Are Libraries Helpful for Self Published Book Promotion?
I often see posts in author forums from new authors who are very interested in getting their self published books into public libraries. If the goal is a PR effort to build sales, this is one of the most inefficient book promotion efforts.
Why Authors Want Their Self Published Books Available in Libraries
Many authors have fond memories or positive experiences in their local libraries. As kids, they may have spent wonderful summer or weekend days there, attending story time readings, or scanning the shelves for a new reading adventure. As adults, they could get a reading fix for free, and blissfully spend quiet hours reading in the library. So the thought of having their own self published book on the shelves, or even displayed as a featured read, in their local library would be an ego boost.
But that boost could waste their time and marketing dollars, with virtually no return on their investment.
Libraries May Be Unable to Buy, Readers Won’t Buy
The problem is that most self published authors don’t understand how libraries work.
True, some local libraries like to feature books by local authors. But that doesn’t mean they’ll buy the book. Some might even ask an author to donate the book as a service to the community.
Okay, a donation might get the book on the shelves in the library. If that’s what you need to do to satisfy your ego, fine. But the key phrase here is “on the shelves.” That means the visible real estate for your adult fiction or nonfiction book is likely an inch or so by the inch height of your book. And those readers better be specifically looking at the shelf where your book is shelved. It’ll just sit there on the shelves or in the book catalog until a reader specifically looks for a book like yours.
What about libraries outside your local area? They don’t know you. Their readers don’t know you. They have no reason to support your work. There are thousands of books like yours already out there. (I hope that’s not news to you.)
Remember, too, libraries are usually government entities. Municipal or regional governments that run local libraries are always cash strapped. Too many social, infrastructure, and administrative priorities! Library budgets to buy books can be very limited. Unless the title is one that the library thinks will have a high number of borrows, they’re not going to buy it for their collection. Self published books just don’t have that high turn and churn volume libraries need because readers aren’t looking for them. Readers want the popular books on the best seller lists and by popular authors. Unpopular or rarely read books waste shelf space.
And, as government entities, they typically cannot promote you or your work, other than to shelve, catalog, or display your book. So don't even think about approaching them to host your book signing event.
Like bookstores in expanded distribution, libraries may expect deep discounts on books, even up to 50 percent or more off. They may also have preferred book distribution vendors that have been approved and meet various government purchasing requirements. The last thing they want to do is deal with a single copy purchase of an unknown self published author/publisher. Too much hassle with no significant benefit.
Also, readers who read the book for free from the library likely won’t buy the book. Why should they? Be honest, how many times have you actually purchased a copy of a book you borrowed and read from the library?
No Royalties from Library Reads
Here’s the worst part about libraries. While you may make a royalty on the sale of your book to a library, you will get no royalties for any borrows of your book from a library. Blinded by their egos and fantasies about being like famous literary or celebrity authors, self published authors can forget this fact, chasing a library presence which means little or no continuing royalty income.
What about eBooks through Libraries?
Did you know that your Kindle eBook could be borrowed through a public library? It’s true. Public library access to Kindle books is enabled through a service called OverDrive. Like physical books, access to the eBook is for a limited amount of time. Libraries may also loan the e-readers to borrowers.
However, the local library has to have the Kindle eBook in its collection for readers to borrow it through them, same as for physical print copies of books. Plus, you’ll make even less in royalties for that single eBook library sale than a more expensive print edition.
I’m Not Anti-Library. I’m Anti-Unprofitability.
My rant probably portrays me as anti-library. Okay, I am to a degree. I haven’t set foot in a library to borrow books since I think I was in college. The available books and content in my local libraries have been usually too dated and irrelevant for me. My local Borders became my “library” in the early 90s (and, yes, I bought a LOT of books). Then when Amazon and Kindle made the scene, I pretty much broke up with the bookstores and libraries.
For many people though, the library is their lifeline to a world of content. In that, it is a valuable and much needed community service. But that doesn’t mean it's valuable for me as an entrepreneurial seller of self published books. People are going there to read for free.
So if a library acquires a copy of your print book or eBook for their collection, that’s nice and will help serve the community. Just don’t pursue a library presence for your self published book in the hopes of promoting book sales or to feed your ego.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
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© 2020 Heidi Thorne