3 Ways For Self-Publishers to Break Into the Public Library Market

by | Apr 6, 2015

When you’re publishing your own books easy to get so busy and wrapped up in details that you often miss book marketing opportunities along the way.

For instance, I see lots of indie authors publishing books that would be great additions to public libraries. Have these authors tried to alert librarians—a huge group of professional book buyers and advocates for authors—to their publications? I don’t think so, because I rarely get asked about marketing to libraries.

That’s one of the reasons I was interested in this great article about publishers and libraries from Publishers Weekly, The Case for Libraries by David Vinjamuri.

Although many of the points Vinjamuri makes are oriented to traditional publishers, self-publishers can also learn a lot about how libraries and publishers work together, and the changing environment in our public libraries.

With the gradual disappearance of many retail bookstores, libraries are becoming more important as places where our books can be discovered.

That’s why I was pretty excited to find just last week about a new program specifically designed to introduce indie-published books to libraries.

I’ll also tell you about two other ways you can bring your books to the attention of librarians.

New Opportunity in the Library Market: Self-e from Library Journal

Library Journal, The most important publication in the library market, is in the process of rolling out a great service that will bring independent books to the attention of librarians at the U.S.’s 16,000 public libraries. This is a curated program, so not every book submitted will be accepted.

Here’s their description of the program:

“SELF-e is a discovery platform designed to expose your ebook(s) to more readers via the public library, locally or nationwide. Authors whose ebooks are selected by Library Journal for inclusion in our SELF-e modules can use a digital badge promoting their inclusion to potential readers who may choose to purchase a copy of the title and/or to purchase other books by that author via retail channels. Ebooks that are not selected by Library Journal will still be accessible to local library patrons via state-specific modules.”

Prominent indie authors are also lining up behind this program, and you can see why. As many people have said, the biggest enemy of the indie author is obscurity. Getting into a program like this could really have a big impact on how discoverable your book is, and that can be an incredible boost.

“Libraries are all about readers and writers connecting. Since so many of my new readers discover my books via their local libraries, it’s vital that all my books, whether traditionally published or self-published, be easily accessible to library patrons. This program helps librarians to better serve readers and authors to grow their audience, creating a perfect synergy of benefit to all book-lovers.”—CJ Lyons, Best-selling self-published author, 2 million plus books sold

“The number one challenge any author has is building an audience. Once they have an audience, they have an opportunity to grow their work professionally. Librarians can be a powerful marketing force for emerging authors, especially if they can promote the books without fear of success. The SELF-e approach to curation combined with simultaneous user-access will encourage books to be discovered and even go viral.”—Hugh Howey, Best-selling self-published author, 2 million plus books sold

I’ve submitted my recent book, The Self-Publisher’s Ultimate Resource Guide to Self-e, so stay tuned and I’ll report back once this program is fully active later in 2015.

Here’s an interesting infographic that explains the program at a glance: Is Self-e Right For Me? [Infographic PDF]

Quality Books

Editor’s note: Quality Books is no longer available as of July, 2017.

Another way into the library market is Quality Books. In the past I’ve sold books to this company, which is a great distributor of indie books to libraries, and they remain a viable route into this market.

Here’s how they brand themselves on their site (Quality Books):

“For more than 4 decades Quality Books Inc. has been dedicated to being the premier supplier of small press titles and special interest non-print resources to the library community. We stock titles from nearly 1800 small and independent presses and are committed to bringing the voices of the vibrant small press community to a larger audience through libraries.”

You can find out more about getting into their program here: Quality Books for Publishers.

IBPA Library Marketing Program

The Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) offers, among the other benefits of membership, a lot of targeted marketing campaigns. Most of these are cooperative programs that make reaching a lot of book buyers more affordable than it would be if you tried to do it on your own.

One of these is their Library Market E-Blast which can be another way to penetrate this important market. Here’s the description from their site:

Members present their titles alongside only 14 others in a special e-blast sent to 5,000 qualified collection development librarians. Three options: Public Library, K-12 Library, or College Library. Cost is $199 per title. No title limit applies.

