Library sales are critical to the success of nonfiction books. There is a misconception that getting books into a library is bad, because people can read for free. However, many of my readers tell me they first read the book in the library and then bought it. I’ve found library sales to make up a significant part of my sales.
The process of getting into libraries and making it pay off starts when you write the book. Pack your books with lots of information. My readers say, “There was too much information—I had to own the book so I could keep referring back to it.” A quick read gets read and returned. A dense, but valuable, resource must be owned.
Before signing a contract, make sure your publisher has a distributor who specializes in library placement. These distributors have contacts with library systems and know what books appeal to various markets. Also make sure your publisher will submit your books to the important reviewers: New York Times (if appropriate), Booklist, Publisher’s Weekly, and Library Journal. Libraries check these reviews to decide what is appropriate. The submissions must be made well before the book comes out, since reviews appear near the time of release.
Amazon reviews also matter. Some libraries ask to see those. Don’t try to fake these. Amazon once had an embarrassing situation where the real identities of reviewers showed up on reviews, revealing how many were done by the author, his family, and his friends. Instead of putting up fake reviews, encourage your readers to write them. On your author website, put an explanation of how to submit reviews to online booksellers, and include links. I’m not famous and managed to get 11 real reader reviews from, as far as I know, total strangers, so it can be done.
When you personally approach libraries, create a small portfolio containing your press kit and copies of these reviews. Include how to contact the library distributor.
Another way to get into libraries is to encourage everyone you know to request the book from their local library. Libraries often buy books based on requests from readers. Have them check the book out every now and then as well, to keep it in the library. This is a free way your friends and fans can help promote your book.
It can be very difficult to get a self-published book into libraries, just as it is hard to get them into bookstores. If your book is self-published, interview librarians in several systems to find out if it’s possible. You will probably need to be fairly creative and rely heavily on Amazon reviews and patron requests.