Newsflash—Amazon Isn’t Evil After All

Photo Courtesy of Jason Scragz via Creative Commons
[Evil Monkey]Thanks to our friends over at Authors United, there’s been a lot of back-and-forth about Amazon’s business practices as they relate to bookselling. Apparently, the kerfuffle began with the tense negotiations between Amazon and Hachette and has escalated to a letter from Authors United to the DOJ, demanding that they investigate the monopoly that is Amazon.

For the record, I agree with Joe Konrath. These folks appear to be a bunch of “whiny little babies” who are not at all pleased with the direction bookselling has taken—especially concerning independent publishing. Thanks to Amazon, readers are—wait for it—saving money on books. How dare Jeff Bezos put his customers first! And also thanks to Amazon, indie authors like me get a chance to be heard without relying on traditional publishers.

Rather than rehash the debate, I thought I would provide a couple of links. Enjoy!

Joe’s Letter to the Assistant Attorney General
“For the past fifty years, a handful of big publishers have functioned as a cartel, controlling the majority of what has been published. They did this by having an oligopoly over paper distribution. If a writer wanted to get their work into a bookstore, the only way to do so was to sign a contract with them.

“My best guess is that out of every 1000 books written, only 1 was published. That meant 999 out of 1000 books were effectively deep-sixed, prevented from ever reaching the public.”

A Message from the Amazon Books Team
“The fact is many established incumbents in the industry have taken the position that lower e-book prices will “devalue books” and hurt “Arts and Letters.” They’re wrong. Just as paperbacks did not destroy book culture despite being ten times cheaper, neither will e-books. On the contrary, paperbacks ended up rejuvenating the book industry and making it stronger. The same will happen with e-books.”

Authors United founder says Amazon’s control of the book industry is “about the same as Standard Oil’s when it was broken up”
“Amazon is like any other corporation; it has two goals. One is to increase market share, and the other is to increase profits. So anyone who thinks that Amazon is their friend is deluded. Is Exxon the friend of everyone who fills up their tank with gas? I don’t think so. Anti-trust laws are to prevent the natural growth of companies to grow to a monopoly status, and then use that monopoly power to stifle competition. And that’s what Amazon has been doing.”

Hugh Howey on Author’s United Letter to the DOJ: “I think it’s hilarious!”
“Amazon has done more good for literature than any other organization in my lifetime. They make books available to people without bookstores nearby, and at great prices. And they pay authors nearly 6 times what publishers do.”

Writers and the Evils of Making a Living

Photo Courtesy of Linnie via Creative Commons
[Pollyanna at the allotment]

Lately, I’ve been reading a number of discussions in various author groups debating the evils of writing for money, as opposed to “doing what you love.” Now, I am a patient man (not really, but whatever), and for the most part I’ve held my tongue. But I’ve gotten to the point where the stench of sanctimony is threatening to burn my eyes. So, here goes.

Repeat after me (and your wife won’t divorce you): There is nothing wrong with making money at writing.

Pollyanna in the House
I don’t get it—I really don’t. Since when is getting paid to write immoral? One writer who appears to be on the side of art over commerce quoted Samuel Johnson, who said, “No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.” Apparently, he took umbrage with that and proceeded to go on a toot about writers not being true to themselves or something, and plenty of others got on the bandwagon.

Now, before everyone gets wound up and accuses me of being a blatant capitalist with huge teeth and tassels on my shoes, let me explain. I am not by any stretch of the imagination suggesting that a person ever write drivel because it pays well. On the contrary, writing is a profession like any other. And to do it well, you must be a professional. That said, what’s wrong with getting paid for your hard work?

Repeat after me (especially in the presence of your deadbeat brother-in-law): I am not a charity!

Writing as Art
Writing can be art, sure. Whether you are writing popular fiction or the great American novel (whatever the hell that is), you should strive to make your words sing. But guess what. People who write heartfelt, sentimental prose that fits inside a greeting card are trying to make their words sing too. And so are those fine men and women of Madison Avenue who write advertising copy. They are professionals, people! And they are damned good at what they do.

But what about novelists? Ahh … This is where things get tricky. Here’s what I’ve observed. People who are just starting out—and those who have written for a while and never sold anything—seem to be the ones screaming the loudest about the evils of getting paid. Last time I checked, successful folks like Stephen King and J. K. Rowling are depositing fat checks in the bank every month and not crying about it. Now, you may or may not care for what they write. But they are nevertheless professionals in every sense of the word.

The Rest of Us
I’m happy to admit that I cannot support my family on my writing. Boohoo. That’s why I have a day job. Charles Bukowski worked at the post office, for cryin’ out loud. And he hated it. But at least he got a novel out of the deal.

