Working with Librarians: A Guide for Romance Authors


On July 22, 2015, at the Romance Writers of America’s Librarians Day in New York City, a panel was featured on how romance writers can work with librarians. From the many questions and comments from the writers in the audience, it became obvious that libraries are as mysterious to romance writers as to the public at large. The questions ranged from how to get librarians to purchase your book to how to get invited to present programs. There were many more questions than available time, so it occurred to the authors of this pamphlet that some sort of guide was needed. Since RWA has honored librarians annually since 1995 by selecting a Librarian of the Year (for knowledge and promotion of the romance genre in the library setting or library media), who better to author a guide than some of those honorees?

While the emphasis is on public libraries, the writers also have covered relevant topics related to secondary school and academic libraries. While we are romance fans, we can’t promise equal enthusiasm among all librarians, but we can describe how libraries work to make it easier for romance authors to interact with them.

Besides how to get books into libraries and how to get involved with individual library events, this guide covers why the library market is important; how to connect with state and regional library associations; how to break into the library review media; and how to leave your papers to libraries. A list of resources and the guide’s author contact information also are included.

The Library Market for Books: What’s in It for Me?

Libraries are a significant market for authors. In 2014, libraries spent $1.22 billion dollars on materials for their collections, and of that amount, 63 percent was spent on print materials. There are an estimated 119,487 libraries of all kinds in the United States today. This figure includes 9,082 public libraries (16,536 if you count branches separately), 3,793 academic libraries, 98,460 school libraries, and 8,200 special libraries.  (2)
In a survey of libraries in 2015 by Library Journal, this professional publication found that 75 percent of library materials budgets and 71 percent of circulation was directly tied to books, including print, e-books, and audiobooks and downloadable audio. The article went on to say, “In print book circulation, fiction continues to claim the lion’s share, averaging 67 percent of the total. (The adult print book budget favors fiction by a ratio of 61 percent to 39 percent on average.) In e-book circulation, fiction does even better, accounting for 80 percent of the total. Once again, mystery, general fiction, and romance dominate fiction circulation in both formats.” (1)

As you can tell from these numbers, libraries spend a lot of money on books, and unlike the seemingly shrinking number of bricks and mortar bookstores, libraries have literally thousands of locations in which readers could find copies of your romances. Getting your books into libraries can obviously have a significant impact on your writing career. But, not surprisingly, the key to unlocking the library market resides in knowledge. In order to successfully crack the library market, you must understand libraries first.

We’re Not All the Same

Just as there is a common misperception on the part of some readers that “all romances are the same book,” the same type of misperception exists about libraries. The truth of the matter is that libraries are different. If you try and use the same technique to get your book into every library, you will end up just frustrating yourself (and possibly more than a few librarians).

In a broad way, libraries can be broken down into four major types: public, academic, school, and special. A public library is a library that is generally operated by a city or county government and is open to the general public. Academic libraries are found on college or university campuses and serve the students and faculty of those institutions. School libraries can be found in public or private elementary or high schools, and they exist to serve the educational needs of their students and teachers. Special libraries are located in businesses, hospitals, museums, law firms, etc. These libraries are designed to serve the informational needs of the members of a specific profession or trade.

In general, you will have the most success targeting public libraries, since they are the type of libraries that purchase the most fiction. Most academic or college libraries do not include popular fiction in their collections (there are some that do, but they are the exception rather than the rule). Instead, these libraries focus on building collections that support their curriculum (in layman’s terms: nonfiction books with some classic fiction).

If you write YA romances, then school libraries are another potential market for your books, since these libraries do buy fiction specifically for young readers and teens. School libraries also support titles included in the Accelerated Reader reading management program used in some schools (3). The AR BookFinderUS can tell you if your book is already included in the program (4), and AR selection criteria are outlined at

Most romance writers can ignore special libraries as a significant source of sales, since by definition the collections in special libraries are dedicated to a specific topic (like business or science). However, as described below, special collections in academic libraries can include romances, although these collections are usually archival in nature.

Understanding the library market and developing good contacts with librarians (especially your local library staff) can provide a way to boost sales of your books and get the word out to readers about your work.

Getting Your Books into Libraries

When it comes to approaching libraries about adding your books to their collection, it is important to understand that not all libraries purchase their books in the same way. The two most common methods are centralized and decentralized purchasing. Centralized purchasing is most often used in large multi-branch library systems, although it can be used with smaller library systems as well. Centralized collection development is often done at the main branch, with one department being responsible for selecting the bulk of materials that are added to the system. Staff at individual branch libraries do provide input toward the process, but the actual selecting, purchasing, and processing of materials is done by a central team.

