Getting Your Self-Published Book into the Library, Tips from Librarian Marlene Harris

| Posted in Interviews / Success Stories |


So, you want to get your self-published book and/or ebook into the library, where lots and lots of new readers can discover you. Me too! That’s why I hunted down librarian Marlene Harris for an interview. First I’ll let her introduce herself:

I am a librarian with more than 15 years experience. I’ve worked in both public and academic libraries all over the United States, from the Chicago Public Library to the University of Alaska Anchorage. I’m currently a consultant, book reviewer and blogger at Reading Reality. I speak to librarians about using the blogosphere to help with collection development, and integrating ebooks into library collections. My take on the best ebook romances for 2011 was posted at Library Journal in December. I currently publish Ebook Review Central every Monday, a service that provides links to reviews and ratings for ebook-only titles from around the blogosphere.

Welcome, Marlene!

Now for the interview…

Let’s start with the question on every self-published author’s mind: Can we donate copies of our books to local libraries and get them on the shelves? If so, what’s the process? I imagine just dumping them into the donations bin might not be a good idea.

This is a terrific question, and it’s one every library gets asked.  Sometimes after the fact. Let’s say you are talking about self-published fiction and popular-type nonfiction books, and you want to get them into your local public library. That isn’t the only case, but it’s the easiest one to describe!

Please don’t put them into the donations bin. Anything in the donations bin, (or handed across the checkout desk) will probably end up in the book sale. Not always, but this is the way to bet.

Check the library’s website, or call to find out who the person in charge of Collection Development or Acquisitions is. (If your book is a children’s book, get the name of the head of the Children’s or Youth Services Department) That’s the person you want. Call or email that person and say you want to donate a copy of your book. And a lot of libraries would prefer two copies. There is a significant labor cost to cataloging even a fiction book, and many libraries find it makes more economic sense to just start with two copies.

Most libraries have a collection development policy that gives a broad outline of what they collect, whether they buy it or have it donated. Local authors usually fall neatly into the “we’d love to get pretty much everything if we could afford it, so if it’s donated, we’ll happily take it” category. There are always exceptions.  Textbooks are the biggest known exception for a public library. Fill-in-the-blank books are the second. Spiral and/or comb bindings are probably number three on the list.

If our books do get into the library, is there a limited length of time they’ll be kept on the shelves? I’ve heard that how often a book is circulated plays into whether it’s kept.

Shelf space in a library is real estate. Some libraries have limited amounts of it. Some have a lot. If a library looks cluttered, just like your own house, it can be difficult for people to find what they are looking for. In a library’s case, they go elsewhere, and usually that elsewhere is Barnes and Noble or Amazon. Libraries want to keep their patrons using their libraries, so they keep them looking fresh.

If your book is popular non-fiction, the information may get dated. Books on “flipping” houses from before the current housing crisis are all, well, not a good idea right now. Pluto used to be a planet.

How long a book stays on the shelf depends on the library’s available space, and how well the book gets used. And also the condition of the book itself. If it looks like the book got dropped in something noxious, most libraries will throw that copy out and replace it. I once saw a library book that had been put into the library’s book drop after it had been used to stop a bullet. The bullet was still in it. It was a very thick book. The book was withdrawn.

At my last library, fiction would be weeded from branch libraries if it did not circulate after a year or 18 months, depending on the size of the branch. But things lasted at the main library a lot longer, because there was more room, and the mission of a main library is usually to have a larger collection and to be more comprehensive. Branches are smaller buildings and are supposed to be popular collections. It’s their purpose.

Is there anything authors can do to improve the chances that our books will be found and checked out more often? I imagine cover art plays a big role here.

You absolutely can judge a book by its cover. Paperbacks circulate better than hardcovers, and hardcovers with dustjackets circulate better than hardcovers without dustjackets. Good descriptions on the sides of the dustjacket, or the front and back of the paperback help a lot.

