book marketing at the library

I am a great lover of libraries, not simply because I work in one, but because I was practically raised in a library.

My father would gather us all together every Saturday morning for a trip into town to the local library. He would enjoy the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal while my brother and I smoked in the downstairs bathrooms. After an infusion of nicotine, we would return to the main floor and browse for hours, sometimes sneaking a second or third cigarette before we had to make our final selections and go home. I loved the smell of the library, the downstairs bathroom notwithstanding, and all the books.

Yes, yes, yes, but this is about you, you say. What does this have to do with writers marketing their novels?

Fast forward a number of years and many adverse life experiences later, and here I am: a non-smoking model citizen who works in a library. So now I will share the secrets of my trade with you:

Libraries buy books. Yes, I know this is shocking information for some, but bear with me for a moment. According to the American Library Association, “Libraries provide a significant market for publishers and vendors. According to Book Industry Trends 2008 (Book Industry Study Group, 2008), which examines acquisitions expenditures of public, school, college & university, and special libraries . . . with over $1.9 billion spent on book purchases alone” in 2007 (ALA Fact Sheet Number 5).

Why do you want your book in a library? Exposure! If you take a quick peek at the Barnes & Nobel website, you’ll see a parade of what I’m starting to call “name” books. These are books that are selling primarily on the basis of the name of the author.

Some of these are good books, some of them are not. Many will tout that they are New York Times Bestsellers, which really means that lots and lots of book stores are purchasing these books.

The New York Times Bestseller list does not account for actual book sales to human beings nor does it account for returns. Book stores are purchasing books based on the author’s name and whether that author has a solid selling record. It’s a cycle that completely shuts out the small presses and debut authors.

So while the major publishers keep churning out more of the same old same old and wondering why nobody is buying the eight hundredth rendition of vampires in the public school system, the small presses are busy picking up the new talent. Unfortunately, if you’re published by a small press, you’re on your own in terms of marketing and getting the word out about your book.

This is where libraries come in.

There are a couple of things you can do to help get the word out about your novel. ALA Fact Sheet Number 5 has a great list of reviewers and advice for getting your book reviewed by several library oriented publications.

You can also donate a copy of your book to a library. When you do this you are doing two things:

1) you are promoting your book by getting your name into WorldCat the online catalog of all the libraries; and

2) you are winning friends amongst librarians who often direct patrons toward titles.

That’s a win-win: free name marketing and friendly librarians (and trust me, you don’t want to fall on their evil side – an angry librarian is a vicious beast). Some libraries even have book review or book recommendation sites along with their web pages such as our library’s Booklove site.

How does this help you sell books? Let’s look at Kathryn Magendie’s WorldCat entry for her debut novel Tender Graces. Click on the title Tender Graces, go look at the record and come back . . .

Notice that there are links and prices to Barnes & Nobel and to Amazon for anyone who might like to purchase this novel. Book reviews from other websites are also listed in the record. Gobs and gobs of information all in one place! The only cost to the author is the donation of a book.

Another great thing about having your book in the library is that rather than just displaying big name titles, the library will usually display your book on the “New Book” rack. Primo display opportunities, no cost to the author other than those pesky taxes we all pay.

When people start checking your book out, they will recommend it to their friends, who probably have similar tastes. Eventually word of mouth will carry a book higher than any New York Times Bestseller list.

So remember that libraries are a great place to start marketing your book, and if you’re especially sweet to the cataloger (hint, hint), she might bump your book to the head of the line so you’re in WorldCat that much faster.

copyright 2009 Teresa Frohock


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4 Responses to book marketing at the library

  1. Good information. Independent publishers often feel their books will never sit on the selves of libraries but, it is entirely possible to have this happen. They need to do their homework, and make the right connections networking with Independent publishing associations and get listed in Word Cat. These are a few steps toward seeing those independent publications sitting on library shelves.

  2. kaykaybe says:

    Are you phishing for a free cup of coffee? Or a handmade laminated bookmark featuring my children’s photos? Just tell me what you want- anything…
    Question- how do libraries decide which books to buy? Is there a national suggestion list, or are all libraries independent? Is there one librarian who makes purchase decisions for the county? Or is it branch by branch?
    Thanks for the info-Kelly

    • Teresa says:

      Hello Sue, thanks for stopping by!

      Hi Kelly!

      What great questions. The ALA Fact sheet is the place to go to find some links to periodicals that librarians read for book reviews and new publications. This is where we get ideas for orders for our collection. Just a few would be:

      Booklist/Reference Books Bulletin
      Library Journal
      The New York Times Book Review
      Publishers Weekly

      The ALA Fact sheet lists many more along with many useful suggestions as to how to market your book to a library. The Fact Sheet also addresses POD (Publish on Demand) and independently published works.

      Generally speaking every library has an acquisitions librarian, and that is the individual responsible for ordering titles for the library collection. Different libraries have different collection needs based on their patrons and their budgets. However, even academic libraries have fiction collections and maintain these collections for their students’ enjoyment.

      With the economy in a rut, libraries are usually the first line cut from county and city budgets. If the library survives, then the next budget cut hits the book line. That’s why donations can be important. If a library has a $10,000 book budget (a low example, but remember that quite often subscriptions to reference materials also are taken from this line), they are going to purchase only the most essential books for their collection. They, too, may not order a small press publication, but if one floats through their door for free, well, that book gets shelf space and a great big thank you!

      We have an acquisitions librarian; however, anyone on staff can make a recommendation for a title. Sometimes if a library patron suggests a title and we feel it will compliment our collection, we purchase it. I work in an academic library, so I can’t really answer how the public libraries purchase their books, but I’m sure they also take input from their staff.

      In terms of bribing your local cataloger, chocolate generally works just fine and can be shared with the entire staff!

  3. jenniferneri says:

    When my librarian found out I am writing a novel she told me I absolutely must see her when it is print. Thanks for putting into perspective for me!

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