SELF-e: Connecting Indie Authors with Libraries

Library Journal SELF-e LogoRecently I was notified that my novel, Stone’s Ghost, was selected for the SELF-e program. This is a fairly new program designed to connect indie authors with libraries and create a win-win partnership. Authors provide their eBooks to the program for free; no royalties are paid to the author. The libraries then provide the books free to their patrons. In the past, indie authors have had difficulty getting their books into the library systems, but this new partnership will mitigate that hurdle and the author will have nationwide exposure. This is no small measure, since the Library Journal deduced that, “Over 50 percent of all library users go on to purchase eBooks by an author they were introduced to in the library.”

In order to find out more about this growing new system, I went to the source, Mitchell Davis. That name may be familiar to you. Mitchell was one of the original founders of BookSurge, which was sold to Amazon in 2005 and became CreateSpace. After that, he turned his creative entrepreneurial spirit to this issue of indie authors and libraries and founded BiblioLabs, which then created BiblioBoard, an award-winning app that was designed to give libraries the ability to compete with companies like Amazon and Apple. Mitchell was kind enough to take time out of his creative endeavors to answer my barrage of questions.

How did the SELF-e project begin? Who started it, and what was the inspiration?

SELF-e is a joint initiative between Library Journal and Biblioboard, conceived to address an ongoing challenge for libraries: cataloging and providing access to self-published eBooks by local authors. Bibioboard has the innovative technology that powers the platform, while LJ has the editorial expertise to curate the selections.  SELF-e launched last summer with a handful of beta libraries, at which point we began accepting submissions and curating our first module.

Mitchell directed me to this earlier interview on, where he went into more detail about the genesis of the program.

Libraries had talked to us quite a bit about knowing there were good self-published books out there, but not having the time, energy or resources to sift through them to figure out which ones they should make available to patrons. I think our background made us a natural fit for wanting to solve this problem.

We first visited Library Journal in early 2014 and they knew they wanted to do something with self-publishing, but felt the LJ brand was not right to sell reviews (other publications had started selling reviews to self-published authors). As we talked, it became clear that LJ and their network of librarian reviewers were the perfect advisory for self-published books. They could apply their expertise to helping librarians license the best self-published books by genre. By paying a subscription fee and trusting LJ’s review process the library could make self-published books available to their patrons for small cost and with no headaches or hassles.

Back to our original discussion, Mitchell continued.

Since starting up with LJ we have developed a real chemistry. We care deeply about making this project work and we are having a lot of fun. Which makes doing hard things much easier.

Boy, that’s the truth, isn’t it? So, how do authors benefit from the program?

In a nutshell, authors get to partner with libraries to help promote their books and get readers. They are not paid royalties, but the program is also free to them.   This is not dis-similar to doing “free” promotions on Amazon or BookBub or any number of outlets where authors use “free” to get buzz going about their books. In this case the library can help them if they really believe in a particular author or book (think, old school bookstore stuff, but for unlimited multi-user eBooks).

And we all know that very often, those free promos that we do are not free — we must pay for the opportunity. But running a free promo is not about selling books, it’s about getting our names out there, gaining recognition. Obviously being listed in this nationwide library base would help accomplish just that.

What’s the benefit for libraries?

For the libraries, they get to tell authors “yes” to the question “can I put my eBook in your library?” This has been a huge problem for them and we make it very simple. In addition, they are creating the opportunity for the author’s work to be validated and recognized by the editors at Library Journal and help boost their writing career.

Take a look at the Reedsy interview for a little more on this also.

Because the program is divided into state modules, I am particularly interested in the Arizona module, where I am. What kind of readership are we looking at potentially in Arizona? In the US?

It is hard to say for Arizona specifically, but the feedback so far has been really good. The local libraries are the promoters of the program and it is still very early. We have big ambitions for making libraries the de-facto place anyone goes to discover a new author. We are thinking in terms of millions of users in the libraries and tens of thousands or more authors participating. All connecting locally and if the quality is there, to break out national. There is no reason to think we can’t do that.

