Consignment Fun

In my nearly constant quest to find markets for my writing, I look for independent bookstores that might be willing to take my work on consignment. Remember that it’s difficult, if not impossible, to get any four-walled bookstore to carry your book if you’re self-published. The only viable route, then, is consignment. The general rule is that consigners – that’s you and I – will receive 60% of the sale price of whatever is sold, but there’s no guarantee of this. One bookseller I tried to deal with tried to reverse the usual arrangement and pay me 40%. I walked. I may be crazy, but I’m not stupid.

Let’s face it. The deck is stacked against self-published writers. Even if you get a store to take a few of your books on consignment, there’s no guarantee that they’ll place the books anywhere where potential buyers will see them. This happened to me at a prominent bookstore in Hollywood, where they took five copies of Zendoscopy and, for want of a better way to describe it, interred them on a shelf in a creepy back corner of the store where no one would want to wander. Meanwhile, they had shelves and tables with books – many “remaindered” — on prominent display across the front of the store and visible through front windows. And for this, they charged me $100 up front just for their benevolence. You can do the math: there was no way I’d make a penny on the sales even if the five books sold, which they of course didn’t.

Now, you may ask why I went for the deal at that bookstore in the first place. The answer is simple. I did it in the attempt to gain some recognition. In retrospect, it was a mistake.

Recently, I did better. The established bookstore in Pasadena, Vroman’s, agreed to take five books on consignment (for a fee, of course), but they placed them on a rack in the front of the store, with other books by local, self-published authors. Beyond that (and also for a fee but, hey, worth the gamble) they’ve given me a date for a reading and signing, along with two other authors who’ll also be there under the same arrangement. The event, about a week away, will be on Sunday, 25 January at the bookstore. Time: 4 PM. If you’re free and live in Southern California, please come. I could use a few groupies, or at least shills, to show up in my corner!

The fact remains, though, that one event won’t make me a well known, best selling author. It’s a struggle. Every self-published author I know has dealt with the problem, which arises from a “Catch-22” situation, namely, the “agent problem”. In order to get published by a mainstream publisher, you need an agent. But to get an agent, you need to have been published by a mainstream publisher. In other words, in order to arrive, you have to have arrived. The only other ways to find success are to have connections or to be the beneficiary of blind luck. Read the reviews of Zendoscopy on Amazon.com. They’re terrific but they’ve gotten me nowhere because in order for anyone to see them, they’d have to know about the book in the first place. That’s another Catch-22.

Zendoscopy was also reviewed by Kirkus Reviews, and that review was favorable. In fact, the book was one of the 10% or so whose review made it into their main publication. Where? Buried in the Indie section toward the back of the magazine, where few would be likely to notice it. So, even in the face of a small triumph, there was ultimate defeat. But don’t get me wrong. I know that the marketplace owes me nothing. My point, if I have one, is that if you’re going to write and self-publish, do it because you’re driven to put words on a page and not because you think you’re going to get rich at it. The odds are overwhelmingly against you. Write if you must – I do – but even if what you write is pure fantasy, your expectations shouldn’t be.

I hope to see you at Vroman’s next Sunday.

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