I’m often asked how new authors, both self- and traditionally-published, can get their book into libraries.
Traditional publishers often don’t get the majority of their new titles on library shelves. There are just far too many books on the market for libraries to carry all published titles. Those include older best sellers (from decades ago), classics, midlist titles, reference books, and so much more.
Sadly, many authors think that getting a traditional contract means their book will be in almost every library in the country. That’s just not the case.
Authors who successfully manage to get their books on a few library shelves are primarily targeting local libraries. This worked a decade or so ago, before the self-publishing market exploded. Sadly, because of the author meat markets (those companies that will publish anything and everything as long as the author has some money), many libraries shun self-published authors now. Some libraries refuse to buy any books at all from specific publishing companies! (That’s why you should be very careful who you choose to publish your book!)
It should come as no surprise that having your book on a shelf in a library isn’t likely to generate any sales. If a best selling author gets his or her book in a library, some patrons will wait for their turn to borrow a copy but many people will, instead, buy a copy for themselves from their local bookstore, or from Amazon. That doesn’t happen for unknown authors. If someone finds a new author’s book on a library shelf, it’s usually because they stumbled upon it while browsing the library shelves. They did not hear about the book, and then rush to the library to see if there was a copy there.
When you approach a library about purchasing your book, you’ll be competing with hundreds of other hopeful self-published authors, combined with professional marketing materials being sent by traditional publishers. Librarians will favor the latest best selling books by celebrity authors before they will consider a self-published book by an unknown individual.
Even if you do land a copy or two in your local library, what have you gained in the process? Sure, a few dollars in royalties for those copies. But, what have you lost?
Time: It can take quite a bit of negotiating to get a library to buy your book. If you are actually visiting the library with your pitch, that takes even more time than writing, printing, and sending letters, or sending emails.
Money: If you are approaching the library by sending a sales letter on letterhead, a picture of your book’s cover, and an excerpt, you’ve not only spent time, but also money on paper, ink, and postage. If you are visiting libraries to pitch your book, you’ve used gas as well.
Here’s the bad part. Even if you manage to convince a library to carry your book, they are probably only going to buy one copy. That small royalty payment for one copy won’t even come close to paying for your time (and your expenses) trying to get that library to purchase that copy.
Even if somebody borrows your book from a library, and tells a friend or two how awesome it is, they’re simply going to tell their friends that they can borrow the book at the library, too. Heck, if they read the book fast enough, they’ll simply let their friend(s) read it, too, before returning it to the library. If those one or two friends buys your book, great! But, that’s not likely to happen when they can borrow it for free.
If someone borrows your book, and posts about it on social media, that’s great! But, it’s doubtful that anyone will purchase a book after hearing about it just one time from an online friend. People usually need to hear about a product multiple times before they’ll buy it. Don’t expect someone to borrow your book from a library, and then turn into a long-term, free PR person for you. Not gonna happen. They’ll mention it one time, and then move on.
I love libraries and I support them. However, I’ve been writing and publishing my own books for 25 years and I have never approached a library about carrying any of them. The math was just too simple. Trying to sell to libraries does not make any economical sense.
On a side note, I have also never pitched my books to bookstores, either, but I have found copies of some of my books on the shelves in a few bookstores over the years.
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