Author Tools & Resources

How can self-published authors get their books into the public library system?

Something I’ve been curious about for a while now is HOW one goes about getting a self-published book into the public library system. Wouldn’t it be fab to reach new readers in that way? Even in the age of digital, libraries are by no means dead, and still have a loyal-following of avid readers.

After researching the process for a while, I soon realized that it doesn’t seem to be a very well understood area among independent authors and publishers. Thankfully I found hope!

Who better to ask than Dana Lynn Smith, author of The Savvy Book Marketer’s Guide to Selling Your Book to Libraries?

Dana stopped by to answer my niggling questions. If you’re left wanting to know more, find the link to her site and book below.

1. Public libraries seem to be very tough for authors to break into. Let’s start with the seemingly low-hanging fruit – your local branch. Do you recommend approaching your local librarian and how should one go about it?

Yes, I would start with local libraries and move out from there. Many public libraries are friendly to local authors and some even have special programs for featuring their work. Others don’t treat books from local authors any differently than other books. Check the library website for any information on their collection development policies and procedures, and be sure to let them know you’re a local author.

2. What about getting into libraries nationally? How are books chosen? 

There are more than 300,000 books published in the U.S. each year, and libraries have limited time and budgets. The very best way to sell books to libraries is to get a review in one of the major book review journals that are read by librarians.

Nonfiction books are chosen to meet a perceived need in the community and fill a gap in the library’s collection. Libraries tend to devote most of their fiction budget to established authors, so selling novels to libraries can be more challenging. Books that have won awards and received reviews in major publications or sites have a better shot.

3. What is the attitude toward self-published authors like in the library system?

Librarians (along with reviewers and bookstore buyers) see so many poorly written and produced books that they tend to have a negative attitude about self-published books. Of course there are also lots of high quality books being produced by independent authors, and some are selling in large numbers, so the stigma of self-publishing is starting to fade. It can be helpful to stress to librarians that your book was professionally produced and mention awards and reviews.

4. Is it necessary to work with a distributor?

Having your book available through a distributor or wholesaler is very helpful, but not absolutely necessary. It’s much more convenient for libraries to order through a book wholesaler, but many libraries will order directly from authors and publishers. In my book, Selling Your Book to Libraries, I devote a chapter to explaining how distributors and wholesalers and discounts work.

5. Would it help if my friends/family or networking circles made requests to check out my book to create demand?

Maybe, but remember that librarians are aware of this tactic so having multiple people request a book may raise a red flag. This tactic might bring a book to a librarian’s attention, but they still won’t order it unless they feel it’s a quality product and meets a need in their community (and they have the budget for it.)

6. What is the financial return like on getting books into libraries?

If you’re selling directly to libraries, there’s no need to offer a discount so you should get full price. If your book is being sold to libraries through a publisher, distributor and/or wholesaler, each of those organizations are going to take a percentage for themselves, which will lower your profit margin. The good news is that you don’t have to worry about returns, like you do with bookstore sales.

7. Any other advice/ thoughts?

Put yourself in the librarian’s shoes when planning your strategy and communications. Be sure to provide complete information about the book and where it’s available, and stress anything that would lend credibility and increase the library’s interest in your book.

Dana Lynn Smith is the author of The Savvy Book Marketer’s Guide to Selling Your Book to Libraries, How to Get Your Book Reviewed, and other book marketing guides.

Thanks Dana!