#6 Policy on carrying self-published books

NEIBA Question of the Week #6

The NEIBA Board members are starting a Question of the Week on the NEIBA Group at Yahoo! Groups (our Listserv). The goal is to share everyone’s common knowledge about bookselling or anything related to independent bookstores.  It is our hope that after the Board has run through with their questions other members will continue the asking.

This week’s question is:

What your store’s policy (and some best practices) on carrying self-published books?. Carry them? Don’t? Charge a fee? Consignment? – Josh Christie, Sherman’s

Nancy Felton, Broadside

This is always a difficult issue for us. We want to be open to authors but we don’t want to fill our shelves with books that, unfortunately, may not sell. We almost always carry them on consignment and we almost always limit them to local authors. We don’t charge a fee. We do have a local paper which has a column every few weeks featuring local books, many of which are self published, and that does help sell the books.

Lisa Sullivan, Bartleby’s

We typically carry self-published books at Bartleby’s if they are local authors. We do not charge a fee, but usually carry them on consignment. Most times the authors are customers of the store and we can’t imagine how we would tell them no or charge them a fee. We are a small town, community store, so even though self-published books can be more challenging to deal with, we still do it.

We streamline where we can. I recommend choosing an interval for payments for all books on consignment (once a month, once a quarter, etc), so that you aren’t constantly having to cut checks.

Barbara Kelly, Portland Bookstore

I sell self-published books here also but not so many in the store. Usually they are books that I buy from authors at events such as the Maine Festival of the Book and other venues. A lot of them are what I call issue books – relating to topics such as autism, teen suicide, domestic violence and other issues. They are usually sold on consignment- we have a special form for them to fill out and we send the check out after the event and of course we take a usual 60/40 split. Sometimes I do buy some out right for the store if it looks like the book will be good for other events. The only other self published books that live here are ones done bu faculty and those I have to have here.

Annie Philbrick, Bank Square Books

We sell a wide assortment of self-published books, primarily from local authors. They are usually on a 60/40 consignment. If they want to do a signing we charge $50. This includes including their event on a weekend event eblast and sometimes on the event calendar listing. These signings are usually done on a weekend and we set them up at a table at the front of the store and let them talk to customers and sell their books. All sales are run through the store’s POS.

We are sometimes surprised such as at an event last weekend where we sold the author’s self published books. We sold 91 books to a crowd of about 150. But most eventful is the “In A Fisherman’s Language” written by a 96 yr old lobsterman who taught himself to read and write at 96 and wrote a book. To date we have sold about 350 (since December 1) and Bank Square Books was mentioned in an article about the book and author inthe recent issue of People Magazine as well as USA Today, CNN and NBC news. To wit, we are shipping this book all over the world!

Emily Crowe, The Odyssey Bookshop

We get lots of self-published author requests; some of them are local, some of them merely have local ties such as having graduated from a nearby college. Since I’ve taken on the consignment program at the store, I’ve never turned anybody down and it always seems to make people happy. Occasionally it even makes us money.

Our consignment program is pretty straightforward and, I think, fairly standard.

Deb Sullivan, The Book Oasis

We will accept 4-6 copies of a self-pub’d book, take a 25% cut of sales, and after 6 months, tell the author to pick them up if they haven’t sold well enough to continue giving up shelf space. We ask the authors to put us on their websites and a local source for their title(s) and mention us in any advertising they do.

Carol Chittenden, Eight Cousins

Like many others, we have regularized our local self-published stock into a consignment program. Most of the offerings make me grit my teeth, but occasionally there’s a winner that redeems the project. It does, however, take a horrendous amount of time to create entries, track sales, and correspond politely with authors twice a year.

Last fall we thought there might be benefit to having a Local Authors Day, and somehow we crammed 22 of them into our small space for 2 hours. Most were very gracious about it, but only 20 books sold. We won’t need to do that again!

I do find it frustrating that so many people want to sell a “book” that’s so poorly conceived that it’s embarrassing. Probably a laconic deity sends them to me as (sorely needed) exercises in tact.

Kenny Brechner, Devaney, Doak & Garrett, Booksellers

Speaking of tact, (we take standard consignment approach as well), one thing I try and do a good job about communicating is to call first before making a sales numbers/payment inquiry. Many self published authors think that it is a good idea to walk in, ask how many copies have sold, and then wait expectantly for you to dramatically pull a check for them out from underneath the counter, where it has been patiently waiting for this exciting moment to occur. Heading that off is a strong move in the forestalling exercises in tact line.

Mitch Gaslin, Food for Thought Books

We generally tell consignment authors that it is their responsibility to check on sales of their books. Many don’t ever bother, so we’re not spending an inordinate amount of our time on something that doesn’t provide a huge return.

Steve Fischer, NEIBA

Some of you may remember Gail Shanks who was on the Bookstore of the Future panel at the last NEIBA Fall Conference. Her store, Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe AZ., has what many people consider the gold standard of consignment policies.

Here is the link to the section of their (wonderful) website that explains their consignment policy. http://www.changinghands.com/page/consignment

Kathryn Fabiani, RJ Julia Booksellers

As in the case of many other stores it’s a long, inconsistent story. We are in the process of setting up a local author/self published author bookcase and we will then be able to take more books on consignment, particularly from authors who are truly local. We take 40% of the sale price and if there are no sales in three months, we send the books back to the author. We also host local author events for two or three authors at a time and charge $125 each for use of the space, promotion, etc. None of these have events have been all that successful but we are going to continue to host them once a month.

What I would like to know is how others deal with the truly terrible self-published titles that come our way. Even if we do have a local author section, that doesn’t mean that we want to take every single title (we do have some standards, after all). On the other hand, these authors are generally very proud of their work (and pushy) and I’d love to know how you let people down easy and effectively.

Carol Chittenden, Eight Cousins

Our consignment agreement specifically says, ” Please do not contact us for payment or re-ordering. We will automatically issue payments to you at the end of each half year, as well as place re-stocking orders as needed.”

And they have to read and sign it before we take the books.

Caitlin Doggart-Bernal, Where the Sidewalk Ends Bookstore

We do not charge a fee for consignment books, but I admire stores that do given all the work involved in tracking and shelving them.

Our consignment contract (standard 60/40 split or better) specifies that authors may only check in at the beginning of each month by email regarding sales figures of their book because they should not be detracting from letting our frontline sales staff help customers. If, at that point some have sold, they can invoice us for 30 days and together we choose to replenish stock or they can pick up any remaining ones. Still, more than a few authors do waltz in asking about sales and looking for their checks ….Carol, I think your policy is brilliant and sounds like a major time saver. Thanks for sharing.

Debbie Taylor, Sherman’s

At Sherman’s Book Stores we accept Maine consignment at 40% discount for 3 months. We ask the authors to check in 3 months for sales, and we determine at that point whether to keep the books or return them. If we have sold some we request payment from the business office at that time. Sometimes we get books that do very well. We always better good will by trying the books than by refusing them, even if they don’t end up selling. We also believe it is a means of supporting independent authors just as we hope they will support our independent stores.