How Self-Published Authors Can Distribute to Libraries

Self Publishing Distribution to Libraries

iStockphoto / padchas

Update from Jane (July 8, 2015): This guest post from Porter Anderson explains the terms of a new program—a partnership between Library Journal and BiblioBoard—to help distribute self-published ebooks into the library market. My own self-published book, Publishing 101is enrolled in the SELF-e program.

Some authors and industry people have spoken out against the SELF-e program because it does not pay authors, despite charging libraries for the ebooks provided. If you’re seeking an alternative service that does pay self-pub authors, then take a look at ebooksareforever.

The problem self-published authors have run into at libraries has been a lot like the problem they run into at bookshops: no way to break through the barrier of mainstream competition, no way to stand out.

Many librarians are eager to offer self-published material to their patrons, but with some estimates suggesting that as many as 600,000 indie titles are being launched per year in the United States, no one has time to read those ebooks and sort the good from the rest.

SELF-e sealSELF-e can’t help you in the bookshop. But it can put your ebook into libraries.

SELF-e offers the independent author a chance to put his or her ebooks in front of librarians at the state and/or national level. Most importantly, when those librarians get their chances to peruse these ebooks, they’ve been vetted, carefully evaluated and selected by Library Journal.

Library Journal is best known as the national publication for the library community. It not only covers issues in the business but also generates reviews that librarians depend on in making choices for their collections.

I’ve agreed to work with SELF-e as a client of my Porter Anderson Media consultancy, so I can help get the word out to writers for exactly that reason: This is a new, national-class service that promotes independent authors at no cost to them and in a critical discovery forum that previously has been out of reach to indies.

One key criterion for me: This is available not only to US authors but to anyone, anywhere, writing in English.

If this is all news to you, don’t worry, you’re not behind. Only last weekend were attendees at the American Library Association’s annual conference in San Francisco getting demos of how SELF-e works for them on the library side.

Let’s take it step by step. I’ll give you the basic details of how this works, and then will watch the comments below for your questions.

What Is SELF-e About?

From Library Journal's SELF-e

From Library Journal’s SELF-e

At the Self-e website, be sure to review Is SELF-e Right For Me? This gives you several criteria to consider, including:

  • You must have the e-rights to your book.
  • SELF-e will not pay you a royalty when your ebook is checked out by a library patron. It costs you nothing to get into this arena for discovery but it also will not pay you in royalties.

The way SELF-e works financially is that participating libraries subscribe to its services in order to gain access to its curated collections of independent ebooks. The costs of running the program, then, are borne by the libraries.

On this page, you can see where in the States authors already are active in submitting their ebooks. You can also see where “Statewide Indie Anthologies” are being released or coming soon. Here’s what that means:

  • When you submit your ebook to SELF-e, you can elect to automatically be included in your Statewide Indie Anthology. Everyone, in other words, can have his or her work made available to local libraries, and this is a big help to librarians who for years have had no good channel for submissions from local authors.
  • You also can opt to be considered for the Library Journal SELF-e Select, the collection that is curated and offered to libraries nationwide. And in case you’re wondering, there are more than 9,700 library systems in the United States today.

SELF-e competitionWhen you’re ready, here is the basic submission page.

Side note: You’ll notice you can submit your work as part of a contest currently underway for ebooks submitted to the program. If you’d like to be entered in the four-genre competition, start on this form—watch for the “Winner” badge on the upper left.

The process of submission is quick (15 minutes), and easy to follow.

The way ebooks are displayed by the program to librarians is via the work of BiblioBoard, which specializes in digital resources for libraries. BiblioBoard’s work is utilized by close to 2,700 libraries and reaches some 30 million patrons.

Let me touch on a couple of questions that I’ve heard from authors about SELF-e.

What the Fine Print Means

SELF-e’s terms of agreement are found on this page. I urge any author considering the program to read them, of course.

Some authors have concerns after reading the first entry, the “Grant of Rights.” The legal language can be a little daunting, naturally, so I asked Library Journal’s vice-president and group publisher, Ian Singer, how we could boil down just what kind of license an author is granting to SELF-e in order to participate.

