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Should you sign up for SELF-e from Library Journal?

An author contacted me recently for advice on a simple question: “Should I enroll my book in the new SELF-e Select program offered by Library Journal?”

SELF-e Select curates self-published/indie books for libraries so that librarians know which books are worth adding to their lending collections. Here are a few links with more information:

The author who contacted me was debating what to do because authors aren’t paid for self-published books that libraries select through the SELF-e program.

Should you offer your book to libraries for free?

Here’s what I told her.

Because authors aren’t paid for books selected, SELF-e seems like an option for an author with a backlist.

Applying the strategy for e-book giveaways (be sure to read the comments on one of our most popular guest blog posts, “Why you shouldn’t give your book away“), offer your first book free to libraries only after you have four or five published already. Once readers sample your work, they are more likely to buy more of what you write or ask libraries to carry your subsequent books because they’ll know what they’re getting.

With the “no royalty” option limited to your first book and demand for subsequent books you’ve written increasing, libraries are more likely to buy subsequent books through the only channel you’ve made available for those books — the one that pays you a royalty.

Options for selling to libraries

If the no-royalty option isn’t a good fit for your book, you’ve got other ways to get into libraries.

ebooksareforever is a new service that charges libraries the same price that you charge consumers. The site says that libraries will own the e-books they buy and will have easy access to as many copies as they need so more than one patron can borrow a title at the same time.

Three things to note:

  1. This service is still in beta mode, so rules and procedures could change.
  2. Once you register on the site as an author, the company “will review your books and back catalog, and promptly approve or deny your application.” (After applying five days ago, I still haven’t heard from them about mine.)
  3. Authors are paid a 70 percent royalty.

Simply put, just because you want to use this service to get your e-book into libraries doesn’t mean you can.

There’s a do-it-yourself option, too. I’ve taken Elaine Wilke’s e-course that teaches you “How to Get Your Book and E-Books into Libraries” and particularly like that it includes a database of U.S. public libraries, but the insider tips from librarians are really helpful, too. My affiliate link at Udemy will save you $30 on the course fee and get you free access to Elaine’s other course, “Let Siri Save Time, Boost Productivity & Keep You Organized” (regular price $39).

(Pro tip from Elaine’s DIY course: Librarians like it when you’ve got some buzz going for your book. That includes reviews and media interviews.)

Should you sign up for SELF-e from Library Journal?What’s the best move for you?

In the end, it all comes down to your goals. Do you need to earn money from the book to help pay off publishing expenses? Do you  want to build a fan base for subsequent books? Will getting it to as many readers as possible boost your speaking or consulting career?

Always take your goals — and nobody else’s — into account when making book marketing decisions. Blindly doing what another author is doing without thinking about what’s best for you and your future could take you in the wrong direction.

And that’s what I told the author who contacted me to take into account before she made a decision. Only she knows the answer to the question: “What will help you reach your goals for this book?”

Do you want to get your book into libraries? Why or why not? Please share your thoughts in a comment.

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    1. I’m so happy to hear this, Helene! Thanks for the feedback. I think you’ll see that you have several options now. Good luck!


  1. Sandra, as you know, the first four books in my series are in the SELF-E Illiois and national collections (I submitted the 5th one a few weeks ago). Porter has well-documented my reasons.

    One of the big advantages to me is the “Good Housekeeping seal of approval” from Library Journal. They are so well-respected. While there are other ways to get your books in the libraries (and remember, this is just ebooks, not hard copies), this one has that little something extra.

    What happens next – sales of paperback versions, speaking engagements, appearances at local author fairs – is up to me. But with this as an entree, I believe it will give me a boost.

    1. I am curious about the timing of your experience. How long have your books been with SELF-E? Does SELF-E tell you how many libraries have taken your books? You seem to imply there has been no change in your sales – did I understand that correctly?

      1. My books are part of the first national and the Illinois collections. It’s very new – just a couple months old. LJ announced the top ten most downloaded ebooks in their collections for September and one of mine was #6.

