About Me

A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Bargain Bin

One of the people we follow on Twitter recently tweeted that he felt bad upon seeing a friend's book in the remainder bin, and I thought this deserved a blog post.

Simply put, there is no reason to be upset at being in the bargain bin.  Everyone in this business is remaindered.  Everyone.  It is part of the life cycle of being a published author.  It is built into the economics of the industry.  It is probably better to be remaindered than not. The only good way to avoid being remaindered is to avoid being published.

I understand you're human, you're going to feel this twinge of rejection, of insecurity, of having failed, when the day comes when the publisher sends you that letter inviting you to buy copies of your about-to-be-remaindered novel.  Get over it!

Let me again emphasize this basic fact:  Everyone gets remaindered.  Your favorite bestselling author gets remaindered.

You've got to start by keeping in mind that every book a publisher sends out is returnable.  Maybe if we could go back in a time machine we would change that fact, but until that happens, that's a basic starting point for understanding the publishing industry.  Every book is returnable.  When the publisher buys your book, they offer you an advance based on a profit and loss statement, a P&L, and in this P&L, they factor in that some percentage of copies will be returned.   And there's a good chance they will even factor in that some of those returned copies (or copies that never leave the warehouse) will ultimately be sold to a remainder house, and even an itty-bitty first novel for Tor may have $1000 in remainder revenue sitting on the P&L statement.

So for better or worse, the publisher decides what advance they can afford to pay you based on the idea that there will be 1500 books that will be remaindered for $1000 in income instead of selling to bookstores for $15000 in income.   Since this remaindering is factored into the publisher's most basic economic calculation of the book's worth, there's no shame, no scarlet letter "R," no nothing, attached to you if in fact the book gets remaindered.

Publishers and booksellers can make decisions on your book that might increase returns and thus increase the chance of a remainder that are nonetheless good for you and your book.  As an example, Costco decides it will stock you!  Costco can sell lots and lots of copies, but they aren't going to keep your book on the warehouse shelf as sales diminish and until the last copy sells.  Nope, even if your book is quite successful for Costco, there might still be Costco-sized returns at the end of the day, way more returns than what might be expected from Barnes & Noble.  But that isn't a bad thing, that Costco took your book.

Publishers don't advertise a lot.  However, your cover is a little billboard, each presence of your book with its cover someplace might be the only "advertising" that your book gets.  So let's say it's the holiday season, and Barnes & Noble decides to take a huge position on your book.  Your book is all over the store, in stacks on the floor, during the holiday season.  Now guess what, neither Barnes & Noble nor the publisher is actually expecting to sell every single one of those copies.

And in all of these instances, the returns and the subsequent remaindering aren't negative things in and of themselves.  They may be negative, but it might just be a cost of doing business.  The publisher might be happy because they remaindered "only" 15% of the print run, when the P&L was based on remaindering 20%.

Furthermore, if your book isn't remaindered, there's a good chance that the publisher didn't print enough copies of  the book, didn't ship copies aggressively enough, underestimated the potential of your book and reduced your earnings.  Real-life example, there were no remainder copies of Peter Brett's Desert Spear.  Because the publisher didn't print enough copies and didn't go back to press.  Let's say The Desert Spear cost $3 to print and ship off to retailers, that Del Rey had printed an extra 2000 copies, and sold only 1000 of them.  The publisher would have spent $6000 on the printing, $4000 in royalties to Peter Brett, and probably made $2000 in profit.  And then had 1000 copies that it could have sold to a remainder house for an extra $1000.  Should Peter Brett be happy because he lost $4K in royalties, his publisher $3K in profits??  I as Peter Brett's agent wish his book had been reprinted and remaindered.

Bottom line, having your book in the bargain bin 15 months after publication says nothing, in isolation, about you or your book or your profitability to the publisher or the prospects for your career.

Everyone gets remaindered.

Some free advice on your contract.  The publisher should be obliged to offer you remainder copies before offering them to their remainder house.  This might be the opportunity you've been waiting for to fill your garage with $2 copies of your hardcover that you can sell at conventions or over the internet for $25.  If you're one of the authors who can do that, you don't even need to get rid of that many boxes before you're making some nice money off of your remainder, you could even make more money selling your remainder copies than from your advances and royalties.

Even when your publisher is obligated to offer books to you, what price are they offering at?  One publisher, they offer books at an 80% discount off of cover price, which sounds very nice except that for a $25 hardcover, they want you to pay $5, and a remainder house will probably pay under $2.  Is that fair?  Another house might offer the books at their manufacturing cost, which is a little fairer but still probably more than a remainder house will pay.  And the publisher won't bend over backwards to cut you a deal if you intend to buy 48 copies at their remainder price of 4,629 copies they have left.  But let's say they have 1,169 copies left, and you have a big garage, and you decide to buy 1,169 copies.  Don't you think they should cut you a deal if you're willing to buy out the entire stock right away, when they might otherwise be waiting two or three months to get paid for selling to a remainder house?

So this is the sort of thing we will explore when we negotiate your contract which you might not think to explore on your own.  80-90% of our clients don't care about this, but for those who do care and do have a big garage, this could be worth hundreds or thousands of dollars to you at the back end.

Everyone gets remaindered.

Click here, it will take you to the BN.com page with sf/f bargain books.  Look at the authors there, it may be a different assortment in a week than today as new books come in, but I think you'll happily trade places with a hefty percentage of the authors who are in the bargain bin today.

Everyone gets remaindered.

1 comment:

CoreyHaim8myDog said...

Do you think you'll reopen to queries anytime in the near future, sir?