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. 😉

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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.

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