Putting the world to write!
The Booker Prize Winner, the global success stories such as 50 Shades, the humble self-published and the yet-to-be-discovered best-seller and even the no-hopers all have one thing in common: they are all available on Amazon. The global online seller is now so embedded into our minds that no sooner has a person decided to buy a book, their fingers are spelling out the name.
And the company is only too acutely aware of its selling power that it has its own set of morals.Recently I uploaded the e-book version of my novel The Tokyo Express to the Amazon KDP Select publish service. I have my own book of ISBNs so I am essentially still the publisher of the title, as with the paperback, and yet in an instant, after the button was pushed to publish, I lost most control. An e-book requires a ‘handler’ in the form of the online marketplace retailer to ensure that encrypted file reaches the customer, and so they get to call all the shots. E-books sales are soaring, we know that, and yet it has become a mysterious world, in this day and age of data sharing! Distributors like Amazon and Barnes & Noble don’t share their e-book sales figures, as one blogger recently pointed out (http://authorearnings.com/the-report) and have an opaque ranking system that doesn’t seem to correlate to sales.
Understanding the BIC (Book Industry Communication) codes system helps so that your book gets a higher ranking. A way to do this is search a similar book to yours on good old Amazon (it has some good uses!) and what codes the choose as the codes are not obvious and often overlap with others. You can see the full list of BIC’s Subject Categories and Qualifiers Scheme, version 2.1, the standard classification scheme for the UK book trade and other English language markets, at http://www.bic.org.uk. It is worth doing this as your book can be higher up rankings in niche genres than in general fiction. I personally don’t look at rankings when buying a book that appeals to me but others such as booksellers and librarians do!
Getting noticed by star reviewers is obviously key to success, as well as having a “tribe” on-line – what one 80 year old author with 26 books published calls a dedicated following on Twitter and Facebook. She rightly advised us novice authors that nowadays without a tribe a potential publisher or agent will consider you. I run a very small press and publish local history genre, but get approached by all types of authors with similar ambition, they want me to publish and promote their book. Time and time again I say the same thing to them: “If you don’t promote your book and have a presence online, why would you expect anyone take you on in this data-hungry era we live in?” I get so many authors respond by saying, “But all I want to do is write!” I feel a tinge of envy at their innocence but like telling a child Santa doesn’t exist, I have to be firm and tell them real life isn’t like that anymore.
I find Goodreads a great website for peer recommendations and there are hundreds of forums to join as well as Facebook pages that are free and can reach a wide audience. Most online retail websites also allow an author to upload plenty of data on the book and bios, photos, blog links which enhance the online profile for free. There are of course the many, many services offered to have your book advertised by companies that flood the cyber-world with tweets and review updates. But at $20 a day you’d have to be sure you can double your money with sales. It is a game of knowing the system. Some it seems are making a mint from this new Wild West, sadly not the authors. Stories abound the media now of the poor income levels of the majority of authors, myself included!
And so to my story of uploading the e-book version of The Tokyo Express. I had the paperback listed for over a year and it was selling okay. As soon as the KDP version was accepted the paperback disappeared. If this notification exists in the small print, I think I would have needed not only a magnifying glass but Hercule Poirot to find it. At first I thought maybe this was because I had used an Amazon service so they would want to promote their product first.
Not the case. I have published several other books on behalf of other authors, again first as paperbacks via my company http://www.estuarypublishing.co.uk. Earlier this year, I used an e-distributor to convert them as they contain images (Festival of the Gargoyles, a children’s adventure story set in 18th century Southend-on-Sea and EKCO Sounds, the true story of the EKCO radio factory). This e-distributor uploaded them onto Amazon, and again the paperback listings have since disappeared. Even though I am the registered publisher of the paperbacks, I was not informed this would happen.
I spoke to Amazon’s very efficient customer service team who explained it in lay-man’s terms; “Amazon sees e-books make more sales so we always put the emphasis on them.” But what about my rights as a publisher? I made quite a lot of sales on the paperbacks and now sales have dried up as when the customer searches for the book they only get the Kindle version even if they specifically put the search in books and not Kindle. A canny buyer will click on it and then see there is a paperback version which they need to click on. But how many canny buyers will know that even?
I am lucky in that as a local publisher, I have very supportive local bookshops and make most of my sales to local people. Again friendly local media means I can promote my website and books to the immediate audience. I see my author friends who get up at 5am to write so they can spend the “working day” hours online relentlessly promoting their work, engaging with other authors and inviting one another to contribute to their blogs. I cannot dedicate such time to this and I have a realistic approach to know that to compete on the grand scale in such a competitive world isn’t going to bring me riches. While I have a presence in these market places I don’t assume I will make money that way – the odds are certainly against authors and indie publishers. So long as I know that is case, I won’t raise my expectations too high. Although of course it would be nice to see the online retailers have a change of heart and make it a fairer environment for the creators of the works they sell on.
Putting the world to write!
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