Getting libraries to purchase your book can have a big impact on your overall reach. But how do you get libraries to make that all-important sale? Here are five tips from DIY MFA’s personal librarian, Terri Frank.
1) Get Reviewed
As a librarian responsible for purchasing, I read around 150 book reviews per day. These reviews appear in trade journals such as Library Journal, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly and Choice. Children’s and young adult librarians consult The Horn Book and School Library Journal. I order titles that receive good reviews and will be of interest to community members–whether they are students in a college library that require scholarly biographies or public library patrons that crave the latest in Inspirational Fiction.
Journals are the primary ordering method at libraries in the United States and Canada, and in other countries worldwide. If you consider that the United States has more libraries than McDonald’s restaurants, and that each library has multiple librarians consulting these journals, you can begin to see the power of making sure your book receives a favorable nod.
Be sure to visit a journal’s website prior to requesting a review. Just as agents and publishing houses have submission guidelines for manuscripts, journal editors have specific requirements you’ll want to learn. For example, Library Journal notes its criteria and deadlines on a page called “Submit Titles for Review.” Books, e-books, graphic novels, audiobooks, videos and research databases are considered for review–provided the work is intended for adults. If you are already working with an agent or editor, they likely know all about journals and will probably submit your book as part of the publicity process.
2) Go Independent
If you’re an indie author or have an unpublished manuscript, the traditional journal route may prove more difficult for you. But as a librarian, I need more than a title and a synopsis to commit to ordering a book. And, gasp, librarians do not have time to read EVERY book they purchase. So, I need some kind of unbiased opinion to guide my spending decisions. You’ll need to get creative and seek out other ways to get your book reviewed.
One possibility is Kirkus Indie–a reviewing service for self-published books, traditionally published books that missed review deadlines or, any other books that couldn’t garner reviews elsewhere. You will receive a professional review for a fee, beginning at $350.00 for a children’s title. The reviews are brutally honest which means you could pay to end up with a one star rating. If that happens, you have the option to keep your review private (and still use it as a critique or way to improve your book). However, you could get a glowing review! If so, you should let Kirkus Indie publish the accolade on its website. Forty of the best paid reviews are selected monthly to be in the print counterpart that reaches librarians, publishers, editors and booksellers worldwide. Similarly, Library Journal has launched SELF-e which is free for e-book authors who don’t mind going through a selection process.
Here’s one independent route that usually doesn’t work. In an attempt to persuade me to buy their book, authors often brag to me that their book received positive reviews on Amazon or other social media sites. I do take a look, but with a heaping grain of salt. Friends and family members of the author may be responsible for the book’s five star rating.
3) Grant an Interview
One idea that I’ve seen work for some authors is contacting their hometown newspaper and community living magazines. Large newspapers often employ one to several book reviewers. Smaller publications don’t usually do book reviews but are hungry for stories about local authors. If I see a writer profiled in my community’s newspaper, I usually buy the book. Why? I expect demand. Local citizens will be reading the same article and calling the library to request the book.
Think regionally and don’t limit yourself to current address. Seek out publications in your neighboring town, your county and even your metropolitan region. All of these publications–and libraries–will probably consider you a local author. The same is true if your book’s setting takes place there, but you live on the other side of the world.
4) Get Personal
Stop by your local library and ask which librarian purchases your genre. Introduce yourself and say upfront you won’t take more than a minute of their time. Bring a copy of your book for the librarian to peruse and borrow for a few days. If you were able to get any reviews or local newspaper coverage, include printouts. I’m much more likely to consider a book, even without a review, if I have a copy in hand and have met the author personally. Phone calls, letters and mass emails asking libraries to buy your book are rarely successful.
Whether the librarian decides to purchase or not, be sure to pick up your book after a week and send a handwritten thank you note. This gesture will be remembered and will set you way above the mass mailers. Sometimes, especially in larger libraries, the librarian’s hands are tied. The library’s board of trustees allows purchasing through specific vendors only. Be aware that a rejection may not be due to dislike of your book but a bureaucratic reality.
5) Give a Talk
In addition to providing books, research services and story times, libraries host monthly programs conducted by outside speakers and authors. Sometimes, this can even be a paid gig. At first, however, I’d suggest offering a program for free until you’ve presented a few times and built up references. Call and ask to speak to the librarian in charge of programming.
If you’re selected to present a program, speak about your book’s subject, what it took to write it, and bring lots of visuals. For instance, if you’ve written a civil war novel, display period photographs and share soldiers’ letters that will keep your audience enraptured. Get attendees excited about your book and they just might buy it at the end of your talk. The library will probably buy a copy for their collection, too.
The hardest part about the “talk” route is getting together your very first presentation. Once you have it down, you can branch out to other community organizations like senior centers, museums and assisted living homes. Let the buying begin!
Terri Frank is a professional librarian and holds a Master’s degree in library and information science from the University of Michigan. When she’s not working in a library, she’s probably visiting a library with her husband and two kids. Her current writing projects include a novel about a tuberculosis sanitorium.