A Rant and a History Lesson in Publishing

Being in the publishing industry, you come across a lot of stigma and negativity about self-publishing. Right off the bat, I have to be 100% honest here and agree that not everyone who self-publishes should do so. But, I also have to point out the snobbery that usually underlies the argument that “self-published authors are just people who weren’t good enough to get a publishing deal.” Yeah, I’ve heard that song and dance before. Lots of times. It’s practically a chorus on constant loop in the background. You don’t always hear it said to your face, but you can tell by what the person is saying and not saying that they’re definitely thinking it.

Earlier this week, I came across something that got my hackles up:

Witers

Can you feel the condescension? I spent an hour mopping up that dripping sarcasm and my floors will never be the same, I tell you. Obviously, whoever wrote this doesn’t know anything about the history of publishing, nor do they care to. Therefore, this post is not for them.

This post is for every self-published and aspiring author out there who might come across bullshit like this and get discouraged before they’d even had a chance to excel. So let’s break this cesspool of a superiority complex down to its elements and translate.

WHEN I WAS YOUR AGE, WE RELIED ON EXPERTS AND EDUCATORS…

Translation: I am jealous and resentful of the resources you now have at your disposal.

Safe to assume, I think, that this is referring to an age before the Internet. Because these days, we still rely on experts and educators. We just don’t have to drive out of state to find them and talk to them. You can literally Google anything and get a flood of results. If you’re any good at distinguishing pop culture crap from academic works supported by a bibliography of legitimate sources, you can learn anything about anything.

WE ALSO NEEDED CONTACTS TO OPEN DOORS WE NEVER KNEW EXISTED

Translation: I am jealous and resentful of the resources you now have at your disposal.

Yes, this one is sadly true, networking back in the day was difficult and a lot of talented authors never managed to get their foot in the right door. But you actually still need agents, industry contacts, and networking to get published by one of the Big 5 today. The difference is there are now smaller publishing houses, too and most of them accept direct submissions by authors. The difficulty now is not “how to get a publisher” but “how do I make sure my publisher is legit?” Also, “what happens if/when my publisher goes under?” Because that happens. Which is why you should always read your contract very carefully before you sign.

AND THE NOTION OF SELF-PUBLISHING…

Translation: I am jealous and resentful of the resources you now have at your disposal.

Welcome to the modern age, where every tool you need in order to put out a quality product is actually accessible to anyone. There are freelance professionals with those same decades of experience who can format and cover your book without the need for a publisher. There are print-on-demand companies that can produce your book to market standards and ship them to stores, or directly to your readers. And get this, these same companies… also work for publishing houses. :O What is the world coming to?!

BUT TODAY’S WRITERS ARE APPARENTLY EXPERTS IN ALL THESE FIELDS.

Translation: I am jealous and resentful of the fact that I didn’t have the tools to do what you do, and that had to struggle to get someone else to do for me what has now become so easy for you to do for yourself, so I will belittle everything you do so you never forget your place: beneath me. Because I had people to do it for me, and you have to do it all yourself.

Yes. Some self-published authors actually are experts. Because they spent the money on the right tools, took the time to learn, and went through years of trial and error to get their books on par with traditionally published books. These unicorns who are not only gifted enough to have written a book, but multi-talented enough to master the business aspects of publishing exist–and they’re not as rare as you might think. The fact that these options were not accessible to older writers, or that those older writers didn’t want to take advantage of the options they did have does not in any way diminish the accomplishments of today’s self-published writers. In fact, their accomplishments are bigger and go much deeper precisely because they did it all (or mostly) on their own. An added benefit or two: We now get to control how our books look and feel, and we can do it in our own time. No more deadlines or delays while we wait for our turn on the waiting list.

HOW THINGS HAVE CHANGED…

Translation: I am resentful of the fact that I can no longer use my publishing deal as a status symbol and jealous of your many skills, which I never had to learn.

Yes, things have changed. Quite a bit, actually. And believe it or not, it’s only a bad thing if it threatens your own delusion of superiority. Do bad books and badly put-together books get published? Absolutely. But that goes for self-published and traditionally published titles. The backing of a publisher’s reputation might help ease the marketing burden of selling books, but it is no longer a mark of higher quality books. The playing field is more level now, and that’s what this ugly, sarcastic rant was about all along: fear of competition. It’s easy to become a best selling household name when there are 1,000 books published every year. But when it’s 1,000 every day, the equation changes. Today’s  new authors have a good sense of what they’re getting into and they’re prepared to fight the battle to the top. It’s the older ones, who started out when times were cushier, who struggle to come to terms with the here and now. And it’s usually the ones who cannot or will not change with the times who lash out the hardest at those of us who do.

