How To Make Life Easy For Librarians So Your Book Gets In Libraries

The following guest post is written by Laura Carruba, certified Librarian.  (Seriously, she comes from a family of librarians.)  We got to talking about getting books into libraries, and she pointed out that a lot of indie authors make things hard on librarians… and that’s a bad idea.  So I asked her to explain how we can make things easier for librarians, and she was kind enough to share.  (And I swear that when I said she could use my stuff as an example, I thought she was going to use it as a bad example.)

I make my living cataloging items for a small public library system. My library department is the one responsible for adding library identification to items (stamps, stickers, barcodes and such) and entering those items into our online catalog so people can find them.

Most of my work is based on pre-existing records. When the Big Five come out with a NYT bestselling author’s latest book, the publisher uploads cataloging-in-process metadata to the Library of Congress, who in turn creates a cataloging record for the nonprofit Online Computer Library Center (OCLC). Any library with a membership to OCLC can download those records and tweak them for their own use.

For small presses, independent publishers, and self-published authors, their works fall largely on catalogers to analyze and upload. Many libraries skip out on this task for two reasons. Many libraries has limited access to OCLC and rely on third-party vendors for catalog records. Sadly, this feeds into the other reason why libraries skip out on cataloging small press and self-published books: a reputation for poor layout and formatting.

I create original metadata and catalog records for self-published books every month. I see beginner mistakes made by enthusiastic authors and publishers, the kinds of errors that give self-published books a bad rap among librarians. I would like to share the insider tricks librarians–especially catalogers–use to approve or reject potential library book purchases.

After meeting Steve at Lexington, Kentucky’s FandomFest in 2011, I bought two of his books for my library. Coincidentally, they’re the ones featured in his recent blog post about lousy book covers. The so-called lousy cover belies an excellent interior.

When cataloging books, the title page is the most important source of information about the book A good title page lists the full title of the book, the author’s preferred name, the publisher, and the place of publication. Steve’s Bought Love Is a Salaried Position is a good title page.

If I could not find the information I needed on the title page, such as the publisher or place of publication, I turn the page over to the flip side of the title page, known as the verso. (Means “flip over” in Latin, how cute.) Bought Love‘s verso not only gives the publisher and publication information but also the copyright dates and ISBN. With this wealth of information, I can build a basic catalog record. Thanks Steven!

Also, take note of the table of contents. The page layout makes the titles and page locations easy to read. Plus, Steve formatted the page numbers on the table of contents correctly: pages preceding the work (a foreword, introduction, table of contents, etc.) frequently use Roman numerals to offset the introductory material from the work itself. Simple touches like this make a self-published author’s publications look professional.

(I never thought I would need to say this. Self-published authors: number your pages. Large picture books for children can get away with unnumbered pages and none else.)

I have enough information for the backbone of the catalog record, but to me a catalog record isn’t finished until I give it a synopsis and assign subject and genre headings to it. There really isn’t a chief source of information for these bits, other than reading the book, and people accuse librarians of doing this all day anyway. Let’s “verso” Steve’s book.

When I read cover copy, or “back blurbs,” I’m looking to sum up your book in one to three sentences. Like the front cover, publishers design the back cover to appeal to buyers, not necessarily to catalogers. In this case, Steve wrote my synopsis for me–I simply used his second paragraph with the credit “publisher description.”

Keep in mind that a back blurb is just as much an audience grabber as your work’s first sentence or line. If the back blurb is something like “The second novel from award-winner author Q.T. Pie is a thrilling mix of Eragon and Harry Potter” makes me sigh, go to Amazon or Goodreads, and hope that a random reviewer wrote a synopsis better than the author. Even something like “When Khrystal Blackrayvenne finds the mystic dragon egg of Summerisle at a garage sale, she starts on an adventure beyond her wildest dreams” gives me a place to start.

Once the synopsis is finished (either cut-and-paste from the back blurb or my own summary), I create subject and genre headings based off it. The Library of Congress–and the army of member libraries and catalogers supporting it–create and maintain a standardized list of keywords for topics, names, places, and more. This regulated system ensures that there is one codified word of phrase to describe a concept and enough cross-references to ensure someone will find the “preferred” word or phrase.

This is the catalog record I created for Bought Love Is a Salaried Position:

I have to admit, I cheated. Having read Bought Love, I knew the book wasn’t about fables (or belonging in the genre “fables”) but fantasy realism. The subject headings reflect that. (The genre headings are obvious; sadly, at the time of this writing, there is no LCSH-approved genre heading for “flash fiction.”)

Let’s revisit Q.T. Pie for a different example.

Q.T. Pie created the kind of self-published book that makes me a grumpy cataloger. As you can tell from the record, Q.T. didn’t have a title page–the first leaf of the book contained the first page of her story. I could only guess as to who published the book where and when. I also had to rewrite the back blurb so someone browsing the catalog could get some idea of the book’s contents.

Self-published authors make these mistakes frequently. Because of these formatting errors–usually accompanied by a truckload of spelling and grammar mistakes–libraries refuse to accept self-published material into their collections. Here are some tips on formatting to make your book appealing to libraries and other potential buyers:

Create a title page, both front and back. If your publisher of choice charges by the page or by the gathering (a group of folded sheets sewn or glued into a book’s binding), spend the extra money to add this crucial page. Use the other pages to add an “about the author” page to your book, or endpapers with maps, or advertise other books you’ve self-published.

Give the following information on your title page and/or verso:

–Author name
–Place of publication
–Publisher (if you created a publishing LLC, or the author name if you didn’t)
–Copyright date (and print date if the two dates are different)

If you publish under a pseudonym, including your real name on the verso is a big help. Many authors with famous pseudonyms, such as J.D. Robb for Nora Roberts, have cross-references in the LCSH so someone can find all the works by one person using multiple names.

If your work is a multi-chapter novel or collection of short stories or poems, consider adding a table of contents. Microsoft Word and Open/LibreOffice include tutorials on how to create them and update them with new content in case you created a ToC with a draft of your work.

Number your pages. MS Word and open-source variants include instructions on how to do this as well.

Write a back cover blurb that talks about what you wrote, and try not to compare it to other books, movies, TV shows, etc. If you have a press package or pitch letter, chances are you’ve already tried to describe your book. Find a good paragraph from one of those sources and use that.

Purchase an International Standard Book Number (ISBN) from Bowker.  (They are at )  From a library viewpoint, an ISBN provides a measure of professionalism. From a cataloger viewpoint, it’s a clue leading to distinct information about the author, the title, and the individual volume of dead tree pulp needing a catalog record. For authors, as Steve says in this blog post, an independent ISBN from Bowker allows an author to sell in multiple online venues.

Follow these steps, and you could see your self-published novel on library shelves as well as, OCLC’s international catalog. Bought Love Is a Salaried Position is available through WorldCat–your novel could be next!

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  1. Richard Cluff
    December 10, 2014

    I was wondering, is the ISBN that is automatically provided by Amazon sufficient? I would love to be able to purchase an ISBN from Bowker, but 125$ for one is simply not in the budget.

  2. December 11, 2014

    You mean CreateSpace? Yes, that would be a sufficient ISBN. I'm not FOND of that solution – you can see some of my reasoning at – but it counts.

    The prices for ISBNs go down DRAMATICALLY in bulk, though, so you can cough up enough for 10 or 100 and be set for quite a while longer. (I also don't believe in setting a separate ISBN for ePub/Kobo, only when the CONTENT differs, so there's that as well.)

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