Photo Courtesy Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County

Four weeks ago, I started my new job.

In my previous role at a major metropolitan system serving a population of nearly a million people, I thought I knew people who were wild about books. But these folks at my new company love books on a whole new level.

I have learned so much in my first month. And I’ve come to realize that, as much as I loved collection marketing, I was making mistakes. In fact, I did a lot of things wrong.🤷

Because promoting the collection should be the core of any library’s marketing efforts, I want to make sure I pass on what I’ve learned.

Seven Mistakes to Avoid When Promoting Books

What I did wrong: I recommended books.
What you should do instead: Suggest books.

It sounds like semantics, but there is a real difference between recommending and suggesting books to potential readers.

Readers advisory consultant Becky Spratford of RA for All points out that library anxiety is a real thing. People come into your building or log onto your website to find a book they love. But they have a certain amount of anxiety. They feel like they absolutely must read a book that is recommended to them by a library staff worker. If they don’t finish it, they worry that we will judge them.

So, let your library users know that your book recommendations are just suggestions. No one will judge them for not reading the titles you suggest. And let your customers know it’s okay to return books unread!

What I did wrong: I used plot to promote books.
What you should do instead: Use story elements to promote books.

Most readers advisory experts rely on something called the Vocabulary of Story Appeals to make books suggestions. This is a way of describing the book without talking about the plot.

When picking their next book, readers don’t look for a certain plot line. They are looking for factors that appeal to them, including pacing, characters, tone, style, and the story line. Story line, I have learned, is different from plot in that it focuses on the WAY the story is told, as opposed to what happens in the story. Mind blown.

Library marketers can learn about story elements by requesting a free copy of The Secret Language of Books. I got my copy at the 2019 Library Marketing and Communications Conference. It expanded my vocabulary and gave me new words to use when marketing my library’s collection.

It’s so much more interesting to describe a book in terms of story elements. It intrigues readers and may lead them to place holds on books they would otherwise ignore.

What I did wrong: Promoting only new books.
What you should do instead: Promote new books AND offer a readalike available right now on the shelf to help soften the hold wait.

At my library job, I stopped promoting older books because the data told me that new books were the ones that got the most circulation from my targeted email marketing.

My change in philosophy doesn’t mean that the data was wrong. But there was a piece I was missing.

Sometimes, the most popular books are also the ones with the longest hold list. Most library lovers are, in my experience, okay with waiting awhile for a book they really want to read.

In the meantime, library marketers can do a better job of suggesting a currently available readalikes to our readers. This helps to create satisfaction for our readers. It also can expand their worldview. It keeps them engaged with the library while they wait for the new title. And, it helps our circulation numbers!

What I did wrong: Thinking I really didn’t have the skills to suggest books.
What you should do instead: Everyone in your library can suggest books. And I mean everyone!

I had a real hang-up with suggesting books to others. I can’t tell you how many times I said the words, “I’m not a real librarian but…”

But what I’ve come to learn is that I am a book expert because I love reading! I don’t have a degree, but I do read… a lot.

I also read about books a lot. I listen to podcasts about books. I talk to other book lovers. I have resources at my disposal that I can use like NoveList and Goodreads.

You don’t have to have a degree to be passionate about books or connect with another reader.

What I did wrong: Limiting the book genres I suggest to what I have know or read.
What you should do instead: Use resources to make recommendations from genres you’re not familiar with.

Consciously push yourself to suggest books outside your own comfort zone. It’s better for you, for your friends, your fellow readers, and for the world in general, when we broaden our horizons to suggest books outside our comfort zone. We should strive for equity, diversity, and inclusion in all areas of our lives—and that includes our reading materials.

What I did wrong: Putting more weight on New York Times bestsllers list for book suggestions.
What you should do instead: Promote books on the USA Today best seller list and on Amazon.

By using more than just one list of bestsellers, I could have gotten a better idea about what was truly a best seller. Lists from USA Today and Amazon include books from every age, genre, and publishing house.

Don’t discount sales of a book. If a book is making money, it’s popular. And your community is full of people who can’t afford to buy those books. But that doesn’t mean that people don’t want to read those books. We need to let them know they have access.

What I did wrong: Not asking my readers often enough what kind of books they like.
What you should do instead: Ask your readers about the books they love!

Survey your patrons. And do it regularly, because their tastes change. Your population changes. You don’t even have to do this using a formal survey. Just ask on social media. People love to talk about what they’re reading or what they want to read!

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