One of my marketing goals for this year was to find new readers by trying to get a few of my titles into libraries. Oh, was I naïve. I thought it would be so easy, like that Kevin Costner baseball movie — build it and they will come. I thought I could just sign up with a few distributors and let them do the work. I was wrong.
See, libraries first need to actually purchase your book from those distributors. But they have limited resources. They often have small budgets and few hands on deck. A lot like small bookstores. They want to know that whatever titles they decide to shelve will be read. They want to know that they’re spending those limited budget dollars on quality products. They don’t want to take Aunt Ida’s unedited memoir about her trip to Yellowstone. (No offense to Aunt Ida, of course.)
There are several companies you can partner with to help get your books on the eReaders of those loyal library patrons. You can list your book with most of them directly, but it’s a lot easier if you choose to distribute your book through an aggregator like Smashwords.
Smashwords distributes to outlets that supply eBooks to public, private, and academic libraries around the world. As of this writing, they distribute to OverDrive, Odilo, Baker & Taylor Axis 360, and Askews & Holts.
I’m going to focus on OverDrive here, because it’s the one I’m getting familiar with. It’s one of the most popular platforms used in public libraries in the US. Readers I’ve spoken with who use OverDrive love it. You download the app onto your favorite device, set up your login, and check out whatever books are available.
If you’re one of Smashwords’ bestsellers, depending on your genre, you may already be available on OverDrive, through one of their curation deals with Smashwords. If not, here are a few tips from Smashwords marketing director, Jim Azevedo, to make your OverDrive book more attractive to librarians.
1. Set up special lower pricing. Smashwords will let you set a different price for libraries than for retail outlets.
2. Talk to your local librarians. Some libraries are very interested in offering eBooks from local authors. But some librarians have reported difficulty finding self-published books in their systems. He recommends that authors go to the local libraries and encourage their acquisition managers to contact their OverDrive reps to work out any problems. They may have to enable something in their preferences to let them see self-published books in the main catalog.
3. Talk to your “super fans.” Encourage your devoted fans to contact their local libraries and suggest they carry your books. That often carries some weight.
There’s a newer player on the field, but I’m on the fence about how valuable it will be. Library Journal has partnered with BibiloBoards to create a company called SELF-e, which our Melinda Clayton has written about here. You submit your eBook, agree to waive any chance at royalties, wait to be vetted and…voila. Wait. Back up a minute, there. No royalties? Yes, I said that. The SELF-e people are betting on your desire to give your book away for future gain. According to Library Journal, “Over 50 percent of all library users go on to purchase eBooks by an author they were introduced to in the library.” I guess that’s not so much different than offering up a freebie on Amazon, so if you’re okay with wrapping your head around that, you might want to give them a try. The sticking point for me is that once my first book was approved, I received an email from the SELF-e people that now it was my turn to work — they wanted me to go to my local libraries and convince them to purchase the software needed to offer SELF-e’s eBooks to the library patrons. Your actual mileage may vary, of course, but I know that convincing my library to buy software for an eBook program when they already offer OverDrive is going to be a tough sell.
[Don’t forget – if you’ve been wanting to open up a dialogue with your local library, take advantage of Indie Author Day – those good folks will help you make inroads as part of the North American event. You can find more on Indie Author Day here.]
Authors and publishers: Have you tried to get your books into libraries? What’s your experience been like? Readers: Do you check out eBooks from your library? What app(s) do you use?