Why Libraries are Important – From the Publisher

Why Libraries are Important – From the Publisher

I sometimes get comments from authors who are surprised to learn that they make money when libraries support their books, so it made me think that perhaps I should spend a few hundred words talking about libraries. I’d like to preface this by first saying that I am not an expert on them — at all. Anything I have learned has been at conferences and with direct experience at trade shows, over drinks with industry experts, and in analyzing my own sales reports.

In the US, there are over 16,000 public libraries. To put that into perspective, there are about 2,500 indie bookstores and about 600 Barnes & Noble stores. Going to libraries is the most popular cultural pastime in the US. (This fact is from a conference I attended, so I apologize for not footnoting it!) There are about 150 library associations in Canada (which represent many, many individual libraries). This sheer number of libraries represents a significant amount of buying power. Much of that buying happens at a central location by buyers who actively research and curate collections. These are highly professional individuals who can be responsible for hundreds of locations, and one must attend university to get the job!

So, we’ve established that there are a lot of libraries run by professionals. What many don’t realize is that they buy books just like bookstores do. How much they pay is different for each publisher and book, but for Central Avenue, libraries get about the same discount as bookstores. You might be thinking, “But they’re only buying one and loaning it out a whole bunch of times,” which is kind of true but kind of not. Most of our books are sold like this, but many times, the books get loaned out so often that they start to wear and need to be replaced. So they get bought again. Or they buy ebook licenses, and we get paid by how many pages are read. Or we get paid a higher amount for a book so they can have a certain kind of license. I am really not the person to talk about licenses and how the whole library system works (mainly because I’m very unqualified and also because it’s very confusing), but if you do want to know more, I urge you to google articles about how libraries work and how they benefit authors and publishers. The overriding way they do us all a service is simply by introducing our books to a wide audience of readers, including teachers and community leaders, who otherwise might never have found them.

As a short case study, I present to you From Ant to Eagle by Alex Lyttle. This was a middle grade book we published in 2017. Now, Central Avenue isn’t really known for kids’ books, but when I read this novel, I knew I had to publish it. It’s about a boy who believes he’s killed his own little brother. The story is about two brothers and their relationship as the younger one is diagnosed with cancer. We know on the first page that it’s not going to be a happy ending. But the journey getting there will stay with you for years. I strongly recommend it.

Anyway, as we were marketing the book, we did all the usual stuff. But one of the things was to send it to the Canadian Children’s Book Centre. There, it won over some advocates who loved the book, and it won a spot as a favored title. Through them, we submitted it to the Ontario Library Association, which runs a reading program for schools. The book was selected as a pick for schools who participated in this program. (A few titles are selected for kids who choose to participate.) Because of this pick, we had hundreds of schools buy the book. And it then went on to a popular vote at an OLA book festival that I can only describe as akin to a rock concert. (The OLA really knows how to get kids excited about reading.) From Ant to Eagle won, and the book has gone on to sell in quantities (at both bookstores and libraries) that would make poetry books jealous! 😆 None of this ever would have happened if not for the advocacy and initiatives of libraries, and there are associations all over the world who do great works similar to those of the OLA.

So, go, support your library, knowing all the good they do for readers, authors, and publishers!