Beyond the Books: Library Marketing Exposed!

Librarian Linda McMaken shares her advice in this new monthly column. She has sixteen years of library experience as Public Relations and Marketing Coordinator. Now she offers her wisdom and ideas for expanding your library's presence "beyond the books."

Library Marketing Exposed! (Part One)

It requires work, ingenuity, and sometimes outright military tactics to get publicity for authors attending a library event. Unless it’s a very slow news day, the minute you send out that press release that has “library event” highlighted, it can be the kiss of death.

Reporters scan their inbox for useable stories, and a library program isn’t high on their daily agenda of “hot bylines”. Library author events are competing with car wrecks, political infidelities, and celebrities’ latest escapades.

There are a few things libraries can do that will help get your programs, and those authors who appear some much needed publicity. These tips will help, but please note, many of these require some long-term work. Building e-mail lists of patrons, creating a network of business contacts and nurturing the media won’t happen overnight.

With the demise of so many newspapers, it’s even more difficult to get publicity. Many people today, young and old are getting their news via the Internet. This is where you need to start.

1. Building a patron e-mail list
The library newsletter is your first and best marketing tool. It can be the easiest tool to use and the most difficult one to set up and keep up. Although there are some libraries that have staff dedicated to electronic social marketing and media, most do not. Many newsletter tasks are delegated to desk staff. Yet once the list is set up, the hard work is done and you can begin spreading the word about your library.

Always have a line on your patron registration form for an e-mail address. This list can take months to cultivate and many libraries are lagging way behind on it. For existing patrons, have a small form at the circulation desk to add or update their e-mail address. First and foremost, ensure your patrons their e-mail is 100% safe in your hands - no spamming, no selling the list, no annoying postings to their e-mail.

As with many businesses today, “green” is the way to go and libraries should embrace this and advertise that they too are “going green.” Don’t mail out those newsletters, e-mail them. Just remember, there are some patrons who do not have access to the Internet, so create a special mailing list only for those who request a copy via snail-mail.

Additionally, print a few paper copies for the circulation desk for new patrons and those who don’t have e-mail.
Keep in mind, there are many regions of the country without access to high-speed Internet so don’t fill your newsletter with lots of graphics, get to the point with text.

Your e-mail newsletter will let you incorporate many things a paper newsletter cannot. It can contain links back to your website and blog, it can link to the library Facebook site, and it allows you to link to visiting authors websites. This will give you extra marketing for free.
Also, make sure when you build your e-mail list you add the local schools including the principals, and teachers. Add in the Chamber of Commerce, and any local businesses that support your library with donations and patronage.

2. Trolling for Authors
You’ve gotten a newsletter and mailing list completed, you have a great idea for a program, now all you need is authors. Where do you find them? Everywhere!

First, go to your favorite author’s website and look at where they will be signing books. If they will be appearing anywhere near you ask them if they could make a quick appearance at your library. This way it’s not a special trip and will only add to their book sales. If your favorite author is Nora Roberts or Stephen King, well, good luck even getting a response, they are usually heavily booked, have publicity agents, and are expensive. You’re looking for authors who will attend for publicity, book sales and because they love libraries and most authors are happy to help libraries.

Next, begin searching writer’s group websites such as Romance Writers of America, or Mystery Writers of America. Most have their author members listed in an accessible directory and several even tell you what state or region of they country they are located.

Many allow you post events featuring their member authors on their website, loops and e-newsletters. Most have local chapters as well as national chapters.

Here are a few links to get you started.
Romance Writers of America
Mystery Writers of America
Sisters in Crime
Horror Writers Association
Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers
International Thriller Writers
American Christian Fiction Writers

Steal authors from the local bookstore. Call the bookstore and ask what authors are scheduled for book signings. Then cruise that authors website and send an e-mail requesting that they make an appearance at your library. Simply attending local writers conferences, and book signings will give you access to authors and you can ask them to appear. Many times authors saving on ever-increasing marketing costs will invite another author to attend, so you might just get lucky and get two-for-one.

3. Authors Know Marketing
Authors today spend almost as much time marketing as they do writing. They are a wealth of publicity resources, use them. Authors are connected to other authors, writers groups, online forums, fan groups, and civic organizations. Ask your visiting authors for help in publicizing the event. Send them copies of your flyers, press releases, and event posters to take to their various groups.

Additionally, always post links to author websites from the library website, blog, and Facebook sites. Authors are very happy to post links back to your library in return. They are also connected via Facebook, MySpace and other social media; this will help generate more publicity for your programs.( Yes, every library needs to be on Facebook, this is one of the best venues for publicity.) Each time you send the newsletter out remind your patrons to “friend” the library and provide a link.

Here are some other tips:

  • Be sure to request copies of author's books prior to the program and build a display around them. Also, write up quick reviews for your newsletter, the local newspaper, any area online news outlets, and local chamber newsletters.
  • If library funds allow purchase additional copies of their books and have them available for patrons to checkout prior to the program. 
  • Ask visiting authors for help and suggestions, you’d be surprised what you can learn from them.

These are just a few tips to get you started. Stay tuned for additional marketing tips in the post "Library Marketing Exposed (Part Two)" coming soon!

- Linda McMaken

Check back for the next installment of Linda McMaken's column in just a few weeks. Do you have questions about your library "beyond the books"? You can ask also ask her advice on any library conundrum here. Your question might even get featured in an upcoming article. And of course, you can read her daily blog online at