The Great Return Robbery

Ah, there really is nothing better than vacation. Sleeping entirely too late, eating and drinking too much, and late night swimming. I may never come home.

But there are some things that do come home, and they’re a real buzz kill. Returns.

Returns are the bane of a publisher’s existence. Not only do we still have to pay for the print runs, but the books that are returned look like the after-effects of a night on the town with a pack of rabid spider monkeys who drink liquid crack. For that reason, we try our best to come up with good numbers so what goes out the door stays out the door.

If a publisher has purchase orders from a buyer for 5,000 units, they must be confident those books are going to sell. That probability is based on the author’s platform and ability to promote their book. And I’m not talking about being a household name; I’m talking about having something in common with your readers. For instance, I just received a query about a retired military wife whose memoir talks about being the wife of a jet jockey whose hair was probably on fire most of his career. She has contacts to the bases and wives of active military. Right there, I’m thinking she has a great platform.

If that author is proactive and a “go git ’em” type, this could go a long way to creating a buzz. Based on that, and our national efforts, that print run would be bigger than someone who sits at home and crochets toilet paper doilies because we feel fairly certain her books will sell.

And this leads to making the decision on how many books to ship. We may have printed up 5000 units, but we aren’t necessarily going to ship all those at one time just because a national account wants them. We don’t want them back! So we may have the purchase order rewritten for fewer units. If they sell, hey, no problemo, we gots more in da warehouse. But if a publisher is all gung-ho about shipping all 5,000 units, because, after all, it sounds really cool, they may be reaching for the Maalox and a Smith & Wesson when 4.000 units come back – beaten to a pulp.

Authors should always know what their print run is, but more importantly, they need to ask how many were shipped. If the shipping numbers are low, this can mean that there were few pre-orders from the national accounts, or the publisher held the higher orders back to get a feel for how promotion goes with creating demand.

Being in the tank for print runs that have high returns can put a publisher out of business very fast – and we’ve seen this happen a lot over the years. Yes, it’s very, very cool to see our books on the store shelves. But it’s a lot cooler to see our books at the cash register ‘cos those babies aren’t a-comin’ back. They’ll line readers’ libraries where they’ll ooo and ahhh over the groovy books we publish. Well, ok, I can dream, right?

5 Responses to The Great Return Robbery

  1. Marc Mayfield says:

    Very interesting. Thank you, Lynn.

    So, the proactive author of a memoir–about, say, Interstate trucking–who knows the trucking industry and knows where to find (one of) his target markets (the 3.2 million truck drivers in the U.S.), has, to some extent, platform?

  2. lynnpricewrites says:

    It’s a platform as long as there is an identifiable audience.

  3. Marc Mayfield says:

    Thank you, Lynn!

  4. Gutsy Writer says:

    I thought you weren’t supposed to be blogging on your vacation. That’s not a vacation. Have a Margarita on me.

  5. lynnpricewrites says:

    I know, Gutsy, I’m pathetic and should be shot. Does it make it any better knowing that I’m blogging in my bathing suit around the pool with an icy margarita marinating my liver quite nicely thankyouverymuch?

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