If you can get the librarians on board, they can also help you tremendously. People forget that librarians also hand-sell books, just like bookstores do. Libraries host book groups, libraries do author events. If your library has any kind of book blog or book feature on their website, they can help promote your book locally, or even just post a review. At my last place of work, one of our most popular features was the list of what the librarians were reading each month. And the books we read definitely circulated more, whether they were old books or new books or audiobooks or whatever.

I had a nice SF/F acquisitions librarian stumble across my books and say she was going to order copies for her library. Do self-published authors need to get lucky like that to see their works added to non-local libraries? Or is there something they can try if they’re hoping to get in elsewhere? I imagine it’d be cool to be able to say your books are available at the New York Public Library, for example.

Any author who wants to see which libraries have their books should check out Worldcat is the public face of the librarian’s cataloging tool. It tells which libraries have which books. 105 libraries have Lauren Dane’s Heart of Darkness, and the nearest one to me (I’m in the Atlanta suburbs) appears to be in Jacksonville, FL) I think when I hit that point in my TBR list, I’ll just buy it!

The trick to getting libraries to find out about your books if you’re self-pubbed or just getting started is to get reviewed. Libraries don’t always rely on reviews (Stephen King doesn’t need good reviews!) but for a relatively unknown quantity, it’s just hard for libraries to find out an author exists. And when money is tight like it is now, if there’s a choice between a book that is reviewed and a book that is unknown and not reviewed, the choice is to go with the review.

Librarians look for reviews in a few specific places; Library Journal, Booklist, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews. Except for PW they are all library trade specific. And they all review everything from children’s material to adult. School Library Journal is an offshoot of Library Journal that reviews just children’s stuff. There are also review magazines, online plus print, that are specific to genres, like RT Book Review (romance) and Locus Magazine (science fiction and fantasy) that some libraries get.

RT Book Review has pretty broad distribution in bigger libraries and does sometimes review self-pub and indie-pub romances. Kirkus also reviews indie and self-pub books. Kirkus also has a way for self-pub authors to expedite (meaning pay) for a review. This doesn’t guarantee a good review, but it does guarantee a review. It’s not cheap, but it will get seen.

Library Journal began reviewing ebook-only romances in August 2011. They have reviewed at least a couple of self-pubbed books, regardless of whether they were available to libraries or not.

I’ve been thinking of paperbacks thus far, but a lot of self-published authors are going the ebook route these days. Are there any special rules for authors who’d like to get their ebooks into the library? Can they send gift copies to the librarian (I obviously haven’t tried this and don’t know what I’m talking about!), or… what’s the process?

It’s not so much a special route as a special name. The name is OverDrive. The only two individual libraries who have worked out a way to manage DRM and simply storing the contents of all their ebooks are the Kansas State Library and Douglas County Libraries in Colorado. Everyone else licenses their ebooks from a company called OverDrive and simply doesn’t have a way to manage ebook gifts. Because authors only want to donate a copy, not the rights for lots of copies, and libraries generally don’t have a way to handle that. OverDrive handles it for them. There are other companies now entering this same market, but this is pretty much a work in progress.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t a way for a self-pubbed author to work something out with OverDrive and then offer their books to libraries. There are a lot of “publishers” in the OverDrive catalog that publish the works of a single author only.

For romance authors in particular, finding a way to work this out might be worthwhile. Romances are the hottest circulating category of ebooks for public libraries. And this is a case where the authors do not have to be known quantities to get circulated. Every romance circulated like the proverbial hotcakes. Or hot sheets.

Ebooks in libraries are one of the biggest issues looming on the horizon. The “Big 6” publishers are seesawing about how and if and whether they want to let public libraries loan ebooks to patrons. They are afraid that ebook lending will cost them sales. Publishers forget that people who read, read a lot. People who read also buy. And now that there is data about ebook buying, people who buy ebooks buy more ebooks than people who buy print books. People who borrow library books who could afford to always also bought print books. They would get introduced to an author at the library, then buy their books. The library provided the “gateway drug”. Ebook lending can be the same thing. But if the big publishers get out of the library market, and library patrons still want ebooks, then there will be a LOT of room for small publishers and independent publishers and self-pubbed authors to get in. The demand for people to read ebooks from their library is big and growing. We all just need to find a way to meet it.

