Why I Agreed to a B&N Exclusive

by Barb who just had the best 4th of July week in Boothbay Harbor, Maine with my husband, my kids and their spouses, and the grandkids

You may have noticed from all the hullabaloo here that I had a new book released last week. And that the book, Jane Darrowfield, Professional Busybody, is exclusively in paper and exclusively available from Barnes & Noble, in store and online, for the first year.

The book, which begins a new series for me, has been mostly well-received. The reviews have been strong, and sales, at least initially, have been brisk.

Jane Darrowfield, along with Maddie Day’s Strangled Eggs and Ham, on the B&N instore bestseller list week of 6-29-19

But the response hasn’t been entirely positive. And when the response is negative it has been 95% not about the exclusive vendor, but about the exclusive format–i.e. that the book exists only in a mass market paperback edition. (The other 5% negative responses were from Canadian and Australian fans who don’t have access to B&N.)

I am actually quite sympathetic to these complaints, particularly to arguments about accessibility. Not having an ebook, a large print edition, or an audiobook does make the book inaccessible to people with low or no vision or other physical challenges.

When these objections come up on social media, I never apologize. Nor do I try to pass the buck to my agent, my publisher, or Barnes & Noble. The fact is, all of us participated in this decision and I had as much power to say no as any of the others. Social media is a terrible place to have these conversations, so I thought I would explain here what my thinking was, and still is, and see where the conversation goes from here.

The first I heard about this opportunity was a call from my agent, John Talbot, two summers ago. He told me that my publisher, Kensington, had worked out a deal with Barnes & Noble to offer mass market paperback cozy mysteries exclusively for one year. In exchange, B&N would place a large print order and would promote the books heavily. “Heavily” was undefined, at least as far as I, the author, knew. But it was clear John was excited about the opportunity, and he told me one of the reasons he was excited was because Kensington, as personified by my editor John Scognamiglio, was also excited.

“Barnes & Noble wants to put your book in the front of the store,” John Talbot said. The “comma–you idiot” was unspoken, but I heard it. Clearly this was an opportunity to get my work in front of more people.

Maddie Day’s new book Strangled Eggs and Ham, and Jane Darrowfield, Professional Busybody on the ladder in the front of the store at B&N

To participate in the program, I needed a non-Maine Clambake Mystery series book. I never would have agreed, and Kensington never would have suggested, that we take an existing series and make loyal readers who happen to prefer a different vendor or, more likely it seems, a different format wait a year for the next book. Did I have an idea for another series?

Jane Darrowfield with the B&N exclusive sticker on the cover

As it happened, I did. An idea about a woman, who in her retirement, becomes a sort of fix-it person for vexing personal problems for her friends and neighbors. The character was intended to be my homage to Jane Marple.

But even though I had an idea, I did take the time to think about whether I wanted to participate in the program. The enthusiasm of my agent and editor were persuasive. As was the idea of promotion by the largest U.S. chain of physical bookstores. I’m not going to lie. Finding more readers and selling more books was an extremely attractive idea to me.

I also thought about this:

  • The book would be available everywhere, in mass market paperback and ebook editions, a year after release. Much as I’d love to think of myself like Charles Dickens with readers storming the docks of New York harbor to find out what happened to little Nell, I am aware enough of my status as an author to understand that no one is really going to suffer waiting a year for my next book.
  • While I’ve been lucky enough to have large print and audiobook editions of all my Clambake books, there is no guarantee this will happen every time. Kensington holds my English-language rights. They publish the mass market paperback and various ebook versions, and then they sell the large print and audiobook rights. Or sometimes they don’t. Or it’s a long wait. Musseled Out was released in 2015. The large print edition didn’t come out until 2018. So much as I’d like to offer accessible editions to every reader, I am never in a position to guarantee it.
  • Though Barnes & Noble was at one time the Big, Bad, Big Box Store, endangering independent bookstores, (Nora Ephron even made a movie about it) now like all brick and mortar retailers, it is struggling. Since it is the last chain standing, my publisher, and many others, depend on its relatively larger print order to bring down the per-book cost of the entire print run. Without Barnes & Noble’s order, there might not be print editions of any of my books, or many other authors’ books, for that matter.

