Ooo, that sounds dirty. Will there be pole-dancing involved?
No. We're still on the topic of returns. Sexy, sexy returns. Yes, I'm being ironic.
Now, I do not offer the following explanation in an effort to further undermine authors' delicate self-esteems. What you're about to read is just another fact of the industry, and should not be taken as a judgment of your books.
Some paperback books are quality (or trade) paperbacks, and some are strippable.
How can you tell? It's simple. Is there a barcode on the inside front cover of your paperback? Does it have a little triangle with an "S"? Then it's strippable.
"Strippable" means that the publisher values this physical book very little. (This is not a reflection of how the publisher values the contents of the book, or the author.)
If a bookstore wants to return a strippable book, the publisher's attitude is essentially, "Oh, just throw it away."
To get credit for the return, and to be sure the book is not re-sold, the bookseller is asked to tear the front cover off the book and return just the front cover to the publisher. The bookseller will simply throw away the rest of the book.
Several of you have uttered screams of anguish and run off to check your own paperbacks for this designation. But it's really not a matter of high drama. The barcode above, for instance? Comes from this book.
The thing is, the chances of being able to refurb a damaged paperback are veryveryvery small. And if the publisher is printing a gazillion copies of the paperback whenever they go to press with it, those individual copies represent essentially pennies to the publisher... which is far, far less money than the cost of having the warehouse staff process a returned book. It's cheaper to just trash the thing.
Sad but true. But if it's good enough for Madeleine L'Engle, then it's good enough for you.