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A 7-Step Plan for Selling to Libraries (Selling to Libraries & Schools: Part 3 of 3)

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by Robin Bartlett, SpringerNature Publishers & Sharon Castlen, Integrated Book Marketing –

Sharon Castlen

Robin Bartlett

The final part of a three-part series on how to sell to libraries and schools.

(Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3)

In the first installment of this series, we offered 10 tips for selling to libraries and schools. In part two, we focused on author visits for pre-K through high school. In this final addition, we provide a checklist for selling to libraries. Libraries represent a tremendous opportunity for expanding the sales, credibility, and visibility of your book.

1. Build Your Strategic Plan

Research who will buy your book and the best ways to reach them. What type of promotional campaign are you going to try? How much budget do you have for promotion, lists, and brochures? Are you going to market locally, regionally, or nationally? How are you going to approach the audience: e-blast, direct mail, co-op mailing, or in-person contact? Here’s a list of other questions to ask yourself while developing your promotional strategy.

  • Can you write and design impactful e-mail communications?
  • What are the best co-op promotions in which you can participate?
  • Have you researched the IBPA co-op marketing promotions?
  • Do you know what NetGalley is and how it can benefit the promotion of your book(s)?
  • Do you know the benefits of worldcat.org?
  • Have you checked out Market Data Retrieval (MDR) and their e-blast programs to librarians?
  • Have you attended and exhibited your book at the American Library Association meeting as part of the IBPA booth to meet and learn more about the library audience?
  • How can industry review journals (School Library Journal, Library Journal, Booklist, Publishers Weekly, and Kirkus) help you promote your book?

2. Align with Wholesalers and Library Jobbers

The leading wholesalers include Baker & Taylor, Ingram Library, Quality Books, Unique Books, and Follett. Which ones will you use? If you want to sell to the library market, you must be registered with a wholesaler. Librarians are not going to order directly from you. They can’t. Librarians have to order thousands of books each year, and it is impossible for them to cut individual purchase orders just to order one or more books from you. Therefore, they will place their orders with wholesalers. It is critical that you take the steps necessary to get connected with wholesalers. Go to their website, download the forms, and register. Then, once registered, double check to confirm that you are registered and that your information is correctly stated. Make a call to the wholesaler, speak with their customer service department, and confirm that they have your ordering information accurately stated in their system.

3. Develop a Marketing Plan for Your Wholesalers

You need to tell the story of your list and provide information about your promotional activities so that the wholesaler will support your efforts and keep books in stock. Write a plan addressing your planned promotions, website, and social media activities directed to libraries and their patrons. Many wholesalers also have promotional programs. Gather the information and evaluate the potential benefits of advertising with them or doing a drop-in flyer.

4. Acquire Your List

Investigate all the options and discounts available through IBPA, including IBPA Co-Op Mailings, NetGalley, New Pages, MDR, World Catalog, and ALA. Ultimately, you must start building and maintaining your own house file database.

5. Develop Your Library Promotion

Remember what librarians care about. Quality is key. Make sure your book(s) fit the audience to which you’re selling in level, tone, and content. Develop an attractive, impactful letter or flyer for your book to be printed or used in an e-blast. Don’t be cheap; spend the extra dollars to have it professionally designed in full color. Test it before you finalize, and print it or send it via e-mail. Be sure to include:

  • A high-resolution front cover photo
  • High-impact descriptive copy that targets the market for your book
  • Blurb or quote with affiliation
  • Benefit statement (What’s in it for me?)
  • About this book: who, what, when, where, why, and how?
  • A detailed table of contents
  • Endorsements with name and affiliation
  • Credentials about the author (photo optional)
  • Metadata: pages, price, trim, ISBN, illustrations/photos, index
  • A list of the wholesalers or distributors that carry your book(s) (Do not include Amazon or Barnes & Noble on a library promotion)
  • Website and publisher name for direct sales

Here, Carl R. Sams and Jean Stoick explain how they got their book Stranger in the Woods in libraries and schools despite initial dismissal:

Case Study: Carl R. Sams & Jean Stoick

STRANGER IN THE WOODS by Carl R. Sams and Jean Stoick

The story of Stranger in the Woods is a fascinating case study that details how a small, unknown self-publisher became wildly successful selling their children’s books, starting with libraries and growing their business from one simple concept into a multi-million dollar business. This is the story of Carl Sams, a nature photographer who had thousands of beautiful images of fawns from his backwoods home in Michigan. He and his wife, Jean Stoick, decided to make a picture book about fawns using some of Sams’s best photography. When they proposed this idea to several commercial publishers, no company wanted to take them on, because, as they said, “All children’s books are done with illustrations and not photography.” So Sams and Stoick decided to self-publish the book. They started the promotional campaign by selling to local libraries, and then they gradually branched out regionally, then to the state and, eventually, nationally. They have created an entire product line of books, plushes, and music, and have sold millions of copies in multiple languages. This case is full of applicable lessons learned about the library market and strategic suggestions for marketing and promoting your book(s) to libraries and schools, as well as maintaining quality control throughout the creative process.

6. Submit to Industry Review Journals

The key players in this field are School Library Journal, Library Journal, Booklist, Publishers Weekly, and Kirkus. Check out copies of each journal and determine which ones are right for your book(s). A positive review of your book in one of these journals is hard to get, but if you get even one, it will pay giant dividends. Just remember: they need your book/galley three to four months before the publication date of your book. See the list of ARTICLE RESOURCES below.

7. Follow up, Follow up, and Follow up Again

Keep reminding yourself of the importance of a librarian referral. This market is evergreen, and librarians remember the books that are read and checked out. If they buy your first book and like it, chances are good they’ll buy your second, third, and more.

Robin Bartlett has spent his entire career in publishing with more than 20 years of sales, editorial, and marketing responsibilities for both nonprofit and for-profit publishers. He currently works as a senior licensing manager for SpringerNature Publishers. He can be reached at rbbartlett01@gmail.com.

Sharon Castlen, founder of Integrated Book Marketing, works with small presses and independent publishers across the country in three areas: pre-press coaching; distribution; full marketing strategy and implementation. She is a member of IBPA, PNBA, and on the board of directors of APSS.

Article Resources

  • IBPA Co-Op Marketing programs
  • NetGalley — IBPA members receive a discount from NetGalley. This service provides an early buzz for your book to librarians, bookstores, educators, and reviewers. You will need an EPUB version of your book to participate. Ideally, you should participate six months prior to pub date. You will be provided with a list of those who have downloaded your book for follow up.
  • WorldCat.org — A website where you can see many of the libraries that carry your book. Ideal to use when publishing another title.
  • American Library Association — Valuable to participate and display in the IBPA co-op booth. IBPA will send you a copy of the list of librarians who visited the booth for follow-up.
  • Industry Review Journals — These journals need galley proofs about three to four months prior to publication. If reviewed, you will have a significant increase in sales. A pitch letter and galley sheet are required to set you apart from the many thousands of submissions for every issue.
  • Market Data Retrieval (MDR), 800-333-8802 (library, school, and college e-mail and snail mail lists)
  • Quality Education Data (QED), 800-776-6373 (school lists)
  • Hugo Dunhill 800-223-6454 (mailing lists by category)
  • Online Marketing for Busy Authors by Fauzia Burke

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