Library Outreach Guide
National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a nonprofit event that encourages kids and adults to tackle the challenge of writing a novel in November. Launched in 1999, NaNoWriMo inspires its estimated 300,000 participants with email pep talks, a huge and supportive online community, and a host of web-based writing tools. Additionally, volunteers called Municipal Liaisons (MLs) in nearly 600 regions organize local writing events and get-togethers that transform novel-writing into an achievable and fun community endeavor.
The Young Writers Program offers an educator-friendly version of NaNoWriMo for kids and teens. In 2009, the Young Writers Program had over 35,000 participants. You can learn more about the YWP below.
Our local groups are always on the lookout for places to gather and write. While cafes can be crowded and expensive, and homes can rarely accommodate large writing groups, libraries are the perfect hub for these grassroots communities of writers. Libraries that have opened their doors to NaNoWriMo groups in the past have seen some wonderful and unexpected results.
If you’d like to learn more, read on! Sarah Mackey, OLL’s Community Liaison and a former library staff member and NaNoWriMo ML, will walk you through the benefits of hosting OLL participants in your library.
By Sarah Mackey
When deciding if your library wants to forge a partnership with your local NaNoWriMo chapter, the obvious question that springs to mind is…what’s in it for us? As a library staff member and a long-time Municipal Liaison for National Novel Writing Month, I have a unique perspective on hosting participants of these events in the library.
Built-in Audience: NaNoWriMo has a built-in audience of enthusiastic participants who will attend your programs. Furthermore, the participant demographics are staggeringly diverse; no other library program brings in people with such a wide range of age, gender, socio-economic status, education, and background. Because NaNoWriMo already has well-established chapters in nearly 450 cities and towns around the world, much of the work that usually goes into building up a program has already been done. With so little staff involvement required, hosting is an excellent boost to programming and statistics for surprisingly minimal staff time.
Corresponding missions: Partnering with NaNoWriMo offers libraries an opportunity to take an active role in promoting literacy. What better way to increase awareness of and enthusiasm for writing and reading then by reaching out to a like-minded community group with a common purpose?
Increasing relevance: At a time when libraries are perceived by some as outdated institutions in an age of omnipresent access to information, this partnership provides an opportunity to expand the scope of libraries and update its image.
Library as community: Many people struggle to find a space in the community that feels like comfortable grounds for gathering with their neighbors. Cafés can be crowded and expensive, malls are commercially overrun and impersonal and local parks’ accommodations can be limiting. Through this partnership, libraries would encourage broader use of their space, and offer a sense of community at no cost!
Transformation versus transaction: NaNoWriMo can be a life-changing experience for its participants; they make new friends, accomplish their creative goals, and become an integral part of the community they live in. This partnership allows libraries an opportunity to become involved in an immensely positive experience.
Expanded support: The types of people who participate in the event and attend write-ins are also ideal potential library patrons. Contact with the library via NaNoWriMo will raise participant awareness of the myriad of services that their library provides. A strong core NaNoWriMo group would also offer a great base to start other ongoing events such as a book group or year-round writing group.
If you’d like to contact Sarah to learn more about her experience, you can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Write-ins are held throughout the month-long events. Participants gather to work on their novels (or scripts, depending on the program) as a group. Write-ins require few things: tables, chairs, and some power outlets for laptops.
Write-ins generally last several hours, possibly longer if the timing is right, and people may come and go over the course of the event. There are various advantages of hosting the event at different times: mornings can be great to get your day off to a productive start, afternoons have the advantage of appealing to the early birds and night owls alike, and an evening can be better for those with busy schedules. This is a decision that can be reached by each individual library, based on the needs of the local participants and the ML and the availability of space within the library.
While it may be easier if your library has a separate program room to host events, it is by no means a necessity for the write-ins, especially if your group is not particularly large. Setting up a write-in within the public space of a library can be a neat way to get the word out about the events, and a busy library can often provide inspiration for a bad case of writer’s block!
