Are Libraries Helpful for Self Published Book Promotion?

Updated on March 24, 2020
heidithorne profile image

Heidi Thorne is a self-publishing expert and advocate. Author of nonfiction books, eBooks, and audiobooks. Former trade newspaper editor.


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.

© 2020 Heidi Thorne


Submit a Comment
  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    3 months ago from Chicago Area

    You're welcome, Peggy! Thanks for the kind words and for stopping by. Cheers!

  • Peggy W profile image

    Peggy Woods 

    3 months ago from Houston, Texas

    Hi Heidi,

    This is all good information to know for self-published authors who wish to promote their books. Thanks for continuing to share your expertise with us.

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    4 months ago from Chicago Area

    Alan, thank you for sharing your experience with us! I think your situation is one that many self published authors would run into, regardless of location. It's so rare for self published books to get shelf space in libraries or bookstores. So that's why I just concentrate on where I do make sales: Amazon.

    Really appreciate you sharing with us. Hope all else is good with you. Have a great weekend!

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    4 months ago from Chicago Area

    Hi Rochelle! Glad you found some sales benefit out of your sharing your work with the kids. I do have another author connection who has gotten some traction with her local library for her kids books. But I think it's a much rarer occurrence with adult fiction or nonfiction. Adults don't get story hour. :) Thanks so much for sharing your experience with us! Have a great weekend!

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    4 months ago from Chicago Area

    Hi Donna! Glad you found it helpful. Thanks for your kind comments and have a great weekend!

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    4 months ago from Chicago Area

    Doris, always! I say write what resonates with you and let the market decide. Thanks so much for joining the conversation! Happy Weekend!

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    4 months ago from Chicago Area

    Linda, the local library can be a great resource for anyone. But I am stunned by the number of authors who are hot to get their books into the library, even though their mission is to get readers and, in the case of nonfiction, new clients. Really? Again, it all depends on your why for self publishing. Thanks for chiming in and have a great weekend!

  • AliciaC profile image

    Linda Crampton 

    4 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

    Your points sound very reasonable, Heidi. I enjoy visiting my local library and using its online services such as OverDrive. I wouldn't expect any financial benefit if my self-published book appeared in the library, though.

  • MizBejabbers profile image

    Doris James MizBejabbers 

    4 months ago from Beautiful South

    Good article, Heidi. Lots of information here. Occasionally, a person will write something that catches on and becomes a best seller, but of all the writers in the world, that is rare. I think we should take our friend Bill Holland's advice and write for our own pleasure, not for profit. Then if we make any money, that is gravy.

  • Donna-Rayne profile image

    Donna Rayne 

    4 months ago from Greenwood, In

    Wow! Lot's of good information, Heidi! Thank you very much for sharing this with us! It kept me reading until the end and I learned a lot!


    Donna Rayne

  • alancaster149 profile image

    Alan R Lancaster 

    4 months ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

    I found that although library personnel in another borough were enthusiastic, I couldn't get off from square one with the libraries central buying establishment, nor were local bookshops although part of my early books was set in what later became part of East London (not S.A,, U.K). I was given a round of libraries to do small groups of would-be saelf-published authors. One had the cheek to ask how many I'd sold. I wasn't there to pitch my sales. A libraries officer had me do a sales pitch at their local event - amongst tradespeople and sideshows etc - but her bosses still wouldn't put my books on their shelves, even when I wrote to the central libraries buying authority. Self-published books don't get shelf space here. End of.

    I don't know what the situation is elsewhere (USA, Canada, Australasia etc). It's as if I was trying to peddle hot potatoes.

  • Rochelle Frank profile image

    Rochelle Frank 

    4 months ago from California Gold Country

    My friend and I did a children's story hour with our self-published children's book. Some of the moms actually bought a copy.

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    4 months ago from Chicago Area

    Hi Liz! True, I think libraries, as you and I remember them, are not going to be the same in the future. In my area, they've largely become community centers that just happen to house books. I feel a bit sad about it, too, since I remember spending hours upon hours in my schools' libraries. But information--and we!--have changed.

    And, yes, the friends I have that are still library-goers are going there to borrow, not to find something to buy elsewhere.

    Thanks for adding your perspective to the conversation! Have a lovely day!

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    4 months ago from Chicago Area

    Bill, so many people are enchanted with libraries and want their work to be a part of it. Yeah, use that gas to drive the puppies to some playtime. :) Thanks for chiming in and have a beautiful day!

  • billybuc profile image

    Bill Holland 

    4 months ago from Olympia, WA

    Your last section had me laughing.

    Bev wants me to take my books to the library. Seems like a waste of gas to me.

    Enough said!

    Happy Thursday my friend!

  • Eurofile profile image

    Liz Westwood 

    4 months ago from UK

    You make a very well-reasoned argument against the use of libraries for promoting book sales. What you say, makes a lot of sense. Dadly I fear that the younger generation are growing up in an era where libraries no longer have the prominence that they did as the older ones of us grew up. In any case, those who still use them, go to borrow books, not to buy them.


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