When you boycott Amazon, you boycott me

This is going to sound crude and self-serving, but I got junk punched this week when Amazon decided to allow a pedophile to sell his self-published guide to pedophilia on their website.  I love Amazon for a lot of reasons, but that was a bone-head move that rightly sparked a boycott movement.  And, herein lies the aforementioned junk punching.  The boycott affected me – I think.

My primary source of income comes from Amazon’s website.  I am not an employee of Amazon.  I am an entrepreneur who uses their website to publish and sell my books.  I make more than a fair amount on each sale, and I have yet to find a viable alternative to the system they have created for authors like me.  In short, I rely on Amazon to sell my books and help pay my mortgage.

Yesterday, when the outcry for the boycott was at a fever pitch, my sales dried up. I cannot say for certain the boycott was the reason for the dip in sales, but it did make me stop and panic. Now, you should know, I don’t sell thousands or hundreds of books every day.  If I sell a dozen in a day, that’s an excellent day for me.  I rely 100% on word-of-mouth and my sales have gone up year after year.  In fact, I’ve already sold 30% more books than I sold last year.  If I get a similar holiday bump in sales that I got last year, I’m on pace to triple my sales over last year’s numbers.  Again, we’re not talking tens of thousands of books.  More like thousands, and trust me, I can barely make that plural.  The point is, just a little hit has a huge negative effect on my income.

Amazon is not a giant, faceless corporation – not entirely.  It is a publicly traded company with seemingly as many lawyers as managers on staff, but it is so much more than that.  It is a community of authors, musicians, filmmakers, small businesses, etc. trying to make a living practicing our craft of choice.  We have no say in company policy.  We have no voice in who the company hires.  We have no power at all within their system, save one, the power to make money.

Was I happy to find out that a pedophile was using that same system to spread his vile crap?  Of course not.  I was disgusted.  I agreed with the angry comments I read left by customers on the book’s sales page.  I didn’t understand Amazon’s first amendment stance, especially when they ban pornography which is also protected under the first amendment.  The move just made no sense at all.  But nonetheless, I am torn.  If I support a ban of the platform that is the major source of my income, I’m essentially committing retail suicide.  As I said, I haven’t found a system that even comes close to Amazon for what I do.  Say what you want about them, but they know ecommerce better than anyone else on the planet, and they’ve gamed the system so we artists can actually make a living doing what we love.

It is my understanding that the book is no longer on Amazon’s site, and my sales were back to normal today, but I’m still left with the metallic taste of worry in my mouth.   What if this happens again?  I realize I’ve made this whole unfortunate incident about me, but I never said I didn’t have narcissistic tendencies.  Plus, this is how I eat.

So, what do I expect from you, the Amazon customer?  Nothing. I’m not suggesting you never threaten to boycott Amazon again.  But remember, when the ‘B’ word comes up again, there will be a stocky, bald little writer on the East coast feeling the brunt of the boycott through no fault of his own.  And there are thousands of others like me, I might add… not that their stocky and bald.  They’re just entrepreneurs trying to make a living through Amazon.

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The Self-Publishing Sharks Are Circling

It's about to get "shark week" all up in here!

It’s a fact.  When sharks smell chum in the water they go into a vicious feeding frenzy, and brother, the chum is in the water.  On April 14, Bowker released their annual report on the publishing industry.  There were 764,448 self-published titles (the category is officially called non-traditional and it includes public domain books being republished) produced last year.  That’s up from about 280,000 in 2008.  And the projections for this year say even more books will be self-published than in 2009.  A lot of people want to write and publish a book.  A study done by the Jenkins Group a few years ago revealed that 81% of Americans feel they have a book inside of them.  That means one thing.  Scammers are foaming at the mouth.

The publishing industry is notorious for the sheer volume of disreputable people preying on your willingness to do whatever it takes to make your dream come true.  These sharks count on your ignorance of the publishing industry.  They are going to make you promises, guarantees, pledges, assurances, whatever it takes to get you to buy their services. They want your money, and you’re going to be very tempted to hand it over to them because this is your dream, after all.    Shouldn’t you be expected to invest everything you have to make it come true?

No.  Publishing is a high risk venture.  It doesn’t matter if you’re self-publishing or you’re a traditional publisher, statistics indicate that you are going to fail.  I don’t tell you this to scare you off.  I tell you this as part of your education.  In the traditional publishing world, roughly 70% of titles produced lose money.  The percentage of failure  is even higher in the self-publishing world.  I self-publish, so obviously I am a fan of self-publishing, but I have learned the amount of money invested in a book is not commensurate with its success.  Time is what matters the most.

