How to get your self-published book into libraries

Self-Published Books in Libraries Carla King

It used to be very difficult for self-publishers to get their books into libraries. But today, the library system is increasingly accepting of self-published titles. Here’s how you can get your book onto the bookshelves and into their ebook catalogs.


Be Big on Smashwords

Way back in 2014 Smashwords founder Mark Coker made a deal with OverDrive to distribute their company’s most popular titles to over 20,000 public libraries around the world, 90% of which are US public libraries. In their announcement, Smashwords reported:

OverDrive and Smashwords will create curated buy-lists libraries can use to purchase the most popular indie authors and titles. Libraries will soon have the option, for example, to purchase the top 100 YA fantasy novels (approximate price: $400), or the top 1,000 most popular contemporary romances (~$4,000) or top 200 complete series across multiple categories (~$2,000), or the top 200 thrillers, mysteries, epic fantasies or memoirs. With most of our bestsellers priced priced at or under $4.00, you can do the math to appreciate how incredibly affordable these collections will be. We’re going to have fun slicing and dicing.

In 2013 library patrons borrowed over 102 million ebooks from the network provided by OverDrive, up 44% over 2012. The number of books patrons looked at during while browsing books to borrow was over 1.8 billion, which is 70% more than 2012. Coker points out that this “gives authors incredible exposure and branding to readers searching for their next read.”


Get a Great Book Review

A great review in Kirkus, Library Journal, Publishers Weekly or similar prestigious book review organization will definitely get your book noticed by librarians, which may be a reason to pay for one. However, it’s important to note that just because you pay for a review it doesn’t mean it’s going to be good, so make your book the absolute best it can be before sending it to one of these organizations. (Most publishing pros agree that editing is the number one expense you shouldn’t skimp on.)


Join IBPA’s Library Mailing Programs

Another way to get in front of librarians is to join IBPA (Independent Book Publishers Association), and participate in their library mailing programs.

IBPA mails members’ promotional flyers to collection development librarians throughout the United States, using lists of public libraries with budgets over $25,000 a year. All mailings go third class bulk. When you participate in a mailing, your contact information goes on the list so you get the mailing too and you can track delivery time.

IBPA offers many other valuable programs for authors, plus discounts on ISBNs, printers, marketers, and a great monthly magazine to help you better understand publishing.

Your book will need to have be professionally produced and distributed by Ingram. Use IngramSpark to do this. Don’t know much about distribution? Check out my book distribution basics post.

how to distribute your self-published book


How About the CreateSpace ISBN and Libraries?

Many authors tell me they’ve considered using a CreateSpace ISBN because it makes their book visible to libraries. Don’t do this.

There are many good reasons to use CreateSpace (to get your print book into Amazon; to print advance copies and drafts), but independent authors should create their own independent publishing company with their own set of ISBNs. Using another company’s ISBN is never advisable, especially as Amazon is not very popular with other booksellers.

As with bookstores, just because your book is visible, it doesn’t mean they’ll order it. Use your own ISBN and distribute with Amazon directly or via a service like IngramSpark or BookBaby instead.

Also, as you’ll see by reading a little further, you’ll need the ISBN and publisher identifier number from Bowker to list your book in the Library of Congress.

See more about ISBNs in the post Why It’s Essential for Authors to Own Your ISBNS.

Keep your book free! Own your own ISBNs



Get Geeky with the Library of Congress

The library system in the USA wants you to have a CIP number or be in the PCN program. Most self-publishers will need to opt for the PCN program. Read on and you’ll see why.


Library of Congress CIP number

The Library of Congress website very plainly states that they do not allow self-publishers to obtain a number. You must be a small press, publishing at least five books a year by at least three different authors. So how do you get around this? By applying to the PCN program.


Library of Congress PCN program

Even though you can’t get into the CIP program, you may be able to get into the Library of Congress’s Preassigned Control Number program “to obtain control numbers for your forthcoming books.” Here’s what the Library of Congress has to say about the difference between the CIP and PCN programs:

  • The Cataloging in Publication (CIP) program creates bibliographic records for forthcoming books most likely to be widely acquired by U.S. libraries. The Preassigned Control Number (PCN) program assigns a Library of Congress Control Number to titles most likely to be acquired by the Library of Congress as well as some other categories of books. The two programs are mutually exclusive.
  • The purpose of the Preassigned Control Number (PCN) program is to enable the Library of Congress to assign control numbers in advance of publication to those titles that may be added to the Library’s collections.

Here are their requirements:

  • The PCN program is for print books (not ebooks) in the U.S. only. (Smashwords can get your book into the ebook library market.)
  • You must list a U.S. place of publication on the title or copyright page.
  • You must obtain a block of 10 or more ISBNs from Bowker, assigned to your publishing house. During the application process, you’ll need to enter your publisher identifier number (the third part of your ISBN).


Apply online, and a few weeks later you should receive approval and your login credentials.


Cozy up to Your Local Librarian

If you want to market to a particular library or to libraries in a particular region, you should contact them directly. The Library of Congress website even advises working with your local librarian to obtain cataloging for your book, even if it’s not regional. Your local librarian can guide you through the process of getting your book into the greater library market.

A number of authors I know – both self-published and traditionally published – have done readings and spoken at free library events. Librarians are always grateful to get a crowd into the library. You might even propose a library series of readings of authors in your genre.


Copyright Your Book

Copyrighting your book may also work to get you into libraries because acquisitions librarians receive a  list of new copyrighted material quarterly. Copyrighting your book is easy. You can do it online for about $35, in less than an hour. Check out the post I wrote for PBS MediaShift for step-by-step instructions on how to copyright your book.


Enter Your Book in SELF-e

SELF-e is an interesting  collaboration between Library Journal and a company called BiblioBoard. If accepted, your book will be included in a “module” with other books made available to libraries from time to time. From the website:

Authors whose ebooks are selected by Library Journal for inclusion in our SELF-e modules can use a digital badge promoting their inclusion to potential readers who may choose to purchase a copy of the title and/or to purchase other books by that author via retail channels. Ebooks that are not selected by Library Journal will still be accessible to local library patrons via state-specific modules.

There’s no cost to participate, and it’s strictly promotional. So why would you use SELF-e?

SELF-e is a marketing and discovery service aimed at helping authors build an audience of readers.

So, if you’ve got a book with a message, and you want to get the word out, this will help. Or you can simply make SELF-e part of your marketing strategy.


More Information

For a convenient guide on book distribution and every aspect of self-publishing, consider my 344-page guide, the Self-Publishing Boot Camp Guide for Authors, now in its 4th edition.