cambriaAuthor Cambria Hebert has penned a blistering open letter to Barnes & Noble on her blog, in which she discusses how she’s tried long and hard to get Barnes & Noble to recognize her independently-published books and stock them in its stores, but Barnes & Noble has consistently turned her down. The first time, her book was rejected with a “we don’t do self-pub” form letter response (even though her book technically wasn’t “self-published” in the usual sense, it was professionally-published through a LLC named after her so it’s easy to see how B&N could have been confused), so Hebert shrugged and kept plugging away, and tried again with later books.

When she tried again with her new title #Nerd, she got a friendlier but nonetheless condescending rejection of her book, which was available via distributor Lightning Source and should full well have been available to order via B&N. The form response she got talked about how she could make the book available as a Nook e-book and for special order via Barnes & Noble, even though she’d already done those things and it already was. She wanted B&N to stock it in stores, so it would have visibility to browsing customers—but Barnes & Noble wasn’t interested.

Hebert spends the latter half of the post angrily scolding Barnes & Noble for not giving independent publishers a chance. Given how quickly the publishing industry is changing, sticking with major publishers risks Barnes & Noble being left in the dust.

As I pointed out in my submission letter, adding just a few select independently published novels widens your potential. It not only introduces new and exciting content to readers who love to browse your shelves, but it also is a huge step in showing that you as a company are willing to be at the helm of this changing industry. It shows support in the written word and authors with talent.

I can certainly sympathize with her frustration, though I have some sympathy for Barnes & Noble, too. Barnes & Noble is in the unenviable position of being a legacy brick-and-mortar store trying to compete in the new era of publishing. It’s effectively whiffed on e-books. It only has so much space in its bookstores, what is it supposed to do? It’s not Amazon, which can and does carry everything (including having an extensive Cambria Hebert page of its own).

But on the other hand, I could argue that perhaps if Barnes & Noble devoted less space in its stores to toys and other boutique gimmicks, it might have sufficient room to put in an independently-published shelf or two. It might be a problem picking out which ones go in, but there are sales figures and things—including its own sales figures from, where it does carry such books and would be able to know which ones people were actually ordering from it. (Then again, the store chain and the web site are different companies, and B&N’s brick-and-mortar locations can’t honor the web store’s prices, so there might be other barriers in the way of that.) At any rate, just because it can’t stock every independently-published title in its stores doesn’t mean it shouldn’t try to stock some of them. It can’t stock every Big Five book, either, but still carries plenty of those.

When you come right down to it, it’s very hard for a big company to change its mindset about anything. Companies founded in earlier eras like that tend to be set in their ways, and run from the top down by people who’re still trying to compete in the world as it was a couple of decades ago. Maybe that’s why Barnes & Noble has done so badly, but still doesn’t even seem to know it has a problem.

In the end, I don’t think Barnes & Noble is likely to change—and if it does, it won’t be because of one heartfelt open letter from a justifiably angry independent publisher. When it comes to staying in business in the new publishing era, this may be just another brick in the brick-and-mortar wall sealing Barnes & Noble up like the victim in that Edgar Allen Poe story.


  1. I already responded over at DBW, so here’s a trimmed version of that comment.

    What we have here is a single rejection letter from a single author frustrated by their failure to get the approval of a gatekeeper (one which no longer matters). How do we know that this is evidence of a policy against indie titles, as everyone is assuming?

    We don’t.

    The problem with seeing this in terms of indie v trad, and concluding that B&N won’t stock indie titles is that B&N only has the room to stock about 1% of the books published each year (and that isn’t counting the backlist). How do you know this title wasn’t considered on equal footing before being relegated to the 99%?

    • Very good points here. I don’t know if my book was considered on equal footing because they didn’t tell me. I do wish they would have elaborated a bit more on the refusal. But, I do also realize they are highly busy and don’t have time to reply to everyone. I am somewhat assuming there is a policy against indie titles because there are no indie titles in Barnes and Noble. I’ve also never read (which doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist) a statement or letter of any kind from the corporation saying they don’t have a policy against indie authors.
      Thanks for joining in the discussion!

  2. The open letter to B&N is ridiculous. Hebert forgot to include an array of information – such as her distributor doesn’t have a return policy that brick & mortar stores need. She also fails to mention THAT she is not a best selling author – why would someone like BN give her the time a day over the Indies that consistently make the best selling list? Surely, those authors have a right to be miffed. When she comments about her Facebook page size, her conveniently forgot to mention that the substantial size is because of a Facebook fluke error after she posted a random photo and gained 40K likes in one day (mostly from Asia).

    BN isn’t the bad guy here, the temper tantrum is. Hebert’s career is stagnant. No agent, no trad offers and she’s not making any best sellers lists.

    The next open letter will be to Amazon when she doesn’t make a list.

    Her continuous temper fits on Facebook are starting to grow old with other authors. When she has achieved the status that others have than she can start complaining, but until than she needs to keep her thoughts to herself. Clearly, BN has more important things to do and worry about whether or not her mediocre selling series is in their stores.

    • Roe-
      thank you for taking the time to read my letter in which I state my opinion. I also appreciate you joining in the discussion here about a topic I think is important to the publishing industry right now. However I do find a few errors in your judgement of me in your comments.

      1) I DO in fact mention I am not a best-selling author with no title to my name. If you read my letter thoroughly you would see that.

      2) I’m not throwing a temper tantrum, I also stated that. I did not pen this letter because I’m angry I got rejected (Which I also stated). I wrote this because its something that I have been seeing and thinking about during my 5 year career. This is my opinion in a letter form, something I wrote on MY blog to get a discussion going. It must be working because here you are throwing shade.

