Getting Our Books into US and International Libraries

A tremendous library with soaring ceilings is in the background to emphasize how writers can get their books into libraries.by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig

I’ve always felt it was important to get my books in libraries. That’s not only because I like the idea of being discovered there (I’ll take readers however I can find them), but because libraries have always been a place where I felt recharged.

My trad-published books are in quite a few libraries (you can always see where your books are if you look on WorldCat) , but I really wanted my Myrtle series there.

Now when I look at WorldCat, I see my Myrtle Books in libraries scattered around the US.

Now that I’ve expanded my distribution through OverDrive (via the aggregator PublishDrive), my books are available in international libraries, too.

Are libraries using OverDrive? They certainly are in the US.  Last year, a record number of libraries surpassed one million downloads of ebooks and audiobooks with OverDrive.

It’s nice having them available internationally, too. Of course, just because they’re available overseas doesn’t mean things are taking off there. I’ve had 204 sales on OverDrive since late-November and 169 of those were in US libraries.

Mark Williams of the International Indie Author recommends that we take things a step farther and contact the libraries who have ordered our books to introduce ourselves and let them know that we have other books available.

OverDrive makes our books available in a variety of formats for readers, including Kindle, epub, and PDF.

Also worth a mention are the library platforms available through Smashwords. Unfortunately, I haven’t enjoyed the sales there that I have at OverDrive, but it’s another option for writers.  Smashwords distributes to Bibliotheca CloudLibrary, OverDrive (although self-published titles are segregated in the catalog, to my understanding, which is why I’m using PublishDrive), Baker & Taylor Axis 360, Gardners (or Askews & Holts and VLeBooks for academic libraries) and Odilo.

For many years, self-published writers have tried and failed to get their books into libraries. An important reason that this was difficult was because acquisition librarians must order books through their usual purchasing channels/vendors (they don’t ordinarily order directly from the publisher). Fortunately for us, OverDrive is one of these channels. Through these vendors, we can reach libraries in the US, Canada, Australia, and United Kingdom.

Have you tried OverDrive? Have you looked for your books on WorldCat?

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32 thoughts on “Getting Our Books into US and International Libraries

  1. As a reader, I’ve used OverDrive to listen to a number of books and it’s a great tool. Glad to know that self-published authors can be found in libraries now.

    1. I tried and was turned down (despite having purchased ISBNs through Bowker as a publisher, for 22 years). They said to use an aggregator. I’ve been happy with Smashwords as the aggregator. Elaine Orr

  2. Oh, I am going to have to look into Overdrive, Elizabeth. I honestly wasn’t aware of it, and it sounds like a very effective way to get the word out about our books. And it doesn’t sound overly complicated, either. Thanks!

  3. I am a rural library trustee and I have some insight from the other side.

    Our acquisitions librarians are very sympathetic to independent publishers but acquiring an independently published book is not easy. Draconian slave drivers like myself continually demand that scarce tax dollars be spent judiciously. We measure the quality of an acquisition choice by balancing cost versus patron appeal. If we can acquire several popular traditionally published books for the price of a single indie, we have to go for the trads. We’re letting the taxpayers down if we don’t.

    You have to keep in mind that the purchase price of a book is only part of our cost. For example, a book without an ESBN costs much more to put on our shelves than a book with an ESBN. A traditionally published book typically is pre-cataloged so we can add it to our collection with a few key strokes. An indie published book usually requires someone to work for an hour or so, classifying the book, assigning library approved keywords, and properly entering into the catalog system. We can afford to do that for exceptional, usually of local interest, books, but not for genre books that may be excellent, but not exceptional for our library.

    One word: Ingram POD distribution of indie books is currently the easiest way for us to put an indie book on our shelves. This may change, but I am told this is true today.

    Almost all our ebooks are through Overdrive and we see our Overdrive circulation rising and paper circulation declining, although electronic circulation is nowhere near our paper circulation.

    Electronic circulation is a pain point for a penny-pinching trustee. Rising labor costs threaten to force us to consider curtailing library services in the future. Ebook circulation has minimal labor cost, but current publisher pricing still make ebooks more expensive than paper for us.

    Our labor costs are rising faster than our tax base and it is tempting to see increased electronic circulation as a solution, but current economics have to change to make that feasible. Presently, we increase availability of electronic circulation because patrons want it, not because it reduces our costs.

    Indies have to fit somewhere in this crush.

    1. Marvin, thanks for taking the time to contribute to our discussion with your thoughtful comment. You bring up financial and cost-based concerns that bring another angle in.

      Most indies do keep their retail price low–I know my ebooks are listed from 2.99-4.99 with new releases at 5.99. But you’ve given an excellent reminder to make sure that we’re not inflating our retail price for libraries on OverDrive. I know that my publisher, Penguin Random House, has spiked the ebook prices of my traditionally-published books ($8 for a digital copy). It’s very annoying and obviously negatively impacts libraries as well as regular reading customers.

      I do have ISBNs for each book (no *E*SBNs, though…I’m assuming that’s an identifier for electronic media for downloading.) And all of my books are available through Ingram, although I didn’t originally think of libraries when I loaded them there–I was more focused on international sales since Ingram has printers all over the world. I haven’t branched into hardcover at Ingram, though, since I’d have to get my cover designer to work on the covers again. It sounds as if independent writers would do well to keep prices low and expand into Ingram.

      Thanks again for weighing in!