Decentralized purchasing is done at each individual library, often with one or more staff members at that particular location being in charge of selecting and purchasing for that library. This system is often employed at smaller library systems or one-location libraries.

The easiest way to approach libraries is to call or e-mail that library in advance and ask to speak with the person in charge of selecting the type of books you write. For example, “I would like to speak with the librarian in charge of selecting and purchasing adult fiction.” Walking into a library and talking about your book with the first person you see will yield mixed results, as you could be speaking with a temporary contract worker; a paraprofessional who does not work in collection development; a page whose primary responsibility is to shelve books; or even a volunteer.

Librarians use a variety of tools when it comes to deciding what to add to their collections. Here are some of them.


Reviews are the main tools librarians use to decide which materials to purchase. Professional journals, such as Booklist, Library Journal, Publisher’s Weekly, and Kirkus, are the most commonly used.  For books written for a younger audience, popular review sources include Horn Book, School Library Journal, and VOYA. However, these are not the only sources libraries use. Other sources include major newspapers, like the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, and the Washington Post; magazines such as ForeWord, which specializes in independent publishing; and popular publications that feature reviews, like People, and Entertainment Weekly. Authors should ask their publishers if their books are being sent to review outlets. Information on how to contact review media can be found in the Resources section of this booklet.

Online review sources are and can be used, but this is not a uniform practice. Most libraries will not purchase a title just because it has a lot of five-star ratings on Amazon or Goodreads. Likewise, while reviews on blogs can be helpful, they tend to not be seen as sole determining factors, and it can depend on the credentials of the blogger. However, these online sources can prove helpful when it comes to demand, the next criteria libraries use to make selections.


Libraries also purchase books based on customer demand. These policies vary across jurisdictions, with some libraries purchasing nearly all customer requests, and others adhering to the same evaluation standards, whether it is a requested title or not. Then there is the practice of purchasing additional copies of a specific title already owned by the library, should more be needed to meet growing demand.

This is where online sources can prove helpful. Librarians use many of the same resources that readers do in gauging potential popularity for independently published titles. If a customer requests an independently published book, and if librarians see a lot of activity about that book at websites like Amazon or Goodreads, that could weight their decision. While five hundred positive reviews on Goodreads would not be something that would automatically make a library select your book for the collection, coupled with customer demand, it could be a deciding factor.

One of the most difficult things librarians confront in collection development is keeping track of books in series, because often only the first book in a series is reviewed. So authors who write series and who have a relationship with librarians should make sure their library knows when their new book is out and if it’s in a series. They should also be sure to remind their fans to request the latest series title at their local libraries to help create a demand for the title.


Just as not all libraries select materials in an identical fashion, purchasing is handled differently depending on jurisdictions. When approaching the collection development staff at a library, one of the first questions they will likely ask is, “Where can we purchase your book?” The easier it is for libraries to buy your books, the more likely it is that they actually will, and that means different things for different libraries.

Libraries that are part of a city or county government have to adhere to the policies put in place by those jurisdictions. Very few libraries can simply use a credit card at Amazon or Barnes and Noble to buy your book. Vendors have to be registered and approved to do business with that city or county. Contracts and purchase orders must be issued, and often, those contracts are sole-source agreements. This is not necessarily much of an issue for authors who publish through traditional houses. A recent title published by Berkley or HarperCollins is easily attainable through a distributor such as Baker & Taylor or Ingram (sometimes called “jobbers” by librarians). These are the two major distributors of books for libraries. Ready availability is an important factor, not to be overlooked by independently published authors.

Luckily, both Baker & Taylor and Ingram offer print-on-demand services. Baker & Taylor works with CreateSpace, and Ingram has their Lightning Source program. To assure the greatest access to the library market, it would be ideal to make your book available through more than one of these distribution avenues.

Local Author Collections

Readers love to read local authors, and libraries love to support these authors. Some libraries maintain local author sections as part of their overall library collections as a way of highlighting these titles for their readers. Whether you are published through a traditional press or independently, if you live in the library jurisdiction you are approaching about your books, this can be an effective way of getting your books into your local library’s collection. Before approaching your nearest library, do your homework and see if your library has a local author collection. Find out what criteria the library uses to include titles in this collection, and be sure you follow these guidelines carefully if you plan on submitting your work for inclusion. Having your titles included in a library’s local author collection can also open the door to possible programming opportunities with your local library.

