The title’s misleading. Any author can get his or her books into a library. Simply walk through the door, offer them a free copy, and say, “I’d like to donate this to your collection.”
Librarians like free books. Especially good ones.
What I want to talk about, though, is what indie authors have a greater concern for—convincing libraries to buy their books. There’s several factors to take into account. As a guy who’s both a published author—traditionally and indie—as well as a librarian, I’ll lay them out.
This is the biggest issue. Libraries are mostly public funded. When times get tough, and they have to make budget cuts, acquisition for collections suffers first. Most libraries I know of (in the state of Wyoming, where I work, anyway) don’t want to cut staff. If you can determine whether or not your library is fiscally stable, then you’ve already got a better chance than offering your book for purchase by a library facing tight financial times.
This one’s trickier, and it helps if you have a relationship with a librarian who has a good handle on what the patrons of that institution like to read. Granted, sci-fi and fantasy have small readership, generally speaking. But does your local library have a core of readers who like one or the other? If so, that gives you an in. Librarians are more likely to spend money on a book and put it on their shelves if they know of people who want to read what you’ve written.
Yes, librarians read reviews on places like Amazon and Goodreads, especially younger staff. However, if you can get into a journal like Publishers Weekly or Library Journal, you’ve got an even better chance of being considered for purchase.
This is one of the best ways. If you have even one or two people ask the library to buy your book to stock on your shelves, they will likely do it—especially if it’s people who put their name on a list to check out the book once it is processed into the collection.
Of course, it’s better to have a librarian ask the bosses to buy one of your books.
Year of Publication
This one was mentioned in one of the comments in the Realm Makers Consortium, as one library only takes books published within the last six months. Why? Well, without speaking to the staff at that library, I can only guess, but I’ll make a few educated ones.
It is likely a simple space issue. Our building has about 40,000 items in it. Every year, I process between 900 and 1,000 novels, both YA and adult fiction. The vast majority were published that year. Our bookshelves fit 20 to 25 books on each one, and there’s six shelves per unit. Math that one out: 120 books per shelf unit means we add nearly ten shelf units to the building each year. Have you tried to add ten bookcases to your house? You’d run out of space quick. So libraries weed older books, damaged books, and those that don’t circulate in order to find room.
Bottom line, a newer book is more likely to get onto the shelves—unless you’re local, then convincing the library to buy your book is easier. Our library in particular loves to have local authors added. It’s part of our mission, and our director even waives room rental fees when writers have book signings.
I don’t mean this to sound hopeless or hard. Your best bet is to aim local. If you can find champions of your book among hometown librarians, they’ll recommend your book to readers – and better yet, to other librarians. I’d also suggest banding together to do a vendor table at library conferences. Those tables aren’t cheap, but if a bunch of people can do something like the Realm Makers Mobile Bookstore at library conferences, that gets you seen by the people who decide purchasing.
I’m an author, and a librarian. Feel free to ask me questions anytime about what goes on behind those bookshelves!