In 2019, visiting the public library was one of Americans’ top cultural activities, according to Gallup. Adults reported visiting a library 10.5 times per year – more than they went to the movies, live sporting events, museums, zoos, or theme parks.
Clearly, there is an audience to be reached in libraries. While you may not make money each time someone checks out your book, there are still advantages to getting your book onto library shelves. Read on to find out why and how you should get your books into public libraries.
Why should I try to get my book in libraries?
By extending your book’s reach beyond bookstores, you’re making your work accessible to as many people as possible. Public libraries will often display their newest arrivals in a prominent place. If you’re a local author or if your book is about a relevant and timely topic, it may get featured as well. Plus, you may see the book promoted on the library’s website and social media.
You know people are looking for books at libraries. They are an excellent place to market your work. If you host a book signing or lecture at the library, people will start looking for your book, and the first place they’ll check is the library shelves.
What does my book need?
Acquiring all of the data listed below is not required, but is recommended. It will make your book more appealing to librarians because it gives legitimacy to your work and eases the intake process for them. The less work they have to do to bring your book in, the more likely they are to consider it for their collection.
• An International Standard Book Number (ISBN): ISBNs are assigned by a certain agency in each country. An ISBN identifies the title to which it is assigned, along with who should be contacted for ordering purposes. This means that for every title or edition of a title, the ISBN is unique and allows a librarian to quickly locate the specific book a patron may want. By securing an ISBN, your book is listed in Bowker Books in Print, meaning it will be discoverable by all major search engines and most libraries. Using ISBNs also allows you to better manage your book's metadata, and ensure maximum discoverability. You will need to acquire a unique ISBN for each format of your book – hardcover, paperback, eBook, and audiobook. All retailers and libraries will require an ISBN if you want them to carry your book.
• A Library of Congress Control Number (LCCN): The LCCN is the control number for the record the Library of Congress assigns to titles it may acquire, and that librarians use to catalog books. Publishers and self-published authors in the United States can submit an LCCN request by creating an account in PrePub Book Link, through the Preassigned Control Number (PCN) Program. Authors and publishers outside the United States cannot obtain a LCCN. You must have an ISBN to acquire an LCCN, but unlike an ISBN, you only need one LCCN number to cover a title. Once assigned, this number should be placed on the book’s copyright page. Libraries might accept books without LCCNs, but it requires more work on their part.
• Cataloging-in-publication (CIP) data block: Separate from the PCN program, CIP is where the Library of Congress creates a bibliographic record of your book in advance of publication, and these records are sent weekly to libraries as a way “to alert the library community to forthcoming publications and to facilitate acquisition,” according to the LOC’s website. These data blocks provide overall information about your book that will be helpful to librarians when deciding whether or not they will bring your book into the library, such as the genre and subject matter. Self-published authors cannot currently acquire a CIP data block from the Library of Congress, but if you are working with a larger traditional publisher, they can submit your book. Smaller publishers or self-publishers can create their own data block called publisher’s cataloging-in-publication (PCIP). PCIPs should only be created by a professionally trained cataloger who understands the required format and controlled vocabulary used by the library community. The CIP or PCIP is typically placed on the copyright page of a book. Libraries might accept books without CIP or PCIP data blocks, but it requires more work on their part.
What do I need to do for my print book?
• Make sure you’re signed up with a major wholesaler. This makes the book buying process seamless for librarians. They can simply purchase the book from your wholesaler, who then pays you (or your publisher, if you have one). Librarians prefer to work with wholesalers because they simplify the process and librarians know that your book will look professional, with sturdy binding and an appealing cover. Two of the top wholesalers in the industry are Ingram and Baker & Taylor.
• Not only does your book need to have sturdy binding, but the spine itself should contain some key elements including the book’s title and author name in a legible font. Whether it’s a paperback or hardcover, your book will likely be sitting on a bookshelf with only the spine facing out.
• Garner reviews. Librarians will look for independent reviews of your book to help them decide if they will purchase the book for their shelves. Securing a review on sites like BookList, Kirkus, or Library Journal will give credibility to your book and help librarians make the right decision.
• When contacting libraries through email, include the sell sheet and marketing plan for your book. Your sell sheet provides general details about the book so the librarian can quickly assess if it’s of interest to the library. Your marketing plan shows the librarian what you are doing to drive demand for your book – a thorough marketing plan means you’re increasing interest in your book, and more people are likely to request and look for it at the library.
• Offer to create content for the library and include their website in your promotional materials. You may write a blog post for the library’s website or create social media posts (which means website visitors and social media followers will learn about you and your book as a result). When you create ads for your book, direct readers to the library to find it. You could also take this a step further and host an event at the library, like a lecture or book signing. Librarians are always on the lookout for events that enrich the community and bring people in – come up with a worthwhile event where you’ll be able to promote your book and drum up excitement among library visitors and readers.
What do I need to do for my eBook or audiobook?
• For your eBook or audiobook, be available on the right platforms. Print books are still the popular choice over eBooks and audiobooks, but there is a growing demand for books that library patrons can access on their devices. Almost all libraries loan out eBooks and audiobooks, with OverDrive being the most popular platform. It’s not enough for your eBook or audiobook to just be available on Amazon – there is no way for the librarian to access your book from there. Other platforms that can make your digital formats accessible to libraries and their patrons include Smashwords, Draft2Digital, and Book Baby.
Library requirements and processes can differ, so start by contacting each location directly to see exactly how to get your book on the shelves. You may end up talking to whomever does collection development.
Even if you’ve followed all these steps and included the proper components, this doesn’t guarantee your book will make it into the library. Librarians have budgets to adhere to and patrons to please, so they are very particular with their selections. In this case, you can always offer to donate a copy of your book. Some readers check out books to decide if they will later make a purchase – it doesn’t hurt to get your book out there in as many places as possible!
Also keep in mind that libraries listen to patron requests; if you are out in the community and actively marketing your book, this increases the chance of patrons asking for your book at the library.
The process may feel overwhelming, but it’s worth looking beyond bookstores and into public libraries! For even more information about the process, visit the ALC’s Libraries section.
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