THE BLOG

Authors Caught Between Inky Mom & Paper Dad

03/26/2013 04:30 pm ET | Updated May 26, 2013

Who remembers shaking in bed while Mom and Dad fought?

"Damn it, Harriet, we can't go on like this! You're spending money like a drunken sailor, but I'm not seeing a dime!"

"For goodness sake, Ozzie. Spending money where? Tell me! Where?"

"Fine! How about those fancy dresses you wear to work? How much do you pay those designers, huh? Everyone but me seems to get the benefit."

"Don't you want me to look good?"

"I want you to give me the biggest shot at you. I want to know that I'm the important one to you--not those other guys. And until you figure out how to give me a bigger share of your attention, don't expect anything from me. You're not getting one more dress out of me."

"Fine! I don't need you anyway!"

"What about the kids, huh? They need me."

"We'll see about that."

Who are these kids listening while Mom and Dad fight?

Some facts:

1. According to the New York Times:

A standoff over financial terms has prompted the bookstore chain Barnes & Noble to cut back substantially on the number of titles it orders from the publishing house Simon & Schuster . . . Industry executives, as well as authors of recently published Simon & Schuster books and their agents, say that Barnes & Noble has reduced book orders greatly, to almost nothing in the case of some lesser-known writers.

Judging from how much the order for my new novel, The Comfort of Lies, was reduced, I am firmly in the "lesser known" camp of writers. Luckily, my two scheduled B&N appearances were allowed to go on, but judging by the overall number of books ordered, the buy was enough to cover those events and a trickle more.

2. The events I had at B&N in Manhattan's Upper East Side and Freehold New Jersey's stores were wonderful. The staff was nothing less than fantastic and supportive.

Barnes and Noble bookstores have received a ton of love and money from me over the years. I have an ongoing membership, and in my attempts to be 'fair' I've often divided and balanced my book-buying dollars between independent booksellers and the chain. (And if you looked around my house, you'd see how many of those dollars have been spent. I am a fool for hardbound books; I never exit a bookstore without a purchase. I believe in book karma.)

3. I've been nothing but happy -- nay, thrilled, working with Atria Books (a Simon & Schuster imprint.) My editor, Greer Hendricks, embodies everything I hoped an editor could be: she's smart, caring, warm and she laughs at my jokes. Plus, we share a deep and abiding love of Allure magazine.

Everyone I've worked with at Atria has been wonderful. From the top (Judith Curr) down they're terrific and caring professionals. Even when things went wrong (glitches are inevitable) we shared kinship in solving the problem.

So, in effect, I have no dog (or am I the dog?) in the negotiations between Simon & Schuster and B&N. And, as in any family separation, we author-kids are pretty teary over the whole thing.

At the risk of sounding like a big baby, this is how it played out at my house:

Shortly before my book launch, I was told that because B&N and S&S couldn't agree on terms, the B&N order for my novel was reduced by 90 percent. The display space for my book (so important when a book launches) was reduced by 100 percent.

Obviously Barnes & Noble outlets aren't the only bookstores. Independent bookstores sales are growing -- I've been lucky enough to visit many of them since my book was released. But B&N's footprint is large and important and we were not included in those shoes.

I cried. A lot. And in the weeks since my book released I cried (and cursed) a lot more, especially when folks wrote asking why they couldn't get my book (many readers live in towns where Barnes & Noble is the only bookstore.) They asked why Barnes & Noble didn't like my book.

I added cringing to the crying. I pored over my reviews as though they were they were the Holy Scriptures, running my fingers over each word for approbation.

I'm not a loser, I'm not a loser.

Even though my book being unavailable had nothing to do with me, no one knew that. Staff at B&N was uniformed and unaware of the problem, telling readers everything from 'perhaps this is a self-published book, which we don't carry?' to 'you can order it, but we can't have it sent to the store.'

One works for years on a book, through revisions, rejections, waiting, patience, more revisions, more patience. Selling it takes iron will and a thick skin. After finally reaching that goal, getting caught in something that requires you to roll a boulder of promotion not just uphill, but up a right angle, can shatter your reserve.

But you roll on.

I had a bit of sad wisdom to draw on -- when my first book launched (The Murderer's Daughters) it was caught smack on the day of the Amazon-Macmillan war. So my shock was tempered by 'what now?" And in the sadness/relief that is misery loves company, I had partnership with M.J. Rose, whose trade paperback version of The Book of Lost Fragrances had just been released.

M.J. and I are sisters of the 'Plan B' set of mind. We danced with the ones that brung us and came up with our Indie Love Award, aimed at Indiebound bookstores, including other Simon & Schuster authors affected, as well as authors from other publishing houses. And as quickly as we came up with plans, Atria Books joined us in the execution. They worked hard with us to overcome the problems of not being available at Barnes and Noble, but overcoming that lack of visibility was a major obstacle to both visibility and sales.

In response to this situation, Ronlyn Domingue (Ronlyn's debut novel, was described as "that rarest of first novels--a truly original voice, and a truly original story," in a Library Journal's starred review. Writing about her second novel Kirkus Review wrote, "Domingue entwines genres to cast a spell upon its reader) said:

About one-third of the readers who contacted me after my debut novel came out said they'd found The Mercy of Thin Air while browsing in a bookstore and took a chance on it. Those front-of-the-store placements gave that novel unparalleled exposure. Readers have not and will not discover my second novel, The Mapmaker's War, in the same way--or any books by my fellow authors who are dealing with this situation.

