Learn how to market and sell self-published ebooks to libraries. Learn how public libraries select, curate and purchase ebooks. Learn how a successful library ebook marketing strategy can help you sell more ebooks at retail as well.
Mark's column for Publishers Weekly, 5 Tips for Marketing Self Published Ebooks to Libraries
Download the template Mark mentioned for use if you want to present your own, "How to Publish eBooks" presentation at your local library:
Library Journal feature on Henry Bankhead, Ebook Self-pub Advocate
Learn more about public libaries:
Global Libary Statistics by OCLC (downloadable spreadsheets to measure the size and scope of the global libary market)
Welcome to The Smart Author Podcast, where you'll learn to publish eBooks with greater pride, professionalism and success. I'm your host, Mark Coker. Let's get started.
In this episode, I'll teach you how to market your eBook to public libraries. Public libraries represent a great sales opportunity. There are over 9,000 public libraries in the United States, and if we add in other major English language countries of Australia, Canada, the UK, Ireland, New Zealand and South Africa, the number rises to 16,000. Worldwide, there are over 250,000 public libraries.
A 2015 survey by Library Journal titled eBook Usage and US Public Libraries found that 94% of US public libraries offer eBook checkouts, and 39% of these libraries either purchased or planned to purchase self published eBooks. Over the next few years, I expect the percentage of libraries purchasing self published eBooks to rise significantly. This growth will be driven by two primary factors. Number one, indies will continue capturing an ever increasing share of the eBook market, which means patron demand for indie eBooks will rise. Number two, indie authors and libraries are learning how to work together toward common cause.
Libraries are engines for book discovery. Libraries make eBooks accessible at no cost to millions of avid readers. Because these checkouts are free, libraries make it easy for patrons to take a chance on new authors that are unfamiliar to them. Many library patrons discover their new favorite authors at libraries. Library patrons buy a lot of books at retail. If you want to sell more books at retail, sell more books to libraries. As we discussed in episode three on best seller secrets, all authors, even New York Times best sellers, must assume they are unknown to the vast majority of their potential readers. Because they're unknown, they're un-trusted.
As indie authors, we must take every opportunity we can to increase the awareness of our author brand and our books. Libraries help us satisfy this imperative. If you want to sell your eBook to libraries, you must earn the attention, trust and confidence of librarians, and you should understand how librarians discover, select, acquire and manage their eBooks. This knowledge will help you tailor your marketing plan and message so you can reach libraries when, where and how they want to be reached.
How Public Libaries Operate: Before I jump into my eBook marketing tips for libraries, let's first review how public libraries operate, how they select and acquire print books and eBooks and how they manage the checkouts of these books. Libraries are taxpayer funded. This means they get most of their funding from the local towns and communities in which they operate. To a librarian, their local community patron is their customer. They work hard to please their customer. To please librarians, you must please their patrons.
Let's talk about how libraries handle print books because it'll help explain their approach to eBooks. Libraries purchase most of their print books through specialty library distributors. These distributors supply not only the physical books, but also critical, custom bibliographic metadata called a MARC record. Mark is an acronym, M-A-R-C, and it stand for Machine Readable Cataloging. This MARC metadata enables accurate book cataloging, retrieval and management of the library's book collection. When a print book is purchased by a library, the publisher is paid for each copy the library purchases. Readers visit the library, check out the book, and then must return it some weeks later.
If a patron wants to check out a book that's already checked out, some libraries will put the patron on a wait list so they can check out the book as soon as the prior patron returns it to the library. Because libraries are funded by their communities, they're often operating under tight budgets. Libraries aim to purchase books they think their patrons will want to read. Sadly, despite the careful curation efforts of librarians, many of the books they purchase go unread. That's a problem. Libraries will continue to check out their print books one checkout at a time, until one of two things happen.
