On Publishing, Amazon and More

Bear with me this morning, folks. I’m pretty much scattergunning this post. This is one of those mornings where my brain is going in a million different directions and I’m trying to pull it back so I can get a few things done before I have to head out of the house. Among the things I’m going to touch on are publishing numbers during the past year, some news (gossip?) I’m hearing coming out of Amazon and one of the most hilarious pieces of “advice” for writers I’ve seen in a very long time.

Let’s start with publishing. For the last three months or more, traditional publishing has been telling us how wonderful their numbers are. Covid restricted Americans were buying more books, reading more and everything was rosy. Well, the latest numbers from AAP for 2020 show that’s not exactly the case.

The teaser for the article could be read in a way to lead you to think the year had been a good one for the industry:

AAP’s Maria A. Pallante praises ‘the incredible dedication and innovation of the industry’ in a remarkable year’s outcome.

 But the first paragraph quickly dispels that assumption.

The Association of American Publishers (AAP) today released the StatShot Annual report for calendar year 2020, estimating that the United States’ book publishing industry generated US$25.71 billion, a slight decrease of 0.2 percent from 2019 revenue of $25.77 billion.

Now, that’s not a huge decline, but it is damning at a time when more people were home. When more people were homeschooling their kids or at least doing distance learning and had to buy more books and other educational material. At a time when Americans were searching for something, anything to keep themselves entertained and their minds off of Covid, the publishing industry lost money.

If your reaction to that was “WTF?!?” join the crowd. 

And know the publishers didn’t lose money because they lowered prices so more people could afford their wares. Instead, prices remained the same. 

And their profits declined. . . and they learned nothing from it. Read the rest of the article and let me know what you think.

Next up, some news about Amazon and some comments coming from a number of authors I’ve come across recently. First for the documented news. This comes with a hat tip to The Passive Voice. It is an open secret that Amazon has a review problem. Whether we’re talking about product reviews or book reviews, Amazon has struggled to keep reviews honest. But not all sellers are ethical and not everyone bothers to read the terms of service. In this instance, the sellers can reasonably be said to fall into the former category.

In this case, sellers would content customers and basically tell them if they bought Item A from Amazon and gave them a 5-star review, the seller would refund the purchase price and the customer could then keep the item. Totally against Amazon’s terms of service and done on such a scale that it won’t surprise me to see Amazon doing something to counter the problem, especially since the who and the what were uncovered in an open database.

The real question is how this will impact us, as readers and writers. The last time we had a review “scandal” on the book side, Amazon started trying to prevent friends and family from reviewing our books. This is something easy to do since they have agreements with sites like Facebook, etc., where data is shared. Our browsing history is tracked across multiple platforms, etc. So expect some fallout over the next month or so. Watch your titles and review numbers. 

As for the rest of it, there are a number of authors, mainly of low content titles, who have run into problems with Amazon. Some are legitimate problems where the authors failed to follow the terms of service (this is where I once again remind you to review the ToS on a regular basis because Amazon does change them). But there are others where Amazon’s bots just screw up. In one instance, an author woke up to a notice that their account had been suspended for inappropriate content. It took a while but it turned out that not only had they not been in violation of the ToS, but the book in question wasn’t even their book.

But what I’m seeing in most of these questions is panic and anger and lashing out by the authors involved (something I understand after having gone through my own issues with Amazon). That’s natural. But it needs to be reined in. We need to remember that this is our business and we need to respond to these situations in a business-like manner. Gather your information. Contact Amazon with details and without emotion. Remember if you do so via email, it may take 24 hours or more before you get a response. So start with a call and document not only what you say and what you are told but who you spoke with. If the situation isn’t resolved, go up the chain of command. Once you’ve hit the wall there–if you hit the wall–then write a detailed and business-like email to the new head of Amazon, Andy Jassy. That should get a response. It might not be the one you want, but it will get a response.

And–major point here–make sure you aren’t in violation of the ToS and, if you are, admit it, apologize and explain how you hadn’t meant to be so and then ask for your book or your account to be reinstated.

In other words, be the businessman or woman you would be in your “real” job.

Finally, one of the most boggling pieces of advice I’ve seen in a long time when it comes to writing. Again, this comes with a hat tip to The Passive Voice.

There are a number of apps out there that can help you as a writer. One of them, not my preferred but I have used it, is Grammarly. A couple of days ago, they posted on their blog an essay on “How to Write Faster”. I don’t know a writer out there who hasn’t, at one time or another, lamented they needed to write faster. Grammarly comes to the rescue with a few good points and one that had me laughing out loud.

Okay, there were two points that had me laughing. The first was “type faster”. Yes, you read that right. If you type faster you will write faster. Duh. Now, their point has some merit. If you learn to type faster–and hopefully more accurately–it will speed up the process. But, dayum, c’mon. Surely there’s something more insightful they could have offered than just “type faster”.