Will it work out? I went into it pretty blind. I worried what “promoted heavily” might mean. And about whether Barnes & Noble would even be there by the time I delivered the book and it was published. Indeed, B&N was sold to a hedge fund the very month Jane Darrowfield was released.

Edith Maxwell/Maddie Day’s book, Murder on Cape Cod, the first book in the program, was a huge hit. It went into multiple printings, and the success of that book had a tremendously positive impact on her other Maddie Day series, the Country Store Mysteries.

The jury is still out for Mrs. Darrowfield. But I’m hoping. I’m hoping the book will be successful enough that it will sell to large print and audiobook publishers and all my readers will be able to access it.

Only time will tell.

Readers: How do you react to these exclusive offers? Yay? Nay? Buy it now? I can wait? I could care?

77 Thoughts

  1. I think this new marketing strategy by B&N is fascinating. As a reader, I’m fine with buying a book I want wherever it’s made available. As an author, I want to support any and all brick and mortar bookstores. I wish you luck, Barbara, and am watching this new venture closely.

  2. I had all those same feelings, Barb, and all those questions. I’m getting that negative feedback. I’ve even gotten a disability rights message. I’ve learned to keep repeating my mantra: it will be out in all formats on all platforms in January.

    And like you, I went with the enthusiasm of the two Johns, who know the business better than I do. I recently agreed to have the second Cozy Capers Book Group Mystery in an exclusive, too, when it comes out in March. . And now, as the photographic evidence shows, B&N put the sixth Country Store Mystery on the special promotion stepladder, even though it ISN’T part of an exclusive deal. I’ll take it!

    Publishing is a mysterious journey!

  3. When there is an author whose books I particularly like, I will buy it where I can. So I will go to my local B&N, which is a 40 min drive, to buy the book. I could wait the year, as I have so many other books I want to read, but I don’t have that much patience! 😊. I want to support the authors and am very curious as to how B&N will survive – love going there roaming the aisles and getting coffee while visiting. Being a B&N member has its perks too, so I will gladly go buy the book the next time I’m in the area. I hope this method of marketing is a great success for this book as it was for Cape Cod!

  4. I agree with Annette — as a reader I’ll buy a book wherever it’s available. B&N is really the only bookstore in my city. I don’t want them to close, so I support them by buying some books there. To me, it’s no different than Amazon requiring authors to be exclusive to them with Kindle Unlimited. I’m not a huge fan of Amazon, but I do buy electronic books from them because they have the biggest selection. Several of my favorite series that were dropped and then picked up by a new publisher are now published in hardcover or trade paperback first. I prefer mass market paperback, so I have to wait at least a year for those books to come out in paperback. Some of them never do. In today’s publishing word, I think authors need to use whatever means is available to get their books out into the world.

    1. It’s a good point that often when books come out in hardcover we have to wait for the paperback. Frequently with hardcovers, the (more expensive) ebook, audiobook and large print will come out simultaneously, which makes them accessible but affordability is part of access, too.

  5. Interesting, and I appreciate you sharing. As an author myself, I understand the struggle and would never berate another author for having to make a tough decision like this. In general I am not a fan of exclusivity, but sometimes the extra merchandising opportunities and visibility are just too good to pass up. And like you said, the agreement is only for one year. I think for readers that seems like a long time, but in a typical traditional publishing timeline where the book is often finished a year before it’s released, it’s nothing. I hope your decision ends up working out in your favor, and take pride in the fact that your readers love your work enough to send you complaints!

