Know your enemy
This isn’t the post I set out to write this morning. For a bit, I considered putting up a blast from the past. I’m operating on very little sleep and getting used to a new laptop with a keyboard that feels very, very different from my previous one.. Then I realized there’s something I want to discuss, something that came up in the comments from my post last week–Amazon and what we really feel about it here at MGC.
Let’s set a little background. Sarah, Kate and I jumped into indie publishing as soon as Amazon opened its doors to us. Within a week of the ‘Zon announcing and then opening up the self-publishing platform, I was at work setting up accounts, learning how to put out the best looking e-book we could, etc. I’d have to go back and check, but I think our first titles went up within a month or so of the platform going live.
Back then, options to publish outside of traditional publishing outlets were limited, to say the very least. We had Smashwords. I think Ficitonwise was still in existence but they had been declining for a long while and it wasn’t long before they were bought up by B&N and then shuttered. Amazon offered hope for those who either couldn’t break into traditional publishing or who decided they didn’t want to go that route.
And damn but we were condemned. Our work was called sub-par without even being read by those condemning it. Why? Because we hadn’t gone the trad route.
Then a few authors like Amanda Hocking broke out as indie authors, making a million dollars or more. Suddenly, traditional publishing sat up and started paying attention. Some of these authors were offered publishing contracts. Some accepted and have done well, while others accepted never to be heard from again.
Through it all, Amazon continued to expand and grow its self-publishing platform. This is even in the face of other booksellers refusing to stock books that came from Amazon imprints, etc.
But Amazon isn’t perfect. We all know that. We at MGC have been quick to point out when it’s dropped the ball. Yes, it made a huge gaffe with the 1984 debacle. In case you’re not familiar with what happened, someone uploaded a version of 1984 and placed it for sale. The problem? They didn’t have the rights to the book. Amazon overreacted. Instead of contacting those who bought that particular digital version about what happened, refunding their money and removing the book from their library, Amazon reached out and simply removed the book from their library and devices. Then the explanation came.
Yes, people felt violated. Yes, they were angry. It was poorly handled.
Amazon has, on occasion, screwed the pooch when it comes to removing books from its sales pages. We’ve all seen the cries of outrage on social media when someone’s book has been pulled. There have been times when the action has been taken without cause. Titles have been caught up in purges simply because the web-crawler Amazon used to find offending titles caught it due to meta data or something else.
But here’s the thing. More often than not,those wrongly caught up in these purges have been returned to active sales status. We just don’t hear about that. It’s so much easier to blog about outrage than it is to say someone admitted a mistake and corrected it.
It is also easier to take to social media to piss and moan about how you’ve been wronged than to act like the businessman–sorry, businessperson–we are supposed to be and handled it in a businesslike manner. Instead of taking to social media to bitch about how Amazon (or any other platform) wronged you, contact them and find out what happened and why your title was removed. If that first person you talk to can’t tell you and can’t help you fix it, move up the chain of command. Yes, it is frustrating. Yes, it takes time. But it can and does work. I know because I’ve had to do it. In my case, it took more than a week and I worked my way up to the “assistants”who answer emails sent to Bezos himself. In very short order at that point, the situation was corrected, my book was returned to sale and we moved forward. Yes, I lost sales. But I kept everyone informed of what I was doing to correct the situation instead of simply bitching and moaning. Sales picked back up and the book was not, in the long run, hurt by the delay.
Here’s the thing. Amazon is a business. It is in business to make money. As long as indie authors are making it money, it will continue to work with us. Is it any better or worse than any of the other platforms out there? In some ways it is better and in some ways it is worse. It isn’t the only platform to remove books from sale. It isn’t the only platform to remove books because of covers. However, unlike Kobo, it has returned books for sale if covers were changed. Kobo, from personal experience, locked those books down and, in my case, I was never able to put it back up for sale.
I dislike the hoops we, as authors, have to jump through to talk with an actual person if we do have a problem. It is better now than it used to be. Still, if you don’t know where to go to find that help button that gets you a call, you’re up shit creek and relegated to dealing with them via e-mail. Of course, that’s not necessarily a bad thing because, while it slows the process down, you have everything in writing and that can be important in the long run.
I also wish we could do things like put our books up for pre-order on Amazon without having to be exclusive to the platform. But guess what? You have the same restriction on other platforms as well. Yes, there are some exceptions, but it usually means going through a third party aggregator and that, in turn, means you as the author are getting less money in your pocket. That’s not what any of us like to see, is it?
I don’t like putting all my eggs into the Amazon basket. However, they are the 300-lb gorilla in the publishing world, especially the indie publishing world. Their marketplace is where most readers are. It is where the vast majority of my sales come from. Unless and until someone comes along with a viable alternative, it is where I will remain. I may not like it but at least I know the pitfalls and an take steps not to run afoul of them.
And that’s the thing we have to all remember. We, as authors, have a business relationship with Amazon (or any other platform we sell our work through). We have a contract we’ve agreed to, one that includes terms of service. These terms lay out what we can and cannot do. Read them before you put your first book up for sale. But don’t forget to go back and check for changes in the ToS on a regular basis. That is your first step in making sure you don’t run into trouble where Amazon is concerned.
Document everything. If you have a problem,you’ll get a quicker response and, hopefully, one you want if you can show what steps you’ve taken along the way to make sure you are in compliance with the ToS.
Be flexible and don’t knee-jerk straight to social media if something happens you don’t like or don’t understand. Take a deep breath, grab your documentation and then contact Amazon. Work with them to correct the problem and keep pushing up the chain of command. (The same goes no matter what the platform.)
But always be wary. Amazon is out for the benefit of its shareholders and itself. We are assets to it. But here’s the thing. We are nothing but interchangeable cogs for any of the platforms that allow indies to sell their work through them. Amazon hasn’t done anything the others haven’t done as well. It simply gets the press about it because “Amazon!” Let’s face it, Amazon is the Trump of publishing in a lot of ways.
Amazon is far from perfect. That said, it is still the major outlet for indie authors. We don’t have to like it, but we do have to learn to work with it. At least we do if we want access to the vast majority of potential readers, especially in the US. What we do with it is up to each individual author, just as it is with each individual reader. For me, I work with Amazon and will continue to do so until a better alternative comes along.
It is my hope that won’t be too long in the making. Why? Because Amazon having a healthy competitor will make it better for all of us, readers and writers alike.