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Tap Into the Lucrative Library Market

By Patricia Fry

When I produced my first self-published book, The Ojai Valley, An Illustrated History, part of my promotional plan was to go after library sales. At that time, libraries paid full price for books. Some still do, but most prefer getting a discount whenever they can.

Here's how I sold to libraries in 1983. I gave a few copies of my book to the local library along with an order form. The county library system then ordered several additional copies. I always recommend that authors donate copies of their books to their local libraries and to libraries in the area where their story takes place, they were born, the subject of their biography is centered, etc.

Next, I located a directory of U.S. libraries in the reference section at the local public library and began copying their contact information. I went back time and time again to get more library references. I used the American Library Directory. I believe you can also reference Gale's Directory of Libraries or Literary Market Place.

I sent a press release describing my book, along with order forms to hundreds of libraries across the U.S. and received quite a few orders.

Since that time, many public libraries have been forced to scale down their budgets. Acquisitions librarians are using creative means to update their collections. They shop for books at thrift stores and take advantage of online bargains through, eBay and discount book sites. This practice is good for libraries, and bad for authors with library-quality books to sell. But I certainly don't mean to discourage you from approaching some of the 115,000 public, university and specialty libraries throughout the states with your wonderful book. In fact, I urge you to do so, even if it means discounting your book.

Just think about it: If you sold your $20 book at 50% off to just half of these libraries, you've made yourself a cool $575,000. That got your attention, didn't it? So how do you tap into the lucrative library market?

Create a Library-Quality Book

Library books take a beating. That's why librarians are fussy about the quality and style of the books they purchase. They typically reject saddle-stitched (stapled) books and those with spiral or plastic comb binding. They don't usually purchase workbooks. They prefer hardcover books and soft cover perfect-bound books with the title printed on the spine. The cover on a perfect-bound book must be sturdy.

Librarians particularly like reference books. If you are writing or compiling such a book, be sure to include an index, a bibliography and/or a resource list. Each of these amenities will certainly increase your chances for acceptance.

Books destined for library use need a Library of Congress Cataloguing-in-Publication block (which your publisher will provide) or, for a self-published book, Publishers Cataloguing-in-Publication block (provided by Quality Books or Donohue Group before the book is printed). Also include a key on the upper left back cover indicating the type of book this is and the topic: reference/book publishing, writing/reference, history, autobiography, parenting, etc.

Get Books Reviewed in Library Journals

The general consensus is that librarians read reviews -- at least those in Library Journal, Kirkus and so forth. It is not easy to get your book reviewed in these journals; however, it is possible. I've known it to happen, particularly for books related to science or the environment.

Typically, you will send a galley copy of your book to these prestigious journals for review three to four months prior to your official publication date.

But wait -- there are dozens more magazines and ezines for librarians. I found a directory listing around 150 of them including School Librarians Online, Academia, Feliciter (for Canadian librarians), Blackwell Science, Law Library Journal and Young Adult Library Services. Access this great directory at

Sell Books Directly to Libraries

Sure, you can still make sales directly to libraries. It's just a matter of tapping into print or online directories such as "Literary Market Place" or "Gale's Directory of Libraries" ( Or peruse some of the online library directories such as:

Purchase mailing lists of libraries through the Library Marketing List at You can get listings for 25,000 university libraries or 18,000 public libraries for $199 or 400 listings for community college libraries for $59.

Send a press release to the contact name via e-mail or postal delivery. Describe your book and the binding and list any amenities such as index, color photos, resource list and/or bibliography. Be sure to include ordering information. I generally provide instructions for ordering the book from my own Web site as well as through my wholesalers, Baker and Taylor or Quality Books.

Rumor has it that the best time to approach libraries is in December and June as this is when they typically do their buying.

You may want to offer libraries a discount to entice them to purchase your book. However, if you have a book that you believe the librarians will definitely want to add to their collections, try for that full-price sale, first. If they don't bite, then wait several months and send them your promo material again; this time, offering them a discount.

Approach Specialty Libraries With Your Special Book

Just as some bookstores specialize, so do libraries. You'll find libraries that specialize in military books, genealogy, science, academics, medicine/health, aviation, architecture and law. There are public libraries, private libraries, university libraries, community college libraries and school libraries. If your book fits into one of these specialties, I recommend approaching appropriate specialty libraries, first. Your hardcover book on profiles of early pilots would surely be of interest to aviation librarians worldwide. Offer your book on global warming to science libraries and you'll probably score some sales. I sold copies of all of my local history books to several genealogy libraries because they include profiles of early pioneers.

Use a Library Wholesaler

There are maybe a dozen library wholesalers -- that is, companies that distribute your book to libraries. As with booksellers, librarians prefer dealing with a handful of distributors instead of thousands of small publishers. That's why I always offer librarians the option of ordering from me (I would get more profit) or through either of my wholesalers. I recommend signing with a wholesaler so you don't miss any of those library sales.

I always wait until my book is a book before contacting wholesalers. However, some professionals suggest sending the galley form of your book along with the cover design a few months before it is available. I don't think that your galley package will be of much use to wholesalers without an exact replica of your cover on the cover stock you plan to use. My wholesalers have accepted most of my books, but have rejected a few of them.

Wholesalers generally want 55% and you pay shipping to them. If you are attempting to sell a "subsidy" produced book, you will lose money by using a wholesaler. But, if you self-published -- that is, established your own publishing company -- and you made wise financial decisions when producing your book, you will make a profit on books sold through wholesalers.


Quality Books ( or Baker and Taylor Books (

There's a list of wholesalers and distributors at BookWire (

For example, Follett distributes books to school libraries for K-12 (, Fintera provides books to libraries internationally (, Brodart wholesales books to public libraries and school libraries ( and for young adult book sales to libraries, contact

Is it worth your while to try tapping into the library market with your memoir, book of poetry or novel? It certainly can't hurt and you may find this quite a lucrative activity.

-- Patricia Fry is the author of 25 books, including The Right Way to Write, Publish and Sell Your Book,



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