Different Formats

Libraries want to serve the entire community, which means they collect a variety of formats. Popular formats for library use include print, audiobook on CD, digital e-book, digital audiobook, and large print. Getting your book into the library in different formats often comes down to demand for that format, budget, and purchasing availability.

As e-books have exploded in the retail market, libraries have been working to keep up with demand. The majority of libraries go through third-party vendors, such as Overdrive and Baker & Taylor’s Axis 360 platform, to meet their digital needs. (A “platform” is the underlying computer system on which application programs can run.) The library signs an agreement with the vendor, often paying platform maintenance and hosting fees, as well as purchasing content to be hosted on that platform. Digital selection criteria mimics that for traditional print, although even libraries that use a decentralized collection development model will often use a centralized model for their digital collections.

Again, for authors who work with traditional publishers, the availability of your e-books to the library market is determined by the publisher. The publisher also determines if your e-books are sold with no restrictions or through a model called metered access. Metered access means the library’s license to use your e-book will expire after a certain number of days and/or checkouts. Once that limit is met, the library will then have to repurchase the license to gain access to your title again. This often will retrigger the evaluation process for libraries. For example, if demand is still high for the book, then it usually will get repurchased, although perhaps fewer copies will be needed.

For independently published authors, getting e-books into the library market has gotten easier in recent years. Smashwords has entered into an agreement with Overdrive, making independently published titles available to libraries for selection and purchase. There are also a growing number of independent e-book platforms specifically targeting the library market, including eBooksAreForever, Enki, and Library Journal’s SELF-e platform.

What platforms libraries use for their digital collection is driven by a variety of factors but often comes down to budget. For maximum coverage to potential library customers, it is worth exploring more than one of these options for availability of your digital content. Also, since libraries routinely collect multiple formats, it behooves authors not to limit themselves. A library may not be able to purchase your e-book, but they may be able to buy a print copy. Unfortunately, as format options have grown in recent years, library budgets have not kept pace. Often, libraries must make hard decisions on how their books and materials budgets are divided among these multiple formats. Just because an author’s retail numbers might be skewered strongly toward one format, it does not mean that the secondary format becomes unnecessary—especially to the library market.

Getting Involved in Library Events and Author Programs

Types of Events

Presenting a program at your local library can be an easy way of introducing your books to new readers. Happily, libraries offer many different types of events for both adults and teens that an author can participate in. The most obvious event is an author reading or author visit. In this case, the author reads from his or her book and answers questions from an audience. Other types of programs in which you might be involved include panel presentations on specific topics. For example, if you write historical romances set during the Napoleonic Wars, you might be asked to be part of a panel of authors discussing this topic. While the focus of these types of programs is on a broader topic than just your own books, these presentations also allow readers to discover your romances. Another type of program is a writer’s workshop. For this type of program, you might be asked to speak about the writing process to a group of aspiring or new writers. Topics for writers’ workshops can include finding an agent, writing a query letter, creating compelling characters, etc. These workshops can be single session or multisession programs, and they should definitely be geared toward writing instruction rather than simply promoting your own books.

Authors who write for teens may find that writing workshops are especially popular among this age group. However, make sure you are comfortable teaching the basic mechanics of writing and are able to explain your teaching points clearly. Use a variety of ways to accommodate different learning styles. Most importantly, be sure you are comfortable working with this age group. Teenagers can spot fake enthusiasm, and it is important to treat them like equals.

Other types of library programs that some libraries organize and participate in are reader festivals or book festivals. These festivals may focus on a specific genre such as romance fiction. For example, the Durham County Library System in North Carolina has hosted reader festivals for romance fans at which authors have spoken. Since 1995, romance authors have been a vital part of the Chocolate Affaire in Glendale, Arizona, which features a weekend filled with author signings and classes on various aspects of writing. Other libraries may host book festivals that encompass a broad range of literary genres, but these libraries may welcome a panel or two of romance authors as part of their literary lineup. Literary Orange, a literary festival held by Orange County Libraries and the University of California at Irvine, has included romance author panels. Similarly, the ReadLocal Festival in Durham, North Carolina, included romance authors in their panel discussions of writing about sex and writing for social change and at their author dinners. Often, literary festivals raise money (either for themselves or for a charity) by renting tables to exhibitors, including authors, so it’s wise to check into this option. Those opportunities will be posted on the festival’s website, and there will usually be a call placed on local author network listservs. If your state library has a Center for the Book, this can be a good source of information about literary and book festivals. Of course, you also can find potential festivals by Googling “library literary festivals” or by checking with your local library staff.

