Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Behind the Stacks - Judy Gann Explains Marketing to Libraries

Novel Matters is thrilled to host Judy Gann, a librarian with over twenty-five years experience, Judy Gann selects Christian fiction for a large library system in Washington state. She has presented "Behind the Stacks" library marketing workshops at writers conferences throughout the United States, including the Oregon Christian Writers Conference, Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference, and the annual ACFW Conference. Judy is the author of The God of All Comfort: Devotions of Hope for Those Who Chronically Suffer (AMG Publishers). Visit Judy at her website.

Judy is here to talk books - library books. She knows the ins and outs, the dos and don'ts of marketing your book to the library system. She's here today, answering frequently asked questions about the nuts and bolts of marketing Christian fiction to libraries.

Behind the Stacks: Marketing to Public Libraries

Why should a writer even consider marketing to libraries? After all, if people borrow our books from the library, they won't buy them at a bookstore.

This is the number one misconception authors have about marketing to public libraries. To me, the key is to think of libraries as an additional market, not instead of bookstores, but as another piece of your marketing plan. As independent bookstores close at an alarming rate and chains stock mostly bestsellers, we need to find new venues for connecting with the audiences for our books.

The public library serves an entire population that doesn't frequent bookstores, reaching a new audience for your books. This is especially true during tough economic times. Library use has skyrocketed during the current recession. Library users are also great word-of-mouth promoters. They'll check out a book and tell a friend about it, possibly resulting in an additional sale. Many people borrow a book from the library, discover a new author, and then purchase the author's other titles.

For those of you who like statistics, a 2008 U.S. News/CNN Poll revealed Americans make 3.6 billion visits to libraries per year; 57% of adults visited the library in the previous year; and 80% borrow from the library. In addition, libraries spent $1.9 billion on books in 2007, and 60% of midlist book sales go to libraries.

There are a lot of libraries out there, Judy. Where should we begin?

There's no place like home. Begin with your local library. I recommend becoming acquainted with your library and staff while writing your book. The library has fabulous new online databases for writers doing research for their novels - far beyond what you'll find through general internet searching - and far more accurate. Introduce yourself to the staff. We love to help local authors, and take a vested interest in their book projects.

After you sign a contract, work with your publisher to submit your novel to the key reviewing journals used by library acquisitions librarians. These include Publisher's Weekly, Booklist, and Library Journal. These journals require ARCs well in advance of publication date. Partner with your publisher. See what they are doing to market to libraries and build on their efforts.

When your book releases ask your local library to consider purchasing your book. (See additional information about how to approach libraries below.) Libraries are supportive of local authors. Partner with your library to do a reading or event, or offer to teach writing workshops for the public.

How should an author select the libraries to market to?

Begin with your home state. If your book is set in a particular state, also target libraries in that state. Virginia Smith has successfully targeted libraries in Kentucky - the setting for several of her novels.

There are approximately 16,000 public libraries in the United States. Obvioiusly, you can't target all of them. Use public library locators - online databases of public libraries in the United States. I recommend Library Technology Guides ( and State Library Web Sites (

Beyond your local library, you want to target library systems rather than independent libraries. Library systems are made up of branches, and their book purchasing is done at a central location. They may include as few as one or two, or as many as eighteen to twenty or more branches, with the potential for purchasing multiple copies of your book. Independent libraries are their own entity with small budgets. They may purchase one copy of your book. This is a general rule and there are exceptions, depending on the topic of your book, reviews, etc.

What I like about the Library Technology Guide site is that it lists library systems and branches. For example, under "Texas," you'll find an alphabetical list of libraries by city and county. If the library is a system, branches are listed. A word of warning: this site hasn't been updated in a while. Check the State Library Web Sites guide for updated information about a particular library system or library.

Your own Sharon Souza is becoming a pro at using these locators to target public libraries with good success.

Who do you target at the library and what do you say to them?

Target the purchasing decision makers. These librarians are usually called acquisitions librarians or collection development librarians. In a large libary system they work at the main library or administration building.

Watch your wording when you approach staff with a copy of your book. Never use the word "donation." Donated books end up in our Friends of the Library book sales. Tell the staff you'd like them to "consider this book for purchase." Ask the staff to send your book to the librarian who makes the purchasing decisions for the library.

Before my last "Behind the Stacks" presentation I surveyed acquisitions librarians to see whether they prefer receiving e-mails or snail-mails. They overwhelmingly preferred snail-mail. Acquisitions librarians are inundated with e-mails from publishers and authors. A well-designed, professional flyer sent through the mail will stand out in the crowd.

Is there a particularly good time of year to approach libraries?

A library's purchasing of materials is tied to its budget year. If the library's budget year is from January-December, key buying seasons are late January to March - when we have new monies - and September to November - when all funds must be spent before the end of the budget year (usually money must be spent by Nov. 30).

