How Do Librarians Choose Books?
Is there anything more exciting than the New Bookshelf in the library? For thirty years, I was the lucky librarian who selected thousands of books for various public libraries to purchase. Then when the new books arrived, I chose the ones to display and highlight. One day I saw my book The Very Best Story Ever Told: The Gospel with American Sign Language featured! I rejoiced because this was an opportunity to reach people who did not go to church with the love of God. Here’s how librarians choose books!
Library sales are big!
Although a library may only purchase 1–5 copies of any single book, multiply that by almost 10,000 public libraries. In the grade or high school library market, you have 100,000 potential sales! It may not be the Christian author’s primary audience, but a marketing opportunity worth considering. So how do Christian books get the library’s attention?
The process can begin even before writing.
Librarians buy books to meet needs.
All-day long librarians get questions:
What are other books like John Grisham writes?
Where are travel books on Abud Abi?
How do I tell my kids we are getting a divorce?
Do you have any clean romances?
Or the dreaded: I HAVE to read a BOOK for school.
Pin for Later
Your local librarian loves local authors!
Tips to help you decide what to write:
1. Spend time looking at books at the library. Note publishers who publish the kind of book you are planning to write. See what topics have empty shelves, or what books are dogeared from rereading. (This will help you see the competition and pitch your book to the right publisher.)
2. Check the library newsletter and new bookshelves for perennial popular topics: holidays, self-help, science fiction, cooking, childcare, hobbies. Can the idea you have in mind include specific back matter to make it more appealing to these interests?
3. Ask the librarian what subjects are most popular and what needs they see in the market. (They are the ones hearing the questions and know community needs.) Those nice people behind the desk offer relationships worth developing.
4. There are collection differences for urban, suburban, and rural libraries. Each is an example of a much larger number of libraries (and potential sales) nationwide. Consider that fact when choosing a target market or slant to your writing. Interest in farm experiences may be right for one library, while it will not have relevance to another.
Now write your book with this research in mind.
Include research in your query or proposal.
Once the manuscript is complete, remember what the librarian said! When sending out query letters or proposals, mention your research in library need and interest. It will show professional preparation and authentic community interest in your topic and approach. The librarians interviewed might be the best early reviewers.
Your book is ready to launch!
What happens in the library back room…
Librarians do not care about the number of followers on your social media. (OK—we probably all bought the book by Meghan, The Duchess of Sussex!) We purchase good books and ones that meet collection needs even from unknown authors. We do not buy from Amazon or care about the number of stars. We do not have time to follow blogs. Our job is to spend community tax dollars on the best materials for the community.
Here is a sample collection policy:
Reviews and recommendations of materials are consulted before purchasing most materials. Sources consulted for objective reviews of reference materials include, but are not limited to Library Journal, Booklist, and Publisher’s Weekly. Online sources are consulted. Suggestions from members are encouraged and will be given due consideration.
How do you market your book to the library?
Here are some suggestions for marketing to libraries:
1. Sell Sheet: E-mail one page to librarians with book synopsis, ISBN, and where to purchase your book. Then answer the question they would ask: Are you a local author? Do you have credibility in the subject? What type of library member will enjoy or benefit from your book? Why is your book a good fit in their collection? Include reviews and awards. Focus on the individual library needs! (Remember the urban, rural, and suburban differences!)
2. Programs: Librarians plan events 4–6 months ahead! Check out the library’s newsletter to see the programs they usually offer. Develop a free program (live or virtual) on the nonfiction subject. For fiction, develop a book talk of titles in your genre. Or share your backstory on writing and publishing. Local authors are always popular!
3. Book groups: See what local groups are reading. Get to know local reading tastes and preferences. Word of mouth is still the best way to sell.
Don’t forget “Other” Libraries
1. School: If the your indie-published book is appropriate to the grade or high school curriculum, send information to school librarians highlighting the specific topics that your book covers. Include your credibility in the subject. English teachers may welcome a local author in person or virtual. Early grade schools often participate in a read-aloud event. Watch for career day opportunities to share the back story of your book.
2, Churches: Even small churches have a library corner of some kind, and many have book clubs. Larger churches may sponsor whole bookstores! Contact the church office for the name of the person who maintains the collection and send the sell sheet tailored to their congregation. Contact the Christian Librarians Association for speaking opportunities (Association of Christian Librarians—acl.org)
3. Homeschooling families: They often use the public library and develop their resource collections. How can your book support a lesson on character building or Christian living? There is a national homeschool association, NHSA, but far better is a direct approach to the homeschool families in your area.
For all Christian writers, the goal is to share the love of God in our words and pictures. Library book placement and relationships offer opportunities to further the kingdom of God to those who might otherwise never know.
About the Author
Award-winning author Robin Currie led children’s departments of Midwestern public libraries before being called to ordained ministry. She has a special love for children’s literacy and Bible storytelling. Robin annually volunteers to teach English in developing countries. Robin has published seven library resource collections for library story times and more than 40 storybooks for children including The Very Best Story Ever Told: The Gospel with American Sign Language. She writes stories to read and read again! You can find Robin at www.robincurrie.net/index1.html.