hen I produced my first self-published book, “The Ojai Valley, An Illustrated History,” part of my promotions plan was to go after library sales. At that time, libraries paid full price for books. Some still do, but most of them prefer getting a discount whenever they can.
Here's how I sold to libraries in 1983. First, I gave a few copies of my book to the local library along with an order form. The county library system then ordered several additional copies. I always recommend authors donate copies of their books to their local libraries and to libraries in the area where their story takes place, the subject of their biography is centered, etc.
Next, I located a directory of U.S. libraries and copied their contact information. I went back time and time again to get more library references. I used the “American Library Directory.” I believe that you can also reference “Gale's Directory of Libraries” or “Literary Market Place.”
Then, I sent a press release describing my book, along with order forms to hundreds of libraries across the U.S. and received quite a few orders.
I always recommend authors donate copies
of their books to their local libraries…
Just think about it: If a writer sold their $20 book at 50% off to just half of these libraries, they've made yourself a cool $575,000. That got your attention, didn't it? So how do you tap into the lucrative library market?
They prefer hardcover books and soft cover
perfect-bound books with the title
printed on the spine.
Create a Library-Quality Book
As you can imagine, library books take a beating. That's why librarians are fussy about the quality and style of the books they purchase. They typically reject saddle-stitched (stapled) books and those with spiral or plastic comb binding. They don't usually purchase workbooks, either. They prefer hardcover books and soft cover perfect-bound books with the title printed on the spine. The cover on a perfect-bound book must be sturdy.
Libraries particularly like reference books. If you are writing or compiling such a book, be sure to include an index, a bibliography and/or a resource list. Each of these amenities will certainly increase your chances for acceptance.
Books destined for library use need a Library of Congress Cataloguing-in-Publication block (which your publisher will provide) or, for a self-published book, Publishers Cataloguing-in-Publication block (provided by Quality Books or Donohue Group before the book is printed.) Also include a key on the upper left back cover indicating the type of book this is and the topic: reference/book publishing, writing/reference, history, autobiography, parenting, etc.
“Rumor has it that the best time to approach
libraries is in December and June…”
Get Books Reviewed in Library Journals
The general consensus is that librarians read reviews—at least those in “Library Journal,” “Kirkus” and so forth. It's not easy to get your book reviewed in these journals; however, it is possible. It's happened, particularly for books related to science or the environment.
Typically, you send a galley copy of your book to these prestigious journals for review three to four months prior to your official publication date.
But there are dozens more magazines and e-zines for librarians. In fact, I found a directory listing around 150 of them including, “School Librarians Online,” “Academia,” “Feliciter” (for Canadian librarians), “Blackwell Science,” “Law Library Journal” and “Young Adult Library Services,” for example. Access this great directory at https://www.libdex.com/journals.html.
Sell Books Directly to Libraries
Sure, you can still make sales directly to libraries. It's just a matter of tapping into print or online directories such as “Literary Market Place” or “Gales Directory of Libraries” (https://www.galegroup.com). Or peruse some of the online library directories such as: https://www.ala.org.
Purchase mailing lists of libraries through the Library Marketing List at https://www.librarymarketinglist.com. You can get listings for 25,000 university libraries or 18,000 public libraries for $199 or 400 listings for community college libraries for $59.
Send a press release to the contact name via email or postal delivery. Describe your book and the binding and list any amenities such as index, color photos, resource list and/or bibliography. Be sure to include ordering information. I generally provide instructions for ordering the book from my own Web site as well as through my wholesalers, Baker and Taylor or Quality Books.
Rumor has it that the best time to approach libraries is in December and June as this is when they typically do their buying.
You may want to offer libraries a discount to entice them to purchase your book. However, if you have a book that you believe the librarians will definitely want to add to their collections, try for that full-price sale, first. If they don't bite, wait several months and send them your promo material again. This time, offer a discount.
Approach Specialty Libraries With Your Special Book
Just as some bookstores specialize, so do libraries. You'll find libraries that specialize in military books, genealogy, science, academics, medicine/health, aviation, architecture and law. There are public libraries, private libraries, university libraries, community college libraries and school libraries. If your book fits into one of these specialties, I recommend approaching appropriate specialty libraries, first. Your hardcover book on profiles of early pilots would surely be of interest to aviation librarians world-wide. Offer your book on global warming to science libraries and you'll probably score some sales.
I sold copies of all of my local history books to several genealogy libraries because they include profiles of early pioneers.
…librarians prefer dealing with a handful
of distributors instead of thousands
of small publishers…
Use a Library Wholesaler
There are maybe a dozen library wholesalers. These are companies that distribute your book to libraries. As with booksellers, librarians prefer dealing with a handful of distributors instead of thousands of small publishers. That's why I always offer librarians the option of ordering from me (I would get more profit) or through either of my wholesalers. I recommend signing with a wholesaler so you don't miss any of those library sales.
I always wait until my book is a book before contacting wholesalers. However, some professionals suggest sending the galley form of your book along with the cover design a few months before it is available. I don't think that your galley package will be of much use to wholesalers without an exact replica of your cover on the cover stock you plan to use.
Wholesalers generally want 55% then you pay the shipping. If you are attempting to sell a “subsidy” produced book, you will lose money by using a wholesaler. But, if you self-published—that is, established your own publishing company—and you made wise financial decisions when producing your book, you will make a profit on books sold through wholesalers.
Is it worth your while to try tapping into the library market with your memoir, book of poetry or novel? It certainly can't hurt and you may find this quite a lucrative activity.
Patricia Fry is the author of 25 books, including The Right Way to Write, Publish and Sell your Book. She is the president of SPAWN (Small Publishers, Artists and Writers Network) https://www.spawn.org. She also uses the skills and savvy she has gleaned from 33 years in the business to work with other authors on their projects. https://www.matilijapress.com. Follow her informative publishing blog at https://www.matilijapress.com/publishingblog.
Distributor and Wholesaler Information:
Quality Books (https://www.quality-books.com).
Baker and Taylor Books (https://www.btol.com).
There's a list of wholesalers and distributors at BookWire (https://www.bookwire.com/index/wholesaler-distributor.html).
For example, Follett distributes books to school libraries for K-12 (https://www.follett.com), Fintera provides books to libraries internationally (https://www.store.finterra.com), Brodart wholesales books to public libraries and school libraries (https://www.books.brodart.com).
For young adult book sales to libraries, contact https://www.bwibooks.com.