From those published by the Big Five, to those who go indie or self-publish, today’s authors increasingly find themselves in the position of marketing their own books. And while there’s lots of advice on getting your title into bookstores, there’s less on approaching libraries. So how do you do it?

Know who to approach

First, know who to ask. Decision makers differ by library size. Let’s start with the harder sells: public systems in metropolitan areas like Boston, Seattle, or New York. These libraries are often a long shot for all but the Big Five. That’s because larger publishers are more likely to have established relationships with acquisition librarians and also tend to have dedicated library marketing teams

These marketers are separate from the ones who target booksellers and readers. To reach library buyers, they network at events like the American Library Association (ALA)’s annual conference and Library Journal’s biannual Day of Dialog. Exhibit booths and speaking opportunities there are bought and paid, making it hard for non-Big 5 authors to get exposure.

With smaller libraries, it’s easier, You can often contact them directly.

Get Reviewed by the right journals

There are two ways, though, for other authors to crack through. One is a positive review in Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, Booklist, School Library Journal (for K-12 titles), or Kirkus (Note that paid – as opposed to free – reviews from the site don’t count). 

Woman peering through books on library shelf - brainwave

Reviews are especially important for self-published books: Most larger library systems won’t buy them unless these five periodicals convince them otherwise. 

Copies of these and other reviews get put together into a marketing package with an advance readers copy (ARC) of the book, as well as an info sheet outlining basic title information, like publication date, price, plot, and ISBN. Some libraries will accept electronic versions, but others like New York Public Library and Brooklyn Public Library request that authors snail mail packages to a central selection office for consideration.

How do you get reviewed by these journals? You need to send them your advanced reader copy (ARC).  This requires a lot of pre-planning: To review, Publishers Weekly requires an ARC four months before a book publishes, Kirkus five, and Library Journal six.

A little help from your friends

Too late to get reviews? Then try the second route: ask your friends to request their local branch buy the title. Most major metropolitan libraries have request forms on their websites.

Some sites, like San Mateo County Library near San Francisco, California, require patrons to log in before the request form can be accessed. Others, like The Seattle Public Library, ask readers for their library card number alongside the book information. Be sure to give friends direct links and the title’s ISBN.

At midsize and smaller libraries, decision-makers are more accessible. Larger libraries sometimes have board-level policies to restrict purchasing to publishers and/or distributors already under contract. This has to do more with budgets (ie, negotiated discounts) than book quality. 

Smaller libraries, especially those with only one branch, are not subject to this. With them, you can just call the library director and explain why your title interests readers. In midsized cities, the director often holds onto your book’s information for future consideration. 

But some smaller, rural libraries make the decisions right then and there — especially for local authors or books that are locally set. They use patron request forms too, except at smaller libraries, they aren’t always online: Bridgeport Public Library in Bridgeport, West Virginia, for example, requires readers to submit physical, purchase suggestion slips at circulation.

Woman peering through books on library shelf - excited

Tune in to Libraries During their Twitter Chats

For small to midsize libraries, Twitter is another option: Every first Thursday of the month at 4 pm Eastern, librarians around the country chat books using the hashtag #ewgc, which stands for Early Word Galley Chat. Note there’s a right and a wrong way to join in. Hard sells are not welcome. Neither are books that are already published: forthcoming titles only. Do not provide a way to buy your book (again, no hard sells). Instead, share the title, an image of the cover, and a quick line about why participating librarians should read your ARC. If they’re interested, they’ll direct message you. Have an Edelweiss or NetGalley link ready to message back. 

You’ll also see a lot of Big Five library marketing teams on the chat. We recommend watching their behavior a month or two before subtly joining in. Do not send multiple tweets about your book. Be cool. 

We can’t stress it enough: NO HARD SELLS. #EWGC is librarians’ monthly fun time to geek out about the books their patrons will love. Don’t be the jerk who ruins that with a sales line or an Amazon link (Libraries can’t buy books from there anyway). This is a place to generate interest, not to sell. Overt pitches will likely get you blocked.

It’s different for colleges & membership libraries

One final note: This advice is for public libraries only. Membership libraries and college libraries operate on different models — both from public libraries and from each other. For university systems, reviews even need to come from a different place: American Library Association magazine Choice.

One thing all libraries have in common, though, is the librarians’ need to know if your book will resonate with their patrons. It’s not enough to just want your book in the library. Why would the library want your book? Answer that and you’ll have a better chance anywhere.

Terena Bell
Author: Terena Bell

Terena Bell has reported on books and writing for The Boston Globe, The Guardian, Smithsonian Magazine, and others. Her debut short story collection, Tell Me What You See (Whiskey Tit), publishes later this year and her debut novel, Recursion (ELJ Editions), in March 2023. A Sinking Fork, Kentucky native, she lives in New York. Learn more at terenabell.com.

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