Here are few facts, tips and a few of my personal opinions to keep in mind as you consider your publishing options:

  • Self-Publishing is Awesome – There are dinosaurs among us, and they will likely advise you against self-publishing. They’ll use the “vanity” word to degrade the practice, and try to convince you it’s not a legitimate publishing vehicle.  Those people are bozos, and they are as bad as the scammers.  Self-publishing is the ultimate “independent” form of publishing.  You have just as much right to sell your book to the public as an independent filmmaker has to sell his movie to the public.  Having said that, you want to spend wisely.
  • Be Wary of Agents Who Talk About Self-Publishing – Believe it or not, some self-publishing companies pay agents if they refer a writer to their company and that writer signs up for a publishing package.   It’s a deplorable practice.  Literary agents should only be concerned with getting clients to sign with traditional publishing companies.  The only payment they receive should be from their clients’ advances and royalties.  Anything else is a scam.
  • Paying To Be a Top 10 Book on Amazon – It’s called Amazon Bombing, and I don’t like it, particularly if you pay a company to set it up for you.  It’s a practice that basically uses a lot of smoke and mirrors to catapult your book to the top 10 for one day.  In many cases, it’s just one hour of one day.   You will quickly free fall out of the top 10 listing. They utilize emailing spamming techniques, newsletter lists, shady “free gift” packages, etc., and they will charge you $2,500 and up for the service.  This kind of top 10 listing serves no purpose.  A few years ago, it would capture the attention of the publishing industry and media, but they’re onto the scam now.  If you’re book can stay in the top 10 for a couple of days, then they will be impressed.
  • $20,000 for a Book Trailer – I’m going to mention them by name because this really pisses me off.  AuthorHouse (Author Solutions) sells a video book trailer service for $19,999.  BTW – Let’s not kid ourselves. That’s 20 grand, okay.  This is the supreme rip-off.  They call it a Hollywood trailer, and it’s for those authors who’ve been told their book would make a great movie.  First of all, most authors have been told their book would make a great movie.  AuthorHouse is preying on your vulnerability with this ridiculous product.  Second of all, the examples they have on their website are so cheesy it’s disgusting.  How effective is the product?  I just checked the Amazon ranking of one of the books featured, and its current ranking is 3,171,502.  The author paid $20,000.  I ask you, did the author get anywhere near their money’s worth?  I would never recommend AuthorHouse because of this product alone.  It shows a willful lack of integrity.  How much should you pay for a book trailer?  If you pay $3,000, you’ve paid too much.  I made my ownfor about $250, but that doesn’t count the cost of college tuition (I got my degree in broadcast production).
  • Mainstream Media – Never pay to be in or on mainstream media.  Don’t buy advertising in newspapers or on TV or radio.  And certainly never pay to be a guest on a radio or TV show.  Mainstream media does not help you sell books.  If someone wants to have you on their show and it costs you nothing out of pocket, by all means do it That’s a case of “it can’t hurt,” but unless it’s a national show with a huge audience, it’s not going to do much for you except give you something to talk about on your blog, which is useful.
  • Designers and Editors – This is where it’s okay to invest some money.  Interior and cover design matters.  And professional editing is crucial.  If you’re talking with a POD company, this is where you should spend most of your budget.  The in-house guys are usually very talented, and bonus, they know the company’s specs and policies.  If you go out of house, make sure you get them to sign a contract where they will guarantee you that they will hit the specs you need. You don’t want them to bail on you, and leave you with paying the bill when the POD company has to bring your submission up to spec.  Editing is a little more universal than design specs, so out of house editors can work great, but make sure you find somebody you trust.  If you’ve got a good relationship with the sales person at the POD company, why not use their in-house editors?  Push back on pricing if it makes you feel better.  Most of the time they will give you a discount.

I’ll end it here for now, but I will have more to say in the future.  I’m watching the self-publishing industry like a hawk.  They get out of line, I’ll be there.  Count on it.  This business means too much to me to let the sharks attack.  Ultimately, the onus is on you, the writer.  Educate yourself.  There are no guarantees in publishing.  Well one… you’re going to get eaten alive if you don’t protect yourself.  Knowledge is king.