  6. Those of us who have been published for a while have seen so many changes in the business, both among publishers and among vendors. When we started we were pretty much clueless. Once we learned the ropes, the scene changed. I have a lot of mass market books, going way back; I have far fewer hardcover books, largely because of the cost. It is wonderful to have fans who look forward eagerly to our next publication, but I can understand their disappointment when they can’t afford to buy it immediately. Telling them to wait a year is hard, and they aren’t exactly interested in the financial plans of (to them) anonymous publishers. Kensington is looking after its own interests, but in a way it falls to us writers to look after our readers. We’ll see how that works out.

    1. It is true that us writers are often the public face of the business to the readers. And “we’ll see” is the right attitude, and so often the attitude in publishing.

  7. As a indie mystery bookshop i’m happy that you’re able to broaden your readership base through the B&N route. As a bookseller I’m saddened that i won’t be able to offer your new title for a year.
    Perhaps wih your next title you can negotiate a “hybrid” exclusive leaving a % of books
    available to all indies after a set time period w/BN ( less than 1 year.)
    Obviously there is no way indies can match volume ordering of BN but a little here a little there tends to add up.
    Continued success with your wonderful storytelling adventures .

    1. Thank you so much for your flexibility, Jerry. I live in a state with one B&N for the whole state, so this would have been a useful approach.

  8. I have no problem with the new book’s arrangement with B&N, and in fact bought it there. With so few independent bookstores around, it is great to have it available anywhere! Good luck with the new title.

  9. Barb, you’ll let those of us who need the book as an audio or ebook as soon as it’s available? I’m looking forward to the new series but am afraid i’ll miss it.

      1. Thank you for that. I need the e-book due to arthritis and worsening vision. I am willing to wait the year to get it, but I sure don’t want to miss it when it comes out!!

  10. Think you have to go with what promotes your books the best way. You need to get it out there and Barnes & Noble sounds like are doing a great job of doing that. Sounds like a win – win to me.

    “Jane Darrowfield, Professional Busybody” sounds like a wonderful book and I can’t wait for the opportunity to read it.
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

  11. You absolutely did the right thing, Barb! More people, in absolute numbers, will get to read your book. And you didn’t mention that you did your part to preserve big, wobbly B&N. I’ll buy a copy asap– if I can find a B&N. Ours went out of business last year — and it was the Dartmouth College Bookstore! Don’t turn you back on the hedge fund, or meet them after dark.

    1. LOL, Heidi. Hedge funds buying retail chains is almost never a good sign, but this one also owns Waterstones in the UK and have turned them around, so there is hope.

  12. I have to admit I find it a little annoying to have to go to Barnes and Noble, I live in a very rural area and only get to an actual bookstore a couple times a year. I usually order books and many other things on Amazon, I also have some mobility issues, so I have Prime. I am spoiled, I usually preorder authors I love as soon as I know a book is available and it comes on release day. I love Maddie Day/Edith Maxwell so I ordered her B & N exclusive, it came but I was surprised at the cost of shipping and handling! I really wanted to try your new book, I love the Clambake mysteries, but honestly didn’t want to order it again, I was fortunate that it worked out I was spending the weekend with a friend that lives close to a B & N so we made stopping part of our plans. I am glad I did, only have a couple pages left and I am really enjoying it. I will say I probably would only go out of my way for authors I know and really enjoy. I would probably put the other on a list to check out when I get to the store I might buy.

    1. Thank you for going out of your way to buy Jane Darrowfield. I totally get what it’s like to live in an area where there are no B&Ns. There is only one in Maine and my nearest one is in NH. I really appreciate you making the extra effort. And yes, I was shocked by the cost of shipping and handling on B&N online.

