Sunday 24 February 2008

Libraries and readers' groups

Like many other writers, I owe an enormous debt to libraries. I became a member of the children’s section of my home town library when I was young, and in the years since then I’ve been a member of a good many other libraries, including the Bodleian and Oxford Union’s library (no spare cash to buy books when you are a student, so I devoured scores from the fiction stock held by the Union)

Since becoming a published novelist, I’ve had an added pleasure – the chance to visit libraries up and down the country to give talks, hold events, and meet readers face to face. This is one of the most rewarding pastimes for any writer, I think.

One of the most appealing developments in recent years has been the increasing popularity of readers’ groups, very often (though not always) associated with libraries. I’ve found that group members who attend library talks are invariably well-informed and the fact they have had a chance to discuss and debate one of my books before meeting me gives an added dimension to any event.

With readers’ groups and future library discussions in mind, I’ve added a new page to my website. It features both The Arsenic Labryinth and Waterloo Sunset at this stage, and contains background info as well as suggested questions for discussion. I hope it’s found useful and would welcome any feedback or ideas for improvement.


pattinase (abbott) said...

Belonging to a reader's group, I have one real problem with them. Reading groups gravitate to the same sort of books, month after month and group to group. Friends in groups hundreds of miles away from me have very similar reading lists over the years. This means that although a small group of books gets read by many, other equally good books go untouched. And most of members read just that one book a month. Plus the books tend to be books that confirm their world view. So it's a good thing but it's also a bad thing.

Lesa said...

I totally agree with Patti that reading groups tend to read the same books.

I would like to mention one reason, at least for public libraries, that we tend to do this. Our reading groups need to have the book chosen available in a variety of formats. We need to have that title in regular print, large print, and some form of audio - whether CD or tape, because of the variety of patrons who participate in the groups. And, then we need to own enough copies of it for everyone to get one. Libraries, in many cases, don't ask our reading groups to buy their own copies. So, we're looking for titles that will be popular enough to circulate outside of our book groups, and titles that have been published in a variety of formats. Sometimes that means we tend to gravitate to the popular books used for book groups.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks very much for these comments. For mid-list writers like me, the hope must be that some libarians become enthusaiastic enough about the books to recommnend them. Word of mouth is undoubtedly the best way of reaching new readers.

Karen (Euro Crime) said...

The Coffin Trail was very popular at my crime reading group.

It's not much but when I'm asked for recommendations or ordering titles for housebound patrons, I do look for your books :-).

Martin Edwards said...

Karen, of course I hesitate to disagree, but such recommendations certainly are much - much more valuable than you may guess! It is increasingly difficult for a mid-list writer without a big publicity budget to make an impact these days - think of all those entertaining writers of whom we have heard little in the past few years because, despite their merits, they simply can't find publishers. There are plenty of them, I'm sorry to say. So 'the oxygen of publicity' really is valuable. Thank you.

Peter Rozovsky said...

I've thought of starting such a group at my local library. Any suggestions on how to get started?
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

pattinase (abbott) said...

I wonder if an online reading group that reads crime fiction could work. I guess not but I know I can't find enough people here to pull it off. Or if I did, we'd disagree on sub-genres probably. So you know, Martin, my local library has all your books.

Martin Edwards said...

Peter, I guess the starting point may be a chat with your local librarians to see if they are keen to become involved. Most of the groups I know have been linked to the public libraries in some way and having a core of enthusiasts seems to be the key to success.

Patti, thanks for the news about the books! An online group sounds like a good idea to me, though I imagine it would take quite a bit of organising.