When up-and-coming authors release new books, they usually want to donate copies to local libraries. This is a generous gesture for those who can afford to do it, but writers may not realize that marketing indie books to local and regional libraries – and potentially to others throughout the country – is possible. Library systems regularly seek new books on diverse topics and are an ideal source of current and future readers. While selling to libraries poses some unique challenges, these tips can make the process more rewarding.
Make your book database-friendly.
“Libraries are government agencies, and that often means cumbersome purchasing procedures,” says Laura Lent, chief of collections and technical services at the San Francisco Public Library. If your book is available through a third-party distributor such as Ingram or Baker & Taylor, it will be easier for an institution to buy than one sold only from an author or publisher. Ebooks are more likely to be considered if they can be made available through library platforms such as OverDrive or Axis 360. Afterward, the library needs to create a machine-readable cataloging – MARC – record for the book, which can then be cross-referenced by a larger database such as WorldCat. An ISBN number makes all these things possible. Make sure your book has one.
Research potential libraries.
Since library websites tend to be comprehensive, it’s easiest to start there. Try an Internet search using the library’s name followed by the phrase “suggest a purchase” or “purchase suggestion.” This usually leads to detailed guidelines about the library’s purchase policies. Some libraries get deluged with email solicitations and prefer to receive suggestions by mail or in person. Frequently, you are required to belong to that particular library to suggest a purchase. Depending on the cost, effort involved and how far away you live, it could be worthwhile to join an out-of-town library’s system. Even if you are unable to visit a certain library, having remote access to its ebooks and research databases can be useful.
Collection development librarians choose what materials their institutions purchase, so address any correspondence directly to them. Lists of collection development librarians are available on the Internet. Google “library email lists.” A list generally costs up to $100 to buy or rent, although particularly high-volume lists can be more expensive. While these lists can help you target libraries by type or region, proceed carefully. Since you want to be known as an author and not a spammer, do your research before contacting anyone on the list, follow the library’s preferred protocol and be sure that your pitch is appropriate for your chosen market.
What’s in it for librarians?
Libraries have limited time and resources, and while many factors affect the decision to buy certain books, two remain constant. A librarian in California told me: “It comes down to relevancy to the community and sometimes cost. But usually relevancy will win over cost.” If it’s not obvious why your book is the perfect match for a certain library, state that information early. A local connection can entice libraries to buy multiple copies since they will anticipate strong patron interest.
Find local libraries outside the system.
While some metropolitan areas, including Los Angeles, have county and city systems, so do smaller communities such as California’s Monterey County. However, small-town libraries may decline to join county library systems and instead run independently. Be sure to investigate every library you find in a web search – even those with similar-sounding names.
Look for other connections.
If you attended an educational institution, its libraries may welcome books written by alumni. Likewise, those who cover scientific subjects will likely find a technical library in need of information. From professional groups to fraternal organizations, there may be an under-the-radar library where your book will shine. Library conferences can be a great way to discover new contacts and markets.
Be patient and focused.
While some libraries still refuse to purchase self-published and print-on-demand books, Lent says that indie titles on the best-seller lists have helped lessen the stigma. The real issue is getting noticed in an increasingly competitive landscape. Large publishers devote more of their marketing budgets to big-name authors, so even their midlist writers now vie with indies for the same readership. Writers need to keep this in mind when dealing with libraries.
Many institutions say that purchase recommendations will not receive a response or may take months to be considered. Take heart. “Few libraries have staff to read a book,” Lent says, “so it’s important to build a case that you have laid the groundwork online, in print and in person – however you can – to create a reading public for your title.”
Elizabeth Ivanovich is the author of Going Coastal: Santa Cruz County and Beyond, which she successfully placed in multiple California libraries.