Is the Arizona collection still scheduled to begin mid-2015?

The Emerging Arizona collection launched last weekend. I can also connect you with the folks that managed that project. They used our technology to run a contest to find the best book in the state and we were able to simultaneously integrate all those books into the SELF-e program. A very cool project. Our Indie Arizona project will launch in a couple of weeks (I will let you know when it happens).

That contest is exactly how I submitted my book. While my book was not chosen for the best book in the state (*wah*), being selected for SELF-e was a delightful consolation. Now I’m wondering, what kind of tracking information will be available to authors? Numbers downloaded? Location? Dates?

Definitely, all of this stuff. But we are being careful not to put the cart in front of the horse. Today we need patrons reading books and that is where all our attention is now. I imagine early next year we will start to roll out dashboards to let authors see where their books are being read. We take patron privacy very seriously so we will not be able to show the names of readers of course, but the areas of the country and the number of reads by date range.

Pretty exciting stuff. Are you ready to submit your book and join this emerging, fast-growing program? Are you ready to partner with all libraries across the nation and get your book in front of millions of readers? You can find all the info you need on the SELF-e submission page. I think this might be an excellent time to jump on board this train, because it’s leaving the station and it’s picking up speed!

Author: Melissa Bowersock

Melissa Bowersock is an eclectic, award-winning author who writes in a variety of fiction and non-fiction genres. She has been both traditionally and independently published and lives in a small community in northern Arizona. Learn more about Melissa from her Amazon author page and her blog.

25 thoughts on “SELF-e: Connecting Indie Authors with Libraries”

    1. Yes, Ann, it’s long overdue, but now, with the growing tide of indie authors, it looks like we’ll be breaching the last strongholds of trad-pub. And note Sandra’s comment, below.

  1. I got a notification about that, too, recently, and I’m anxious to see how it does. A few local libraries carry my (donated) book and their rec made a huge difference — they are usually checked out. This may or may not be why local sales are by far my strongest. This is probably also how I got my first book club gig next month.

    Another endeavor in this area, but one geared to earn an author some royalties, is Joe Konrath’s That’s interesting to me, too, and I’d be happy to do both.

    One uncertainty I have is whether Amazon might make difficulties for authors who are in Kindle Select with either of this programs. I’m once-bitten, twice-shy with them.

    The one thing I can say I haven’t seen at all is any free ebook downloads via Overdrive via Smashwords. As a former library trustee and a big library fan, this makes me sad. 🙁

      1. Sandra, I find that very interesting that local sales are your strongest; it would be nice to be able to verify a connection. Do you get any kind of report from the library how often your books are checked out? That would be nice to know.

          1. I don’t get a report, but I look it up at now and then. And I replaced one copy because it was so worn out. That’s a good sign, right? I suppose I might be able to get a report if I wanted to bug the library directors, but I know better than most how busy that job is. That is a very exciting aspect of SELF-e that I hadn’t even thought of. I just hope it is easy for library systems to actually use. All of this depends on library systems actually considering it worth the trouble of doing.

  2. Just went back to the KDP Select info and found this:
    When you choose to enroll your book in KDP Select, you’re committing to make the digital format of that book available exclusively through KDP. During the period of exclusivity, you cannot distribute your book digitally anywhere else, including on your website, blogs, etc. However, you can continue to distribute your book in physical format, or in any format other than digital.
    I’m interpreting this to mean that if we make our digital books available to libraries, we must remove them from KDP Select. I don’t see anything making libraries exceptions to the above.

    1. I agree. I only donate hard copies of the book to the local library, and The Awful Mess is never going back into Amazon Select at this point. Joe Konrath says don’t ask permission, but I already had trouble with what I thought was a different edition (Amazon said not). So I won’t do this with any book still in Kindle Select. But I only see Kindle Select as something I do to give a book a launch, because I’m quite happy to get out to the other retailers. They don’t bring in a ton of sales, but there are certainly days when they are better for me than Amazon.