Great information, Marlene. Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions!

Make sure to stop by and visit Marlene’s site for the latest SF/F book reviews.

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Comments (37)

Lots of great information here. Thank you both for sharing this.

Thank you for this. I never knew self-published authors could even *get* into libraries. It’s nice to know I could get into my local one, at least.

Great information for me to store away for later. Thank you Marlene and Lindsay for another informative post.

Thanks for this interview. Extremely informative.

Wow, thanks for this! That is incredibly useful information.

I’m so glad everyone found this useful! I had a lot of fun answering Lindsay’s questions. If there is any follow-up info that anyone needs, please feel free to ask.


You mentioned some online review magazines, like Locus. I went to several of their websites but didn’t see a way to submit a book for review. Are these online review magazines typically “by invitation only?”

It varies. Locus policy is way down the bottom of the FAQ on this site
For RT Book Reviews if I were an author I would look at their “Contacts” page ( and contact the senior editor in charge of reviews.
Library Journal’s submission criteria page is here:
and it includes the info about their ebook only reviews.
The link to the Kirkus service for indie reviews is here:
For other places, look at their “contact us” page.

Marlene: I am self publishing a non-fiction. In my research, I read in addition to the ISBN and the UPC codes, there is another number/code that is required to be considered for libraries. Does that sound familiar to you?

Thanks much,

[…] it yourself! Who cares what those mean old publishers say, you can still draw people to your book. Here are some tips on getting your book into public libraries and in front of readers. I have to say I concur with […]

[…] it yourself! Who cares what those mean old publishers say, you can still draw people to your book. Here are some tips on getting your book into public libraries and in front of readers. I have to say I concur with […]

[…] tells where to find images and artwork for your ebook, while librarian Marlene Harris explains how to get your self-published book or ebook into the library, and Maxwell Cynn shares his successful tricks to making his self-pubbed book a […]

[…] Harris on Lindsay Buroker Getting Your Self-Published Book into the Library, Tips from Librarian Marlene Harris “If you can get the librarians on board, they can also help you tremendously. People forget […]

I didn’t know you could get ebooks in libraries. It really does open a whole new area for self-pub writers to explore. I’ll definitely will be looking into that. Thank you for sharing!

Great post. Authors need to hear from and understand librarians and libraries. Hopefully they are all already library users. We are all on the same page.
Amber, author and librarian.

Thank you for the most helpful interview with Marlene Harris.

Criminy. This is perhaps the most informative blog post I have ever read. Sent three emails of cut n’ pasted lines to my BFWriterF before just sending her the link to the whole damn thing. THANK you!

[…] books, especially their ebooks, in libraries. I was interviewed by author Lindsay Buroker for an article on her blog about how self-published authors could get their books into their local […]

I was surprised to learn that my book was found in about 10 public libraries across the country. This information is great and to learn of surprises on is a blessing.

[…] B presents Tips for Getting Your Self-Published Book into the Library posted at Lindsay Buroker | Fantasy Author, saying, “I interviewed a librarian and got the […]

I connected with the county Friends of the Library, who put me in touch with the Acquisitions person for the entire county. I donated 12 copies of my self-published paperback, which circulated through the county library system.

In addition, I was invited to speak at several branches and they allowed me to sell books afterward. Of course, I made sure the events were listed in the local paper. My investment was minimal and it got a lot of people to recognize my name.

I recommend exploring this possibility to all self-published authors.

This is a terrific idea for any book that would be accessible to a wide audience. Children’s books, fiction, popular topics in non-fiction. And the programming idea is awesome.
It’s fantastic that you did your own publicity for the events! Library budgets are being cut, and publicity budgets were one of the first things to go!

