Getting Your Book into the Library Isn’t Easy

Comic Artist's Photo Reference: People & Poses

People never give much thought to how books make it into a public library. Books just sort of…appear.

As an author, I’ve always tried to make sure my book makes it to library shelves. Sure, I want to sell books, but I also want people to read them. Plus, I am a diehard library rat, so I want my own book on the shelves.

Unfortunately, I write in a deep vertical, specifically non fiction books for people who want to work in the comic book industry. It’s not a book for comic fans or kids. It’s for people who want to improve their craft (in this case writing or drawing comics) and break into the industry as a paid professional.

That’s a pretty narrow audience that lives deep in the long tail. Marketing to the long tail is an art unto itself, but that’s a different blog post.

In this case, I found an old email that I sent to my editor when my first book (Comic Artist’s Photo Reference: People & Poses) was published. I live in a large suburban town in New Jersey, and I wanted nothing more than to see my book on the shelf at the library. I’ve lived in the town my whole life, so I figured it would be no problem.

Boy was I wrong.

I’m sure you guys already know this, but some libraries wait for books to be reviewed before they will shelve it. I can understand that with long fiction books.

I was surprised when my own town library gave me push back until they got a review. They didn’t even want to SEE the book, as if they were completely unable to assess if they like it or not without an external opinion.

I was practically arguing the Librarian on the phone. This is kind of how the conversation went:

Me: “Hi, I am the town resident who emailed you. I have a book coming out from a major publisher, F+W Books.

Librarian: “Yes, I saw your email.”

Me: “Great. So the book comes out in June. I just wanted to make sure that my town library was going to put a copy on the shelves.”

Librarian: “We need to wait until we see some reviews of the book.”

Me: “Oh, I have an advanced copy. I can bring it by for you to see.”

Librarian: “But we wont know how to tell if it is good.”

Me: “I can leave a copy, so you can review it yourself.”

Librarian: “No, we wont be able to tell if it is a good book.”

Me: “It’s a book with pictures, not really with a lot of text. You’ll be able to look at the pictures and see if they look good.”

Librarian: “We can’t do that.”

Me: “Can’t do what?”

Librarian: “Look at the book.”

Me: “Why not?”

Librarian: “It hasn’t been reviewed.”

Me: “You can’t even look at it? I’m a town resident, I think there is a local interest angle here.”

Librarian: “I know, I looked at your website when you emailed us last week.”

Me: “And?”

Librarian: “It looked very good. The pictures on the website and the publisher’s website.”

Me: “So what’s next?”

Librarian: “We’ll wait a few months and see if someone reviews it.”

Me: “What if, out of the millions of books published every year, the reviewers don’t decide to review it?”

Librarian: “We can’t carry it.”

Me: “Even though I have been a town resident for 27 years?”

Librarian: “We can’t carry every book written by every resident.”

Me: “How many residents are writing books?”

Librarian: “I don’t know the answer to that.”

Me: “You don’t know of any town authors other than me?”

Librarian: “Other than you, no, I don’t know of any other residents who have written books.”

Me: “Is there anyone else who can help me with this?”

Librarian: “I can refer you to Jane [name changed]. She works in our Young Adults section.”

Me: “How is this book a Young Adults book?”

Librarian: “We put comic books in Young Adults because adults really don’t read comics.”

At this point, the conversation sort of spun into a long discussion of how reading comic books makes her “tired.” The pictures and words together seem to wear her down, since you have to look for word balloons, etc.

I tried to get the conversation on track because — as I noted — my book wasn’t a comic book. It was a book for people who wanted to work in comic books. Of course, that particular librarian wouldn’t have known that because she literally didn’t want to see the actual book.

I’m guessing that maybe this was an old-school librarian who didn’t see the value in this topic. I’ve actually had a lot of luck with librarians, since they usually can recommend pretty good reading materials, especially in new fiction.

Anyway. In the end, the book did get reviewed. It got a really nice review from Library Journal who wrote: “This is a terrific book for all artists, not just those interested in comics.”

Whoo hoo!

On top of the positive review, the local library now had a reason to add the book to their collection. And they did.

Not only that, the library hired some younger librarians, who have increased their collection of comic books, graphic novels, and (best of all) my books.

And when the library hosted an author’s day and invited some of the big-time writers from our area, they even invited me. That was kind of a big thrill for me, since I got to rub elbows with real novelists.

And that one particular librarian? Yeah, she retired.