For library staff able to go the extra mile:
Below are some ideas for library staff who want to facilitate more than just write-ins.
Events held in October, just prior to the month-long challenge in November, can be quite successful. Participants could meet for a plot brainstorming session, or the library could invite a guest author to speak about ups and downs of the writing process.
The Kick-off Party happens just before the event begins on November 1. Participants have a chance to meet each other, get revved up about the challenge ahead, and enjoy an event with their compatriots that does not involve writing frantically for as long as they can. This is an event that is better suited to libraries with a separate space for events, and the nature of the event may depend upon the level of the library’s involvement. Whether it merely provides the space or also adds prizes, food, drinks, etc. is something that can be worked out on a per-region basis between a library and its ML.
Half-way through the month, participants gather to discuss their writing and celebrate the middle of the journey. Food may or may not be served, but there is sure to be lots of writing-related discussion!
The Thank God It’s Over Party is generally held just after the event ends in the beginning of December and allows participants to celebrate their accomplishments with their fellow writers. As with a Kick-off Party, a library’s role in this event can vary widely, but it also gives you an opportunity to collect feedback about the partnership between the library and your local group after things have wrapped up for another program.
Revision and publication workshops:
The library can also plan events after NaNoWriMo, during the rest of the year. These might include workshops on editing, revision, and the publication or production process.
An inexpensive but greatly appreciated aid for the frantically writing participants is, of course, fuel, in the form of coffee, other drinks, and small snacks. While many MLs coordinate some kind of snacks and/or refreshment (assuming food and drink are permitted in your library), free or subsidized treats are the shortest path to earning the undying devotion of your group.
Another popular idea is to provide some method of tracking word count at each event, even if it’s as simple as a whiteboard and pen. If all your program events are hosted at the same branch, an offer to store write-in materials can be extremely helpful.
Once you have determined the level of involvement you would like to have with local writers, contact your local Municipal Liaison! If you do not know who the Municipal Liaison is, check out our Contact Page to see if there is an ML in your area. You can send a message to the ML here. The ML will be able to answer any further questions you may have and talk more with you about planning for the upcoming months.
Free Resources for Participating Libraries
Library staff will be able to order a library kit from OLL’s store once they have signed up for the Come Write In program.These kits contain a static-cling sticker for the library’s entrance windows proclaiming “Write your novel here!” Posters will also be available to those libraries that wish to hang them leading up to and during the events, or in conjunction with an event-related display.
Library staff will also have access to the free online resources at the events’ websites. These resources include past pep talks from guest authors, a ‘Help’ section with FAQs and contact information, a forum where library staff members can ask questions and share information, and handbills for downloading and printing, which can be displayed at the front desk for patrons to read and take with them. After the events end, the I Wrote a Novel, Now What? page is posted on the program web site with information about the next step in the writing process.
In addition to communicating with local Municipal Liaisons, library staff may send further questions and comments to email@example.com.
No Plot? No Problem!
For guidance on writing the November novel, NaNoWriMo founder and program director Chris Baty’s month-long noveling handbook, No Plot? No Problem! is a must-read. In addition to advice from a host of NaNoWriMo veterans, No Plot? No Problem! also contains week-by-week overviews, exercises, and pep talks.
Other Month-Long Noveling Guides
Thanks to NaNoWriMo’s popularity, publishers have put out a wealth of other guides for people looking to write novels or novel outlines in a month. These include First Draft in Thirty Days (Writers Digest Books; ISBN-10: 1582972966) and Book in a Month: The Fool-Proof System for Writing a Novel in 30 Days; ISBN-10: 1582974861).
Over the years, many novels written during NaNoWriMo have gone on to be revised, perfected, and ultimately published! Sara Gruen’s bestselling Water for Elephants was drafted during NaNoWriMo. The following is a list of the other titles that started out as NaNo-novels. Some of these titles, along with No Plot? No Problem!, could make a great display in the months leading up to, during, and right after NaNoWriMo.
