Academic books are the product of considerable time, effort, and expertise and a crucial part of many scholars’ careers. There are many handbooks on how to publish and be a productive writer (some examples from our library are here, here, and here); some of these books also cover how to get academic books in front of their intended audience. As a recent American Historical Association webinar made clear, academic authors play an increasing role in the promotion of their books. In addition to emails promoting your book to other scholars and social media posts, one suggestion authors sometimes get is to advertise their books directly to academic libraries. This post offers a step by step guide for how to write an email which effectively promotes your book to an academic librarian.
- Write to the librarian responsible for the broad subject area your book covers. While messages sent to a general library email address will eventually reach the person who looks after that area, it makes a good first impression to write to the specific person who looks after the broad subject area your book covers. Don’t know who to address? Try googling something along the lines of ‘University Name, name of relevant academic programme, subject guide’. Subject guides are webpages that librarians put together to offer an overview of library resources. Many academic libraries use the exact same platform for these, Springshare, and Springshare’s standard format includes the name and email address of the librarian who made the guide. A university’s staff directory, if it is publicly available, can be a bit hit or miss, but is also worth a quick look to check if the librarian has a preferred title–addressing a librarian who has a PhD as Dr makes a positive first impression! Another good option is to go with ‘Dear First Name Last Name’, as this avoids assumptions about the librarian’s gender or marital status. If a university library doesn’t have subject guides or the staff directory isn’t publicly accessible, LinkedIn might be useful. This should take no more than 2-3 minutes.
- Write a strong summary of your book. While you could just paste in your book blurb, keep in mind that these descriptions are often addressed to scholars in your field and may not fully explain the importance of your work to an outside audience. Tailoring your summary to the context of the university you are writing to—for example, one or two sentences about why this book would be a good addition to an undergraduate or postgraduate module, or the work of a research group you know is at that particular university—makes it clear how your book would be useful to library patrons. This should take no more than 10 minutes.
- Always include the ISBN. While most people will include full bibliographic details as a matter of course, academic authors sometimes don’t think to include their book’s ISBN. But the International Standard Book Number is often the quickest and most reliable way to find your book. Sometimes minute differences between the way your book is listed by the publisher vs online booksellers will lead to a search without results in a library suppliers’ catalogue when your book is in fact available. The ISBN makes it easy for a librarian to cross-search suppliers’ platforms to find a copy of your book. This should take less than 30 seconds.
- Create a template. Once you have sent your first message, use this as a template for future messages, and modify or adapt as needed. This should take less than a minute.
If you have more than fifteen minutes to spend, here are two further steps to take:
- Speak to your publisher about an e-book version of your book, or select a publisher who will produce an e-book. Many academic librarians closed their doors for several months in 2020 to stop the spread of COVID-19 among users and library workers. In this period e-book access became absolutely critical, as many institutions had little to no access to their physical collections. For the foreseeable future, access to print books will continue to have restrictions as libraries reduce their hours and occupancy to keep everyone safe. In today’s world, an e-book is likely to reach your intended readers much more easily.
- Be aware of local circumstances and advocate for your local academic library. Universities as a sector are facing a future full of financial uncertainty and in the current climate, many libraries are likely to be faced with severe budget reductions. Asking a librarian to buy your book is a double edged-sword in these circumstances: demonstrating continued demand for library services is important for a library’s future, but it might simultaneously have less resources to meet that demand. Acknowledging potential financial limitations that a librarian might be facing in your email about your book is a thoughtful way to recognise these challenges.
And there you have it! After fifteen minutes or less of work, you now have a letter that you can use to promote your book to librarians in the U.K. and around the world. Good luck and congratulations on your book!