This week we are featuring a new guest blogger! The following is some insightful information on how to market your books to libraries by Alice Kober, Arapahoe Libraries: firstname.lastname@example.org
Librarians buy millions of books every year. What can make yours stand out? Which reviews do we read? Which self-published books do we buy? How important are the title, cover art, and blurbs? How important are previous sales and circulation? Tonight we’ll share insights about how we buy—and tell you how libraries can help readers discover your work.
How Having Your Book in a Library Benefits You
Libraries are a great way for readers to discover new authors. We love that. Often library patrons will discover an author through the library and will go on to buy their books. Also, if a book does well, libraries will buy multiple copies.
How to Learn Which Libraries Own Your Book(s)
WorldCat connects you to the collections and services of more than 10,000 libraries worldwide.
Enter the name of your book into WorldCat. You can also enter your author name, last name first. You’ll see a list of every library that owns your book.
Do Libraries Want to Buy from Local Authors?
Libraries do want books from local and regional authors. If you have a novel set in your home town or state, that’s appealing. If you have a nonfiction niche book that appeals to local patrons, that’s a strong selling point.
Some libraries have local author collections. For example, Arapahoe Libraries has a Colorado collection that includes books by Colorado authors and books set in Colorado.
Should Authors Donate Books to Libraries?
- Some libraries are eager to receive donated books from authors, others not so much. Check before you donate!
- If donated books are not added to the collection, they may be donated to an annual library sale.
- Some libraries will give a book a trial. If the book circulates well, they will buy additional copies.
- Why it can cost libraries money to accept donated books: When libraries buy books from a distributor, they often pay to have the book processed. That may include adding a waterproof cover, adding a barcode or an RFID tag, and adding a spine label. If the book is donated, the library must do this work in-house, involving expense for time and materials.
- Don’t donate your book and then call to find out why it’s not in the catalog. It’s up to the library whether they add it to the collection. One follow-up email to find out if we received it is okay.
- Authors are sometimes concerned if their book is weeded, but libraries constantly discard books in poor condition or with low circulation figures. Shelf space is at a premium in most libraries. Every book must earn its place.
How Should an Author Contact a Library?
Patron requests are a good gateway. Almost every library considers requests from patrons and staff to purchase books. It won’t be an automatic sale, but someone on staff will consider buying your book. You might ask friends or family members to request it. (Don’t submit a request pretending to be a patron. These records are easy to check.)
Look on the library website for author submissions. It is sometimes difficult to find Guidelines for Author Submissions on library websites. If you are having trouble finding this, good places to look are Contact Us, Policies, and Collection Development Guidelines. Examples:
- Arapahoe Libraries has an author submission form under Contact Us/Are you an Author?/ Library Purchasing Guidelines for Authors.
- On the Denver Public Libraries’ website, author submission guidelines are found under Policies/Collection Development Policy. There is a link to “See our purchasing guidelines for self-published authors.”
- On the Jefferson County Libraries website, go to Policies/Purchasing Guidelines for Authors
Librarians prefer emails rather than phone calls. It’s much easier to keep track of the information, such as ISBN numbers. Also, librarians often only buy books part of the time; they may be on the desk serving patrons when you call. If you do call to find the correct person to contact, make the call short and follow up with an e-mail.
Job titles for the person(s) who purchase books: Book purchasers are usually called Collection Librarians or Selectors. In larger districts, different people buy for different collection areas. Smaller libraries have librarians that buy books, set up programs, work on the desk—they do all the jobs.
Let us know if your book is available through Ingram. Many more self-published and small-press books are available through Ingram than through Baker & Taylor. When we buy from either of these vendors, we get a healthy discount—as much as 40%. If we have to buy from Amazon, we have to pay their full price and shipping.
Check out the IngramSpark Program. Ingram has good resources for authors, and they tell you how to get your book distributed through them.
What Information Should an Author Submit?
Tell whether there is a local connection or niche for your book. As stated before, libraries are much more likely to buy a book with local or regional appeal.
A positive review in one or more of the major review journals is a very effective hook: Library Journal, School Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews, Booklist, and Publisher’s Weekly. Libraries are more likely to consider the addition of small-press or self-published books if they have been reviewed in a major review journal.
Winners of significant awards have a better chance of having their books acquired. Librarians and booksellers take a look at the nominees and winners of contests such as the Rita Awards from Romance Writers of America, the Agathas from Malice Domestic, The Edgars from Mystery Writers of America, The Spurs from Western Writers Association—there are many more.
Get positive reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. Librarians want to know that someone other than your friends and relatives like this book. If you have three reviews on Amazon, you aren’t doing your job. Get reviews on Goodreads, too. Look online for methods other authors have used to get reviews. Admittedly it isn’t easy, but it’s important in marketing your book, especially if you don’t have a review in a major review journal.
Provide links to information about previous publications, awards—anything that shows you have a publication history. Blurbs by well-known authors are sometimes useful.
Know your target audience and tell us about it, such as your novel is:
- a futuristic romance that would appeal to readers of Jayne Castle;
- a western mystery that would appeal to readers of C.J. Box and Craig Johnson;
- a dark young adult paranormal that would appeal to Holly Black fans.
Do not say that your book would appeal to every reader.
Cross-genre books are more common today, but it’s sometimes difficult for libraries to determine where to shelve them. If you describe the book as: “It’s a romance with paranormal elements,” some libraries will shelve that book in romance, others will shelve it in fantasy.
