Saturday, March 23, 2013

How Libraries Can Launch Community Publishing Initiatives with Self-Published Ebooks

Libraries have long provided an essential community service by making books and other information products freely available and accessible to local community patrons.  Libraries play a critical role in promoting literacy, a culture of books and the joys of reading.

With the rise of ebooks, public libraries are at a crossroads.  Some large traditional publishers, which fear digital lending might cannibalize retail sales of both print books and ebooks, have been hesitant to supply ebooks to libraries at the very time that library patrons are clamoring for access to such products.

On March 21, I gave a three-part presentation at the Midwest Collaborative for Library Services symposium held in Lansing, Michigan.  I outlined the opportunity for libraries to expand their community role by developing programs that promote a culture of authorship

I've embedded the presentation below.

Libraries are uniquely qualified to orchestrate community resources and talent to help local writers become professional self-publishers. By holding seminars and classes, and by bringing local authors together face to face with readers and aspiring authors, libraries can help unleash the talent locked inside the minds and fingertips of their local community's writers.  They can also help ensure a steady future supply of library-friendly authors who will want to supply their ebooks to libraries.

Smashwords stands ready to support public libraries around the world that have a desire to develop such community publishing initiatives.

Here in Los Gatos over the last six months, in partnership with the Los Gatos Public Library, Smashwords has been conducting a community publishing pilot program.  I'd like to thank Henry Bankhead and the entire staff at LGPL and the Town of Los Gatos for their support and encouragement.

The elements of the program are simple, and can easily be replicated and expanded-upon by other libraries.

We recognized that in order to e-publish, writers needed three important tools:

  1. The knowledge to professionally publish
  2. Access to an ebook printing press
  3. Access to retail and library distribution

We focused first on step one, the educational component.

We created three, one-hour seminars to educate patrons, aspiring authors and library staff about ebooks, and ebook publishing best practices.  The three workshops included:

  1. An introduction to ebooks - Provided library patrons and library staff a general overview of ebooks, ebook market trends, and ebooks at libraries.  Attached to the presentation, Henry Bankhead of LGPL provided a tutorial on how readers can check out ebooks from LGPL.
  2. An introduction to ebook self-publishing - Provided aspiring authors an introductory primer on how to prepare, create, self-publish and distribute an ebook.  The presentation provided a detailed checklist of the most important steps necessary to publish an ebook.
  3. Ebook publishing best-practices - This session focused on the best practices of the most commercially successful indie ebook authors, drawing upon the 29 best practices I outline in my free ebook, The Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success

At Smashwords, we're happy to share the Powerpoints of these and other workshops with any library who requests them.  The embedded presentation above contains updated versions of two of the tree LGPL presentations (#2 and #3).

Libraries could develop other workshops as well.  A couple of the librarians from Michigan last week suggested to me that they could leverage their new media labs to bring together local graphic artists who could help local authors design ebook covers.  What a great idea!  And it's only the tip of the iceberg once libraries start considering how to marshal local talent toward the common objective of helping local writers produce quality books.   How about classes on writing, or editing, or cover design?  How about connecting local authors with library patrons who'd like to serve as beta readers or proof-readers?

Following the completion of the first three parts of the seminar series, Smashwords and LGPL worked on providing the last two pieces - the access to the ebook printing press, and the access to retail and library distribution.

Luckily, these latter two pieces were already built at Smashwords.  The new thing we created for LGPL - which we can now offer to other public libraries - was a co-branded publishing portal.

At the LGPL website, they offer a link titled, eBook Self-Publishing Partnership.  If a local author clicks the link, they're led to a co-branded version of the Smashwords web site, where the author can sign up for a free account and begin accessing the breadth of our publishing and distribution tools. The signup-confirmation email they receive can be customized by the library.  We set this up for the library at no charge.

Each time the author clicks to upload a new book, they're greeted with another co-branded image that reminds them of their connection to Los Gatos Public Library.

The co-branded publishing portal is based upon the same technology we use to power the co-branded publishing portals for Sony and Diesel.

LGPL offers ebooks to its patrons by using an ebook aggregator which operates LGPL's ebook checkout systems.  Soon, our books will be available through most of the leading ebook aggregators.  This means that soon, local Los Gatos authors will be able to "Publish to the Library."   Libraries have the opportunity to encourage local authors to publish locally and distribute globally though our partnerships.

As a Smashwords author or publisher, you have an opportunity to assist your local library.  Contact your local library and offer to do a talk about your own e-publishing adventure.  Or join with local indies and do a panel discussion.  Download the presentation above and customize it for your own library workshops about ebook self-publishing.  You have an opportunity to mentor your community's next generation of indie authors!

Encourage your local library to sign on with one of the many leading ebook aggregation services, such as Baker & Taylor Axis 360, 3M's Cloud Library, or Overdrive.  Our books are available through Baker & Taylor today, and should be available through the other two in the weeks and months ahead.

