How do books wind up on the bargain table–and what does it mean for writers?

I found myself in a dollar store last year, gritting my teeth to ward off impulse buys as we waited for a table at the Mexican restaurant next door.

Then, I stumbled upon the small book section that occupies most dollar stores. And in between oodles of bibles, coloring books and crossword puzzle anthologies, there it was: a hardcover of Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing, for $1.

It quickly went into my basket, alongside a hex wrench tool I didn’t need and a bag of cotton candy.

But it puzzled me: What is the formula for how the book wound up there? Not long after, by coincidence, a representative for Distribution Video and Audio got in touch with me regarding her company, thus solving the riddle—and spreading some hope that should your books wind up in a bargain bin, it’s not the end of the world.

Newly posted online from a recent issue of WD, here’s the short piece—followed, of course, by a prompt.

* * *

The Novel Afterlife

It’s a moment of authorial horror: You’re browsing your favorite bookstore, and you stumble upon your book. For $5. In the section with the sign screaming “BARGAINS!” You flee to the dollar store for tissues and an antacid, and then you spot it, near the hand towels emblazoned with kittens and roosters—your book. For $2.

Take a breath. Ryan Kugler, president and co-owner of Distribution Video and Audio (DVA)—a closeout business that buys and sells remainder books—says it’s not a mar to your name. It’s just how the system works.

“It’s good for an author to know that this could and does happen with their writings,” he says.

In a nutshell, DVA works with major publishers that let the company know when they have excess inventory. DVA, a $20-million enterprise, looks over the items, buys the desired stock and distributes it—on the Internet, to bookstores, to flea markets, to truck stops and yes, to dollar stores.

So how do they choose what to buy in the first place?

Click here to read the rest of the piece, including what retains value best in the market, and what all of it means for writers.

* * *

WRITING PROMPT: Plenty of Fish in the Digital Sea
Feel free to take the following prompt home or post your response (500 words or fewer, funny, sad or stirring) in the Comments section below. By posting, you’ll be automatically entered in our occasional around-the-office swag drawings. If you’re having trouble with the captcha code sticking, feel free to e-mail your story to me at, with “Promptly” in the subject line, and I’ll make sure it gets up. From the InkWell section of the March/April 2010 issue of WD:

You venture into the world of online dating. Browsing through profiles, you drop your coffee mug and it shatters on the ground—it can’t be.

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7 thoughts on “How do books wind up on the bargain table–and what does it mean for writers?

  1. Cheryl


    Jen Dawson sat back on her heels and looked up at the petit brunette entering the kitchen. The coffee soaking into her knees was forgotten as her heart shattered like the tacky ceramic rooster mug she’d had with breakfast every morning for the past five days.

    “Jen, are you okay?” Louise squatted across from her friend, careful not to tread in the Colombian Roast. “I was changing Darius when I heard a crash.” She paused. “You’re pale. Are you feeling alright?”

    The concern in Louise’s eyes wrenched Jen’s soul, twisting it around the secret gnawing at her liver. Jen fought back tears and nodded. “The coffee was hotter than I thought. I burned my lip and lost control of the mug when I flinched.”

    “And here I thought you’d found an exciting prospect on HappyMatch,” she joked as she helped to wipe the last of the spill. Jen smiled weakly in return and visibly relaxed when the familiar wail carried through from the other room. Louise stood up, moved to the door, turned, and said, “Thanks again for spending the week with me while Rick was out of town. I don’t know how I would have coped with the twins on my own.”

    Jen returned to her seat at the table, hands shaking from the pain her friend’s words had caused. She refreshed the image on her laptop screen and wondered if she were going to be ill. Smiling, and still knee-meltingly dashing, Rick Monroe’s profile stared back at her. Rick and Louise had met in college and married immediately following graduation. Jen had been Louise’s Maid of Honour and, although she harboured a secret crush on Rick, she was genuinely happy for the couple.

