Don’t Panic, Keep Writing
All you have to do is go onto Facebook or look at any of the other social media outlets to see that the Chicken Little Syndrome is alive and well in publishing. Unfortunately, I’m not just talking about legacy publishing. There is a sense of panic in the air, much if not most of it fueled by rumor and innuendo and biased reporting in the media. You know the latter is true when Publishers Weekly posts an article about how there is more to the Amazon-Hatchette contract controversy (not conspiracy, as others would have you believe), noting that Amazon isn’t totally bad in what is going on and that it has, in fact, done some good for the industry.
What is getting to me is the panic I’ve been seeing of late among some indie and small press authors as well as readers when it comes to Amazon. From the reader side, I’ve seen Amazon accused of fraud because, gasp, when they initiated the new “Manage your devices” page, there were some glitches. You could still download directly to a device from the device interface. You could buy e-books exactly as you could before. But for a few folks, few being relative when you consider how many customers Amazon has, you could not send an e-book to a device from the Manage Your Devices page. It was a temporary glitch, one I experienced firsthand. But, in my case at least, it was fixed within a matter of hours. I hadn’t even bothered to submit a trouble ticket on it. I realized they’d rolled out a new interface and, having been around too many interface launches in my life, I knew there could be a glitch. So, giving them time, I waited and the very next time I checked, all was well.
But oh the handwringing and name calling against Amazon that ensued, often from those who hadn’t even realized there was a problem until they read it on someone’s wall or on an email forum.
Now there are a few folks upset because Amazon has supposedly stopped discounting their Createspace published hard copy books. I’ve seen several folks talking about it on social media over the last day or so but, funnily enough, when I use my google-fu, find nothing else about it. Not that it helps these folks if there is a mistake on Amazon’s part. However, I’m not sure there has been one. If Amazon, or any other retailer, decides to discount an item — and it is a unilateral decision and not one established by contract with the supplier/creator — there is no obligation for the company to continue discounting it forever. Can you imagine walking into your local grocery store and demanding that the pizza or ice cream or Kobe beef you saw with a discounted price a month ago be sold at that same price today?
Then there are those who still believe Amazon killed the indie bookstores and is now killing Barnes & Noble. As I’ve stared before, it wasn’t Amazon that killed the indies. It was the sudden influx of the big box stores like B&N and Borders with their larger selections — which led to larger buying ability and more influence with publishers and distributors — that did. These big box stores could buy at a discount the indies couldn’t and could sell at lower prices. Remember those free customer loyalty cards when the stores first entered the market? Sign up, give them your email address — if you had one — and get your discount on best sellers, etc.? It was really cool.
And then there were the coffee shops and comfy chairs. You could spend a day at the store, browsing, reading, drinking coffee. It was wonderful. We were so busy enjoying ourselves, we didn’t notice the mom and pop shop quietly going out of business.
But it was such a good thing for the big box stores that they continued expanding until they over expanded into the market. Big stores turned into bigger stores and then super stores. Where they were once twenty miles apart, they were suddenly across the street from one another. Even the chains had stores often within a mile or two of another of the chain’s stores. So they were suddenly competing with themselves. But the decline in profits was the fault of the economy or the landlords who negotiated contracts that were weighed in their favor and not the store’s.
But it is Amazon that is killing the stores. The same stores that refuse to stock Amazon published books. Hmm….a bookstore refusing to sell a book simply because of what corporation publishes it, no matter what the public demand for that book might be. Sounds like good business practice to me — not.
All of this has been distracting authors, folks who ought to know better. No, I’m not saying Amazon is all wonderful and beneficent. Far from it. It is a business, out to make money for its shareholders. However, Amazon is also the first major outlet that opened up for authors who were already being abandoned by their publishers and for those of us who couldn’t get in with a “real” publisher. It isn’t that we aren’t good enough — some indie authors are, at least in my opinion, better writers than those being published by traditional presses right now. But these same indie authors aren’t conforming to what the bean counters in New York think will be the next big deal. They are committed to writing stories they want to write and, in doing so, are meeting a demand the publishers still deny is out there.
It was Amazon that, approximately five years ago, opened up its Kindle Digital Platform to indies and first allowed us to bring our work out. Yes, there were other outlets before then, mainly Smashwords in the States, but Amazon gave us a wider audience because of the Kindle. Still, even that was seen as an evil attack on publishing.
It’s funny, thinking back on it, to remember that there were no such panic attacks when Barnes & Noble brought out what was then called the Pubit platform for indie authors and small presses. There was even less of a hue and cry when Kobo opened up to indies. In fact, the latter was lauded because it was a strike against Amazon. Boo, Amazon!
The truth of the matter is Amazon is a business but we, as writers, are also businessmen (okay, sue me. I used the masculine there). Whether we like it or not, we need to look at our writing as our business. That means we need to pay attention to what is best for getting our work out into the most hands while, at the same time, making the most money for ourselves. That means we have to look at what our royalty rates are, when we get paid, how we get paid and how much it costs to get our work ready for sale.
We have to look at things that go beyond the time it takes to write a book or short story to the programs we need to do so, the tech we need to be productive, cover art and design, etc. Much of the actual design and conversion of a work into e-book format can be done with programs that are free or cost very little. Even cover art can be found for free or for just a few bucks. Where the real money can come in is in how we distribute our work.
For those who are bitching and moaning that Amazon has taken away the discount on your hard copy books, the first thing you need to do is find out why it did so. Contact Amazon. If you didn’t put the book out yourself, have your publisher find out. But don’t expect Amazon to continue discounting something forever. Not even Walmart does that.
Now, if you still don’t like the fact that Amazon no longer discounts your book, look at how much it would cost to put out the hardcopy of your book through other distributors than Createspace. Some distributors will charge approximately $500 just to set up the book for publication. This isn’t editing. It is setting up the file — even though you have already sent them print ready pdf files for both the interior and exterior of the book. There are other fees involved as well and it is very easy to run up a bill of $500 – $1,000 or more before the book is even printed. Hmmm, there is no setup fee for Createspace and no distribution fees any longer. So, how many books would you have to sell to make up the difference in price?
But even that is something you spend maybe an hour or two every few days or weeks worrying about. It should not be something you spend your every waking moment thinking on. Your job is to write, first and foremost. None of the rest of it matters one little bit if you don’t have something ready to publish. So quit buying into the latest conspiracy theory about Amazon or publishing or whatever. Instead, sit your butt in the chair — or, if you are like me and have an injured hip that makes sitting problematical, stand — and get to work. Write. Write the best damned story you can. Then, when you are ready to publish, decide what is your best marketplace. Where are you going to make the most money? Like them or not, don’t do the proverbial cutting off of nose to spite face and boycott that marketplace. Put your work up there and make money.
Money is good. Money lets us keep writing. It puts food on the table and kibble in the cats’ bowls.
But write. As I said, none of the rest of this will matter if you don’t.