Getting Your Self Published Book in a Library – Part One – How Libraries Buy Books

This is the second in a series of guest posts from eseme

Getting Your Self Published Book in a Library Part One
How Libraries Buy Books

In a perfect world, it would be super easy to get your book into a library. Then all sorts of people would read it, and some of them would want to read your other books, and go out and buy them. A lot of people find new authors by sampling books from their library. Even if a library patron does not have the budget to buy books, they are a reader and if they love your book, they will talk about it to all their friends.

So in a perfect world, this would all be easy. Our world is not perfect, and one of the first things anyone who wants to get their book into a library needs to know is that libraries are short on two things: time and money. Library budgets often get slashed just when people need them most (recessions) and it can take years for them to recover (flat-funding year-to-year is not uncommon even when we are not in a recession). Lack of money can also mean a small staff, where everyone wears lots of hats and does lots of different jobs. So they have very little time.

When libraries buy books, they need to make the most of the time and the money that they have. Librarians do not get paid to read books. We get paid to help other people find the books they want, order the books that we think people will want, add those books to the collection, arrange programming, and a whole host of other things (I also get paid to wrangle computers). So, since we can’t read every book published, we read reviews to maximize our time.

Reading reviews should also help us maximize our book budget. Reviews help us determine if we think a book would be popular in our community, by giving us a sense of what the book is about and what it is like without reading it. We also watch pre-publication announcements, which make us aware of when a book by a very popular author will be coming out so we can order it in advance and theoretically have it on the shelf the day the book is available in stores. For instance, if it is by James Patterson (including James Patterson and someone else) we buy it because his books are wildly popular and if we are late getting the book we hear about it. We also follow, or at least glance at, bestseller lists, because they give some idea of which books people are reading (though they are not perfect, I know this, but there are a lot of people who pick which books they will read based on what is on the New York Times list – I have seen people do that). Finally, if
we have the time, we also try to be aware of what books are in the media. If a book is mentioned on the radio, a TV show, or in a local newspaper, it is likely that at least one person will show up asking for it, usually with only a partial title or saying “It was in last week’s Sunday paper, I think the cover was blue.”

Whew. Sorry that was long. But this gives you an idea of how libraries find books to buy. The order cards I currently use have a place for me to list where I found a review of the book. Because I currently order for only one section of the library (science fiction and fantasy) I get a bit of leeway on where I find reviews, as I get the review journals after everyone else. But I do need to be able to find some sort of review (I have a couple of websites I use) or be able to say “This is a bestselling author” when I place an order. Libraries do not want to buy books that never get checked out.

Unfortunately, as it currently stands, this system of reading reviews is stacked against the indie author. Your book is not likely to be reviewed in any of the major trade journals. Those include : Library Journal, School Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, and Kirkus (though there are others). They don’t review self-published books at present. They are sent books to review by Big Publishers. They don’t even review all of the ones that the Big Publishers send them.

Now, some of those journals (Publishers Weekly and Kirkus that I know of) claim to review self-published books. However, they will charge you money for this, as well as having you pay to send them the book. Again, these journals charge self-published authors an additional fee (Big Publishers just mail the book or send an electronic copy). And once you pay that fee, they do not guarantee that they will review your book (just like they do not guarantee the Big Publishers, but again, you would pay an extra fee). So you send them money and your book, and they may not review it. They will “list” you book, which means the title, author, genre, price, ISBN, and a one sentence blurb will be in the journal. Or rather, in a supplement of the journal which subscribers can opt out of. Honestly, I see this as the book review industry preying on indie authors, and I can’t recommend it.

But if you are interested:
PW Select main page

PW select intro to the first issue, which includes some listings (note the numbers, they got money from 200 authors and reviewed 25 titles)

If you want to try PW Select, details are here, note that it will cost you $149 but you do get a six month subscription to the digital edition of Publishers Weekly

The other way in which library purchasing is not friendly to self-published books is where we order from. Most libraries order from either a book distributor or a book jobber. A book distributor could be the same place a bookstore orders from. A book jobber is a company that “finishes” a book for a library. They will often add a cover and a spine label, so that the book arrives at the library nearly ready to put on a shelf. Some even add barcodes to the books and create records for the library’s computer system (more on that in Part Two). These companies often have trouble getting a self-published book, or it takes longer. Thankfully, that part is changing – if your book can be ordered from Ingram or Baker and Taylor, it can probably be ordered by any library. But if your book can only be bought form Amazon or another website, a library might not be able to order it. Why? Libraries tend to pay with purchase orders, which means that they order, say,
$300 of books at once (and send a purchase order), and then pay for them later (sometimes on a quarterly basis). Also, libraries do not pay sales tax. It can be nearly impossible to set up accounts with web-based companies as a result (although Amazon has been getting better, I still hear it takes multiple phone calls).

So getting a library to purchase your book is hard, at least right now in March of 2011. Hopefully this will change. Your best bet is for a librarian to read your book and like it and have the extra money in their budget to buy it. That’s hard, because all three things may not happen. It would also help to get your book reviewed in a local newspaper, or get mentioned on a local TV station. Again, that’s hard (and I have no advice on that, sorry!). However, we will explore another option in Part Two : Donating Your Book to a Library.

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