I recently had a conversation with an author who was trying to understand why her distributor “oversold” her book and she got so many returns. She had even done an additional print run to try to keep up with “demand” and was now stuck with hundreds of books that didn’t “sell through” to the consumer. This is a very good illustration of what can happen when you decide to play with the “big boys” without really understanding the full implications of doing that. The sad thing is that this author really only wanted her book in a few local stores, but didn’t fully realize what she was getting into when she signed on with a distributor. Here is part of the advice and information I provided to her:
A distributor only responds to the demand placed by the book stores and wholesalers – they weren’t “unsure of the demand” – they were obviously getting orders. They don’t order books from you just to have them sit in the warehouse. If orders are coming in from their clients, they fill them – and order more. They are used to the returns game, so they just keep ordering.
You have to realize that this is a huge business – you can’t just play the game “partway” – it is an all or nothing game. The distributor doesn’t “test the waters” – their job is to sell books and to fill orders – nothing else. The book sellers want to sell every possible book of yours they can – they have to have them in the supply chain to do that – in their warehouse, in the stores. And they do this thousands of times a day – they don’t have time to worry about your individual titles – you’ve signed up to play the game and they are “gaming the system” for you. It is nothing personal – it is all done by computers – no one is looking at your titles – it is only numbers. YOU are the only one looking out for you.
As I said, you needed to understand that all the books “in the field” weren’t sold. Your distributor can look that up for you, but they won’t unless you ask. Their computers are just whirring away placing orders and taking returns.
So, all that being said, what are you going to do now to sell your books? How many do you have left? Unfortunately you just have to chalk this up to experience and move on with your sales efforts.
This is why having people on your team that have been through these very situations is so important. A few dollars spent on some consulting would have saved her a print run, a bad experience with distribution and a lot of heartache.