Selling Books at Your Local Independent Bookstore

BY KAREN SCHECHNER • April 21, 2019

Selling Books at Your Local Independent Bookstore

Whether traditionally or independently published, most authors want to see their books on the shelves of their neighborhood bookstores. Traditional publishers vie for valuable shelf space, but many indie authors can opt for a simpler route—a consignment program. Authors pay a small handling fee, and participating bookstores stock several copies of their books (as long as the books meet certain reasonable criteria), paying authors after the books are sold. We took a look at three bookstores’ programs and ways the consignment arrangement benefits booksellers, local authors, and readers.

Bookshop Santa Cruz (California)

Bookshop Santa Cruz, in Santa Cruz, California, has been working with indie authors in one form or another since the store opened in 1966. Their current consignment program, which is part of their larger publishing program, was launched more than a decade ago and is very popular. “Our consignment program is one the most robust programs of its type,” said Sylvie Drescher, Bookshop Santa Cruz’s Publishing & Local Author Coordinator. “Since 2009 we’ve consigned books from over 1,100 Bay Area authors and have, at any given time, between 200 and 300 active participants in the program.”

Santa Cruz’s consignment plan is available only to independently published Bay Area authors. For $25, the bookstore will accept five copies of the book and pay the author 60 percent of the sale price post sale. After six months, any unsold books will be returned to the author (shipping is paid by the initial handling fee); the bookstore may contact the consignor to request additional books.

Paying after the sale allows stores to devote more shelf space to local authors. Drescher said, “Taking books on consignment lets us take in more copies of any given title and take chances on first-time authors on a level we wouldn’t be able to do otherwise.”

Village Books (Washington)

At Village Books, in Bellingham, Washington, their consignment program is also the blueprint for a positive partnership between the bookstore and indie authors. Owner Paul Hanson said, “Authors receive a contract, and we pay our bills to them on a regular basis. We treat them as we treat all the other publishers we work with. We want them to work with us as professionals.”

Village Books will consider three to five copies of one title for consignment if, among other criteria, it’s self-published, written by a Washington State author, and professionally produced (title and author name are printed on the spine, artwork isn’t pixilated, work is edited, etc.). Authors are paid 60 percent of the sale price.

Watermark Books and Café (Kansas)

Watermark Books and Café, in Wichita, Kansas, launched its consignment program, which also includes events and marketing options, about eight years ago. Watermark was a pioneer of the comprehensive local author program, which is similar to those listed above. Since they began working with self-pubbed authors, they’ve tweaked their program and instituted a $50 stocking fee for five books. “We have set the program costs to benefit the store so we aren’t losing money on our efforts, and any book sales are beneficial to us financially,” said Watermark owner Sarah Bagby. “Additionally, we have a good relationship with local authors because we don’t send anybody away. Sometimes we have to explain why we have to have a fee to stock the book, but once we do, it’s usually all good with the author.”

Bagby had some tips for working with Watermark that are applicable to all indie writers looking to work with their area bookstores: “The best way to work with us is to…understand that [the author is] our partner in sales, and we will do everything we can to sell their books, and that we are a business. [Authors should w]ork up an elevator speech for the staff when they come into the store to consign the books. When producing the book, look at other books—especially trade books—and include as much information as possible on the cover. Make sure the title is on the spine, make sure the title is succinct and communicates something that will resonate with the local market, and be cognizant of the competition for recognition.”

She also stressed that indie authors should direct readers to the bookstore from their own websites and promotional materials as part of a partnership that will ultimately benefit all. “Be nice to all the booksellers—they make contact with the public and can influence sales,” said Bagby. “They’ll remember who isn’t accepting of their job and how they work.”

The Takeaway

Consignment programs can be a low-risk way to build a local following and test print sales. But authors should remember that they are operating in partnership with the bookstore, and they must be willing to help promote their books if they want the consignment to be as successful as possible.

If your local bookseller doesn’t currently have a consignment program, indie authors can consider suggesting one. Village Books’ Hanson generously offered to consult with booksellers about launching their own programs and will happily share his consignment forms.


—Karen Schechner is the vice president of Kirkus Indie. 

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