      1. But you can buy at B & N online and if you are a member (way cheaper than Prime–though I have both) and get free shipping despite the price. I order most online from both Amazon and B & N (though it is always more expensive even with the member discount and coupons). I do go into the brick and mortar store as there are two within miles of me here in Ga. I wondered what an exclusive edition was as a book was not to be released at Amazon until Dec. and was already out in this format at B&N. I have two friends and we share books. One buys many of them and almost always at B & N, I buy the others of our favorite authors. The third gets to borrow them from us free and then all. The one friend that buys them, fills a box and sends them media mail to me. The friend that reads them free from us gives them back to me when she is done and I mail them to the other friend as she has made a closet into a library. She keeps them all (she has lots more room) and we can always reread them… A long time ago, I traded them in to an independent book store where I also got credit for books on tapes (that my husband–who does not read books–and I listen to on trips) but they recently went out of business–Humpus Bumpus Books. I found a reincarnation of it owned by a former employee just recently. I do like to go to B & N to see all of the books and authors and see what is new though they do not always buy all of them. So many books, so little time. I found yours Barbara Ross and love them, so I am sure that I will love the new series. I also have ready every book by Maddie Day and will continue to do that. I hate it when I love an author and then suddenly no more books nor a reason why.

  13. As a matter of principle, I support brick & mortar bookstores, both chain and indie. The deal that Kensington struck with B&N seems like a great way to bring authors to the front of the stores that otherwise might not get that awesome publicity. Because of the exclusivity deal for Edith’s “Murder on Cape Cod,” I stood my ground in a NYC B&N store on launch day. It had not been placed on the shelf by late in the day, and I pointed out that it was an exclusive book. A bookseller went into the stock room and brought out the books, gave me one and put the rest in their appointed place. Seems to me that if we (as avid readers) can support authors by making sure that books get seen, it will help us all.

    The cost of shipping can be avoided by becoming a member of B&N book club. I pay an annual fee of $25, but there are built-in 10-20% discounts for the books that come with the membership, making the membership pay for itself rather quickly depending on how many books you buy. When ordering online with the membership, shipping is free. You still pay the same tax as you would pay in your own State. Nook books are not included in the discounts, tho.

    I pre-ordered 3 of the latest Wicked titles through the mail at the same time from B&N and I paid no shipping, only tax.

      1. You’re quite welcome, Edith. 🙂 You and Barb may be interested to note that B&N tracks my purchases and then sends me notices about books in each of your series (along with the other Wickeds’ books) that are on sale or pre-order. Even before the sale of the company was announced, I received weekly coupons to be used online or in the store. Their prices are competitive with those of Amazon (I check), so people concerned about shipping costs for the print versions need only to become a B&N member and that all goes away.

    1. Thank you, Patti, for all you do to advocate for books. I did notice there were no shipping charges for puruchases over $35.00, but I didn’t know about the B&N club.

      1. You’re so very welcome, Barb. 🙂 For me, the B&N membership has been terrific, allowing me to buy even more books every month. I order online for many titles, then make a monthly drive to the closest B&N here in NC to pick up a bag of books for the drawings and personal reading, with discounts on everything (including in the Cafe) because of the membership. I think that you and Edith made a good decision if they promise to promote you with front of the store placement. That’s huge.

    2. I forgot to mention on the above post that we buy in whatever format that comes out first no matter the price. We want it and we want it now. Ha!

  14. Congratulations on the new book and the new sales format. I wish you much success. Thanks for explaining what a B&N exclusive is. I looked for it on Amazon first. Luckily there’s a B&N very close to me. I usually wait until books come out in the library so the lack of availability doesn’t bother me–I’m used to waiting.

  15. Publishing is indeed a mysterious journey.

    I’m like Annette. I prefer to buy the books from my local independent store. BUT if I really like the author, I’ll go where it’s available, and if that’s B&N, well, okay.

  16. What it means to me personally is that the Brooklyn Public Library System hasn’t ordered it yet, and the Queens County Library only ordered FIVE copies for all of the county. Today is the first day it’s shown up on the Queens data base and I could place my hold.

    I’m guessing that Brooklyn doesn’t buy from B&N for branch distribution.

  17. Congrats on the new series, Barb — it sounds delightful. And I appreciate you explaining your thinking about the exclusive. I’ve been admiring Kensington’s creativity in sales and promotion the last few years, and this is another great example.