    Jen thought the marriage was stable. She thought they were content. Rick’s profile on HappyMatch pointed to at least one partner’s lack of satisfaction. She wanted to run to Louise and ask her if everything were alright, if she and Rick were having problems, but she couldn’t. She was a horrible liar and there was no way she would be able to avoid telling Louise her marriage was a sham.

    She knew it was only a matter of time before Rick found someone else, if he hadn’t already. Her heart melted for the woman in the other room who’d set aside her career for her husband and family. Jen swallowed convulsively as her eyes were drawn back to the screen. She took several steadying breaths to quell the rising nausea. Not only was Rick’s profile among her list of potential matches, he’d sent her a message suggesting they meet for dinner later in the week.

    He wanted her to betray her best friend. Her head swam as the dizzying repercussions of such an act played out in her mind. She needed to get out, to get away. She needed air. Shock and horror melted away as a new emotion—guilt—slithered down her spine.

    She’d said, “Yes.”


  2. Martha W

    Liked the post, Zac…


    Nine o’clock in the morning, the sun was shining and Ryan’s password just showed up in his inbox. He stared at the email, hard pressed to decide if he was excited or mortified at the prospect of online dating.

    His mom always called him a good catcher, but at thirty-five he figured he had a serious flaw that stopped women in their tracks somewhere around date three.

    "What are you looking at, Ry?"

    He jerked, slammed his laptop shut. His chest heaved at being caught checking his email. Oh God, he looked guilty. "Nothing."

    Nikki moved from her spot at the patio door to grab the seat across from him. "You sure? You look… flushed."

    "I’m fine. Must be the heat," he mumbled. His gaze flitted everywhere but at her long legs stretched out in front of him.


    Her worried tone snapped his attention to her face. The simple beauty of her soft brown eyes, pert nose and full lips never failed to stop his breath. Not for the first time, he wished she move on from the last loser to to treat her like a casual fling. Wished she would give him a chance, a sign, something.

    "Ryan?" Nikki sat forward, reached a hand for his. "You okay?"

    "I’m fine, I said." Frustration was his middle name these days.

    She withdrew her hand, hurt darkened her eyes. "You know, I’ll come back later."

    He didn’t answer, just watched his best friend walk away. The door didn’t slam exactly but it definitely shut harder than normal.

    Ryan sighed, dropped his head back on the chair. "Damn it."

    Yeah. He had a flaw all right. Nikki.

    He flipped his computer open again, determined to stop thinking about her. The link opened quickly to Blue Moon Dating Services and within moments he was staring at a list of compatible women.

    Looking but not seeing, Ryan scrolled down the page as he grabbed his cup of coffee. A familiar face appeared on the screen and he froze. His fingers went lax on the mug and it crashed to the floor, shattered, unnoticed.

    It couldn’t be.

    But it was. Nikki.

    With a bold caption next to her beautiful face. "Ryan Townsend – I love you."

  3. Candy Burgess

    My God! Is it? Couldn’t be. Bumping her mug, she shrieked as it hit the floor. “Oh, great,” she muttered. Looking up, she spied a Starbuck’s employee coming her way.

    The young man hurriedly approached. “Lady, watch the glass,” he glanced at her briefly, then again. “You don’t look to good. Are you…”

    “I’m so sorry. But. I. Well, I um, I’m sorry. I have to go. Here.” She nervously slid a twenty across the table. “For the mug, and your trouble.” Without looking back, she ran out of the shop and headed home, thinking to herself over and over, ‘It can’t be,’ it just can’t be.’

    Sarah pulled into her driveway, thankful John was gone. Hurrying down to the basement, she pulled several boxes down from the shelves. Of course, in the last box. “I know it’s him.” Finding the page, she looked at his photo. “Damn it. It is!”

    “What is?”

    She jumped at his voice. “John, I thought you left.” She brought the book close to her chest.

    “What are you doing Sarah!” Her husband glanced at the book she held. “Shouldn‘t you be at work?”

    She stood as he stepped over the boxes that were scattered about. At his approach, she stepped back. “Shouldn’t you be moved out already? It’s been two months now.” Sarah quickly rounded the boxes to make for the stairs, but she was too slow.