If they're deploying their own ebook checkout systems following the Douglas County Model, tell them about Smashwords Library Direct.

Good luck, and have fun!


  1. That's interesting. I went to our local library two years ago to donate six large print, hard bound books. They not only wouldn't accept them, they wouldn't even look at them because they were self published. I realized even then that if they didn't change their policy, they wouldn't have current literature. It seems that things have finally changed.

  2. What a great concept for libraries. I love libraries and have been a heavy lifelong library user. In one town I lived in, the library was very discouraging of self published book donations. But I recall that my home town library was not so fussy. Even in the 80s it had books from those vanity presses that people put down. I read several self published books as a youth and liked them.

    Anyway I've often wondered how I could reach out to libraries. Overdrive has rejected my applications multiple times for years. In fact Overdrive does not even bother to inform me of rejection. I have to pester the company and keep asking about my application before someone tells me no.

    I meet people in my community who borrow ebooks from the library, and it's frustrating that I am excluded from that audience. I've even considered contacting my local library system (where I live now has a fabulous one) and telling them that Overdrive is blocking their access to self published titles that are selling in the marketplace and being enjoyed around the world. Hopefully Smashwords is about to change that. THanks!

  3. The ideal situation for local libraries to lend eBooks is to develop a program available to each library for lending eBooks written by local authors. Publishers do not often accept the myriad of books written by local authors for print or eBook publishing often discouraging some good authors from getting exposure even in local libraries. Of course there needs to be a volunteer committee organized to read and review each offered book avoiding unsavory content before endorsing it for lending. The content would probably often be less than perfectly edited since only publishing houses have the money to employ professional editors. If the book contains an interesting storyline or subject matter most readers would likely overlook awkwardly written text. Having work available in your local library the author would at least have an opportunity to have local people other than friends and relatives read their work. The work on the other hand could be well written and become a social media hit giving the author more than a life of hobby writing.

  4. @Linda - Once challenge libraries face is limited shelf space. Just like a bookstore, if they bring new books in, it often means they need to remove other books. It's also fair to say that perceptions of self-published books are changing. Self-published books are starting to shed some of their former stigma, yet librarians are still wary. New curation models are necessary. Some libraries are now experimenting with new models, such as patron-driven acquisition (buy what patrons are asking for), or curating off of retailer bestseller lists. Most librarians I speak with are also very interested to support their local authors.

    @Tracy, Stay tuned. :)

  5. Great help for all of us. Thanks, as always, for your brilliant efforts. As authors, we can help resolve the "publisher" dilemma by always hiring credible editors and listing their names in the front sections of our eBooks.

  6. What an interesting article, since I live in Saratoga (next town over) and have spent some time in the Los Gatos library for events.

    I will definately be going to check out this program in the future.

    Thanks for sharing

  7. The library system I work at circulates more ebooks than any other in the US, and we are frustrated that many publishers don't sell their ebooks to libraries for distribution. As an Indie author, several of my books are in Overdrive, and I'm encouraged that Smashwords will be contracting with them. This will increase the supply of ebooks dramatically to libraries across the nation. By the way, I pay an editor to review my books, many Indie published authors do this because we understand the importance of creating the best product possible.

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  9. @Mark: We were really pleased to have you at the program. There was nothing but praise at the end. We had at least one indie author in the crowd, and he said that he now understood everything he'd done wrong with his first publication.

    You really laid out a great vision for how public libraries can be a vital connection for indie authors to the wider community. In addition, libraries can encourage more indie authors by creating writers groups, places for readings, crowd-editing services - they sky is really the limit.

    Thanks again for your inspirational talk.

  10. Mark, or anyone, I set up a small press to publish myself and a few other people--writer friends I know to be very good. I applied to Overdrive but was turned down. I live in NC and NC Digital Library uses Overdrive. I see from the discussion that I'm not alone in being turned down by them.

    Does anyone know how to break in with Overdrive? Any insights? Thanks!

  11. @Randy, thanks so much for inviting me!

    @Nora, stay tuned. :)

  12. I've just contacted my local library to see whether I could get my ebook (pubbed on Smashwords) into the library catalog. However, my library uses Overdrive as well, so I'm in a situation similar to @Nora's, hoping to get into Overdrive.

    @Mark, thank you for all your work! I'll be staying tuned as well and eagerly awaiting updates!

  13. You continue to be a pioneer Nd leader of the self-publishing field.

  14. hey mark! I an a new author, just started with smashword. I read your marketing guide, style guide and the secrets book. And as per your advice, i started my blog and also published my first book at smashword.

    I don't know whether you will reply to my comment or not but i just want to say thank you for making me an author.

    you said that do not spam the blogs with the ad's of your ebook, but since i am new i just cannot stop doing it and so i am doing it. I hope you understand

    my smashword's ebook link

    and the blog's is


    once again thank you very much.

  15. Definitely praying for a deal with Overdrive. Good luck~!