Saturday, April 23, 2011

Guest Blog by Kristine Pratt, Written World Communications

Kindle just announced they are making ebooks available through Overdrive in libraries. As for as the impact upon publishers to have library downloads, this has been the subject of intense debate not long ago.

In March of this year, HarperCollins announced that their ebooks had a limited license so that they could be downloaded only 26 times before disappearing. This caused an outcry against HarperCollins that called for a boycott of books by HarperCollins. The libraries were outraged, as, due to budget crunches, they certainly could not afford to re-purchase titles over and over.

There has always been an uneasy feeling between publishers and libraries. Let's face it, an author is hoping to make money by having copies of their book sold. To have people able to check out a single copy numerous times means that those are fewer their way of thinking.

Some publishers specialize in books meant just for libraries, instead looking at it from the point of view that there are thousands of libraries and a copy of a book in every library in the United States is 122,101 books sold.

Keep that number in mind, it's the latest figure.

As a publisher, we considered the library aspect long and hard in how we determined our marketing efforts. Yes we do have books in the library system. And while each of those books counts only as a single sale let's look at the facts.

A book in the library is checked out an average of 54 times before it is retired. This is a print copy, an ebook would be able to go much further than that. But let's just look at the print number right now.

Of those 54 people who checked out that book, you now have created 54 people with an interest in your books.

The average wait for a new title, depending upon popularity of the book can vary from several days to several weeks or even months. How many times have you opted for the bookstore when you've discovered that it's going to be awhile before you can get the book you want to read? I know I have.

Granted there is no wait on an ebook...BUT the people reading that ebook are people who will become potential fans. People who will hunt down your other books, and want to read those too. People who won't chance a new author in the bookstore will always try them at the library.

There are facts and figures to support all that, but suffice it to say, it's been shown that books in library actually stimulate additional sales.

So...profit off of ebooks? I would say it comes from the fan base, it comes from the people who will turn out to see you (keep in mind a good relationship with a library can lead to appearances at the library, and chances to promote your books in that setting).

And let's not forget that great big number.

122,101 libraries in the United States today. Seems to me that if you sold a copy or your book or ebook to even half of those, you'd be doing pretty well.

And besides, 122,101 library books checked out 54 times each means you have 6,598,854 readers.

I don't know about you, but those numbers look pretty good to me.

OK everyone, ready for a little more information?

I called up the head of collection acquisition who happens to be in charge of all book buying for fifteen libraries in this part of Colorado Springs. She happens to do all the buying of fiction and children's books for all of these locations, so she knows her stuff.

The book buying process for a library is fairly straightforward. Now remember this represents how the big libraries to things. I'm sure it's much simpler than this in smaller ones, but let's see what we can do with this information to promote not only our writing, but to place God's word on the shelves and in the hands of people who so sorely need to hear it.

The library budget has not been affected considerably in recent years, something which surprised me, but perhaps that's because they say that library readership is up in the last two years. Speculation to this increase include thoughts that with everyone feeling the financial pinch, the library has become the first place to get a book, over purchasing either online or in bookstores. The percentages certainly show more people checking out books than ever before, which is good news for the library and reason to hold the budget strong.

So what does that mean for us?

The library purchaser looks at three things to determine if a book will be carried by the library or not.

1. She starts her day with reading several journals online. These are:

- Booklist
- Kirkus Review
- Library Journal
- Publishers Weekly
- School Library Journal
- Voice of Youth America

Any books with a good review will be bought immediately. Any book with a moderate review will also likely be purchased. Books that have one good review in one mag and one bad review in another will also be purchased.

Huh. Who knew?

2. The book MUST be carried by Baker & Taylor. She says that with the current time restraints on her job and as much work as she has there is no time to set up accounts with various publishers, even if they offer a better deal on the books. She says "We have more money than time, so it has to be with Baker & Taylor."

3. Amazon rankings help. If your book is NOT reviewed, but has an Amazon ranking of 100,000 or better you'll be purchased. BUT, a book with a ranking up to 500,000 will still be considered.

Now, a few myths to dispel.

- Any literature mailed, flyers, catalogs, or letters about your book will be ignored. They do not have time for them and those kinds of things hit the trash without even being opened.
- A book donated to the library will not wind up in any collection necessarily.
- Approaching them as a local author might hold some weight, but you might wind up in a special collection and not in general circulation


Here is where it counts. A card holder requesting a book will guarantee a sale of that book almost every time. Unless there is something really wildly wrong with it. They say they will even buy a book they don't think is well done, has bad reviews, is something they would never spend the money on if it is requested by a card holder. Why? Because they figure that someone wants to read it.

Hints here:

1. Look at your website first. My library has a form on their webpage that can be used to requesting books.
2. If they don't have someplace online, go in person and ask at the desk.
3. Be sure to be a card holder to give weight to your request. It never takes long to get one and usually all you need is ID to get one.
4. Usually they require the book be in print, be less than 2 years old, and available on Amazon at the very least (if not on Baker & Taylor)

I also want to note something:

My library buyer told me that she gets requests for Christian fiction all the time, but they are seldom reviewed in any of those library journals. She says she wishes that Baker & Taylor had a library journal just for Christian books because she winds up going to the publishers websites for all the big publishers to find out what's new and orders from that. She says it's awkward and time consuming to do that.

Hope this helps!

Kristine Pratt
Written World Communications


Jeanette Levellie said...

Thank you so much for this wonderful treasure chest of information!!

I check out books from my local library, as well as buying them. I've discovered authors at the library that I wouldn't have otherwise known about, so it does increase awareness and sales.

I've also purchased books to donate to my library that I want others to read. I'm planting seeds for the future, when I believe people will buy my books to put in libraries!

Lance Albury said...

Excellent information! Thank you, Kristine.

Sandra Ardoin said...

Thanks, Kristine.

My library carries a great deal of Christian fiction. I also know they are open to ordering what people request.

It's interesting to know that sending them information about your book can be a waste of time. Assuming you're too distant from the library to visit, what kind of response is there in calling?