Welcome back to our Tuesday segment, where we’ll be revisiting some of our most popular posts from the last few years.  What’s stayed the same?  And what’s changed?  We’ll be updating you on the facts, and taking a new (and hopefully refreshing) angle on a few timeless classics of Self Publishing Advisor.

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[ Originally posted: September 21st, 2011 ]

You have an ISBN. You have a LCCN. So libraries should be able to find your book, and therefore, will purchase your book, right? Wrong. Unfortunately, libraries rarely “order” self-published books. This doesn’t mean they don’t house self-published books and that they won’t stock your book. It simply means you need to do a little work to get on their radar. Here are a few ways to get your book in a library.

  • Donate a copy (or several copies) of your book to the library. Be sure to go through the proper donation channels.
  • Host a book reading at your library. This will not only introduce the library to your book but also introduce your book to potential readers.
  • If your book is geared towards children, give a school presentation on your book’s subject. School libraries are always looking for new books.
  • Connect with librarians via social networks. Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn are powerful ways to network.
  • Send promotional materials such as flyers and letters to local libraries. Be sure to include of the essential information about your book such as subject, genre, audience and purchasing information.
  • Try to get a book review in a local publication. This will bring positive attention to your book and encourage libraries to buy it.

Libraries are a powerful part of your book promotion strategy. Creative marketing tactics can increase your chances of a library stocking your book. They can also lead to great relationships with librarians and readers. The best way to find out what your local library wants is to talk to the librarians. Work on building an honest relationship, and you may just find one your book’s best promoters.

– by Cheri Breeding

Well, it’s 2016 and a lot has changed, both within the world of self-publishing and the world of libraries in America.  On the one hand, the opportunities and platforms available to authors looking to self-publish have only multiplied, whereas on the other hand, libraries have suffered from continuous cutbacks to budgeting–leaving libraries desperate for cost-effective ways to continue offering their core services.  And yes, that includes books.

Luckily for everyone, necessity really is the mother of invention.  (Thanks, Plato.)  And in that same vein, a number of people much smarter than I happen to be have gone and made lemonade out of, well, a sub-optimal situation.  For example, if you live in the lovely state of Kentucky, you’re lucky enough to benefit from the collaboration between the director of Davies County Public Library (DCPL) in Owensboro, KY, andl librarian Jim Blanton of Henderson, who partnered up to create ePublish or Bust.  This website allows indie and self-published authors to book appearances at local libraries (there are 24 libraries in Kansas that participate, at present) and to access a variety of other resources.  While the website remainsin a beta stage as Blanton and others iron out the wrinkles with their system, it provides a glimpse of new possibilities as libraries and authors collectively look to prepare for a digitally-driven future.

epublish or bust

And ePublish or Bust is just one of several innovations in process.  There are also the SELF-e Literary Awards!  Librarians have long sought more guidance on self-published books as well as books by authors of color. Aiming to answer both needs is this new(ish) award offered by the Black Caucus of the American Library Association (BCALA) and BiblioBoard (the company that partners with LJ on SELF-e). It honors the top self-published fiction and poetry ebooks by African American authors who were born in the United States, with the winners receiving $500, formal recognition at the Black Caucus of the American Library Association (ALA) Literary Awards, and a BCALA Literary Award Seal to use on their books. Not only is the lauding of self-published books a first for the BCALA, the new award will also be the group’s first to recognize digital content. Awards are a great way for authors to gain exposure and credibility–especially within the library community.

Not surprisingly, Library Journal has become an anchor amidst the rapidly changing library & indie author relationship.  Over the last two years, they have published at least three articles (here, here, and here) detailing these changes and several other innovations in response to them.

The best news is this: libraries are taking note.  It’s not just a one-sided relationship!  The Springfield-Greene County Libraries of Missouri had over 300 self-published titles in their collection by 2014, and were working to continue building their catalogue of these specific kinds of item–because they recognize that there’s a demand for them.  I spoke to the Director at my local public library, and her policy is that she’ll put a self-published title into circulation if it meets four criteria:

  1. It has an ISBN (other libraries vary on this, but she requires it);
  2. It’s local (in respect to author or content);
  3. It’s a physical copy and not an ebook (our library subscribes to an online database of pre-selected titles for download, and only the parent company can opt to include specific title–that’s not a decision left up to the end user/library); and
  4. It’s free (i.e. donated.  She does not solicit self-published titles except in the rare case that the library is hosting a reading.  This has to do with a longstanding handshake agreement with the local indie bookstore: we buy through them to supply the stock for our readings, and they have to have access to the book in the right quantity.)

I realized rather quickly that the situation was far more complicated than I’d expected, and I’d forgotten one very crucial detail: Libraries are not bookstores.  They neither function like one (and in fact, often have very complicated relationships with local bookstore) nor do authors and distributors of self-published titles receive the same benefits from placing their books in a library as they do in a bookstore.  After all, libraries usually only stock one or two copies of any given book–they’re not going to account for a huge chunk of change anyway.  The bookstore is where you sell your books, and libraries are where you raise awareness about your books.  Exposure at the library can drive sales, but otherwise it doesn’t pad your bottom line.  This is why I recommend approaching the library as more than just a stock-it-and-run storage locker for your work.  Libraries have demonstrated they’re ready, eager, and waiting in the wings with a lot of innovative strategies to be your partners in promotion.  If you stop looking at them as a mediocre sales point, you’ll see them for what they really are: allies.

Thanks for reading.  If you have any other ideas, I’d love to hear them.  Drop me a line in the comments section below and I’ll respond as quickly as I can.  ♠

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