Today, I received a package in the mail from Freebird Books in New York City and got reacquainted with some old friends I hadn't seen in over five years.
Two copies of The Pornographic Flabbergasted Emus.
I had left them on consignment at Freebird in 2007 when Crazy Carl Robinson and I did our book tour. Every year, I'd dutifully check in with Freebird and get the same depressing news that the books were still there unsold. I'm thankful that Freebird was nice enough to keep stocking them, and I always told the Freebirders (originally Sam and then later Peter) that I'd stop by to pick them up the next time I was in New York City (plus that way I could shop at Freebird--it's a cool store). After five years though, it was apparent that I wasn't getting back to N.Y.C. anytime soon so I asked if Peter would mind shipping the books back to me in order for me to get them back and for him to free up room on his shelves for books that would actually sell, which he thankfully did, going above and beyond expectations by generously picking up the postage costs.
I learned a lot about leaving books on consignment over the years, and my basic advice for authors is don't do it. I've been lucky enough to have some great experiences such as the one with Freebird but I've also lost books from stores that went out of business.
The one exception is local stores. If you live nearby a store and can pick up your books whenever you want, then maybe leave the books on consignment. Even that could be a pain though. One of my favorite bookstores in the Cleveland area is Mac's Backs, and they've probably sold the most books for me over the years, but at one point they reorganized the store and their Emus copies got lost in the backroom, where, of course, no one could see them nor buy them. Eventually, I got the books back, but it took a while.
In general, I would suggest to authors to make the bookstores buy the books out right. If the stores don't have confidence enough to do that, then they have little motivation to move the books. Particularly if you're on a book tour and may never visit that city again, good luck getting your books back or even getting paid if they do sell. So don't do it. Even if you follow all the bookstore's rules and dutifully check in on your consignment, you may end up losing some books. One time I left zines on consignment at Quimby's, a great store in Chicago, and I checked on them as I was supposed to and at one point Quimby's decided to purge a bunch of zines from their stock, mine among them, and mailed a postcard to all the consignment holders. I never got my postcard so they just disposed of my consignment material. Obviously, I never left anything on consignment there again.
Even if I did though, checking in on out of town consignments is a pain and seldom worth the money. In my case, I make more selling books directly to readers than I do selling them through stores (not surprisingly, a book with a toilet on the cover isn't prone to impulse buys by bookbrowsers). As my remaining stock of books dwindles, I've been collecting my books from consignment (I'm down to Webster's in State College, Pennsylvania now) so I can sell them directly.
Also, beware of friends that offer to leave books on consignment for you. They often mean well but won't always follow through. So this may seem like a great way to extend your books' reach via consignment, but it usually isn't. I lost 12 books when a pal went homeless and obviously had more important things to do than check on my books. He's fine now, but in the meantime I lost 12 books when stores that he stocked went out of business. Another "pal", I suspect, was hoping I'd forget about the consigned books so he could keep the money from them; fortunately, that didn't happen, but it was yet again another pain hardly worth the effort to deal with.
Perhaps with the growth of ebooks, leaving books on consignment will be less of an issue for authors in the future, but, for the record, don't do it unless the store is local, and think about it even then. I did make some money from consigned books, and I'm happy so many stores carried Emus on their shelves, but I like it better when I run into copies of the book the publisher stocked at places such as Skylight Books.
Why? I already got paid from those books so I don't have to check on how they're selling every year. Nevertheless, I do want them to find good homes, so if any of you Angels in L.A. are looking for a good read, then you know where to find it.
N.Y.C., you missed your chance.
However, don't despair, mail order is available worldwide!
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