Calgary Public Library helps self-published authors reach more readers


Calgary Public Library members can read self-published books through the Indie Author Project. PHOTO: SAMREEN AHMED

Self-published authors often struggle to have their books reach the shelves, but a partnership between the Calgary Public Library and the Indie Author Project is helping writers reach a wider audience.

Amanda Arbuthnot, service design lead at Calgary Public Library, says partnering with the Indie Author Project aligns with the library’s goal of supporting storytellers.

“We don’t want to just be a place where people consume information. We want people to share information and we really want people to be able to share their stories,” she says.

The Indie Author Project allows self-published authors to own their work while sharing their books with members of participating libraries, such as the Calgary Public Library.

“It’s something we care a lot about, because in addition to supporting readers, we also want to support creators and writers in the community and this gives people a space to have their works, that’s not linked to a big conglomerate like Amazon,” he says Arbuthnot.

Self-published authors like Larissa Soehn submitted their books to the Indie Author Project.

Local author Arlie Sheelin is excited her self-published science fiction and fantasy novels can be accessed by a larger audience through the project.

“It gives us a chance to be discovered by more people, puts our books into the hands of people who maybe can’t afford to buy books on a regular basis, and it just opens up new doors for us,” she says.

For Red Deer-based author Larissa Soehn, the Indie Author Project offers a chance to get her book–inspired by her own mental health challenges–in front of a new audience.

“Because I’m not from Calgary myself so I don’t hold a Calgary library card, I am jealous,” Soehn says. “I had asked for my public library to get on board with that project and I never received any response, so I think it’s really great that the Calgary Public Library is doing that.”

Soehn says authors don’t often make much money from their books, and this project will greatly benefit those who go the self-publishing route.

“Not everybody can afford to buy your book, and that’s not what it’s all about. You want readers, you want people to enjoy your book.”

The Indie Author Project hopes to help authors reach readers even without traditional publishing houses. PHOTO: SAMREEN AHMED

Arbuthnot says traditional publishing houses have much of the control when it comes to which manuscripts go forward, how many copies to print, and how much media promotion books will receive—a model that favors already successful authors and is difficult to break into.

“When people self-publish, it gives the market an opportunity to hear new voices who publishing houses may not necessarily feel confident to promote,” Arbuthnot says. “But when we do something independent and there’s less stakes, then we get the opportunity to hear new voices, new stories, new perspectives.”

The library has also introduced Pressbooks, a digital self-publishing tool, in support of the Indie Author Project. The tool allows authors to create or upload manuscripts to convert to professional quality eBooks or print-ready files.

“By itself, it’s a great tool but really, what we want it to be used for is for people to upload their own self-published books to share on the Indie Author Project,” says Arbuthnot.

Although the library has not yet seen the tool being used to its full potential by aspiring authors, Arbuthnot is hopeful about the future.

“People who were able to find extra time because of COVID have written their own books and we’re hearing a lot from self-published authors, so I think as more people find the tool, we’ll see it used a little bit more .”

The Calgary Public Library’s Pressbooks allows members to create or upload manuscripts. PHOTO: CHRISTIN HUME/UNSPLASH

Arbuthnot adds that Calgary has a strong literary presence, particularly in comic books and graphic novels, and the library is committed to helping the sector grow.

“We still think of Calgary as cowboy and oil town, but we have so many incredible writers and artists,” Arbuthnot says. “And it’s really important for us to showcase those people but also to give them this chance to develop that skill and to find a place to share it.”

Tyler Sehn, a self-published fantasy author in Canmore, submitted his book to the Indie Author Project to overcome the challenges of promotion and easily share his work with the masses.

“People want to be writers, they want to be creators, and now all of a sudden, I’m supposed to be in sales, as well, now?” Sehn says. “I have to be a social media influencer. That’s the most difficult obstacle for me, and it seems to be a common one for a lot of the authors I speak with.”

According to Arbuthnot, the library is committed to supporting authors trying to break through by giving members access to stories they never would have read before.

“We don’t benefit much from hearing the same stories over and over,” Arbuthnot says. “It’s comforting to reread our same authors that we love and there’s an important place for that, but I also think there’s a lot of value in reading new stories.”

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