Monday, June 3, 2013

7 Things to Know about Getting Your Author-Published Book into Libraries


To kick off a new month at the Blood-Red Pencil, please welcome one of our favorite guests, Susan Wittig Albert.

After nearly three decades of writing traditionally-published fiction and nonfiction, I decided to publish a standalone novel under my own imprint, Persevero Press. (For the reasons behind the decision, go here.) I have to admit: this has been a major adventure—the equivalent of a hike across the U.S., maybe, or a safari in darkest Africa. I’m not out there trekking by myself, of course. There are dozens—hundreds, thousands—of authors heading in the same direction, many of them quite a distance ahead of me, and I’m grateful to them for blazing the trail.


But there’s one little side road on this trip that I’m taking on my own—well, probably not, but it feels that way. My book—a biographical/historical novel called A Wilder Rose—is about the collaboration of Rose Wilder Lane and Laura Ingalls Wilder on the writing of the Little House books. Since most libraries have copies of the Little House series and there’s a strong and continuing interest in Laura’s life, my novel seems to me to be a pretty strong candidate for library acquisition.

Susan’s hometown Carnegie Library, Danville IL

But it turns out that libraries—even those that might be interested in purchasing an author-published title—have a hard time doing this. So I’ve learned some basic lessons. If you’re thinking of suggesting your book to libraries (okay, marketing to libraries), here are some things you might like to know.
  1. It goes without saying that your book is absolutely the best work you can produce—edited and copy-edited, and with a professionally-designed cover.
  2. Your book should have a standard copyright page that lists your publishing information, including your ISBN. Libraries prefer books that have a CIP-data block: a Cataloging-in-Progress data block that makes cataloguing your book easier. The Library of Congress produces this for publishers, but not for self-publishers, who can obtain it from a vendor. Joel Friedlander has posted a good discussion of this process, along with helpful links. 
  3. Your book needs a sturdy binding, but it doesn’t need a dust cover. A case laminate cover is excellent. (Here’s Joel Friedlander again, explaining.) Libraries also buy paperbacks; again, make sure the binding is sturdy.
  4. Public libraries prefer to buy from their usual distributors: Baker & Taylor and Ingram. (I’m using Lightning Source as the POD publisher for the library edition of A Wilder Rose: LSI distributes through both Baker & Taylor and Ingram.) If you’re marketing your book to a specialty library, find out where they purchase their books.
  5. Libraries may be more likely to buy your book if you offer the standard institutional discount, 40-45%.
  6. Before libraries can acquire your book, you have to let them know it’s available and entice them to order it. I’m doing email mailings, to lists I’ve compiled through my own research and from online sources and print mailings. You can purchase mailing and email lists of libraries through the Library Marketing List; inexpensive mailing lists are available from NewPages.com. Your press release (print or digital) should describe your book in beguiling terms and (of course) feature your cover. Mention extras such as index, photos, resource list and/or bibliography. Describe the book’s binding and be sure to include ordering information. One librarian I talked to said you should put all of this all on one side of the page.
  7. Reviews reviews reviews. This is the hard part. Libraries would like to see a review of your self-published book in at least one of four major review venues: Booklist, Library Journal, Kirkus, and Publishers Weekly. Of the four, only Kirkus and Publishers Weekly, both for a fee, offer reviews to self-published and indie authors. Uncertain whether you should pay for a review? Read Susan Gottfried’s helpful post on assessing the value of paid reviews. Whether or not you go that route, you’ll also want to research the book bloggers, websites, and publications likely to review your book and systematically go about obtaining as many of those reviews as possible. Librarians tell me that they read NetGalley, you might find it useful to post your review copy there. 
I know—it’s a huge amount of work, isn’t it? And I’ve probably left out a step or two, because I haven’t yet run into whatever-it-is. But maybe you have. If so, leave a note in the comments, and we can add it to the list. The more we know, the easier it will be. At least, that’s what they tell me.

