Getting to Yes (and No) Faster

Josie Leavitt - March 29, 2010

Every independent bookstore owner or manager must contend with self-published authors who want their book to be stocked by the store, and charitable groups seeking donations. There are different ways to handle these requests, and until now, I’ve always been put in the awkward position of dealing with each person right there, on the spot at the register, and that can get uncomfortable. Do I want to donate a gift card to the eighth-grade field hockey team? Do I want to carry three copies of a self-published book about a farmer in Maine?
With the help of bookselling friendships fostered at Winter Institute 5 and through NECBA, my local children’s bookselling trade association, I’ve been given great tools to help me with these two tough situations.
It sounds simple, but a good consignment form is a gift. It allows me to accept most self-published books on consignment in a very professional manner. My form (adapted from the Bookloft in Great Barrington, MA) is simple and clearly states what the terms of sale are: 40% and after six months, the book will be returned to the author. The form makes it easier for me to be organized. Often self-published authors are learning about the business, and the form saves me from having to explain, repeatedly, how the self-published author/bookstore relationship works. They get a copy for their files, and we keep a copy. Everyone is on the same page, so there can be no surprises when it’s time to reconcile accounts or send the books back.
The consignment form, with its time limit, allows me to say yes far more often than I did in the past. Also, for me, who can be filing challenged, this works really well.  One universal form, one file folder for everything in chronological order — this makes my life a lot easier. And having all the author’s info in one place makes re-stocking the books a breeze. So this  can be a win-win for everyone.
The donation request form (adapted from Saturn Booksellers, in Gaylord, MI) is pure genius. This form allows my staff to be pro-active with donation seekers. So, rather than just take a message, they can give them the form, or better yet, they can email the donation seeker the form. The donation request form is direct. It states very simply, that we cannot give to everyone as much as we’d like to, but we want to be fair, so please answer some questions and we’ll make a decision within two weeks.
What’s great about this form is it asks the usual questions about the organization/event: how many people are expected to attend, how is this event related to literacy, how will it be promoted, etc. Then there are the questions that all booksellers want to ask of organizations but find it hard to do when there’s someone standing at the register asking for something: how many times a month do you or staff from your organization shop at the store?
This one question makes it clear that shopping local and community support are a two-way street. I’ve emailed this form to many folks since I started using it and I’ve gotten some very different answers. Some are really honest,”No one has shopped at your store because you’re an hour away from us.” That realization had them withdraw their request.  “I’ve driven by a hundred times, but will now make a effort to stop,” and they did.
Getting all the information in one tidy page has made it easier for me to make informed decisions about charitable giving. Every two weeks we look at the forms, look at our charitable giving budget, and triage what we’re able to do. Obviously, events that benefit children’s literacy within my local region get priority and then we’ll work our way down the list. The donation form allows me to be better at business and sometimes, that means saying no, and that’s never an easy thing. But the process of filling out the form can make an organization realize that we’re not a good fit for them and they should ask closer to home, as was the case above.
So, don’t despair if your local bookstore asks you to fill out either a consignment or donation request form: it’s actually a great way to yes.

17 thoughts on “Getting to Yes (and No) Faster

  1. Indiependent Books

    Excellent article.
    We work with indies on consignment as well ( and will be implementing the donation form as well. Since we are solely online, we can’t focus on local organizations, but will focus on orgs that educated our new authors.
    Is there a way we can get a copy of your forms?


    Fantastic article about 2 areas of bookselling that I know I’m not very good at handling. Great point about asking donation-seekers whether the shop with you. I sell online-only, so distance shouldn’t be an issue. Thanks so much for sharing your experiences.

  3. Josie Leavitt

    I’ve secured the permission of the two very smart booksellers to send out their forms. So, please email me at flyingpigbooks@gmail and say in your subject line: forms.

  4. Therese Holland

    I don’t get asked for donations very often I think because I sell second hand books but usually it isn’t a problem. I just tell them to take everything from the $1 bargain bin which is always overflowing


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