I was pretty excited about registering with the regional independent publishers’ organization that I am a member of, in order to join in their space at a regional library association’s annual conference. They claim that librarians love self-published and independently published books.
Full of enthusiasm, I submitted an ad to the organization’s catalogue and a copy of my book for their display. I came up with a nifty five-work description of my indie book. I made glossy rack cards and flyers. I greeted the many librarians who came by our table with a smile and lots of enthusiasm, and delighted to see a librarian lift my book from the rack and pick up a rack card. Occasionally I would leave our table at the exhibitors’ hall, introducing myself to librarians and handing them my card (for my book).
The following week, the independent publishers’ organization declared the conference “a success.” I wasn’t so sure. How did the organization measure “success?” They seemed to measure it in the number of catalogues given away. After we authors paid our registration fee and invested our time, how were we to measure success? Sales were not permitted. Were we to measure it in exposure? Was exposure definitively going to lead to sales?
We self-published and independently published writers are a hopeful bunch. But it takes a lot more than hope to get your book into a library or better, many libraries, especially libraries that you have no personal or local connection to.
This entire topic reminds me of my husband. He really loves reading, and he reads exceptionally quickly, and he’s always interested in bringing new books that interest him home. I see the books piled up on tables, and on the floor. “Did you actually read this?” I’ll ask. “Or is it just digging into our budget and taking up space?”
Every town, large and small, has a library. There are over 16,000 public libraries in the United States. There’s a good reason why all our friends tell us to “Get your book into the library!”
There are two ways your book can end up in a library: The library can purchase it, or you, the author, can donate it.
I am fortunate to live in a neighborhood where many people read. Our libraries are popular community centers. Acquisitions librarians in my town are, fortunately, open to acquiring books written by local authors. That’s a start, but there’s more.
First, the librarians ask to see reviews, and positive reviews, not from bloggers or Amazon customers but from reputable publications. Self-published authors are usually so busy getting their book written, its cover designed, and published that they overlook the need to seek reviews from Kirkus Reviews, The Horn Book, Library Media Connections, Midwest Book Review, and other publications that librarians look to. (Some of these publications require you to send in two copies of your book, often before publication; some do not charge a fee while others charge handsomely.)
Traditional and independent publishers know about this and get their book galleys to these publications months in advance. They create a demand even before the book has been published. Libraries, after all, have budgets to stay within and limited shelf space, so they need to rely on these publications to advise them about what to purchase.
My first contact with our library’s acquisitions director resulted in her looking at the Amazon reviews for my book and agreeing to purchase the book. Not to be content with that, I wanted the book in the Children’s Room as well. Fortunately, I had a mentor from our public school library system – as I said, in our town, people like to help local authors – who told me all about the need for professional reviews and where I might obtain them, and I followed up as she suggested.
Soon I contacted the Children’s Room acquisitions director who asked about professional reviews! I was able to go with two reviews in hand: one from the Midwest Book Review and the other from a specialty journal, and my book was ordered for the Children’s Room, with an age recommendation for it from our school system’s library director.
That said, the review must be positive or it’s not useful to you. The best way of getting a positive review is to have a quality book (plot, writing style, character development, dialogue, etc.) that looks professional inside and out.
There are awards for best cover, which many self- publishing writers focus on, but editing errors will quickly stand out to these reviewers and put your horse back at the starting gate and your budget potentially back a few hundred dollars. Shouldn’t you make the initial investment of getting your book professionally edited? This may include developmental editing, line editing, copy editing, and proofreading.
IndieBRAG, which awards indie books with the prestigious B.R.A.G. Medallion, has a two-step process, an initial screening phase and, if the book passes this phase, a subsequent group evaluation phase.
Two of the six elements they look at in the initial screening are copy editing and interior layout.
Unfortunately, indie writers often ignore these essential aspects for financial reasons. However, they may pay later: Professional reviewers, the types of reviewers you want in order to get your book into libraries, will not overlook these kinds of shortcomings. This could doom the commercial success of your book.
