Best Practices for Indie Author Library Distribution

Posted by: Kevin Tumlinson 1 month, 3 weeks ago

With Draft2Digital adding OverDrive as one of its eBook distribution platforms, indie authors have a new and easy way to get their books into more than 38,000 public, corporate, and school libraries, in 40+ countries worldwide. We’d shout about it, but we don’t want to get shushed by the librarians. So many librarians.

But to help Indies get the most out of their library distribution, we wanted to provide a few “best practices.”

We’re Talking eBooks, Not Print

This isn’t so much a “best practice” as it’s “something to keep in mind,” but for the purposes of this post, we’re talking about eBooks, not print books. D2D’s relationship with OverDrive allows our authors to make their eBooks available to libraries, who can purchase a copy (or multiple copies) so that it can be checked out by library patrons.

So, just to make it clear: Draft2Digital does not currently distribute paperback books to anyone. We can, of course, provide you with a PDF that’s formatted and ready to go to a print on demand (POD) service, but we do not print your books, and we do not distribute to a POD service at this time.

Got it?

That cleared up, we do still do that voodoo that we do so well, which is distribute your eBooks. OverDrive makes those eBooks available to a catalog system available to libraries all over the planet, so that any library in OverDrive’s network, should it choose to do so, can order copies of your eBook and distribute it to its patrons.

One more time, with feeling: We’re only distributing eBooks to libraries via OverDrive.

We want to make that clear, to avoid causing frustration and heartache. We could never hurt you on purpose, it just isn’t how we do things.

That said, let’s look at some real and actual best practices …

Request Your Books

OverDrive serves a large number of libraries globally, but having your book in the system doesn’t necessarily mean it’s available for library patrons to find. Libraries typically won’t spend money on a book unless there’s sign of a demand. Fortunately, though, the best sign of demand is completely within your grasp: Go and request your books.

Log on to your library’s web portal, use the library’s app, use the OverDrive app, or swing by a physical library location, and ask for your title. This will call attention to the fact that your title isn’t actually available, and the helpful librarians will then place an order for it.

It takes a bit for books to appear in the catalog, once they’re ordered. You can expect a 14- to 21-day wait, in most cases. So the sooner you ask for it, the sooner it’s there for other patrons to discover.

Tell Everyone

I know, I know … no one likes to brag. But this is one of those rare instances where telling everyone about your book is not only ok, it’s essential.

Unlike other D2D distributors, OverDrive doesn’t sell books directly to readers. It’s aimed more at the librarians. And there’s a good chance that, regardless of how well you’ve marketed yourself, you probably don’t have a mailing list full of librarians to work with. So what’s the best way to reach them?

The patrons.

Library patrons hold a lot of sway with their local libraries. Simply by requesting a book, they can often start a process that will result in that book being purchased and made available on digital shelves.

If there’s a particularly high demand for a book, such as dozens of patrons requesting it, the library will purchase multiple licenses—multiple copies, in a sense—and each of those will register as a sale for your book.

It’s in your best interest, then, to convince as many people as possible to go to their public library and request the book. Multiple patrons in the same local area can be very useful, resulting in more sales.

That’s not guarantee, however. Keep in mind, libraries work on budgets. They have to be a bit judicious about ordering, and they want to make sure they’re ordering books their patrons actually want.

So be nice … ask friends and family to order the book if they actually want to read it.

Set Your Price

Pricing is going to be a tricky topic to navigate, because there really isn’t a “best practice” for it, just yet. We’ve only just dipped our toes in these digital waters, so we have no data on how well books sell to libraries at various price points. We can’t even use data from other aggregators because A) they probably wouldn’t share it with us and B) their deals are different than our deals. We’ve negotiated a 46.75% royalty for our authors, for instance, which is higher than a lot of other OverDrive partners can offer.

But through some initial experimentation and a bit of research, we’ve at least picked out a “soft range” for pricing eBooks for libraries.

First, you can price all the way down to 99 cents, if you wish. That might not be a bad idea, because it could encourage libraries to try you out, even if they’ve never heard of you. You’ll still earn a decent 47 cents from the deal.

