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March 26, 2017
By Mark Coker
Smashwords founder Mark Coker gives indie authors five marketing tips to help get self-published e-books into library collections.

Public libraries represent a promising sales opportunity for self-published e-book authors. There are more than 9,000 public libraries in the U.S. A 2015 survey by Library Journal found that 94% of public libraries offer e-book checkouts and 39% of libraries either purchased or planned to purchase self-published e-books.

The indie author’s opportunity is to tailor his or her marketing to reach librarians when, where, and how they want to be reached.

Librarians use multiple levels of curation. In addition to their own reading, they consider trade journal reviews, publisher or author reputation, patron requests, national bestseller lists, and recommendations from fellow librarians.

When librarians add self-published e-books to their collections, they shoulder more of the curation responsibility. Self-published books typically haven’t survived the agent/publisher gauntlet of traditional gatekeeping—a form of vetting that librarians appreciate—and they typically don’t come with the same number of reviews. This may explain why 61% of the librarians at the time of Library Journal’s survey had not purchased or were not planning to purchase self-published e-books.

Yet there are strong voices calling for libraries to embrace self-published e-books. One of those champions is Henry Bankhead, formerly the acting director of the Los Gatos (Calif.) Public Library, and now an assistant director at the San Rafael Public Library. In 2014, his advocacy for indie authors landed him on the cover of Library Journal. Bankhead recently told me that he believes all librarians have a responsibility to their profession and to their patrons to read, recommend, and acquire the best indie e-books.

Smart marketing can help indie e-book authors earn a librarian’s attention, consideration, confidence, and purchase.

Five Library Marketing Tips for Indie E-books

1. Make your e-book purchasable by libraries

Libraries cannot acquire your e-book unless it’s available for purchase through one of the library e-book platforms. These platforms enable librarians to manage purchasing, cataloguing, rights, and time-limited checkouts. Indie authors can get e-books carried by library e-book platforms by working with a distributor. For example, Smashwords distributes indie e-books to most leading library platforms, including Baker & Taylor’s Axis 360, Bibliotheca CloudLibrary, Odilo, OverDrive, and Askews and Holts in the U.K. Other notable e-book checkout platforms include BiblioBoard, Hoopla, and Freading.

2. Visit your local library, introduce yourself, and start building a relationship

Surprisingly, 83% of librarians in the Library Journal survey said they are rarely or never visited by local authors. That’s a missed opportunity. But your goal isn’t to just sell one book to the library. Your goal is to become a super patron and build a relationship.

3. Offer to orchestrate events at your local library

Most libraries have meeting spaces for events, and some have specific staff responsible for helping with event coordination and promotion. As a local indie author, you could offer to do a reading, host your next book launch, or organize a panel discussion. You could even present a workshop on self-publishing to help inspire and train the next generation of local indie authors. Librarians generally love such events because they bring patrons in the door and contribute to the culture of books, authorship, and reading.

4. Mobilize your readers to request your book at libraries

Many of your readers borrow e-books from their local libraries, and there’s a good chance that some are even librarians. Once your book is distributed to the major library e-book platforms, let readers know by adding a note on your webpage or blog—e.g. “E-book available for checkout at libraries. Ask your librarian today!” As the Library Journal report found, librarians are more likely to acquire a title if local patrons ask for it.

5. Contact libraries on their terms

Most libraries have websites, and many offer email addresses and online forms through which you or your readers can contact the collection development manager and suggest titles for acquisition. Some librarians prefer online contact over in-person visits because online requests contain all the information needed for purchase. Still, keep pitches brief. For an in-person pitch, try something like this: “Hi, I’m Jane Author, and I’m a patron here. I recently published my debut thriller, which is available for purchase on OverDrive and other library e-book platforms. I wonder if you’d consider adding it to your collection.” That 10-second pitch is all you need to pique the librarian’s interest and spark a productive conversation. Note that by mentioning that your book is on the major checkout platforms you demonstrate an understanding of how libraries procure titles. A written pitch should also be brief, but can contain more information including title, library checkout platforms, price, category, ISBN, trade journal reviews, awards, and a succinct description.

Mark Coker is the founder of Smashwords.