A is for Amazon…

Just when I thought I’d written THE definitive guide to Publishing and Selling Your Book from A to Almost Z, I came across a lovely compilation by friend and fellow author Clara Wiggins (The Expat Partner Survival Guide) with wonderful tips and insights garnered from her own experience as an author. And hers, unlike mine, is quite literally arranged from A to Z. As a nod to her years as a prenatal coach for pregnant women, one of the many hats she has worn in addition to those of expat and author, she gave it the lovely title Birthing a Book: The A-Z Guide.

Her list starts with A is for Amazon:

“Love it or hate it, it’s what it is. The best way to sell your books unless you happen to get a deal with one of the big publishers…”

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Of course – How could it not? Amazon, Google, Apple – we all love to hate them, at least occasionally, but we all use (and rely on) their services. Being the tech giants they are, they never stand still and constantly introduce new ways to make money by inventing our future needs, and sometimes this clashes with our expectations that things should stand still when they are going well.

For instance, after Amazon first introduced the KDP Select program – allowing authors to participate in book promotions in return for giving Amazon 90-day exclusive rights – quite a few authors realized this was the perfect path to make a name for themselves. They offered their Kindle books for free the allowed maximum of 5 days each enrollment period, their downloads soared – because duh, people love downloading free stuff! – and they made a ton of actual sales afterwards because their books had jumped to the top of the Amazon rankings, earned the coveted bestseller status in the most desirable categories, and gained a HUGE boost in visibility.

Great, right? Except Amazon caught on to this “loophole.” They were giving away too much. Or perhaps this was by design to entice authors to join the bandwagon early on and make Amazon into a publishing powerhouse. Whichever it was, the times they are a-changing real fast. Nowadays, you can still offer your book for free 5 days out of every 90 days, but it likely won’t move the needle much. People will still download them, but due to a new and improved algorithm, you now only earn a high rank in the FREE downloads category, not overall. The minute your book is back on regular price, your sales rank is right where it used to be, or actually worse, because now you haven’t sold a single book in 5 days and it shows. And, if you’re unlucky, you might even have earned yourself the first 1-star review, because someone who downloaded your book thought it was a how-to guide for wholesome parenting and took issue with the salty language on page 74.

I’m not saying KDP Select is a bad idea.  But these days you can’t rely on Amazon alone to create a boost in demand for your book(s). You absolutely have to use one of the many book promotion sites like BookBub or Ereader News Today to boost  your sales via KDP Select – either free or a Kindle Countdown deal for 99 cents.

And even those services are ever-changing. According to my author friends, it used to be much easier to get your foot in the door at BookBub. Nowadays, landing a 99-cent BookBub deal for the U.S. market in one of the larger categories like biography/memoir (as opposed to humor, a category I was lucky to land a deal in when it was still very small) is almost as difficult as finding a publisher or agent for your book. If you are one of the lucky ones, be prepared to fork over hundreds if not thousands of dollars to get a coveted listing in their daily email to subscribers. You’d have to sell thousands of books at the discounted price to break even. This, I’m told, is entirely possible. But first you have to have the money to make that investment, which isn’t easy as a small-time author.

Which brings me back to Amazon. With all its changes and all its faults, it is still, in my opinion, the number one platform for any author setting out into the big scary world of publishing. No one makes it so easy for you to publish an eBook, and no other marketplace is so instantly large and gives you so much exposure. You’d be a fool to bypass Amazon due to some misguided belief that they’re out to thwart little guys like us.

By all means, look for an actual bona-fide publishing house to publish your book. Meaning you almost certainly have to first land a coveted bona-fide agent who then helps you land a publisher. Maybe you’re lucky. Maybe you won’t first get rejected a bazillion times like some of our greatest authors. Maybe you have the same tenacity as Agatha Christie, who persevered for five years of repeated rejections before finally landing a deal. Maybe you have a really thick skin like Dan Brown, who reportedly was told The Da Vinci Code was “badly written” and went on peddling it to other publishers anyway. Something EL James took to heart, propelling a badly-written book to entirely new levels with 50 Shades of Grey. Gone with the Wind went through 38 rejections. The Diary of Anne Frank, 16 rejections. And of course there is always the gold standard, JK Rowling, who was lucky enough that the daughter of an editor got a hold of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and demanded to read the rest of the book after it had already gotten eight rejections. (Read more of these here, it’s fascinating.)

If you’re like me, you might have sent out one query for your book. You might even have sent out another one if the first one got ignored. But when you got that first rejection letter, that horrible nasty thing that said your work was, unfortunately, not quite the right thing for their readership, meaning it was objectively a no-good pile of manure, you took that at face value and gave up. Those people, after all, are professionals, so they must know what they’re doing. Right?

A big publishing house taking on my book would be a dream come true, no doubt. But if like me you lack that extra layer of skin to deal with rejection after rejection, or if at least you want to be productive while your mailbox is filling up with returned manuscripts, there is always Amazon and Kindle Direct Publishing.

Enough for today. Stay tuned for M is for Marketing. Or, rather, M is for Moms. Bad Moms.

 

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