Rebecca Agiewich, BreakupBabe (Ballantine Books, 2006).
Amelia Atwater-Rhodes, Persistence of Memory (Delacorte Books for Young Readers, 2008)
Katherine Bell, Amaranth, The Preterhumans, Book 1 (Cacoethes Publishing)
Gayle Brandeis, Self Storage (Ballantine Books, 2007)
Jenna Bayley-Burke, Just One Spark (Mills & Boon, 2006)
Jessica Burkhart, High Jumps at Collins Academy (Simon & Schuster, 2007)
Geonn Cannon, On the Air (P.D. Publishing, 2007)
Teryl Cartwright, A Sensible Match (Vintage Romance, 2007)
Dave Casler, The Story of the Great American Flying Broomstick, Book 1, Genesis (Mt. Sneffels Press, 2007)
Lisa Daily, The Dreamgirl Academy (Plume/Penguin Putnam, 2008)
Farhan Devji, The Hockey Farmer (Cacoethes Publishing, June 2008)
Moondancer Drake, Worlds Collide (PD Publishing)
Mette Finderup, Blink (Gyldendal, 2009).
Terie Gerrison, SpringFire and SummerDanse (Llewellyn Worldwide)
Ann Gonzalez, Running for My Life (WestSide Books, 2008)
Erin Grace, The Indefatigable Wright Brothers (Jumping Duck Media, 2008)
Sara Gruen, Flying Changes (HarperCollins, 2005) and Water for Elephants (Algonquin, 2007).
Simon Haynes, Hal Spacejock: No Free Lunch (Fremantle Press, June 2008)
Liz Hegarty, Salt River (Scholastic New Zealand, April 2009)
Kathleen Kaufman, The Tree Museum (Way Things Are Publications, March 2009)
Angela Korra’ti, Faerie Blood (Drollerie Press)
C.J. Lines, Filth Kiss (Hadesgate Publishing , 2007)
Kimberly Llewellyn, Cashmere Boulevard (Berkley Books, 2007)
Jon F. Merz, The Destructor (Pinnacle Books, 2003)
Jacob and Diane Anderson-Minshall, Blind Curves (Bold Strokes Books, 2007)
Kathy Cano-Murillo, Love Shine (Grand Central Publishing, 2007)
Kalayna-Nicole Price, Once Bitten (Bell Bridge Books)
Lani Diane Rich, Time Off for Good Behavior (Warner Books, 2004) and Maybe Baby (Warner Books, 2005)
Francesca Segre, Daughter of the Bride (Berkeley Books, 2006).
James R. Strickland, Looking Glass (Flying Pen Press, 2007)
Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen, The Compound (Feiwel and Friends, 2008)
David Niall Wilson, Vintage Soul (Five Star/Gale, 2007) and The Mote in Andrea’s Eye (Five Star/Gale, 2006).
Young Writers Program (YWP)
Through the Young Writers Program, library staff members have the opportunity to lead writing workshops with kids. Any staff member can sign up as an educator at ywp.nanowrimo.org or access to curricula, writing advice from published childrens and YA authors, as well as a free resource kit specifically for young authors which includes stickers, pins, a progress chart, and program poster.
The NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program helps kids and teens experience the joy of writing in a fun, judgment-free way. Participants can set their own reasonable-yet-challenging word-count goals. In 2008, over 22,000 students in 600 classrooms took part in NaNoWriMo’s Young Writers Program.
If you would like to host YWP participants in your library, you can sign up as an educator at ywp.nanowrimo.org. You can order a teacher kit containing a progress chart, poster, buttons, and stickers for the young writers you host.
NaNoWriMo and the Young Writers Program are run by the Office of Letters and Light, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit charity. These events are largely funded by individual small dollar donations from our participants, but we also receive funding from foundation grants, corporate sponsors, and affiliate programs.
