by Lindsay Flanagan
You want to build an audience for your books, and whether you’re traditionally or self published, finding readers in this saturated market can be hard. An often overlooked way to find fans is through the library—yes, that place you (or your parents?) used to do research for book reports and essays. Despite the advance of the ebook, library shelves aren’t gathering dust yet! Plenty of readers try a recommended book out via the library system before buying it—and the rest of the series, or everything that author has ever written.
Although librarians are pretty picky about what takes up precious shelf space in their domain (and, like school librarians, they are less likely to take a chance on self-published books), high-quality, professionally produced books can get their attention—self-published or not.
However, the way to get your book onto a library shelf isn’t to drop a whole box of books off at their door—and especially not to their donation box, since generally those books are sold at libraries’ book sales. That might get you a single buyer here or there, but certainly won’t get you the possible circulation you want, which is the point of getting into the library system.
So how do you do it? The first thing is to ensure you have your book in its best form, i.e., the high-quality, professional book mentioned above; if you’re self-publishing, make sure you’ve followed all of the steps of professional publishing (see our steps-to-publishing guide, which also includes tips on covers, etc.). Next, you should have an understanding of what library buyers are looking for. Generally, library buyers order off bestseller lists, by individual customer request, and by general patronage—meaning the library provides materials that will benefit most of the library’s users’ informational, educational, and recreational needs. Some libraries use companies’ catalogs to purchase their books, such as Brodart. Brodart puts together lists of books they feel will benefit the library—bestsellers, new titles, and other books in demand. Libraries that utilize these companies will purchase books for their collection based on Brodart’s recommendations. If the library offers e-books (see more on ebook options below), it will most likely use OverDrive or Baker & Taylor—companies that provide e-book titles to libraries for purchase. ”
Increasing the Odds of Making the Library’s Collection
The following checklist gives you some handy tips for your quest on getting your book into libraries.
- Solicit credible reviews from sources like Kirkus Reviews for traditionally published authors (your publisher submits your book) or Kirkus Indie for self-published authors, Library Journal, Publisher’s Weekly and Booklist. Notice Amazon isn’t listed here—it’s good to have Amazon reviews, but credible, unbiased reviews will convince a library’s buyer that your book is a standout among others in your genre. The more positive reviews the book gets the better chance it has of being accepted into the library’s collection.
- Contact your local, indie, and chain bookstores to see if they will carry the book. If the bookstores have your book, the library is more likely to accept it for their collection.
- Generate a local buzz about your book. Libraries are more likely to purchase a book that is in demand with the community they serve. You can do this by promoting your book on your social media accounts and offering to do events such as speaking engagements at the library or signings at the local bookstore.
- If the library offers e-books, ask the librarian if they would consider carrying your book in e-format. E-books are a less expensive alternative than a print book. Keep in mind that even after you do all this, some libraries may require a form the author must complete in order for the book to be evaluated for placement in the library’s collection.
Numbers to Know About
If you know your Dewey Decimal system—or, actually, if you don’t, perhaps you’ll remember scribbling numbers on index cards to find books in your school library (and wandering about in confusion if you forgot the decimal or mixed up any of the long, random numbers). Things are less painful today, but libraries must still catalog books in order to shelve them; you might think your book needs a Library of Congress number for that, but not necessarily. It looks more professional to have a number from the Library of Congress printed in your book, but it isn’t mandatory for shelving purposes and many libraries don’t require it. Generally libraries use the ISBN (see below) and the author’s last name to shelve books.
The Library of Congress Number: This number (in its variations) allows your book to have the option of being catalogued by the Library of Congress. There are many different numbers relevant to the Library of Congress. CIP, PCN, LCCN, etc. The different numbers relate to pre-and post-publication status and how likely the Library of Congress is to catalog your book for its collection (based on the likelihood of its being in broad circulation among other libraries upon publication). Basically, traditionally published books are processed one way and have access to a certain type of number, and self-published books (or pay-for-service published books) are processed another way. If you’re traditionally publishing, your publisher will apply for the appropriate number. When you’re self-publishing, if you apply for cataloging, the Library of Congress assigns a control number (LCCN) to your book. Getting the LCCN will not guarantee that your book will be catalogued into the Library of Congress, but it needs the number just to be considered. The Library of Congress has a page dedicated to this information, which you can study in depth (if you like that sort of torture). Getting the LCCN is free, and it generally only takes up to two weeks to process.
ISBN: Your print book always requires an International Standard Book Number (ISBN) to be eligible for library shelving. Libraries need the number to buy your books for library circulation. Your ISBN can be purchased from the United States ISBN Agency, but is not associated with the Library of Congress. It is the unique identifier for books published internationally; booksellers, libraries, book wholesalers, and distributors use it to accurately identify books (given that many books will have similar titles). It also identifies the publisher—you, or your business—so you can be contacted for ordering purposes. Different editions of your book will be assigned different ISBNs—hardcover, paperback, audiobooks, revised editions, etc. (ebooks can also have ISBNs, but many self-publishing authors just skip that process since it’s not yet required for ebooks).
If you are traditionally publishing, your publisher will purchase this number for you. If you are self-publishing or working with any pay-for-service publisher, your publishing partner may offer to get this number for you and can often get it at a significant discount over what you’d pay directly, since they buy large blocks of the numbers in advance.
One important side note: Your ISBN is what Nielsen Bookscan uses to track sales of your book. Nielsen is a primary source of data for all the “stats” you see about book sales in America. While these numbers are not accurate (since many ebooks don’t have ISBNs and Nielsen doesn’t track all ISBNs for every iteration of a book), it’s important to know that sales of your print books are trackable with an ISBN and that publishers and bookstores look at those numbers to decide if they will buy future books by an author. You might want to consider pulling down your figurative spy fedora and use a pen name for your next publishing attempts if your ISBN reveals low sales—or use one in the first place, if you’re experimenting with self-publishing.
While your sales record doesn’t affect libraries directly, having your books carried in local stores could affect the library’s interest to some degree. The good news is that libraries don’t track your sales directly to determine if they should carry your book, and many of the steps listed above will have more impact on a library’s interest than your sales numbers. Again, librarians do, however, need the ISBN to track and order your book.
Do This Now
- Spend some time on WorldCat. This network allows you to search your community library and other libraries in your area (and around the world) and browse their collections. You can get an idea of what your library’s patronage wants and if you think your book will be a good fit.
- Visit your library’s website for information on its policy of accepting books for its collection. If you can’t find a policy or information online, you can at least get an idea of how the library conducts its services and find the names of the book buyers behind the library curtain. It might be an individual library buying books in your town or a county librarian in charge of all the branches. If all else fails—just call.
Remember, libraries are the coolest places to hang if you’re a reader or a writer. Your book on any library’s shelf will increase your coolness status by degrees. Well, we can’t actually promise that, but having your book in a library’s collection is certainly a way to draw attention to it. And pretty soon, your book will be on a wait-list for eager readers, aka your future book buyers!
Your Turn: Do you know someone who’s trying to get his or her book into a library? Please like and share this article! And if you have a tip from your own experience, pass it on in the comments below!
Lindsay Flanagan received her master of arts in English and creative writing. Lindsay has been with Eschler Editing since December 2014. She writes YA fantasy novels and poetry, and she blogs about books, rock concerts, and the ups and downs of being a mommy on her blog, The Calligrapher’s Ink.