[…] Lindsay Buroker, who I have in my blogroll, came to our rescue back in February with her interview with Marlene Harris. […]

[…] Now here’s where I’m going to straddle the line.  Traditional publishers have very little to offer literary translators, especially in The States.  I know there are a few small presses that specialize in translated works, and of course there are university presses, but everything that is produced at these houses is expensive to buy and hard to find.  Thanks to the e-book this has the potential to change, and I don’t mind forking over time, effort, and money to create something that has yet to exist or to change some part of the world that I think is in dire need of a good fix.   I’m also a lot more confident in my ability to produce quality work here, or to put together a team to help me do so.  I don’t expect to make tons of money at it, since changing a culture is an up-hill battle, but I do believe that I can make it so “availability” and “price” are never an issue.  I intend to self-publish versions for e-book readers, offer print editions, and make copies available in various libraries. […]

Awesome interview. Thanks for so much valuable info. I have been trying to get my novel Roll Call into libraries and have found reviews from big sources play a vital role. I have a great review from Kirkus Discoveries that is helping. My novel is a little long at 730 pages for an unknown author but since then I have published 6 more books.

Great info on libraries. Probably makes most sense to start with local librarians and work from there. Hopefully the books are good and it goes from there.

FANTASTIC information here! Thanks!

[…] a new blog post, fantasy author Lindsay Buroker interviewed veteran librarian Marlene Harris, an academic and public librarian with over 15 years of experience […]

So much great info, links to see if one’s book is in a library, library reviews, wow!

I also was stopped in my scan by the idea that there are “publishers” with one author delivering content through OverDrive. Can anyone give a little more info about that?

Thanks so much, have bookmarked, to review and absorb 🙂

Thanks for a great post–very informative!

[…] Getting Your Self-Published Book Into the Library, Tips from Librarian Marlene Harris (Lindsay Buroker). This piece is a couple years old now, but offers valuable tips and insight. […]

Hello…great information. Glad I found it. Mine has received an Award and some great reviews, even placed on B&N shelves in my area. I am hoping to find the magic key to school libraries 🙂

Chris B.

Thank you! Great interview. I feel like you read my mind and asked all of the questions I have been thinking about since I self-published my book Love at First Sight: Positive Affirmations for Young Girls of Color.

The reality is, libraries don’t really want indie books. The US library catalog rules essentially disqualify them, and the local libraries I talked to aren’t interested. Ours held a ‘local authors book fair’ last year, but it was a dud. Poor planning showed a lack of interest on their part, and at no point did they ask any of us if we’d like to be added to their shelves.

A great man once said that “all politics is local”. All libraries are local, too. There are certainly libraries that don’t want to create new procedures to deal with indie books. The back of the house operations that do the leg work of adding items to the catalog were among the first to get cut in the great recession and probably won’t be restored.

That being said, there are also plenty of libraries that do work with their local authors community and do add indie published books. It all depends on where you are, how well funded the library is, and how willing people are to try new things. I’ve worked in both places that did, and places that didn’t.

As far as cataloging rules, there is nothing that disqualifies indie books from being cataloged. Although most libraries will want the book to have an ISBN, there are plenty of indie books that do have ISBNs or can get them.

What makes it difficult for libraries to catalog indie books is that indie books are usually not in the national databases that libraries consult for cataloging information. There is nothing stopping the library from adding the book themselves, but it takes about an hour to fully catalog a book where there is no available cataloging information. A lot of libraries no longer have staff trained to perform that work, or they just don’t have time. Or both.

Which is sad but often true.

Thanks for stopping by to comment, Marlene!

” it takes about an hour to fully catalog a book where there is no available cataloging information”. Wow! an hour. Slow person. Find a similar record and modify it. I can zing through a technical book w/ chapter titles and topical entries in under 20 min.

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