My book. On the shelves at a library. Listed in the catalog.
How did I do it, you ask? What’s the magic? Simple. I approached one of my fellow staff members and asked, “Who should I approach about getting my book into the collection here?” I was provided with a name, and I wrote an email, because emails are easier than talking. Writer, ya know. Here are the magic words, more or less. “Hi, I’m a patron of the library, and a staffer here, and I’ve written a book. Would you like a copy to consider adding to the official collection?”
Okay, I’ll be honest; even in email, the request wasn’t that coherent. Still and all, that was the gist of the message, and this was the outcome. Yeah, that’s right. Kiss my real-book-writing, genuine-author tootsies, all you sneering anti-self-publishing critics. I’m on the shelves at the library.
I’m in at least 2 libraries, in fact. Mine wasn’t the first. I wasn’t brave enough. Many thanks and much gratitude should be directed to Mighty Emily, who bought and catalogued a copy for the library where she works. She will forever have bragging rights on the coveted status of “FIRST!” but she won’t be the last Several more libraries already have requests pending from other members of my loyal Crew Of Few.
No, this isn’t cheating. Nor are they “lost sales.” That’s traditional publisher talk, and it’s dead wrong. Sales are sales, and any sale that leads to being discovered by a vast pool of readers is potentially the most important sale an independent author can make.
I don’t know many people with loads of disposable income. Why shouldn’t my friends ask their libraries to buy my books instead of making personal purchases? Then they can read it, return it, and recommend it, and others can read it, and so on, and so on.Sales are good, but gaining an audience is critical.
Fact: most libraries encourage patrons to make inventory sugestions. They put forms on their websites, they have comment cards in their lobbies, they put up displays. Patron requests are one of several ways the librarians learn what titles their community needs and wants.Fact: librarians recommend books all the time. If one of them reads yours and loves it–that exposure is priceless. The library market is mostly overlooked by independent authors, and that is a shame and a missed opportunity.
It won’t work in every library system, or for every book. Many libraries only purchase books within the first year of publication, for one thing. Self-publishing prejudice also still holds sway in some areas, as does disdain towards some genres (sorry, romance). Still and all, the stigmas are fading, and it’s a low-risk/high-reward strategy to roll out every time you publish a new title.
Most indie writers have friends who patronize libraries. Recruit them. Don’t miss out on the huge potential of these sales. Library patrons are readers. They know other readers. The circle of life continues. That’s the lesson here. You should plunge into a lifelong partnership with the public, not shun those who don’t have the cash to buy now.
Visit your local library. Go into the stacks and imagine your book, right there on those shelves. Now take a deep breath of the perfume created by paper and ink, binding and glue. You know what that smell is? That’s the smell of legitimacy, baby.