Find out more here: IBPA Library Market E-Blast

However you choose to approach the library market, remember to include it in your marketing plan. For the right book, sales and visibility you achieve through public libraries can make a crucial difference in reaching your publishing goals.

Photo credit: Pender County Library, Burgaw via photopin (license)

tbd advanced publishing starter kit



    Quality Books seems to be out of biz.

  2. Deborah Gilson

    Dear Joel ~

    I’m the “Competitive” non-fiction publisher whose book sales are in the “Hobby” publisher arena. I began writing my stories 15 years ago for a number of reasons: my aunt Shirlee begged me to, my Family of Friends enjoy them immensely, I get the emotions from life’s events out of my body, others learn from my lessons and my readers feel comfort knowing someone understands their painful situations. My stories bring hearts together through like experiences. Knowing this, I feel success.

    I self-published my debut memoir as a request to my dying mother and I’ve written seven more. I also wrote two children’s books and am working on my 10th manuscript. I keep cranking out the stories like a Pez dispenser.

    I self-published through Amazon’s Create Space and each day I gaze lovingly at the colorful book covers. A couple weeks ago I was cruising for book agents on the Internet, when I happened upon Michael Larsen’s link, emailed him and he responded immediately. He gave me this link and I found you. My question? Is there such a person who sits down with an author/writer to point them in the correct direction? Is there a face-to-face person who guides writers out of a dark cave and brings them to the light? A writer’s mentor of sorts?

    August 1, 2000, I turned on my computer and eagerly typed my first story titled, “Hi, My Name is Crystal” for my mother to read. I sent it to her via fax machine and within minutes she joyfully called saying she vividly remembered my first best friend. I’ve been writing since and often gaze at my first book dedicated to my mother.

    Perhaps there’s someone who has time and energy for people like me who have no idea where to turn. Although my mother and Aunt Shirlee are no longer here, they’re cheering me on from Up Above. I’m hopeful there’s a person I may contact to show me the way out of this dark cave and into the light.

    Thank you, Joel. My books are in the Redding Library and I’ve handed them out like candy, too!


    Deborah Gilson,
    Redding, CA.

  3. Renee' La Viness

    In my experiences, some libraries have a reader who devours the book and determines if it is good enough for the shelf. If it is, it will be placed. The submitter has to sign a piece of paper stating they do not expect payment for the book and some want to know what genre, etc., so they can place it.

    Some libraries will put them on a shelf of self-published books, but at least they’re there. Other libraries are starting new programs to allow self-published authors to submit their books to the local libraries. Oklahoma is one area that seems to be reaching out and trying to accept this change, even if it seems a little slow in getting there.

    I’ve also found at least one Louisiana library that has a self-published shelf and a form to fill out and sign. The authors on that shelf are from around the country.

    I hope all this is a sign that libraries are becoming more accepting of self-publishing. I WISH more self-publishers would have their work edited, so the rest wouldn’t have such a stigma to rise above.

  4. JL Oakley

    I’ve been very fortunate with my local library and beyond. I think that with limited budgets, librarians do want to have books that have been reviewed, but a library patron can also suggest a book. Both of my indie novels are in the library not only in my city and the whole county system. They are in a big city like Seattle and several rural county systems. My book club after reading my first novel, put together a library book club kit that is checked out all the time. I have often gone to book clubs in person. My first novel ended up as an EVERYBODY READS for rural Washington and Idaho, a real book tour where I everyone read and I gave talks –a real book tour. I just finished a 4 library tour in Jan with the new book.

    I think there are ways to get a book into a library. Does the library have book clubs that meet in your genre? Ask to speak to them. Is there a friends of the library group? Get to know them. If you have an ISBN # and you are a patron of your library there is a place on most library systems where you can find your book and create a profile. I think is bibliocommons.com where you can do this.

    I don’t think throwing around that you are a tax payer and your book belongs in the library is the way to go. This is what my indie book looks like at my library. https://bellingham.bibliocommons.com/item/show/992364044_tree_soldier One thing about marketing is that word of mouth is still one of the best ways to get a book noticed. It can help you get a book into a library.

