Indie Authors: How to Get Visible in Libraries

We're jazzed to have a visit this week from one of the most respected journalists in the publishing industry. Porter Anderson's resumé includes CNN, The Dallas Times Herald, and the Village Voice. He also writes for online biggies like Writer Unboxed, ThoughtCatalog, and FutureBook. He visits most of the major publishing industry conferences worldwide and reports on them in his newsletter, Porter Alerts.

As regular readers know, I urge new writers to enter writing contests to beef up credits, boost your cred and get some positive feedback while you're building your career. (And maybe even win some cash!) 

I list a few free and affordable contests each week in the "opportunity alerts" section at the bottom of each post. I  look for established contests with an entry fee under $20. I make exceptions if there's an edit or critique offered for each entry, because that's usually worth a slightly higher-priced entry fee. 

But as Porter warns, not all contests are created equal. Many are bogus and charge huge fees, especially the ones for self-published books (indies are popular prey for scammers these days.) So check this post by Victoria Strauss at Writer Beware before entering any indie novel contests. 

But the new SELF-E Library Journal contest is different. For one thing, it's FREE to enter. The monetary prizes are modest ($1000 grand prize in each category). But a win or honorable mention gets you a major amount of discoverability through the Library Journal and distribution to libraries.

Compare that with the cost of a one-day Bookbub ad for a freebie book, and it looks like a very good deal to me.

Superstar indie author Hugh Howey thinks so too. He says:

"Librarians can be a powerful marketing force for emerging authors....The SELF-e approach will encourage books to be discovered and even go viral."...Hugh Howey

Since it's quite different from other contests, I figured SELF-e deserved its own post, and I've invited Porter to tell us all about it....Anne

The SELF-e Contest: Your Chance to Get the Attention of Librarians

by Porter Anderson / @Porter_Anderson

Like trying to flag down triathletes in mid-event, getting the attention of librarians as a self-publishing author these days? — not easy.

After all, our library systems are in heavy competition, themselves. They're running a mean race against the digital dynamic to find their place in a world that once saw the reference department Xerox machine as the highest tech in the building.

If they can get together, self-publishing authors and libraries have a lot to offer each other.

Libraries need e-content for their patrons, preferably of the kind that can be checked out by multiple readers at once, an unlimited number of times, no waiting for available ebook copies.

And self-publishing writers need to have their ebooks discovered by readers: America's libraries have some 299.9 million of them.

As my colleague at The Bookseller in London, Philip Jones, has pointed out, "Self-publishing may still feel marginal in terms of overall business right now, but in certain genres it is already highly visible and highly influential."

So "highly visible and highly influential" is some self-published genre work, in fact, that librarians are eager to have it in their collections for library patrons to check out and read. The problem for them is the marathon they're running in their own e-evolution: librarians, themselves, have no time to find or read self-published ebooks.

That's why, until the arrival of Library Journal's SELF-e program, so many librarians haven't been able to acquire more self-published work. If estimates are right that as many as 600,000 or more titles are being self-published annually in the States alone, librarians can't even hope to see and evaluate even a fraction of it.

So let me say a special thanks today to my longtime friend and colleague Anne R. Allen for this chance to tell you about SELF-e. It's an important development on the self-publishing scene, and one that many indies are studying carefully and using, for its ability to get them into librarians' consideration.

I'll make it clear, as I do in each piece I write about SELF-e, that Library Journal is a client of Porter Anderson Media, my consultancy. This means that I am promoting it to authors' attention as a paid professional consultant. And I've taken on this client because I think that SELF-e is a significant new channel to potential discoverability for many independent writers, a channel that is free to writers.

In fact, $4,000 in prize money is being offered at this point by Library Journal to winners in four genres of its 2015 Self-Published eBook Awards. If you're writing in romance, mystery, science fiction, or fantasy, when you submit a book or books to SELF-e, you can enter the competition. The winner in each of the four genres gets $1,000. Those winners and two runners-up in each genre also get: 

  • A full Library Journal review, publishing in print and online (these reviews are used by librarians in choosing acquisitions) 
  • Presence in a promotional ad featuring all award winners' books in Library Journal's December "Best of Books" issue 
  • Recognition at Library Journal's Self-Published eBook Awards Reception during the American Library Association's huge Midwinter Meeting in Boston 

These are extremely valuable prizes —
each a way to flag down those librarians and have them see your work. And, as such, this is a singular competition, one that probably is unlike any other being conducted right now. What's why Anne and I are interested in making sure you have the information you need about this.

Before moving into some detail, let's get that all-important deadline down: 31 August — 11:59:59 p.m. Eastern time.

When Contests Matter

As we talked about this piece, Anne asked me about competitions that could really mean something to a career. That's exactly the right thing to ask.

Just last week, I was writing up the excellent work that Writer Beware's Victoria Strauss has been doing on warning authors against wasting time and money on "awards profiteers."

If you keep an eye on Strauss' updates at Writer Beware, you can stay abreast of a lot of scams that can get hooks into unwary writers in this age of "author services" on every corner. And among those scams, you'll find her alerting you to "awards profiteers" at work. She lists here a series of red flags to look out for, including solicitation (usually by email, of course), high entry fees, dozens or scores of entry categories, anonymous judging, "non-prize prizes," and opportunities to spend more money.

