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.”

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