    • Joel Friedlander

      JL, thanks for this comment and your excellent suggestions, particularly about finding book clubs associated with libraries. I’m sure that your book trailer and Publishers Weekly review helped, too. Good luck with your book!

  5. Taneeka Bourgeois-daSilva

    I contacted a few libraries and they basically said that they only pick books that have been reviewed by either Library Journal, Booklist, etc. I hear that it’s really difficult to get reviewed by Library Journal and Booklist. I don’t want to miss this opportunity to network with local libraries so what are your thoughts?

  6. Liv Byron

    So interesting — just this morning I happened to contact my local library to see what, if anything, they might be able to provide in terms of exposure. I’d worked with the librarian there for years with my writers group.
    Basically, I asked if I could have a short announcement on the library website.
    If I got a positive reply, I planned to approach other libraries networked with my local one.
    After reading this discussion, I can’t wait to see what, if any, reply I receive!

    • Joel Friedlander

      Liv, I hope you’ll come back and let us know what happens, that would be great.

      In fact, if any readers take this opportunity to approach their own local libraries on this subject, it would be great to hear about it here in the comments, and I’m sure other readers would be very interested in what works for you in the real world dealing with real librarians.

      • Liv Byron

        I definitely will.

  7. Anna Erishkigal

    Hi Joel!

    I was at a writer’s conference a few weeks ago and attended two different panels with Big-5 editors. On one panel geared for writers they admitted that nobody is really editing traditionally published books anymore (just proofreading), and when they -do- edit a big-name book, it gets farmed out to them from NYC. Then later that afternoon, the same three Big-5 editors did a panel for aspiring MFA editors they told the audience to either marry a rich husband, or get a job as a librarian for a public library, so they could eat while they do what they love. Two of the three admitted that is exactly how they earn their living.

    One of the women in the audience raised her hand and stated she was librarian for a small public library and asked these three editors / two of them also public library acquisitions librarians / how they curate all the indie books and the women made a gesture as though shoving away a piece of crap and both admitted they won’t even look at them. One of them said the minute the author is out the door, they just throw the book into the library book sale bin.

    OMG!!! I couldn’t -believe- the audacity of these three editors to say that in front of an audience of 50 or so people!

    Now when I brought 3 of my books to my own local library and offered to donate them, I got treated that exact same way. They never made it in. I was never given any answer why. This despite the fact they are well-written, well-edited with professional looking covers, I pay taxes in this town, and one of those three books won an award (I now have eight out).

    This program is a great beginning, but it won’t solve the problem that public libraries are stuff with disgruntled wanna-be Big-5 editors and MFA students who couldn’t make it in NYC who self-identify with the established Big-5 publishing houses, and yet they are being supported by the taxpayers? The Big-5 are knocking themselves out, going around to the places which train and certify the future gatekeepers, telling them we are dreck, and telling them to keep us out.

    When are we going to wake up and remind these library gatekeepers that -WE- pay their salaries, their health insurance, their retirement pensions, and to keep the lights and heat on in the buildings they work in, and their JOB is to support the local taxpayer base, not a Big-5 publishing company which is only now wooing them because all their shelf-space is disappearing and they suddenly realize libraries are the last great gateway to indie discoverability?

    I think it’s time we stopped begging for crumbs and start banding together, town-by-town, to remind these gatekeepers that WE are in charge, and if they don’t reform their policies to let us in, start going to the selectmen, the townspeople themselves, and if necessary to town meetings to shoot down their proposals for more money until they start paying us the respect we deserve?

    It’s -MY- taxpayer dollars … I want to spend them to read indie authors … not ship it to NYC and then to a German Multinational parent company and to China where all these mass market paperbacks are printed?

    • Joel Friedlander

      Hi Anna,

      Thanks very much for relating this story and for your comments. I agree with just about everything you’ve said, although I also personally know librarians who are completely devoted to what they do and who are not “Big-5 editor wannabes.” What surprised me was how honest these people were in public about their take on indie books. And keep in mind one of the best things about being an indie author these days is the fact that we can appeal directly to our readers. Now that’s a good thing.