The second suggestions that had me laughing is one that would have every pantser out there screaming at their computer screen. According to Grammarly, in order to write faster, you should only write “what you already have in mind”. As one who just spent three days with hands on keyboard, words spewing out without me knowing what they would be until I saw them on the monitor in front of me, I could only laugh and shake my head. This was three days in which I wrote close to 40k words. And most of the time I had no idea what Myrtle the Evil Muse had in mind. I was the only the tool for her use. Gee, think I could have written more if I had tried to coax the story out of her first?

The answer is a big, resounding “no!”.

The reason I bring this up is that there is no right way to write. You have to find what works best for you and for your current project. Yes, some of what the post says is good advice. But choose what works for you.

And now I have to choose–more coffee or a shower? Maybe coffee in the shower?

Until later. 

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay 

9 comments

  1. If I knew in advance what I was going to write, I wouldn’t have been fighting to get two characters to tell me just what the heck they were doing, let alone why a new character wandered into a different series and let me know that he’s going to become a major-minor player.

    I do type fast enough to lock up keyboards, since I learned to touch type on a manual typewriter. That’s why I have a Das keyboard (which I love).

    Only the Big 5 (and Friends) could lose money with a captive audience. What was the term we invented over at PG’s place for their bookkeeping and PR numbers? Oh yeah, “whale math.” If a publisher’s numbers make no sense in the real world and don’t reflect any sort of common logic, it’s whale math.

    1. The economics of free to play games often involve microtransactions, and a rare player who spends lots, called a whale.

  2. Some of my fastest writing has been when I have no idea what’s going to come out. Clickety clickety and next thing I know 1500 new words have appeared and I have no clue where they came from. All I can do is hope they were good and, barring that, I can fix them in edits. As for ‘type faster’, the more you write, the better your muscle memory will be and the faster the words will fly out. So, yeah. The more you write, the better you’ll be at it – in all aspects. And definitely, write whatever way works for you. Forcing yourself into someone else’s idea of how to write is the surest way to not write.

    Coffee in the shower sounds like an awesome idea, A coffee maker installed in the shower… :sigh:

  3. “If your reaction to that was “WTF?!?” join the crowd.”

    My reaction was more like: “Sales drop? No kidding.” When you have Amazon and one more retail outlet, which is closed because WuFlu, you will be having a sales drop. But more than that, when you have people who are depressed and scared because of relentless fear-pr0nz on the media, those people will not be buying the grey goo currently being served by the Big 4. They want to be -less- scared and depressed. They will not enjoy NK Jemisin’s latest nightmare-in-a-can.

    Writing advice, type faster. Yeah, that’s a good one. I already sound like a stuttery machinegun here with the clickety keyboard. I get complaints. ~:D

    “You should only write “what you already have in mind” is another good one. Maybe they can tell me how to get my characters to do something other than go out for coffees and laze around all day without a planet-ending catastrophe breathing down their necks. They’re freakin’ slackers! Coffee and kissy face, all day every day! Come on people, I’ve got a book to write! Do something!

  4. Well, as a hunt-and-peck two fingered typists, I do undertand the “type faster’ thing. They probably ought to have recommended learning to touch type. At 67 years of age, I’m not going to bother. My fingers can keep up with the words in the head and that’s good enough for me.

  5. Well I’m a very fast typist but if there is nothing in my head I can’t type it. I honestly do not understand how you type something that *isnt* in your head.

  6. I have learned prewriting: not so much outlining, because it’s not more than one scene ahead. But it’s sitting down and going “Whos’ where, and what’s the stage blocking as they move through this?” and “Who’s talking to who, about what?”
    I rarely throw in any actual dialogue, just work out movement and bullet points of what needs to be dealt with in the scene. It’s sort of… almost a tech rehersal, where the techs are doing the positioning where the actors will be later, checking where the bullet fired will go, the layout of the house that has to be cleared, etc. But instead of actually going through the dialogue, you have a tech standing on the x made of gaffer’s tape, holding a placeholder for a prop, and saying “And now Character C makes a phone call to Character G. They discuss topic X, and Character W, so he comes in on the next cue. From here, she moves to open the door… shit, can she actually see who’s at the door? Do we need to have a window from where she’s standing? Or move here to a different location for the call?”

    Once I do that, then I sit down (or walk on the treadmill desk), and the words and description flow very quickly indeed, from cue to cue through what I’ve blocked out. The conversations, even though I knew a topic or a piece of information, come alive between characters and go lots of places that I didn’t plan on. My subconscious surprises me.
    If I do that, I can spend 2 hours writing 800-2000 words/hour, until I hit the end of the cueing I’d blocked out.
    I’d love to say it only takes 20 minutes all the time, but sometimes it takes 3 weeks to research, and then block out, then ask for advice, research more, redo, and finally get it down. At least it’s tactically correct when it’s written!

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