Another important reference for self-publishing authors on all author services is the Alliance of Independent Authors' (ALLi) Choosing a Self-Publishing Service. In it, you'll find independent evaluations of products and services for writers, a big help in a marketplace that sees indie writers as ready customers.

The SELF-e competition I'm bringing to your attention here is totally free to enter, as is SELF-e submission of your ebook for libraries. There are just four categories (the four genres eligible). And here are some of the judging team members announced so far:
  • Stephanie Chase, Director, Hillsboro PL, Oregon 
  • Stephanie Anderson, Head of Readers’ Advisory, Darien Library, CT 
  • Robin Nesbitt, Manager, Hilliard Branch, Columbus Metropolitan Lib., OH 
  • Robin Bradford, Collection Development Specialist, Timberland Regional Library 
  • Corinne Hill, Director, Chattanooga PL, TN 

So as you think about the contest, let's go over SELF-e itself and get a fix on why it's a pivotal arrival on the scene for authors.

  • What can you submit: your ebooks. 
  • Who can submit ebooks: Any writer who holds her or his ebook rights to the material. 
  • Which librarians see them? 
  • (a) You can select to be included in your Statewide Indie Anthology for all the librarians in your state to peruse, and 
  • (b) You can select to be considered by Library Journal evaluators for inclusion in SELF-e Select, a curated collection for libraries at the national level. 
  • What do you pay? Nothing. Submission is entirely free. 
  • Do you assign your digital rights over? No, you retain your rights. You grant Library Journal a license to offer your ebooks to libraries (only) for their collections. 
  • Can you get out of it? Yes, and you can get your ebooks back out, and your rights are still intact as yours. 
  • What are you paid? Nothing. SELF-e is a discoverability play, giving you a chance to leverage the massive "prime readership" of libraries. It's not an author-revenue program. 

Where is SELF-e operating now? Have a look at this map and hang on for a minute when you get there — it renders an up-to-date view as you wait. It's being refreshed by Library Journal's partner in SELF-e, BiblioBoard, so that you can tell where in the country authors are submitting work (all but six states on the mainland); where Statewide Indie Anthologies have already begun releasing to their libraries; and where Statewide Indie Anthologies are coming next. 

What's ahead? As the SELF-e team continues building out the program, dashboards will be created for authors — I'm told before the end of the year — which will tell you where your books are being entered in library collections and what level of readership they're getting from patrons.

The Controversy of the Moment

As Library Journal's SELF-e has been rolled out, there's been a lot of talk about the fact that it does not pay royalties to authors whose ebooks are entered in library collections and checked out by patrons. 

The way the program is paid for is that libraries subscribe to Library Journal's SELF-e Select curated collections. (They also are able to use SELF-e's submission system as a way for their local authors to offer their books to their regional libraries.) So the costs of the program are covered by the business relationships that Library Journal and BiblioBoard have with libraries and library systems.

Victoria Noe:

One of the self-published authors who was early to investigate the program is Chicago-based Victoria Noe. Her series of "Friend Grief" nonfiction books is a growing collection of highly specified considerations of grief experienced by people who lose friends and co-workers but don't have access to the typical grief processes of family members. Noe's fifth installment of the series comes out later this week, she tells me.

Noe's four first volumes are all in SELF-e Select for librarians, nationwide, to consider adding to their collections for ebook patrons to check out.

And I've found that Noe is quick to say she understands, but disagrees, with those who feel that the no-royalty aspect of SELF-e is a problem. In comments at Jane Friedman's site on my recent article there about SELF-e, she writes:

"So, yes, the 'I'm not going to make a dime from this' is something that gives all of us pause. But I'm in now, so here's why I submitted:

Libraries are obviously a huge market and a gateway to book sales: either by the library, the patrons themselves, or the possibility of the library inviting you to speak to their patrons. (God knows I'm not shy about getting up in front of an audience.)"

What Noe values the most in the SELF-e program is its curation, the preparation of vetted, evaluated ebooks for librarians, not just a vast list that no one has time to sift through.

"The issue for self-published authors has always been curating. Libraries (public, school, etc.) tend to go by reviews. And many review sites were off-limits or prohibitively expensive for us. But otherwise it's damn hard to get noticed in the sea of self-published books. So being included in the Illinois and national collections is, for me, an important way into that market that had eluded me for some time. I've done a couple local author fairs at public libraries, but this will be the kind of validation I need to get into more (not just in Illinois, hopefully)."

And not for nothing may it be easier for Noe to see how SELF-e may raise her visibility in meaningful ways — it turns out that she has seen library acquisition at close range:

"I learned a long time ago when I was selling children's books to school librarians that everyone likes a free book. At library conferences I would offer 'buy 3 get the 4th one free'. Librarians would stand in my booth with the one book in hand that they planned to buy and say 'I have to pick 3 more!'. That’s called up-selling and I was shameless. I think of this program the same way, though I guess my ebooks are technically loss leaders....When librarians see (fingers crossed) a lot of interest in my ebooks, they're going to at least consider buying the paperbacks. They're going to consider bringing me in to talk about them. And if not for this, they probably wouldn't know I'm alive."

