I have been reading and supporting self-published authors, especially local authors, for a long time, and as a librarian, often struggle to get self-published materials added to our collection. I am not alone; there is still controversy over quality concerns, financial aspects, and bias when looking at self-published work as part of library collections.
I emailed our own collection development manager this week to get her perspective on why it is so difficult for us to get self-pub titles. She explained that she believes it is a lack of exposure. We receive so many catalogs and promotional materials from publishers that we have to wade through that to dig around and find self-published work is impossible within our time constraints. This is understandable, I can assure you, as someone working in the field. Most of our self-published acquisitions are from patron requests, so as an author, your best bet is to have friends or relatives request a purchase. You can also donate a copy, but there is no guarantee that it will be added to the collection. If you are an author approaching your local library, odds are that they are interested in you as a local author and may add your work to their local author/local history collection. You have a better shot at gaining their interest if you are willing to speak at an event, do a booktalk/question and answer session, or better yet, offer to teach a writing workshop for adults or children or perhaps another program or course that you feel qualified to teach – for free. Establish your connection to and interest in the community that your library serves and they will be more willing to work with you in acquiring and featuring your books.
As with traditionally published work, we look at reviews for quality, so if you have good reviews posted anywhere, especially Amazon, Publishers Weekly, Library Journal – and no, it is not always easy to get into those publications, but definitely worth it – call attention to them. If you can afford to use Netgalley or Edelweiss, I assure you that we use both to search for quality material. Both are easy to use and free for us (librarians), and our reviews and ratings are used in all sorts of publicity materials.
Overdrive, which many libraries use as their e-book platform, has an agreement with Smashwords to provide access to self-published materials, but only top sellers:
On a positive note, Overdrive recently reported that library patron use of self-published and indie books are on the rise:
American Libraries magazine reported not too long ago that libraries are, for the most part, interested in the self-publishing phenomenon and recognize that quality work is out there for their patrons to read from self-published authors:
And finally, a piece from the Independent Book Publishers Association on the difficulties of purchasing self-published materials from the librarian end:
Obviously we have a lot of work to do as self-published authors, from writing to marketing to accounting, but taking the time to establish a personal connection to your local library just might pay off in interest from librarians and patrons. We have patrons tell us all the time that they make purchasing decisions after reading a book they checked out from the library and decided that they had to own. The library isn’t just for those readers who can’t afford to buy the material they would like to read, but also a way for those who can make purchases to try before they buy. Time spent at the library, speaking, teaching, connecting – is time well spent towards a potentially exponential payback in purchases, reviews, and future goodwill. As a librarian new to the world self-publishing, I am able to see both sides, and hopefully can help other self-published authors navigate this resource.
-Cecily Wolfe (Author, Librarian)