July 19, 2006
Consignment Blues By Mark LaFlamme
Congratulations. You're a rock star. Your new novel is on the market and people are clamoring for your attention. Go nuts. Get some dark shades, a new do, and hire some people to pose as groupies.
First time authors in particular get an unparalleled thrill out of getting their books into the stores. There are few rewards like seeing your work on display and having average Joes ask for your signature.
Be warned, though. While some bookstores will be glad to order copies of your book on their own, there are those who will whimper and whine and insist they can only take books on consignment.
If you're scrambling for the dictionary or hollering to your wife at this point, welcome to my world. Consignment is where the author orders and pays for the books, carries them to the bookstore and does all the work except ringing up customers.
I learned of the consignment concept after dealing with a small chain with bookstores throughout Maine. They take my books, sell them and then ask me for more. At no point has this particular chain taken the steps to order the book themselves and so far, I have not seen a dime from the sales.
When my novel The Pink Room first hit the market, a local independent store quickly ordered 200 copies. They did this through the publisher and all I had to do was show up for signings.
Shortly after, a small store in another part of the state ordered a dozen copies on their own, and others followed suit. On a recent weekend, I went into a Borders and found 15 copies of "The Pink Room" stacked up pyramid style between Koontz and King. I went out and bought dark glasses immediately.
But the love those experiences inspire for bookstores is quickly doused by the others who insist on a consignment relationship and then misuse that relationship all over the place.
That small chain has a store in Lewiston where I live and another in my hometown of Waterville. Both wanted The Pink Room, but did not want to make the initial investment. So I brought them some copies, left an invoice and waited to hear back from them. And waited. And waited.
I heard from customers that the stores were out of books, and the store called me to ask for more copies. But, they didn't mention payment of my invoice at all.
That gives me weird perspective. The good people of Borders, who have never heard of me, were happy to make an investment in the book. The little mom and pop store with the meager budget shelled out to buy their own copies and collected their profits when the books sold. But the chain with a store right down the street from me cried from the start about the unpredictable market for local authors and insisted that I provide the books and do the bulk of the work.
An unrecognized author cannot afford to throw tantrums often but he can stand on principal now and then. And that's why I'll avoid that chain in the future and steer customers instead to the small independents or the bookstore behemoths who conduct themselves with class and professionalism.
Consignment, I'm told, is not always a no-win endeavor. But it is advisable for the author to spell out a payment plan from the start and to establish a clear line of communication with the book seller. Otherwise, those rock and roll fantasies fall apart and you're back to strumming a guitar on the street corner, begging for change.
Mark LaFlamme is an award winning crime reporter and columnist at the Sun Journal in Lewiston, Maine. He will be signing his novel, The Pink Room, at the Bangor, Maine Borders Books & Music on Saturday, July 22nd, at 5:00 p.m.
Read more about The Pink Room at: http://www.booklocker.com/books/2270.html
Mark's novelette, Asterisk: Red Sox 2086, is also available at Booklocker.com. See: http://www.booklocker.com/books/2559.html
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