Self-published authors gathered Saturday at “Moving beyond online sales: Marketing to libraries,” a program that was part of uPublishU, a conference-within-a-conference at Book Expo America. The presentation, in New York City’s Javits Center, was moderated by Patricia Payton, Senior Manager, Content Relations at Bowker, a company that produces bibliographic reference materials such as Books in Print and is the official ISBN Agency for the United States and its territories. Most relevant to this panel, however, is Bowker’s SelfPublishedAuthor, a service that offers advice and tools to those trying to bring their material to the attention of readers.
Joining Payton were Ian Singer, VP and Group Publisher at Library Journals, LLC, the company that publishes Library Journal, School Library Journal, and The Horn Book; Lori Bennett, Digital Liaison at Nelson Literary Agency; and Jessica West, Branch Manager at Rust Library in Loudon County, VA.
Singer explained to the authors present why they should try to get their books onto library shelves. While bookstores are closing en masse, he said, not so for libraries—”just try to see what would happen if someone tries to shut a library down,” he commented. Singer went on to explain how libraries are changing, with their stewards moving away from “petting the collection” to creating robust community centers. With change comes challenges, explained Singer, describing the new market as one in which libraries are willing to buy, and even have the budgets for, self-published books, but they are constrained by acquisitions and cataloging processes that favor material from established vendors.
Singer supported his claims with data from Library Journal‘s Patron Profiles, a survey of library users that found that 60 to 70 per cent of patrons want self-published titles to be available in their libraries. Furthermore, he told the audience, 89 per cent of libraries offer ebooks, and 25 per cent of ebook sales are of self-published works. Singer then described a new product recently unveiled by his company: Self-E, a database of self-published books chosen by Library Journal, which will be free for authors to contribute to and that is available for licensing by libraries. Self-E, he explained, is built upon the existing BiblioBoard platform; authors can submit their works to LJ for consideration for nationally available genre modules that will be rolled out over time. Libraries can also add material by local authors that will be accessible to other subscribing libraries in their state. “Buying a review won’t help you sell,” explained Singer, whereas this product, he said, will help authors build communities of readers, and thus sales. The first of the fiction modules will be online by the end of the year.
The next speaker, Lori Bennett of Nelson Literary Agency (NLA), has a degree in computer science. She leverages that education in her work with Nelson’s NLA Digital, a “supported self-publishing” program run by the agency that publishes material to consumer outlets such as Barnes and Noble, Amazon, and Kobo, as well as library vendors such as 3M, Baker & Taylor, and OverDrive. “Technologists have always been in publishing,” said Bennett, “but now we are more in the forefront because we’re more and more necessary as authors are on their own.” Nelson, she explained, has attracted authors who regained the rights to their backlist and want to self-publish those titles, as well as new writers who want to try something different. The agency can bring materials to market quickly, with times depending on the publishing vendor—books sold through 3M, for example, are available for purchase 24 hours or less after they are uploaded, so that, Bennett notes, the ebook launch can be timed to match the release of the print volume. Outside 3M, it varies, but what is uniform, she claimed, is that sales are immediate and often global.
What can authors do, technology-wise, to help themselves? “Quality ebook production counts more in libraries than in any other e-content market,” said Bennett. Libraries have more stringent tech requirements, she said, and “what flies at Barnes & Noble will not work at OverDrive.” Above all, Bennett recommended that authors who can’t create a quality presentation themselves should hire someone to do it for them. Bennett also suggested that authors consider price pulsing—author Courtney Milan, she noted, is particularly good at boosting demand in that way. Bennett emphasized that getting your self-published book into libraries isn’t a path to quitting your day job; still, she reminded the authors present that their book can be translated into other languages. “OverDrive can stock 54 languages,” she said. “That’s 54 markets.”
The final speaker was librarian Jessica West of Rust Library. Her library, she explained to audience murmers, launched its own imprint: “Symington Press, Powered by the Espresso Book Machine.” This “Frankenstein machine,” as West referred to it, can print any book in an on-demand catalog, and has been used at Rust to print materials for and from library programs; its biggest use, however, has been in the production of self-published works. To use the Espresso, West said, authors need only provide two PDFs: one of the cover and the other of the interior text. The library charges only for printing costs, which are about $5-$25 per copy, and the book—with a color cover and black-and-white interior—can be produced the same day. Rust has made 873 books so far, with 200 in the last two weeks alone, as the service is really starting to take off.
West offered several tips for self-published authors who want their material added to library shelves. Go to your library, she said, and get a library card while you’re there. Speak to your librarian. If you’re not having luck with getting your book added to the collection, consider approaching the staff with other self-published writers as a group, and ask if the library needs help with coordinating an author program. Tell everyone you know about the library. Get an expert to review your book or to give you a quote to place on your book’s cover—a professional cover, she said, is best way to telegraph a quality interior. The results, said West, can be impressive. She’s seen authors with tears in their eyes when their book emerges from the Espresso machine, “and for a librarian, that’s as good as it gets.”