Libraries. A time-honored monument to our desire to preserve our past and share our stories. Since people first began setting down their stories on paper, a library as both a physical place and an institution has been central to how we organize society. Some years ago, as the Internet worked its way into our daily lives, there was an undercurrent of fear that the usefulness of libraries might have waned. The information they stored in vast stacks of books is digitized and presented in the palm of your hand. Google answers the questions that could absorb hours of scouring books in moments with a single search.
Thankfully, we know that the Internet won’t directly be replacing libraries soon. What the Internet revolution taught us about libraries is that the institution still serves many vital purposes in their communities. From a place to go for a new novel, to a central locale for research, libraries evolved into a hub for information, web access, and a dedicated ‘maker-space’ for do-it-yourself minded people.
Libraries can provide a great way to reach new readers that, otherwise, may not find out about your books. There are a lot of perks to getting your work into the library system. You don’t really have to worry about maintaining inventory or making a huge sales pitch. Libraries are in it to share knowledge and help educate people. Many libraries even highlight local authors or will host regular book events like fundraisers that accept donated books. That doesn’t mean that some marketing rules don’t apply when approaching a library, however. And there are a lot of misconceptions about the best ways to go about getting a library’s attention.
Quality – Give Libraries Something to Work With
A quickly diminishing stereotype of self-published books is that they are of poor quality. Lulu works to erase all the preconceptions about self-published titles. And to help authors create quality products that can sit on a shelf next to any best-seller. As long as an author takes the time to create a professional book, there is no reason that book can’t make it into a library.
It is important to note that some libraries prefer certain bindings. Call ahead to see what their requirements for submittal are before bringing a book in. Plus, since this is print-on-demand, you can make a library specific version!
Donations – You Get What You Give
Many authors starting out donating copies of their works to gain some initial traction. Libraries are typically not-for-profit organizations and many have to pay for the books they loan out. So for donations, libraries do not differ from any organization; they like free stuff. Some even have a system in place for self-published donations. Ask and they will provide you with information about donating copies of your work.
“I was able to get my book into [the library] by providing them with five copies” says L. Jones, a Lulu author. “In these tight budgetary times, they were happy to get it.”
Most libraries reserve the right to do whatever they want to with your work. Such as selling copies at annual book fundraisers. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing though and a lot can depend on how your work fits in with the scope of the library’s collection.
Reviews – A Few Choice Words
An acquisition librarian is a person that purchases books for one or many branches of an acquisition library. One of the best methods for getting an acquisition librarian’s attention is to get your work reviewed in one of the pre-publication review magazines like Library Journal or CHOICE.
If you can’t land a review, there are also programs that will send a flyer or pamphlet about your book to various libraries, reviewers, and schools for a fee.
Requests – Ask and You Shall Receive
One way that a lot of libraries find out about content is good old-fashioned word of mouth. It’s the basic rule of supply and demand. Many libraries actually take reader requests very seriously and will pick up a book if they receive enough legitimate requests.
Try getting friends and family members to stop by their local libraries and request your book. But just like any form of marketing, don’t inundate librarians with email spam or fake requests for your book. They can tell what a legitimate request is and you risk offending them if you waste their time. Local book clubs and book organizations can help request copies of your work as well.
If you have any friends that are involved in academics at a local college or university, that can be a big bonus. Some may take direct requests from academic staff and won’t even bother with reviews because they consider faculty members to be the experts in their fields and trust their judgement on whatever material they’re requesting.
Speaking Engagements – Serving The Community Needs
One rule of marketing your book that I cannot stress enough is to build yourself up as a reputable source. It is only when people realize that you really know what you’re talking about that they’ll seek out your book to learn more. A great way to build a reputation is the become a part of the conversations going on about your given topic or genre.
What’s even better than being a part of the conversation is starting one of your own. Some libraries will let authors hold speaking engagements or at the very least rent out a room for a panel discussion. This places you and your book at the focal point of the conversation and brings in more potential readers at the same time. The more willing you are to work with the library, the more they will want to help you and your workout.
Some authors believe that libraries won’t carry or even look at a self-published book. They absolutely will. But just like any distribution channel, agent, or business, you have to market yourself and your work in a professional manner. As long as you show a library you will work with them and that you can provide a quality product that you truly think people would benefit from, they are likely to be receptive. Enthusiasm and professionalism can go a long way in sharing your remarkable works with the world – even if you’re sharing for free.
Ebooks – in High Demand For Libraries
Libraries play a huge role in promoting technology adoption. From the Internet to tablet computing, libraries are where many Americans go to familiarize themselves with new technology. Typically, when publishers allow libraries to lend ebooks, they charge them an exorbitant amount of money, virtually fleecing a public institution.
But this stand-off between libraries and large publishers might not last much longer: a new bill in Connecticut proposes forcing publishers to charge libraries the same amount they would charge the general public. If the bill gains support, expect similar legislation to take off nationwide. Still, the publishers’ loss is independent authors’ gain. A smaller browsing section allows more independent titles to gain visibility and find both circulation and reputation.
Large publishers are wary of offering digital titles to libraries for fear of losing some of their market. However, study after study has proven that readers who go to libraries and read ebooks, end up buying even more books than those with only the option of buying ebooks online. Until the publishers come to a consensus about how best to lend eBooks, the amount of ebooks in libraries will remain below the clear demand, and this is bad news for readers.
Lulu and Libraries
Here at Lulu, we’ve always known how important libraries are for our authors and for our readers. As the space between libraries and self-publishing narrows, Lulu is right there to help.
We make local efforts regularly to help with community goals. One recent effort focused on a local bookstore for kids. We built a small lending library for them, allowing passerby to take a book or leave one, sharing their favorite books or an extra copy they might have lingering on a shelf.
Here’s a short video on the Lulu lending library:
Another effort Lulu has been engaged in for the last few years involves using libraries as an educational meeting ground. We schedule “library talks.” A Lulu team member or two spends an evening providing community members with self-publishing advice. Our hope is that authors who attend will spread the word about self-publishing. And better understand the ways their local library can facilitate and assist in the process from start to finish.
Paul is the Senior Copywriter at Lulu, writing weekly blog posts and helping guide content for the company’s marketing. When he’s not deeply entrenched in the publishing and print-on-demand world, he likes to hike the scenic North Carolina landscape, read, sample the fanciest micro-brewed beer, and collect fountain pens. Paul is a dog person, but considers himself cat tolerant.