In honor of National Library Week (April 3-9), I thought I’d chime in about how libraries have played a role in spreading the reach for my travel/trail memoir, Between Each Step.
I’ve always loved libraries. A cool fact that most probably don’t know about me: I worked at my college library. It was my “work-for-study” job. Remember those? Where you work and that paycheck goes directly to your tuition? I worked the 10pm-midnight closing shift two nights each week at the King’s College Library my junior and senior year. Re-shelving books gave my OCD brain so much satisfaction (same reason I loved working at Hallmark and organizing cards for 6 years). Anyway, I digress.
Beyond my personal love for libraries, they are a powerful—and relatively untapped—asset for authors trying to market their book. Public libraries seed new readership for your book, strengthening the discoverability and casting a wider net for the potential audience. They literally make reading inexpensive, accessible & sustainable!
With that being said, there are caveats to any authors or someday authors out there reading this blog. Targeting libraries takes a TON of time and tedious effort, with little return on investment. The reality is that all book marketing is more of a marathon than a sprint. In terms of whether it’s a lucrative return on investment … libraries typically buy 1 copy, and I get $3.20 for each book sold through my distributor. Sometimes libraries have to buy more copies after so many patrons check out a book. It certainly feels like a seemingly hopeless marketing goal. But remember folks, I don’t do this for the money, although my book is my small business side hustle meaning I can never stop marketing it.
Anyway, it wasn’t until a year into my book’s life that I started delving into the library business and make it part of my marketing efforts.
According to the American Library Association, there are nearly 120,000 libraries in America. The stay-at-home situation of 2020-21 prompted a welcome surge in pandemic reading. Statistics show that readers borrowed 506 million e-books from libraries in 2021, up from 430 million in 2020 and 326 million in 2019!
Like I said, there isn’t really a “how to get your book into libraries” guide. My friend is a librarian and warned me that it’s not as easy as walking into a library and saying, “hey, wanna put my book on your shelf??” Years ago, I heard one author mailed his book with handwritten notes to a 100 librarians and booksellers, hoping to pique their interest and turn the effort into book sales and events. I was super impressed until he revealed the endeavor landed his book into 2 libraries.
While I’ve yet to crack the code to unleashing libraries as a marketing tool, I’ve done enough research and experimentation to offer some insight.
Every library/library system has a different process. Some libraries purchase only e-books rather than paperbacks. Some have a board that decides what books to carry. Some purchasing departments rely heavily on third-party, trusted book reviewers (i.e., Kirkus, Booklist, Publishers Weekly, Library Journal) to influence what books to add to their collections. I barely looked into this because even though it equals maximum exposure for libraries, these reviews typically cost money.
METHOD ONE: Send cold e-mails to libraries
Step 1 for me was to make a list of libraries where I have a connection. I check online card catalogues to see if they already carry my book. If so, I do a happy dance!!!! If not, I scour the website to find the decision-maker, and send an e-mail pleading my case to convince them to put me into circulation. I also always include the PDF copy of my book for their personal e-reader.
For example, I wrote Roxbury Public Library in New Jersey (where I grew up): “Let me start by saying, I’m actually a local! I grew up in Landing and graduated from Roxbury in 1996. Although I don’t live in Landing anymore, my mom still does.” And then of course all the other details, like a description of the book, my publisher/distributor/ISBN info, etc. I wrote them in October, and never heard back. But guess what? Now my book is in their circulation. So it worked?!
I still have tons of libraries on my list (King’s College being one), and that will probably be my continuous winter project.
METHOD TWO: Suggest a program to a library
Thanks to the pandemic, libraries have pivoted their services to provide more programming virtually. Once again, it occurs in varying degrees, and some don’t offer programs at all. Libraries have tight budgets, small staffs, and have to justify what will get the attention of their patrons. They are typically looking for programs beyond “author readings” or “book signings” (also, I’m small potatoes, and no one really wants to meet me). Luckily, Justin & I already had a well-oiled presentation “Exploring New Zealand,” which we did live on a summer speaking tour in 2017, and the event easily translated to the online format.
I’ve previously mentioned that we’ve done quite a few virtual programs for libraries around NJ (Mendham, Chester, Somerset, Warren County). It was almost a snowball effect once we started showing up on a few calendars, as librarians use each other’s calendars for inspiration to discover program possibilities, but it only occurred in NJ.
I have tried to cold-pitch our event to other libraries in NJ, but so far no one has bitten. I’m not giving up, and it will continue to be an occasional effort. Once again, there are multiple steps to these pitches—check the online card catalogue to see if the book is carried, find out if the library does programs at all, identify the right contact, yada yada yada.
METHOD THREE: Solicit help from friends & family
The other piece of the puzzle I’ve discovered is that most libraries allow patrons to make recommendations for purchases! It’s not always well advertised, but if you have a library card, you can put in a request, usually through the website. You might have to dig around, or reach out to your librarian directly to find out how. If they accept the recommendation, the library buys the book, which is a win for me!!!!
I wanted to experiment with this, so I rallied a team across the country. I asked my sister in CT, my sister-in-law in Denver, my friend in Texas and my friend in Wisconsin to make the requests with their library card.
Two out of four were successful! My book can now be found at the Montgomery County Library in Texas and the C.H. Booth Library in Newtown, CT. I even went to see my book on the shelf in person and sign it when I was visiting my sister.
My friend in Wisconsin never heard back (from October) and my sister-in-law got a message that if she wanted my book in Denver’s library catalogue, she would have to purchase it for the library herself!!!
For my small-town Tri-Valley Community Library, I am able to recommend 5 titles (e-books) every 29 days. There is a google form I fill out. I’ve suggested books from fellow authors (not my own), but my friend in Healy did get my book into the library! (I need to go visit it and sign it actually).
A few people did the deed without me even knowing it!!! My aunt and uncle got my book into Fairbanks North Star Borough Public Library and another friend requested it for Samuels Public Library in Virginia. Other libraries picked it up, like libraries in New Zealand and Hopkinton Town Library (we lived there from 2007-2011). In fact, I got a random e-mail from an old friend in NH we hadn’t talked to in 10 years saying his wife checked out the book for him, and he was like, “um, I know this author.”
Bottom line is that authors should not overlook libraries in their grand marketing plan!!
Next takeaway, it literally takes a village to spread the reach of smaller indie authors like myself. So if you are a fan of my book (or any book) and have a library card, check to see if your local library carries it. If not, request it!!! Such an easy way you can support authors (just like leaving a review on Amazon)!!!!
Here’s the information I think you’d need to request my book from your local library:
Book Title – Between Each Step – A Married Couple’s Thru Hike on New Zealand’s Te Araroa
Name of Author Patrice La Vigne
Publisher Atmosphere Press
Year Book Was Published 2020
ISBN 1649219032 / 978-1649219039
Happy National Library Week – go connect with your local library!