Image: Matthew Loffhagen
Why would you want libraries to buy and stock your book? Well, it’s a surprisingly lucrative source of income, but it’s also a marketing masterstroke.
There are almost 120,000 libraries just in the US. For comparison, there are around 14,000 Starbucks stores and just under 11,000 bookstores. Your work will stay on the shelves longer than in a bookstore, and it’s more likely to be picked up, because there’s no financial risk for the reader who wants to try something new.
As community hubs, libraries frequently host readings and other promotions that benefit them and you. If you’re interested in pursuing this route, you can find prospective libraries here and read on to learn how to get libraries to pick your book out of a (very, very) long lineup.
Good reviews in all the right places
Ever wonder where libraries get their books? Since a million – no, literally, one million – books are published each year, a library’s got to have a rigorous and efficient vetting process. That process is journals.The first step to library shelves is a particular type of review.Click To Tweet
Want to get in good with the libraries? Make friends with Midwest Book Review, Library Journal, Kirkus and Kirkus Indie, Publishers Weekly, Booklist, Library Thing, Choice, The Horn Book, School Library Journal, SELF-e, and anybody else with a stalwart reputation for honest reviews. Book curators trust these guys to tell them what’s worth buying and what is not… so how do you go about scoring a review in one of these gateways to Library Heaven?
Step 1: Make sure your book is amazing. Not ‘really good’, not ‘good-enough’, not ‘I’m-so-sick-of-working on-it-I-can’t-tell-or-care-if-it’s-good-any-more’… uh-may-zing. The reviewer’s job is not to encourage you in your endeavors. It’s to be brutally, brutally honest. You don’t want to pony up for a review only to learn that your book still needs major surgery.
Step 2: Visit the journal’s website and follow their submission guidelines with the same precision you would use if you were a pediatric neurosurgeon (kudos if you are one, by the way). Don’t make anyone’s life more difficult – and leave a lousy first impression – by asking questions that the website already answers. And trust me: the website answers your question.
Step 3: If the review is solid, you’re good to go. Add this to the ‘Buy My Book’ profile you take into libraries. If the review is less-than-shining, good news for you: they don’t have to publish it. As you revise, take their advice to heart: it’s their job to know what people want to read right now.
The newest local celebrity: you
The existence of any given library is almost always tenuous. They depend on people walking through their doors and checking out the books they carry in order to go on living. So if you want them to scratch your authorial back, be prepared to return the favor… in advance.
When you build demand for your book, libraries will want to carry it. Make sure people will go into the library looking for your book by setting up interviews with local radio stations, newspapers, podcasts, and magazines. Over-prepare for the interview. As the old political proverb goes, answer the questions you wish you’d been asked. Create intrigue by revealing just enough to make readers want need to find out what happens.
If you can, draw an organic connection between your book and the local community (“In a small Midwest town…” or “Mae Elsburn could have been your neighbor”). This is the moment to tell readers you’re from their neck of the woods, or that you chose the next town over as the setting for your mystery series. Don’t fake a connection, but if one can be made, make it.
Shortly before the interview (or its publication, if there’s a long gap in between), tell the library that you’re promoting your book locally and you have an interview scheduled for such-and-such a date. Give them a copy of the book and your marketing plan. Follow up with a copy of the interview once it’s out.
Offer to give a talk at the library. When presenting this idea, make it exciting. Make it something you’d want to come to if you weren’t you. If presenting a kids’ book, see if some gooey, unforgettable craft might be permissible. If an adults’ book, what creative props will make for a compelling display? What infographic pitch will stop people in their tracks on their way to do something else?
Offer to give a talk somewhere else, and let the library know about it. If your book involves a winery or an antique shop or one of America’s last remaining lace factories, call or visit these places and see if they’ll host you. But don’t just ask; come with a readymade guest list. If a dozen people have already confirmed they’ll attend, most small businesses will be thrilled to have a few extra bodies walk through the door.Wherever you’re trying to sell your book, take action to become more of an asset.Click To Tweet
Be part of the community. Don’t just walk into the library hoping to get something from them. Contribute to their Facebook page, attend their events, join their book club. Offer to tutor/teach writing to kids/help with events/read stories to preschoolers/clean up after Lego-hour/partner up at the ESL cafes; whatever it is the library does, be a part of it. If they don’t do many special events, find the need and offer to fill it. This is especially true for your local library, but you can give-and-take in a long-distance relationship, too; offer to teach a seminar or help out with an event that lines up with your visit. When you ask them to buy your book, show them you’ll bring people into the library – that’s their bottom line.
Quality is key
It should go without saying that your book needs to stand out among the multitude. Unfortunately, too many writers get to the end of the fifteenth round of self-edits and they’re just done. They’ve poured so much into the book, and it’s such a huge relief to have it done. But the book needs to be better than done. Get a good editor. Trust them. Get a brutal reviewer. Trust them. Get a handful of beta readers. Trust them.
