Free Books for Everyone: But how do I get my book into the library?

by Gayle Carline

I’ve heard the plaintive cry more than once. An author has dropped a copy of their new book off at a library, perhaps along with a handful of bookmarks, and finds out a few weeks later that the book is in the library “used” bookstore and the bookmarks are MIA.

“I don’t understand why they didn’t put it on their shelves—it’s a free book!”

Trust me, I feel your pain. I, too, tried all the wrong ways to get my first book into libraries. None of my wrong ways worked. More than half of the libraries I visited didn’t even want my bookmarks. Some of the clerks actually stepped away from me, as if I carried in the plague.

And then, I joined my local library, first as a volunteer, then as an elected trustee. That’s when I learned how to get my book into libraries. I’m happy to share what I know with others, although the biggest tip I have to give is this: Be a passionate advocate for libraries, whether your book is on their shelves or not. They need all the support we can give them, and they are happy to show their appreciation when we show them a little love.

Step 1: Begin with your local library

In general, local libraries love their local authors, if you approach them correctly.

The first and most important thing to do is find out which librarian is in charge of your genre/age group. Some libraries actually have someone in charge of each major genre. Some are only Adults and Teens/Children. Find that person, either by searching their website, or by going to the library and asking at the desk.

You do not have to make an appointment with the librarian, although it does help to contact them in advance and find out the best time of day to visit. What you want to avoid is to see the librarian busy with patrons and try to interrupt them. It’s a cliché because it’s true: you never get a second chance to make a good first impression.

When you meet with the specific librarian, you want to do three major things:

  1. Introduce yourself and explain that you are a local author.
  2. Introduce your book and offer them a copy to review.
  3. Give them all of the information about the book, i.e. where to order it, any reviews it’s gotten, and the formats (paperback, hardcover, ebook, audio) it’s available in.
  4. Extra credit: Offer a set of free books for a book discussion group. If your library has any kind of fundraising event(s), offer to donate your book, plus some swag, to help raise money. See if you can get a book signing in one of their meeting rooms (you may have to pay for this) and donate some percent of your sales to the library.

Each library is unique—look around at yours and think of ways for you to present a win/win for the library and yourself.

Caveat: None of this may work, but at the very least, if your library has a history room, you can always see if they will include your book because you are a local author, and therefore a part of the city’s history.

Step 2: Move outward, to other libraries

If you have other libraries close by, you can use the information above to get your book into their collections. If you want to move outside your county/state/comfortable driving distance, here is what you need to know:

  1. Most libraries use the Baker & Taylor catalogues of best sellers, especially in the children’s book market. They also look at award winners (and I mean major awards, like the Andrew Carnegie Medal, the Caldecott, etc, not the Reader’s Favorite).
  2. The books they select almost always have reviews by major sites, like the New York Times, Kirkus, and Publisher’s Weekly.
  3. The staff reads and reviews almost every book that goes into their collection.
  4. The staff can make recommendations of books they’ve read and like.
  5. Patrons can recommend a book to staff, although the staff is under no obligation to investigate.

The last two items are where you might be able to get into the library. You probably have the most luck if you know either a staff member or a patron and can get them a copy of your book to review. If you can visit the library (let’s say the patron is your cousin and they have a spare bed), you can also offer to visit, do a book discussion, etc.

A parting word of advice

It helps to have your book in as many formats as possible. Hardcover is the most durable, and some libraries prefer it, however, it is also the most expensive. My local library prefers paperback because it’s not as expensive, allowing them to stretch their budget. Still, if you want to be in the history room, consider making your books available in hardcover—they look nicer in the display case!


Gayle Carline spent 30 years as a software engineer until she chewed her way out of the cubicle to become a writer. She knew nothing of writing mysteries, but figured that reading her laconic husband’s mind was good experience. Most of her books are set in Orange County, where there are always well-manicured places to hide a body. When she’s not writing, Gayle gives workshops to help other writers on their journey. She’s also known to enjoy a glass of wine or two, especially with friends.

Gayle’s latest book, A More Deadly Union, is the fourth in her Peri Minneopa Mystery Series, featuring a 50-year-old housecleaner turned detective. To find out more about Gayle and her books, please visit

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