Tips for Authors Who Want to Get “In” with Public Libraries
I’m a member of a number of Facebook groups for writers, and one topic that came up recently in one of them was how to get your book in the public library. I’ve worked at a number of public libraries, all but the most recent in collection development (buying new materials for the library and weeding out the old). I’ve also up until recently been involved with putting together programming for adults in public libraries. So I have some experience in this area and figured I’d offer it to new authors, especially those who self-publish or are with tiny independent presses.
The cover has to look great. Disregard the old adage “don’t judge a book by its cover” because library patrons absolutely do. I’ve seen some awful cover art over the years, frequently on books I’m weeding from the shelves due to no one checking it out in at least two years. Public libraries are big on displays, and they want attractive, eye-catching books for those displays. It’s worth cleaning up your cover or paying a professional to create it for you.
Ask your readers to request it from their local library. Public libraries are there to serve the interests of their community. If the community enjoys a certain genre or author, the library staff will purchase more of that. I seriously consider each purchase request from patrons, and if two or more request a title, that’s an automatic buy. They represent a percentage of people who likely want this kind of title in the library.
Donate a copy of your book. Not all libraries take book donations, and some don’t ultimately take book donations after consideration. But many public libraries have to really stretch their budgets, and if you can offer your book for free they may consider it. Reach out to the library first before dropping it off as a courtesy.
Have your readers check it out. Hundreds if not thousands of new titles are purchased by the library every year, and public libraries can’t hold on to everything. We go through a regular process of “weeding,” taking out books that haven’t checked out in a while or are outdated or are worn out. At many public libraries, if the book was checked out at least once in the last year, it’s excluded from being weeded. Have your readers read the library copy! Ask them to review it on the library website if they’re able. Suggest it in the library book club to other potential readers who might enjoy it. Reviews and input from the community go a long way.
Lower the price point on your digital books. We’ve been buying more and more digital copies of books over the last decade, and the pandemic pushed that over the edge even more. Print books aren’t going away, but the convenience of a digital book can’t be beat. But digital copies are way more expensive than print for libraries to purchase. Other articles and websites can explain the breakdown in more detail, but for example, an average digital audiobook from the major publishers can cost $90 and a digital book can cost $40 and only be available for two years and then has to be repurchased. Library staff may be more willing to purchase your digital book if the price point is lower.
Reach out to do a program. Public libraries are always looking for new and interesting programs to offer and are grateful for presenters who reach out to them (and don’t ask for an honorarium.) But unless you are already a successful author, individual author events don’t do particularly well, so you’ll need to find another angle. One library I worked at organized an annual author festival for indie authors to sell their books and greet new readers all together. I’ve had a group of authors do a panel together to talk about their shared genre and answer questions. Other authors have done presentations on a topic they researched for their book, or on the writing/editing/publishing process that’s of broader appeal to library patrons. Most libraries will allow you to sell your books in the library as long as you handle the transactions. We’re not doing many in-person events in the library world right now, but many of those kinds of programs can translate to a Zoom or YouTube platform quite well. Just make sure your social media and website address are prominent so interested readers can find you!
It is hard for self-published authors to find their way into the public library, but I know many library workers are trying to include them more in their collections. It may take a little creative thinking, but there are ways to get your book into a library patron’s hands!