THERE, NOW THAT’S FIXED. MOVING ON!

Speaking of experts and years of study, I don’t think whoever originally posted that rant actually consulted either. Because, you see, a simple Goolge search showed me there is a very thorough breakdown on The Legacy of the Vanity Press and Digital Transitions in the Journal of Electronic Publishing. It’s long, so give yourself time, but you should definitely read it. Because you know what? It turns out author-subsidized publishing goes back to the 1800s. Back then, as today,  there were legitimate reasons and honest business models for author-subsidized publishing (what became referred to as vanity publishing). The stigma around it emerged early on, but grew over time and became exponentially worse with the advent of eBook publishing and self-publishing.

We (the self-published author population) have transformed the entire industry so quickly even some of us still have whiplash. The gates have been opened to all and, at the moment, it really is a bit chaotic. Fortunes have been won on the backs of Indies (*cough*Amazon*cough*) and we continue to adapt, improve, and in general move forward toward a new future. Traditional publishing hasn’t been the only game in town for a long time. My prediction is, now that the floodgates have opened, there will be no closing them. No one has any intention of going back to how things used to be, so you might as well get used to how things are.

AND NOW SOME TIPS

  1. If you are passionate about writing, write.
  2. If you are passionate about getting your work out there, find a way to do it.
  3. Put in the effort to learn and do it the right way. Make your book as professional as possible to meet market standards.
  4. Whenever possible, go one step beyond and do just a little bit better than you did last time.
  5. Save your pennies and keep that day job, because this path ain’t easy, or cheap.
  6. Support your fellow writers instead of tearing them down.
  7. Never give up on doing what you love.

And now I think I’ll get off my soap box and go do some writing.

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2019 Industry Predictions

I have shared one of Mark Coker’s prediction posts for 2018 in last January’s post, and I am sharing the 2019 post here. I am sharing it, because most of what he talks about in this post is something I’ve already seen, felt, and experienced myself as an author.

I think a few of my recent posts might already have illustrated how the stagnating market has been pressing on me personally. They have been downers, to say the least, and I suppose I should apologize for that. This blog was meant to be a place for education, not emotional ranting. But in a sense, it also illustrates what many, many, many other authors are feeling. Yes, times are tough. Yes, sales are down across the board. Yes, our market is oversaturated, and we’re all scrambling to pedal our feet a little harder, churn that cream a little faster so the resulting butter will allow us to climb out of the hole.

But even with all of this going on, I’m still not ready to give up. I’m changing my strategies, but I’m still moving forward, and fighting hard to look ahead, rather than focus too much on right now. Book publishing is a marathon, not a sprint. And because of that, we all must think long and hard about how we spend our energies.

For those interested in more details, you can read the full post of Mark Coker’s 2019 Book Industry Predictions.

A few things I will share from my own experience to add a personal twist to these predictions:

Audiobooks

Having had my first one produced last year, I can tell you for a fact it is not cheap. It is also not another get-rich-quick scheme. It faces the same marketing challenges as eBooks and print books: if you don’t promote, you don’t sell. But what audiobooks do is bring you to another potential market segment, and that is always a good thing. I had already planned to do more audiobooks, and now I think it’s time to move up my plans just a little. I think the cost will be worth it in the long run. For me, anyway. 🙂

Facebook

If you’ve seen my Twitter profile, you will see I haven’t tweeted anything in ages. Twitter has never been my preferred platform. It’s too fast, and I can’t ever keep up. I think I just gave up on it, to be honest. If you’ve visited my Facebook profile recently, you may have found a notice pinned to the top, saying I am on hiatus from social media until further notice. It’s true. I haven’t logged into Facebook since January 1, except to tack that post on there. It’s done miracles for my state of mind. I’m calmer, I have more time to read and write, I focus better, and think clearer. I hadn’t realized until I left Facebook how great, and how negative an impact it’d had on my life in general. I probably won’t shut it down all together–I can’t afford to, now that I have actual events to attend. I will need to promote the hell out of those in any way I can. But I don’t plan to ever spend as much time on it again. My time is better spent on more productive things. Like writing.