Number one, the book disintegrates and must be replaced by purchasing a new copy. Or, number two, and this is more likely, when demand drops for the book, the library will discard it, often through a library book sale. Libraries must discard low circulation books to free up shelf space for newer books. As you're probably already thinking, libraries face the same physical shelf space challenges that brick and mortar retailers face. As we discussed in episode two, their shelf space is precious and limited. Many great books are forced off of library shelves to make room for the next batch of new books.
Curation: Librarians utilize multiple methods of curation to identify print books worthy of addition to their collections. Librarians are avid readers, so they're likely to acquire the best books they read, but they can't read all books, which means most of their curation decisions rely on other inputs. These inputs include trade journal reviews, patron requests, national best seller lists, the reputation of the author or publisher, recommendations from publishers and distributors, and recommendations from fellow librarians. Each of these curation inputs, either in combination, or in isolation, help the librarian decide if the book has a high likelihood of pleasing patrons in their community.
How Librarians Curate, Acquire and Manage their Ebook Collections: Now that we understand how librarians curate and manage print books, let's turn our attention to eBooks. As we'll learn, there are some important similarities and differences between the two. Libraries utilize specialized library eBook platforms to manage their eBook acquisitions and to mange their MARC record cataloging and their time limited checkouts. Among the most well known platforms used by public libraries are Overdrive, Baker and Taylor Access 360, Bibliotheca Cloud Library, Gardners Askews and Holts in the UK, and Odilo. These five platforms combined serve over 30,000 public libraries around the world.
If you want your eBook to be purchasable by a library, you need to get your eBook listed in these platforms, and the only way to do that is to work with a distributor. Smashwords is one such distributor. We've been working to open up the library eBook market to self published authors for many years, and as a result, we've got great distribution to libraries. Once the library acquires your eBook, it becomes discoverable to their patrons through custom eReading apps offered by the library's chosen eBook checkout platform. As with print books, the most common way libraries acquire eBook is to purchase one copy of the eBook, and then they check it out to only one reader at a time.
When a patron checks out the eBook, they usually have about two weeks to read it, and then after this period, their eBook automatically expires and disappears from their eReading device. If a patron wants to check out an eBook that's already checked out, they have to wait until the prior checkout expires. Unlike with print books, eBooks never wear out. Since the shelf space for eBooks is virtual and unlimited, it means the library is unlikely to ever discard your book once they add it to their collection. This means your book will be forever discoverable and readable by their patrons. And unlike with print books, if the do discard it, they cannot sell it to anyone.
In addition to this one copy, one checkout at a time model for selling eBooks to libraries, some of the library platforms support other licensing models, such as rentals, where an author or publisher is paid a small sum for each checkout, or subscriptions, where an eBook is lumped into a pool of other books and the author or publisher is paid based on the percentage of overall consumption earned by their titles. Another model common with large publishers is that they limit the number of times their eBooks can be checked out before the library is required to purchase another copy.
As of today, the one copy, one checkout model is the most prevalent and it's the model we utilize at Smashwords for our distribution to these library platforms. I'm not a big fan of the pool based or subscription options for libraries, because these options take pricing control away from the author. This means that someone else is deciding what your book is worth.
Now let's turn our attention back to curation and how librarians choose which eBooks to add to their collections. As you might imagine, self published eBooks present an enormous curation challenge for librarians. Many of their conventional curation methodologies for print books, which they've relied upon for decades, don't translate well to indie eBooks. In the past, librarians understood that books published by traditional publishers had already survived a gauntlet of heavy curation from literary agents and the publishers. This made the librarians curation job a little bit easier because it gave the librarian confidence that these books had achieved at least a certain baseline threshold for quality, writing, editing, and production.
Now that any writer and their cat can self publish and distribute an eBook, librarians don't have that baseline assurance of quality. Librarians must choose from among millions of self published eBooks from hundreds of thousands of self published authors. The vast majority of these authors are unknown to them and therefore not yet trusted. These books haven't been vetted by literary agents and publishers. Libraries know the quality of these self published eBooks will be inconsistent. Some of these books will be as good or better than what the large publishers are putting out, but many will be worse. How do they separate the wheat from the chaff? The last thing a librarian wants to do is purchase and recommend a horrible book to their patrons.