    By the way, re B&N shipping costs, it’s been a few months since I ordered from them, but shipping was free for orders over $25, the same as with Amazon.

    1. Thanks, Edith. One of the things I like about being with Kensington is that they are a medium-sized business, (about 500 titles a year) and not a behemoth, so they can make decisions quickly and are willing to try a lot of different things to see what works, and then invest in what works.

  18. Barb, I think you and Edith/Maddie both made the right decision. I’m learning that being a writer is different from being a in the business of writing. You have to do what is necessary to get your work in front of the most people you can. You’ve proven yourself with Kensington and they rewarded you by including you in this new approach to marketing. I’d say that’s quite an honor. I have a friend who is a big fan of the both of you. The other day she sent me a text saying, “I loved your friend’s book, Murder on Cape Cod.” I told her she should let Maddie know. I don’t think it mattered to her that it was only available at B&N. She knew she liked the author and bought it. I’m sure I’m going to hear the same thing from her soon about Jane Darrowfield, Professional Busybody.

  19. I can certainly understand the frustrations of people who can’t get the book from Barnes &Nobel for whatever reason. Personally, if I had planned to buy it (instead of reading an ARC), I would have gladly stopped at Barnes and Nobel on my way home from work. It is literally on my way. Heck, it’s what I did to get Liz’s new book that day.

    To me, the fact that Amazon does this makes it not as big a deal. And, as has already been pointed out, I don’t see it that different from a hardcover release.

    If it were going to be only at the store forever, I’d probably view it differently. But it will be out everywhere, and we know when.

    Then again, I am an impatient person, and if I didn’t have access to the book for another year, I might feel very differently.

    (I, too, can remember when Barnes and Nobel was evil and must be resisted and destroyed at all costs. Now, we are trying to save it from evil Amazon.)

    1. “(I, too, can remember when Barnes and Nobel was evil and must be resisted and destroyed at all costs. Now, we are trying to save it from evil Amazon.)”

      Yup, the world is a very weird place. As a friend of mine says, “If you want this year to be the same as last year, you should have been born in the Middle Ages.”

      1. Yes, it does seem weird now. I loved Waldenbooks and it is gone now as is Oxford Books in Atlanta. Every time I do go to Denver, I visit The Tattered Cover Book Store and Powell books in Portland, Oregon. Great places. Remember that Amazon does sell from third party booksellers, many of which are independents. I like to have a physical book. I do have a kindle but mainly use it when traveling or playing games (though I always take a real book) as a back up so I won’t run out of reading material. Also there are some e stories that only come out on kindle.

  20. What a wonderful explanation! I’ve seen a lot of people complain about these B&N exclusives, but I love them. Yes, I am fortunate enough to live in a town with a B&N, but even if I didn’t, I would just order from them online. I’m a B&N member so I always get free shipping but shipping is free if you spend $25. I’m sure it is frustrating to wait a year if you want a different format or if you live in another country. However, I shudder to think of Amazon controlling the book market. I want B&N to give them a run for their money. And if it helps you cozy authors sell more books, all the better!

    1. I read an interesting article about a new/old view of anti-trust law where Amazon is not a monopoly for the consumer, but it is a monopoly for the distributors because they have to play ball with them. Apparently this the theory that resulted in the breaking up of Standard Oil.

      1. I wondered about that. After Amazon purchased Whole Foods, it seemed as if they had moved waaay past the line into being a monopoly – so why isn’t the government stepping in? Thanks for the info. 🙂

  21. Since I don’t have an e-reader, I appreciate being able to buy books through brick and mortar location. Books that are available as paperback online makes it harder to buy as I need to gift card of at least $25 so I have free shipping.

  22. Fascinating and educational post, Barb–thank you! The publishing industry is changing so quickly, who knows what model will become the new normal? And I say, any way folks can get their books published and out there is great. Congrats on the new series, and may you have ginormous sales!