Blockchain

This is one point on which I want to disagree with Mr. Coker. I see huge potential in Blockchain technology, especially when put into proper use. I think it would do wonders for the industry if the secondary market was opened up to authors. If readers can resell the books they don’t want to keep, and authors have a way of earning a portion of that sale, everyone wins. Right now, eBooks are pretty much a “final purchase” situation. As in, once you buy the eBook, unless you return it within the allowable time frame (if the retailer allows it), you will never get that money back. That is not to say that buying an eBook isn’t a worthy investment, by any means. But we’re allowed to sell our used paper books. Why not eBooks? It would eliminate the risk inherent in trying an unknown author’s work to know you can recoup at least some of your cost, wouldn’t it? And if authors can get paid along the way… But of course the retailers would never allow it to happen. It would cut far too much into their profit margins.

Amazon Algorithms

On this point, I agree wholeheartedly. Having experimented with Amazon ads over the last few months, I have seen the pay-to-play scenario first hand. It’s vicious, expensive, and unfair to all authors. (cue me stomping my feet and holding my breath) The fact is, if you have to pay Amazon for visibility, you are paying them back the royalties you ought to be earning. In my case, I was willing to take a loss on an ad to see if it would work. In the long run, it didn’t. I never recouped that investment from eBook sales, not even when I factored in sales of books other than the one I advertised.

Conclusion

All of this will have an impact on my business strategy moving forward. It’s always good to stay on top of what’s going on in the industry and, even though the news is pretty bleak, it’s pretty much what I expected. That at least tells me I’m finally getting the hang of this business. I can put two and two together, and make plans accordingly. Of course, no one has a crystal ball, but I tend to err on the side of caution, which has served me well so far. So, for 2019, my plans will be to keep writing, limit my time on social media, and focus on the long term.

Novel Writing: The Go Broke Quick Scheme

Every once in a while, I still come across writers who operate within the fantasy that all they have to do is put a book out there and the money will start pouring in on its own. It’s a fantasy perpetuated by a long, long tradition of putting best selling authors on a mile high pedestal and poking fun at the average Joes and Janes by painting them as talentless losers. Authors make it all look so easy by design, because we all want to celebrate our successes. Admitting our struggles and failures is something we keep for our closest circle of friends and colleagues who understand exactly what we mean when we say, “My sales are going nowhere. I think my career is over.” They understand because they have been there, or are right there with us.

But there are still those who are either unaware, or intentionally dismissive of how the world works. A while back, I saw someone post a complaint about how they published a book on Smashwords a year ago and it never sold anything. The writer was very bitter over this, and blamed Smashwords for hyping up Indie authors and not delivering on those grand promises. In response to that, here is where I completely shatter the delusion that getting a book out into the world is a get rich quick scheme.

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An Introduction to Blurb

A short and sweet post today introducing Blurb.com. 🙂

As you may have heard, CreateSpace, Amazon’s Print-on-Demand publishing arm has closed down. This has been a long time coming, and started with CreateSpace closing down its online store many moons ago. Now, the entire department has been merged into KDP, Amazon’s eBook publishing platform. Reviews are mixed for the time being. Some authors find the process of setting up a print edition easier when they do it in the same place as the eBook. Others find it cumbersome and run into problems, especially with the cover. Many have complained that orders process slowly and ship even slower, sometimes in strange ways. I saw one photo post showing the 5 copies the author ordered each packaged in its own envelope for shipment, indicating that each was printed at a different facility. My take on this is that the transition is overwhelming to their systems and they are working out the kinks associated with processing a large number of bulk orders. It may pass, but it will take time.

I was prepared to give them a chance–until I read the new terms of service. I had moved all of my print productions from CreateSpace to IngramSpark earlier this year, anyway, and pulled all of my CS editions out of distribution, so the change-over didn’t really affect my active distribution, but I had several titles set up with CS which had never been intended for distribution to begin with. They were titles I had set up for myself, just to have a few copies of my shorter works that aren’t really suitable for sale as a printed book. I was hoping to keep those still available through the new KDP platform. Unfortunately it turns out KDP took a page out of IngramSpark’s playbook and they no longer allow books to be activated without distribution.