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Do Self-Published Authors Need Barnes & Noble?

Little Known Fact: I played the bearded love interest in 1987's "Some Kind of Wonderful."

No need to prolong the suffering.  Let’s just rip the band-aid off.  Barnes & Noble doesn’t want to carry your self-published print-on-demand book.  In fact, they are annoyed that you would even ask.  It’s nothing personal.  They have limited bookshelf space and they are selling a product that is losing market share to other forms of entertainment.  From a business perspective, they want books that are going to carry the smallest amount of risk.  They want books that have the best possible chance of disappearing from the shelves and turning into profit.  Your self-published book with its limited marketing budget and your author’s name that has zero brand recognition just doesn’t fit the bill.  Not to mention they get a sweet returnable deal with major traditional publishers that basically gives them 90 days to sell the book or return it with no financial penalty.  In other words, it’s just business, and they are only annoyed with you because you are about the 100th POD author to ask in the last hour.  Barnes & Noble is not a bad company.  They are not trying to think of ways to prevent you from selling your book in their store.  They are trying to make money.

Do they think your book is crap because it’s self-published?  Probably, but that really doesn’t enter into their decision.  Plenty of crap is published by traditional publishers, and they have no problem carrying those books. They don’t care that your book is well written or is designed well or even won an award or two.  They just want to know what you’re going to do to get the books out of their stores once they agree to shelve them.  And frankly, you can’t match what the traditional publishers are offering them.  I’m blunt because I care, and I don’t want to see you waste your time.

You don’t need brick and mortar bookstores, and if you think you do, you shouldn’t use POD.  It’s not for you.  If you’re POD, and you’re trying to solve the brick and mortar puzzle, STOP!  You know all those goofy romantic comedies where the unpopular guy is always trying to get the homecoming queen, while totally ignoring the cute geeky girl who is madly in love with him?  Well, in this case, you’re the unpopular guy making a huge mistake by not seeing the opportunity right in front of your face.  Amazon is your geeky girl, and she’s head over heels for you, my POD friend. But she’s not just a geeky girl.  She’s a very popular geeky girl. Stop ignoring her, and get on with the relationship.  How?

Concentrate your efforts on building your personal brand online.  Make a name for yourself through all the personal branding tools, blogs, social media, podcasts, Youtube, etc.  Use that energy you would have used to get into brick and mortar stores to no avail and drive traffic to your Amazon detail page.  You have all the power to sell your book online where you are wanted.  Why are you wasting your time and energy trying to sell in an arena where you have no power and you’re not wanted?

I close with one piece of advice.  If you’re considering a POD company that has convinced you that they can get you into brick and mortar stores, run away as fast as you can.  They can’t.  They aren’t going to spend a second of time trying to place your book in brick and mortar bookstores.    They want you to buy into their returnable program, mostly likely with Ingram.  This will include your book in Ingram’s database, but they won’t carry any inventory in their warehouse.  Your book will be available as a special order title.  Someone will have to enter the store and ask for your book to be ordered.  So, I ask you, if the returnable program doesn’t mean you’re going to get shelf space, what is its value?

Stop looking for love in all the wrong places.

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I’m Opening Up the Blog to Self-Publishing Questions

Classic Jeff!

Okay, so you know I quit my job (assuming you frequent this blog.  If you don’t, welcome, and I quit my job. Consider yourself caught up). But you probably have no idea what I did for a living the last five years because I purposely never mentioned my company’s name on this blog, or made references to my work.

I worked for BookSurge (now CreateSpace).  I sold publishing packages for three years, and then served as the author marketing specialist for a year and a half and finally ended my time there writing for the corporate blog.  I LOVE the company.  I didn’t leave because I was unhappy there.  I left because my duties started to interfere with my writing, and I wasn’t able to be aggressive enough to build my own personal brand. Writing and selling books is what I do.  Can’t help it.  Sometimes I wish I could because the benefits suck.  But that’s for another blog post.

Today, I’m serving notice that I am going to start talking about publishing and self-publishing a lot more on this blog.  I study the industry obsessively, and I am endlessly fascinated by it.  I know there are a lot of writers/authors out there with questions about print-on-demand, self-publishing, traditional publishing, blah, blah, blah.  Consider me the Perez Hilton Edward R. Murrow of publishing news, rumors, etc.  If you have questions, fire away in the comment section, follow me on Twitter, Friend me on Facebook, send me an email, whatever.  I’ll answer it here or in a video.  Don’t be shy.  Ask away.  If I don’t get any questions, I’m going to pretend I do each week and answer questions from John Smith in Poughkeepsie or some other generic named person living in an oddly named city.  Don’t make me humiliate myself like that.  Just ask me questions!