        As far as sales…there is no way I can quantify if sales came from individuals who read the ebooks first at their library. I can only quantify sales from the libraries themselves. I’m actually at a library conference today and had great response: some libraries knew about it, some didn’t. Some bought my paperbacks on the spot because they were in the SELF-e collections. I guess that’s the kind of endorsement I was hoping my participation would earn.

  2. Thank you for this post, Sandy. I was fortunate to have met the SELF_E staff and also hear Porter Anderson and Viki Noe speak about this program at a recent Writer’s Digest Conference. Even though I only have one published book, I did submit it and am waiting to hear if it is accepted.They told me it would take a few months. I’m doing it for discoverability, not royalties so it seems like a win-win situation.

  3. Isn’t this a hot button topic, Sandra! Personally, I’m not in favor of free books forever, which is the concept here. Also, I don’t think that offering a backlist title for free will result in the library buying any of your other titles. It may, however, help readers discover you. But there are better ways to achieve that goal, in my opinion. I advise folks to think long and hard about permafree books. Speaking as an author, I dislike the concept on so many levels. As a reader, I love free books. But honestly, none of the free books I have downloaded enticed me to buy other titles by those authors. I think there may have been one author I bought a .99 book from as a result of the free book incentive. I recommend waiting and seeing how ebooksareforever pans out as that seems like a much better option for authors.

    1. Thanks, Terrance. Have you applied to ebooksareforever? I did just to test the system, but didn’t get a response one way or the other.


  4. I went to a program at the Seattle Public Library where they were touting Self-E, and I was not impressed. The speaker (who was from LJ) was trying to position Self-E as being like BookBub, saying that if you get your books in the Self-E catalog, librarians would push your books and you’d get all this exposure, only for free instead of paying.

    The thing is, and I’m saying this as someone who worked as a librarian for sixteen years, librarians aren’t going to go scanning the Self-E catalog for books to recommend. They don’t have the time or the incentive. The books will be available if someone asks for them, and that’s it. Also, not very many libraries are subscribing to the Self-E database. In Washington, only Seattle Public Library has so far, and from what I understand not many have plans to do so. So it’s not real exposure at all.

    I have two series, and I’m not going to put even my first book in the first one in Self-E, because, as a fellow author commented, this is how I make my living. No way would they ever ask traditional publishers for freebies. Even a token payment would have been better than this.

    I’m pretty disappointed in my former profession, to be honest.

    1. Thanks MM. With regards to this comment: [ I’m not going to put even my first book in the first one in Self-E ], it’s worth noting that authors don’t control which books are added to SELF-e Select — Library Journal does. You submit your books for consideration; there’s no guarantee they will be selected.


    2. As a former librarian who worked in selection, a couple of the Self-e points seem strange. I agree librarians will not push books just because they are in the database.
      Also Self-E claims “Over 50 percent of all library users go on to purchase ebooks by an author they were introduced to in the library.” But certainly not EVERY author.
      And the Hugh Howey quote – “Librarians can be a powerful marketing force for emerging authors, especially if they can promote the books without fear of success. The SELF-e approach will encourage books to be discovered and even go viral.” Few librarians fear success.
      I’d like to see a blog post on Reedsy.

  5. There is so much to learn about self-publishing and getting books out there. I would add that putting photos of speaking events, esp from libraries that have allowed me to speak to patrons, might carry some weight with other librarians who have to decide whether to purchase my book. Would you agree?

  6. As an author with a number of self-published books, I think Self-E is a horrific misuse of the abundant literary talent in this country. In essence, Library Journal can sell our ebooks to libraries without compensating us at all — looking very much like another corporation finding a way to make money by stepping on the little guy.
    I wonder how the CEOs would like it if someone took their work without paying them? Would librarians appreciate having that happen to them?
    There would be no books at all if there weren’t any authors. I personally put a lot of time and energy into my books, and I expect financial return from them, just like everyone else who puts energy into their work.

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