Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Librarians aren't going to buy your self-published book

and we don't like it when you cite Eragon as a reason why self-publishing is really the way to go.

I don't feel like talking about the Frank Cottrell Boyce "YA ghetto" wank, so here's something else that bothers me about books. Please note that small publishers are not a part of this entry. I am specifically talking about self-publishing and vanity presses where money flows from the writer to the publisher. There are many quality small publishers who produce books that librarians wish we knew more about.

In 100 words or fewer, here's how books are bought for libraries: Whoever does collection development for a given library reads a review in a professional journal. The review makes the librarian believe that the book is a good fit for the library/library system. The librarian usually buys the book through a company like Ingram, B&T or BWI because those companies give discounts and take returns. If a book is in demand but not available through one of the wholesalers, sometimes we'll buy it from Amazon. The books are shipped, cataloged, and shelved. Hooray!

This, in a nutshell, is why librarians don't buy self-published books.

1. They're not available for review. If someone comes into a library and wants a book removed from the shelves, a librarian's first line of defense is always the professional reviews that state why this particular book is a worthwhile buy. And due to the small print run of self-published books, we can't even give them to our colleagues to review.

2. They're expensive. We get no discount on them. If a book comes to us from B&T printed upside down with pages missing, we don't worry because we can return it and exchange it for a new one. Not always the case with self-published books.

3. They're not edited. Enough said.

4. Review copies are not available. Often, I'm happy to take a review copy in lieu of an actual review. But in the case of a self-published book, neither one is usually available.

Too many people, authors and librarians and parents of precocious teens, like to forget that Eragon is the exception, not the rule. Name three books that were self-published before they went on to be huge commercial successes. Bloggers who get book deals don't count; that's a different sort of beast. Publishers do not like to buy self-published works. Among other things, they send the message that your work wasn't good enough to get an agent in the first place. Self-publishing is not the way to subvert "the man" that's keeping writers down in the evil, evil publishing industry.

There is a place for self-publishing. If you want 100% control over the distribution of your book or if your book is meant for a very small niche audience, self-publishing is the way to go. A nonprofit group I used to work with used Lulu to publish a collection of papers from a conference it held. It was a collection of interest to a very small group, and publishing the papers through Lulu was the best option. Self-publishing is probably the best thing you can do if you want to write about your family history or a subject of local interest. and iUniverse are two vanity presses that are quite good at what they do and make no bones about their purpose. But despite these bonuses to self-publishing, your local librarian probably won't want your book.

No comments: