Encounters in Publishing #16: Up for Grabs, by Liz Mathews

I’m not sure if it’s just where I work, or if it’s a thing that happens at many other publishing houses, or if it’s an occurrence in offices of all types across these United States and around the world. Whatever the case, at my office (only a mere five steps from my own individual office—I just counted), we have something that is more or less known as the freebie shelf. Today I found a half-empty (half-full?) box of alcohol swabs.

Box of Alcohol Swabs

In the course of my time at this office, here is a list of some of the items that have been up for grabs:

• A collection of Everyman’s Library Children’s Classics (seven books total)

• Whitman’s Chocolates

• A coupon for $2 off your next $10 purchase at Duane Reade

• Broken chocolate Santas in red foil wrapping

• 2 decks of miniature, unopened, playing cards

• A road flare

• A condom-lollipop

• Various issues of Military Times

• A miniature wind-up Volkswagen yellow cab

• Leftover pizza

• Vases

• An ARC of The Meowmorphosis

• A Halloween-themed piggy bank

• A metal lunchbox with Starbucks decaf ground coffee inside

• 2 3-D slide puzzles

• Facial tissue pocket packs

• David Hasselhoff’s Making Waves

• Cardboard coasters

• A bottle of hydrogen peroxide

• Broken sidewalk chalk

• A bottle of 8-year-old wine

• Leftover deli sandwiches

• First aid kits of varying sizes

• Homemade (blue) marshmallows

• A golf club

• Boring Postcards USA

• A collection of three homemade silver unicorn horns

• A bottle of Windex

• Various issues of Boys’ Life

• Birthday cake and/or cupcakes, half-eaten

• Finger puppets

• A teacup and saucer

• A sword letter opener

Those are just a few of the items. Some stay there, shuffled through and passed over for weeks until someone in the office tapes a sign to the shelf that says “all will be trashed end of day Friday,” and then follows through with the threat. However, the framed painting of David Farland’s The Runelords cover art that stood propped up at the back of the shelf for a year and a half was not actually up for grabs. Perhaps its taker justified it to herself that because the painting was on that particular shelf—and not another, non-freebie shelf—it, too, could one day be whisked away, on toward a new life.


Liz Mathews composes ads for many things science fiction and fantasy. Her writing can be found in magazines, catalogs, newspapers, brochures, and books; and on bookmarks, postcards, cable television commercials, and even doorhangers all across the United States and in some parts of Canada. She lives in Brooklyn but considers the cornfields of Iowa home.