When I was a child, I visited the library every Saturday and checked out three books, the maximum number my children’s library card allowed. And every Tuesday, I’d run out of reading material. One day, a kind librarian noticed my voracious reading habits and slipped me an adult card, which meant I could check out ten books at a time, more than tripling the number of books I’d get to read in a week. I was overjoyed.
My story about a special librarian is not unusual. Most published authors can name librarians who first nurtured their love of reading, recommending the authors and books that inspired their future careers.
But librarians can do more to help aspiring writers. My recent book, The Canadian Guide to Creative Writing and Publishing, argues that, while writing is an art, publishing is a business, and writers need to acquaint themselves with how that business works if they want to reach readers. This is where librarians can help. Librarians are involved in the business of writing and understand certain aspects of it far better than most beginning authors.
When you meet those aspiring authors, do recommend books by the great writers of the past and of our time. But you can also help emerging authors to learn more about the genre they are writing. They need to know what’s getting published in their specific field. Just as a baker who wants to open a cake shop should research what has brought others success in the bakery business, writers who read in their own genre discover where the bar is set and what the possibilities are.
You can also support writers by ordering and recommending Canada’s literary magazines. These beautiful journals feature the latest work by contemporary authors, showing what’s publishable right now. The most well-known and long running literary magazines usually include work by both well-established, well-known authors and completely new ones. Though these magazines don’t attract the same attention as the latest issue of Vogue or Sports Illustrated, the person who seeks them out in your library might just be the next great Canadian novelist.
Finally, direct aspiring writers towards books about the publishing industry and share your own expertise. You have far more knowledge than most aspiring writers, especially those who are not enrolled in creative writing programs. You know about genre distinctions and age distinctions within genres. You know what circulates and what doesn’t. You know what the hot trends are, which authors are popular with which demographic, which topics people ask about the most, which books generate discussion, which become library discards. Your information about reading behaviours and trends would be invaluable to authors who are trying to write publishable work.
It’s particularly important to look out for the tweens, teens, and young adults who need a librarian’s mentorship. While kids who are talented in sports have coaches, and kids who excel at singing or dancing or acting have school plays and summer camps and private lessons, creative writers are often overlooked. Their talents are rarely cultivated. Libraries and librarians should embrace their unique opportunity to nurture emerging writers.
Patricia Westerhof is the author of Catch Me When I Fall, The Dove in Bathurst Station, and The Canadian Guide to Creative Writing & Publishing, as well as co-author of The Writer’s Craft. She has taught writing for more than thirty years, working with writers of all ages, from teens to seniors. She lives in Toronto.