I have three pieces of advice for people who piss and moan about being true to their art:

  1. Calm down
  2. Continue to write your heart out
  3. Find a way to put food on the table

The sad reality is that most writers will never make a living writing. Don’t believe me? Check out Hugh Howey’s excellent Author Earnings website. Charles Ives wrote some of the most innovative American music of the 20th century. Listen to his Three Places in New England sometime and you’ll see what I mean. Did he get to make a living at writing music? Hell, no—he sold insurance! Look it up.

Okay, I feel better now. Carry on writing that awesome book of yours. And remember, it’s all going to be fine.

And Now A Word About Professionalism

Photo Courtesy of Elizabeth Haslam via Creative Commons
[Pro Yo Buff Professional Volleyball]Well, kiddies, it’s almost time for Dead Is All You Get: Book Two of THE DEAD SERIES to go live. And it’s been a journey, let me tell you. Recently, I did a cover reveal, signaling the approaching publishing date. Now, we’re really close. I’m getting the manuscript back from the proofreader and, once the book is formatted by the amazing and inimitable JW Manus, it’s saving humanity one book at a time. Okay, that’s overstated. But, hey, I’m excited!

In the meantime, I wanted to talk a little about the publishing process from the point-of-view of a moderately experienced indie author. Because I write, I read. A lot. And I have to say that indie publishing is a blessing and a curse. First, let’s talk about the blessing part.

Amazon and the Masses
Like Gutenberg, Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and others have brought publishing to the masses. If you’ve paid any attention to the debate raging now between Amazon and Hachette, you’ll understand that this is a pretty big deal. No longer must authors be at the mercy of powerful literary agents and publishers. Anyone with a computer and an Internet connection can publish a book. Anyone.

This new reality has brought about a titanic transformation of publishing—with the reader at the center. New voices—authors who for the most part would never have gotten a shot—are now able to be read. All good stuff. But, as in most things in life, there’s a downside.

Up to Our Necks in Dreck
It’s precisely because anyone can hit the “Publish” button that there’s a lot of garbage out there. I’m talking bad writing, bad covers, no editing and no formatting. So what does this mean for the reader? Well, they have to wade through the dreck to get to the good stuff. And with way more than a million titles, that’s not easy. “What about reviews?” you say. Ever heard of sock puppets?

The major publishers have put forth this argument for years—implying that the only way to get your hands on quality books is to purchase them from The Big Five. Well, I’m here to tell you that this is a load of crap. Don’t believe me? Check out Hugh Howey’s Author Earnings site sometime and you’ll find that indie publishing is growing at a pace that’s alarming to The Big Five.

But enough of this. Let’s talk about making your indie book the best it can be.

The Cover Matters
Whether or not you like my book cover, it’s professional. I not only hired an artist to create it, but I used a professional cover designer. As many others have said ad nauseam, at least when it comes to eBooks, you can judge a book by its cover. And if the thing is rubbish, readers can probably assume the book is as well.

Editors Matter
You cannot hope to build an audience without entrusting your book to a professional editor and proofreader (often not the same person). Editors see things you don’t—gaps in logic, klunky language and bad grammar, to name a few. And a proofreader sees things editors don’t—missing commas, extra spaces after periods, etc.

Again, you may find that you don’t care for THE DEAD SERIES—I hope you do, though—but it’s professional. Unfortunately, typos will always make their way through. And I can tell you that I’ve found plenty of them in books from The Big Five. Nothing against these guys. It’s because we’re human—we miss things. What’s nice about eBooks is, you can easily fix the typo and republish.

Formatting Matters
I’m talking strictly about eBooks here. Yes, you can leave it to the Smashwords Meatgrinder to handle the formatting. Mark Coker has done an amazing job with that program, doing his best to automate the process of self-publishing. But it’s still a program. I prefer to work with a human.

The point is, don’t just upload your Microsoft Word document to KDP and hope for the best. You’ll be disappointed—and so will your readers.

A Good Synopsis Matters
When I say “synopsis,” I am also referring to the book blurb that appears under your book’s title on Amazon. It should be as professional as your book. And if you don’t know how to write an effective one, seek the help of other writers. You won’t be sorry.

Brand Matters
So what am I really talking about? Brand. This is all about your brand, people. Get the book wrong and readers will be done with you. And it will be hard to get them back. And I didn’t mean to imply that doing all of the above is cheap—it’s not. But if you’re serious about your work, you must do everything you can to produce a professional-looking product.

Of course, I am assuming that your writing rocks. That’s a given. All the more reason you should give it the respect it deserves.