Libraries may offer reader book clubs on-site. They often keep track of local clubs meeting outside the library. Many book clubs welcome authors to their meetings. As romance readers become more willing to identify themselves, more romance book clubs will pop up, hopefully at a library near you. One thing to consider before asking to be a part of a book club discussing your book: sometimes readers love the books and sometimes they hate the books. Don’t approach a book club and offer to come to their meeting if you can’t handle a critical (and possibly negative) discussion of your book. But don’t fret. Active discussion of your book, including elements readers dislike, often prompts readers to look for more books from you, especially in a series, where they can follow many characters.

An unexpected way to reach readers and librarians is to participate in library conferences. County, state, and national library associations offer annual or biannual conferences. Many associations offer one-time training opportunities, too. Public librarians are often looking for assistance in understanding the romance genre. Author panels (especially with book giveaways) generally pull in a good crowd. Be prepared to answer questions about the romance genre in general, e-books (and e-book availability), and self-publishing, along with subgenre questions. You should be ready to give reading suggestions. Handouts are always appreciated. You can find a list of library associations with contact information and conference dates at:

Keys to a Successful Library Event

First of all, presenting a program at a library may not be right for every author. If you do not enjoy public speaking, don’t push yourself into doing a program at a library. You won’t enjoy the experience, the library staff will find themselves worried about the success of the program, and those attending the event probably won’t have any fun either. Knowing your own promotional strengths as an author and playing to them will serve you best in the long run. The potential audience for programs at libraries can be both variable and unpredictable. Librarians generally welcome suggestions from you about specific places to publicize programs in addition to any regular outlets libraries use. Librarians also will welcome any effort on your part to help promote and publicize your program through your social media outlets and personal contacts. However, in spite of enthusiastic promotion in advance on both the part of the library and yourself, sometimes only a few people (or, gasp, no one!) may show up for your program. The best thing you as an author can do in this case is to be gracious about the whole thing. Librarians will long remember authors who are nice to work with and those who are temperamental divas auditioning for their own reality show. Guess which authors get invited back to do more events?

Of course, one of the unspoken reasons you may want to present a program at your local library is to sell copies of your books (don’t worry—your secret is safe with us!). However, individual library policies vary greatly on whether or not an author can sell their books at the event, and if so, how this can be handled. The first thing you should do when you are planning a potential program with a library is to find out what their specific policy is regarding book sales at a program. Some libraries may ask you to bring books to sell at the event. In that case you might want to work with a local bookseller to see if they would be willing to handle the book sales for you at the event. If you are thinking of trying to sell your books yourself, be sure to check to see if the city where you’re doing your program requires that you have a sales tax license. You also will need to think about how you’ll handle sales in terms of those wishing to pay by cash, check, or credit card. Other libraries may offer to handle the sales of your books themselves. In this case, make sure you let the library know which titles you would like available at the event. Checking with the library staff a week or two before the event about whether your books have come in is also a good idea. Clear communication in advance of the program with library staff will ensure that any book sale portion of the program runs smoothly.

Finally, public libraries often have meeting space that they rent to public groups or allow public groups to use for free if members of the general public can attend whatever is going on. Perhaps your local RWA chapter is looking for a new place to meet? Has your writers group outgrown your table at the local Starbucks? Meeting at your local library can be another way of developing ties with library staff that can pay off with potential programming dividends in the future. Remember, however, that policies, prices, and resources vary greatly, so check with your local library if you are interested in pursuing this.

Unfortunately, not every library has the staff or the physical space to offer programs for their customers. So if a library politely declines your offer to present a program for them, please don’t take it personally.

Leaving Your Papers to a Library

The idea of leaving your correspondence, print and electronic versions for researchers to look over may never have crossed your mind. These papers may include e-mails/letters/recorded discussions/notes of discussions to and from agents, editors, and attorneys (if applicable) and working papers (contracts, research notes, electronic files, agent and editor comments, and all those rough drafts or many revisions you’d never thought would see the light of day). However, with the increasing interest from the academic community in studying popular romance fiction, the need for primary materials (that’s what your papers are) is imperative. And that’s where you can help. Instead of just shredding your various drafts, editorial feedback, correspondence, rejection letters, etc. (although it’s so tempting), save them. Then, when you’re ready to get rid of them, consider giving them to an academic library for their special collections or archives sections so they’ll be available for future study.

