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.
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.
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?
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?