Library Sales | Getting Books Into Readers’ Hands

You went to the library as a kid. When you were in junior high school, librarians helped you with your homework. Well, guess what? Libraries and librarians are still there, and a library is still a great place to connect with people who are passionate about books.

prague, library, prague monastery

Image from Pixabay via izoca

Speaking at a library will help you connect with readers you might not meet any other way, and by “speaking at a library,” I don’t mean doing a book reading. But, more on that in a minute.

First, I want to convince you that speaking at a library is a good investment of your time, maybe a better investment than blasting out Twitter messages about a new e-book.

  • According to the Library Journal’s SELF-e website, “over 50 percent of all library users go on to purchase e-books by an author they were introduced to in the library.”
  • Did you know that 56 percent of Americans have library cards, and 40 percent have visited a library in the last month?

The library of today is a happening place. Libraries offer movie nights, sewing classes, art workshops, activities for seniors, and computer time. Programs that bring visitors to the library are popular with librarians!

You’d rather be in a bookstore? Well, guess what. Only 5 percent of Americans have visited a bookstore in the past year!

Besides, bookstores return books that don’t sell. Libraries have money to spend, and if the Circulation Librarian sees that cardholders are checking out your book, the Acquisition Librarian will order more copies.

To get into a library, you’re going to need to do four things:

  • Produce a book that’s professionally designed and ready for a librarian to shelve.
  • Develop a workshop or program on a hot topic that will draw an audience.
  • Locate libraries and propose your program.
  • Contact the local media for advance publicity.
  • Present your program and sell books.

Let’s break these steps down so they’re not so daunting.

Start With A Library-Friendly Book

You’ll have a better shot at success if your book is professionally designed. You need a great cover and a title, but did you know the book’s spine is also extremely important? Library books are shelved spine out. The lettering must be readable from five feet away, and most designers run the type from top to bottom. If the book lies flat on a table with the cover up, the type reads left to right.

Spine format for library

Make sure the spine of the book has the publisher’s name or logo at the bottom.


The spine of the book. Which should go first, the book title or your name? If you’re a nationally recognized author, then put your name at the top. If you’re an emerging author,  the book’s title goes first and has the largest lettering. Either blank space or a divider separates the title from your name. What’s key, however, is that the book spine have a logo or publishing company’s name at its foot.

Most publishers put that logo on the back of the book, too. Even if you are self-publishing your book, make sure you imitate the New York houses. That’s what librarians expect to see, and you don’t want to disappoint them.

CIP, PCN, and PCIP. The Library of Congress’s Cataloguing in Publication Program  CIP program helps libraries know how to catalogue new books. If your book is published by an independent press with three different authors, your publisher can apply, though the author cannot. Self-published books and those produced by subsidy publishers won’t qualify.

The Library of Congress has a second method for cataloguing books, and that’s by issuing a Preassigned Control Number, or PCN. E-books aren’t eligible, but otherwise, the only requirements are that the publisher have a US address listed on the copyright page and that the publisher put “Library of Congress Control Number: 2007012345” there as well. (They will give you the PCN.)

While an author or independent press could—in theory—go directly to the Library of Congress, it is far easier to go to a company that provides PCIP information. That acronym stands for Publishers’ Cataloguing-in-Publication.

library CIP

When you put the CIP information on the copyright page, the library knows where to shelve the book.

Jump onto the Cassidy Cataloguing Services website or the Donohue Group Inc website to learn more. For a very modest fee–$80 to $130—these and similar companies will provide the text you need for your copyright page.

In addition, they will put your book on library-super-sites like WorldCat and SkyRiver, making the book easy for librarians to find. What librarians really like is to have all the cataloguing work done for them.

Lightning Source/Ingram Spark. Many self-published authors only put their books up on Amazon. That’s  because Amazon sells more books than anyone else. (For an in-depth look at Amazon and how it works, read The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon by Brad Stone.)

But to sell to libraries, you are better off getting your the book into Ingram’s distribution system. As you will see when you go to Ingram Spark, the company offers the same print-on-demand services Amazon offers. Though in the past many librarians (and all bookstores) would have nothing to do with a book produced by CreateSpace (Amazon’s publishing arm), that seems to be changing.

An article by Joseph Esposito in The Scholarly Kitchen says that academic librarians are altering their buying habits, and this is having a negative effect on small and academic presses. If you’ve published a scholarly book that’s unlikely to be widely distributed, you may want to find out more about Esposito’s research. Most writers would be more concerned with the buying decisions of Acquisition Librarians in Public Libraries.

There’s no reason you can’t have your book published both by Lightning Source and CreateSpace. Both of my publishers—Summertime Publications Inc and All Things That Matter Press—put my book up on both platforms. However, I have noticed that when publishers only put a book on Ingram Spark, the Amazon sales page says ”there are only six copies left” or that there will be a delay in getting more copies.

If you decide to produce your book on both platforms, make sure that when you put your book on CreateSpace, you do not check the “extended distribution” box. If your book is already published and you want to put it on Ingram Spark, you must uncheck that box AND call the folks at Amazon’s Author Central to let them know about the change.

Got all that? Good. Now, let’s get you to the next step.

Two Easy Ways to Let Librarians Know You Exist

United for Libraries is bringing authors and libraries together in a unique partnership to connect authors with libraries, Friends of the Library groups, and library foundations as well as to keep authors informed about issues and concerns affecting libraries on a national level. Authors who join are featured on the new Authors for Libraries website where Friends groups and libraries can search by zip code to find authors in their area. Tips are included on the website for Friends and libraries seeking to host programs and for authors who want to do programs at their local libraries.

But, that’s not all libraries are doing. If you are an unknown author who is trying to build readership, you can help your future sales by building a fan base through SELF-e. This program is putting libraries right at the center of the digital publishing revolution. “Through SELF-e, you can make your e-book available to thousands of readers via participating public libraries in your state, and have the potential to reach a national audience through Library Journal’s curated collections.”

If you’re skeptical (as I was) you might want to take a look at this article by the publishing gurus Jane Friedman and Porter Anderson. Though authors won’t get paid (even though the libraries must pay to participate) Jane believes the program can benefit authors. In this librarian-vetted program, “emerging writers” should have a much easier time getting into libraries as an author, rather than as an expert or speaker.

Stay tuned.  That’s a topic I’m going to cover in next week’s post.

What about you? Are you ready to think about getting your book in a library? At this point are you more interested sales or in finding readers who love your work? Comments always welcome.



  • Marylee MacDonald

    Marylee MacDonald is the author of MONTPELIER TOMORROW, BONDS OF LOVE & BLOOD, BODY LANGUAGE, and THE BIG BOOK OF SMALL PRESSES AND INDEPENDENT PUBLISHERS. Her books and stories have won the Barry Hannah Prize, the Jeanne M. Leiby Memorial Chapbook Award, a Readers' Favorites Gold Medal for Drama, the American Literary Review Fiction Prize, a Wishing Shelf Book Award, and many others. She holds an M.A. in Creative Writing from San Francisco State, and when not reading or writing books, she loves to walk on the beach and explore National Parks.

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2 Responses to “Library Sales | Getting Books Into Readers’ Hands”

  1. Chandra Graham says:

    Fantastic topic – thanks for being so specific. I have always wondered how library sales account for, and impact, a book’s success. And – I checked the calendar – I have been to the library 4 times in the past year. I have been to Barnes & Noble… times during the same period.

    • My guess is that you’re pretty typical. When we think of going to a bookstore, we think of spending money–maybe too much money. When we think of going to a library, we think of saving money or using their computer or dropping in on story hour. Libraries have replaced churches.