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December 05, 2005

Pardon My Ignorance

By Harley

Since becoming a published novelist nearly three years ago, I’ve developed a signature phrase that comes in handy on a near-weekly basis: Pardon My Ignorance.

Ten days ago, my agent Renée phoned. A cheerful-yet-cautious note in her voice told me this wasn’t fabulous news call. (When it’s fabulous news, Renée prefaces it by saying, “fabulous news!” As in, “Fabulous news! You’re about to be translated into Dutch.”)

“Happy Thanksgiving,” she said. “They’re going to remainder the hardcover of DATING DEAD MEN.”

“Pardon my ignorance,” I said, “but what does that mean?”

Among other things, Renée explained, it means I get to buy my own hardcovers at a dollar something a book. Wow! That’s a bargain better than anything going on at the mall right now. A bargain worthy of the 99-cent store.


Now, I’m no economics major, but I began to see that it might not be a good thing to have my books going for the price of a bottle of water at Starbuck’s.

Renée said we were talking a few thousand books, which didn’t sound like a lot, if that meant the rest actually got sold to people. But there was a subdued quality to the conversation, the kind of tone used to discuss menopause or infertility or mental illness—all the things I blab about in blogs—so I kept the news to myself for a day or two. Then I casually mentioned it to a bunch of people on an eGroup and was advised to buy the remainders. All of them. “Buy now! Buy every book you can afford! Buy low, sell high!”

For a collector, I realized, it’s like paying top dollar for a Fabergé egg, and then hearing they’re handing them out with Happy Meals.

Okay, it’s not an exact analogy. But still.

So I ran it by my husband, who mumbled, “um, okay.” Probably I ran it by him while he was distracted. Maybe while he was on the phone. And probably I said something about a dollar a book and two thousand books. Give or take. I favor the “P.S. your cat is dead” style of communication, the circuitous route, stopping just short of saying, “Fabulous news!” in introducing not-so-fabulous news.

Anyhow, a few days later, when the actual Remainder Notice from Random House arrived in the mail, it turned out to be 2,740 books @ $1.43 a book. Meaning that the two thousand dollars I’d rounded it off to turned out to be . . . a tiny bit more. Okay, $3,918.20. Plus tax.

Which led to another not-so-fabulous dilemma.

Where does one put 2,740 books?

We do not live in a castle. Two of our three children share a bedroom. In lieu of a guest room we have a Trundle Bed. Oddly enough, we have six bathrooms, but even very large bathrooms, which ours are not, balk at harboring 228.3 cardboard boxes.

However:  We could, for five grand, buy a used yurt. That’s a tent-like structure used by Central Asian nomadic people. To live in, presumably, but who’s to say they don’t also house their remaindered books there?

We could ship them to relatives all over the Midwest, who have attics and basements. But why stop there?  I could put in a note with the 700 Christmas cards I’m about to send, asking each recipient to adopt a mere 3.9 books.

We could hide them in the catacombs underneath the Vatican.

We could reverse Time, return the books to pulp, and the pulp to the rainforest.

Or, we could just move.

I am open to alternative suggestions. Hurry, please. The FedEx truck cometh.

Happy Monday!



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» Remaindered from A Writer's Life
Harley Jane Kozak's book DATING DEAD MEN has been remaindered...meaning the publisher is going to sell their stock of unsold copies to booksellers by the pound (so the formerly $24.95 books will end up in the bargain bin at Barnes [Read More]

» Everybody Goes to Remaindertown from Bill Peschel
Harley Jane Kozak has a problem. Her acclaimed first novel "Dating Dead Men" was recently remaindered by her publisher. Did she want the leftover copies? She decided yes. After all, [Read More]


Is there a self-storage place nearby? The rent would probably cost less than $150/month, and it should ("should" is operative word) be reasonably secure from the weather.

We used self-storage when we were trying to sell our house, and when we moved, everything from there got moved to the garage ("Spallco" truck rental). Three years later, some of it is still in the garage.

Pardon my own ignorance, but I don't get any of this. Do you sell these things on e-bay or what? From your website?

And with the paperback edition available, is this an investment that will pay off?

So much to learn, so little brain.

One possible use for the remaindered books: Donate them to libraries. It will cost you in postage, but could really pay off in the long run. Readers who didn't spring for the cost of the book will read it, get hooked, and buy your NEXT book.

I'd be so happy to donate them to libraries, but . . . 2740 libraries?
Rob, Honest to Pete, I have no idea. Selling from my website? Don't I need some sort of license to do that?
Might be easier to form my own religion and give them away as religious tracts.

