You can sell lots of books to libraries—if you know how to approach the library market. Here are my top tips on breaking into this lucrative part of the book business.
Go for reviews in trade publications. Most libraries make their purchasing decisions via the reviews in the major trade journals—Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, School Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews, and ForeWord Magazine. So it’s important to be sure those publications get review copies of your books on time and in the right form. That means sending a bound galley (not a finished book) to them five months before your publication date—that is, five months before the books become available in bookstores, on Amazon, and so on. A good review in one of these journals (and for the purposes of publicity, usually even a bad review is a good review) can lead to several thousand library sales.
Take the back door into reviews. If you don’t get a review in one of the major trade publications, consider taking the back-door approach if and as appropriate. For instance, go for a review of the audio version of the book. (Hadn’t considered doing an audiobook? Start thinking about it.) Sometimes, as with Library Journal, the audio review section is easier to get into than the print section. Be sure to make it clear that there’s also a printed version of your book so the review can mention that.
Figure out how a book fills a hole. Libraries are always trying to fill gaps in their collections (as opposed, for example, to bookstores, which try to fill collection gaps only if they see a strong consumer demand for titles in a niche). For librarians, niche books are desirable. So if you can position your book as “the only” title on its subject—the only book on cooking whole meals in a fondue pot, the only book on how to have a six-figure career without ever leaving your house, the only book on how the world might have been different if JFK hadn’t been assassinated—you have a strong shot at library sales.
I positioned my book The Infertility Diet: Get Pregnant and Prevent Miscarriage as the only book on how to treat infertility and miscarriage nutritionally; and I positioned Terrorism and Kids: Comforting Your Child as the only book on how to talk to your kids about 9/11 (it isn’t now, but it was when it first came out, shortly after September 11). With my Publishing Game books I had a problem, because there are so many titles covering the same general ground, but then I realized I could position them as the only 30-day step-by-step roadmaps on their topics. Because I was able to position all these books as “the only . . . ” in their categories, they all enjoyed reasonable library sales.
Speak at libraries. The more speaking you can do at libraries, the better your library sales are likely to be. (Also, the more speaking you do at libraries, the better your bookstore sales will be, because at least some of the people who come hear about your book at your library talk will then go out and purchase the book at a local or online bookstore.)
So how do you get library bookings? Keep in mind that libraries are often more likely to do book programs than readings. Then think about what sort of program you can put together that would interest a library audience. When I was promoting my Publishing Game series to libraries, I offered librarians a choice of several programs of different lengths on topics including finding an agent, self-publishing, and book promotion. Each program was available with a question/answer session and an autographing session.
Just a straight book-reading or -signing wouldn’t have been of much interest, but the how-to angles appealed to authors and would-be authors, and the libraries were able to provide full-house audiences.
Tailor a book’s Web site to libraries. Many if not most books currently have Web sites, and the more you tailor a book’s site toward library sales, the better those library sales are likely to be. So think about libraries when you’re putting a site together or updating one. In addition to a section for the press, put up a section specifically for librarians. Include any special publicity aimed at libraries, any articles related to the book and written for the library market, any ideas libraries might want to implement for your book.
My Web site section for librarians includes a contest aimed specifically at libraries, my book’s reviews in the trade journals, ordering information, my terms for library book orders (though this is uncommon, as most libraries will order via wholesalers, not directly), my offer of a column for library newsletters, my
offerings of programs and lectures to libraries (and related booking information), and endorsements by librarians who’ve hosted my programs. (For more ideas on what you could put on a library section of your site, see publishinggame.co/booksellers_librarians.htm).
There are lots of libraries and thus lots of potential sales—for both fiction and nonfiction. Plus, publicity that libraries do in advance to announce talks can contribute to book sales and buzz, and you may even get paid. Although many authors do library talks for free, I charged $500 for a one- to two-hour talk and got it at some libraries. Sometimes, it doesn’t hurt to ask.