Why Amazon is This Writer’s Best Friend
Right now, there’s a contract dispute going on between Amazon and the publisher Hachette Book Group, with the result that Amazon is delaying shipment of some Hachette books and removing “pre-order” buttons from listings of others.
Read some news stories and you might think all authors are pro-Hachette and anti-Amazon. But that is not at all the case. Many of us strongly support Amazon, including famous writers like Joe Konrath, Barry Eisler, and Bob Mayer, and many lesser-known writers–like me.
One reason is that this is no David-and-Goliath story: in 2012, Hachette, a division of the multinational conglomerate Lagardère Group, pleaded guilty to e-book price fixing. It is no friend to writers, except for perhaps the already highly successful ones.
But another is that Amazon has been good to many, many writers. Like me, for instance: thanks to “the Big A,” I’ve been able to create a mini global publishing empire, with books in English, Spanish, Japanese, and soon, Hindi and Russian. I sell hundreds of books a month, and because of these sales (and associated income from teaching and coaching), two years ago I was finally able to live the dream of nearly all writers and give up my day job.
And I’m far from alone, as a new report from the respected Author Earnings site confirms:
Of the 500 or so Big-5 debut authors in 2013, only 245 (fewer than half) are today earning $10,000 or more from their Kindle e-books….After years and years of querying and jumping through gatekeeper hoops, it appears that even the less-than-1% who are lucky enough to land an agent and a Big-5 publishing contract can’t manage to quit their day jobs….
By contrast, we see over 700 Indie-published authors who debuted in 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013 who are today earning more than $25,000/year from their Kindle e-books alone. For these authors, e-book sales on other platforms and POD print sales will add another 20%-30% on average to this total. It’s easy to see that, for the past 4 years, and even taking lost print sales into consideration, far more Indie authors than Big-5 authors are earning a living wage from their writing.
The thing I believe unites authors who are Amazon supporters–and I can say this as someone who has taught hundreds of writers at top writing programs throughout the country–is that we approach our writing like a rational business and expect our business partners not only to do the same, but value us as partners.
Which Amazon has done. Its contracts and rates have been rational and fair. Its publishing infrastructure and and tech support have been excellent. And they deliver the readers.
In other words, Amazon has made it possible for me to succeed based on the quality of my work, and how hard I’m willing to work. This is something people in other industries mostly take for granted, but that writers have mostly gone begging for.
In contrast, here is the “opportunity” traditional publishers have typically offered writers:
- You submit query letters to dozens or hundreds of agents and wait weeks or months for a reply.
- If an agent likes your work, you will be invited to send a “partial” manuscript (usually, three chapters plus outline plus marketing plan), and again wait weeks or months to hear back. They may reject it, or they may ask you to submit a full manuscript.
- You submit the full manuscript, and wait still more weeks or months.
- They may accept it, reject it, or ask for changes. The last is, in some ways, the worst outcome, because you will often, then, spend weeks or months making the changes; then more weeks or months waiting to hear what they think of them.
And, after all that, of course, you can still be rejected.
Please note that this is all just to get an agent! The waiting game begins anew once the agent starts sending your book to publishers.
There is so much wrong with the above scenario, including not just the godawful waiting, but a profound inequality between supposed business “partners,” and a lack of transparency and objective benchmarks for success. And that is if everything goes right!! The ways the traditional publishing process can go wrong are myriad. The publisher can:
- Give your book a crappy cover. (This enrages writers because it harms sales and is sheer incompetence.) But that’s not even the worst cover-related offense: this is.
- Botch the marketing. (In his memoir Mentor, Tom Grimes tells how his publisher marketed his literary novel, which happened to be set in a baseball milieu, as a sports book, with predictable results.)
- Not market. Contrary to what many people believe, publishers do relatively little marketing for most books–it all falls on the author, and many of us spend thousands each year on Websites, travel to conferences, and other marketing. And all for the “privilege” of being paid a minimal, or no, advance, and a meager 5%-ish royalty.
- And dump you unceremoniously should it please them. (The halcyon days of publishing houses that nurtured new writers, and supported established ones through the thick and thin of their careers are long gone.)
Although there are many good people working in publishing who deeply care about books, problems like those I list above are legion. That’s why I agree with Joe Konrath that some writers who defend traditional publishing are suffering from the authorial equivalent of “Stockholm Syndrome,” the dysfunctional mindset where hostages start identifying with their captors.
In the pre-Internet, pre-Amazon days, most writers had no choice but to put up with all that. But these days, we can indie publish using Amazon and other distributors, and, by doing so, skip all the tedious waiting, maintain control over the quality of our work and its marketing, and retain up to 90% of revenues.
There are genuine and serious concerns about Amazon, including especially their labor abuses. (I wish they would apply the same proactive thinking to their labor as they do to the rest of their business model! They’d lose a bit of margin but gain enormous goodwill, take better care of their hardworking employees, and rob their opponents of their most compelling argument.) Amazon’s labor problems are real and serious, but, like those of Apple and Target, to name just two out of many examples, they are a subset of a huge disrespect for labor that pervades our entire society.
So, Amazon is currently my best (business) friend. Does that mean it’s my best friend forever? Of course not. Like any business relationship, mine with Amazon could one day go south. My plan, which seems to be working, is to leverage my current partnership with Amazon to build enough of an audience to help me survive that day, if it happens.
In the meantime, my main problem as an Amazon author is finding the time to write more books while managing my growing business.
Especially when compared with the problems authors have had with traditional publishers, it’s a great one to have.
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