This price is good for the “get everyone to ask” approach above, because the library isn’t eating up much of its budget if they order ten copies to appease your demanding but frugal readers. Ten bucks is an easy line item expense to justify.

Next, you might consider pricing based on the print price for your book. Proponents of this strategy suggest either pricing at the exact same price as you charge for print, or pricing at that price plus $5. There’s no real reason or justification given for that extra five bucks, other than maybe buffering some less-than-ideal royalty shares. But considering that most indies price their eBooks under $10, and typically price print books at $10 or more, just matching print pricing should produce a nice royalty with plenty of margin, upon sale.

Finally, there is some sound advice around pricing your book much higher than it sells for at full retail. In chatting with a few librarians who use OverDrive as part of their system, and who have occasionally ordered indie-published books, many replied that they regularly pay between $25 and $75 for eBooks.

The higher end of that spectrum is reserved for some fairly in-demand authors—the type who regularly hit the NYT, USA Today, and WSJ bestseller lists. You may well be one of those authors. But if you aren’t, you may consider pricing a bit lower, just because your odds of a sale go up.

Not only that, but you could potentially increase your profits, if you price lower, because libraries would be inclined to buy more than one copy of your book. It’s better to earn $10 by selling five books than to earn $5 by selling only one.

That’s a hypothesis, and it isn’t yet proven, but you may experiment at your own risk.

There’s actually is a decent argument for pricing closer to $25, for authors who sell a healthy number of books. At that range, your pricing is on par with a lot of books from traditionally published authors. It’s a comfortable enough range for a lot of librarians, particularly in heavily-populated areas. If you typically sell well, and have a nice-sized platform, this could be the range for you.

However, if you currently sell only a few books per month, you might consider one of the other pricing options. Keeping your price in the lower range could make it more palatable to the librarian who has never heard of you. And again, they may order more than one copy, if patrons are asking for the book.

All of this is complete and total conjecture, of course. For now, we really have no solid, data-based pricing strategy to recommend. But the good news is that, just like all D2D distribution channels, you can change your pricing at any time. Play around with this, see what works, find your sweet spot. It’s a wide-open playing field, for now.

Think of Libraries in terms of Marketing

OverDrive is a bit different from our other distribution partners. As we’ve mentioned, this isn’t about selling directly to a consumer. You’re reaching your readers through a third party. The librarian becomes your customer, then, and through them your readers can get to your work.

So pricing may not actually matter. In fact, aiming for profit in the library space may not be your best strategy.

Libraries give readers the opportunity to discover an author and that author’s work, without any out-of-pocket expense. Free books, in other words, all in exchange for taking the time to get a library card.

Chances are, the library isn’t going to buy a ton of copies of your book. They may not even buy every book you publish, unless someone asks them all.

The real potential of distributing through libraries, then, comes down to “discoverability.” And in that, it’s far more useful to think of library distribution as a marketing tool, than to think of it as a profit center.

Making your books available to public, corporate, and school libraries will help increase the odds that a new reader will discover and love the work, and go on to read the rest of your catalog. They can encourage readers to join your mailing list, follow you on social media, and interact with you on book tours and online events.

But a bigger benefit may be good, old fashioned word-of-mouth advertising.

Readers who love a book will often tell everyone they know about it. Those new potential readers may go to the library to check it out, but they may well go purchase the book outright. Since getting your eBooks into libraries has a low barrier to entry, and can even pay you a bit of a royalty, this placement has one of the best ROIs going, for promoting you and your work. It costs you nothing to make the book available, but can benefit you in multiple ways.

For this reason, it really is much better to forget about trying to make a profit, and to start thinking in terms of better and greater reach for your work. Libraries introduce readers to new work as a matter of mission. Help them do that, and it can work out well for you.

You might, by the way, consider volunteering to do a reading at your local library, once your book is available to be checked out. An hour or so of your evening could result in hundreds of new readers, who can be persuaded to evangelize on your behalf, bringing more readers into the fold.

 

These are just a few ideas and best practices that can help you make the most out of including your books in OverDrive’s catalog. But experiment. Try things out. Ask questions. There are more ways to approach this than you may have imagined, and there’s really no way to go wrong with this.