Acquisitions librarians also need to pay attention to the purchasing channel. Some libraries will purchase directly from Amazon.com, but many will not. Some libraries in large towns may now be under more centralized municipal control and not be able to order through Amazon legally. These libraries may require the book to be available through channels such as Baker and Taylor, Ingram, Emery-Pratt, and others. They may purchase directly through large traditional publishers.
If you’re publishing through CreateSpace (and choose Expanded Distribution) and you’re using one of their ISBNs (in contrast to those of us who are using our own), your book will be included in Baker and Taylor’s catalogue and library distribution network.
A Print-on-Demand company, in contrast, will have both Baker and Taylor and Ingram as distribution channels.
I have my own ISBN so I chose, for this and other reasons, to supplement my paperback version of Dogs Don’t Look Both Ways with a hardback version (with the interior photos in color) published through IngramSpark: A color hardback version costs more to produce and the price is greater, but it will look nicer longer and sit well in library displays, especially in the Children’s Library section; the color interior photos display beautifully; and finally, Ingram is a distribution channel for libraries.
I had used the opportunity at the library conference to talk to as many people associated with libraries as possible and to learn as much as I could about how acquisition decisions are made, particularly their attitude toward acquiring self-published books.
One librarian asked me, “We look for books that are in WorldCat. Is this book in WorldCat?” That was a new one!
WorldCat is an online global catalog and cooperative of libraries that itemizes the collections of 72,000 libraries in 170 countries and territories. Many libraries that are considering a book purchase look to WorldCat to see if it’s listed and to read reviews. Of course it’s a Catch22: Only libraries who are members of WorldCat can upload information, purchase your book and include it in the WorldCat, which is needed for your book to appear in the WorldCat. Thus, scoring your first WorldCat listing is a very nice achievement.
If the library is interested in your book, having a Library of Congress Preassigned Control Number also helps. PCN is the number that tells librarians how to represent your book in the card catalogue. Did you obtain one before your book was published?
If you’re going the CreateSpace, Lighting Source or IngramSpark route, you should apply for your PCN before your book is published. If you didn’t obtain this the first time around, perhaps when you publish your next book you will.
Donating to libraries can also be an important part of your strategy. Some public libraries will not accept even donations of self-published books. Many others are happy to receive donations (and this includes donations of self-published books), especially when accompanied by a good professional review. Achieving this outcome may involve significant time on the telephone and at the post office on your part, or may involve a nice road trip – with your dog, of course… Perhaps, the kind of trip that may provide fodder for another book!
What happens then, after you donate the book? Be prepared for anything. They may feature it to their readers, and you may be able to discover your book listed in their online catalogue! Don’t be too surprised if you call several months later and find out that your nice donation ended up in the library book sale!
If you suspect your book is making tracks and creating buzz, will you then consider advertising in a journal that libraries utilize to help them select books?
Publishing houses arrange pre- publication advertisements.
I personally think that an independent author should only do this if he has a name already. Otherwise, I advise waiting until the book has significant positive reviews behind it, as advertising is usually expensive. Kirkus Reviews, one of the “big four” for acquisition librarians, will accept an ad for a book that hasn’t received a Kirkus review. Librarians will still want to research the book’s professional reviews, however, before they make any investments.
More and more books are entering the market as self-publishing becomes easier, and more popular: Millions of books are competing for readers’ attention, ad clicks, cash, reviews, blogger posts, and bookstore and library shelf space.
Librarians, however, who have to make choices about budget and shelf space, are always going to be more interested in the books that people are requesting, or that they determine, by looking at standard review publications, will become popular.
Having a library acquire your book is a real thrill, especially when you learn that it’s actually being checked out!
Seeing your book gain readership, and traction, can be the beginning of a new and exciting round of exposure for your book, and for all of your book’s beloved characters!