Librarians spend $1.22 billion on books every year. And that’s in North America alone! But is it possible for indie authors to get a piece of that pie? And is it worth the effort?
The answer to both is yes!
What One Book in One Library Can Do for You
According to Publishers Weekly, authors who are able to place their books in libraries can find remarkable success—both in expanded availability and greater awareness of their work.
Here are just a few ways this success can work:
- Word of mouth. If you get a single copy of your book in just one library, that means your book can be checked out about 200 times before it falls apart from wear and tear. Every happy reader tells around five others about what they read. That’s 1,200 potential enthusiasts of your work from just one book!
- Unexpected opportunities. Every new reader brings new opportunities. One of those enthusiasts could be a movie producer on the lookout for something new—and your book could be the one considered for a motion picture deal! Another reader could be a foreign rights agent going through the newest arrivals at her library. She sees your book, finds it’s just what she was looking for, and starts working on selling your book to foreign publishers. The possibilities are endless.
- Lead generator. The library channel can be the start of your marketing funnel. By adding just one sentence at the beginning and end of your book, you can send your readers to your website. There, you can capture their interest, turn them into subscribers, and sell them more books!
Library patrons come from every walk of life and tend to be voracious readers. By placing your book in libraries for people to discover, you’re creating a spectrum of opportunities for your work to find and engage new fans, supporters, and potential business partners!
Why Authors Selling Millions of Copies Treasure Libraries
We just saw what one book in one library can do for you and how critical it is for new authors to get shelf space. What’s interesting is that even top-selling authors such as Hugh Howey and CJ Lyons care deeply about libraries.
The number one challenge any author has is building an audience. Once they have an audience, they have an opportunity to grow their work professionally. Librarians can be a powerful marketing force for emerging authors, especially if they can promote the books without fear of success.
—Hugh Howey, best-selling self-published author with 2 million-plus books sold
Libraries are all about readers and writers connecting. Since so many of my new readers discover my books via their local libraries, it’s vital that all my books, whether traditionally published or self-published, be easily accessible to library patrons.
—CJ Lyons, best-selling self-published author with 2 million-plus books sold.
It’s obvious librarians would include best-selling books on the shelves, but how do we let librarians know about the existence of our books and have them placed next to those of Hugh Howey or CJ Lyons?
Create an Appealing Library Marketing Mix
There’s no reason why professionally produced indie books shouldn’t be on library shelves. If we approach the subject strategically, this channel can be very rewarding.
Any multinational company releasing a new product on the market will focus on the marketing mix. That’s product, place, price, and promotion. This is exactly what we’re going to do now to get our books on the library market:
Write a book patrons will want to read. The #1 mistake new authors make is that they publish something they’re passionate about without doing any prior research.
Librarians need to stock up their shelves with books patrons want to take home. If they fail to do that, there will be no visitors, the library doors will have to close, and the librarians themselves will have to look for another job. That puts quite a bit of pressure on them.
A solid business approach here is to “write to market.” Analyze what’s already selling and use your skills and enthusiasm to write something readers are already reading and want to read more of.
Keep in mind, your book also needs to look professional. It has to blend in with traditionally published books without standing out as the self-published one. That means you need it to be professionally edited, with the correct copyright page, a spine (not a spiral binding), and a professional cover.
Hardcover books are preferred by some librarians because they last longer. On the other hand, paperbacks have a friendlier price and allow librarians to fit in more books in their budget. That’s why I recommend offering both if possible.
Once your book equals or exceeds the quality of a traditionally published one, make sure it’s available where librarians like to shop.
Some will buy directly from Amazon—I saw that with my own eyes on one of my trips to the library.
The consensus, however, is that your book should be listed with a wholesaler first; this makes life easy on librarians, because they can place bulk orders for many books from many different publisher sources. The easiest way to get in front of purchase-ready librarians, then, is to get your book listed with Ingram or Baker & Taylor.
If you published your book via CreateSpace and selected the Expanded Distribution channel, then it’s already available via Baker & Taylor (your book must have a CreateSpace-assigned ISBN). If you purchased your own ISBN when you published with CreateSpace, then you should also publish via Ingram Spark to make it available in the Ingram catalog (you can use the same ISBN).
If you published via Ingram Spark or Lightning Source, then your book is already available via Ingram.
Other book wholesalers include Brodart, Follet, Unique, and Quality. To become available with these wholesalers, you’ll need to apply for a vendor account with each.
The easiest way to get your ebook into library circulation is via Overdrive on Smashwords. Other ebook wholesalers include B&T Axis360, ProQuest, and 3-M.
While it’s true that librarians have a total budget of $1.22 billion to spend, it’s also true that each library would like to have more than it does.
Librarians need to make wise purchasing decisions, and it’s our responsibility to help them. That’s why I recommend that you price your book competitively, make it returnable, and offer a standard industry discount (usually 55%).
You can easily set that up in your IngramSpark dashboard using the tools there.
The first thing to do to impress librarians is to get an editorial review. You can’t go wrong with a review from Kirkus, Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, or School Library Journal.
Next is your Amazon page. Librarians do look at it for reference before ordering via their favorite outlets, so it needs to be top-notch. That means covering everything we talked about in the product and price section, as well as having a preponderance of great Amazon reviews. Librarians want to make sure your book will be popular with their patrons and you’ll help make their decision easy if you can show that your book is already in demand.
Take a Smart Approach
Now that you’re all set, you can pursue two avenues to getting your book into libraries:
1. The One-by-One Approach
When you can show librarians that you can help them achieve their major goal—getting more traffic in their library—you have a great chance of having your book stocked on their shelves.
This is easiest to do with your friendly local library. Librarians always want more people in the door, and live events are a great way for them to accomplish this goal.
Show that you’re willing to do a book reading or a book signing event and that you will bring a specific number of fans with you. When you do something for them instead of asking for favors, you get way ahead of the game.
This is a fantastic approach because it turns you into a local celebrity.
The downside is that it could take several lifetimes to execute it on a larger scale—appearing at individual libraries isn’t easily scalable.
3. The Mass Approach
The American Library Association notes that “Direct mail advertising […] is an effective way to target specific audiences and is useful in providing detailed information and therefore receiving orders for products.”This is what LibraryBub does. You apply for a feature in the weekly newsletter and more than 10,000 librarians receive information about your book.
The downside is that you don’t get to have celebrity status in any particular library—you’d need to do work on that on your own.
The upside is that you can inform thousands of libraries about your book without lifting a finger.
Once you’ve mastered what librarians are looking for, you can effectively reach out to libraries in your home area and across the globe, creating a new channel to distribute your work and gaining not only library sales, but potential reader sales and broader exposure. Libraries are a powerful tool that you shouldn’t overlook!
To learn more about the 4 Ps, not only in regard to libraries but all possible marketing channels, grab a free copy of “How I Sold 80,000 Books”
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