If you're a new author and don't have a big following yet, retailers may be reluctant to order quantities of your book. However, some bookstores may still be willing to take smaller quantities of your book on consignment.
So, what exactly does ‘on consignment’ mean? Who is expected to do what? How will you be paid? What will your royalties look like?
If a bookstore agrees to carry your book on consignment, you essentially become your own distributor. You will need to agree with them upon a market price per unit (book). This total price comprises the percentage to be paid to yourself and the percentage for the store to keep from each sale. The standard is 40% for the retailer. This leaves you with 60% to cover your costs (including the book's manufacturing, shipping, handling, and potential customs fees) and make your profit. Ideally, you'll be able to make about a 20% profit margin, which is higher than the margin most retail royalties offer. Do bear in mind that you'll want to make your selling price comparable to prices paid for books of similar length, genre, and/or subject matter sold online or in other stores. Often, stores will request you put a sticker price on the book to make it clear and easy for them to facilitate the sale.
You will need to keep a record (providing a copy for the store as well) of how many copies were left at each store, and the date they were delivered. You will usually set a timeline (a month is common) to visit each store and check the stock. When you check in, you will need to ensure that all copies are in saleable condition, replace any damaged copies (or mark off a damaged copy as a ‘Store Copy’ [not for sale]), and restock the books to the agreed upon total.
The bookstore will pay you only for copies sold. This means that when you leave your copies with them, there is no payment. Should the bookstore decide they aren't selling well enough and would like to stop carrying them, you simply collect your unsold copies from the bookstore. Because you can take these copies to another location, or sell them independently, you do not lose any money from this sort of return. When you are paid for the books sold during the store’s allotted time period, you will need to make a receipt for the store, retaining a copy for your own records. This will help you to keep track of where and how many of your books have sold, and assist in your accounting as an author and small business owner.
How many bookstores you want to work with may vary depending on the time and energy you have to devote to making your consignment rounds. Remember that you'll need to purchase stock directly from your publisher and keep it on hand, which requires adequate storage space. Being willing to do in-store events—like readings, Q&As, signings or workshops—may entice some stores to work with you. Remember too, you are presenting your book and your brand, so dress professionally, be personable, and stay on top of your accounts.
Selling your books on consignment is a great way to promote your book and reach a wider audience, so do your research and see if it’s an appropriate tactic for you!
Written by Astra Crompton, FriesenPress Author Account Manager
Edited by Kate Juniper, FriesenPress Editorial & Illustrations Coordinator
Image c/o Shutterstock