What’s the best way to get indies into libraries?

Has one of your library patrons ever asked why your library had a Kindle bestseller title in print but not as an ebook? Maybe someone who preferred reading e rather than p? Or have you ever wondered the same thing, yourself, when you found an ebook you wanted to read but then found that your collection development people had missed it, or that they had trouble adding it to your collection?

In an earlier article in this column on indies in libraries we looked at indie authors whose ebooks have become bestsellers and discussed why libraries would want to add these to their collections. To summarize what we found, while libraries focus their acquisitions efforts on books from the Big Five, there is a parallel universe of publishing that generates bestsellers and sells them to the public. Some of these bestsellers get into library collections, but not all. The issue for libraries is acquiring as many of these bestsellers as possible to minimize their loss of patrons to Amazon and other ebook services that provide instant access to the titles.

These books are not the old-fashioned self-published books with bad covers and typographical errors that many library and publishing professionals still think of when thinking of independent authors and independent publishing; rather, these are professionally written, edited and produced books (mostly genre fiction) that have been published by highly skilled writers who take advantage of the new realities of publishing. They purchase the editorial and design services of publishing professionals through marketplaces, such as Reedsy, where they can contract for services from editors and others who are current or former employees of the Big Five. They publish and distribute their books on platforms, such as Amazon, that are built to drive sales for them. And they market their books through book blogs, store appearances, and direct email services, such as BookBub.

In this article, we will look at the practical aspects of adding indie ebooks to a library collection, how indie authors distribute their ebooks, and the channels that libraries can use to add these books to their collections.

When an indie author is ready to publish a book, there are several options for creating and then distributing the ebook edition to major retailers and library sales channels. For retailers, authors have the option of feeding them books one retailer at a time. This results in a slightly higher royalty for the author, because it eliminates the percentage collected by an aggregator, but is also time-consuming, so most authors opt to use an ebook aggregator with ties to retailers.

A typical process would be for an author to add the book to Smashwords, the main aggregator and distribution platform for indie authors. Then to get it into the Smashwords Premium Catalog (meaning its file format meets industry standards, it avoids any gaffes such as adding “Buy Today for Only 99¢!” to the title, and it is not classed as erotica). Once the book is accepted into the Smashwords Premium Catalog, it will be fed to Barnes & Noble, Apple’s iBooks, Kobo and others. The author will have to add the book to Amazon as a separate task. Another process would be to publish on Pronoun (a part of Macmillan), which feeds books into Amazon Kindle, Kobo, Apple iBooks, and others.

Obviously, there are a lot of steps between writing a book and publishing the ebook edition, but the options of sending the book directly to the retail platforms or going through a service are those available to indie authors. Each author must decide what is best for each book. My point is simply that these avenues are in place and well-used, and they all direct the book into library purchasing channels.

Now, let’s look at how libraries acquire ebooks, so we can see how the indie ebooks can reach them, and how they can add these indie books to their collections.

Most libraries get their ebooks from OverDrive, and OverDrive has hundreds of thousands of indie ebooks, mostly through Smashwords. If you search for an indie author on the OverDrive website and then check the publication details, you will find “Smashwords Edition” listed as the imprint, and the author’s name or author-owned publisher listed as publisher. Here is a link to an example, the spoof of genre fiction Bad Book by K.S. Brooks, Stephen Hise and JD Mader. Libraries also use CloudLibrary and Axis360, as well as smaller or specialized ebook platforms, such as Enki and BiblioBoard. CloudLibrary and Axis360 should have essentially the same indie ebooks as OverDrive.

Of smaller and more specialized platforms, Enki and BiblioBoard both get ebooks through Library Journal’s SELF-e program of vetting indie ebooks. BiblioBoard powers the platform that SELF-e uses, while Enki acquires the vetted titles but hosts them on their own platform. Enki also carries books from many established, commercial publishers. The advantage of adding BiblioBoard as a platform is that it is set up specifically to work with indie authors and to build specialized local collections, such as books by your local authors or books about your city, whereas acquiring and promoting indie ebooks through the big three platforms will require more effort on the part of your collection development team.

Looking at currently popular indie authors, many of them can be added to libraries via the feed that starts with Smashwords. According to the Smashwords web site, these include, for example, Amy Miles, Brian S. Pratt, Chanda Hahn, Colleen Hoover, GJ Walker-Smith, Jamie McGuire, JD Nixon, Kirsty Moseley, Kristen Ashley, Lauren Blakely, Melody Grace, Natasha Preston, Quinn Loftis, R.L. Mathewson, Randolph Lalonde, Shayne Parkinson and T.C. Southwell.

To conclude, even though indie authors do not get the promotion that Big Five authors do, they still produce books that sell in the millions and should be in every public library collection to meet reader demand. Libraries that use any of the three major library ebook platforms should be able to get most indie ebooks through their platform. Libraries that want to build collections of local authors can also add the BiblioBoard platform, specifically for that purpose. There is no reason libraries can’t provide their patrons with ebook editions of most popular indie authors.

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