Because I’m a librarian at a research university, authors and publishers often email me to promote their books… and article collections… and digital archives… and films… and even chapbooks of poetry or local history (!).

I also get lists of new books from our vendors, and catalogs from academic publishers. I see what other librarians at top universities are buying through our shared purchasing platform. I look at the book stalls at academic conferences, and of course I see books mentioned around the web or in my other reading.

Study, study, study, by Eric Mueller, on Flickr

There’s a lot out there. By some estimates, Americans publish a million books each year; 2/3 are self-published. 81% of Americans would like to write a book. Large academic presses publish around 15,000 academic monographs each year, and that doesn’t count smaller, international, or trade presses. I only have a few hours a week to spend building a collection… and if I’m looking to catch a book I missed, well, over 134 million books have been published since printing began.

This means that even if your book is brilliant and a great fit for my library, there’s no guarantee I will see or buy it… or that any of the 50,000 people at my university will read it.

But I certainly don’t mind hearing from an author who’d like me to buy a book for my academic library. To get considered by a librarian, here are a few of my tips:

Work with a recognized publisher.

I respect the high-prestige names, but it’s not the only thing I buy. Many smaller presses put out solid books. Ask your colleagues about a good entry-level press to work with… or if you’re tenured, ask your librarian about publishing both in print and online in open access, which gets cited more than a fancy book no one can afford to buy. But… avoid working with vanity presses that simply flip dissertations into poor-quality books.

Ask someone with an affiliation to recommend it.

Tell me if you study or work here, or have close colleagues recommend your book. If I know someone at my uni plans to read it, I’m more likely to buy it. (If it’s expensive and really niche, though, I may ask if they want to borrow from another library. That’s faster for the reader, and saves us spending money and shelf space on a book that may never be read twice at this particular university).

Point out who will use it.

Most academic research is specific: I buy books on things like women who freeze their eggs in Silicon Valley, or the racial implications of genetic testing, or the archaeology of prehistoric food, or rancher-wolf relations in the western United States, because I know faculty and students are doing research on this. I also buy topics of perennial interest, like childhood around the world, gender, race, warfare, etc.

I don’t expect you to know my field, yet it would be strong if you could point out how your book matches the specialty of students or professors here, perhaps by glancing at their websites. I’d love to see that we have folks who want to read just the book you’ve written.

Link to respected reviews.

I almost turned away a request recently… except that the author linked to a review of their book in a top journal, which gave me a better sense of the book’s style and where it fit into conversations in the discipline. Ask colleagues to review your book for academic journals, and it might make it to my shelves instead of the bottomless list of ‘maybe later’ books.

Write a brief, personal note.

Please don’t email multiple librarians at once! Email one at each college with a quick, personal note on who you are, positive coverage of your book, and who it’s for.

Most of all, choose a publisher that keeps their books affordable.  

Researchers focus on which publishers have the most prestige. I get that, as your peers hire or tenure you based on the prestige of the presses and journals you’ve published in.

But that doesn’t mean anyone reads the book you spent 1000 hours writing. If you actually want to be read, keep your insights broadly relevant, your writing clear… and choose a publisher who charges what librarians and other researchers can afford. It’s hard for me to pay $150-200 for a book and then find that no one’s borrowed it in ten years… especially when other presses of similar status charge $30 for print or ebooks that will be read by many more people.

Help me out, then, by writing a readable, affordable book, and sending me a note so I can stock it on our shelves!

How to ask librarians to buy your academic book

Thoughts? Leave a note here!