Let’s start with why–that is, why I’m writing this article. I recently went to the library with the intention of getting a list of every public library in Colorado, home state of Bellwether Books. I realized I could touch on the bigger national libraries with the larger budgets by using PMA’s library program. But I also knew that this program did not include every public library, not to mention all the other kinds of libraries out there.
My logic was to start with one state at a time and pursue the smaller libraries that are not inundated with marketing material. That way, I hoped, Bellwether Books would stand out. Plus, it is always good to use the local angle, because it gives you a focus and a defined target market. In this way, I could lay the groundwork for marketing future publications.
As with everything I seem to get into, I needed to know more. I made a few calls, got my friend Barbara Osgood-Hartness with Poncha Press involved, and here’s what we uncovered.
“Collections/Development” & “Acquisitions”
Become familiar with these two terms, because they are the “who” of library marketing. The larger libraries use the term “collections/development” to describe the person who makes the buying decisions. Smaller libraries use the term “acquisitions.”
Of the 15,000 public libraries, about 17% (or 2,600) have an annual budget over $25,000. That’s about enough for more than 3,000 $8 paperbacks a year and a lot fewer hardbacks, depending upon whether the library is getting a discount or not (more about this later). Consider that in light of the fact that well over 100,000 books are published each year, and you understand the dilemma faced by the acquisitions librarian.
What Can Prompt a Purchase
Most, like Sybil Harrison, the Collections/Development Manager for Jefferson County Public Library near Denver, take their positions seriously. They are public servants and libraries are funded by tax dollars. The criteria, according to Harrison, appear simple. They have to consider what the people using their library want, but also sometimes what they need. That often comes down to a well-written, well-presented book that fills a niche not already filled in their library and that appeals to the regional public that they serve.
Librarians we spoke with want to hear recommendations of good books from reviewers, distributors/wholesalers, readers, small press representatives, and even individual publishers. And some librarians feel responsible enough to look at all the material sent to them. They like to see a short synopsis, with easy access to ordering information. ISBNs are a must. They like to know the author’s credentials so they can feel confident that the information inside the book is reliable. What they don’t want is for someone to send them a book or contact them by phone or e-mail.
By the way, libraries buy materials all year round, although they may be more flush at the start of the calendar year.
[subhead] A Discount Delusion
As you already know, a couple of key wholesalers and distributors serve the library market. They offer 42-45% discounts on hardback books, 30-35% on paperbacks and, depending upon the volume, free shipping. They even process the books by offering labels, barcodes, etc., for about $2 a title, which is cheaper for libraries than processing with their limited staff. Some nonprofit publishers, such as university presses, give smaller discounts (about 10%).
For an independent publisher, it’s an uphill battle trying to compete with these major players. This is especially true when we are told that it’s good to market to libraries because we don’t have to give them a discount. Keep in mind that libraries are less likely to buy from a non-discounting publisher, especially if it means complicating (adding numerous vendors to) their accounting system.
Why should they buy from you at full price plus shipping? It comes down to a business decision for both parties involved. If buying your book at retail plus postage means a library would have to give up two equally desirable and more proven books (i.e., books covered in ALA’s Booklist and Library Journal) that they could get at a discount from a wholesaler, you may be positioning yourself out of the market.
Still libraries will go directly to a publisher if they want its book in their collection and the book isn’t available through a wholesaler/distributor. Some libraries mentioned that being able to purchase by credit card would keep their paperwork to a minimum. And you can use the library rate for postage, which is cheaper than the media rate.
All Those Other Libraries
Public libraries are only the tip of the library iceberg.
Let’s say you have a book that is technically oriented. Special business and research libraries or hospital libraries may be eager to get their hands on it, and approaching them (perhaps through PMA’s new Corporate and Institutional Libraries Program) may even lead to your book being used as a premium. Don’t be discouraged if only one book is ordered. You never know what the results of that one purchase may be.
Often a college located in a small town has a library that dwarfs that town’s public library. If that school’s learning resource center is open to the public, why not try placing your book there? Keep in mind that books will be chosen based on how they support the current curriculum. If you have a book on welding, community colleges or high schools with shop activities may be a market. If your book is on cooking techniques, which mine is, approach culinary schools or community colleges with cooking programs. Even high schools still teach what we used to term home economics. Sometimes it turns out that teachers who love your book don’t mind you quoting them. That gives you the credibility to approach others in the same field.
Correctional facilities often have both a law library and a general library. (Note: It can be difficult to find books for prisoners because many of them lack good reading skills.) Museums have libraries that may want your book if it is about a relevant subject. Plus there are religious libraries devoted to moral issues, libraries that cater to the deaf and blind, government specialty libraries, and military libraries on military history, aeronautics, and more. There are even libraries just for librarians.
Dividends from a Display Copy
Shocking as this may sound, consider donating your book to libraries that are short of funds. Then don’t be shy about asking the local librarian to display your book as a way of announcing it to the community. I believe that your potential for sales (from your order form in the back of the book) is as good as, if not better than, your sales potential from newspaper reviews, for which you must also donate a book.
So if you’re going through that overwhelmed phase in your marketing endeavors, think libraries, start by focusing your energy on your home turf, and branch out in the ways that make best sense for you.
Linda Murdock is the author of “A Busy Cook’s Guide to Spices: How to Introduce New Flavors to Everyday Meals.” Her second printing just arrived. You may help her pay for it by calling 303/620-9929 or go to
www.abusycook.com. She is grateful to Sybil Harrison, Diane Long, and Bill Scheer from Colorado and Merle Jacob at the Harold Washington Library Center in Chicago for their insights on library acquisitions, and to Barbara Osgood-Hartness (www.ponchapress.com) for her help in interviewing and fact-finding.