This has yet again thrown a massive wrench into my plans, so I went looking for other solutions. I already knew about LULU, but I’m uncomfortable with their setup system, the cover print quality left something to be desired last time I tried them, and they are about twice as expensive for author copies as IngramSpark. That was not going to work for me…

And this is how I came across Blurb.

My study is still on-going but, so far, it appears to be the perfect solution to my needs. It’s a print-on-demand service that has several options for distribution (or not). They do soft and hard covers, photo books, and magazines, even eBooks. Their print trim sizes are very limited compared to KDP or IngramSpark, but the most common sizes are represented, so that should not be a problem for most authors.

But best of all, they have formatting tools available that promise to be a heavensent for Indies. The one I just downloaded and installed is an InDesign plugin that creates the template for you, based on the trim size you select, and gives you the ability to upload your files directly to Blurb without leaving InDesign. If you’ve ever formatted your own book, I don’t have to tell you how magical that is.

I plan to explore this platform a lot more, and will have a follow-up post on how it works, their print quality, etc. It probably won’t be any time soon, because I have too many pots boiling over on the stove as it is, but one of those pots involves me getting ready for my very first book signings next year, so I definitely need to get on top of this. For now, I present it to you as one more option for your publishing needs. 🙂

Because having options is good.

UPDATE (11.3.18): Naturally, I couldn’t not check it out, so I downloaded the InDesign plugin and started playing around with it. First time with anything, I naturally floundered a bit, took me about 4 hours to get my ducks in a row. I ran into an issue when I tried to upload my files through the plugin. 11pm, I sent a message to their tech support, asking for help and I went to bed. I figured I wouldn’t hear from them until next week at the earliest, anyway.

Imagine my surprise when I logged into my email this morning and discovered they’d already replied with specific instructions on how to get around the issue. The message was time-stamped 12:00am. Less than an hour after I’d reached out to them. To say I am gobsmacked is putting it mildly.

For anyone looking for Print-on-Demand services, you should definitely check out Blurb. 🙂

The Hard Truth About Self-Publishing

The conversation I saw went roughly like this:

Indie Author: Everyone so concerned about Amazon removing reviews… They’re doing it to remove fake reviews. Reviews should come from strangers, not from your friends.

Other Indie Authors: You’re missing the point. They’re removing legitimate reviews for no reason and with no notice.

Indie Author: If Indies are so worried about Amazon, they should start their own Indie platform. You gotta spend money to make money. You should be doing ads to get more sales like I do.

Other Indie Authors: Dude, most Indies don’t have that kind of money.

Indie Author: Ha ha, then they should get a job. I figured a lot of people would disagree. You guys just don’t get it.

I’m still waiting for an explanation of what this “it” is supposed to be that Indies aren’t getting and a manual on how to do it “the right way.” I don’t think one will be forthcoming.

So let’s look at some facts, stats, and numbers from an AuthorEarnings and WorldOMeters report to see why Indies might not be getting the sales their books deserve, or why their net royalties might be less than they expected…

  • As of Feb 2017, Amazon accounts for 82% of English Language eBook purchases
  • Indie Publishing accounts for 34% of the U.S. market
  • Comparing Indies with Big 5 authors, 91% of Indie sales come from Amazon (this includes KDP Select exclusive), versus 70% for Big 5 authors
  • Amazon-exclusive authors are earning more dollars than widely-published authors earn at all non-Amazon retailers combined (this includes scammers, however)
  • As of April 2017, the per-page payout from Kindle Unlimited was $0.00488/page. At this rate…
    • A 250-page book would earn a royalty of $1.22.
    • Compare that to the same eBook selling as a stand-alone title at $2.99 and 70% royalty rate where the author would earn $2.09.
    • At $3.99, that royalty would be $2.79
  • In 2010, 328,259 new titles were released in the U.S. alone. That’s almost 900 new titles every day, and that number has likely grown since then

Where you publish matters. How you publish matters. But even if you do everything right, with proper formatting, a professional cover, several weeks on Pre-Order, and a vigorous marketing push through various outlets, that last statistic alone is a staggering hurdle to overcome.