Singer says, in response:

Library Journal SELF-e selected titles may be purchased only by public libraries.  That’s the “exclusive nature” of the license grant we seek. As there is no payment to authors for the selection or promotion services Library Journal renders, Library Journal needs a license—which is non-exclusive, meaning that an author can distribute to public libraries or any other wholesaler, distributor, retailer.
Another more specific concern I’ve heard seemed worth putting to Singer. Let’s say that your ebook goes into library collections thanks to being in Library Journal SELF-e Select, and library patrons flip for it. They’re checking it out right and left. Hottest thing since Beatrix Potter. Then a major traditional publisher gets in touch with you talking about a nice-sounding contract. But, of course, the publisher wants that super-popular ebook to come back out of those libraries. Can you get back out of SELF-e?


At any time, an author can request his/her title(s) be removed from a Library Journal SELF-e selection module.

So yes, you can get out of the arrangement at will. The terms provide Library Journal with 180 days to get a title out of circulation, allowing libraries that may have entered it in their collections to remove it.

Who Else Is Participating in the Self-e Program?

Elaine Russell

Elaine Russell

Meet Elaine Russell, whose Across the Mekong River is not only in the new Library Journal SELF-e Select national collection but has been tagged as a “highlighted” title by the evaluators: highest honor. Russell tells me that she heard about SELF-e through David Vandagriff’s Passive Voice blog and found the submission process very easy.

One thing that makes Russell a good fit for library exposure is that she has ebooks for readers “from children’s and YA to adult,” an unusual range that librarians can appreciate.

“I began writing about 20 years ago after a career in environmental consulting,” she says. “A number of my short stories and the first Martin McMillan novel were traditionally published. But as the publishing industry changed and contracted, I grew frustrated and impatient with the difficulty of getting traditional publishers for my other works. … I am still open to traditional publishing, but I don’t regret my choice to self-publish.”

Whether authors today are found working in libraries as much as they once were for research (Russell still does research at libraries), or simply hold a special place in their memories as their first big contact points with the world of books as kids, the logic of the library patron base as a hub for author discovery makes good sense.

SELF-e is offered as a discovery channel for self-publishing authors who, for the most part, have had no way to reach this broad patron base before. If you feel it’s right for you, it’s ready for your submission. And if you’d like to drop a comment or question here, please do.

This guest post from Porter Anderson explains the terms of a new program—a partnership between Library Journal and BiblioBoard—to help distribute self-published ebooks into the library market. My own self-published book, Publishing 101, is enrolled in the SELF-e program.

Posted in E-Books, Guest Post, Publishing Industry and tagged , , , , .

Porter Anderson / @Porter_Anderson

View posts by Porter Anderson / @Porter_Anderson

Porter Anderson (@Porter_Anderson) is a journalist and consultant in publishing. He's The Bookseller's (London) Associate Editor in charge of The FutureBook. He's a featured writer with Thought Catalog (New York), which carries his reports, commentary, and frequent Music for Writers interviews with composers and musicians. And he's a regular contributor of "Provocations in Publishing" with Writer Unboxed. Through his consultancy, Porter Anderson Media, Porter covers, programs, and speaks at publishing conferences and other events in Europe and the US, and works with various players in publishing, such as Library Journal's SELF-e, Frankfurt Book Fair's Business Club, and authors. You can follow his editorial output at Porter Anderson Media, and via this RSS link.

Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

newest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Jane: Terrific post, with good news. Wondering if iBooks (the Apple transmedia book format) would qualify for submission through this Self-e program. Thanks so much for another very informative post. Learn so much from you! Melissa

[…] Journalist and consultant Porter Anderson explains the new SELF-e program from Library Journal for getting self-published ebooks into American libraries.  […]

Glen Strathy

Great. Another way to drive down royalties on books so writers make less money while others profit from their work. Preying on aspiring authors and their desperation for readers.

