How to keep your librarian happy and keep your books on the shelves of the local public library
As a librarian purchasing material in a specialized subject area, I've dealt with all sorts of books and publications, ranging from the most popular fiction and non-fiction to the most obscure rants and pamphlets. Heck, some of the material is even self published, or published by organizations with little experience in publishing. This isn't bad per se, but I sometimes wish that I could talk to these people, as a librarian, and get them to make my work easier. Making my work easier would probably help to get them into more libraries. Selling and marketing your books is a completely different matter, one that I'm not terribly familiar with, and thus am not able to properly address here.
Here I present several problems that I've had of late, as well as possible solutions.
Don't hide information
Make the title, author, and pubication information easy to find. It may be very avant garde to use all sorts of wild typography and bold colors in your book, and that's great, but when I can't figure out whether a couple words are your pseudonym or the title of the book, that's a problem. Place the title in the usual place on the title page, with your name below it. If you think there's any danger of confusion, it can help to say "by John Smith", instead of just "John Smith".
Put all of the publication information on the back of the title page. Don't just say "copyright John Smith" - tell me who, where, when. If you're a tiny startup publisher that I may not be able to easily locate, provide an address and, if you have one, a url. Even if you aren't going to put the address of the publisher, you should list the city and state. Though it may be perfectly intuitive to you where Smithsboro is, I have no idea which of a dozen US states it may be in, or if it may be in another country.
My biggest pet peeve is people who don't date their books. I've seen very nice, professionally produced, full color catalogues published by art galleries that list the date of the exhibition but neglect to mention the year anywhere. There's a nice, clean copyright page, with an ISBN even, but no mention of the year. I can guess by the presence of the URL for the gallery that it was published sometime after 1993, and I can even go to the website and eventually determine what year the exhibition occurred, but I don't like to do this. There's no guarantee that your website will be around in five years when the book finally reaches my hands and this makes extra work for me. Besides, I don't like this as a source for information - so often, a catalogue won't come out until several months after the exhibition, possibly even the next year. Alternately, the catalogue might have been published in the year before the exhibition, say, in November or December for a January exhibition. I like to deal in absolutes - give me the damn date.
This goes for smaller materials, too. It's surprising what bits of literary ephemera make their way into library collections. On the little brochure Ten New Books from Joe Smith Books, be sure to list the date. It doesn't have to be huge - it could just be a very tiny "copyright 2006".
Dates are important because they establish chronology. People searching for books in the library catalog sort results by date. Without a date, one can't know whether a treatise is the work of a brilliant visionary or whether it's some hack regurgitating what has become accepted as common knowledge, thirty years later.
Thus, an ideal listing of publication information might look something like this:
copyright 2006 by John Smith
Published by Joe Smith Books, Smithsboro, Maryland
Joe Smith Books
P.O. Box 1234,
Smithsboro, MD, 12345
Fact or Fiction?
It's sometimes hard to determine whether a book is a collection of true stories or a collection of fictional stories. Make it clear on the back cover copy or the dust jacket. Heck, you could even make it clear in the title of the book, for instance: The John Smith Chronicles: A Novel.
Books fall apart. It's life. If I can figure out what order the pages are supposed to go in, it's a lot easier for me to put them back in that order and send them off to the bindery. If I can't figure out what order the pages go in, the book usually goes in the trash. This is especially a problem for graphic novels.
ISBNs can help get your books onto shelves, but please, please, pretty please with sugar on top, don't use fake ISBNs. Don't reuse them, either, for multiple publications. Be careful with the ISBNs that you are allotted. Please. Incorrect ISBNs just screw things up and make me want to pull out my hair.
Don't make the librarian struggle to figure out the subject of the book. Either have a long, descriptive title, for instance, The Vulcan Blazers: A Narrative History of the First African American Firefighters in Baltimore Maryland, from 1850-1900, or be clear on the dust jacket copy as to the exact subject of your book, using clear, common language. Please.
Avoid Boolean Operators
Don't use Boolean operators (and, or, not, with) in the title of the book. They can really screw up search results and keep people from finding your book. For instance, to give a recent popular title, a search for "Bud, Not Buddy" will return all the records that include the word "Bud" but not the word "Buddy". Yes, this is silly. Yes, catalog software ought to be better than this.
The question of whether to autograph the book you are donating to your local public library is, for me, a difficult one. At some libraries, autographing a book virtually ensures that it will remain in the library collection forever, whereas in others, in ensures that it will be banished off to the "autograph collection", never to be seen or touched again. It's a gamble. Donate two copies, one autographed and one not.
Many public libraries discard, or at least review for the purpose of discarding, books that have not been checked out recently. Depending on the institution, recently can mean anything from the past year to the past five years. So get your friends in the library to check out the book and keep it from being discarded.