On any given day, your new release is competing for attention with about 1,000 titles. The next day, it’s 2,000, and the day after that, 3,000. This is just to stay visible at all, much less in any significant capacity. Authors who don’t have the backing of a Big 5 publisher are essentially tiny plankton particles floating around in an ocean filled with other plankton, pollution, and lots of much bigger creatures, all of which make them pretty much invisible without either a massive, pre-established audience, or a hefty advertising budget (and the expertise to make it work).

Believe me, every single Indie author out there with at least one book release under their belt is aware of the factors affecting their (lack of) sales. Every single one of them knows (or should know) that writing is art, but publishing is business, and it takes money to make money. The problem is, the vast majority of them don’t have the initial capital necessary to invest in that business. Many of them have limited resources to work with, and they often choose to spend those resources on making a quality product.

Here’s the problem with the publishing business: Quality is no longer the determining factor in book sales. It doesn’t matter how amazing your book is if no one ever gets to find out about it. It doesn’t matter if you have the most beautiful cover in the world if no one ever sees it. It’s not the best Indie authors who get the sales, it’s the ones with the cleverest advertising strategy and/or questionable ethics.

Here’s the other problem with the book industry: Publishing is expensive–for the author. Everyone takes a cut, everything costs something, and those costs add up fast, especially when the pressure is so intense to price books lower or free.

Helpful hint: If you give your product away for free, you’re not making any income. If you invested any money into its production, that money is now a net loss. If those hundreds of downloaded freebies don’t lead to sales of your other books, you’re dead in the water on that front, and right back at square one. Yet authors have been told to price their books free for so long, it’s now not only accepted, but expected as a standard practice.

Bottom line: Telling someone they need to invest more into their book business is like telling a drowning man he just needs to swim harder.

If you’re financially successful as an author, kudos. You earned it, and I’m happy for you. But don’t put down those who are struggling daily to make a go of their dream. That just makes you a jerk.

If you’re out there, making sacrifices, losing sleep, losing friends, ignoring loved ones, and hustling every free moment you have to not only write your books, but make sure they’re seen, you have my most humble respect. I see your struggle. I share it. I wish I had a winning strategy to share with you, but I don’t. All I can do is share what I know in the hopes that it’ll help someone else.

No one ever said it would be easy, but I don’t think any of us ever expected it to be this ridiculously hard. Stick with it, anyway. Write your heart out, give your book the strongest wings you can, and then let it fly. Your words are your legacy to the world. They deserve to be shared, and they deserve to be enjoyed.

I love you, fellow Indies! ❤

 

Update: Publica

Hullo boys and girls, Alianne checking in again all quick-like because this was too good not to share. Remember this post where I talked about the new kid on the block, Publica? Well, I’m signed up for their newsletter and one of their most recent ones announced that they are looking for authors to publish their books through their systems now. Ground floor entry, if you have a book ready to release this year. For now, the process is to fill out an interest form here, and they’ll contact you with additional info if you’re chosen.

If you’re still not convinced, or if you’re as confused about the entire process as I was, check out the video below, which explains the technology in very simple terms. Hint: Pay very close attention to the resale capabilities, where readers can resell their copy of your book to others, and you get a percentage of that sale.

As authors, we’re always looking for new readers, but as self-publishers, we also have to look for better ways to sell our books. Call me a bright-eyed idealist, but I think this may be it. 🙂

Opinion: Addressing the Chaos

There’s been a lot of stuff happening in the book world recently that’s kind of sort of turning things inside out and upside down. It’s big enough that it warrants a post (warning: it’ll be long), so I’m going to address two things I’ve seen floating around: #Cockygate and the recent blunder by Amazon. But first, a disclaimer: Everything in this post is my observation and opinion. I will not be linking external sources because I trust that those who want to know more will find ample sources all on their own, and I don’t want to add to the viral nature of this mess. Basically, I’m chiming in, but urging everyone to do their own homework and not take my word for it.

So here we go…

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Why Self-Published Authors Are Amazing

If you’re following my blog, you’ve seen me post some rants about this or that. I do it to air out my own personal grievances, but also to shed some light on current events happening in the book world. Cathartic and educational. Win-win.

But today, I want to do something different. Today I want to tip my hat and give a nod to every self-published author out there, because the Indie community is a truly amazing and humbling place. Yes, it has its problems–all communities do–but on the whole, its members are some of the kindest, bravest, most supportive, most intelligent people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting.

