If I were a mystery writer, I would want to know how to market my book to libraries. Well, the answer is, you can't. You can't "market" to most libraries, because they make decisions based on reviews, not ads or free bookmarks or a even a bang-up platform.
I work in an academic library, so we don't buy as many mysteries as a public library would. But we do buy books every month for our "leisure reading" section, and we have many mysteries in the stacks. Public libraries, of course, buy multiple copies of popular mysteries; we don't do that in academic libraries. Still, I thought y'all might like to know how we do it at CC.
Lana Slaton, our main decision-maker for mysteries, tells me that phone calls and flyers have no effect upon her purchasing. Her chief requirements are, in no particular order:
- the book should be not just good genre entertainment, but literary fiction with great descriptions, character development, dialogue and underlying themes, and lovely and unique observations that make it memorable and worthy of keeping in the collection, like the mysteries by James Lee Burke and Reginald Hill.
- it might be something college students would find fun or interesting to read, like the Stephanie Plum or Spellman series.
- it could be by well-known, highly regarded and/or prize winning authors the library collects. In continuing a series or author, sometimes the only thing to go by is the number of check-outs the first one receives.
- it could be a prize winner or nominee, or listed in end-of-year best-of lists from Library Journal, the New York Times Book Review, Amazon Editors’ Choices, Publishers Weekly Best of, LA Times, others.
- it could be reviewed in standard review publications such as Publisher’s Weekly, the New York Times Book Review, the Denver Post, and others.
Lana isn't solely responsible for each and every mystery in our collection, of course; she buys books requested by other library staff or by Colorado College faculty or staff. Word-of-mouth comes into play, too.
Before Lana makes a final choice on something iffy, she reads a few customer reviews on Amazon (she says "you can usually tell who is crazy and who is an informed reader, just to get an idea of what sort of audience it will appeal to"). If possible she reads the first page or two using the "look inside" feature on Amazon. She tells me "Sometimes the first page of a book, say Turtle Moon by Alice Hoffman, which is sort of a mystery, tells you all you need to know about style and substance."
So, that's how we do it here. For a more general, official kind of statement about marketing books to libraries, see the American Library Association's webpage on the topic.