The quality of the physical book is important, too. As a library installation, it needs to hold up under what you hope will be heavy use. Don’t skimp on the cover. Forget what you heard, people judge books by the cover all the time. Make sure yours is professional.
Your book’s BFF: the wholesaler
Libraries often order their books through wholesalers, and this is for two major reasons: (1) libraries have strict budgets and (2) wholesalers do a lot of weeding out. Think about it: if the library orders every book on its shelves from a different person or place, that means they have to research and read every book, order it, pay for shipping for each item, and hope in blind faith that this book will do better than the one they didn’t choose. Wholesalers do the research, ship books in bulk (often for free), and separate what’s good from what will succeed before the librarian ever has to crack the cover.
Getting in good with a wholesaler is a lot like nailing an interview for a job that thousands and thousands of other people also want. Here’s how to do it:
Step 1: Make sure your book is uh-may-zing (sound familiar?)
Step 2: Visit the wholesaler’s website and follow their instructions impeccably (hopefully this is still feeling familiar).
Step 3: Be prepared to convince the wholesaler(s) that your book is going to succeed and is therefore worth stocking. Quality isn’t the only factor here: their job is to separate the merely good from the successful, so approaching them without a stellar marketing plan is not a great idea. They should know that you plan to promote heavily to libraries, which are among their best customers. They should also see that you’re serious about putting in the legwork it’ll take to move your books out of their warehouses and into the hands of an expectant audience (expectant because you built their expectations).
Step 4: Offer your book to wholesalers at a 50% discount or more, and make it easy for them to return your books (ouch, I know!) For new authors and small presses, though, low-risk is important. If you’ve done your homework (astonishingly good book, unassailable marketing plan), the risk is low for you, too.
Once you’ve convinced a couple major wholesalers (think Baker & Taylor, Ingram, Overdrive) to carry your book, you’ve got a much better shot with the libraries.
Are all your ducks in a row?
Libraries are deceptively big businesses, so they’re rarely prepared to wait around while you corral assets you should already have when you pitch them your book. Don’t even look their way until you have an ISBN, an LCCN, a PCN, a PCIP block, a professionally written book blurb, an author bio, a marketing plan, a summary of marketing successes, some copies of press releases and reviews, and a high-res picture of your uh-may-zing book cover.
Do you have hard copies, e-copies, and audio-copies of your books? You want those, too. Hard copies are the bread and butter of libraries, but as consumer demand increases for low-cost, tech-friendly, portable reading material, digital copies are increasingly popular. Audiobook sales are also skyrocketing. Many readers choose to read something else if the audiobook doesn’t exist.Don’t give a half-baked library pitch – they don’t have time for anything but the whole enchilada.Click To Tweet
Making your book available in multiple formats and easy to find/catalogue makes it much easier for libraries to choose you over other candidates.
Reaching out to librarians
Librarians are bound by the acquisitions policy of their institution, so they can’t unilaterally decide to just take a book from your hand and put it on the shelf. Because of this, you need to provide everything a librarian will need to plead your case. Again, you can find submission guidelines online, and they’ll differ according to the type of library, but the idea is to provide everything they’ll need to make a decision.
Only email or call if you have no other choice (and personalize each email if you do). It’s better to stop by the library in person and find out who does their purchasing. If it’s a large library, there will likely be different people responsible for different genres and age categories. Be brief and upbeat. Give the librarian a copy of your book and a piece of paper illustrating how nicely your ducks are already in a row: title, publisher, cataloguing numbers, blurb, marketing plan, wholesalers who carry your book, where to find trusted reviews, and a couple of striking quotes from those reviews. Copies of any articles, interviews, Amazon reviews, records of existing sales, etc. are also smart attachments.Give librarians everything they’ll need to make a decision about your book (and present it clearly).Click To Tweet
Remember, this initial meeting should be short – no more than a few minutes. This is where having a printed marketing plan specific to that library is a VIA (very important asset). You want them to know you’ll bring people in, but you want to be able to tell them that without waxing on about it all afternoon. After a couple of weeks, it’s okay to reach out if you haven’t heard back; librarians are busy, and it’s more likely that your pitch is on a pile somewhere than in the trash. Be respectful of their time, and thank them. A hand-written thank you note would not be a bad idea.
Hungry for more?
If selling to libraries is starting to sound good, the American Library Association offers detailed resources for a deeper dive into the subject (it’s always a good idea to get explicit guidelines from the horse’s mouth).
So there you have it: the nuts and bolts of getting your book into libraries. Have you had success or setbacks in marketing to libraries? Share your wisdom in the comments and expect piles of good karma in the weeks to follow. You can also check out How To Figure Out Why Your Book Sales Are Disappointing and Unsure Of How To Price Your eBook? This May Help for more great advice.