Too often, the label of “Indie author” or “self-published author” still evokes the unfair stigma of being sub par, unworthy when compared to authors on the other side of that gilded line of traditional publishing. Today, I want to show you why that is just not true. I want to show you that Self-Published Authors are…

…Creative

It goes without saying that writing a story takes massive amounts of creativity, no matter how that story gets published. But the creativity of a self-published author goes beyond the story to everything around it. There are authors who make their own book covers, create their own marketing campaigns, even manufacture their own giveaway swag. The beauty of self-publishing is that there are no limits or restrictions on what we can do.

…Resourceful

When there’s no one to keep you on the straight and narrow, you have to forge your own way. That includes learning as you go, figuring out how things are done, and finding resources to do it. Publishing is an expensive business, and rare is the author with more than a shoestring budget. That makes self-published authors very good at forging mutually beneficial relationships, finding the best deals, and the least expensive (yet still just as effective) tools.

…Supportive

On the whole, self-published authors tend to view each other as colleagues, not competitors. They network, share recommendations, offer support, guidance, and encouragement, and even help each other promote each other’s books. What other industry do you know of where this is the norm?

…Entrepreneurial

Regardless of the way your books get out there, as soon as they do, you officially become a small business owner. But for self-published authors, that definition goes deeper and far wider. They are in charge of it all, from editing to intellectual rights management, and everything in between and beyond. That means an Indie author is a writer, a publisher, an accountant, a PR guru, and a public figure all at the same time. That’s a lot of hats to wear. But don’t they look fabulous?

…Trailblazers

Bypassing the traditional publisher gauntlet allows self-published authors to bring fresh, new ideas straight to the reader. They are on the bleeding edge of fiction, inventing and defining new genres, and bringing us amazing stories publishers never knew readers have been yearning for.

…Trend-setters

By virtue of necessity, self-published authors have to look beyond what is to what is possible. Being unfettered by a set of house rules, they are free to explore the possibilities, take risks, and discover new ways of doing things–and they share their discoveries with each other, and with traditionally published authors, as well.  They open doors few people knew even existed–including self-publishing itself. Let’s give credit where credit is due: A great many Indie authors chose this path not because they were rejected by publishers, but because they never wanted that approval in the first place. And many others chose to leave their publishers for the express purpose of publishing independently. This is not the course of last resort detractors would have you believe it is.

…Generous

Self-published authors have the freedom and opportunity to do things traditionally published authors simply cannot do. They can share as much of their new releases for “preview” as they like; set their own pricing to super low, even free; and give away as many book copies to as many people as tickle their fancy. In fact, the community is known for this more than anything else.

…Approachable

The great thing about bypassing the middleman (publishing house) is that it brings self-published authors in direct contact with their readers. Their success is directly dependent not just on how well they write, but how well they interact with their readers, which makes Indies the most welcoming and approachable of authors online, as well as in person.

…Nonconformists

Sometimes, rules are in place to protect the wrong interests. Sometimes, those rules need to be broken, and self-published authors aren’t afraid to band together, take a stand, and make their voices heard for the good of the whole ecosystem. Indies changed the face of the industry in a matter of a handful of years, and while publishing houses are still scrambling to adapt, Indies aren’t finished yet.

…Professional Storytellers

Emphasis on professional. That little detail tends to be conveniently overlooked whenever someone trash talks self-published authors. Are there bad apples in the bunch? Absolutely. The same is true for traditionally published authors. But look at the talents that, against all odds, had broken through every barrier, hit the bestseller lists and taken off like one of Elon Musk’s rockets. That is the standard all Indies are striving for. On the whole, when everything else is stripped away, an author is a story teller at heart, and their passion is to tell the best story they possibly can. The best part about self-published authors is that their story will be all their own, unfiltered, uncensored, and free of any cookie cutter standardization.

And for all these reasons…

If you haven’t read an Indie book, I highly recommend you give them a try. You may be pleasantly surprised. 😉

Smashwords Partners With Findaway Voices

On March 21st, Smashwords announced it was partnering with Findaway Voices to help their Indie authors with the beginning stages of audiobook production. In the blog post, Mark Coker shared the basics of the partnership and his observations on how audiobooks are a growing market and a new opportunity for a wider audience for Indie authors.

It was all great news. What the blog post didn’t share, however, were some additional details I later found in this Forbes article where Mark Coker contributed an interview.