I though TLC was already a religion? No? Maybe you can donate some to women's shelters?

As the somewhat successful Lawrence Block once told me, "Buy em all, cause they ain't printing no more."

Some reasons for buying remainders:

1. Yes, you can sell them through your website. No, you don't need a license. Lots of your readers will be GLAD to purchase a personally inscribed copy and pay full cover price and shipping. Especially those who couldn't make it to Fresno for your signing.
2. they have value because they are FIRST EDITIONS; think not, wait a while and see what they start to fetch on e-bay and abebooks.com, etc. Collectors (and yes, believe it or not, there are people out here who are buying your books and sheathing them in plastic, just like plastic couches in dusty front rooms, and squirrelling them away on the hope that when their kids are old enough, selling a Harley Jane Kozak first edition will pay for, well, maybe textbooks for a quarter, or at least lunch at McDonald's) pay a pretty penny for first editions. And it can go into your kids's piggy bank.
3. You will want to have some to reward faithful readers and reviewers and discerning critics and booksellers with.
4. did I mention because they aren't making any more?
5. Consolation prizes for all the men who want you and can't have you.
6. They make great "back of the room" sales opportunities when you're off doing "author events" or speeches or teaching, like at the Romance Writer's Conference in March. Recruit an assistant/aide/driver/bodyguard/heavy box lifter, some strapping young male specimen (romance novel cover model?) with an abdomen like an armadillo's back and the IQ of a bag of rocks to tend to that for you. Slavish devotion and the ability to lift heavy boxes can be good things.
7. If you donate, donate wisely. Donate signed copies to charity auctions to raise money, don't just give the books away. Charities to support women's shelters, war orphans, and the right to keep and arm bears.

Just a few thoughts for the day from a faithful Secret Admirer, who would like a consolation prize, please, signed, with a great big red Lipstick Diva lipsmack on it.

Let me guess. Joe Konrath?

Thanks for the info, Secret Admirer. It's good to be only slightly clueless now.

The Starbucks where you are only charges a dollar for water?

I would like to summit that you donate a few of those books to military and veteran hospitals! There are units at the hospitals that any book that goes in, cant come out. So their reading material is very limited. Also many Assisted Living homes could use a few, too. Harley there are many places like this and if you need help sending them, please let me know and I will donate something towards mailing them. Or send a few to my address and I will take them to the military hospitals here in Colorado Springs. Sadly we have many. SusanCo

Sounds like you have the gift-giving season covered for yourself, and all your family and friends. Or:

Build the kids a playhouse in the backyard.

Construct your own catacombs beneath your home, giving Geraldo another shot at a two-hour live special in which he opens it after you move. You could leave an encrypted message on the wall for the audience to figure out.

Instead of the coffee table book, make a coffee table of books.

Plant them in under the cover of darkness around your neighborhood to see what grows.

Casually slip the topic of clutter into a conversation with anyone you communicate with to determine who has recently cleaned out their attic, garage, or storage shed. You have now located free storage space. Ship the books to the unsuspecting party with a big thank you note letting them know you appreciate their generous offer of storing the books for you until you need them.

Wait, wait! I've got it. I don't need to move. I just need to gut my existing house and build a newer, bigger one out of all the books that are left over after I give away half.

Harley, do you know if your remaindered copies will have a mark -- black indelible ink, a stamp, spray paint -- that forever label them as remainders (nonreturnable to the publisher)?

Carla, no idea. Pardon my ignorance!

You don't need to gut your house. You could build a retaining wall out of the books, or make them into Christmas table displays, like the old Reader's Digests with gold spray paint, or you could build a machine to turn them into firelogs. Sarah's husband could probably help with that; she tells me that he has all the biggest and best tools and really knows how to use them to please a woman.

Josh, good point.
Now I'm thinking that there might be some way to shred the books and turn them into yarn. I'm very good at knitting.

While I'll happily take a lipstick smacked signed edition of Dating Dead Men, I'm not Secret Admirer, and have different advice: Let the book get remaindered.

Your goal is brand-building and name-recognition. The more books out there in the world, the more chances you have to be read. Someone who might not plunk down full price might give you a try for $4.99 on the Border's Bargain table.

Once they read you, they'll continue to read you, and that will result in more sales down the road.

Sure, you might be able to sell or give away 2700 books eventually. But then you prevent Jane Doe from picking up a remainder at her local chain store, loving it, then going right back and buying your next book at full price.

