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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.

16 Comments
  1. Exactly. Without Amazon, I’d still be sitting here, gnashing my teeth and wringing my hands and trying unsuccessfully to apply my lips to an agent’s butt instead of having 13 books published and available for people to buy. And no, they aren’t perfect, but they’re the best game in town. I’ve tried going wide and not only do my sales fall, but my per-book return plummets. Like you, I’ll stick with what works until and unless something better comes along.

    August 13, 2019
    • Exactly. I bet you also make sure you meet the terms of service you agreed upon and don’t look for ways around them, assuming you won’t get caught. So many of those I see bitching and moaning about Amazon pulling their books, etc., are those who knowingly violated the ToS.

      August 14, 2019
  2. Same here – I started with Booklocker in (consults archives and memory) in 2006, and Amazon was THE game for indy authors. I think that they really broke the self-publishing game wide open with the Kindle e-reader, and making it inviting for indy authors to provide content for it. We indies stole a march on the Establishment Print Publishers at that point, and they’ve been trying to catch up ever since.
    With all of their flaws – they’re still the big player in the field.

    August 13, 2019
    • The fact they give us so much better terms than traditional publishers do also sticks in trad pub’s craw. How dare they give us an idea that we are actually worth more than we’ve been told over the years! Don’t they know the content creator is far down the value pole in publishing?

      August 14, 2019
  3. Without the prospect of being able to sell on Amazon, I’d be hosting the books on my website as a hobby. Not even a rejection letter from Tradpub, and their contracts make me laugh anyway.

    From what I’ve seen on the Anti-Social Media, most of the “authors” having trouble with the ‘Zon are scammers. I hope that continues.

    August 13, 2019
    • There’s got to be some innocents caught in it, too, who are at least only guilty of trusting someone else to read the TOS….but dang does an awful lot make more sense when you poke enough for them to scream “that doesn’t matter!”

      August 13, 2019
      • Foxfier, yeah, sometimes innocents do get caught up. But they are not the ones we usually hear from. Why? Because they are acting like professionals and getting with Amazon to find out what happened and why, what they needed to do to get their work reinstated, etc.

        August 14, 2019
        • Generally, yes. It’s more a matter that it is imaginable someone would be caught on a bad enough day, or someone would get outraged on their behalf, so it’s not completely out of possibility.

          What’s that line…. ‘the race is not always to the swift, but that’s the way to bet’?

          August 14, 2019
    • They are not only the “zen scammers” but those who think the rules don’t apply to them or that they won’t get caught. Authors in a FB group I belonged to thought they could plot and plan together to not only promote one another but to trade reviews and not get caught. The howls of outrage when Amazon started catching them were long and loud. It didn’t matter the ToS prohibited what they were doing. It didn’t matter they had been warned by others in the group that their plan could backfire. Damn it, they wanted to do it and how dare Amazon apply the rules to them! It wasn’t long before the tinfoil hats came out and “conspiracy!” was yelled.

      August 14, 2019
  4. Uncle Lar #

    Best practice against the Zon snatching a book you’ve bought and paid for from your devices.
    Every book I purchase from Amazon (or Baen for that matter) is immediately downloaded to my desktop computer. I then have the option to crossload that file via USB to my Kindle, use Kindle for the Mac to read on my desktop, or use Calibre to convert the file to a different format. I prefer epub with the iBooks reader for books on my computers.
    Will note that both of my Kindles are permanently set to airplane mode, taken off perhaps once a year for any software updates.
    Amazon can still remove an item from my Kindle library, but they do not as best I can determine have the ability to remove files from my desktop computer.

    August 13, 2019
    • So true, Uncle Lar.

      But what those who bitch and moan about Amazon grabbing back books forget is that Amazon can and will be held liable in some jurisdictions for copyright violation if they don’t remove the books. The company has learned, at least a little, from the 1984 debacle. But each of us should still backup our books, no matter where we get them from.

      August 14, 2019
  5. PapaPat .Patterson #

    My perspective is reader/reviewer.
    Now, as a READER, I’ve got no gripes at all. It’s been just over five years ago that I discovered Kindle books, and THAT happened via the MGC and a book Cedar Sanderson temporarily offered for free. I got “Plant Life” on July 5, 2014.
    That was also my first experience as a REVIEWER. I didn’t know it at the time, but that was to become my form of literary expression. I had zero contacts with a publisher, a few treasured “you aren’t what we are looking for at this time” emails from agents, and a single “seems fine” review on my only work in progress, over at the Baen Bar Slush Pile. I’ve been reviewing mostly KU books, I have 666 published reviews,
    and:
    Amazon makes it possible, and
    Sometimes,
    Amazon makes it miserable.

    Those 666 reviews? That number has been constant since July, because they have rejected three reviews in a row, and they haven’t even acknowledged that I submitted the fourth one. I’m amusing myself temporarily by pretend to believe they are in league with the AntiChrist, and wish the number to be proclaimed forever.

    They are far from transparent about what they are doing. At one time, they hosted a Reviewers Forum, but they dumped it with very little warning, in the middle of one of their review purges. That particular purge was because reviewing clubs were being set up, with 4&5 star reviews earning coupons, which could be exchanged for products. Or something.

    They put in this “Verified Purchaser” badge, and priority ranking for them, which I hold is maybe appropriate for products, but not for books. Besides, I PAY for access to my books. Isn’t that enough skin in the game?

    The requirement that reviewers have to have spent $50 on Amazon was irritating, but somewhat understandable.

    Amanda and others point out that they wouldn’t be writers, were it not for Amazon. Well, that goes double for me as a reviewer. First, if you weren’t writing, I wouldn’t have anything to read, and second, I wouldn’t have a platform for my my reviews.

    I do wish, however, that there was an alternative, so that when they get utterly unreasonable, there would be at least the possibility of taking my ball and bat and going elsewhere. It’s the same de facto monopoly situation that exists with Facebook and YouTube.

    Well, whaddya gonna do?
    Me, I’m going to go back to reading “A Star-Wheeled Sky.” I got Dragon Award reviews to churn out.

    August 13, 2019
    • Some excellent points, Papa Pat! Thanks for chiming in.

      August 14, 2019
  6. Mary #

    And the field is still in flux.

    August 13, 2019
    • The field will always be in flux.

      Of course, the field always was in flux, too – but one whole heck of a lot slower. Wonders of the internet age…

      August 13, 2019
      • Pulp magazines to pocket paperbacks to fancy magazines and fat paperbacks to trade backs (which I do not care for, but was not asked), to electronic printing and Print-on-Demand to indie and the print magazines disappearing, to blogging for bucks, to Indie taking chunks of the genre fiction markets…

        August 14, 2019

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