where the writers are
Backlist Books: Why "All Sales Final" Works
Wow! Read this!

In Publisher's Marketplace today, there was a blurb about Penguin UK meeting with British booksellers to broach the issue of a no-return policy on the publisher's backlist. It will be interesting to see if it succeeds in this policy. I remember that, back in the '90s, a U.S. pub house tried something similar—and backed off from the move, when none of the other houses followed suit...

Frankly, I for one feel that the time for this is long overdue—particularly now that the industry is moving toward POD, and booksellers are getting smarter about inventory control.

Not only will this strengthen publishers' bottom lines, it will encourage booksellers to will be more aggressive in promoting what is on their shelves and what they've ordered. Sloppy retailing helps no one: not the store, the author, or the pub house.

Tighter inventories might worry authors—particularly midlisters, or debut novelists—into thinking, "Yikes! Another reason why the bookstores won't take a chance on my book..." But authors, let's face facts: How much publisher-driven promotion does the average midlist book get, anyway? Other than a press release or two, or an exceprt on the publisher's website, what real promotion is done on your book's behalf?

Most of the authors I know don't wait for their publisher to toot their horn, anyway. They create their own websites, work their blogs several times a week, network with other authors for reciprical links, joint blogs and guest blogging opps; create their own book trailers, send out their own press releases, set up their own instore book signings, purchase indy bookseller and library mailing lists, email fans, and seek out ingenious cross-promotional opportunities to tout their books...

Oh yeah: and write books they believe in, so that all this effort pays off.

And I don't see that changing anytime soon.

Authors, please sound off on your thoughts, cheers, and jeers to this industry consideration...

All comments welcomed,


Here's the PM Lunch featurette:

Penguin UK to Discuss Non-Returnable Backlist with Accounts
Penguin UK is expected to meet soon with Booksellers Association officials and other booksellers to discuss their plans to makes backlist sales non-returnable. CEO Peter Field told PN earlier in the month: "We intend to speak to everybody we need to about this; it's an important conversation to have. We believe backlist should be firm sale but are attempting to identify a common purpose. I believe there will be different ways to tackle the problem, depending on different customers and regions, rather than a one-size-fits-all policy. We will talk about risk and reward and get the balance right. A common purpose can be found and, if we all manage our logistics better, we will all benefit and retailers will save money on returns."

[courtesy PublishersMarketplace.com]


9 Comment count
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Great topic

Thanks for bringing up this topic. That's great news for most authors but I wonder how it'll affect new authors like myself.

Perhaps I should start with my own experience.  I live in Atlanta and my new book is heavily marketed here so there are copies in all major bookstores here.  When I visited Seattle, I said what the heck let's see if my book is at the local Borders and sure enough it was.

Bookstores being able to return gives them an extra incentive to stock new books.  The only question is how much is extra?  Plus if an author is confident that his or her new book will sell, then what's there to worry about?  I'd rather get the chance to sell than no chance at all if a no-return policy takes effect.

So the topic should also address whether the bookstores will still try out new books as they did when there was a return policy.

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Great question, Thomas...

I know what you mean: if all publishers adopt this policy, will this mean that bookstores will shy away from trying new authors? Or worse yet, ordering the second, third or fourth book from a midlister?

Here's my two cents (as explained to me by chain booksellers):

If you're a midlister, already the chains have you pegged: for one to three copies on the shelf, at the most—unless, by some stroke of luck, you have a fan base in a certain city (like Atlanta) or region, which, I'm sure, is based on your own hard self-promotion.

But even those 1-3 copies analyzed for how long they sit on the bookseller's shelf. If they don't move, they won't be their past 90 days. Six months, if you're lucky.

If publishers are moving more toward POD, fullfillment will then be based on orders they get from booksellers. What will drive those orders are 1) the publisher's sales team, 2) any promotion the publisher is willing to put behind the book, 3)the author's own promotional efforts, and 4) reader's requests.

In brick-and-mortar stores, browsing is a big component to impulse sales. As are sale books. If the stores have nothing on their shelves, who's going to want to stick around?The lattes aren't really all that great, right?

Or, as to paraphrase my husband's joke whenever he walks into a snooty gourmet grocery store: "Ma'dam can a show you something in the way of a snooty little book?" (He uses the word "peach" instead. Ya had to be there...)

Bookstores (like those you find in airports) that just sell bestsellers aren't all that exciting. (And with the price of fuel, those stores probably aren't doing all that well, either...)

Bottom line: If there are no books on the shelf, no one will show up.

Then Amazon wins.

So, booksellers are going to have to get smarter: both in what they order, and in how they promote the books on their shelves.