When Whiskey Sour gets remaindered, I'm planning on buying a few hundred copies, and letting the rest fall into the hands of readers.

Pardon my ignorance, too, Harley. Always something new to learn in this biz. Supposedly the mark makes the book less valuable as a collector's item, but I don't know how widespread the practice is anymore. Good luck finding a place for your books! :-)

Joe, my mistake.

I think your advice makes great sense -- especially since I was thinking the same thing myself.

I've discovered many writers on the remaindered tables.

Musicians as well, for that matter.

Yeah, I'm now hearing from the Let The Remaindered Remain Remaindered camp. It reminds me that, prior to becoming an author, I had no idea there was a downside to a hardcover book for a buck. Okay, so now I'm really in a quandary.
Joe, for the record, I did not for a moment believe you were Secret Admirer.

My admiration isn't secret, Harley. :)

I'm going to get into the let them be remaindered camp as well. I have bought some great books remaindered that I never would have paid full price, hardcover or paperback, for. It will help you in the long run.

That's a reader's opinion, however.


Harley, I'll have to join Mark in the "let them be remaindered" camp. I've discovered lots of great writers whose hardcovers I've bought at $4.99...and then I go on to buy their newer books because I'm hooked. So let those babies run free! Get a few boxes' worth to store in the garage, so you can give away freebies when you need to, though.

Ditto on the remaindered purchases. I've bought many books there and returned later to buy the author's next book in hardback.

Use them as insulation in your house.

May--off to buy her copy from Fictionwise

I agree with Joe. Let them go. Let them find homes elsewhere instead of paying to keep them yourself.

There are libraries in other countries as well -and all have english sections. And you would propably get an entirely new readership that way.

I want to come to Let Them Be Remaindered Camp! Do we get to toast marshmallows?

Hell, yes, Daisy! And we'll have S'mores, too, by God.

What about one of those portable garden sheds? You can get them at OSH and Home Depot. Or if you have the space, get one of those places that builds sheds to put one up in the yard. They're practically a house and can be wired and plumbed and all, if you decide to use it for an office or guest housing once you've sold your books. Tough Sheds is one. The Shed Shop is another.

Probably tax deductible.

Also, if this is the book you were pitching as a television series, and it got picked up, signed HCs (firsts?) would sell like hotcakes and you'd have cornered the market. ;+)

Oh, Zaza, now you've got me dreaming about sheds. The American Yurt. I could go out and hide from the kids and the dogs . . . to heck with the Remainders.
BTW, I'm so wishy-washy, I vacillate with each new comment I read. I had no idea this was such a divisive topic. It's like Blue State/Red State.

Couldn't you do both? Buy a hundred books to sell through your Web site (via PayPal, which is free although they take a cut), give some away, and let the rest go forth and help you acquire fans.

(Turning now to reread "The Book of My Enemy has been Remaindered" by Clive James. Not that you're my enemy; it's the only poem I know appropriate for the subject.)


Harley - just in case you check back at this late date, my advice is to keep a bunch of them. Take them with you when your tour - the Festival of Mystery in Pittsburgh is one stop you can make.

Many readers are like me - I don't necessarily care that it's a first edition, but I prefer hardcover books. I've picked up dozens of out-of-print hardcovers directly from the authors - who have been nice enough to personalize. Annette Myers told me she always kept her first editions, and sold many of them at retail, too!

A lot of romance writers give them away in contests and so forth. And donating some is a great idea too.

Especially the first in a series - go ahead, bury them in the back yard - you'll be sitting on a ---- wait for it---- gold mine!

That was bad, even for me.

A Few Parting Thoughts From The Buy Them All And Let God Them Sort Them Out Camp --

Here's my problem with the "Oh, let them be remaindered and set them adrift so that some reader might stumble across them" issue -- yeah, seeing your book on the cheap book stack for $4.99 or $1.99 or $.99 might get somebody to pick one up...while your book is in that stack. And yeah, I know there are lots of resellers of remaindered books, but my experience has been, like any other bookstore, there's a limited shelf life for ANY book, and eventually if that book don't get picked up and brought home, it keeps sliding down the food chain till it's stacked on that sad little cart out in front of the store, out in the rain and snow, or else pulped, or else donated and used as a bookstop in the local homeless shelter.

So yeah, maybe a few books will get picked up that way by someone who will be motivated to go find your other books.

But maybe, just maybe, if you did some things differently, maybe a few more might go out...

like the things i listed above.


