Where Do We Stand? Libraries and Self-Published Authors
By: Andrea Jamison
The landscape of self-publishing has changed significantly over the last decade. Once considered inferior to traditional presses, self-publishing is gaining more attention and earning credibility as a viable way to access unique, and in some cases quality, content. What’s more, the increase in self-publishing has garnered a significant amount of attention from marketing companies looking to capitalize on this burgeoning industry. Major publishers are even jumping on the bandwagon as well, offering independent authors a variety of ancillary services to help market their books. What about libraries?
Libraries have begun using self-publishing as a way to reconnect with communities by offering workshops and resources geared towards independent authors. Although this commitment is commendable, it still begs the question as to whether or not libraries are doing enough. It is not uncommon for writers to choose the route of self-publishing because the traditional publishing route is difficult, if not impossible, for some writers to enter. This is especially true if you happen to be a member of a marginalized group. Self-publishing is probably the only opportunity available to you.
According to recent statistics published by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, the number of books published by people of color speaks volumes about the barriers that prevent certain groups from obtaining authorship through traditional publishing routes. In 2017, out of 3,500 books received by the center, approximately 3% were written by African American and Latino authors, 7% were written by Asian Pacific American authors, and less than 1% were written by Native American authors. Thus, self-publishing is a route that allows writers an avenue to tell their stories. It also creates an opportunity for them to experience a career as an author.
Although there are some benefits to self-publishing, the majority of self-publishers do not have the resources to compete with traditional companies. Libraries can help mitigate the downside of self-publishing for authors by increasing exposure to self-published content. Yet, some librarians have been reluctant to actually include self-published books in their collections due to concerns that independent books are of a poorer quality. As an example, the following statement taken from a public library collection development policy reads as follows:
“Publishers tend to establish expertise in certain fields, and this is taken into consideration in evaluating a title, especially one for which reviews are not available. Selectors try to be familiar with publishers and their specialties, but this is harder and harder to do in an age of mergers and takeovers. Some publishers in each field produce titles of such quality that selection decisions can be made solely on the basis of the publisher. Conversely, some publishers who produce marginal works are avoided, unless a certain item receives excellent reviews. The library generally avoids vanity presses, where the authors pay publication costs and do their own distribution. Self-published and desktop publishers produce works of varying quality and are seldom reviewed. These items are generally not purchased unless the subject is in high demand, and the book is examined and found to be of merit.”
Whether or not this is a form of censorship or professional judgment is up for debate. Yet, self-published authors suffer when the libraries that ultimately are supposed to serve them exclude them from the community in certain ways. Jacob Grovey, a self-published author, who has been writing for over 20 years and has written several books, including a children’s book titled The Adventures of Austin, weighed in on the subject. When asked about his experience with libraries in terms of having his book added to library collections, he stated, “It’s difficult to build a solid relationship with libraries if you are not known. Libraries seem to be more willing to help traditional authors.”
As a librarian and advocate for intellectual freedom, I think its important for more libraries to rethink our position in regards to self-publishing. Library services should include more than just the “end user” experience. If we truly want to connect with the community, we have to think of our patrons as more than just receivers of content but creators of that content as well.
Andrea Q. Jamison is a professional librarian, writer, and current Ph.D. student whose research involves examining the pervasive lack of diversity in literature. She has over 17 years of experience working in schools and libraries, and she is the author of two books: Against the Waterfalls and Super Sonja. In addition to her full-time duties in librarianship, she is a mom, Board Member for ALA’s Ethnic & Multicultural Information Exchange Roundtable, Chair for the EMIERT Multicultural Awards, reviewer for the School Library Journal, reviewer for Indieview, freelance writer, avid blogger, and social justice advocate. She also works with the Illinois School Library Media Association as a member of their advocacy and conference planning committees. Andrea thoroughly enjoys working with children and speaks nationally on issues related to creating diverse and inclusive learning spaces for youth. Find her on Twitter @achitownj.
Thanks for highlighting this issue! I am somewhat ashamed to admit I am reluctant to read self-published authors for my own pleasure reading, as I have so little free time I am always reluctant to pick up something I think might not be good, even though I know professionally that self-publishing has changed drastically and there are many good self-published books out there. This had got to be even more of a struggle for collection development in public libraries, where they have such limited funds and are making choices for many other readers.
I have found – as a self published and commercially published librarian author – that librarians and reviewers have a disdain for self published books.
Besides the disdain, there is a lack of courtesy in responding to polite requests to send review copies
If I have sent a copy to say LJ or Choice, then there is no response when I inquire about the book’s status. Nor is there a review.
My book, Fables for Leaders, has gotten several good reviews but the big review journals appear to have a serious problem with self published stuff.
One famous library blogger – I am not a regular reader – states up front, if you are self published, don’t bother contacting me!
How’s that for intellectual freedom?
There needs to be a frank discussion of where libraries stand on this topic. Right now silence is killing off some high quality self published books.
Nor is this a good symptom of what is happening to librarianship. One duo of editors told me they were too busy to even think about reviewing my book, however interesting. The duo edit a magazine I wrote for for over 20 years. Risible!
Here at the Orange County Library System (FL), we regularly receive requests from self-published authors to add their book into the library’s circulating collection. As a library, we understand that authors face many challenges in trying to get their books into the hands of readers, which is why we created an e-book platform to help address this concern. In 2016 we launched ePULP, an in-house e-book lending platform where local and self-published authors submit their e-books for review to be added to the library’s digital collection.
The process for authors is simple and best of all it’s FREE! Submissions are reviewed by a group of library community reviewers, before each book is added to ePULP. If a book is not added, we share the feedback with the author.
Since launched, 44 authors have taken advantage of this opportunity resulting in over 75 e-books submitted for review. You can visit ePULP here: http://epulp.ocls.info and self-published authors can submit their e-book here: https://www.ocls.info/epulp-submit-ebook
I actually read a lot of self-pub books and do often find them to be needing an editor. (“This would be SO GREAT if…”) Once in awhile I do come across an awesome self-pub title, and when that happens I do send it in for cataloging and add it to the library! It is time-based, though, I need to have time to read, and sometimes it does take awhile for self-pub books to be evaluated- I have a big tbr pile, just like everyone else! The cover does make a difference, too. If the cover isn’t interesting or polished enough that I think people will pick it up, I can’t justify the cost of adding it; even though we’re all not supposed to, everyone does judge a book by its cover!
I would love a follow-up on this article, given the new gold-rush-esque attitude toward self publishing. I agree with you in some regards, but as a cataloguer, over the last 2 years I’ve seen the quality of self published materials drop significantly as more and more people see it as more of a “side-gig,” and slap together some royalty free images (or copyrighted images!) and call it a book. I work at a small library, and frankly we don’t have the time or personnel to review every item ordered. I’ve come across books that have claimed the moon landing was faked, and plastic is “good” for the ocean. I’m not saying all self-publishing is bad, but my library is seriously considering implementing a no-buy policy on self-published nonfiction, we just do not have the time to fact check every book, nor should we have to.