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Public Libraries Embrace Self-Publishing Services
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Posted On June 2, 2015
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For authors who want to self-publish their books, the public library may be the best place to find services that can help. One such place is the Seattle Public Library (SPL), which offers a variety of self-publishing initiatives. David Christensen, virtual and instruction services librarian, has been part of the team managing these initiatives since 2013. Don’t try to replicate other libraries’ self-publishing programs, which may not be a good fit with yours, he says. “Start small and figure out what works well for you.”

Working With Smashwords

In February 2014, SPL joined with Smashwords, an ebook self-publishing platform, so patrons can upload their self-published titles for distribution via OverDrive, SPL’s primary vendor for ebook acquisitions. Christensen says there were four main reasons for choosing Smashwords: 1) It offered an out-of-the-box solution that the library could use as a proof of concept; 2) because Smashwords is partnered with OverDrive, SPL would not have to invest in a new ebook distribution system; 3) there were no startup costs or service fees; and 4) Smashwords supports standard files such as EPUB.

Smashwords created a co-branded sign-up page that patrons can use to create an account and upload an ebook (as a .doc file or .rtf) that adheres to the platform’s formatting instructions. Smashwords’ engine converts the submission into a PDF, EPUB, or Kindle file that the patron can choose to sell on Smashwords. SPL has about 50 self-published ebooks that it’s purchased via Smashwords’ partnership with OverDrive, says Christensen.

“[W]hat I think really works well about the Smashwords partnership is it was a discount way of seeing the local interest and letting the library administrators become aware of self-publishing. They could see through the interest in the programs that this is something that would and does work within our library,” he says.

Competing for Readers

To generate interest in the Smashwords platform, SPL introduced a contest that ran from July to October 2014. The prize was the addition of the winners’ ebooks to the library’s collection. Entrants had to be library card holders who were 18 or older and whose ebooks were never previously published. The submissions had to remain available on Smashwords through the end of 2014 so the library could purchase the winning ebooks via OverDrive.

Christensen says the contest received a lot of attention on social media, especially on Facebook. Of the 38 submissions, SPL selected three winners. Nearly 80 people attended the ceremony announcing the winners.

The contest “changed the conversation at the library around what kinds of items we add to the collection,” says Christensen. “[W]e do have a lot of local authors that produce great work, but it’s not necessarily marketable on a national level because they’re writing about local topics, or the stories take place in Seattle, and it may or may not have a broad appeal, and so it doesn’t get published. Yet those things are still of interest to the local community. And it sort of changed in our organization the way we think about it.”

Workshopping Potential Self-Published Titles

Christensen says the library has always had creative writing and editing workshops, and in fall 2014, it added workshops on preparing books for self-publishing, such as I Just Finished My First Draft; Now What? About 25–30 patrons attended each workshop. He believes the timing of the workshops contributed to their attendance rates—they were held at 5 p.m., when many adult patrons were leaving work, so that’s something that the library will consider when scheduling future events. Self-publishing expert Beth Jusino hosted four workshops in 2014: Self-Editing Tips for the Self-Publishing Writer, How to Turn Your Manuscript Into a Book, Selling Your Self-Published Book, and Secrets to Long-Term Self-Publishing Sales.

SPL has self-published print books in its collection along with ebooks. Local history books generate the most interest, and they typically end up in the library’s Seattle Room, where patrons can browse local reference information.

Authors can use the purchase suggestion form on the library’s website to submit titles, and Christensen says SPL considers every suggestion. “If we purchase something self-published it would be treated like any other title, so it’d be cataloged and added to the collection.”

Helping Emerging Authors Get Noticed

At Glen Ellyn (Ill.) Public Library, patrons looking for self-published titles can find them in the Emerging Author Collection, a special assortment of books—about the Chicago area or written by Chicago-area authors—that the library rolled out in January 2015 as a way to help patrons find reads they might not have otherwise known about, says Susan DeRonne, the library’s adult department director. (See the photo in the upper-right corner of this article, courtesy of Glen Ellyn Public Library.)

The books need to be of general interest to the Glen Ellyn community and must be suitable for circulation—i.e., no stapled manuscripts or loose pages. Library staffers can’t use standard book reviews to gauge titles’ quality, so they keep the collection open to all local authors as well as to authors writing about the area. (Traditionally published titles could be part of the collection, but its primary focus is on self-published works.)

Staffers submit the books to the library’s online catalog for searching alongside other titles and track how well they circulate. The collection is small enough at 38 titles that it’s displayed prominently in the adult department. DeRonne anticipates moving the collection once its numbers grow.

Glen Ellyn offers other initiatives that support self-publishers: occasional writers’ workshops; a BookFest event, which is on hold for now but may resume in 2016; and writing spaces and snacks during each fall’s National Novel Writing Month.

DeRonne sees displaying these books as a service to both local authors and to the community at large, “who now have exposure to these works that were previously not housed in libraries,” she says. In the future, she hopes to initiate a platform for electronic self-published works to complement the print collection. “Authors want to be read, and the community deserves access to this growing field of information and entertainment.”


Brandi Scardilli is the editor of NewsBreaks and Information Today.

Email Brandi Scardilli

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Comments Add A Comment
Posted By Bob Holt6/2/2015 2:46:48 PM

If a library is seriously interested in engaging their community of writers, the library should check into the Library Journal Self-e program.

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