L.L. Barkat

I went to their presentation last year at BEA. My biggest concern was that Library Journal would be making $ (there was something about them selling the books in bundles, as I recall—kind of a confusing side note that wasn’t entirely explained), and yes, that there would be no $ sharing. I’d actually rather see an up-front charge to the author that would cover their basic costs (though you’re saying the cost is borne by the libraries, so even that seems unnecessary).

Sandra Hutchison

As a library trustee in years past, I’m a very enthusiastic library supporter. I have a highlighted title in SELF-e, and I’m likely to submit more now that I’m out of Kindle Select with everything. To be honest, however, I’ve been holding off a little on the next one because I’m still waiting to see any actual information on what that has meant for the first one. As an author I’d love, for example, to be able to link to a place where Library Journal is saying anything at all about my book (a review would be particularly thrilling, of… Read more »

Karen Myers

And here I am, a year later, still waiting for any sort of Author dashboard, even a simple confirmation of my submissions, much less which programs they’ve been accepted for of how many libraries have acquired them. 🙁

[…] be optimistic—pronounced it library-worth? That’s the idea of  SELF-e, and in a guest post in Jane Friedman’s blog, publishing consultant Porter Anderson explores the pros and […]


So, yes, the “I’m not going to make a dime from this” is something that gives all of us pause. But I’m in now, so here’s why I submitted: Libraries are obviously a huge market and a gateway to book sales: either by the library, the patrons themselves or the possibility of the library inviting you to speak to their patrons (God knows I’m not shy about getting up in front of an audience). The issue for self-published authors has always been curating. Libraries (public, school, etc.) tend to go by reviews. And many review sites were off-limits or prohibitively… Read more »

[…] How Self-Published Authors Can Distribute to Libraries  by Porter Anderson / @Porter_Anderson […]

[…] How Self-Published Authors Can Distribute to Libraries […]

Sandra Hutchison

Those are all exciting developments, Porter. Thank you for the update. (Those ready-made catalog entries are a big deal for libraries, I know.)

David Gaughran

Let me get this straight. Biblioboard charges libraries for all the content in the SELF-e program. But Biblioboard doesn’t pay authors for that content. Am I missing something?

A for-profit company is charging non-profits for supplying content it doesn’t even own, and not reimbursing the content owners. This is hilarious. It seems like everyone is getting paid except for the authors.

(Including you, Porter.)

Karen Myers

Well, I have to say, it’s not a whole lot better having a book sold by Overdrive — one and done, and for a discount price, too.

Stevie Turner

What is the difference between this and obtaining an LCCN number for a book? Does a book which is given an LCCN number mean it is automatically available in libraries?

Sherry Roberts

If you already have entered your book in the SELF-e program, can you still enter one of them in the 2015 Self-Published Book Awards?

Julia Laflin

Hi – what about if you are enrolled with Kindle Select? Can you still submit to SELF-e too? Thanks.

A.G. Henley

Hi Porter,

I submitted my YA novel almost a year ago and have yet to hear anything from SELF-e. Do you have any information on where they are in the process of evaluating YA submissions? I’m afraid I might have gotten lost in the shuffle of the early days.

A.G. Henley

Thanks for the help, Porter. I contacted them and they do have my novel for consideration. It sounds like YA is being evaluated later than some other genres.


Thanks for the mention!

David Gaughran

Hi Porter, you appeared to have missed my question. I’ll try again:

If SELF-e is such a good idea, how come they have to pay people like you to promote it for them?

My question for Jane:

Don’t you think it would have been a better idea to have someone post on this topic who isn’t being paid by SELF-e to say nice things about the service?

Jane Friedman

Hi David, Every service (every book, every author, every company) has—or should have!—a marketing plan behind it, so I don’t think it’s fair to criticize the program based on its investment in marketing or spreading the word about the service. I do think it’s fair to investigate/critique the SELF-e business model, its level of transparency, and whether the service is treating authors fairly. In the preface to this post, I’m happy to link to or otherwise draw attention to: (1) viable alternatives to SELF-e that pay authors while getting self-pub books into libraries, and (2) journalistic coverage of the SELF-e… Read more »

Pauline Baird Jones

Where can one see how much it will cost the libraries for individual titles and bundles, etc? What is the cost TO libraries to use the service?

