Is Amazon Really the Bad Guy? By Lynn Lorenz

NoGoodDeed_LL_432I’m guilty of it – blaming Amazon for creating a world where most writers can’t make enough money to pay for extras, let alone their bills.

Admit it — you started writing because this story kept working its way into your brain. You couldn’t stop thinking about it, playing it over and over in your head, until you finally had to write it down or explode. That’s how it was for me.
Until I sold my first book, and realized I was now in the “business.” And I sold the next book. and the next.
And the money rolled in – and I bought stuff for my family – new washer and dryer, vacations, etc. I had a day job that paid the bills, but this gave me wiggle room.
But things change…

Back when I started writing, in 2006, Amazon wasn’t really a major player. There was Fictionwise, ARe, and the publisher sites. Most publishers would release a title for 2 weeks to a month exclusively on the site – then send it out to the third party vendors.
I loved it! I could make the bulk of my money at the site, getting the full royalty percent of my 35% – the publisher got their 65% – and everyone was happy and costs were met. Yay! My main publisher would pay monthly, so I knew there’d be a big payout the first month I published, then another hit when the title went to the vendors a month later. I’d see that reduced % of money show up a few months later. More money!

No one bitched about paying $4.99 to $7.99 for an ebook from a well known and respected publisher. I sold tons of books at these prices. I bought a freaking car on those prices. Nothing special, but it was new. Every year I’d been doubling my sales income.

Then something happened. Amazon became important. So important. Necessary. So very necessary. And publishers let them be important and necessary. Now, they released their titles on Amazon the same day, because wow! We needed the reviews and the rankings. So we can sell more books, because, look, it’s so easy to buy and download to our Kindles. So everyone took a hit for what was supposed to be “more sales.” Amazon takes quite a bit on the books to “let” you publish, leaving less money for everyone. Except Amazon. My 35% became less. The publisher’s 65% dropped. We started to see a few epublishers quietly disappear.

It became this game of rank and reviews and people paying for reviews and reviewing books that weren’t even out yet, and angsting over bad reviews that could kill your Amazon ranking! Lions and tigers and bears, oh my! And hitting the top of the lists meant your book didn’t die a horrible death.
Because readers stopped buying at the publisher sites. They might have gone there to see what books came out that week, but gee, you can do a search on Amazon for your publisher and wham! Click and buy.

How did we forget that Amazon was a business? In the business of making money not in the business of being good to authors. Fair maybe, but not kind or generous. Hey, if it quacks like a duck…so why were we so shocked when we woke up and Amazon ruled the publishing world, changing business models on the fly and on the whim?

Then the storm gates opened. The world of self-publishing arrived and anyone who could figure out the formatting started writing and publishing, and the flood of new authors and books drowned everyone. Suddenly, in the LGBT genre lists, the ranks swelled to tens of thousands. The number of pages you had to wade through to see books you might want to look at grew to beyond what any normal person would even conceive of searching through. If your book was on page 6 of the list, goodbye sales! No one ever got there.
And as for searching, Amazon’s search engine sucked, so the value of their best lists increased, and ranking, and vote for me, and, and, and….panic ensued.

So people started lowering prices. Not just by a buck or so, but by all the bucks. Free! $.99! and the best ranks swelled with those cheap books and the readers loved it! And Dinosaur sex! And novellas for a buck. And then box sets! All ten books for $.99! And readers loved it!
Authors were scrambling. Like me. I wrote shorts stories so I could have something in the $.99 range. Did a free book with 10 authors, short stories. Readers downloaded over 10K copies. For free. It would boost my sales! Nope. I didn’t see it. Frankly, I have no idea if anyone read my story, because I’m pretty sure the fan bases of the other writers read their fav writer and then put it away. That’s what I’d have done. Skimmed the blurbs and put it away. We did another free set, same thing. No boost in sales, but thousands of downloads.

Then KU!!! Readers could by a subscription for 10 bucks, and read all these great books! Yay! Only authors had to split a pot of lucre and not put their books up anywhere else than Amazon. Ouch! Some did great, or said they did, but Amazon did best of all! Sort of. So they changed the rules and started paying on the number of pages read. For me, most of my sales are actually on AllRomanceebooks. I sell a lot of pdf and mobi there. Why would I give up the lion’s share of sales to sell only at Amazon, where I’m not really selling that much. But hey, I’ll give it a try.

I tried one book on KU, a $2.99 novella, right when they went from reads to pages read. I won’t be buying that vacation on that money. I hear readers who have KU complain they can’t find any gay romance there. I’m waving over here! See my book! It’s there! But with the tens of thousands of books on KU, how the hell can anyone find my book? It’s free! Sort of.
I’m pulling it at the end of the 3 months, by the way.

