Library Patrons and Self-Published Books

The other day on Twitter, a couple of librarians and myself were talking about kids and teens self-publishing, especially Young Writers Dazzle Publisher (Mom and Dad) at The New York Times. Maureen Johnson responds to this particular phenomena at So I Read A Piece In The New York Times which sums up a lot of my own opinions.

One thought led to another. I thought about the libraries arguing that libraries should be more involved in self-publishing, including for teenagers, and thought about what Johnson said about whether a minor can consent to self publishing and the longer term implications (for example, no longer being eligible for certain debut-only grants and awards.) Some libraries are purchasing self-published ebooks for their collections.

And I began thinking about how ebooks make self published ebooks more easily available to readers, both for purchase at stores or for borrowing from libraries.

And I began to wonder, more so for purchasing than borrowing —

What types of things are libraries doing to assist their patrons in finding the best ebooks — “best” meaning the books patrons want to read or will want to read. Just because the books are “cheap” doesn’t mean that readers’ time is cheap. In my humble opinion, time is very precious. Books aren’t widgets; one cannot say “oh, any fantasy book” will do.

Some things are easy, of course, and patrons don’t need help with it. Authors they like or best seller ebook lists, for example. Actually, speaking of that — where does one find those best seller lists? Is it just looking at Amazon’s list?

Do your patrons understand the different steps in publishing and self-publishing to better create a search strategy for finding self-published books?

How does one discover what authors use editors and copyeditors and proofreaders? Or what authors don’t? (I’ve read blog posts where self-published authors say they don’t use editors because they wouldn’t make the cost back, and others that use several editors, and those in between, so yes, it’s something to discover.)

How does one find good reviews of self-published works? And by this I mean the difference between a review at a respected site such as Dear Author, or a review that may be a sock-puppet.

How can the casual reader tell when a book is self-published from the information online? Does who the author uses give more information to the reader about whether a book is the right one for them?

What else would you add to the list? What can help a patron find the self-published book that is right for them? And what libraries have programs or resources or booklists to help patrons?


13 thoughts on “Library Patrons and Self-Published Books

  1. I think this is one of the short sighted issues that those who DO look at books as widgets don’t worry about. Because, unfortunately, many people do not understand that content is what matters. It goes back to what people see the purpose of the library being — is it a community center? A cultural center? The community publishing house?

    That said, you raise good questions I don’t think anyone is addressing. The same folks who want to go the cheap and easy route are putting at risk reader’s advisory on a grand level, devaluing the skills of librarians and devaluing the product we’re delivering to patrons. No way is it doing a service to anyone. There are a frightening number of librarians who, like self-pubbed authors, want to cut out the middle man all together (the publisher) and do it all themselves, despite the fact they DON’T have the expertise of those middle men.

    I don’t think libraries should steer completely away from acquiring self-pubbed titles, but it is tricky to figure out what is quality and what isn’t, as well as how to promote and provide good reader’s advisory. Which goes back to the middle man idea because…isn’t that what a review source is, anyway?

    Lots to think about here, Liz.


  2. Kelly, as we’ve both seen, some believe that the only thing a publisher does is market a book and that libraries can do that. At best, they think editing = copyediting or proofreading. I wonder if any libraries show patrons the “before” and “after” pages that authors sometimes have on websites, to explain just what “editing” means.


  3. Kelly, a better understanding of the process can only help patrons to discover the books they want & need, and to respect them as readers.


  4. Abigail, do you have any suggestions to readers for finding those that are edited & proofread? It can be a big sea of books otherwise!


  5. I made the mistake years ago of saying that I would review self-published books on my blog. (With the back-up safety feature that I only review books I like.) Most of the ones I was then sent were AWFUL. The fact is, the whole publishing process goes a long long way in weeding out dreck. This experience is why I will never ever self-publish. I have no perspective on my own work.

    A friend of mine self-published. Her book is ALMOST excellent. Nothing a good hard editing wouldn’t fix. (Even a critique group would have helped.)


  6. Sondy, the key part of that sentence is “a good hard editing.” I am tired of reading about self pub that says that the only things publishers do is market, or say that self pub authors revise based on feedback of readers. Not all do that — the titles that are self pub that I have read are the ones where the author talks about the editing (not proofreading, but editing) that they did.


  7. I was wondering are libraries at all concerned that self-published books may contain material in which copyright has not been properly cleared?


  8. Hi, my take is from the trade published author -illustrator pov. I meet your patrons at my events. What I know is that they do not have a clue between trade published or self-published books. Most people don’t. Publishing folks aren’t even sure anymore. Personally, I cringe when someone ordains themselves with the title of author when they’ve never been published or teens publishing. Not because it’s a taboo (I might do it with my popular books). But that the self-pubs go the next step asking for freebie reviews from strangers like myself because we have a blog (do not review). Or that they even go further to teach in the schools where shelves are filled with mostly trade books- with not much experience about the publishing collaboration, plus that undercut 2/3 of an author’s salary when they offer free presentations. Without labeling the differences of publishing methods it sets up a big mixed message in the public’s mind. I do suggest a label or disclaimer of some sort that goes on a casing or appearing on screen to differentiate the publishing methods. Place those books in their own section as “alternative”. Also, does the library buy every music CD from every local band and/or non-published bands for their collection?


  9. To my mind, if I were looking at self-pub authors I would look at the author before the book if the book is difficult to gage based on online sources. If you can’t trust the comments for example, I’d look at the type of author they are in the first place.

    I’d look first at their social networking. If they do nothing but promote, promote, promote their book, that would be a black mark, simply because I’d be worried about what this author’s book says to the reader about the library. I’ve had people phoning up pretending to be ‘the director’ at Warner Bros before, to see if we had this new self-pub book in as ‘we’re making a film of it right now, didn’t you know, it’s going to be HUGE?’. I can’t help thinking these sorts of authors will have put more effort into their promoting than their writing.

    However, I know there are some excellent self-pub authors out there. Some have even caught the attention of the publishing houses after all. Again, I’d use their social networking as a starter indicator of quality: if they have lots of DIFFERENT and varied comments on their pages or if they use Twitter outside of an online advertisement, I’d want to know more.

    I’d check the Amazon lists of self-pub, but I’d also check other websites such as Kobo and Smashwords, especially as not everyone has a Kindle so Kindle books shouldn’t be the only format searched. Who knows if the next really great eBook is only available in ePub format rather than Kindle?

    Finally, I’d check GoodReads for reviews of books that have caught my eye from bestseller lists like the Kindle’s. My thinking is that I’d be more likely to find review by people who’d genuinely read the book on there.

    In terms of making library patrons more aware of how self-publishing works and how to spot it, I’m not sure – you can see how long-winded my way of doing it is!


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