Book Returns: Do They Really Affect Your Book Sales?

There is an old joke in publishing that if you want to make one million dollars, start with ten million.  Well, not really, but the joke has legs because of the chronic problem with book returns. Let’s look at a little history before we decide how book returns effect book sales.

Many, many moons ago, a man named Simon and another man named Schuster thought it would be easier to sell their books to bookstores if they made the books “returnable.”  Meaning, as a reward for carrying a new book, if the book did not sell, the bookstore could return it and owe nothing.  They were making use of their USP (Unique Selling Proposition). Unfortunately, what started out as a creative promotion to increase Simon & Schuster’s orders from stores quickly became an industry-wide standard. Now, it will never go back because once something like this has been given, it’s impossible to take it away.  At this point, it is just expected.

First understand that just because your book made it into a bookstore doesn’t mean success is now a guaranteed thing.  Does it mean if some of your books get returned that your book sales will plummet unbelievably?  No, not at all.  There must be such a demand for your book that customers are falling all over each other just to be able to get a copy.  Most books have the ability to make it to the shelf.  It’s staying on the shelf that seems to be the obstacle.  Without high demand, few stay stocked more than 6 months.  They need to move yours out so they can get a better selling book in its place. Out of the 3.7 million titles in print, only about 30,000 will ever see the light of day in a bookstore.

If you do get a book on the shelf of a bookstore, it is paramount for you to position your marketing efforts to drive demand to stores so your book will remain stocked and eventually get reordered.  If you don’t get a book on the shelf of a bookstore, don’t worry.

As the online world continues to take over more and more, a smaller percentage of book sales come from the retail level. If your book is at least available to stores and listed as “returnable,” then bookstores can carry your title on the shelf to meet demand.

If you really want to see your baby sitting pretty on a bookstore shelf, you can literally force the store to carry it. Tell all of your family, friends, colleagues, neighbors, anyone you can to go to the store and request your choice.   When enough demand (request) is presented, the store will have no choice but to stock the book.  They have to meet the demand of their customers – and you’ll see your book on the shelf.

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