Monday, August 25, 2008

Next Stop, the Charmin Factory

Another pleasant weekend spent in Waynesboro, my pre-birthday celebration. I'll tell you how much wine I drank later. Now, I'd like to discuss closeout bookstores.

Sunday I took G to the Green Valley Bookfair, a ginormous warehouse outside Harrisonburg, Virginia which is open six times a year. This is one place "seconds" and massive returns go to wilt - bargain basement prices on nearly half a million books. Used to be when you'd shop at these places in outlet malls or abandoned storefronts (when they'd set up for the holiday season) you'd go in there and find books by unknown authors and thin quilting pattern collections. That seems to have changed a bit.

The Green Valley fair had some good stuff this weekend. If you have school-age children, you'd save quite a bit on reading lists. I cleaned up on Sudoku books for hubby and did my best not to go wild on the cookbooks. One thing I noticed different this time as opposed to my last trip here, however, was the abundance of erotic/sensual romance.

Last time I came to Green Valley was about a year ago. The trade romances were tucked in a back corner near the inspirationals. Not many to choose from, either, from names I didn't recognize. This time, they took up half an aisle near the front of the second building, and I found stuff from authors I know personally or have met. There were some Ellora's Cave/Pocket anthologies, a few Aprhodosia titles, and several titles buy one author I know by reputation. Also, a three-author anth featuring a Phaze author with other NYC titles. Books you would normally find at Borders for twelve bucks or more were discounted here for three apiece.

Tempted as I was to stock up, though, I held back. It's true I have a bulging duffel bag of books by my bed already, but even so it's difficult to resist a sale. It might be difficult for non-writers to understand, but seeing these books on closeout actually bothered me. Usually when you think of closeouts, you realize these are products that didn't move in the regular stores...or didn't move fast enough to satisfy the publishers. When I worked at B&N I helped monitor the bargain bin section, which consisted mainly of hardcover titles that had gone to paperback. Around this time Newt Gingrich had a novel that made the bin, and I'd read an article somewhere that described most of what didn't sell ended up "recycled" into other paper goods, namely toilet paper.

I see fifty copies of one title from somebody I know, languishing in a closeout store at 75% off the original price, and I feel bad. Now, I know most NYC pubs give authors advance payments in anticipation of healthy sales on publication, and those numbers vary. When the books don't move at the retail price and must come to places like Green Valley, I imagine it's one way for the publisher to recoup some kind of loss. It would tell me that at least fifty copies of this title have been returned to the publisher at some point, and the publisher had to eat the cost. Working with Phaze, I know for a fact that we lose money when stores return our books. This is why small pubs that utilize POD take such a big risk marketing to brick and mortars like Borders - the prestige of shelf space alongside Kensington, etc. is amazing, but the grim reality of returns can cripple you. It's killed at least two ePubs so far.

So I didn't buy any of these books. I just had this nagging feeling that if I did the authors wouldn't get the money, advances notwithstanding. It bugs the hell out of me when I tell a friend that I've published a book, and he says, "I'll be sure to check the library for it." !!!! Perhaps it's my own empathy for authors that held me back this day.

So you say, but you bought Sudoku books. Yes, I did, but it's Will Shortz. He's set for life. One thing at a time here.

I have to admit, too, the thought did cross my mind - you want so badly to be published with New York...this could be a stack of your unsold books in a few years. You think of the millions of titles published, and how few in comparison become top sellers. How many more authors languish in these bins, then possibly have to endure the fallout from it when a relative holds up a marked book. "Look what I got for two bucks!" There's a big bruise to your pride.

Damn, I hadn't meant for this post to ramble into depression. I'll stop now and will be back with the wine survey. What I can remember of it.

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