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Posted on Feb 22, 2017

5 Reasons Why Selling to Libraries Needs to be a Top Priority

Amy Collins is a publishing industry expert, author of The Write Way, and founder of New Shelves Books, one of the fastest growing book distribution, sales, and marketing companies in North America. As a former sales director for a large book and magazine publisher, she has sold to Barnes & Noble, Target, Costco, and many other major chains.

If you are looking for a new source of income from your self-published book, libraries are something you really should consider. Libraries in the US are experiencing a huge surge in foot traffic. Public librarians are seeing a LOT more patrons, and their check out rates are skyrocketing. The good news?  Their budgets are going up too. In many cities, the annual budget for libraries is increasing — new locations are opening, and old ones are reopening at historical rates.

US libraries spend over 3 billion dollars each year on materials (books, magazines, e-journals), so you should consider using some of your sales and marketing time to present your book to librarians.

1. Fiction and Children’s books are the top categories, but non-fiction is catching up

According to the ALA Materials Survey published in March 2015, the most popular categories in public libraries were Children’s picture books, general fiction, mystery/thrillers, cookbooks and memoir/bio. The complete list is here.

2. Librarians want more books that drive traffic into their libraries.

When more people come to a library, it demonstrates the need for that library in the community.  As a result, budgets will go up; they will hire more staff, and everyone is happy. For independent authors, this is also great news: 92% of librarians surveyed between May 2016 – July 2016 by New Shelves stated that they regularly buy books from self-published authors and small presses.

3. eBooks and audiobooks are the fastest-growing type of book purchases.

Ebooks and audiobooks are a terrific way to get your book into the hands of avid readers.  Libraries spend over 25% of their budgets on ebooks and audiobook downloads. These types of books cost you far less to sell because there are no printing costs. Focus on your ebook and audiobook sales to libraries and make even MORE money.

To learn more about how to get your ebooks into libraries, read our master guide on ebook distribution!

4. Sell to one library, sell to many

Once one library has your book and the check-out rates start showing up on reports, other librarians will start ordering your book. The growth and spread of your book’s sales and popularity will start happening while you are not even looking! Get your book into a few libraries within a system and watch out for your new sales.

5. You can do this with just a few simple materials.

There are materials that Librarians can use to decide if your book is something they want to buy. These items are:

  • a one-page sales sheet with your book’s details and description,
  • a one-page sheet about the author that showcases what a great person you are,
  • a marketing plan and an outline showing all the ways you are going to promote the book,
  • a list of things you are willing to do to help the library promote the book and your topic.

Create an email that focuses on the librarian's goals instead of on how great your book is. The proper attitude, the right tone, and appropriate submission materials will get you much further than your belief that your book should be a best-seller.

Have you ever considered selling your book to a library, or does it seem like too much effort for too little return? Let us know your thoughts and questions in the comments below.

26 responses

Ginger Monette says:

23/02/2017 – 17:04

As a self-published romance author, my local library (Charlotte/ Mecklenburg of Charlotte, NC) is pretty much closed to indies. They buy from a certain distributor's catalog (that indies don't have access to). They only buy from distributors who can automatically download all the book's data into the library's catalog. As a local author they will 'take' your book, but it is put in a special "NC authors room" but the books don't circulate so it defeats the whole purpose.

↪️ Reedsy replied:

23/02/2017 – 17:14

Oh, that sounds pretty unfair. Are you able to get an idea of how regularly romance titles are checked out from your local library? It would be interesting to know whether their decision to not circulate indie romances is based on stats or stigma.

↪️ Ginger Monette replied:

23/02/2017 – 17:39

With the gazillions of books they have to choose from, they have to narrow it down somehow. Ordering from the distributor's catalog is one way, AND they save the labor cost associated with cataloging new books. In general, ordering books from 'the usual traditional publishers' is a safer way to ensure the book is well written and properly edited. It's a business decision. They won't even take brand new books if they are donated (they sell them for $1 at the next library sale). A recent discussion on a marketing for romance writers e-loop confirmed this is a standard practice among libraries in the US.

↪️ Amy Collins replied:

24/02/2017 – 17:04

Hi Ginger, Is B&T the wholesaler they use? Because it IS possible to get into their catalog. We are going to cover that in future posts!

↪️ Ginger Monette replied:

24/02/2017 – 23:46

That's a good question. And honestly, it was about 2 years ago that I spoke with my library. However, I am in a fiction writing/critique group sponsored by the library and the branch's sponsor (a librarian) has read excerpts, and I think she knows that my books (Darcy's Hope saga) have received rave reviews, but she's never once suggested the library might be interested in carrying it. However, a popular library blogger recently gave both books the thumbs up, so perhaps I will ask again. I look forward to your post on getting into the B&T catalog : )

JKP says:

23/02/2017 – 21:42

I have interviewed several librarians across the US recently for our own market research and been delighted at how open the ones we talked to are to indie/self published books and authors. Amy, you always provide excellent information!