Researchers are often interested in the process the author went through to arrive at the published book, so anything that shows these steps in detail (e.g., research notes and images, outlines, daily progress logs or journals, successive drafts with editorial and beta reader feedback) is especially useful. Final production files may be included, but for intellectual property and copyright reasons, it is not necessarily recommended. You choose what you are willing to give, and most libraries will allow you to specify the kind of access to your material you wish to grant. Don’t assume a library will want your papers. Check first with the person in charge of these archives. However, if one academic library doesn’t have any use for your papers, don’t give up—there are lots of libraries that will.

Whichever library you choose to give your papers to is up to you, but one to consider is the Browne Popular Culture Library at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. This library is the most comprehensive archive of its kind in the United States and is where RWA’s archives are held. It also has an exhaustive collection of romances, as well as the papers of romance authors such as Jayne Ann Krentz, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Shirley Hailstock, and Cathie Linz, to name only a few. This is the link to the page for their current manuscript collections:

Many writers have chosen to give their papers to their alma maters or other universities they favor; but the important thing is to have your materials available for scholars in the future. The head of special collections and/or archives would be the logical person to contact to make these arrangements.

Incidentally, this growing interest among scholars in the popular romance isn’t just important for academic record; it’s important for the genre, as well. When a subject becomes the topic of serious academic inquiry, it raises the level of positive awareness of the subject across the boards because it has become a “legitimate” topic to study. This is something that RWA has already recognized with the establishment of the Academic Research Grant in 2005. This grant of up to $5,000 is awarded each year to scholars who are studying popular romance and has resulted in numerous publications.

Popular Reading Collections in Academic Libraries

As mentioned earlier, unless the school supports a large popular culture and/or literature program, most academic libraries don’t have a lot of popular fiction in their main collections. For example, the Hoover Library at McDaniel College is one of the few academic libraries building a comprehensive American Romance collection ( Other academic libraries, however, might have smaller, high-interest, popular reading collections, especially if they have a lot of students living on campus. Sometimes, these collections are catalogued and circulated like the rest of the collection; sometimes, they are treated less formally. In most cases, these materials won’t be added to the main library collection when they are removed from the reading collection unless they fit into the overall curriculum of the university.

Sometimes these collections are maintained with books purchased through regular library channels. Other times, they’re supported merely by donations. But if you’re interested in building readership among students—something that might be of particular interest to New Adult authors—it’s something to consider. Check the library’s website for information on donations or contact the head of collection development for more information.


We hope that this information is useful to the authors needing it, whether all of it is new or not. Compiling it has been a labor of love by librarians who are avid fans and readers of the romance genre. We are happy to enlarge and facilitate the audience of romance readers by helping their authors navigate the mysteries of libraries and what they do. Should there be any additional questions, we have included e-mail contact information below.


(1) ALA Library Fact Sheets
Note particularly “Frequently Asked Questions by Authors and Publishers.”

(2) "Materials Breakout/Materials Survey 2015" by Barbara Hoffert. Library Journal, March 2, 2015.

(3) Accelerated Reader

(4) AR BookFinderUS.


Library Review Sources and Submission Information


ForeWord Reviews

*Horn Book


Library Journal

**Publisher’s Weekly

*School Library Journal

*VOYA (Voice of Youth Advocates)

*youth materials exclusively   **includes youth materials

State and Regional Library Associations and Conference Dates

Large National Library Distributors

Baker & Taylor

CreateSpace’s Expanded Distribution Option


Lightning Source

Independent eBook Platforms That Serve Libraries



Smashwords Library Distribution (through Overdrive)


John Charles, 2002 Librarian of the Year, Adult Services Librarian, Scottsdale (AZ) Public Library System, retired. [email protected]

Mary K. Chelton, 1995 Librarian of the Year, Professor, Graduate School of Library and Information Studies, Queens College (NY), retired. [email protected]

Wendy Crutcher, 2011 Librarian of the Year, County of Los Angeles Public Library, CA. [email protected]

Jennifer Lohmann, 2010 Librarian of the Year, NoveList. [email protected]

Shelley Mosley, 2001 Librarian of the Year

Kristin Ramsdell, 1996 Librarian of the Year, Library Instruction Coordinator, California State University, East Bay, retired. [email protected]


Special thanks to the following authors who reviewed the manuscript: Katharine Ashe, Kate Broad (a.k.a. Rebecca Brooks), M. L. Buchman, Christina Dodd, Alison Hart (a.k.a. Jennifer Greene), Jayne Ann Krentz, Teresa Medeiros, Pamela Regis, and Sarah Wendell.