To return or not to allow returns - that is the question in distribution for your book. It's a hard question, which every new author and Independent publisher faces.
- Most bookstores won't accept book that is not returnable. This goes back to the Great Depression, when publishers worked to figure out ways for bookstores to afford to stock their books. Publishers could never convince stores to change the policy back and now Bookstores feel entitled to returns, even when they probably shouldn't return the book because it was their fault they overstocked it. The bookstores will expect a return even if the book is tattered, torn and not resellable. They expect you to pay for return shipping along with the full wholesale rate.
- If you choose not to allow returns you only potential bookstore market is Independent Stores who will sell on consignment. This means you have to pay to have the books printed and shipped to the bookstore. If they sell you'll typically get a 60% royalty consignment rate from the bookstore. This is definitely an option, especially in your hometown, but it's not something most Independent authors or publishers can afford to do on a large scale.
- Book signings, except for a few Indies, you won't be able to schedule book signings unless you allow returns, even if you offer to bring your own books! It doesn't make total sense, but is the way things go...
Pros of Book Returns are that you can have a presence in bookstores, which causes buzz and you'll pick up spur of the moment sales you might not get online. How many times do you go into a bookstore and buy a book you'd never heard of until then because you saw it and subsequently purchased it on the spot?
Why not to allow returns?
It all comes down to money. Returns are a loss for you, you not only lose your royalty, you're having to pay out off your own money to compensate for the rest of the wholesale rate, which originally went to shipping. So if you got a $3 royalty and suddenly owe $12 for the wholesale price and shipping - you're out $9. This isn't a big deal if you get one or two returns, but if you sell 1000 copies and 100 are returned you're out lots of money and got put yourself at financial risk. Bookstores typically only allow a book on the shelf for 90 days, and if it hasn't sold it's returned.
It's a tough call about what to do. I primarily opted to allow for returns, with the books coming back to me, as I hope to have lots of book signings and it's easier for the store to just order the book and have it there for the signing. I have teetered with approaching stores to stock without a book signing, but I'm wary of the profit loss.
I have decided to only approach bookstores within the market in my promotional plan. I choose 10-15 stores and send them lots of promotional material to ensure those books are sold and not returned. I feel I can handle this micro-stocking with returns versus having 2000 stores stocking "Burden of Proof" and lots of potential returns. Mega chains are in financial peril and return even decent selling books - so in this economy it might be a financial risk you don't want to take.
If you opt not to allow returns I suggest really honing in on your Internet campaign as over 40% of books are sold online. Also work on a request in store campaign. If enough people request a book in store, the store will stock it, even if it's not returnable. That doesn't mean it'll get a lot of shelf space, but a local store may opt to order it.