Though I haven’t produced a graphic novel in two years, or been published in one in over three years, I still have books out there being sold.
I was fortunate enough as an author to acquire copies of stock in lieu of monies owed with two different publishers, but this meant that I had to house the remainder of the stock to be sold in my garage. Boo. I was extremely lucky with Ingram (their POD program Lightning Source is how I distribute my self-produced work) in that they were willing to take a portion of that printed stock off my hands and house and distribute them for me. Last year Amazon offered me a similar deal with the same terms as Ingram, so I sent them the remainder of the stock.
My terms with both distributors allows for returns. What are returns?
In my case, returns come from brick and mortar retailers like comic shops (and these days, online retailers, and convention sellers) that decide to give my old titles space on their shelves, show booths, or site inventory, because they’re looking sell something in the genre I used to write for (BL/OEL-BL graphic novels). They go to a distributor and buy wholesale—sometimes they have to purchase a minimum (from 5 books to a 32-pack case if the distributor hasn’t changed with the times enough to know that NO one operates with those amounts anymore and lives >_< ). These sellers dedicate a certain amount of time and space to sell your title—then when something new and better comes along, they take down what hasn’t sold of your work, and return it to the distributor.
There’s plenty of small press (and small shop) horror stories about this model, because in days of old (like, as recent as last year), some distributors held them to the same terms as they would a chain like Barnes and Noble—forcing them to supply substantial quantities for national chain stores, with no guarantee those books would be shelved properly and on time, or spine-broke by some hobotaki reading it on the floor and then putting it back on the shelf.
I’ve been lucky in that I’m EXTREMELY obscure, and my titles are a niche within a niche, and my distributors have entered into the POD market and seen that selling to small shops and online outlets that don’t need large chunks of stock, is just as profitable as dealing with the big boys (how many of the big boys are left BTW?)
My books sold wholesale through Amazon and Ingram go mostly to booth vendors, small shops, and online stores—these retailers tend to order 10 books max (10 being the extreme MAX, and 5 being the norm). When the time comes to take my books down and put up something more new and shiny (like stuff from Alex Woolfson or the ladies at Yaoi Revolution) they have a guarantee that they can send any unsold stock back to Ingram and Amazon, for a credit.
I like that two books is really all I ever get back at any given time. I take those bad boys to Half-Price Books – they don’t mind taking two at a time from me, so long as I don’t try to hoist a case off on them. Returns work for me because I’m so insignificant that no one’s ordering mass quantities I don’t have, nor am I selling mass quantities that no one wants.