Marketing Your Book to a Large Library System

I will be out of pocket for the better part of two days, but fortunately Overgrown Hobbit was generous enough with her time and knowledge to send me a guest post. This is a guideline for having a book accepted to a large library, such as the one she works for. We hope that it will offer some of you a way to get your books out to a broader audience. And thank Overgrown Hobbit, because I think everyone here loves a librarian! From a regular hobbit sized author and former librarian to our guest: I really appreciate this. 


For Small Presses and Local authors.

Revised 8/28/13

This is based off the guidelines for my own large public library system and is applicable to small presses and local authors. Since this will be posted for a wider audience, I’ve redacted the specifics. Your mileage may vary—widely—based on your own local library’s collection policy. I hope by sharing this information to make it easier for writer and publishers to connect to the readers I serve

I cannot recommend highly enough doing your research: by which I mean calling, e-mailing or live-chatting (modern libraries use all three modes) your local librarian and having her do it for you. Find out who the “selectors” are (see below) and what the “collection policies” are.for your local library system

—Your friendly neighborhood librarian.

While public library systems actively seek out books that meet their selection criteria, and are written or published locally, they usually stick to content for the general reader rather than the specialist. They generally don’t collect textbooks.

For the most part, a large system will accept books that are primarily commercially published.  Commercial publication standards include: a sturdy binding, preferably with the title on the spine; a title page clearly stating (on either the front or the back) the author, title, publisher and date of publication; an International Standard Business Number (ISBN) listed somewhere on the book or the jacket; and a price listed on either the book or the jacket.

Because books in a public library get heavy and sometimes careless use from the public, they look for ones which are sturdily bound, preferably sewn or glued.  Spiral and comb bindings do not stand up well in public library setting. Most libraries cannot use books with pages designed to be filled in by the reader, or torn out.  Books that include objects such as toys, or crafts kits are also not appropriate.

EBooks need to meet the same content criteria as print books, and, in addition, must be available to public libraries through one of the vendors that the library system uses. Overdrive is a common vendor (

The best way to bring your book to the attention of selecting librarians is through reviews.  A positive review in one or more of the library review journals, such as Library Journal, School Library Journal (for children’s books,) Kirkus, Booklist or Publisher’s Weekly or in The Seattle Times will give your book an excellent chance of being bought. At this time (~2013) less weight is given to reader reviews in places like and Goodreads, or to paid reviews.

Ways to contact the selection librarians begins with identifying them. In a large system look for a “Central Branch” or Service Center. Call during normal business hours to determine the contact information of the “selector” who purchases your type of book: Adult, nonfiction, “juvenile” (children’s’), audio- or e-book, for example. Or visit the library’s website and noodle around until you’ve found (for example) the Teen fiction selector or audiobooks selector’s e-mail.

Once you’ve identified the correct selector, send an e-mail which either describes the book or gives us the URL to your web site, or mail a flyer to their physical address.

Librarians generally have only a short amount of time to look at the information, so emphasize the essentials.

  • WHAT the book is about. This should be brief and pithy.
  • WHY the book is needed at this particular library. Here you should include quotations from reviews, or reader testimonials if you have them.  If the book has been reviewed you could also attach a copy of the review or citation to it.
  • WHO the intended audience is for this book. Is it intended for adults, young adults or children?  Parents, business persons, hobbyists, etc.?
  • WHO the author is. This should include qualifications, such as education, experience in the field, and experience as a writer.  Be sure to mention that you are a local author or publisher, since this can be a factor in some libraries’ decision whether or not to buy.
  • WHEN, WHERE, etc. the book was published. Librarians need all the bibliographic data, including date of publication, price, ISBN (very important), edition statement, type of binding.  If the book is self published, please give some indication of its physical appearance, including how it is bound.
  • HOW the Library can get it. Libraries prefer to buy from wholesale vendors, such as Baker & Taylor or Ingram.  Some will buy new books from Amazon when the book is not available through other commercial vendors.  If the book is only available directly from you, be sure to provide a phone number, address, and e-mail address if you have one.  Be prepared to accept purchase orders, and to wait several weeks for payment.  Also, you will almost certainly need to supply a signed W-9 form to the library systems’ Business Office.