For more information about donations, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you’d like to make a donation or check out our program merchandise, visit the Donation Station and Store.
Testimonials from Library Staff
Library Director, Phillips Free Library
Homer, New York
“Phillips Free Library is a small rural library in upstate New York. We serve a community of about 6400 people. We currently have 3 writers’ groups, one for adults, one for teens and one for elementary kids. Last year, our teen and adult writer’s groups participated in NaNoWriMo. We had about 10 participants involved all together.
Along with our regular semi-month meetings, we added a kick-off, one meeting exclusively for NaNoWriMo participants, a mid-month write-in, and a party at the end. All of the events were attended by both teens and adults, which was a lot of fun for everyone. When we put an announcement of the events in the local paper, they came out and interviewed members and did two articles about the program.
The write-in was the best event. Six adults and four teens attended. We did it after hours on a Saturday, so we had the library to ourselves. The teens loved being “locked-in” at the library. We had refreshments. Everyone had a computer to themselves and we all wrote. It was a very loose event. People could get up and take breaks, have refreshments, visit with each other whenever they wanted to. At the end we spent a little time talking together about how our novels were going, sharing scenes people wanted to read to each other, and talking about how many extra words we’d gotten that day. The write-in lasted for about 3 hours.
Everyone liked having the two groups meet together and doing the write-in. It took very little work and got us great publicity. Plus, it got teen writers and adults together talking about writing. We’ll definitely be trying it again this year.”
Book Evangelist and Public Services Librarian
Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library
“I am excited that National Novel Writing Month is reaching out to libraries because I have been using my library to advance the NaNoWriMo cause since 2004. In fact, it was during a Reference Desk shift in October of 2003 when I noticed a book display by a colleague that literally changed my life. Her homemade bookmark promoting National Novel Writing Month intrigued me, and within a few days November 1 had arrived and I started writing my first novel.
In 2004, I became the Municipal Liaison for my region (Kansas) and organized a kick-off event under the guise of a library program in late October, called “How to Write a Novel in 30 days.” Our first year, with almost no advertising, we had 27 people attend. In 2005, we had 50 people attend, and in the subsequent years our numbers have stayed consistently high. We have 10 to 15 winners each year who are especially active in our group. We do not have an ongoing writing group here at the library, although that would be wonderful. I just concentrate all of my energy on making late-October through early-December a successful experience for our local writing community.
I generally hold the kickoff event at the library, plan the wrap-up party in the library’s café and sponsor a few writing sessions on Sunday afternoons in the library’s computer lab. I advertise everything through the library’s program newsletter so that it gets into the hands of thousands of people in the community. Because I download cool writing resources and trade ideas in the Municipal Liaison forums, the only cost to the library is for a few photocopies, yet my library patrons are absolutely thrilled to be getting encouragement and support from the library for their writing endeavors.
Our local newspaper has written stories featuring the library and our partnership with National Novel Writing Month events has been so successful I have even shared this idea with colleagues at our state’s Library Association conference. (page 2 of this handout from 2005) http://skyways.lib.ks.us/tricon/2005/handouts/encouraging.pdf
If you are on the fence about whether your library should partner with National Novel Writing Month this November, email me and I’ll talk you into it. If you don’t want to organize a series of events, do a book display of your library’s writing books in mid-October with a flyer about referring people to www.nanowrimo.org. After all, that’s how I found out about it at my library. If your library is not able to do anything official this year, consider logging on to your regional forums and posting any of the services that your library offers to support writers (public computers, free wifi, fiction writing guides), along with your library’s website and hours.
We all know that librarians wear many hats and our time is divided between huge varieties of tasks. I look forward all year to the programming and promotion that I get to do in support of National Novel Writing Month events at my library. November is the happiest time of year!”
Adrienne Brown Canty, BA, MLIS
Manager, Strathcona Branch
Edmonton Public Library
“When my local Municipal Liaison approached me about the possibility of providing space for National Novel Writing Month events at my public library branch, it took me very little time to agree to the idea. The library benefits through the partnership with local NaNo organizers in a multitude of ways, only a very few of which are noted here.