      3) Also, you seem to know an awful lot about my career… most of it inaccurate. MY distributor Ingram (Lightning Source) DOES in fact have a return policy. My books are set with a retail discount that make it so retailers such as BN can still make a profit off them when they sell them. My books are returnable to the distributor (an option that is in the Ingram account dashboard) so it makes it a lower risk for a chain retailer to give the book a chance on shelves. If you would like more information on Lightning Sources Return policy I suggest heading over to and checking out all the information before you assume to know something about a a product.

      4) I DO have a lot of Facebook likes but I think even FB would laugh at you saying I got all (almost 70,000) likes off one photo I posted. Yes, I did have a photo of a glass house go viral, its been seen more than 15 million times but I had a lot of followers before that. ALSO, i would ask if someone liked my page because of a fluke photo why then would they still be on my page almost a year later? If I was so dreadful they surely would have unliked me by now.

      5) I’d like to know what temper fits you refer to on my FB page? Most people who know me know I aim to be professional, polite and very thankful to anyone on my page. I’d also like to know what authors are tiring of me and if it’s you they told about it? Are you also an author? Maybe fighting the same fight all of us are? I wrote this letter to give a voice to ALL indies, not just me. I’m out here in plain view, perhaps you’d like to let us all know who you are.

      I do agree however, Barnes and Noble does have more important things to deal with other than my “mediocre series and stagnant career”. As I mentioned in my open letter, they are a large corporation and have a lot of factors to consider.

    • Roe,

      I don’t know you (or perhaps I do? Your relative anonymity on this post leaves for a lot of potential), nor do I know Cambria very well. She and I are friends on Facebook, though, and I can’t say I’ve ever seen her post anything other than polite and professional conversation. I make a point to avoid drama, especially on social media, and I would certainly not place her anywhere near that category or I’d have blocked her long ago. Your comments around this seem transparently personal, and don’t sell your point especially well.

      Cambria did mention her lack of letters in her blog post. She also mentioned in her articulate (I didn’t pick up ‘temper tantrum’ as a theme, but perhaps my definition differs from yours) opinion piece that she intentionally selected Lightning Source as a distributor in order to meet BN’s requirements for returns and shelving. No, that does not guarantee anyone a space on their shelves, but it does remove an important barrier. Considering the costs of doing business with LS are not minor, I take this a sign of how serious she treats her business.

      As to the comments around her career- what is your barometer for what can only be perceived as an insult? I see #Nerd everywhere- it’s all over my feed, and not coming only from her. It’s one of the most solid marketing campaigns I’ve seen in the past year or two. While I don’t have access to her sales data (nor do you, I should point out), I do see the excitement around what appears to be, contrary to your claims, a career on the rise. Stagnate seems to be another word you and I have different definitions for.

      Pointing out an apparent inequity in a business’ process or practice is not new, nor should we discourage anyone from doing so. If Barnes & Noble wishes to refute the assumptions made, they are welcome to do so. I’m sure many authors would love to hear their public stance on the matter.

      ~Sarah (real name; I stand by my comments, private or public facing)

  3. For my first few books, I did try to interest Barnes & Noble’s Small Press Department:

    Like her, the letters I got in reply were obvious boilerplates, so gave up the idea as too much bother. Some issues aren’t even worth getting upset over. I’d rather write than dabble with promotion.

    Those who’d like to get into bookstores will probably have more sucess visiting local bookstores and talking with their managers. Some even have tables for local authors.

  4. As someone who has no idea how this works, what is the process for a book to be stocked in a B&N store?

    Is it someone at head office decides for every store or is there a lost of approved books and then a manager at each branch selects what to have in their store? It would be interesting to know

  5. As someone who works for a publisher, I’m afraid I have to take B & N’s side here. To assume that as a self-published author that you have the right to be carried by a major retailer assumes that all authors published by actual publishing houses are automatically carried, which is not the case. The average book by a publisher has less than 1% chance of being stocked in a major retail store. For every available bookstore shelf space, there are 100 to 1,000 or more titles competing for that shelf space. Let’s take a very niche genre like business books even: in any store, the number of business titles stocked ranges from less than 100 (smaller bookstores) to up to 1,500 (superstores). Yet there are several hundred thousand business books in print that are fighting for that limited shelf space. These are all business books that have been published by legitimate publishers. We often have to fight to get any coverage for our new releases.

    So, if a vetted, professionally edited, marketed work still can’t get carried in a bookstore, what right does a self-published author where the work has not been vetted or professionally edited have? If your self-published book has a right to be on the shelves, then so do the other self-published books by people who claim that Jesus was in fact a lizard from outer space. It’s about quality control as much as profitability.

    And if this smacks of publisher’s elitism to you, then perhaps you are not seeing the bigger issue: publishers are gate-keepers but it doesn’t mean they are infallible. However, their existence relies on the books they publish and so they do vet for both quality and publishability and they have the tools and the knowledge to do so. A self-published author arguing to be carried in a store that carries traditionally published authors is a bit like a self-trained surgeon complaining that he is not being allowed to practice in a hospital. Yes, he may be a genius, but what are the odds?

  6. Try Kindle and get some sales first. Then, talk to the community store buyer. They will want an order of 100 books. You need an ISBN and some other paperwork. Do a print run with a decent printer. Fill the order. Ask about putting up an marketing card. They usually say no. If your 100 sell, they will pay you a commission and place additional orders.

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