Why Libraries Rarely Buy Self-Published Books

Let's start with the librarians since they're the ones in control – or so it seems at least. The reality is that the patrons of the library are in control, almost entirely. If patrons started asking for self-published works en masse, libraries would shift their policies to compensate and bring what the patrons wanted to their shelves. Remembering that libraries work in conjunction with traditional publishers, not against them, and with good reason according to the librarians.

Libraries rely on traditional reviews from reputable sources because there's no way a single librarian can read the number of books typically purchased in a year. A librarian only has so much time and resources available for purchasing books. Buying titles that aren't well known or well-reviewed would mean the patrons wouldn't know who the author is, and possibly wouldn't care to read the books.

Libraries are on tight budgets. They spend their money on books that they know are already successful; best sellers, and well-reviewed. Librarians don't have the time it would take to read self-published books and research the reviews to determine if they'd be received well by the patrons of the library.

Libraries don't have the ability or resources to choose from the several thousand books available including self-published. Instead, they choose based upon what the readers in the library are asking for, best seller lists, whatever is popular, not necessarily what's 'good'. They're not looking to improve the taste of patrons, merely provide what they're looking for if possible, out of the limited number of books they can house at any given point.

Still, if you want to break into this market, it's not impossible. Like bookstores, it will require more work and determination. Here's what libraries want, and now that you know why they want these qualities in the books they buy, you can tailor your work accordingly if this really is an area you want to pursue.

  • Start with your local library. Sometimes librarians will look for something with local and regional relevance, something that patrons could relate to because they live and work in the same area, or may know the author.


    If you don't want to travel to each library individually, you'll need a Library of Congress Control Number. 

  • Submit your book to library journals. The best ones for self-published works are The American Library Association, Libraries and Archives of Canada, and Counterpoise.

  • Write directly to libraries including a press release with purchase information. Most libraries do the majority of their purchasing between December and June so try to time it accordingly.

  • And if you use a distributor for your self-published book, it will automatically be available to libraries for purchase.

In terms of prioritizing your finances and efforts, marketing to bookstores is just as time-consuming and difficult, however, with the bookstore you have the opportunity to have your book purchased over and over again to restock it as it sells.





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