Ep 11: How to Sell Indie Books to Libraries

Libraries are an incredible place for the public to discover your book.

Many authors focus on retail outlets for their books, but you can’t forget about libraries. Join us as we discuss how libraries make their purchasing decisions, how to approach a library as an indie author, and the importance of availability, book metadata, and reviews. Books distributed through IngramSpark are made available to libraries. Publish today!


Robin Cutler [00:00:08] Hi, everyone. Welcome to Go Publish Yourself, an IngramSpark podcast. This episode is sponsored by Book Design Templates. Create beautiful print and eBook templates right in Microsoft Word or Adobe InDesign with pre-designed templates that help your book stand out. And those templates are available in IngramSpark. Hi, I am Robin Cutler, I'm the director of IngramSpark and normally I'm joined by the lovely Justine Bylo, but she's under the weather today, so unfortunately she won't be joining me today. We do have a special guest and really lucky to be joined by Ingram's own Joyce Skokut, who's the director of Collection Development for Ingram Library Services. So, today we're going to be really focusing in on how authors sell to libraries and Joyce is the perfect guest to have on today to talk about this. Hello, Joyce!

Joyce Skokut [00:01:08] Hi, Robin. How are you?

Robin Cutler [00:01:11] I am good! You know this is one of the mysterious parts that, you know, authors always ask us about. You know, how in the world do you sell your book to libraries? It'll be great to kick this off talking about the different types of libraries that, you know, are around. You could, kind of, start this off by just, kind of, telling us the different kind of libraries that are around and how someone would approach these libraries.

Joyce Skokut [00:01:43] Sure, Robin. At Ingram Library Services, our focus is on working with public libraries. We actually group libraries according to their size, as we think about them. Just because services tend to differ at little bit for libraries depending upon size, but small, midsize, large, and urban systems. There are other kinds of libraries, there are academic libraries. They buy in a completely different manner than public libraries. There are school libraries that can have a little more in common with public libraries, sometimes. And special libraries like corporate or government, et cetera.

Robin Cutler [00:02:26] Mainly, I think authors are interested in knowing about public libraries. Don't you agree with that?

Joyce Skokut [00:02:35] I think so. That's where the majority of the circulations happen.

Robin Cutler [00:02:42] Tell us how a library actually purchases books because this is something that a lot of people don't know exactly how they make their purchasing decisions.

Joyce Skokut [00:02:55] Sure, and if you're okay with it, I'll talk a little bit about public and academic.

Robin Cutler [00:03:00] Okay

Joyce Skokut [00:03:00] Since we know that K-12 is a little more like public and special tends to be that they already know the book they want when they come to a vendor to buy it, but for public libraries they look to their vendors for a lot of services like standing order programs, new title notification programs. Those are typically going to fall around things like series, popular authors, James Patterson, Stephen King, et cetera. Also, things like graphic novels that are harder for them to select. And then what we call continuations. Those are things that are serial publications like travel guides, test prep study guides. They also look to vendors to provide lists. I have a team of librarians here in the room with me who act as personal shoppers for public libraries. If they get some grant money--

Robin Cutler [00:03:54] Oh!

Joyce Skokut [00:03:55] Yeah, I know it's interesting, isn't it? If the library gets some grant money and they have a special project or they've done a lot of weeding, and they hadn't done any for years and they need to refresh the collection. Or they're going to move into a larger building or open a new branch, they work with us. They create, we give them a profile to complete, and they tell us a little bit about what they want. We do a little bit of research about the library and the area and then we have a call with them. Make sure all of our assumptions, and guidelines, and questions are all taken care of and then we create a custom list for the public libraries. We also do a lot of curated lists that we offer via ipage for our library customers. And that's a little bit about how public libraries work. Do you want me to share a little bit--

Robin Cutler [00:04:47] Yeah.

Joyce Skokut [00:04:47] Or do you have a question?

Robin Cutler [00:04:48] About academic?

Joyce Skokut [00:04:48] About academic, yeah.

Robin Cutler [00:04:51] Yeah that'd be great.

Joyce Skokut [00:04:53] Academic libraries are different in that they do use standing order plans, but they use them in a completely different way that I won't get into here today, because the majority of the way that they buy titles are through approval plans and an approval plan is just much more comprehensive than anything that vendors do for public libraries. An approval plan is generally somebody from the vendor, the academic library vendor, going out on-site to spend days with all the selectors at the library and completing really detailed profiles, typically that give preference to E(book), or print, or binding, cover every single LC subject. And then there are a group of titles that those vendors who do what's called "treat titles" and they're adding a little information, they're adding readership levels, audience, they may be trying to discern if the book is appropriate, if it has academic merit. And I think people would be surprised at the amount of popular materials that are used in academia these days, particularly in support of curriculum. And so, there's a program that runs and it looks at the titles that the team has treated versus the customer profiles and it sends either a book or what's called a slip, or a notification, to the library that, "Hey, this book is maybe a match you might want to buy it."

Robin Cutler [00:06:21] It sounds like a lot is done between the vendor, which in this case is Ingram and the library, in advance. Speak to how an author who maybe has the goal of getting their book into their local library, you know, how do you think that they would best work? How would they approach that library and what do they need to make sure, you know, they have in terms of making their book available through Ingram?

