How (and Why) to Sell Self-Published Books to Bookstores on Consignment

Even in this digital age of Amazon and e-book sales, there’s still nothing like seeing a physical copy of your book on the shelf of a brick-and-mortar bookstore. We’ve written before about why securing national retail distribution as a self-published author is really, really hard. But the good news is that it’s quite possible for self-publishers to obtain local bookstore placements on their own. These days, a lot of booksellers recognize the quality of many self-published titles and acknowledge that a growing number of indie books are worthy of their precious shelf space.

You can arrange these deals in one of two ways. You can either ask the store to order a quantity of your book directly from the Ingram catalog (they’ll need your ISBN to do this), or you can purchase copies of your book at your POD platform’s “author copy” rate and bring them in to the store on consignment. Most bookstores prefer to sell indie books on consignment because the consignment model is less stressful to the store’s cashflow: authors don’t get paid until after the books sell. Even though the author has to pay for the printing cost up front, the earning potential of the consignment model works out in the author’s favor.

Take, for example, a 228-page 5.5×8.5–inch trade paperback printed through IngramSpark and listed at retail for $12.95. Standard wholesale discount (if the store buys from the catalog) is 55 percent, and the print charge is $4.28. This means you make a profit of $1.55 per book when the bookstore buys directly from Ingram.

Selling the same book on consignment works like this: You purchase author copies directly from Ingram at the print cost ($4.28 each, in this case). Consignment deals usually offer the author a 60/40 split, with 60 percent going to the author. What that means is the bookstore will pay you 60 percent of list—or $7.77 per book in this case. Subtract your print cost of $4.28 and you wind up with a profit of $3.49 per book—which is clearly preferable to the direct wholesale option that earns you $1.55 per book. (Note that you will have some shipping costs added as well, so your profit may be slightly less when you factor that in.) Use your POD platform’s calculator to crunch numbers for your book’s exact specs to be sure—but chances are you’ll find that consignment the more profitable option.

Not all books make the consignment cut, though! Back when I was a buyer at an independent bookstore, I met self-published authors every week who solicited their titles—which is how I learned that there’s a right way and a wrong way to make a consignment pitch. Here’s how to pitch the right way:

1. Commit to Good Quality

Booksellers carefully vet each title based on customer interest, bestseller trends, and quality. We all judge books by their covers, and I’m sure I’m not the first book buyer to admit that I ordered plenty of books based on the cover art alone. That’s why the book production part of the process is so crucial. That said, a book can have the most gorgeous cover in the world, but if the quality of the writing is poor, a bookstore will pass. Book buyers want the whole package—a great cover that fits the genre, quality writing (that has received a developmental edit, copyedit, and proofread), and a professional print job. If the book looks unprofessionally designed, edited, or printed, the store will likely pass on it.

2. Do Your Research

Although selling books on consignment doesn’t cost the bookstore anything up front, shelf space is one of those valuable resources that factors into the unseen costs of keeping a book in stock. Because of this, a bookseller may not offer a consignment deal if the book won’t appeal to the store’s audience. Before pitching a book, an author should do research on what the store carries. Do the displays cater to a particular reader? Does the store already stock similar titles? Knowing this information will help shape a better sales pitch. And don’t forget that booksellers favor authors who are already loyal customers. If you invest in them, it’s more likely they’ll invest in you: visit your local bookstores on a regular basis, show up for readings, and buy books!

3. Make Your Pitch

Booksellers are busy people. Respect this and you’ll already be ahead of the game. Cold calls and drop-ins are interruptions to the workday. So call ahead to check on a good time to meet with the buyer. The in-person appointment should take no more than a few minutes, so come with a prepared, polished pitch. Be sure to leave the book or promotional material (sell sheet, bookmark, etc) that includes the ISBN so the buyer can look up the book later. Bonus points for authors who use their websites to encourage readers to order their books through local bookstores.

If the bookstore does offer you a consignment deal, congratulations! Once your book is available in store, be sure to tell readers, friends, family, and coworkers where they can buy copies locally. The more interest and sales you can generate in the store, the longer the shelf life your book will enjoy.

Even after your book is no longer physically available at a brick-and-mortar location, a customer who prefers to support their indie bookseller rather than Amazon can order a copy through the store. Booksellers can order a POD books by looking them up on the Ingram database. Ingram will then print the book and ship it to the store, where the customer picks it up.

One last tip as you order your books: be conservative in the number of copies you bring in to the store (the store will have an opinion about the quantity too, no doubt). Far better to sell through your consigned copies and have to order more, than to retrieve unpurchased copies that were overstocked.