Snail (USPS) mailings of brochures and postcards are okay, but it’s often an unnecessary expense for the author.
Hire a copyeditor: You absolutely need a copyeditor to catch typos, grammatical mistakes, and other errors. If you publish a book with errors, it can hurt your sales, even if the errors are corrected in a later edition. This is the #1 complaint from readers about self-published/small press books.
Be clear about your ISBNs. Sometimes librarians receive an author submission and search for the book using the ISBN only to find out it’s an ebook, not a print book. Make this information clear. Also let the library know if your book is available on Overdrive.
Metadata Lets Buyers Find Your Books
Metadata is very important because it is used in cataloging. Metadata includes the title, author, publication date, number of pages in the book, the ISBN, and other information.
What’s most important to an author is what patrons will find when they go to search in the catalog (or on Amazon for that matter). Publishers submit information about a book using BISAC headings, such as Mystery/Detective, etc. They also submit subject headings, such as Mystery Fiction. These terms are also found when a buyer looks for a book using a keyword search on Amazon.
The better and more complete the metadata is, the greater chance that the book will be discovered and read.
Here’s an example of Amazon’s metadata for Cassie Mile’s book, Mountain Shelter:
Good Cover Art is Critical for Sales
A great cover and/or title help sell the book. Where’d You Go Bernadette? is a great title with an appealing cover that just made you want to buy the book. Good cover art has come down in price (yes, it’s still not cheap), and it’s worth it.
Amateurish cover art can hurt your book. Americans are a visual society; if something looks like it was created with clip art, it isn’t appealing.
Great webpage with tips for cover design:
This website has many articles and links to other good sources of information:
Know the difference between cover art for print and for ebooks—the techniques are quite different; thumbnail art is required for ebooks. If you are hiring an artist and are planning to market both print and ebook copies, make sure the artist is familiar with both types of covers.
What Not to Do
Don’t ask us to read or review your book. Unfortunately, most librarians won’t have time to read or review your book.
Do not find every possible email for a library district and do a blitz campaign. Those who don’t buy books find it annoying.
Don’t send your book in the mail without prior notice. Small presses and self-published authors occasionally send free books, thinking the library will add the books to the collection. This is expensive and often ineffective, as those books often are not added to the collection, especially at larger library districts.
Don’t push for an in-person meeting. You might find a librarian with free time to meet with you and perhaps have coffee or lunch, but libraries are usually not overstaffed, so we have very full days.
Don’t expect an email or phone call. If you submit your book using the author submission form, collection librarians often don’t have time to call or phone to let you know whether or not they purchased your book.
Companies That Distribute ebooks to Libraries
Currently, most libraries can only buy ebooks through distributors such as Overdrive, Baker & Taylor’s Axis 360, RBdigital, and Cloud (formerly 3M). The websites for the distributors allow libraries to purchase ebooks and also make them available for patrons to download.
Overdrive currently dominates the market. As one publisher put it, “Overdrive is the Amazon of the library market.”
How to Sell ebooks to Overdrive
One option is getting a title accepted for direct purchase by OverDrive, using what it calls its “Content Reserve Portal.” Terms are outlined on OverDrive’s website, under “Business and Technical Guidelines and Criteria for Prospective Content Reserve Suppliers.” According to reports from authors, it can sometimes be difficult for authors and small presses to sell their ebooks directly to Overdrive.
Overdrive has a marketing site for self-published authors. Early on, books had to be submitted through Smashwords. Now authors can also use Kobo Writing Life and Draft 2 Digital, among others. If you do research about how to submit books to Overdrive, make sure the information is very current—it changes frequently.
Let us know if your book is available through Overdrive. Give the correct ISBN. State whether it’s self-published. If we search on the regular site for a self-published book, it won’t show up.
Another option is to use the same distributor for ebooks as for print books, such as the Independent Publishers Group and Perseus. Because these distributors typically contract on an exclusive basis, this option will not work for authors and publishers who self-distribute their print editions to wholesalers and sell direct to consumers.
Submitting Requests to Give Programs in Libraries
In larger library districts, there is a separate Programming Department. Collection librarians generally don’t set up author programs, although if they like your book, they might make a recommendation to the Programming department. Generally, it’s better to contact that department directly.
Give the library a reason to want you to speak at their library. Let the Programming department know if you have speaking experience, especially at other libraries. Tell who the audience for the program will be. Again, emphasize local or regional appeal.
Some libraries have local authors come to a book club meeting. If the book sounds like it will appeal to patrons, you may be able to speak to a book club at the library.
Many libraries have author programs with several authors. Ask if the library has an annual authors’ event. Some libraries may have four or five authors present a program together. It can be a good idea to work with some other authors and market yourselves as a package deal, such as several local mystery or romance or YA authors.
Getting More Advice
There are many online sites and author groups that have great information on formatting, publishing, and marketing your books. Caveat: Some sites want to sell you their formatting, cover design or editing services, which may or may not be what you want. Also, make sure the site you’re using is up to date. Publishing, distribution, and libraries are constantly changing, so keep up with current information.
Contact Information for the Speaker
Alice Kober, Arapahoe Libraries: email@example.com
Kerry Roepke is a genre fiction writer and a publishing consultant at My Word Publishing. She has a bachelor’s degree in English Literature from Metropolitan State University of Denver and has a background in editorial journalism.