37 comments :

  1. Thanks for a fascinating post, Susan. I'm not too fussed about getting my book into libraries, but now you've got me thinking about whether I should consider simply donating a copy to each of my local libraries in the spirit of being their local indie author. Then at least I'll have the satisfaction of walking in and gazing at my book on the shelves. :-)

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  2. Thanks for a wealth of information, Susan. I wonder if a separate edition for libraries is a worthwhile investment for indie authors. How big are library sales in numbers, given that one sells one copy for many readers at a deep discount?

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  3. Elle, most libaries have a local author collection and would be glad to have your donated book. As I've surfed library websites (an instructive task!) I've seen pages inviting local authors to donate their books--some even have a form to fill out. So check the libraries' websites before you walk in with a copy.

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  4. Larry, the size of the library sale is going to depend on the book and the author. A first book (whether traditionally or indie published) may not have much of a market. But the potential is quite large: some 115,000 public, university, and specialty libraries. And in my experience, libraries are where readers for your book are born. If they enjoy your work, they'll look for more of your books. You'll certainly be writing more, won't you? (And you've heard of a loss leader?)

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  5. My hard cover publisher actually targets libraries, and it's STILL a challenge to get them to buy books. Reviews, yes--although a starred Publishers Weekly review bumped sales for that book, they were nothing spectacular. Heck, they were hardly more than the previous book with a 'regular' PW review.

    My local library loves local authors--to DONATE their own books, although my book club meets in the next county, and that librarian will always buy my books, but I sell them to her direct at a deep discount (I'd donate them because they have so little money).

    And, an aside about donating: most donated books go onto the "dollar table" so they don't even get onto the library shelves.

    I love libraries. I grew up in libraries. But it's a tough sell these days with all the budget cuts.

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  6. The most exciting day of my writerly career was seeing that my home town library had purchased a copy of my book! My first fan letter was from a girl who found my book at a library. Reading books from the library made me who I am today. I cannot express enough how much I appreciate them.

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  7. You're right, Terri--it's a tough sell. And it's a market choice that every author has to weigh for her/himself, not just in terms of author-appeal but book-appeal, too. I'm marketing A WILDER ROSE to libraries because I think it has book-appeal and fits into library collections of the Little House books, as well as books about mothers/daughters, the Depression, biographical fiction (such as THE PARIS WIFE, ZELDA, etc).

    Libraries may be less interested in another cozy or thriller or paranormal. But if your book is about a library (think DEWEY THE LIBRARY CAT or "Miranda" James CAT IN THE STACKS series), it's something to consider. Just saying here that some books are more appealing to libraries than others--not because of the quality, but because of the topic/focus.

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  8. Personally, I avoid libraries ... too dang quiet in there ... but I wouldn't mind have a tome of mine gracing those hallowed shelves ... even if it was just to prop up one that was out-of-level.

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  9. Susan, say hello to Christopher, our daily humorist. :D He keeps us in stitches. And thanks for stopping by to answer questions. You make many good points about libraries, and I agree, that having books in them ultimately sells,especially with a perennial title. Terry, I use the city library near you, and the de-accessioning level there is somewhat scary. I'd hate to donate a treasure only to have it end up in the Friends of the Library sale a short time later. I don't think local author books would last a year. Somehow there's a pay-it-forward support philosophy built into this though. Libraries are still some of our best friends and we should support them, even if they don't quite support us back in the same way.

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  10. I was delighted to see your book, Susan. Just this past weekend, I was researching the history of Laura Ingalls, Almonzo Wilder, and Rose Wilder Lane. I will definitely buy A Wilder Rose.

    Library sales have long been an interest, but I'm still wishing. When I lived on Colorado's western slope, I donated a copy of my first novel to the local library, which they readily accepted. Also, I participated in a program presented by local authors. Back to library sales...you've inspired me to look into doing this as soon as I finish tweaking the ARC of my second novel.

    My granddaughter writes delightful books for children, and she put together a distribution project, the goal of which was to get sponsors to donate her books to 100 libraries in 100 days. She exceeded her goal, and I bought and donated all her books to my local library. The books will be delivered in July, and it will be interesting to see whether this distribution method creates fans for her future books.

