Friday, May 22, 2009

What I Learned from my Librarian Friends

By Carolyn Howard-Johnson

Librarians and I go back a long way. My favorite aunt was retired from being head of a library system’s accounting department before she died. My children always received library bound books from her on birthdays and Christmas and her love for reading and for the children became palpable with these little gifts. My daughter had the entire Little House on the Prairie series. One of my good critique partners is a librarian. His intensity for books and literature and for helping others permeates his life.

Thus, I feel almost violated when I hear an author say that they don’t want to sell books to libraries because if people borrow books it keeps the author from selling them. No, no, no! When people get books from libraries, it helps a book’s buzz. It helps people who can’t afford a book access your work. It can even help you promote if you keep in touch with librarians.

Recently my library friend and critique partner confided that libraries’ budgets are severely restricted - - in many cases more than they have been before. No news there. But he also mentioned how they generally make their book - buying decisions. They, of course read journals like Library Journal to guide them. But in addition they check their distributor’s
stock (places like Baker & Taylor) and if B&T doesn’t have 100 or more copies in stock, they take that as an indication that there isn’t much call for the book in bookstores. If there isn’t call in the bookstores, the reasoning goes, there won’t be in libraries either. And that’s pretty
much all it takes for a book to be cut of their lists.

What can we authors do about it? Well, when one library catalogs a book it
may encourage another to do so as well. So:

  • Work with your library to speak or teach at their library.
  • Donate a book or two.
  • Buy (or put together) library lists and send out query letters explaining why your book is a must for their library.
  • Try real hard to get reviewed in Library Journal (information on how to do that is in The Frugal Book Promoter).
  • Display at library trade shows and conferences (like BEA but regional).
  • Work libraries (meaning make sales calls) one at a time.

Is it worth it? The American Library Association says that libraries buy nearly 1.8 BILLION in books annually. You tell me. Is it worth it?

For more information about selling your book to libraries, you will want to get a copy of Dana Lynn Smith’s e-book The Savvy Book Marketer's Guide to Selling Your Book to Libraries


Carolyn Howard-Johnson is an instructor for UCLA Extension's world-renown Writers' Program, and author of the HowToDoItFrugally series of books for writers including The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success. It is a USA Book News award-winner as well as the winner of the Reader View's Literary Award and a finalist in the New Generation Book Awards. She is the recipient of both the California Legislature's Woman of the Year in Arts and Entertainment Award and is a popular speaker and actor. Her Web site is

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