Have you seen them yet? I haven’t seen them in person, but I know for certain that there are many hardcover copies of my first novel ISABELLA MOON out there on remainder tables and carts this very minute. What are remainders? They’re the books piled onto the carts you have to struggle past to enter a bookstore on a sunny day. Books that often have titles like: 101 Ways to Fold Your Laundry; Spellunking for Drunks; How to Teach Your Dog to Sign; Living With a Kleptomaniac and Loving It; Paper Airplanes of the Wehrmacht, A Photographic Journal of Poughkepsie, New York circa 1978, or Serial Killers I Have Loved (Wait–I’m going to use that title!). The best thing about these books, though, is their low, low price. Remaindered books are usually priced at pennies per each dollar of their retail sticker.
It wasn’t until I became published that I understood that remaindered books are supposed to be a VERY BAD THING. Here, let me take a look on my bookshelf and mention just a few of the books I bought as remainders:
Stephen Kings’s NIGHTMARES AND DREAMSCAPES and BAG OF BONES
Faulkner’s LIGHT IN AUGUST
Joyce Carol Oates’s LAST DAYS and THE FALLS
Fay Weldon’s BIG GIRLS DON’T CRY and WICKED WOMEN
Classic HC Reprints of A TALE OF TWO CITIES and DuMaurier’s MY COUSIN RACHEL
A ton of art gorgeous art books, including: Artwork of MUSEE D’ORSAY and CARAVAGGIO
THE AARDMAN BOOK OF FILMMAKING
and more cookbooks than I can keep on the shelves.
Last Christmas, my local grocery store had enormous bins full of thriller novels by many folks I’ve met for $5 each. I think I bought my dad twelve books. He was delighted.
Now, I would never mention the names of the writers I know well whose backlist I might have picked up on remainder tables. Some of them would be mortified to know I’d seen their books. And to that I can only say, “Seriously? Why?”
Okay, so one might question the marketability of a book called LIVING WITH A KLEPTOMANIAC AND LOVING IT. But every book is published on the combined talent and judgment of a writer, editor, publisher and marketing department. Some books were never meant to be bestsellers. Some books are published with hopes that were a little too high all around. Some books never find their audience. Some books genuinely do suck. And some just have far too many copies printed.
Priced anywhere from $18.95 to $34.95 and up, hardcover books do, indeed, make a big dent in one’s wallet. (I’m not going into the whole ebook vs bound book issue here. It’s been covered very well elsewhere.) And book buyers are unpredictable. Bestsellers aren’t made by word of mouth alone (though that is critical). There needs to be a perfect storm of marketing, quality writing, topicality, word of mouth, and bookseller support to make a hardcover book sell well. Or that perfect storm can come in the form of any one of these elements taking off like a proverbial rocket. There have been a few writers out there, like James Patterson and the late Michael Crichton, who have (or had in Crichton’s case) the magic touch when it comes to reaching into our cultural zeitgeist and pulling out an immediately topical winner.
Walk into any bookstore or book warehouse, though, and you’ll see exactly how often the perfect storm comes along.
Who wins when the storm turns out to be just a pleasant shower? I’ll tell you who wins: The Reader.
How cool is that? Thank goodness price points, marketing plans, and hopes sometimes go awry. It means that hardcover books get into the hands of readers cheaply. These are books that get purchased and read–not pulped! And if the reader likes the book, he or she may look around next for the writer’s backlist or purchase the next book in hc or paperback. Or donate the book to a library book sale or charity shop. And so on….
But what if a writer has too many books remaindered for the publisher’s taste and there isn’t another one? It happens. That’s a post that even I’m too superstitious to write.
If you see ISABELLA MOON or another one of my books on a table for $3, I hope you’ll buy it and enjoy. I’ll sure I’ll find myself smiling without even knowing why!
(**Photo from the website of Books4Bargain.com.)