To do that, they're going to have to know how to attract a variety of audiences—or focus on one or two (say, romance, or mystery or SciFi) .

Then they are going to have to become destinations: the place for must-see events.

Many indies already know this, and one or two in each city has a great rep for doing just that. The chains, I noted, have been slower on the uptake when it comes to event promotion: CRMs and events managers—especially the good ones—seem to come and go, primarily because they don't get the support from corporate. Also, the majority aren't trained as to what makes a successful event, or how to promote it. (On my own book tour, I found this out the hard way. Big hint: contact the media on your own, at least four weeks in advance!)

Many authors, too, say signings don't work. My take is that signings can work—if done well. That means having a unique hook, and reaching the right audience, and having an accessable venue. And plenty of books.

Night clubs and restaurants know how to do it. Why can't bookstores?

A second bottom line: Your sales depend on your audience.

Was it ever "Write it, and they will buy"? Maybe once, a long time ago. But I guess we all now realize it's "Write it—then promote the hell out of it—and they will buy."

Both online, and instore. That way, even if brick-and-mortar goes the way of the buggy dealer, you'll still be around.

It's the way we live now,




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I think a smaller advance

I think a smaller advance and more per book would be just fine.  I also think it's good for the environment.  I hate to think how many of my novels may or may not have been pulped.

This is the way to go, and once we are there, I will think we will be glad of it.


Jessica Barksdale Inclan www.jessicabarksdaleinclan.com

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That's an interesting consideration...

It will also be interesting to see how this year stacks up in overall fiction book sales. Will they dip greatly, without a Potter in the offing? Not to mention the effects of the recession. Is there a new model? Less midlist, more emphasis on the tried-and-true bestsellers was mentioned in a recent study of the Long Tail Theory, as applied to book sales. But bestseller burnout can be seen in the comments the "big books" get from readers, on online bookstores. But I guess, as long as people keep buying them, they'll be printed--in big quantities.

Currently, midlist advances run the gamut: from a few thou, to five figures--and rarely does the initial print run cover the advance, let alone allow the author make enough money to rival his or her local Wal-Mart greeter.

If a new model means an even more measly advance--but a bigger royalty on the back end--how will the author fund the book's promotion?

That means a hella lotta guerrilla marketing.

Unless the publishers realize the necessity of coming to the table with promotional tools, budgets and plans for every book.

Level the playing field,


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Backlist non-returnable, hmmm....

Hiya Josie! From the PW blurb looks like the discussion is about backlist only and not new books. Interesting. I don't have any solutions, just a comment. It looks like the comic book industry has had a non-return policy for years. From that has developed niche comic book stores and a resurgence in the industry. More about that here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Direct_market.

My curiosity into the comic book world was sparked tonight by seeing the movie, Wanted, based on a Scottish author's comic book series. Yes, I recommend the film, if you like that sort of thing.


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PW blurb on Penguin UK's Proposed Backlist Return Policy..

Hi, Beth,

You're right, it does refer to backlist only. And I find it interesting the the comic book industry has been doing this--successfully--for years.

The toy & game industry also has a no-return policy. That industry is similar to publishing in two big ways:

1. There are a handful of successful game/toy companies,

2. There are just 1-2 giant stand-alone retailers (in the toy industry, that would be Toys-R-Us); whereas another large source of sales comes from the major "big box" retailers (Kmart, Wal-Mart, Target); with the indy stores coming in third.

Sadly there is also one way in which the toy and publishing industries are different:

The toy industry is not afraid to spend media ad bucks on their big sellers (Trivial Pursuit, for example).

Gee, I wish the publishing industry would do a better job of promoting their books. Big books, small books (with innovative guerrilla marketing)...

ANY books,



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Final Sales

One of my biggest complaints (I do have several) is the practice of stripping paper backs.  On more than one occasion I've found stripped books in yard sales, flea markets, even in used book stores.  That makes me furious. And the attitude of the seller when told about the legality of sellling those books sends my blood pressure sky high.  And, it hurts.  Anything to help stop the oversupply and therefore stripping of books can't be all bad.

Allison Knight

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Final Sales/Stripping Books

Thanks, Allison, for this POV. I hadn't thought of it! But yes, the first lesson in Econ 101 is supply and demand: less supply means more demand. If only so many copies of a particular book is printed--and (in the best of all possible worlds) it is promoted to the hilt--it will not only sell out, but more copies will be ordered (or those copies in circulation will go up in price, LOL dream on!).

Stripping is ecologically sad, economically deceitful...

And overall bad karma.

Yea, yea, I know: spoken like a true Californian,