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  11. Wow. Excellent post, Susan. I know I'm going to donate a copy to libraries around where I live. We do have the local author section in our big library. Thanks so much.

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  12. Thanks for the tips. One thing I've noticed is if you approach your local library and tell them you're an author, you have a good chance of getting your book there. Also, any library where you give a presentation usually buys a copy.

    Morgan Mandel
    http://www.morganmandel.com

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  13. Dani, Linda, and Robyn--even if your book ends up on the sale table, it's still an advertisement for your work--your *ongoing* work. I remind myself of the "loss leader" concept when I see my books for sale for a penny on Amazon, or for free on book swap pages.

    But the important thing is to keep working so that you always have something new out there--entirely possible now, with POD & ebooks. And the more we write/publish, the more skilled we become. Right?

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  14. I love my library for many, many reasons, but one of them is that the library director refuses to let me donate my books for their shelves. She purchases them, saying, "We support our local authors." Love. Her.

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  15. My wife will want your book, Susan. She's a committed watcher of Little House on the Hallmark Channel. I haven't done great with libraries in general, but the Nashville Public Library (my hometown) has multiple copies of all my mysteries.

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  16. Gayle, you have a treasure!

    Morgan,when I do a library presentation, I like to donate a copy. My traditionally-published books are available in large print and the publisher sends me a few. Those are the ones I like to donate, because they're expensive for libraries to purchase.

    Chester, the book will soon be available for pre-purchase from the website. It'll be on Amazon (print/ebook) and B&N ebook on Oct. 1.

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  17. Many library web sites have pages where one can recommend books. How useful they are is anyone's guess. I never figured out how to break into the library market with my indie titles. A few years ago I paid $400 (!) for a review from Kirkus Discoveries, and for a couple of years it was the most negative review of all I'd received. Be aware that these companies want to maintain their reputations, so shelling out money buys you an honest review, which could possibly turn out to be useless. And librarians know about paid reviews too, so I wonder if a positive paid review will help that much. I don't really know, maybe it would be helpful. If you can afford to take the chance, fine. Just do it with your eyes open.

    Good post, Susan.

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  18. Bob, I actually fill out those pages when the library doesn't order a book in a series from one of my fave authors. They usually do, and I get first dibs. I also request books by authors they haven't heard of. It's the easiest way to bring some attention to authors you know who aren't NY Times bestsellers... yet.

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  19. Susan, what about school libraries? I'm sure they all carry the Little House books. Would this novel be appropriate there and how would you market to them?

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  20. Good question, Dani. The novel would be appropriate for high school readers--and for college readers too. There are email/postal address lists available for school and academic libraries.

    I'm more interested in getting the book into university libraries, so I'm planning two mailings next spring through IBPA: Independent Book Publishers Association. They do bulk mailings to libraries.

    I'm sure there are other avenues--listservs, for instance.

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  21. I've run into the lack-of-reviews issue, but not because I haven't tried! I had a number of libraries purchase my books, but I've also donated to a few, especially now that my first two books are older. When the new one comes out (next spring!) then I'll try your suggestions, Susan. Thanks!

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  22. I've been canvassing book bloggers, Heidi, and have gotten enough responses to encourage me. But that's more for general sales than for libraries.

    I'm going to go the paid review route with Kirkus and PW, not because I feel it's a good thing but because I feel it's the only thing.

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  23. I'm on the Board of Trustees for our county library, so I know that shelf space is limited. Books that aren't being checked out very often are likely to be culled to make way for more popular books. Many donated books go straight to the monthly book sale. It takes time (and available personnel) to process a book for the shelf, so a book that isn't in high demand might not be worth the effort involved.

    If a self-pubbed author can arrange for a book talk and signing at the library—and drum up good attendance for the event, that author's book is more likely to go on the shelf.

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  24. Susan, this is great information that I'm sure will help some of our readers. Thanks for sharing it!

    The first thing a budding novelist must learn is how steep the learning curve is as concerns storytelling craft, and that it's coated with cinders, to boot. Those who choose to self-publish (because it's "easier and quicker") have a whole different business curve to learn, as well. Thanks for paving the way!

