A Publisher's Conversation with Authors: What Is Consignment and Why Should an Author Seek It?


It is Tuesday. Time to tall turkey. Monday's madness is over, and Wednesday will take us over the hump, so Tuesday it is--for some serious discussion with authors. Tuesday talks mean to address authors in waiting and self-published authors who would like to go a more traditional route or who would at least like to take their steps with a publisher by their side.

Today's topic is book consignment. It is a valuable tool for book distribution that few authors know about. Most authors, especially new ones, assume that the distributor will place their books on bookstore shelves, and they (the authors) will sit back and collect royalties through their publisher. Yes, it works that way, but quite poorly for authors without wide name recognition, and many stores will simply not shelve their books. However, they might be willing to take books on consignment; this is when you place books in the store with the understanding that payment will be made when all the books are sold, and if they are not sold within a given period of time, typically one year, they will be returned to you. Both publishers and authors can place books on consignment, but more often the authors do it because they already have the connections at their local mom-and-pop stores. (Note: the big guy, Barnes & Noble, is a chain and generally will only shelve books that their headquarters has approved.) So, what are the benefits and drawbacks to putting books on consignment.


  • You can often get your book into stores that would otherwise not take the book.
  • You can get paid directly, without paying a fee to the middleman, the distributor.
  • You avoid the financial problems that can happen when stores buy your book from distributors with right of return, then return many copies (for which the distributor will charge a fee and for which the store, which purchased the copy, will have to be compensated), and leave you or the publisher with negative revenue on the book. If a consigned book is returned to you, there is no cost to you -- you just get the book back that you started with.

Drawbacks (there are not many; this is generally a beneficial arrangement): 

  • You will have to provide the copies of the books, which may sit at the store for a long time and may remain unsold and later returned.
  • You will need to draw up a contract -- either your publisher can handle that or show you how; it is not a deal-breaker.
  • You will need to monitor who has your books and how many, especially if you have consignments at multiple stores, as well as when the contract runs out (you also may be able to renew the contract and leave the books there).

The bottom line well-stated in an article in Book Life (Publishers Weekly) recently: "Publishing is more of a consignment business....especially when it comes to distribution to bookstores."

Lesson for today's Tuesday talk: Consignment has a lot of benefits. Go for it!

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