What other thoughts would you like to share with us about marketing to public libraries?

A word of caution. Like other public agencies, public libraries are facing budget cuts. Yes, libraries continue to purchase books. But they are being far more selective. Sound like publishers and bookstores? We as authors must write the best books possible, work with our publishers to garner reviews from the key library review journals, and carefully target libraries, beginning with those in our local area.

On a more positive note, CBA fiction is "hot" in public libraries right now. Just as Christian fiction maintains a growing presence in general market bookstores such as Barnes & Noble, it's also gaining in popularity in public libraries. Librarians realize the quality of Christian fiction has improved greatly in recent years. Our library patrons, like bookstore shoppers, are searching for books that offer a good read coupled with hope. Where better to find this than in Christian fiction?

Ladies, thank you! It has been a joy to visit with you and your Novel Matters audience.

Thank YOU, Judy, for your wisdom and generosity. It is a rare thing to find someone so willing to share her knowledge and experience with others. You are a treasure!


Patti Hill said...

Judy, you're so generous to share your knowledge with our blog readers. There's no one more qualified to help us reach this market. If you get a chance to stop back by, feel free to talk about your future plans to help authors...if you're ready!

Tina said...

Judy, you know that I'm in agreement with you. Thank you so much for giving us so much wonderful information!

Carla Gade said...

This interview was excellent! I learned so much that I never imagined about library marketing. Thanks!

Nicole said...

Nancy McGill has been so generous to me by ordering several copies of both of my novels. Thanks, Judy.

Diane Marie Shaw said...

Judy, I am one of those statistics you mentioned. I have read over 140 books so far this year. Most have come from the library. When I do discover an author I like I am at the bookstore looking for their other books.
Thank you for sharing how important this resource is for authors.

Judy Gann said...

Thank you for all your wonderful comments! I'm glad the information is helpful.

Tina, where would libraries be without our Library Foundation Boards? Thank YOU!

Nicole, is Nancy McGill your local librarian?

Need More Words, thank you for being a person behind my statistic. :-)

Patti, my plans are still a work in progress. But when I know, you'll know. :-)

Nicole said...

Nancy McGill

Collection Development and Analysis Coordinator

(Western Washington; King County)

Judy Gann said...

Nicole, I used to work for the King County Library System! I'm with Pierce County Library System now. Small world.

Pat Jeanne Davis said...

An excellent interview, Judy. I've learned a great deal about marketing to libraries from you. I live in a very large city and very close to our local library and know the librarian. Thank you for sharing your expertise. Pat

Unknown said...

It is such a privilege to host Judy. She is so generous with her wisdom and experience.

I have to say, Judy, I think you have helped take the "intimidation factor" out of approaching the huge library system. It is doable!

And it is so important to support local libraries as much as possible! What would the world be without libraries?

Unknown said...

Wow! Judy, you are the absolute best. What a wonderful asset you are to NovelMatters, to our faithful readers, and to the Kingdom as you help us get the much-needed Christian message of hope to a dispairing world.

Julie Lessman said...

Judy ... great interview! But then I don't expect anything less after hearing you speak at ACFW last year! Thanks for the wealth of information!


Kathleen Popa said...

I remember a day, some fifteen years back, when I learned that many libraries, including the ones I frequented, had drastically cut their hours due to state budget cuts. There were rumors that some libraries were closing their doors, and a lot of people wondered aloud whether, in an internet age, the public library had outlived its purpose.

It seemed so tragic, so un-American. Happily, other people thought so too, and pressure was brought to bear, and the state cut its budget someplace else.

Doesn't that brighten a rainy day?

Judy, I'm so glad we still have our libraries, and just thrilled that you have so generously shared your extensive experience and knowledge with us today. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Judy, thank you for sharing your wonderful expertise with us. You are such a blessing, such a resource. We appreciate you more than we can say.

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

Thanks, Judy. Once again - you rock!
I found out the hard way not to donate to my local library. A co-worker told me that they no longer had my book which only came out June 08, and she had to send an inter-library loan request. Sheesh!

Judy Gann said...

Thank you to everyone who's left comments. I love your enthusiasm for marketing to libraries.

Novel Matters Ladies, it was an honor to be your guest. Thank you!

Laura Frantz said...

Your post has opened up a whole new world for me. While I've always been a big library fan and donated copies of my books to libraries here and at home (KY), I didn't realize all that goes on behind the scenes.
When I met you at the ACFW conference in Denver I never dreamed you do all that you do! You really have quite a ministry. Thank you for sharing such valuable insights.

Virginia Smith said...

A terrific interview. Thanks so much, Judy, for sharing your knowledge.

Andrew R said...

Thanks for all the info, Judy!

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.