Indie eBooks face other disadvantages as well. Self published eBooks are less likely to be reviewed in the traditional trade journals librarians rely upon, so that reduces the opportunity for discover and endorsement. Self published books are less likely to appear in the national best seller lists, so that's another discover obstacle for self published authors. And whereas librarians usually view publisher recommendations as credible, how can they trust when a no name self published author claims their book is the next great literary masterpiece?
As self published authors, it's important we understand and respect the curation challenge faced by libraries. As self published authors, we are not entitled to have libraries acquire our eBooks. We must work to earn the trust and confidence of librarians before we can earn their purchase. The curation challenge faced by librarians helps explain why 61% of the librarians surveyed in that Library Journal 2015 survey said that they had not purchased or were not planning to purchase self published eBooks. But despite the curation headwinds faced by librarians and indie authors alike, there are strong and growing voices in the library community working to help libraries embrace self published eBooks and the authors who write them.
One of those champions for indie eBooks is Henry Bankhead. He's the former acting director of the Los Gatos Public Library in Los Gatos, California, and he's now the assistant director at the San Rafael, California Public Library. In 2014, his advocacy for indie authors landed him on the cover of Library Journal when the magazine recognized him as one of the professions leading movers and shakers. I recently interviewed Bankhead for a library marketing article that I wrote for Publishers Weekly. I'll put a link to that article in the show notes.Bankhead told me he believes all librarians have a responsibility to their profession and to their patrons to read, recommend, and acquire the best indie eBooks. In time, more librarians will adopt a similar view.
Marketing to Librarians: Let's turn our attention now to how indie authors can convey the quality and desirability of their eBooks to librarians. Here, I present you six eBook marketing tips for libraries.
Tip number one. Make your eBook purchasable by libraries. Libraries cannot purchase your eBook unless it's offered through one of the major library eBook platforms that I mentioned. This is how they manage eBook acquisitions, cataloging, and time limited patron checkouts. To reach these platforms, you need to work with a distributor, and of course, Smashwords is one such distributor.
Tip number two. Contact libraries the way they want to be contacted. Most libraries have websites and many of their sites offer email addresses and online forms where patrons can contact the library's collection development manager and suggest titles for acquisition. Some librarians prefer online contact over in person visits because an online request can contain all the information they need to make an informed purchase decision on the spot, as opposed to being interrupted by an in person visit. Librarians are busy people and you should always respect their time. If they provide an online method for recommendations, then that's where the pitch belongs. Keep the pitch brief. Your pitch should include the title, the category, a short description, the library checkout platforms that carry it, the price, the ISBN, any prominent reviews if you have them, and any awards if you have them.
Tip number three. Visit your local library. Once your book is distributed to the major library platforms, visit your local library. Introduce yourself as a local author and let them know your book is available on all the leading eBook checkout platforms. Most libraries want to support the local authors. Surprisingly, 83% of the librarians in that 2015 Library Journal survey said that they are rarely or never visited by a local author who says, "I've written a book and I'd like you to buy it." That's a missed opportunity. Keep your pitch brief. For an in person pitch, it could be as short as, "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 all the other library eBook 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 you mentioning your book is available on the major eBook checkout platforms, you've already demonstrated that you understand how they acquire books. Nothing causes a librarian's heart to sink faster than when a well intentioned local author walks in the door and offers to donate their eBook, often by handing over a thumb drive. The librarian can't accept the donation because they need to receive the book via one of their eBook checkout platforms, so they can add it to the catalog, manage all the critical MARC metadata that I mentioned, and manage the time limited checkouts. The authors who walk in with no knowledge of how librarians procure eBooks are the ones who betray their ignorance and waste the librarian's time.
Although the librarian will appreciate such a well intentioned author, they'll dread the time it takes to educate the author on the inner machinations of how they acquire and manage eBooks. But since you're listening to this episode, you now know how to work with librarians and respect their time.
