Many authors have misconceptions about libraries. I have spoken to several authors who are resistant to have their books in libraries and will not donate copies. The resistance comes from a fear that people will check out their books for free and thereby hurt their book sales. Other authors do not bother with libraries because they believe self-published books are not accepted by libraries and they don’t want to argue with stereotypically snooty librarians.
Not acting based upon these misconceptions actually results in a loss of book sales for authors. Having a book in the library’s collection is one of the best things an author can do. Numerous advantages result from being in the library, but before authors can take advantage of those benefits, they need to get libraries to put their books on the shelves.
Working with Public Libraries
So how do you get your book in the library? The easiest way is to donate a book to your local public library. I have yet to meet a public library that would not add a donated book to its collection, provided the donation was done through the proper channels. Granted, there may be some exceptions because libraries, big as they often are, do have limited shelf space, so they need to make sure the books they carry will be read by their patrons. That said, if you can get your book on the shelf, you will have made a big step toward marketing your book to potential customers.
The key to donating your book is finding the right librarian to accept it. Do not just go to the circulation desk and say, “Here’s a book for the collection.” The person at the circulation desk is usually not the person who makes decisions about what books go on the shelves. He or she might just add the book to the stack of donated books, many of which end up in the library’s book sales to raise money for the library. Instead, call the library and ask to speak to the librarian in charge of collections. That person is the one in charge of buying books and deciding what books get to be on the shelves. Be prepared to give the person information about your book and offer to stop by or email the person with the book cover image. If you are polite and professional, this librarian may be your foot into the library door. Ask other local authors who the appropriate librarian is and what their dealings have been with that librarian so you are prepared for the reception you might get.
Without being pushy, ask for a little publicity once the librarian agrees to accept your book. If the library is in a smaller town, it may have good connections with the local media. I know one library that even takes photos of authors who donate books and sends them to the local newspaper for publication; this gives you expanded publicity and lets people know the book is at the library. At the very least, libraries will often publish in their newsletters, on their websites, in the local newspaper, or on a local access television channel, books recently added to their collections. Remember, everyone can’t read the same copy of your book at the same time. If a waiting list for your book starts, the library will want to buy more books. (Don’t hesitate to ask all your friends to go to the library and request your book so that waiting list does grow). And the longer that waiting list is, the more likely people won’t wait but just go out to buy your book.
Once your book is in the library, it will be catalogued, and once catalogued, it may end up being listed on WorldCat.org. WorldCat is the world’s largest network of library content and services. Libraries belonging to WorldCat provide access to their resources at which allows people around the world to find your book online. These books are also available for inter-library loan, so if your library is in New Hampshire, someone in Texas might request the book and be able to read it.
So beginning with your own local public library, you can make your book accessible nationwide and even worldwide. But getting your book in the library is not the end result. Now that it is in the library, let people know it’s there. This is your chance to do a little guerrilla marketing. I know one author who, whenever he goes to the library, looks up his book on the library’s computer, then leaves the screen up with his book on it so the next user will see it. He also will look for his book on the shelf, and if it’s not checked out, he will pull it out an inch or two on the shelf so it stands out, or even face it outward so people will see it.
At book signings or book fairs, if people ask whether your book is in the library, go ahead and tell them it is. I know many authors who have had people buy their books after reading them in the library just because they loved a book so much they wanted to own it, or they wanted to give copies as gifts.
Also, now that you have your foot in the door at the library, you can continue to network. Eventually, all the librarians may get to know you. When you go to check out books at the circulation desk, they will be pleased to meet you and they might say, “Oh, so you’re the author. We have a lot of people check out your book.” It’s a good way to find out how popular your book is and to make the librarians remember you.
Be sure to get involved with the library. Libraries today are turning into community centers. They are always doing special programming for their patrons. Offer to give a talk. Help with a conference. Donate your time helping with a book sale. Whatever you can do to get to know the library staff will benefit you. I know many authors whom the library continually calls to do events, give advice, or help them with programming. By assisting with library events, authors become known in the community. Being a volunteer also might make the library willing to repay you by hosting a book release party for your second book. Even if you hold events in other venues, the library will often be willing to put up posters for the event-think how many hundreds or thousands of people visit the library each day who may see those posters.
Beyond your local library, branch out to other libraries in your state. First you might visit libraries in neighboring towns, then work your radius out to the next county. You can drop names of your local librarians with librarians in other towns. Most librarians know each other within their own county or state, so if you have library references, other libraries will be more likely to want to host you for a book signing or talk-and buy your book for their own collections.
Special Interest Libraries
Beyond the public library, many other types of libraries exist whose shelves would be a good home for an author’s book.
Most states have their own state libraries. For example, I know one author who sent copies of his book to the Library of Michigan. The result was, without his asking, he ended up being listed on a brochure the Library of Michigan distributed to libraries statewide featuring Upper Michigan authors.
Your town might have a library for the visually impaired that would be interested in your books-even if you don’t have an actual audio book, many of the new readers, such as Kindle, will read books out loud to people, so let such libraries know your book is available in electronic or audio form.
University libraries might be more particular than local libraries when it comes to taking self-published books, but if you went through that university’s English degree program, or you worked as an assistant at the library when you were in college, or you worked at the local newspaper-whatever you did as a student-see if you have connections that can help you. Wherever you were an alumni, use it to your advantage to get your book in the university library, and also to do events on campus.
If your book is age appropriate, talk to librarians at the local school libraries, either elementary, middle, or high school. Many schools love to have author visits, and depending on your book’s topic, they might have you come in to talk to the students about being an author or about your book’s subject.
Is there a local history museum near you? Then donate a copy of your book to its research library-generations from now, people may be interested in the local author who lived in the town, and if you’ve written a local history book, all the better. I know one author whose local history book is regularly used by the research librarians as a resource they show to their patrons, and many of those patrons then go out and buy the book since they can only use it otherwise in the research library.
Many organizations and centers have libraries-from the local senior center to churches. They are all opportunities to get your book included in their collections as well. Think of places you are involved with and ask other people you know about organizations with library collections and who to talk to in those organizations.
Libraries are Your Best Friends
In short, having your book in a library is one of the best things you can do to promote it and to sell books. Be friends with your local librarians and you will get local community recognition that in time can become national and then worldwide. And remember, every library is different and has different policies and different staff. Just because one library says “No” to you doesn’t mean another library will. Keep at it and you’ll find your book on more library shelves than you anticipated when you began.