Holly Goddard Jones (about whom the New York Times wrote "Ms. Jones has a talent for making even scenes apart from the central mystery feel suspenseful. She also has a precise eye and empathy to burn, bringing each of her many characters to well-rounded life.") is grateful for the huge effort Touchstone/Simon & Schuster is making for her novel to try to combat the B&N effect. They partnered with Gillian Flynn and Goodreads to give away 1000 copies of The Next Time You See Me in the hopes of starting a word-of-mouth groundswell. It's an example of the extreme measures the publisher must take to give books releasing during this time a fighting chance. Still, even with all that effort, Holly says the effect will be chilling:

The situation probably looks from the outside like an impersonal clash of corporations, but most of the authors affected live outside of that world. We have day jobs, and our hope isn't to be bestsellers but to have the opportunity to reach an audience and to keep publishing. Bad sales records haunt an author throughout her career, and so it's frustrating to not get at least a fair shot at success in the critical first months of a book's release.

Amy Hatvany released her fifth book, Heart Like Mine on March 19th. Her last book was a Target Book Club Pick, she's been lauded by authors from Jennifer Weiner to Luanne Rice and Library Journal described her last book as "vivid and written with a depth of feeling," but she feels no safety during this period of semi-invisibility:

I feel a little like a child of feuding parents as they try to work out the terms of a successful separation agreement: loving them both, appreciating what each of them does for me so much, but caught in the middle and unable to take sides. In divorce, the children suffer. In this case, the affected authors do. I'm worried about how long this will go on.

The feeling of being caught in the middle echoes with author Sarah Pekkanen, whose books have been lauded in People, Oprah and Entertainment Weekly. Her new novel The Best of Us is releasing in April (receiving a starred review in Publishers Weekly, who described it as "a deeply enjoyable page-turner") and she's praying the problem will be solved by then:

I adore my publisher and Barnes & Noble has always been so wonderfully supportive of my books, too. It's almost like we authors are kids caught in the middle of an acrimonious divorce. We're hurting, and we desperately need both sides in our lives. We all have the exact same goal here - to get people reading our books - and I can't express how much I hope this will end quickly.

Library Journal gave Jamie Mason's debut novel Three Graves Full a starred review, calling it "a quirky and downright thrilling treat that is not to be missed." The New York Times wrote, "Mason has a witty and wicked imagination," yet despite her universal laudatory reviews, she fears readers won't find her book:

There is this sense that after all the writing, then learning that you don't know how to write, then actually writing, then learning the rules of the business, then submitting in between the painted lines of those rules, then pacing a hole in the carpet − that after all the "hard" parts, that you're in the clear.

Well, newsflash, they're all the hard parts. And not just for the writers. A lot of work from an awful lot of people goes into attempting commercial success with a book. From the agents through the editors and publishers, the distributors, and the booksellers, they all have a stake in this pile of words I wrote. I don't forget them in this tangle we're in, nor do I feel forgotten just yet. I do, however, feel like I have terrible timing.

The thing is, there are more books. Every day there are more books. I do worry that a resolution will come way past my stop on this train. So it does hurt - quite a lot, really - to imagine that after clearing all the other hurdles, that timing will decide what happens to Three Graves Full more than any effort any of us put into it.

Ann Hite called Gwendolen Gross's latest novel, When She Was Gone "A perfect balance of darkness and intricate struggles. Mix in a nail-biting plot and you have one outstanding read," and she's been lauded from Glamour Magazine to The Christian Science Monitor, making it even more gut wrenching when she realized her book was caught in this situation:

Writing is solitary. Reading is solitary. Publishing and bookstores make these two into a profoundly social act. I adore my editor, S&S, my indies, Amazon, and my local B&N, and I'm really sad that I feel ashamed to meet my friends at B&N, where I regularly recommend a pile of books (and usually purchase my own heap), and tell them no, they can't get my brand-new release here, or Randy Susan Meyers', or Holly Goddard Jones'; they'll have to go elsewhere (we are lucky there are still indies, (and libraries) but so few!). It's a disappointment, and a waste of potential, and something sadly divisive in an already difficult and passionate world.

Debut author Hilary Reyl was featured in Oprah Magazine and USA Today for her novel Lessons in French. Her reviews have been stellar, the book's been called a "romantic and sensual delight" but the current situation has her deeply worried:

As a debut author, I have been elated to have Simon and Schuster as my publisher and have been working tirelessly with my publicity team leading up to my release. The fact that my novel is now virtually unavailable in the country's only retail book chain is absolutely devastating. While I am privileged to be part of a community of writers doing everything we can to get our books out there, there is no substitute for the visibility Barnes and Noble offers.

Multiple New York Times bestseller Jodi Picoult isn't immune to having her sales affected, and yet in the midst of her own grueling tour for The Storyteller (working to make up for lost visibility in Barnes and Noble) she's reached out to help other authors, including going out of her way to list authors affected through her use of social media.

Picoult also took the time to share a post written by M.J. Rose, which gave a quick synopsis of the problem, along with cataloguing some of the authors made invisible by the Barnes and Noble blackout. Rose, described by the Washington Post as "an unusually skillful storyteller. Her polished prose and intricate plot will grip even the most skeptical reader," released the paperback of The Book of Lost Fragrances in February, with almost no Barnes and Noble store availability. Now she's readying to launch her next book, Seduction, which will be her fifth time awarded the coveted Indie Next Pick.

M.J. Rose is one of the hardest working and most generous writers I know. I pray that Mom and Dad will have kissed and made up well before Seduction comes out. Rose deserves that, as do all her readers.