    “You know, don’t you?” He spat as he spoke to her, gripping her arm in a vice-like grip. “Don’t deny it. My computer shadows yours. I know every sight you visit and every link you click on.”

    “But why? Why would you spy on me?” She tried to free her arm. “Ouch, John, you‘re hurting me.” She pulled hard, but then he let go, sending her hard to the floor. Looking up at him, “John. Or should I say Floyd? I thought Max was dead.”

    He laughed at her recognition. “I thought he was too.” He sighed heavily, and with a murderous look about his face, he picked the crowbar up off the counter. “You always ruin everything Sarah. Always. Max was my best friend, but you loved him more. He had to die!” With the heavy bar held high, he slammed it down toward her…

    …“MOM. MOM.” Jenny pounded harder. “You’re having that bad dream again. Wake up.”

    “Stop pounding on the door. I’m up.” Her sheets were soaked and her heart was racing. “Come in, it’s unlocked.”

    Jenny stuck her head in. “There’s a weirdo on the phone. Guy’s a freak, kept going on about Dad and high school. I didn’t know you and dad went to school together.”

    Me neither. She smiled at her daughter, so much like Max. “Tell him I’ll be right there.” Throwing her robe on, she yelled out, “and pack some cloths, we’re staying at grand-ma’s.”

  4. Mark James

    Asmodeus . . . the demon of lust who twists pure desires into things unspeakable.
    Volumes of What I Should Have Known, Book One

    A river runs through our streets. We call it Jordan because a long time ago, there was this river and people thought God would pick them up on the other side. Make them safe in Heaven.

    It’s raining today. From our window, I can see floods of water running down the big City Domes. I passed my Testing. Dad says that soon, I’ll go to a City and live under a Dome and never see the river again or feel the rain.

    I don’t know how long since the flu made it so grownups can’t have babies. Back then, they didn’t have domes over the cities. They could breathe the air. Now mutants live in the cities. They can’t breathe the air like us humans, and they can’t have children.

    I’ll be nine years old tomorrow, so Dad said I had to sit here and look at pictures and pick a husband. He says they used be called “Online Dating” places. Weird. Why call it “online”? Isn’t everything online?

    Dad, he’s sleeping, so I’m sneaking a cup of his coffee. He says it’s better if I go be a Maker. He’s getting old; almost thirty. Humans like us, we don’t live long.

    I’ll go to a City soon and be Bonded. In nine years, me and my husband, we’ll have a Married Day. Dad says in the City, I’ll be really important because the girls who live there, they’re not like me.

    It’s not so bad being a Maker. You have to live in the Colonies till you get Bonded, but me and my husband, we’ll have our own place. Can you imagine? Not sharing with everyone, having stuff all to yourself? I can’t.

    I saw an angel. He was outside our window, and that’s pretty weird, cause we’re high up. I told Dad. He said he wasn’t an angel, he was from the river. And he’d fling me under the water, and let the current carry me away, after he sucked my blood.

    If Dad had seen my angel, he wouldn’t have said that. There’s nothing clean in the Colonies. Everything’s used up, left over, hand me down.

    But the angel, he was the prettiest thing I ever saw. His clothes looked like no one ever wore them before and his hair was clean and soft and I wanted to touch him, be with him. He promised I could, that we’d be together soon. He comes to me now, every night, in my dreams.

    Except now I was seeing him, and it wasn’t a dream. I wasn’t even asleep. His face was on the screen. I spilled dad’s coffee, barely heard the cup shatter when it slipped from my hand. It really was him. My angel. In the Husband Registry. How?

    I looked at his face, said his name over and over, like I was praying really hard for something. My angel. That’s who I’d pick. And we’d be Bonded and I’d Make babies for him, and we’d be happy forever.

    Asmodeus. I said his name again and again.

    Angels can’t lie.

    It’s going to be just like he promised. We’ll be perfect. Together. Forever.