  23. Barb, I hope to get that book this week. You’re an author I’m familiar with and whose other books I own. I will read yours in whatever format I can get them. Same with Edith/Maddie’s Murder on Cape Cod. I love her books, so I buy them. As soon as I heard I could get Murder on Cape Cod at Barnes and Noble, I ran out to their local store. I stopped having reservations about buying books at a chain bookstore when I remembered that they employ our local residents. By supporting B&N, I’m also supporting my neighbors. On the rare occasion when I’m anywhere near an independent bookstore, I visit the store, but I’m not going to pass up a store that’s practically just down the street from me.

    1. You are right that retail stores employ and pay our friends and neighbors. The new management of B&N is talking about making the stores even more locally-focused. Of course, I don’t know what that means for chain-wide programs like the Kensington B&N exclusives!

  24. Thanks for taking the time to provide this explanation. It must be so hard as an author to get your work some visibility and to compete with all the other books out there and Amazon’s rules and practices and weirdness. We have a B&N five minutes away. I was surprised when they closed the one in the next, bigger, town and left ours open. But sadly due to competition, trends, pressure, who knows it’s more like a toy store, book clearance center, coffee shop with some new books thrown in. I still go there, especially if a book like yours is only available there, but the old joy of sitting in the comfy chair (gone) reading for an hour or so or enjoying coffee is gone. The children’s section has been reduced in size to make more room for clearance tables and the music/video section is gone to make room for more toys and Pop figures. Maybe the sale will turn it back into the neighborhood bookstore I loved to hang out in.

  25. I’ve lost track of how many times I have waited a year for a paperback edition of a book to come out because it was only available otherwise in hard cover, sometimes with audio or e-versions available, but I waited because I wanted the paperback. So, waiting a year for one particular format to come out, while it might make me impatient, hasn’t hurt me and I have still bought the book when it did become available in the format I want.

  26. We have gotten spoiled by having so many options in book buying. It really wasn’t that long ago that most books were first published as hard bounds and only later came out in paperback. There were no other options. I’m lucky to have a B&N where I live. I’m a member, but didn’t realize that free shipping was a perk. I prefer browsing in the store and having a cup of coffee there.

    When I get back home to Lancaster, PA, from visiting my daughter in Arizona, I will head over to B&N to browse and buy your new book. Looking forward to it. I’ll also confirm that the book is prominently displayed.

    1. I can remember those days vividly. I even remember with my very, very favorite authors ordering the UK edition if it came out months ahead of the US.

  27. When Borders closed, Barnes & Noble was the closest bookstore so I joined their membership program. I think it is great that the store is featuring cozy mysteries instead of just bestsellers. I have so many books to be read that I have no problem waiting for a book to come out at the price or form that I prefer. I bought Maddie’s book and loved it and just read Carlene O’Connor’s. I plan to pick up yours on the 17th when hopefully they will also have my Special Edition romance series books.

  28. This was interesting & thank you for sharing. I don’t usually think about the business side of publishing.

  29. While I am sad, and voiced it that I have to wait a year for the ebook since I can’t hold paperbacks well, I understand and support your decision. At first I was a bit negative about those who went into Amazon’s program that kept a book from other vendors but I realized that authors have to do what is best for their books. As for B&N, I support anything that will help their brick and mortar stores, even if I can’t read those book. Books stores have been among the loves of my life. I hope this program works well for all of you. I will be happier when I get my hands on the book but I wish you, and the other authors in the program, well in the mean time.

  30. I am unable to purchase this book being a Canadian. If this series continues, I may or may not read it as I like to read series in order. I know you need to try new things and opportunities, to introduce your books to new readers and I respect that.

  31. I purchased Maddie Day’s book and liked the idea that it was at BN only. While I have 2 readers one Amazon and one Nook, I like my paperbacks.
    I will definitely buy your new series too. I think it is a good thing for authors in that BN does recommend and put the book front and center in their mystery sections.

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