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Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Driving Book Sales With a Little Help From The Friends (of the Public Library.)

I asked SuperLibrarian Cathy Camper about the relationship between library and commercial book sales. Once again, she shared some great information and advice.

1) Why does a librarian buy a particular book?

Most libraries buy from reviews. They don't have to be starred reviews, but any review in Publishers Weekly, Booklist or Library Journal counts (or local newspapers, blogs, topical reviews, say, if there's a blogger that just reviews mysteries). Libraries sometimes also buy when patrons recommend a book (especially when a LOT of patrons request it). They also will buy to fill needs for certain areas that they collect in. For example, some libraries specialize in mysteries, or they might buy fiction because the author is from that area, or the book is set in that area. Libraries have selection policies and guidelines, so they will always reserve the right to choose. No library  can afford to buy everything, and they also have to juggle a lot of issues like keeping a balance of viewpoints in a collection, buying things of a certain quality, etc.

2) Do libraries buy multiple copies of a book?

Of course! Big library systems buy literally hundreds of copies of books like Harry Potter. Big libraries have many branches, so say you have a central library, plus 14 branches = 15 copies. But its not that likely that they'll buy your book for all unless it's a best seller. 3-6 copies would be midrange.
3) How can I harness 'the hidden power of librarians' in order to get my book beyond the library market? Can and/or do librarians contribute to consumer sales of a particular title? 

Yes yes yes. You want librarians and bookstore clerks to recommend your book to people right? Or put it on a booklist of "top 10 mysteries you'll love." Some ways besides reviews to get librarians' attention: if your publisher is attending ALA - the national library convention in June, try to get your books are on the publishers' table, see if you can be at thetable, (but often these 2 things are reserved for best sellers, with big publishers)have a giveaway that librarians will pick up. Find out good librarian bloggers and send them copies of your book, see if they'll mention it. I know zilch about who's the top bloggers for mystery writing or librarians and mysteries...but I would target both.

4) What pre-publication preparations should I be making now? I'm working diligently on an online presence and using social media sites to do what I can. Is there something library-specific I should know about?

It's almost impossible to market nationally without publisher support or a lot of cash/energy/time on your part. I'd recommend you work at the state level. Or if there's some other network that your book ties into, for example if it's a cat mystery, work the cat networks. Or if your mystery is set in a specific locale, like New Orleans, use that tie in.

Be sure to work your network, whatever that is. Facebook friends, relatives, all the people at all the jobs you've ever worked...we all have some network. If you have a networkthat extends nationally or internationally, go for it. But only take on what won't burn you out.  

Back to your library systems that you like, you think are cool, you think/know would have interest, and offer to do a free talk. You need to have some whizbang: a power point, pictures, models whatever....usually the talk will be 1/2-1 hour. 

The deal is, the library will do all your publicity and provide space. They may or may not let you sell copies of your book. If you can tie in with another event, a local history thing for example, it can help. What you don't want to do is seem like an orphaned, self published author that has no draw and no professionalism. Check out what your local libraries are already doing, author-wise.

When my book came out (for kids), I did talks all over the place. For libraries, museums, writers conferences, anywhere. Word got out, and then people started asking me. My book is about giant prehistoric bugs, so I had a powerpoint slide show, and big life sized models of the bugs! So what you want is to OFFER them something, and so selling your book seems a lot less desperate and/or needy.

5) Once the book comes out, what else do you think I need to understand in order to take advantage of all libraries have to offer a little known author like me? I will, of course, talk with my local librarians as well as my hometown librarians.

Yes talk with librarians. They will give you the best clues. Different locales and different sized libraries do it differently. Oh, another thing...if a library gets your book, it will 'last' longer there, since it will probably stay on the shelf for several years.

6) Selling books in bookstores is hard enough, but selling books in a library is that much more difficult. Is all this self-promotion worth it?

Before you agree to something, you have to think, "What is this doing for me?" If you do a talk at a bookstore, say, and you don't get paid, and you only sell 3 copies....then you need to be getting something else from it...exposure, good rapport with bookstore folks who will then talk up your book, good practice doing a talk, a chance to travel to another city. The pay-off doesn't have to be money. But do always weigh it out, so you don't end up fried and burnt out. Also realize that selling books and making lots of money isn't the end result. It's reaching the people who connect to your book.

Also remember, many schools and libraries are having their budgets slashed. When you negotiate, take this into consideration. Doing something for free (or charging less, if you charge) can be considered charity. Also donating may even be tax deductible (I'm not sure...check with your tax person : )

Something else I'll add...I work with both librarians and teachers, do a lot of speaking and presenting for my job. After around 5 years of doing it, people really appreciate presenters and speakers that 'give good talk' - are lively, fresh, responsible, reliable, professional. So no matter what happens, you never know what might lead to something else.

My congratulations to you for getting published!! Let me know if I can be of more help.