  3. This is pretty neat, but I think it’s available only for US authors, right? Or can Canadians enter their books, too?

    My local library contacted me recently and said they wanted to stock my book, Risky Issues, as well as What’s Your Story? 2013 Memoir Anthology. Great news, huh? 😉

    Oh, and a local bookstore wants to stock the same two books!

    I’ve already ordered and received the copies. Now I just have to get them to these places! 🙂

    I am so excited!

  4. Hello, I am one of the founders of BiblioBoard and a person helping to get SELF-e off the ground. Currently we are taking submissions from Canadian authors and other authors around the world, but it is a little different set up.

    When you opt into the SELF-e program (to have LJ review your book) you are then asked if you want the ebook to be available to all libraries in the state. If you do not live in one of the 50 states, simply don’t make an election on this (it is not required).

    This will insure the LJ curators look at your book and it can be selected for SELF-e, you just will not have a state module to appear if you are not selected.

    We do intend to update the platform soon to create a “Outside the US” option and then let you choose a country. I expect Canada (or the UK) will be the first country to reach a critical mass of submissions to become it’s own module, but in the meantime we plan to put them in a “Self-Published Books of the World” (not actual title) so they can be available anywhere.

    Hope this helps, net-net, you can submit today, just don’t opt into the state option at the time you do so.

  5. I was at a writer’s conference last weekend where three ‘Big 5’ editors spoke and learned something curious to back up my suspicions of how badly I was treated by my own local library (I’ve got 8 books out, all highly rated, one an award winner, and still got snubbed). Editors who can’t earn their living editing are being told to get jobs at a local library to support themselves while they edit, and then they very actively and blatantly refuse to allow self-published books into their library, or even to consider them.

    I couldn’t believe the kahonas of these three Big-5 editors, who have edited some of the biggest works out there, to blatantly admit they only want ‘traditionally’ published books in their library and throw them out without reading them. ALL THREE!!!

    I think your project is great because it will address the ‘next step’ problem of promoting indie authors to libraries on a state-by-state basis, but I don’t think it will solve the problem that the library gatekeepers (the acquisitions librarian) often got that position because they have active ties to Big-5 publishing houses and all of a sudden are being courted by the Big-5 to ‘keep out the dreck.’

  6. As a former library trustee, I have some advice.

    First, I would like to say that most librarians work very hard for less money than you might realize, and they have the sometimes tricky political job of navigating between their patrons and their board or their town or whoever has control over hiring at their institutions.

    Second, I would observe that librarians who get snotty about this sort of thing are probably not going to be growing their ebook collection as successfully as some others, and time will work against that gate-keeping you are so concerned about. (They might well be the same kind who turn their noses up at popular titles in favor of literary titles.)

    Third, if your library belongs to a county or regional system, there are probably some libraries in it that are more open and would be happy to accept donations. Work with them — because this would get your book in the system and available throughout it.

    Fourth, if you want to pressure a library to do something, instead of getting personal about it or even militant about it, I would suggest simply appearing at the next board meeting or whatever the governing authority is. There should be a public comment period, and most boards would 1) fall over in shock that someone actually showed up, and 2) be interested to hear your point of view and eager to keep their constituency happy. It would be even more helpful if you took in some information about how some libraries are using self-publishing as a way to engage their patrons as both readers and writers, build usage and circulation, and keep their programs relevant in the age of e-books.

    Another option is to volunteer at your local library and build relationships that way. You might well change a few minds along the way, learn more about what pressures your librarians are dealing with, and provide a very useful public service.

    Good luck!

  7. Hi Melissa, I have a very basic question about SELF-e. It sounds like an exciting opportunity to get my name out in front of people, especially since I’m now working on a second novel. My first book, Southern Passage, was not self-published but rather was released by a small upstart publisher last year. Would it therefore still qualify for SELF-e? – Jim Yonker

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