      1. Yikes! ISBN is what my mind intended, but not what my fingers typed.

        Traditional publishers’ policies on ebooks for libraries are troubling for us. The policies are not uniform, but usually we have to buy a license for a certain number of lends and the price per lend is much higher than our expected price per lend over the lifetime of a paper book, so much higher that it cancels out all the savings from the neglible handling and storage costs of ebooks compared to paper books. Another annoyance is that we can purchase a license for 10 lends of an ebook, but we have to purchase another license for 10 lends to lend the same ebook to two patrons simultaneously, hence long hold queues on popular ebooks.

        I also wanted to mention Booklist, a publication of the American Library Association that reviews books and has immense respect among librarians. I suspect a star review from Booklist guarantees that a book will appear on many public library shelves. Most of the reviews are written by volunteers, usually librarians, who are trained and apprenticed before their reviews are published. I am told that a positive Booklist review is worth any number of Amazon 5-stars to a acquisitions librarian. If you want to sell your book to libraries, I recommend trying to get it reviewed in Booklist. You submit your book and they assign a reviewer. They do accept submissions from independent publishers, perhaps a new policy, I don’t know.

        1. Oh good! I was getting worried about how I was going to get myself an ESBN. :)

          I’m hoping that the traditional publishers will end their little pricing experiment soon. It did result in an increase in print sales for them (how *wouldn’t* it, when the print price and ebook price are the same in many instances?) But I don’t think it will be a winning approach for them in the long run.

          Interesting and disturbing point, also, on the licensing restrictions.

          Thanks so much for letting us know about Booklist and its influence with acquiring librarians. That’s very useful to know, especially that they’ll consider submissions from indies.

          I appreciate your spending time on my site today…many thanks.

          1. A pleasure. I’m a writer-in-learning myself and your site is one of my favorites. Glad to have something to contribute.

        2. Hi Marv, does your library only use Overdrive for ebooks? SELF-e is also an option. Also, is a review from Library Journal something that librarians consider favorably? Library Journal and SELF-e just started collaborating to help get more indie books in libraries. My first three books are in the SELF-e system, and my first book won Library Journal’s Best Mystery of 2015 SELF-e award, but I have yet to see traction for my books getting into libraries. Thanks to Elizabeth, I’m now on Overdrive, so I’m hoping that will help.

          1. Good questions, that I can’t answer very well. You have to consider that I am just one data point: a trustee for a rural library system that might fit in the small to medium category. I’m just a trustee who gets to look over the professionals’ shoulders and try to understand their work. I’m not a trained professional librarian, so there is a ton that I don’t know.

            Overdrive accounts for most of our digital lending, although we do subscribe to other services for magazines, audio, and miscellaneous specialties. Until I read it in your post, I had not heard of SELF-e. I glanced at it. I intend to talk to our acquisitions folk about it the next chance I get.

            I don’t know about Library Journal either. I observe that librarians tend to trust ALA publications more than say Publishers Weekly or Good Reads, although I am astounded at how up they are on every source of book information. Book List is the review source I hear about most often. I can’t tell you much more than that.

            I’ll make one more observation. Self-publishing’s reputation is rising, but I still hear stories: poorly bound books that fall apart quickly, books without author and title on the spine, poor proof-reading, high cataloging costs, and awkward payment arrangements. Indies are getting better, but reputations take time to improve. Distributors like Ingram make putting a book on the shelves amazingly efficient. I am told they box books for shipping in call number order, perhaps a minor thing, but it saves much time as the books are easy to find on the carts and don’t have to be re-sorted as they are eventually shipped to the branches and shelved. It may seem trivial, but two thirds of our expenses are labor, not books.

            This has been an interesting interchange!

        3. Thanks for all the good info from a library perspective. Via Smashwords, my prices to libraries are deliberately less than the retail sales price. I have always assumed a library pays once and can keep the book in their electronic lending library. I hope that’s the case. I don’t see anything that says they pay per use (as I look on Smashwords FAQs). Would it be trouble for you to confirm it’s a one-time fee only? (I hope that’s what you would say!) Elaine Orr

          1. Our library only lends ebooks through Overdrive. Smashwords, as I understand it, only deals with libraries that have their own ebook lending system. Like many library systems, we don’t have a large enough IT staff to have our own ebook lending system, so we don’t get ebooks through Smashwords. Therefore I can’t answer about Smashwords.

            On Overdrive, the publishers set the license policy. We don’t get to keep most ebooks forever. I think it is usually between 10 and 20 lends per license. Charges vary, but ebooks can easily be more expensive for us than paper because we can’t get as many lends from an ebook license as we can get from a paper book.

  4. Thanks for such an informative post! I am traditionally published, (middle-grade science mysteries), but my publisher is wonderful, but small, so promoting books is a constant challenge. I so appreciate knowing about WorldCat, and have just discovered that one of my books is in many more libraries than I ever dreamed! So, thank you for this info, and will also check out more of your great suggestions.

    1. Great! And that information may lend you the opportunity to pitch them more of your books, too, since you know they can order them and they’re obviously compatible with how they order and catalog. :)

  5. Thank you for this info filled post! I’m in WorldCat…via donations to libraries. I’m very interested in looking into the PublicDrive site and then on into Overdrive. And I too appreciate Marvin explaining things from his end.

  6. Thanks for another fab post! I never thought of searching WorldCat for my OWN books, LOL, though it has always been a research tool for me. Will have to check on that. I still have to work up the nerve to go into my local library and introduce myself to the librarian and ask about getting my books in their system. Self-promotion makes me feel weird. Sigh.

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