Numbers mean a lot to public libraries. Stakeholders for public library funding are always interested in the number of registered card holders, the number of people entering the building, and the number of materials taken out over the course of a year. NaNo programs bring people in, and bring them back, to our facilities.
Libraries of all kinds struggle with being perceived as relevant in today’s world. It has become fashionable for members of the media to proclaim the death of the public library, stating that “everything is on the Internet” and “nobody uses libraries any more,” often without the benefit of any data to back up their claims, though the recent economic downturn has brought a spate of media reports of increased library use during harder times. Libraries have a vested interest in readers and in writers, and in creating and attracting both. Library-hosted events introduce (and re-introduce) NaNo participants to the public library, allowing them to discover just how relevant it is and can be to them. NaNo participants who are already library users are given the excuse to visit other library branches for NaNo events, opening them up to collections and spaces they might not have been aware of previously. The ripple effect of new/returning users is notable as well: someone visiting for a NaNo program potentially tells others of the wealth of resources for entertainment and education available at the library, therefore encouraging them to check things out for themselves.
Developing in-house programs to offer to teens and adults is an ongoing challenge for public libraries. NaNo events provide us with ready-made programming for these groups with very little effort on our parts. NaNo events also provide us with “no-brainer” ideas for displays of library materials, something else that we struggle with regularly. They’re a great excuse for us to spotlight our collections dealing with writing and publishing, plus satellite displays of other materials such as successful books that began as NaNo projects.
Library meeting spaces are created with the intention being made available to the community, and NaNo events ensure that the facilities are well used. NaNo Municipal Liaisons and participants are enormously appreciative of being able to use the library as a venue for their events, and participants treat the facilities respectfully.
NaNo events can start small and grow over time. A single branch played host to NaNo events during the first year of the library’s involvement; since then we have expanded NaNo programs so that they are offered at multiple branches all over the city. Each of our sixteen locations has its own user population … and offering NaNo programs at multiple branches means reaching new and different groups of aspiring authors.
And what kinds of events can a library expect to host? The only limits are your Municipal Liaison’s imagination and stamina, and your comfort level. Successful programs at my library and system include write-ins; drop-in events; parties; and even an all-night launch/writing event which attracted 41 people and ultimately lasted for 19 hours. In 2008, our smallest NaNo event attracted 17 people, which is remarkable for any library program with an audience other than young children. The average attendance at library-hosted events in 2008 was 32 people.
Would I provide space for NaNo events in future? You bet – and I would recommend that any other public library do the same. The benefits to both partners are enormous and the library’s investment of time and energy, particularly with an enthusiastic Municipal Liaison, is minimal.”
Young Adult Librarian
Jonesboro Public Library
“I’m the young-adult librarian in a midsize town. Our NaNo region is about two hours across, and it covers a major city along with numerous smaller towns like mine. As soon as I expressed interest in running some NaNo events at our library, my director asked for PR materials and information to distribute. We also sat down together with the schedule and worked out the best times for write-ins and parties. We ultimately decided that the parties were better suited to another venue, but we found good chunks of time in the computer lab to set aside for our writers.
During the write-ins, the staff was respectful of our endeavors. Afterwards, some of them were interested in finding out more about NaNoWriMo, and they relaxed the rules about food in the computer lab enough that I was able to pass candy out to the winners of our five-minute write-offs. The director wanted more advance notice next year, so that she would be able to publicize it more.”
Library Media Assistant
Sprague High School
“After participating in NaNoWriMo for the past two years, I saw an opportunity to encourage our student population to write when I took a position as a Library Media Assistant at one of our high schools. We had around 12 students come in during the month and I put out the ‘sign-up’ posters out in the hallways for those that wanted to be ‘secret’ writers or were unable to stay after school.