Library selectors look at catalogs from local publishers as they have time. They really appreciate all of the bibliographic information listed above for each title, as well as indications of which titles are new.

You many also want to consider being an exhibitor at library conferences.  This is one way to reach many librarians in a short space of time.  National conference such as the American Library Association can be overwhelming, but smaller ones such as regional and state association conventions attract many librarians from this area.  See additional information below.

Please do not drop in to either branch libraries or Main Branch / Central Branch / Service Center expecting to be able to promote the book in person. The branch libraries will only be able to forward information to the Selection and Order Department. Librarian schedules are usually crowded, and you may end up wasting your time if no selection librarian is available when you arrive.


For Information on how to submit a book for a review:


50 East Huron St.

Chicago, IL 60611



770 Broadway

New York, NY 10003


Library Journal.

360 Park Ave. S.

New York, NY 10010


Publisher’s Weekly

360 Park Ave. S.

New York, NY 10010


Seattle Times

  1. O. Box 70

Seattle, WA 98111



The American Library Association conference planning calendar ( lists upcoming conferences.  Information on exhibiting at each conference is available through the links for the individual events.

The Public Library Association (a subset of ALA) is a good choice if you want to go national. Look for the “conferences” link here:





10 thoughts on “Marketing Your Book to a Large Library System

  1. Don’t forget the Local Author selling point. This might have more impact with smaller library systems, but it’s there. One librarian some years ago chided me for not writing more local histories. Outside of the big cities, look for names like Regional Library System.

    Smaller library system might not be tied to “official” vendors like larger ones. I know of one regional library system that accepted donations.

    The other part of this is whether the library system lends e-books at all. Libraries have run into issues here and some system might not fool deal with them. This is huge YMMV territory. Back in the early days of the Internet, I remember one library system that offered free dial-up service, while the ones adjacent to it did not.

  2. This is one place where having a publisher name really helps. Libraries and other larger buyers are much more likely to consider something by, say Alma Boykin and published by High Plains Press, than written and published by Alma Boykin. That’s changing, but very slowly. (Check Dean W. Smith and others for more specifics on the ins and outs of having your own press.)

  3. I forgot to put that bit in: thanks for the reminder: Larger systems will often only accept donations if you can donate at least 3 or 5 or some number of copies. And it’s best to get confirmation that they want your donation *before* sending them in, or they’ll just end up in the Friends of the Library booksale!

  4. What you can’t do for yourself, but can perhaps do for a friend, is to come at it from the other end.
    My libraries aren’t terribly big–the city library serves a population of about 50,000, the county perhaps as many again more, and they offer free borrowing to each others designated populations. But each of them will buy what readers request, no matter whether the reader is one of their designated readers or the other library’s.
    So check into whether your library does that and submit requests if they do. And, for heaven’s sake, (or my libraries’ sakes, which is near enough to the same thing) put out paper versions. Because if you’re a Mad Genius and my libraries don’t have copies of your books that’s because they don’t do ebooks.

  5. I’ve heard that Overdrive et al. charge libraries much more for ebooks than the normal purchase price. Does this translate to larger royalties, or are they eating the excess?

  6. Yes, please try and find out who is the selector for your book category. I am a library director which means I am the boss of the selectors. I receive dozens of emails every week from authors who want me to purchase their book. I delete them all. Your best bet is to get a decent review in one of the library review sources listed above, from which most public libraries select the majority of their book purchases. And get it carried by the big wholesalers, Ingram and Baker & Taylor, from which public libraries order most of their books. We don’t often do individual title orders to small publishers.

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