There's what, 700 odd listings in Kate Derie's THE DEADLY DIRECTORY? And the very sweet Kate will even sell you pre-printed labels if you don't want to do an e-mail. You could e-mail all those small independent bookstores that specialize in mystery, etc., and offer to sell them, say, five signed copies of your first edition out of print hardback, for say, I dunno, $5 bucks. so you make a little money, and then those struggling bookstores (and does anybody know ANY independent that's not struggling?) could then sell your book for full retail...and they come out ahead too. I've done that, and found every bookseller to be appreciative in the extreme. And they are out promoting your book, and you, because you're helping them where it helps the most -- in their pocketbook.

And because you're a very nice Nebraska girl.

Or you could take your e-mail contact list, the one you use when you send out a newsletter (you DO send out a newsletter, right?) and send out an e-mail to all those folks who have already bought or read one of your books, or looked you up on Google, and offer THEM the chance to buy directly from you a signed and/or personalized copy. Maybe they want to buy a couple, give them as presents. Give them a discount if you want.

Reach out to libraries, like somebody else mentioned. Donate two copies, both signed: one for the non-circulating section, and one to circulate. Most libraries have a "rare book" section where signed books (and yes, popular fiction counts...) are kept, and then another copy for circulation. Lots of libraries in the world, and yes, people might read it and then buy your others.

Post on Dorothy L and see how many folks might be interested in getting a copy directly from you...

What makes this, IMHO, more effective long term is that there is personal contact with you and your readers, and readers and booksellers who are uniquely positioned to handsell or spread word of mouth about your books.

One of my other writer pals, a thriller writer, bought up at his author discount several cases of his paperbacks and donated them, as someone mentioned above, to military hospitals and deployed military units. When he went to do a signing, some months later, at a military base, he was GREATLY surprised to find a long line of people, mostly wives and parents, waiting for him. The troops who'd read his books appreciated them, and told their families to get more of his books. To those interested in the bottom line, that writer sold over 200 HC in the first 60 minutes of his signing, and ended up selling close to 500 books at that one signing. Nice bump in his sales for a mid-list guy.

But hey, I'm burning your bandwidth here. You're a smart woman and you'll do what works for you!

Maybe buy a few, let a few go, compare and contrast results. Long term, IMHO, you'll get more bang for your buck that way. Works pretty well for some of my pals who sell way more books than me, but then, they sell way more books than most everybody.

Well, Ms. Kozak, it's almost 6 a.m. here in Baghdad, so I got to sign off and go to my dayjob. Enjoyed visiting with you and the Diva Crowd.

I will say, any of you that would like to come over to the Buy Them All Camp, we don't have S'mores, but we do have good steaks, old whiskey, and we always stand up when ladies (especially Lipstick Divas) come in the room.

Conversation's pretty good over here, too.

have a happy!

Secret Admirer

ps: and remember, it's the first edition of your first book, and when they're gone, they're gone...

I've got it! Buy the books. Store half, and pass the rest on to an accomplice. The accomplice waits for a slow news day, then very publicly burns them, claiming to be a representative of American Parents Against Lurid Loving the Deceased (APALLD), protesting the book's clear advocacy of necrophila. The media picks it up, because everybody loves a good book burning, and pretty soon you're all over the news, explaining how you wished people would at least read the book before lighting it. After that, the snowballing into a global phenomenon is pretty much inevitable. And all those first editions you saved would be worth a fortune.

Sometimes I'm so brilliant I scare myself.

What's scary, Daisy, is that your idea would probably work. :)

And we could toast the marshmallows (and make the S'Mores) over the open fire! How cool would that be :)

I am grateful and humbled by the profound interest you have all shown re my professional dilemma.

You are all brilliant.

And, of course, I still have no idea what I'm going to do.

well.. with a few carefully placed and brilliantly worded press releases.. you could have a book burning.. and the the ensuing chaos will create a renewed interest in your book! (who wouldn't want to check out a book that people are burning!) Certainly must be salacious! women will be sneaking out to purchase a copy!

or you could just store them in my basement.. lord knows I don't use it.. currently I have 2 couches, a drafting table and 5 rolls or carpet padding and various boxes of dishes, CD's and picture frames that don't belong to me.. what's 228.3 more boxes! :)
Wish I had a better suggestion.. if you donate them can you write it off?

ok whoa.. I am apparently channelling daisy.. my bad.. didn't read through all the comments before posting.. but two people with the same idea.. we might be on to something!

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