Soon to be Famous Illinois Author Project
Librarians in Illinois are leveraging their joint influence to help reshape the world of e-books and showcase their ability to connect people to books. With the goal of lifting a self-published author to success, the “Soon to Be Famous Illinois Author Project” finds, launches, and promotes local authors with the power of public libraries. The program is setup so that you can easily do the same in your library, city, county, consortium or state.
NYU professor, David Vinjamuri, spoke during the PR forum at the 2013 American Library Association Annual Conference. His session titled, “The $84 Question – Libraries in the E-book Era”, posed the question of why publishers are charging libraries $84 for e-books that patrons can purchase for $8.99 through Amazon. This discrepancy reveals the disconnect publishers have between librarians and their influence on patron behavior. Publishers seem to undervalue the power librarians have to drive book sales and help patrons discover new authors.
Several members of the Reaching Across Illinois Library System (RAILS) Marketing Group were in the audience and shared details of Vinjamuri’s session with other library marketing professionals at their next meeting. Members of the marketing group, including Julie Stam, Community and Business Liaison at Eisenhower Public Library District, began brainstorming ideas. “We decided to hold an annual contest for self-published authors of adult fiction living in Illinois,” stated Stam. RAILS and the Illinois Library Association (ILA) quickly supported the idea and offered booth space and a session at the state library’s annual conference in Fall 2013 to announce the new initiative.
“The best way to show the power of public libraries is to use librarians as judges,” recalls Stam. So librarians were recruited from across the state to judge the contest. A rubric was provided to judge submissions based on criteria such as commercial value, characterization, plot, storytelling, and likelihood of actually recommending the book to patrons. Judges narrowed the 103 submissions down to three finalists through three rounds of judging.
Joanne Zienty was announced as the first winner for her title, The Things We Save during National Library Week in April 2014. In 2015, Michael Alan Peck won for his title, Commons 1: The Journeyman; in 2016, Geralyn Hesslau Magrady won for her title, Lines; and in 2017, Daniel Rosenberg won for his title, The Towers Stand Still.
The winner’s prize package includes a book tour throughout the state libraries, print book sales to Illinois libraries, a book review in Library Journal, a radio interview on WGN and more. The author also attends ILA as a guest of the project for additional exposure. This past year, ILA provided a free annual conference registration to the library sponsoring the winning author.
Looking back, Stam recounts that the project was quite inexpensive to create, spending only $375 the first year. The support of ILA was instrumental for exposure and keeping costs low since the conference booth, session and signage were all provided by the association. The first year, submissions did not have to be in e-book format, which created some logistical issues when distributing copies for judging. Now, all submissions must be in e-book format. A recent partnership with BiblioBoard has streamlined the platform for authors to submit their e-books for the contest and added a $1,000 monetary prize to the winner’s package.
The project is now in it’s 5th year and looking to expand to other states. An author awards program like Soon to be Famous is scalable – the contest could be held by an individual library, city, county, consortium or state. The committee released a guide to starting a similar program titled, How To Launch an Author Awards Program at Your Library! The guide walks readers through assembling a committee, recruiting judges, soliciting submissions, judging the entries, and promoting the contest and winner.
If you’re interested in learning more about launching an author awards program at your library, visit the Soon to Be Famous Illinois Author Project website or email the committee at mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org.