The Author – Librarian Connection
Dozens of books come out in each category every month. How do libraries decide what winds up on their shelves? And what can authors do to encourage libraries to buy their books—without annoying librarians in the process? Here’s what I’ve learned working in library youth services over the past 18 years.
Since library staff can’t read every new book, we rely on professional reviews to determine which books to add and which to pass on. Publishers submit advance reader copies of books to review journals such as School Library Journal, Booklist, and Kirkus. The journals distribute the ARCs to their team of reviewers—some have a large, broad collection of unpaid volunteer reviewers, while others have a smaller paid staff.
Reviewers give their professional opinion on the merits and flaws of a book. But how library staff react to the reviews runs the gamut. If a book got a starred review but I don’t think it will have regional appeal and I bought a similar book six months earlier that never gets checked out … I may pass. A different book may get an iffy review, but if it covers a popular topic at my library, or if it’s something I know I haven’t seen on my library shelves before, I may take a chance and purchase it.
I also regularly look through catalogs, blogs, and social media sites to learn about new books coming out. Every time a book lands on my radar, it makes its case stronger for me to purchase it. Please note that this is a quality over quantity thing! If an author ceaselessly posts about their own book on their own website and social media, it’s doubtful I’ll ever even see it—and the author will have annoyed all their own followers in the process. But if it shows up in Baker & Taylor’s Growing Minds catalog, or a book blogger I follow raves about it, or I see a lot of authors I respect retweeting a cover reveal, it will grab my attention. (The best way to get others interested in promoting you is to be genuinely excited about others’ new releases, of course.)
Are you deciding whether or not to work with a particular publisher? Here are some things to consider:
- Does the publisher submit ARCs regularly to journals? Ask your local library to see a few recent issues of a review journal and scan through for the publisher name. (Please note: not to be confused with paid reviews or ads in journals/catalogs, which do not typically influence librarians.)
- Does the publisher have current books listed as in stock in warehouses in Baker & Taylor or Ingram? Not just a record of the book with an available quantity of zero or phrases like “apply direct”? Look up some recent titles released by the publisher (previous 3 months) and ask a librarian if they’re willing to check availability on their vendor’s site. No B&T or Ingram presence is not a complete deal-breaker but it does make it more difficult for many libraries to acquire those books.
Once your book is out in the world, how else can you get librarians to notice it? I personally always consider postcards authors send me. I appreciate postcards with a professional design which make their case for purchase concisely. Could the book have regional interest for my patrons? Does it cover a topic I don’t already have on my shelves?
If you would like to host a program or have a book launch at your local library, it helps to have a game plan already in place. Librarians are busy people and, to be honest, book readings and signings don’t often draw in a lot of attendees. When people ask me if they can host book-related events at my library, we usually go back and forth to develop their idea into an actual program. If someone came to me with a program pre-planned, it would knock my socks off! If they gathered two or three other authors of books in the same genre or age group and presented a collaborative program idea or panel discussion, I’d be even more impressed.
For children’s books, I’d love to know details like:
- What ages the book would appeal to
- What kind of presentation/workshop you’re offering
- What kind of activity/project you might be offering
- Are you going to provide all arts and crafts supplies, or does the library need to provide scissors, glue sticks, markers, etc.?
For adult books, details like this might help:
- What kind of reader might like your book/read-alike titles
- What kind of presentation/workshop you’re offering
- What attendees will get out of the workshop besides learning about you and your book. Will you teach them how to write memoirs? Perform a hilarious comedy routine? Teach them how to fold origami?
Self-published and micro press authors, it is possible for you to get your book on library shelves but your path may be difficult. Unfortunately, many librarians have encountered pushy, demanding, angry, or otherwise unpleasant self-published authors. We’ve also seen plenty of poorly-written and poorly-illustrated self-published and micro press books. If a librarian seems hesitant when you first mention you’re self- or micro-published, please be patient. If your work is high-quality and meets the criteria listed above, the library may be open to adding your book to the collection, especially if you offer to donate it.
If a library declines to host your program or add your book to the collection, don’t despair. Accept their decision with grace and politeness, revise your pitch and programming ideas, and keep reaching out to other libraries.
If your book is selected by your local library, congratulations! This will give it a longer life and allow it to reach more readers over time. It may also lead readers to check out the future books you write. Encourage your friends to check your book out now and then so it has a healthy circulation history. Unfortunately, to make room for all the new books libraries acquire each year, we must weed older books. We run reports that tell us how many times a book has circulated and whether or not it’s been checked out within the past year. If your book circulates, it is less likely to get weeded.
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