[…] of independent bent, here are some alternate distribution tactics to try. Porter Anderson explores a new service to help self-published books get distribution to libraries, while the Author Market Institute explains how to distribute non-ACX […]

[…] from Jane: Earlier this month, I featured a guest post on how self-published authors can distribute their ebooks to libraries, through the SELF-e program from Library Journal and BiblioBoard. That post wasn’t without […]

Author Massimo Marino

Thanks, Porter, and thanks, Jane, for sharing.

I have my novels in the program (in California). That was great info.

Besides, porter, when do we continue the conversation about BookGarage? We have a stand now at the Frankfurt Book Fair.


[…] this month Porter Anderson guest posted over on Jane Friedman’s website about an opportunity and program for authors to gain access into the library market in the USA. The program was originally launched by BiblioBoard in conjunction with Library Journal. […]

[…] two posts on SELF-e, both written by Porter: the post that kicked off the controversy: How Self-Published Authors Can Distribute to Libraries; and a follow up, exploring issues arising: A Conversation With the SELF-e Team: Exploring […]

[…] from Jane: Earlier this month, I featured a guest post on how self-published authors can distribute their ebooks to libraries, through the SELF-e program from Library Journal and BiblioBoard. That post wasn’t without […]

[…] Friedman’s website included a couple of posts about SELF-e, a business that helps self-published authors distribute their electronic books to libraries. Unfortunately, authors can’t yet reap any monetary rewards from the […]

Cherie O'Boyle

Do I submit the .pdf of the book and the .jpeg of the cover as two files?

[…] to a post on Jane Friedman, many librarians want to acquire self-published books, but since there are over 600,000 indie books […]

[…] to a post on Jane Friedman, many librarians want to acquire self-published books, but since there are over 600,000 indie books […]

[…] guest blog post by publishing consultant Porter Anderson with specifics on the program, which Anderson is paid to […]

[…] guest blog post by publishing consultant Porter Anderson with specifics on the program, which Anderson is paid to […]

[…] first organization, Self-e, a partnership between Library Journal and BiblioBoard, accepts works from authors, reviews them, […]

[…] For more information visit Self-e.libraryjournal.  To see a preview of the already selected books, check out the bookshelf on the SELF-e GoodReads page. Porter Anderson wrote a very detailed – insider – article about this book promotion program. […]

Marylee macDonald

Excellent post. I was just reading the FAQs on the SELF-e site, but was skeptical about the “no pay” option. It’s good to have your perspective.

[…] overview articles are here and here. The comments are illuminating about indie opinions and library […]

[…] For those authors who have additional questions about SELF-e, especially with regard to legal concerns, I recommend an informative blog by Jane Friedman which can be found at […]

[…] are looking for specific qualities when they purchase new […]


Great post Jane. I always learn something on your page. I’m just now researching getting my book into libraries. My history is in the music business as a singer-songwriter and, it seems to me that the Self-e Program operates much like Spotify (which pays next to nothing) and other streaming music formats that don’t pay royalties. This to me is always baffling. Self-e doesn’t pay the authors who provided their content, yet they charge the libraries a subscription fee? On one hand, the industry is championing the self-published author. People like yourself have successful blogs with tons of resources and… Read more »

Jane Friedman

Thanks, Chris. I know Self-e isn’t for everyone, and if you’d like an alternative way to reach the library market with your ebooks, I recommend Smashwords. It pushes ebooks out to all the major library distributors, including OverDrive (the biggest), and pays a fair rate. It doesn’t mean your work will be seen or added to library circulation, but at least it can be found if a librarian knows where to look for it.

You might find my column a couple years ago for PW still relevant:


This info is two years old. Can we get an updated version (2017)?

Jane Friedman