Debut authors getting squeezed? What are you doing Barnes and Noble?

Hello Readers!

This week I am pretty upset by the recent news about Barnes and Noble who have said that they will not be stocking in their stores any more hardcover books by debut authors unless they are best sellers (but will be available for order on their website).

What??? Who are you now Barnes and Noble? Do you even know who your customers are?

Let’s dive into this drama…

The Problem

Since the traditional publishing marketplace has changed dramatically over even a few years, business are trying to stay profitable and efficient however some of their business decisions cast doubts on their own business long term futures. Barnes and Noble, (for those outside of the united States market) is a major book retailer with in store book stock similar to Chapters-Indigo in Canada or Coles. Its essentially a big retailer for books.

At one time Barnes and Noble was the top retailer in the United States but quickly lost market share to Amazon over the years. Amazon however does not have their own brick and mortar stores and therefore loses most walk in traffic which is still a sizeable chunk of Barnes and Noble’s business model. That is who they are.

The problem however is that Barnes and Noble is trying to do more online sales to compete against Amazon while trying to figure out how to stay alive in business. More than likely they are trying to create better revenue streams and lessen their overall expenditures. Business’s do weird things for the almighty dollar sometimes.. This is a huge problem because unlike Amazon Barnes and Noble is far, far behind Amazon the online sales and distribution business. Growing or even competing with Amazon toe to toe on this prospect alone is a losing proposition. So why are they moving in this direction?

It’s my opinion and many others that they shouldn’t even bother and instead invest in staying true to what made them great in the first place. Supporting new authors with physical inventory in their stores for people to come and shop in a book store.

People like going out especially if they have already decided that’s how they like to buy books. So why all the shade being thrown for new debut middle-grade authors?

The News is bad for new debut and upcoming authors

Unfortunately the direction Barnes and Noble seems to be taking is that they are saying that they will only be stocking physical books on the shelves of best selling authors and brand marketable books that they know they can move (ie sell).

Its all about money…

What irked me further was that Barnes and Noble specified said that new debut Authors in the middle-grade fantasy genre will still be available online for preorder and orders but not in store in physical stock unless you are a best seller? Come again? Who is going to walk into the store and order it or not go to amazon’s site on their own for (usually) cheaper?

What that means is that any new authors trying to gain market sales of books is caught in a chicken or the egg situation!

Without physical books in stores it means less exposure for new authors on their first book and it also means less marketing and advertising promotion being spent on those new authors.

this doesn’t help new authors at all. In fact it hurts any new debut authors careers before they even begin.

Taking away the rug out from under new authors is frankly hurtful.

Making matters worse, it’s unclear whether other indie book stores or other wholesalers will follow suit (some already are because of less shelf space like Costco wholesalers) but this means that competition has shifted to the already established and best selling authors who already have massive sales or discoverability.

Without “book in hand” availability and exposure, new authors will suffer in sales as not everyone buys their books online or knows how to search for debut authors. Even worse, the only “book in hand” I have seen lately is in discount book stores at reduced prices. This doesn’t help debut authors at all.

Those debut authors that want to sell now require larger marketing budgets because the availability of the book and getting the word out is that much harder to pull off without a large social media following. debut authors, the agents and the publishers need those initial sales up front and at full retail prices in order to claim a mark on the way to best seller status.

By the way, the New York times Best seller list status simply means, 5,000 Sales in one week after publication date from various retailers (ie not all in one store). Its a bit more complicated than that but essentially that’s what the status means.

This also potentially means new authors will also receive less advances in the future affecting them greatly because as most authors know, having a great selling track record is important when negotiating future writing advances and royalties with publishers.

The Traditional Publishing Industry impacts

Take away the marketplace opportunities and you affect everyone in the chain.

I can definitely see this affecting new authors, agents and publishers in various ways. Some good, most badly. I am mostly guessing here but I think the domino change effects are as follows (industry people, feel free to correct me here):

New authors – Less royalty and bargaining power, less sales due to the cover purchases or “book in hand” sales, extended times of new books going on submission due to overwhelmed industry, More authors may choose self publishing but not all can afford or understand how to do it successfully (its complicated). Debut authors querying their new book to an agent is going to take even longer of a process due to the backlog of agents now prioritizing their work schedules to work only with best sellers to achieve revenue for themselves and the agencies. Authors will have no choice but to work longer and harder at titles (taking away revenue and income) in order to break through. Marginalize and BIPOC authors will be affected due to not having the income sustainability and life style in the beginning of their career to hang on. Lower advances for new debut authors means more “one hit wonders” and less long term sustainability. Less voices and visions in the book world mean the choices will eventually stagnate sales overall. Writers will start to give up on traditional publishing.

Agents – ¬†Agents will need to prioritize their time meaning they will put even less priority on incoming queries and instead focus on established best selling clients and brands to keep revenue up. Midlist clients will take a backseat. New Agents will find it difficult building their lists because of the new stringent requires of the marketplace and pitching will become even more important with publishers. Agents and agencies will have no choice but to invest in more ways to advertise or promote book sales themselves and figure out ways of marketing and social media to stay relevant otherwise they won’t make sales. Agents will need to read full manuscripts more often in order to establish “best seller” potential rather than just query letters alone.

Agencies – Agencies will need to find ways of being even more efficient and invest in time management technologies and policies in order to cope because income will start drop off with less authors getting published. Agencies will need to find ways of having their agents work more but for less. Hiring more assistants in the short term but longer term developing even more “picky” systems for querying and debut authors submissions. Many agencies may just close up queries entirely for certain genre’s once market saturation occurs.

Publishers – Less physical book orders for the stores means less printing of hardcovers for their debut authors. debut authors may find themselves with the publisher cutting back on free copies or print runs for their books without charging new authors for extra copies. Publishers receive less sales which means they are less likely to pay bigger advances to new authors. Best seller status starts to get reserved more for those authors who’s marketing budgets are bigger such as brand authors and most well known authors. Publishers may switch to Just in Time Print on Demand options to reduce their own costs meaning production quality may decrease. This may affect domestic printer houses as more offshoring continues. Paper shortages will be eased a bit however. Amazon will force the publishers prices down even more affecting bottom-line and advances paid to authors on future books if they don’t make the best seller lists.¬† Publishers will be less inclined to provide much in the way of marketing or promotions except for well known and established brands (even less than they do now). Publishers will continue to try and merge pushing out the mid and small publishers as books become more commoditized.


I have come to a crossroads in my traditional publishing journey. Knowing the market is no longer certain, do I continue moving forward trying to publish my book going through the traditional path only to end up with meager returns and exposure or do I self publish the book, go into a lot of debt and spend even more time trying to figure out how to market and promote the book myself? A daunting task and decision…

For all you new debut authors out there, I sympathize. It’s going to be a rocky journey either way you slice it.

For now however please turn your attention to one of my favorite Publishing industry teachers on YouTube, Michelle Shusterman who puts this all more elegantly than I ever could. I encourage you all to watch her videos and subscribe!

Until next article! Keep creating (even if for yourself instead of the market),

Try to stay positive!


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