So, for our first question, John from Poughkeepsie asks:

“Just how sexy is Jeff Bezos in person?”

Wow, John, that was really inappropriate and very sexy.

Let’s turn the dignity dial back up a couple of notches with this segment from NPR.; iPad Could Help Self Publishers Kick Open Doors

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Publishers Want A Book A Year From Their Authors – Authors Want Publishers To Get Bent

Okay, so the headline overstates it just a bit, but according to an article in The Boston Globe some top tier authors are complaining because their publishers are pressuring them to crank out a book every year.  Authors feel like they’re thrown into an assembly-line situation where they’re relying more on a formulaic writing style instead of creativity.  Publishers know that authors who put out a book a year sell more books than authors who don’t.  If you want proof of this, look up Stephanie Meyer on Amazon. As I’m writing this, she has four books in the top twenty just because they recently started pre-selling her newest book set to be released in August of this year.  This announcement sparked increased sales in her three previous books.       

This is easy for me to say as an independent author, but I would agree to a book a year in a New York minute.  I’m basically doing that now.  I published a book in 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008, and I’ll probably even have a second release this year. Now, I don’t have the same kind of editorial review that mainstream authors have, but I’ve had a small taste of it in the past, and I actually found the deadlines conducive to being more creative.  I’ve always found that the more direction and restrictions I’m given the more creative I am. 

Truth be known, I’m a little annoyed with the attitude expressed by authors like Patricia Cornwell.  She actually said “It’s no problem, as long as you don’t have a life.”  The rest of the world calls it having a job. Everyone sacrifices for their careers.  Granted, I truly don’t know what kind of stress and strain she’s under, but I can’t imagine it’s more than your average cop on the street or doctor in the emergency room.  I worked retail at one point in my life, and during that time I missed spending time with my family on major holidays. 

I think what this article really proves is that no matter what job you have you’re going to bitch and moan about it.  You don’t become a published author by accident.  You work at it.  You dream about it.  You pray for it.  I’m sure most the authors quoted in the article wouldn’t hesitate to sign a book a year contract with a publisher if they had never been published before. 

Working this from the self-publishing angle, I agree with the publishers on this one.  I sell more copies of each book because I have multiple books on the virtual shelves.  It’s incredibly hard to sell books in today’s market.  There were over 400,000 books published in this country alone last year.  It’s a business that is not for the faint of heart.  If a book a year helps you sell books, do it.  But then again, you have to take my opinion with a grain of salt because I don’t have a publishing contract.  I’m speaking on this particular topic from the outside looking in.  Hopefully, I’ll be able to give you an insider’s view in the very near future. 

Randy Pausch Number One on Amazon and Holding!

Hyperion Publishing gave Professor  Randy Pausch a $6.7 million advance for a book based on his now famous “Last Lecture” given at Carnegie Mellon (if you don’t know who Pausch is, you can see the lecture by clicking here: Carnegie Mellon Professor Randy Pausch Gives Inspirational “Last” Lecture).  Many pointed out that this is an example of what is wrong with the publishing industry.  I have to disagree.  I think this is what’s right with the publishing industry.  Randy became an Internet phenomenon.  Millions watched his lecture online.  It’s heartfelt and inspirational.  I have no doubt that this investment will pay off for Hyperion (consider the money they will make off of selling International rights, film rights, etc.) Giving Paris Hilton a multi-million dollar advance is what’s wrong with the publishing industry. 

I’m happy to report that Randy Pausch’s book is number one on Amazon and it has been for quite some time now.   Good on you Professor Pausch. 

BTW – Some people have actually given it a one star review and attacked Pausch.  These same reviewers no doubt have a closet full of coats made out of puppies. 

Pausch

 

Randy’s Amazon Page

 

Second Day on WordPress – And a Video For Your Viewing Pleasure

So far I’m confused by WordPress. I tried to change the Header Image and it’s coming up blank. I’ll figure it out. (Obviously, I figured it out)

In the meantime, here’s my old video for The Takers. I’ll have a new one out soon created by Bookshorts. This one will stick around just because I like it so much. Enjoy!