Our computer lab is surrounded on three sides by books, a great incentive for the kids to see around them. I had students who spent time trying to find the right name for a character and their intensity was a joy to see! One student set a goal that was a bit ambitious for him. I kept an eye on his progress and even though he did not reach his word count, he finished his story, and since has written three more stories during the rest of the school year. His confidence has increased and he’s found a niche to belong. Other students and staff have read his endeavors and encouraged him to keep writing.
I’m looking forward to this year’s ’2nd Annual NaNoWriMo’ with returning students and some new writers as well. I see this as a great opportunity to encourage a new generation of writers to get started and hopefully, find their way onto our shelves one day!”
Our programming schedule is already set and we’ve started production on our brochure. Is it too late to partner with our local group?
If the only problem is that your programming schedule has already been submitted and you are in the process of printing your publicity about what the library is offering, this shouldn’t be a problem. The opportunity to spread the word about NaNoWriMo is great if it’s available, but one of the most appealing things about this partnership is that NaNoWriMo comes with its own built-in participants. Additional advertising through the library is very much appreciated, but it is definitely not required to host a successful event.
Our program room is extremely busy and it is not in our best interest to let a group use it for free when we could be charging for it. Also, we are concerned that this will set a precedent of allowing a group to use it with no charge.
NaNoWriMo is an incredible tool for promoting literacy, which is a primary goal of most national library organizations. Few of the other groups that use your space are likely to be so closely tied to the values and mission statement of the public library. We’re hoping that the libraries will think of this more as hosting an external program rather than renting the room to a group – this benefits both sides, as the library can then use the numbers attending NaNoWriMo events in their programming statistics.
How many people are we talking about here?
Your region’s Municipal Liaison should have a reasonable estimate of the numbers they expect to have. If you have limited space, it is possible to require registration ahead of time with your ML.
Our budget has been cut significantly and we are open for fewer hours. Why should we consider a partnership with NaNoWriMo when we are already having to cut back our programming?
Part of what makes NaNoWriMo partnerships so appealing to libraries is the remarkable return they get on very little staff time. Library staff only need to coordinate with the local Municipal Liaison, and then the events essentially run themselves. This allows the library to continue to offer programming with less staff time required. Hopefully, strong programming statistics will help bolster the cause for increasing library funding. National Novel Writing Month and the Office of Letters and Light are invested in the continuing success of public libraries, and would be delighted if their programs could aid in the efforts to maintain current or increased levels of funding.
We do not have the staff time to dedicate to this partnership. Is there any other way to be involved?
Although the staff involvement in a formal partnership is very minimal, we understand that many libraries are absolutely stretched to the limit with their staff time and money, and we know that even a few minutes can seem impossible. Even if you are not able to sustain a formal partnership with your region’s NaNoWriMo group, offering the space to the group is still extremely helpful to them. The groups are entirely volunteer run with absolutely no budget. If you are unable to work with the local group this year, please feel free to let your local Municipal Liaison know if you think that you might be interested in a partnership in the future. We can then keep a record of your interest and get in touch with you in future years.
I have a question about the Office of Letters and Light and/or the programs they are hosting at my library. Who should I be getting in touch with?
Your first line of contact will be your region’s Municipal Liaison, who initially contacted you with the partnership information. If you have further questions, email email@example.com.
I think this sounds great, but I need to persuade my supervisor/the library board/etc. How can I go about convincing them?
There are testimonials available here from library staff members that have hosted National Novel Writing Month event before. These may be helpful to give your supervisor, as they provide concrete examples of the benefits to hosting the events at your library. If your supervisor has specific questions or concerns, they are welcome to contact the Office of Letters and Light staff at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Where have these partnerships been held before?
Libraries in North America, Europe, and Australia have hosted Office of Letters and Light events. We are thrilled to work with libraries of all sizes. If your library system has more than one location, it is up to you whether you want to host events at multiple branches or only work with your own library. The logistics of this will vary depending on the structure of your library system and the needs of your region.