      • Anna Erishkigal

        They’ve been as rude to my readers as they were to ME. Which I could understand if my books had lousy ratings. But they sell reasonably well, and every single one of them has pretty good reviews.

        And if ‘most’ librarians are devoted to indies, then why can’t my readers access the books I made available specially to libraries, for free, via Overdrive, even see them when they log in via their library lending catalog?

        Facts don’t lie. MOST indie books are not in libraries because that is the way librarians want it to be. We are being discriminated against by the very institutions our taxpayer dollars fund.

  8. Lynnette Bonner

    Looked over the Library Journal agreement and this is part of it. Read carefully, Indies!


    They want to sell your books to libraries but not give you any of the money made.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Lynnette, the program is about increasing exposure for your books, not about selling books to libraries, and I’m sorry if that wasn’t clear from my article. Although it’s true that libraries who can get a book from the Self-e program are less likely to purchase a copy, authors need to evaluate whether participating will be a positive for them overall. Since it’s rather difficult for a self-published author to sell to libraries all over the country, it may well be that getting a book placed into this program could have very positive effects since it’s likely to exposed to a lot more readers than if you didn’t participate. Hope that helps.

      • Lynnette Bonner

        Yes. I think this could be a great opportunity for an indie who, say, has a permafree title. But I don’t think I would put my whole catalog into a program like that – and that might just be me.

        Anyhow, I just wanted to point that out to some people because seeing it recommended from a trusted source like you might make people a bit lazy about reading the terms – not that they should be, mind you.

        The terms also state that once the books are in, they have them forever. So if an author early in their career got all their current books into this program, and then their career took off and libraries started wanting to stock that author, libraries who use this program could stock their titles from it and the author would be losing out on potential income.

        With all due respect to you and this blog where I’ve learned a lot about indie publishing that is helpful, I just don’t think they have very author-friendly terms.

        • Joel Friedlander

          Good point, Lynnette. And yes, as with all marketing opportunities, it’s important for every author to make sure the opportunity aligns with your goals. But as a big fan of libraries both for reading and for discoverability, I sincerely hope one (or more!) of these programs can help bring the many fine indie books that are being published to the attention of our many librarians. Time will tell.

  9. Anna Castle

    How does Self-E relate or conflict with Konrath’s proposed Ebooks Are Forever (https://ebooksareforever.com/)? What do your wise counselors recommend an indie do? Should we pursue both paths?

    Thanks for an interesting lead!

    • Joel Friedlander

      Anna, they are both attempts to introduce ebooks to libraries. Since both programs are in the early stages of release it’s impossible to tell whether one or the other will be successful. While Ebooksareforever.com has the support of some big selling indie authors, Library Journal has the kind of “establishment credibility” that’s hard to duplicate. And you could throw into the mix Overdrive, which is already supplying ebooks to libraries. Basically, no one knows which, if any, of these initiatives will prove fruitful, so it seems smart to stay up to date on these developments as they occur.

  10. Alison GillespiPAe

    Thanks for the info, Joel. I am wondering why I have never heard of the IBPA before now. I published my book a year ago and the info from this group seems great… how did I miss this while reading your blog each week? Wow.

    Also, as a self-published author I have found it almost impossible to break into library systems. I have to admit, I gave up back at the beginning after reading a post on someone’s blog that made it seem like I would have to pay thousands just to reach the library systems and republish my book some really incredibly tough different way that involved a business model I just didn’t have time to set up. So I just ignored it since then! Time to revisit that idea since it seems as if it has gotten a lot easier.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Alison, not sure how you missed IBPA but it is an excellent organization that also serves as a trade association for the many publishing-focused groups around the country like the one locally, the Bay Area Independent Publishers Association. IBPA runs many programs for indie authors and publishers, and I’ve been lucky enough to present for them both online and at their annual Pub U, a great educational experience for anyone who can attend.



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