Magazine article Information Today

Public Libraries Embrace Self-Publishing Services

Magazine article Information Today

Public Libraries Embrace Self-Publishing Services

Article excerpt

For authors who want to self-publish their books, the public library may be the best place to find services that can help. One such place is the Seattle Public Library (SPL), which offers a variety of self-publishing initiatives. David Christensen, virtual and instruction services librarian, has been part of the team managing these initiatives since 2013. Don't try to replicate other libraries' self-publishing programs, which may not be a good fit with yours, he says. "Start small and figure out what works well for you."

Working With Smashwords

In February 2014, SPL joined with Smashwords, an ebook self=publishing platform, so that patrons can upload their self-published titles for distribution via OverDrive, which is SPL's primary vendor for ebook acquisitions. Christensen says there were four main reasons for choosing Smashwords: 1) It offered an out-of-the-box solution that the library could use as a proof of concept; 2) because Smashwords is partnered with OverDrive, SPL would not have to invest in a new ebook distribution system; 3) there were no startup costs or service fees; and 4) Smashwords supports standard files such as EPUB.

Smashwords created a co-branded sign-up page that patrons can use to create an account and upload an ebook (as a .doc file or .rtf) that adheres to the platform's formatting instructions. Smashwords' engine converts the submission into a PDF, EPUB, or Kindle file that the patron can choose to sell on Smashwords. SPL has about 50 self-published ebooks that it's purchased via Smashwords' partnership with OverDrive, says Christensen.

"[W]hat I think really works well about the Smashwords partnership is it was a discount way of seeing the local interest and letting the library administrators become aware of self-publishing. They could see through the interest in the programs that this is something that would and does work within our library," he says.

Competing for Readers

To generate interest in the Smashwords platform, SPL introduced a contest that ran from July to October 2014. The prize was the addition of the winners' ebooks to the library's collection. Entrants had to be library card holders who were 18 or older and whose ebooks were never previously published. The submissions had to remain available on Smashwords through the end of 2014 so the library could purchase the winning ebooks via OverDrive.

Christensen says the contest received a lot of attention on social media, especially on Facebook. Of the 38 submissions, SPL selected three winners (described at audiences/adults/seattle-writes/ self-publishing). Nearly 80 people attended the ceremony announcing the winners.

The contest "changed the conversation at the library around what kinds of items we add to the collection," says Christensen. "[W]e do have a lot of local authors that produce great work, but it's not necessarily marketable on a national level because they're writing about local topics, or the stories take place in Seattle, and it may or may not have a broad appeal, and so it doesn't get published. Yet those things are still of interest to the local community. And it sort of changed in our organization the way we think about it."

Workshopping Potential Self-Published Titles

Christensen says the library has always had creative writing and editing workshops, and in fall 2014, it added workshops on preparing books for self-publishing, such as I Just Finished My First Draft; Now What? …

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