And that's the challenge for every self-publishing author today. How can you get any part of the market to even "know you're alive" when millions of self-published books already are out there and hundreds of thousands more are coming into play each year?

Library Journal and BiblioBoard think they have one answer, a new curated way into the system for self-publishing authors. The practicalities of how library acquisitions work and what librarians need to find and consider your book are the currency here.

Some indies may not feel that this is the right answer for them. 

Perhaps they don't agree that exposure to such a realm of readers is worth it; they may feel that only a royalty fee for a checkout by a patron will do. That's perfectly fine. Each writer must make up his or her mind independently. And only that writer knows what's right for her or him. 

Your decision is the best decision for you, every time. And it doesn't have to be permanent, either. If you get into SELF-e and it doesn't work for you, you can get back out and your books will be removed from library circulation. You're not stuck in anything; the rights to your work have never left you, they're yours.

Should I be able to help with any questions, please feel free to drop a comment here. And, thanking Anne again, I'll leave you with a couple more lines from Noe about how SELF-e works out for her:

"This is marketing for me. In the long run, I'd rather do this than pay for an ad or booth space. Those have their advantages, especially the booth. But it still means my work isn't curated. And while there may no longer be gatekeepers to publishing, on some level we will always need gatekeepers for discoverability."

What about you, scriveners? Do you have a self-published book you'd like to get into libraries? Do you have any questions for Porter? How about other contests? Have you ever felt ripped off by a contest? Has a contest win made a difference in your career? 


photo by Bob Timpson
Porter Anderson (@Porter_Anderson) is a journalist and consultant in publishing. He's The Bookseller's (London) Associate Editor in charge of The FutureBook. He's a featured writer with Thought Catalog (New York), which carries his reports, commentary, and frequent Music for Writers interviews with composers and musicians. And he's a regular contributor of "Provocations in Publishing" with Writer Unboxed.

Through his consultancy, Porter Anderson Media, Porter covers, programs, and speaks at publishing conferences and other events in Europe and the US, and works with various players in publishing, such as Library Journal's SELF-e, Frankfurt Book Fair's Business Club, and authors. You can follow his editorial output at Porter Anderson Media, and via this RSS link.

Porter will be presenting SELF-e at Writer's Digest's Annual Conference (#WDC15) in August and at Novelists Inc.'s conference (#NINC15) in October.

Click here for more about upcoming conferences (and sign up for Porter Alerts.)


Chanel and Gatsby 

Anne and Ruth BOGO!

Buy the boxed set and get another FREE ebook (you choose).

Amazon International | Nook | Kobo

Buy a copy of the boxed set of Ruth Harris's The Chanel Caper and Anne R. Allen's The Gatsby Game for $2.99 (or your country's equivalent) and you can choose a FREE ebook from either Ruth's or Anne's catalog. That's right: 3 books for $1 each. You can choose any single title from the sidebar (& find more on Ruth's book page and Anne's book page)

Just forward the confirmation email you get for the purchase, with the title you'd like free to the author of your choice and we'll gift it to you. (Make sure to let us know if  you want the Kindle or E-Pub version.) Link to our contact emails in the sidebar.

You can read a great interview with Ruth Harris by Debbie A. McClure at You Read it Here First. Find out what's next for Ruth! 


BARTLEBY SNOPES CONTEST   $10 FOR UNLIMITED ENTRIES. Compose a short story entirely of dialogue. Must be under 2,000 words. Your entry cannot use any narration (this includes tag lines such as he said, she said, etc.). These are the only rules. 5 finalists will also appear in Issue 15 of the magazine. Last year they awarded $2,380 in prize money. Deadline September 15.

CRAZYHORSE SHORT-SHORT FICTION AWARD $15 Entry fee.  $1,000 and publication. Three runners-up. All entries considered for publication. Submit one to three short-shorts of up to 500 words each. Deadline July 31.

DIABOLICAL PLOTS  A new online journal that publishes original fiction, one story per month. Genres: science fiction, fantasy, horror (everything must have speculative element, even horror). 2000 word limit. Pays .06 cents/word. Deadline July 31.

Rattle Poetry Prize The annual Rattle Poetry Prize offers $10,000 for a single poem to be published in the winter issue of the magazine. Each entry can contain up to 4 poems. 10 finalists will also receive $200 each and publication, and be eligible for the $2,000 Readers’ Choice Award, to be selected by subscriber and entrant vote. Entry fee $20 (includes subscription) Deadline July 15.

Golden Quill Awards Writing Contest: Flash, Poetry, and Short fiction categories. Entry fee $20 for stories and poetry, $15 for flash fiction. The theme is TRANSFORMATION. Deadline July 15.

Glamour Magazine Essay contest.  FREE! Theme: "My Real Life Story". Prize is $5,000 and possible publication in Glamour Magazine for personal essays by women, between 2,500-3,500 words. Enter online or by mail. Open to US residents aged 18+.Deadline July 15.

Labels: , , , , , , ,