Monday, November 16, 2009

Nothing To Do With Fourth-Grade Math

If you've been around these parts long enough to have read my Terms to Know, then you know that in publishing, remainder (or remaindered books) are titles that are no longer selling in sufficient quantities and are being sold off by the publisher at a steep discount in an attempt to 1.) make at least some money off the remaining copies, and 2.) clear out space for new inventory in the warehouse. How does this process work, though? Well, I'm glad you asked. (Not really—it's sort of depressing.)

Where I work, there are a number of inventory managers whose job (among other things) is to monitor the rates of movement of their titles through retailers. If any fall below a certain threshold, the inventory manager will make a recommendation to the publisher to remainder those titles. The publisher reviews these recommendations and, if he or she agrees, those titles are officially remaindered. Generally, the first step is to offer the unsold copies to the author at unit cost; that is, the author has the opportunity to buy his or her unsold stock and do whatever he or she wants with it: try to sell it him/herself, donate the lot to charity, fill a water tower with it and swim around in it like some kind of bibliophilic Scrooge McDuck. The sky's the limit!

If the author doesn't want the unsold copies, however, then the books are auctioned off to retailers that specialize in remaindered books, such as Crown Books (not to be confused with the Random House publisher of the same name). As mentioned, the publisher loses some money (but not as much as they would by simply pulping the stock), makes space in the warehouse for titles that are moving, and savings are passed on to the retailer and you, the customer. The publisher loses out a little bit, and the author loses out a lot (since, as far as I know, no royalties are issued on sale of remaindered books).

Clearly, all authors want to avoid having their titles remaindered, but the sad truth is: there's nothing you can do about it besides write a killer book and do whatever you can to help sell it. Your efforts are often necessary to make your book a hit, but almost no amount of effort on your part can save a book if it's just not taking hold in the market. Not unless you and Oprah are BFFs.


  1. Ha! Love the image of Scrooge McBook swimming in a water tower full of books.

  2. Remainders...

    the first step is to offer the unsold copies to the author at unit cost

    In this example, what is "unit cost"? As the author, I have been offered to buy remainder copies at the wholesale price a publisher charges a most favored retail outlet. I suspect this is NOT unit cost. Or is it?

    Thanks for helping me figure this out! :-)

  3. Your efforts are often necessary to make your book a hit, but almost no amount of effort on your part can save a book if it's just not taking hold in the market.

    Okay. When a hardcover is released in trade or massmarket paperback, do the hardcovers being warehoused automatically get remaindered?

  4. Very informative but I'm not worried for I did write a killer novel that and Oprah is my BFF and she will be mine the instant she reads my book. 'smile'
    Have a lovely week.

  5. I've read so many remaindered "killer" books . . . it's almost a maxim: cheap remaindered copies exist of every truly great book published in the last twenty years.

  6. I'd actually turn around what you say at the end: the books that are printed in the largest quantities are the most likely to be remaindered, simply because there are so many copies sloshing about. Yes, books with 5k first printings (and no reprints) do get remaindered, too, but it's the books with 150k in print after five trips to press that generate 10-50k returns when their shelf-life is over.

    So if Oprah is your BFF, when your book does come to be remaindered, your remainder numbers will be epically high, since all of the numbers relating to an "Oprah BFF book" are epically high.

  7. Remaindered books are a terrific bargain for the authors -- provided the author has room to store those copies. My last remaindered hardcover title only cost me about two bucks, I think, per copy. I keep them to donate to charities, libraries, etc.

    Paperbacks, alas, are not remaindered. They're stripped and the covers alone returned to the publisher for credit. That's too bad, because paperbacks are so much easier to give away as free promotional copies and they take up much less room to store.

  8. By novel is not one Oprah would even consider.

    Oh well. I'm thinking of taking more marketing classes.

  9. Gulp. That's one word an author hopes never to hear... A pointed reminder of why it's crucial for a writer to do everything possible to generate sales and creat word of mouth. Yeah, the REAL works comes after finishing the MS and sending it off to the printer.

    If I were ever in this awful position, I think I would buy up my remaindered books and try to sell them myself (dad, mom, cousin, friend... you want a 14th and a 15th copy of my book, don't you???)

    I think you have to have a lot of faith and - for a new writer - it takes time to build a rep, get the word out and so on. Publishers (and the warehouse managers/inventory managers) may not have the luxury of time necessary to build a following.


    "Blood and Groom" is now available!

  10. You're right. That was depressing.

  11. I fail to see how this is depressing. Swimming in a water tower of books... that's the dream!

  12. There is a slight bright side to the remaindered books. At least for someone who has sequels already out. Someone buying that book for dirt cheap they might not have bought otherwise may be won over to pay full price for the later books. A sort of marketing pitch for the sequels.

    It worked on me. I bought Dragon Slippers by Jessica Day George for a buck at my local dollar store. The title caught my eye, and the blurb nailed me. After I finished reading it, I enjoyed it so much, I felt bad for how little I'd paid. Then I found out there are two more books in the series. As soon as I have some extra cash for blowing on even more books, I intend to snag them before they get remaindered.

  13. Eric, get out of my head! ;)

    This is too weird, but I did a post on Sept. 1st about one of my dreams being to swim around in a huge pile of my own books like Scrooge McDuck, and I used that same picture (enhanced, of course.) This cracked me up! :D Great minds, and all that?