↪️ PATRICE M FOSTER replied:

24/02/2017 – 00:33

Great News

↪️ Amy Collins replied:

28/02/2017 – 04:14

Well thanks Julie!


24/02/2017 – 00:35

My library is not that welcome to Indie Authors.

↪️ Reedsy replied:

24/02/2017 – 09:12

That's a shame. Have you spoken to the librarians to figure out why that might be? There are perhaps other libraries in your area who might be more open to helping local authors :)

↪️ Amy Collins replied:

24/02/2017 – 17:02

Hi Patrice, Some are resistant to Indie Authors, but 90% of libraries surveyed say that they do buy from self published authors. My sales team tell me that they are getting well designed, well-edited self-published books into libraries about 50% of the time.

↪️ Ginger Monette replied:

25/02/2017 – 01:13

I'd love to know how. And just to clarify are they buying indie AND self-published or just indie?

↪️ Amy Collins replied:

28/02/2017 – 04:13

Both IF the books are properly designed and priced. The problem with books published by third party publishers is that they price the books so expensively that libraries won't order them. The price will stop them. But if the books look and feel professionally published and are priced competitively so that they are not MORE expensive than books by traditional publishers... you are good to go!

Mnguter Eric Ikpah says:

24/02/2017 – 00:45

I have 3 fantasy novels I would like to sell to them.

↪️ Amy Collins replied:

24/02/2017 – 17:00

Are your book listed in wholesalers? Ingram, Brodart, B&T? Are you POD?

Kate Lacy says:

28/02/2017 – 23:55

I have friends who've given their books to the public libraries. None were offered payment. While this may not be the norm everywhere, it seems to be happening here and there in Arkansas.

↪️ Amy Collins replied:

03/03/2017 – 15:15

Hi Kate, Libraries will take donations, but publishers do sell books to libraries and are paid for them. But, of course, libraries will happily take donations.

↪️ Michael Salita replied:

24/03/2018 – 06:33

Hi Amy, I published two children's books B Is for Brighton Beach and B Is for Boxing. Both books got good reviews in the media. Can you help me to sell them to libraries.

Cameron Powell says:

07/05/2017 – 01:57

Is there a database of libraries and their contact info available anywhere?

↪️ Social Share replied:

17/03/2018 – 20:03

Yes. But it costs. Google it.

stenographer says:

07/12/2017 – 19:29

Is there a "good time" to approach libraries about purchasing? Or on the flip side, is there a bad time? So I guess I'm asking about library budgets. Thanks!

↪️ Reedsy replied:

21/12/2017 – 16:36

I'd say the best time to contact them is when your book is fresh out of the oven, that's when your pitch will be most convincing — and in the end, that's what matters.

↪️ Social Share replied:

17/03/2018 – 20:02

That would also be the time when you have the fewest reviews.

Akober says:

20/12/2017 – 20:14

Hi, I buy books for our district's adult fiction collection. I give talks on how to sell self-published books to libraries. Here are tips: The #1 thing I look for is reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. That's the only way I can judge a book. I also can learn whether there are typos and other editing problems. I tell authors that 10 reviews is the minimum. I know it isn't easy to get reviews beyond family and friends, but it's the criteria many buyers use. Don't worry about a bad review if there are other good ones. We at the overall set of reviews. #2 The cover is very important. If a cover looks amateurish, patrons won't check out the book. We have a visual society. There are great sites that can help you produce a good-looking cover or find a good artist. A good starting place is #3 Tell me if you are a local author or if your book is set in our state or region. We have a local author collection because people like reading local authors or about familiar settings. #4 Don't call me. Most librarians don't like this--I've asked. Many libraries have a place where you can recommend that we purchase your book, such as "Library Purchasing Guidelines for Authors." #5 It's okay to send promotional literature. However, if you don't have a number of positive reviews, I won't buy your book. (see #1) The titles for those who purchase books at public libraries are often called "Selectors" or "Collection Librarians." (Academic libraries may call their buyers "Acquisitions Librarians--it varies.)

↪️ Reedsy replied:

21/12/2017 – 16:38

Thanks for sharing your experience! These are excellent points, and recoup several of the ones made by Amy in her Reedsy Learning course on selling to libraries: What you mention about covers is particularly interesting. When we judge editors, designers or marketers applying to be listed on our marketplace, we always pay close attention to the covers in their portfolio. Any sign that they might have worked on unprofessional books (judging by their covers) is a red flag to us as well.

Niko says:

11/01/2018 – 18:38

What about selling learning materials for the childrens and young adults sections? I am a graphic designer who has developed a visually unique set of cards that are both fun, engaging and educational. Perhaps they would check out these materials as well or use as reference materials or for kids to look at on tables. What is the budget for items like these? Who does the vetting for educational materials? Must they be published by a publisher or can I DIY publish and shop them around. I've had nothing but praise from parent about them. A mix of quality design meets fun knowledge. Thanks

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