down their music (it would bleed through their headphones and I could hear it 30 feet away.) The gaming program (1) gave them something to do. It made things a lot nicer for everyone because it gave them their own space, and a place were they could play and be a noisier and, etc. (2) Relationship building.

I had to cover the gaming program one day. I played against the boys. I engaged in some competitive trash talk, and I won big on Wii bowling. And EVERYTHING changed. They saw me totally different after that. The next day, they stopped by to say hi and make some small talk when they got to the library. When they got loud and I had to remind them to quiet down, instead of arguing with me about it, as soon as they saw me walk up they said "Oh no Miss Jennie! Did we get too loud? We're sorry!" And then they stayed quiet. Winning certainly helped, but the main thing was that I tried.

So, what does that have to do with ARCs? Everything. When you have an actual relationship with teens, everything's easier.

Let's take what happens when there's a big book. At ALA, I picked up an ARC of Cress. The Lunar Chronicles are very popular with my teens and this one doesn't come out until February. Sharing this ARC with my teens now builds excitement for the series (because the few that get to read it will talk it up for the next 6 months.) But the fact that I could get an early copy of the book is BIG in their eyes. It's almost like a magical power. And suddenly, they realize that I know my stuff. I have major street cred. It gives me instant trust in the world of books. If I'm cool enough to get an early copy of something like Cress, maybe my other book suggestions are worth listening to. It's instant relationship building.

And what about ARCs of smaller releases? Just as important, for different reasons. There's something special about an early copy, even if it's of a book by an author you've never heard of. I can get teens to take a chance on a book or author they don't know if it's an early copy. It's a great way for midlist authors to gain new fans. And fans that come to something from an ARC tend to be the most vocal about it. They'll tell EVERYONE. When the actual copy comes in, they're the ones who will pull it off the shelf and shove it into someone's hands. If they like it, the teens who read it in ARC form will be the biggest cheerleaders for the finished product.

And what about relationship building?

For the big release book, the library is going to buy that anyway. We don't really need the ARC to make a purchasing decision. The midlist book though, we may or may not get. We have to look at that one more closely to see if it's something we think our teens will like. We let the teens read the ARC and then demand feedback. Is it any good? Will it circulate? Should we get it? Should we get 1 copy for the system, or a copy for every branch? Not only is that feedback crucial for us, but it empowers the teens. It gives them a say in their collections, it lets them know that we take them and their ideas seriously. It's a pretty easy way to really show them that we respect them.

And, if they know that we respect them and their ideas, they're much more likely to respect us and our ideas.

And we become trusted adults. And the more trusted adults a teen has in his or her life, the stronger safety net he or she has, and the chances of success in life become that much greater.

In a reader's advisory context, this is crucial. We don't have to work as hard to hand-sell a book. If we already have a relationship, they're much more likely to take a chance on something.

Here's the ultimate outcome-- I had a teen at my old branch. Over the years, we had built a strong relationship. It got to the point where I could just hand her a book and say "you should read this." And she would. I didn't have to tell her what it was about. It didn't have to be in her favorite genre or format-- it could be something completely different than what she would normally pick up. And she'd read it. And if she liked it-- watch out. If she liked it, she would hand-sell it to everyone. There were midlist, backlist titles that were about to be weeded out of the collection because they didn't circ. I had a very strong relationship with her and could give them to her. The ones she liked? She could spread the word so effectively that instead of weeding the title, we bought additional copies.

There's a lot of work that goes into building a relationship like that. ARCs won't instantly create it, but they're a very helpful tool, in more ways that many people realize.

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Angela Frederick said...

I totally agree with your premise here. And I would add that teens who get very excited about ARCs will become fans of the authors and will become book buyers, too.

Kristina Simon said...

Creating buzz is huge for authors these days. Maybe it's always been that way, but it seems even more important in today's publishing climate. Since most books are sold by word-of-mouth, I agree that authors who equate handing out ARCs with lost sales are being a bit shortsighted. Are they trying to sell one book or are they trying to build a career? If they're trying to build a career, those relationships to readers are crucial and ARCs certainly help (so do librarians ;-)). Thanks for a thought-provoking post!

Anonymous said...

I just have to tell you how much I loved this post, both as a reader and as a high school teacher working with that age group every day. The teens at your library are lucky to have you!

Tabatha said...

Enjoyed your post! Very convincing :-)