Summer Scares 2019 Resources

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Sunday, October 20, 2019

31 Days of Horror: Day 20-- Working with Libraries by JH Moncrieff

For the next few days I am returning to guest posts, but I saved these three to go together because they are slightly different than the standard "Why I Love Horror" guest posts, as I will explain each day. I really wanted to focus your attention on these members of the horror community because each brings something that I feel is extremely important to libraries.

Up today is J.H. Moncrieff. Moncrieff is an award winning author of novels that explore the world's most haunted places. These are stories that are perfect for library patrons because they combine history, armchair travel, and supernatural adventure. Moncrieff is very serious about her research too. As a result, she has quite a following in her native Canada presenting to libraries about these haunted places based on her research as well as leading film discussions and writing seminars. 

I featured her newest book, Those Who Came Before [October 2019], in my Library Journal Genre Spotlight Horror Preview. I think it is a great introduction to her work. It is a present day murder mystery with ancient supernatural roots. You can confidently hand Moncrieff's books to all of your fans of Jennifer McMahon.

Click here to learn more about Moncrieff and her books. But know this, Moncrieff is one of our biggest champions and partners on our road to improving our assistance to horror readers.

Now here she is to share what she has learned by working with so many libraries. I would like those of you who think your library wouldn't support horror programming to pay particularly close attention because Moncrieff is in high demand at the libraries in her community and patrons love her programs-- all year long. And authors, Moncrieff has a lot of advice on how you can approach your library to offer programming too.

Working with libraries

By J.H. Moncrieff

As an author, building relationships with librarians makes good sense. After all, writers and libraries go together like Halloween and candy.

Your local library is a good place to start. You might already be known there, so it feels more natural to begin introducing yourself and getting to know the people who work there.

Before you do, it’s important to get clear on two things: what you have to offer your library, and what you’re hoping to get out of it. Most libraries have only small budgets, and some have none, so if you’re doing this for the money, you’re going to be disappointed.

However, if libraries have meant a lot to you (most writers spend an awful lot of time in them, at least as children), providing innovative programming is a way to give back. You can help the library get more people in the door, and can also help build your profile and ensure your own books are available and, if you’re lucky, prominently displayed. Before I present a workshop or program at a library, I ask that my books are in rotation at that branch. That ensures it’s a mutually beneficial relationship.

Presenting programs at libraries has been a lot of fun and hugely rewarding for me. I always meet a new group of people, who come eager to learn and armed with lots of questions. Some are fans of my work and are quick to tell me how much they enjoyed my books, and that’s great too. I always leave feeling inspired, joyful, and exhausted.

As for what kind of programs to offer, you’re really only limited to your imagination and abilities, but it’s a good idea to have some suggestions ready before you approach a librarian. If you’re qualified to teach any kind of writing class, those tend to do well. Readings can work if they’re interactive, especially if you write children’s books. Holidays and events lend themselves to all sorts of thematic events—for example, Halloween is a natural fit for a dark fiction author. Just make sure you approach your library well in advance—six months prior usually works—as programs get scheduled fairly early. This October, I’m hosting a Haunting the Library program at one of my local libraries. After showing a horror movie, I’ll have a discussion with a horror film maker about what elements make a great horror movie and why people love to be scared. We’re hoping for lots of questions and comments from the attendees.

“Don't be afraid to approach public libraries if you have an idea for a program or event. We welcome new ideas and new partnerships to bring to the community, and if you're not sure who to contact, ask at your local branch and they can direct you to the right person,” says Aileen Clear, Reader Services Librarian, Millennium Library. “We may not always say yes or be able to host the program right away, but we may pull up the proposal at a later date or keep your name in mind for other programs that may be similar and play off of your strengths.

When approaching a library with a programming idea, it’s important to be patient, especially if you’ve never worked with them before. Remember, these are busy people, and depending on how large your city is, they might get approached by many different authors hoping to work with them.

To make yourself stand out from the competition, focus on what’s in it for them. Keep your ego in check, and talk sincerely about what you love about the library and why you feel the work they do is important. (If you don’t think the work they do is important, why partner with them?)

Here’s some of the wording I used in my initial email: “So many writers get their start in libraries, and I’m no different. I’d love to know if there’s anything I can do to help or contribute to be a part of our local library scene. Libraries foster a love of reading, and that’s so important to me.”

If you don’t know who to approach, contact the library and ask for the person in charge of programming. If they’re not the right person, they’ll usually be willing to point you in the right direction.

When I initially approached the library, I got a “sounds-interesting-we’ll-let-you-know” response. I followed up periodically, but when nothing changed, I assumed they weren’t interested. However, they were interested—it just took them more time than I expected to contact me and schedule the first program. So if you don’t get a response right away, don’t give up. Check in every couple of months so they don’t forget about you, but otherwise, all you can do is be patient.

“Be okay with us working together on your program and tweaking it a bit. We may not always have to, but sometimes we might want to mold your program idea to better suit the needs of our community, especially if we think it might draw a bigger turnout or crowd,” Clear says. “If we don't contact authors who sent a proposal it is okay to follow-up. We may hold off on the program at the moment but keep it in mind for a future date. Libraries plan programs months in advance so we can find a good place, fit it in our schedule, and publish it in our newsletter—the more amount of notice the better. We want all programs to do well, and the more time we have to plan and tweak and promote the program the better.

Partnering with my local library has resulted in something unexpected—now libraries in other countries want me to run programs in their branches, which is amazing. I’m so excited to do what I can to help spread the love of reading and writing. When I was a child, Budge Wilson—a prolific Canadian children’s author—came to speak at my local library. I’ve never forgotten the thrill of meeting a “real” author, and the impact of her telling me I could be a writer too. If you have an opportunity to make a difference to another writer—or future writer—why wouldn’t you? There are few things more worthwhile.

“If an author proposes a program that focuses on what they excel in and uses their expertise and knowledge, that makes for a good program. Experienced author-led workshops from beginner to advanced are extremely popular in the library,” Clear says.

Now that you know how amazing it can be to partner with your local library, what are you waiting for?

J.H. Moncrieff's City of Ghosts won the 2018 Kindle Book Review Award for best Horror/Suspense.

Reviewers have described her work as early Gillian Flynn with a little Ray Bradbury and Stephen King thrown in for good measure.

She won Harlequin's search for “the next Gillian Flynn” in 2016. Her first creature horror, Monsters in Our Wake, was an Amazon Horror Bestseller.

When not writing, she loves exploring the world's most haunted places, advocating for animal rights, and summoning her inner ninja in muay thai class.

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