When I’m not writing my fingers to the bone, I work part time as a librarian at a small town public library. The main reason I work there is the pay. Just. Joking. Other than the fact that I’m addicted to the smell of cellulose decay, I dream to one day see my name on the spine of a well worn tome. See, working for legal writing services is great fun, but writing fantasy fiction puts the jolly in my Roger.
Becoming a certified librarian practitioner is my counterplot to dealing with the publishing industry, as public libraries are a middle man between publishers and readers. As a librarian, I’ve learned a ton about books, which range from rotting reads on the giveaway cart to picks as popular as full size candy bars during trick-or-treat.
How Libraries Choose Books to Buy
The first thing I learned is that libraries, especially small town ones, are borderline broke. Therefore, purchasing every new book out on the market, on the bestsellers list, or recommended by always-opinionated patrons isn’t ever going to happen. Mostly, the books purchased new are those from the Big 6 publisher pals—Patterson, King, Evanovich, Steel, Koontz, and Grisham. Fresh-off-the-press books from these prolific writers are in hardcover with paperbacks printed months later, which means they cost more leaving little left over for spending on novels by lesser known authors. As a result, writers who are new to the game or writing in a weird niche would be better off sending a library a free copy rather than holding their breath to have them purchase their book.
Judging Books By Their Cover
Unfortunately, getting your book in a library is only one percent of the battle. Most books go unnoticed, unread, and sometimes even uncatalogued, due to misgivings about the cover image or the size of the book. Think about it. Covers that are plain Jane without any image or title are not going to attract a random reader’s attention. However, having a book cover depicting a half-naked hulk or grisly murder scene may be unsuitable for a reader who plans to read the book around their family or work colleagues. Whenever I weed books, which does not involve rolling them up Miley style, the first books I pull are those with blank faces on the front. A quick check of their history proves correct, that these boring covers have never been checked out by a single reader.
Size Does Matter
A standard library bookshelf has the same dimensions as your bookcase at home. Keep this tidbit in mind when designing your own book cover. Say you have written a fantastic nonfiction book about pumpkins or pictorial history of Dia de Muertos. You’ve cleverly designed the book to be the size of Texas because you want to catch a reader’s eye when it’s on the shelves. The next thing you know, librarians everywhere are laying your book flat underneath a stack of similar, obnoxiously over-sized titles, if you are lucky. Otherwise, the book gets moved to the tiptop of the bookshelf, where patrons can barely see it, little less reach it. It just doesn’t work to have insanely large book covers, so keep things standard size, please.
Issues with eBooks
Publishing via eBooks is supposed to make it easier to get your book into the hands of readers. However, for libraries, eBooks are the epitome of evil. Librarians, especially the kind that likes to “shhh” people, are convinced that eReaders are the antichrist. After all, what is a library without books? Call it job security, call it old fashioned. The truth is that many old school librarians who love Dewey and despise screens are not nearly ready to replace paperbacks and soft covers with Kindles and Nooks. Additionally, the Big Six in publishing are making it nearly impossible for libraries to own and rent popular books via eReaders. Between the two fogies, your best bet is to be flexible and offer your book in print format for libraries.
Miranda B is a freelance writer available on WriterAccess, a marketplace where clients and expert writers connect for assignments.