And Facebook – the place we thought we could reach out to reader and friends and promote our books? Well, seems like FB holds back on the % of “friends” who can see you posts. Like only 3% on average. I have 2K friends, but only about 60 of them see my posts. So FB has “author pages” where you can pay to boost those posts so more of your readers can see them and know about your books! Yay? And then, you might get cornered by FB and have to prove you’re an author or have your page, that isn’t really helping you sell a damn thing, taken down. Not sure that’s such a bad thing.
But you can host a group of readers who love your books, if only all your friends could see the invite or without having to tag people to let them know, and then FB comes along and stops it, cuz, dayum, you’re doing too much sharing!

Bloggers became burned out and quit. Some are so overrun with books to review they shut the doors to work on what they have already. Everyone is scrambling for promo ops that WORK. I have no idea what that means. Honestly. I’ve done the blog tour. Results? Not really.

So, circling my wagons back to the title of this – Is Amazon the bad guy in all this?

My answer is we ALL own a part of this nightmare –
Amazon sure didn’t help authors. But they made it easy for authors to take control of their publishing lives, good or bad. But they produced a flood of badly written, poorly if at all edited, books, which gave self-pub a bad rep. But they paved the way for authors, who couldn’t find a publisher due to content, or didn’t want to play the publishing industry games, a place to be discovered.
And why would they let someone read a book and then return it?
But neither did the publishers, when they gave in to pressure and gave away a chunk of their money, and author’s money, to get the front of the line, only to be swallowed up in the massive slush pile of Amazon. And paying quarterly, holding up money due authors and publishers, who now have to run the bulk of their business 90 days in arrears. Which means they pay their staff 90 days after the money comes in or they have to float their payroll. And that’s never a good thing, unless you’ve got a lot of money sitting around.
And neither did readers, who flocked to the cheaper books, leaving the publisher house books with their more expensive prices to flounder in the flood. How can anyone resist a sale? Most readers don’t have a lot of money. I get that, it’s why I’ve always written books of all lengths for my publishers, so the prices of my books spanned from $2.99 to $7.99 Still, some readers are loyal and will look for their favorite author’s books, if they know about them.
But FB? How do they know about them? Gah!
I saved authors for last. We didn’t help ourselves either. We shot each other in the foot. Self pub authors crashed prices, undercutting each other until there was no room left and we were giving our hard work away for free or $.99. We should have gotten together and refused to sell below a certain price, but that’s price fixing and illegal. Dayum.
Quality dropped, and readers started to return books.
Some for reviews from non-real readers, tipping the scales. Some of us used those “street teams” to post a flood of reviews or just “pick my book to read” on Goodreads, which now circles back to Amazon. My mind boggles. Panic isn’t pretty.

Deep breath. Inhale and exhale that breath I didn’t know I was holding.

What’s the best advice I can give you about writing?

It would have to be the same thing I said eight years ago.

Write another book. Write for the love of it and for getting it out of your head. But please, for God sake, learn the craft of writing. Never stop learning. Learn how to edit. But most of all, write the damn book.

4 thoughts on “Is Amazon Really the Bad Guy? By Lynn Lorenz

  1. Love it when great minds think alike. I’ve been writing about the exact same topic today. No, no spam, no link. From a somewhat different angle, and hey, I’ve only been in this for three years. Thanks for the perspective older sister! 🙂 Much love and respect!

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  2. Hi Lynn…. I’ve been at this since 2009 and you make a lot of great points. I want to emphasis one of your points you make here. Free doesn’t work for anyone but Amazon. The glut of free books has created a class of readers who only read free books (and because they paid for a Kindle feel they’re entitled to free) … not only does it not work it damages your brand. You’re a “free” writer. Writers say they do it for the reviews but, IMHO, you’re just as likely or even more likely to get bad reviews than good. When a book is free the only thing of value involved for the reader is their time. If they don’t like your book they get angry because you’ve “wasted” their time. Angry readers are more likely to review. If you stand your ground and insist that your work has value, even if when a reader doesn’t like it, they know others are paying for it so they’re more likely to view their dislike as a matter of taste, rather than a matter of a writer stealing their time. (Even though I’ve believed this for a long time, I’ve continued to test it. It never works so I’m done with it.)

    99 cent sales do work when combined with email blasts. I’ve been having some success with short discount windows. I don’t think discounting books to 99 cents permanently works much better than free… but discounting them for a few days does actually help.

    Some of this takes courage because you have to price your books in a way that values your work regardless of what trends readers are chasing. A fan will pay up to eight or nine dollars for a writer they love. If a fan is complaining about your pricing then they’re not really a fan. Pricing a book between 4.99-6.99 tells readers that they’ll be getting a quality book worth reading.

    And yes, keep writing.

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  3. Yep, there’s not a single word in this post that I disagree with. Amazon has the power because authors and readers give them the power. I keep hoping authors will value their time and talent more, and readers will understand that a good book is more valuable than a cup of coffee at Starbucks.

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