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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

Self-Publishing and Public Libraries

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, May 15, 2016

At the recent meeting of the Public Library Association, the catalog for programs being offered to the 9,000 librarians in attendance included an offering that caught my eye.


“Beyond Bad Covers, Poor Copyediting and Questionable Content: How to Deal with the Self-Publishing Onslaught.”


The panel discussion included an editor for “The Booklist Journal,” an editor for the American Library Association, the Director of the Harris County, Texas Public Library, two authors, and a reviewer for a blog.


More than 600 librarians filled the room of the Colorado Convention Center to hear a discussion of a new phenomenon facing public libraries, and I hoped they had the answers to my questions.


During the past decade, the ability to self-publish has provided public libraries with the opportunity to add a variety of new books to our collections,


It is estimated that some 400,000 new self-published titles are produced every year, in addition to the same number of traditionally-published titles.


Complicating the situation is the fact that some are only available in eBook format, and some are only available in traditional paper print format, and others are one, the other, or both.


Traditional publication of books involved a commercial publisher accepting a manuscript which would be reviewed and edited in-house, then produced at the cost of the publisher and released for sale.


Self-published books are typically produced by an individual or organization which then bears the cost of publication, and then are sold by the author, or another company or organization.


Self-published books usually skip the professional review and editing process, and usually aren’t professionally reviewed for appearance in library trade publications.


I think much of the self-publishing industry developed because of the frustration of authors with rejection by traditional publishers; and the thought that getting something in print will lead directly to public demand and excitement as the title moves onto a Best Seller List.


Unfortunately for the prospective author, it rarely works that way.


Today, public libraries are bombarded with emails, post cards, letters, promotional materials, and phone calls about the latest self-published book that is great.


I am unsure of whether the author (who has likely paid for the publication) thinks that getting the book on a public library shelf will give it credibility and provoke sales.


I recently had a phone call from someone who had published a paperback title for young adults, wanting to sell it to our library.  I asked for additional informational information, but all that was available was the author’s web site.


She finally agreed to send me a copy of the book for review, and when it arrived and started reading it, all I could think about was an English teacher with a red pen marking the horrible grammar, sentence structure, and generally bad text of the book.


The lack of a professional editing process dooms many of these titles.


According to the program, a review process is beginning to tackle the problem of a lack of reviews of self-published books.  (And the author’s relatives are not appropriate reviewers for your book)


Blogs are beginning to review titles, so that the great new books of the self-publishing world are rising to the surface to be found by public libraries.


The next problem with self-publishing is the availability of purchasing the titles.  Public Libraries have government accounting and financial systems and typically purchase books through library jobbers, not individually from specific publishers.


The more work it takes to acquire a title, the less-likely a public library will spend the time and resources to acquire one title.

The program continued past the end of the time allotted as discussions were taking place all across the room and we shared experiences.


It was an exciting program for the librarians attending, and lots of great ideas were shared among the group assembled.