Joyce Skokut [00:06:55] Probably the biggest thing, so this is interesting to note too, public libraries can be a little bit more wary of self-published materials than academic libraries, who tend to embrace it a little more readily. But for public libraries, hopefully the book fits a niche. And not that they won't buy any self-published romance ever, but if it's local interest or filled a unique niche, then going in and talking to their local library's going to be an easier conversation. Really, what the authors want to do though is they want to make sure their books are listed with the vendors from whom libraries are buying, Ingram being one of those, and that's really the best thing that an author can do to make sure that their book gets exposure.

Robin Cutler [00:07:45] And for the listeners, every now and then, I work from my home, and we're recording right now in my home studio. Every now and then, I'm visited by my cat, Marbles, so you might hear some cat noise in the background, but she's really interested in this topic, as well. Don't fret about what you hear here. Okay, so Joyce, we always talk about metadata in terms of selling a book, especially online or to retailers, but metadata is also really important to libraries. Tell us about what sort of metadata a library's looking for.

Joyce Skokut [00:08:34] Sure. It's hugely important to libraries. They're looking for really understanding the specific age range. Which means the level of comprehension that the reader will have, not that it should be a zero to 99 because a grandparent could read to an infant. It's really the comprehension level of the intended reader. That's critical for libraries. And then an accurate annotation and a significant number of relevant BISACs. And it could be that there are occasions where there is really one suitable BISAC, without stretching the truth, but if there are four, or there are five, then I would encourage authors to add all four or five of those. Another thing that's tricky for vendors and libraries is that we all know libraries buy, we all know that they all use the Dewey Decimal System, and so libraries are looking to buy things that are organized by Dewey. And as vendors, that's not information that we get from most publishers pre-publication, when libraries are looking to buy. And by the way, they're looking to buy about three to four months pre-pub in many cases.

Robin Cutler [00:09:45] Oh, that's good.

Joyce Skokut [00:09:45] As vendors, we try to categorize books into at least the rough Dewey century. You know, this book is 300's or 600's title, but having a Dewey would be a plus, if there's a way for an independent author to do that. And just getting reviews is another critical thing for public libraries. Publicity, any publicity. It's great.

Robin Cutler [00:10:14] Just to break it down into, "IngramSpark speak", when Joyce is talking about BISAC codes, that's basically the subject codes of how your book is categorized either within a retailer or especially BISAC related to libraries. In IngramSpark, when you're setting up your title, you can select up to three BISAC codes when you're setting your title. And let's talk a little about BISACs, so say, Joyce, you have a work of fiction or even nonfiction, you know, and say it has some kind of special genre associated with that. Say it's a romance book about zombies that's set in the South-Western U.S. How would somebody create a BISAC code that says all of that?

Joyce Skokut [00:11:21] Robin, you threw me a curve ball there. I would say they definitely would have fiction as their first BISAC, romance as their second, and I'm not sure what BISAC category would cover zombies. And where were the zombies?

Robin Cutler [00:11:33] I bet there is one. I bet there is one.

Joyce Skokut [00:11:36] There might be. If there is one, then the author should apply it by all means.

Robin Cutler [00:11:42] Absolutely. In terms of marketing directly to libraries, should that be part of something that an author will go into their library to talk about how they're going to market their book? And when they're doing the initial pitch?

Joyce Skokut [00:12:04] They can, and depending upon their library system and depending upon the subject matter of their book. Whether it's local interest or it's a zombie romance, they may have an easier or harder time about that. But I will tell you what they can do, that definitely increases their chances of getting attention by a library and a purchase by a library, and that is having the author market the title in ways that potential readers are going to see. People would be surprised at how many purchases are made by libraries that are driven by requests from patrons. And so, anything that an author can do using social media or anything else that they can come up with to promote their title in ways that are going to make it visible to perspective readers, that's going to drive those readers to go into the libraries and say, "Hey, will you buy this book?"

Robin Cutler [00:12:59] This is a good time to plug a new service that we're about to launch in IngramSpark, with the help of Ingram Library Services and that's called, I forgot what exactly we're going to call it, but this is a new cataloging service where the team of librarians at Ingram will be able to catalog your book by providing what we call a MARC record. Do you want to talk a little bit about what a MARC record is and what value that will be to include, as far as adding that to your book information in IngramSpark?

Joyce Skokut [00:13:45] Sure. There are a couple different ways that that can happen. A brief MARC record can be just what it sounds like, very brief with minimal information. A lot of libraries ask their vendors to do cataloging for them and provide a custom MARC record. And it's a machine-readable code. It's a record that tells you, it's basically the bibliographic information that used to be on the card catalogs back in the day, when we would go into a library to search for a book. It's all of that, but one of the key pieces of information a MARC record includes that makes it easy for a library to understand where to buy, which collection to buy this for, is the Dewey. The Dewey is a tricky thing. A Dewey is something that typically is assigned by a librarian who is working as a cataloger.

Robin Cutler [00:14:37] This is really great. I encourage our listeners who are IngramSpark customers to be on the lookout for more information about this new service that we will be launching in the next couple of months in IngramSpark. Thank you so much for joining us here today, Joyce. And please, our listeners, join us next week for our season one finale as we discuss self-publishing versus traditional publishing. Thanks again, Joyce, and talk to all of you soon.

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