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Publishing U: Getting Your Self-Published Book into Libraries

Publishing UOur readers are often curious about the process of writing and publishing books, and we’re happy to provide access to the experts. In this latest addition to our Publishing U series, veteran librarian Katie Dunneback offers must-read advice for self-published authors hoping to see their book in library collections.


Congratulations—you’ve published a book! Bask in that accomplishment! You know you want it to be available in libraries, but you’re not quite sure how that happens. If you’re with a large or traditional publisher, someone on their staff may be tasked with marketing the book to libraries. But what if you’re self-published, or with a really small publisher? When you accept the self-publishing millinery, one of the hats you wear is marketing, and I’m here to help you wear it with style. These guidelines are broad because every library is different, and, according to the American Library Association (ALA), there are over 9,000 public libraries in the United States with a total of over 16,000 associated buildings. That’s a lot of libraries to get to know.

Katie Dunneback - cropShop local. Scope out the public libraries in your region. They’ll have an extra incentive to buy your book because you’re a local author. You’ll have even more points in your favor if what you’re writing about, whether nonfiction or fiction, is set in the area. By focusing your marketing efforts, you can be more efficient with your time and money. Find out whether the libraries in your region are individual libraries with different funding sources (therefore making their purchasing decisions independently) or if they’re branches of a larger body, such as a county library system. If it’s the latter, you then have to find out if the branch libraries have separate purchasing power, if there’s a central decision maker, or if it’s some combination of the two.

When you accept the self-publishing millinery,
one of the hats you wear is marketing.

Make (professional) friends with your librarian. Libraries cannot buy every book. Not only do we not have the space, we don’t have the money. (The Book Industry Study Group tells us that over 300,000 books were published in the United States in 2013—and that doesn’t include self-published titles. According to Bowker’s very conservative estimate, nearly half a million indie books came out that same year. Think about that.) As a published author, you are a business person, and presenting yourself in a professional manner shows you take your career seriously. Networking and word of mouth are going to be your biggest assets when it comes to helping librarians discover your book. Your local librarian can also help you refine your approach to other libraries. If you can’t attend conferences such as those run by Book Expo America, the ALA, or state library associations, you can look up all of the public libraries in your state via the state library or department of education. Use the information in the directory to call or email the point of contact for the library and politely ask to be connected with the person or department that makes purchasing decisions for the type of book that you have published. Those are the people to whom you want to tailor your marketing materials.

Make it hard for them to say no. When sending marketing materials to the people who decide what to buy, provide the information they need to have before they can buy:

  • The book’s title
  • Publisher name, publication date, and price and ISBN for each format
  • Which distributors carry the book in each format
  • A brief description of the book, including genre (and sexual heat/violence level if necessary) and series info (where does it fit in the series?)
  • Selected, short blurbs (if you have them) from notable authors or subject experts—not friends and family members
  • A short, professional bio emphasizing local connections, if applicable, and any awards you or the book have won
  • Your contact information and a link to your website (an author website, with complete information about your book, is a must)
  • Where the book has been reviewed (if there isn’t a special-interest connection, such as your being a local author, some libraries require professional reviews from review sources such as Booklist, Library Journal, Publisher’s Weekly, and Kirkus, especially if they have a tight budget)

Remember, it’s all about distribution, distribution, distribution. Like real-estate agents’ maxim, this is libraries’. Distribution is key because many libraries can only buy from approved distributors with whom they have contractual agreements. That’s because libraries typically purchase books using money collected from taxes. Donations are great, but some libraries are unable to place donated books directly into their collections either due to the library’s policy or local legal restrictions. Save your dollars, and your books, by calling first to see whether a donated book would be accepted. Many libraries are not obligated to return or pay for books sent to them unsolicited. Is your book only available as an ebook? Well, that’s another rub. Libraries do not distribute ebooks on their own. They contract with a service that handles that for them, and the current big players are Overdrive, Baker & Taylor’s Axis 360, and the 3M Cloud Library, which was bought by Bibliotheca this past October. Amazon does not provide a distribution system for ebooks for libraries. Many self-published authors distribute their ebooks via Smashwords so they can be added to the Overdrive catalog. Consider using a POD service, if only for libraries, because it is easier for us to purchase print books—many POD services, including Amazon’s CreateSpace, make the books available through third-party distributors.

I’ve only scratched the surface of what’s involved in getting your books in libraries, but one of the key things to remember is this is business, not personal. And the good news is that librarians love matching books and readers, so even if we don’t buy your book, we might still tell our patrons about it.

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Katie Dunneback is a selection librarian at a federal library in Washington, D.C. She has worked as a public librarian and as a consultant to libraries. She has also published fiction under a pseudonym, and recently self-published her backlist works. She is frequently on Twitter talking about libraries and publishing as @younglibrarian.

About the Author:

Keir Graff is Executive Editor of Booklist Publications and the author of six books. His most recent is the middle-grade novel, The Phantom Tower (2018). Follow him on Twitter at @Booklist_Keir.

2 Comments on "Publishing U: Getting Your Self-Published Book into Libraries"

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  1. Great article. Very good tips!

  2. I have been a teacher at our local college which helps getting my book in libraries and one is a college. But I have 8 books and want to write another but don’t have time to do so. I spend my time instead in marketing and hate it. I am also looking for help.

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