Here’s the deets:

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The Amazon Vise Cinches Tighter

Don’t worry, this won’t be a rant, or an Indie self-pity post. My aim is only to present my observations. A couple of days ago, a fellow Indie author sent me a private message with a link to a blog post talking about Amazon’s latest hijinks. I didn’t think much of it at the time, since I was still half out of my head with the flu, but then I slept on it, and slept on it some more, and the more I thought about it the more it bothered me.

Take a look at the two images below. See if you can spot a difference:

I’ll give you a hint: Look at the green text in the Buy New box. See it?

The first picture is of the original edition of my paperback novel, published through CreateSpace. The second is the newest edition published through IngramSpark. And the two images together illustrate Amazon’s latest policy to disrupt the supply and demand equation to skew it in their own favor. Since they are both print-on-demand, there is literally no difference between a CS and IS book purchase, other than Amazon makes more money on the CS one. But the different ways they are displayed could make a huge difference in which version (if any) a reader will choose to buy.

It preys on a customer’s need for instant gratification

Amazon has built their very successful business model on two things, one of which is their ability to deliver your purchases faster and cheaper than any other retailer. By slapping on a notice that effectively tells shoppers they will have to wait longer for their copy of the book, they are creating an instant subconscious disappointment and dissatisfaction in the product before the customer has even had a chance to get it.

It creates an artificial sense of scarcity

Amazon’s second cornerstone of business is unrivaled levels of inventory. Amazon is Aladdin’s cave of wonders. They have anything and everything, and they have boatloads of it for people to buy. That’s what keeps shoppers coming back. The new notice on the product page sends the message that this particular item is out of stock, which inadvertently reflects badly on the publisher (in this case, the self-published author) for failing to anticipate demand.

It creates unfair competition

Okay, to be fair, this is Amazon’s own store, and they have every right to try to put their own products forward as best as they can. It’d be stupid of them not to. But it goes much deeper than that. Think about it. Amazon now has the largest piece of the market pie when it comes to books and eBooks. Every measure they have taken so far has been aimed to solidify their stronghold on that market share, or to increase it. They do it through exclusivity, through undercutting competitor prices (seriously, their ToS flat-out state that if you publish a book on Amazon, the price has to be equal to or smaller than at any other retailer), and through policies and algorithms that create advantages for those who play along, and massive hurdles for those who don’t. With this new measure, they are basically saying, “If you want to actually sell your self-published print volumes, you need to publish them through us.” This is why other bookstores don’t want to play with you, Amazon.

So where does that leave Indie authors? 

Between a rock and a hard place.

Once again, we are forced to either straddle the fence, or make a difficult choice between going wide, and going deep. If you publish through CreateSpace alone, odds are good your book will never be stocked on store shelves, because no store will want to buy product from their direct competitor. If you choose to publish through a different service, such as IngramSpark, your chances of getting a book into physical stores might be slightly better, but now it’ll have to jump through hoops on Amazon, which is still the biggest bookseller and generates the highest royalties income of all other retailers for most authors.

Nothing says you can’t do both. In fact, the blog I read advised just that: Publish your book both through IngramSpark and CreateSpace, and then contact Amazon and tell them to source the book through CreateSpace so it always shows as in stock.

But I have a problem with this strategy. It as good as flushes a chunk of the money you invested into an IngramSpark distribution down the toilet. It’s like you’re saying, “Hey, I spent a boatload to get these books published through this other source, but you guys don’t like it, so that’s cool. I’m just not gonna advertise those editions where I am most likely to get the greatest number of sales for them. Still friends? Sweet.”

Yeah, I’m stubborn, and not much of a team player (which is probably why I will never make any real money from book sales…). I deliberately priced my IngramSpark editions slightly lower to play Amazon’s algorithms so that the new versions would show up on top. I did this, because I want those gorgeous new covers to show up in search results. I didn’t want all that effort, months and months of hard work, to drop into obscurity. But I’m also not an idiot, and I am keeping an eye on this new development and making sure to let my readers know 2 things loud and clear:

(1) My books are absolutely 100% available at Amazon, and there is 0% difference in shipping & handling time between the CreateSpace and IngramSpark versions; and

(2) Those same books can also be found at other retailers, often times at a discount that might be a better deal than Amazon.