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  25. Dani - I don't live in a 'city' county; we have two branches in our little county. Even though I've done presentation at the "big city" system, it's still a matter of donating rather than having them buy them.

    When I was visiting my mom in Beverly Hills, I asked her if she'd request my books. We went to the library and filled out the forms--for which they charged 75 cents each. They charge to reserve books, too--even the ones in their system. So if Beverly Hills is hard up for funds, you can imagine what it's like here in the boonies.

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  26. I'm hoping that the fact that the book is about Laura Ingalls Wilder and the writing of the Little House books will interest libraries beyond my immediate reach here in TX. But I won't know until the book is actually out there--at which point maybe I'll have to report to y'all that this was a waste of time. But maybe not--fingers crossed!

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  27. Thanks Susan. Really useful information, both from you and from the commenters! Gonna go tweet this.

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  28. Terry, I figured you were using the PPLD system like I do. I've been connected with them for a couple of decades and find them to be one of the most professional government entities in the area. I don't see how a library could be much better when it comes to services to patrons. I have no idea how they work with authors though.

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  29. Everyone, thanks for stopping by and especially to Susan for being such a terrific blogger and guest. Good luck with the new book release!

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  30. What a terrific post, and all the comments were so helpful. I have had good luck with the libraries in the small towns surrounding my rural town in East Texas. I have done presentations and usually sell some books to the people who come, as well as to the library. I offer a deep discount to the library, as well as donate one copy of one of my titles.

    I have the same hardback publisher as Terry, and the problem there is that they don't offer a deep enough discount to libraries. I am not sure if that is going to change as they get more savvy about marketing. I buy copies at my author discount and sell them to the libraries at the same rate. I don't make anything on those sales, but it is good PR.

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  31. Dani, I live in Teller County. As a non resident of PPLD, I don't have the same 'perks' as El Paso County residents do. And it makes a big difference.

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  32. Maryann, yes,the discount does make a difference, especially these days.

    But I think that, as authors, we can come up with some things to attract libraries. I'm working on a page for my website that will have material for book clubs, discussion questions, and suggestions for library displays and reader-related material. That may help to interest libraries in what we are offering. Of course, it depends on the book: some books don't lend themselves to that kind of "extra."

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  33. As a librarian and a published author I hear the comment about donated books going straight to the sale table quite a lot. You can ask about the donation policy BEFORE donating. There are some libraries (apparently with huge book budgets) that do send everything straight to the sales. But there are also many, many libraries that are grateful for donations of new or gently used books to add to the collection or to replace worn copies of books that are now out of print. The librarian can't GUARANTEE that your book will be added to the collection but you can at least ask about the policy so you don't donate if it won't even be considered.

    A major reason self-published books don't get added is lack of cataloging. If the library has to do original cataloging for the book it is likely to sit and wait until the cataloger has time. Unless you are a local author or the book is on a highly popular topic, it is not a priority. Even a fiction book will take 15-20 minutes to classify, figure out all of the "tracings" (authors and subjects) and get it in the database.

    Many libraries buy multiple copies of popular books. They also don't return copies like bookstores do. And readers are buyers of books. I may not buy your first book, but if I love your work, I will buy the next one. And I'll recommend it to others who buy. Your book will be in the library for years but may only be in the bookstore for a few months.

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  34. Jeanette, that's helpful information--especially about the cataloging. It used to be impossible to get a CIP-data block except from the Library of Congress. But that's not true now. If the author-publisher provides that information, it's more likely that the book will go on the shelf.

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  35. Susan, thank you for the helpful, practical advice, and everyone for great questions!

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  36. Susan,
    Absolutely terrific information! I've forwarded this post to several of the writing groups I know. Many of the folks are on a self publishing journey and this will prove helpful to them all. Thanks to the Blood-Red Pencil too!

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  37. I was at a library sale today which had many donated books that were never processed and also many books culled from the shelves. A vanity-published paperback by a local author went for 50¢. The $19.99 paperback, just published last fall, had been catalogued through the system. I'm guessing it was culled because no one was checking it out.

    Don't donate your book to a library unless you have a local readership.

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The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.

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