Tip number four. Orchestrate events at your local library. If you only see your local library as an opportunity to sell one book, you're missing the broader opportunity. Your goal is to become a super patron and build a long term relationship with you library, a relationship that satisfies your broader mutual interests. As both an indie author and a local author, you have special talents you can contribute to your fellow library patrons. Volunteer to orchestrate events for your fellow patrons. Offer to do a solo reading. Or, better yet, organize a panel featuring multiple local indie authors to do a reading, yourself included. The more authors promoting the event, the bigger the crowd for everyone. Or, offer to lead a free workshop at the library, where you teach the next generation of writers how to self publish eBooks. If you want to do this, I can help. Visit the show notes for this episode at smashwords.com/podcast, where you'll find a link where you can download a PowerPoint presentation template that you can use for your own purposes (here's the link). You can download the presentation and modify it, and then present it at the library.
Here's another idea. Ask if you can do your next book launch event at the library. Here in Los Gatos, our local high school has incorporated eBook publishing into their freshman honors poetry class, and each semester, they do their book launch in partnership with the Los Gatos Public Library. At the end of every semester, hundreds of students and proud parents converge on the library for a standing room only event where the students read excerpts from their anthology. It's an amazing event. Librarians love such events because these events bring local patrons in the door and remind the community of the great work the public library is doing every day to promote a culture of reading.
Tip number five. Mobilize your readers to request your book at libraries. Earlier, I mentioned how many of the print books libraries purchase go unread. If you can demonstrate to the library that there is patron demand for your eBook, they're more likely to purchase it. Although your local library views you as a patron, other libraries will view you as an unsolicited sales person. But you have readers around the world and many of them are card carrying patrons of their local library. Since these card holding patrons are the library's customer, if one of these patrons walks into their local library and requests the library add your eBook to their collection, that recommendation carries a lot more weight than if you were to make the same request.
Once your eBooks are distributed to the library platforms, encourage your readers to recommend your eBooks to their local library. But before you unleash your hoards of readers upon the libraries, instruct your readers to be considerate of the local library's process for considering new books. Ask them to visit the library's website first. If the library prefers receiving recommendations over their website, then that's how your readers should contact their local library.
Tip number six. Sell more books at retail. Earlier in this episode, I mentioned how librarians consider national best seller lists as one of their curation inputs. One of the methods I've been advocating for the last seven years, and it's gaining increased traction in the market, is for librarians to leverage audited sales data from eBook retailers to identify books worthy of acquisition.
At Smashwords, we're in a unique position, in that we distribute our authors' eBooks to multiple retailers. And as such, we have access to aggregated and audited sales data of real world purchases. These are real readers casting votes for books with real dollars and we share these lists with libraries to assist their acquisition decisions. Already, in the Smart Author Podcast, you've learned the most important best practice secrets that can help you maximize the sales success of your books at retail. You understand the importance of writing a super awesome, well edited book, giving it a professionally designed cover, and all the other things that go into producing a reader pleasing book. To the extent you implement these best practices well and to the extend you build a sales track record at Smashwords, you have an opportunity to appear automatically in our recommendations.
That's it for my library marketing tips. You're now ready to start earning the librarian's attention, consideration, confidence, and purchase.
If you're enjoying this Smart Author Podcast series, please leave a review at iTunes and tell a friend. Also be sure to check out the official Smart Author Podcast Facebook page at Facebook.com/smartauthorpodcast, where you can ask questions and communicate with fellow listeners. Give the page a like and a share and help us spread the word. As always, you'll find the show notes for this episode at smashwords.com/podcast. In the next episode, Episode Seven, I'll share the 2017 results of our annual Smashwords survey. The Smashwords survey provides a treasure trove of data about how to make your eBook more accessible, more desirable, and more enjoyable to readers. It'll be a fun one. Until then, keep writing. I'm Mark Coker.