Amazon for Authors, Part One: Opportunities

In my previous blog post on my time at AWP, I promised an article on how you, as an author, can utilize some of the many services Amazon offers.  So here it is.

First, let's get clear on a couple of things:

1. I am by no means an expert on this topic.   Many others, who have actual publishing experience with Amazon, are far better versed on the subject than I. Over the last couple of months I've been educating myself, however, and I've accumulated a bit of knowledge.  I also attended two panels at AWP last week and gleaned more information to share.

2.  I am not an apologist for Amazon, nor am I a hater.  I do not subscribe to the view that Jeff Bezos is the devil and his website the Evil Empire.  I think we have to admit that Bezos has changed publishing forever and that Amazon offers fantastic opportunities for writers.  On the other hand, I also lament the ongoing demise of bookstores, especially independent ones, that his reign has hastened.  In other words, I get both sides of the debate.  And I believe one of the reasons it is so heated is that we are standing smack-dab in the middle of a revolution in publishing.  Revolutions are always hard, because one side triumphs and the other slinks away.  But I take the view that there's room for both the old and the new.

So all that being said, let's look at what I've learned.  At one of the panels I attended, the moderator put up a slide with a quote from Jeff Bezos that encapsulates his goal: "Any book ever written in any language, all available in less than 60 seconds."

Yeah.  That tells you something right there.  Bezos wants to get every book ever written anywhere on his site.  This means he's probably going to some day rule the world.  Kidding.  Sort of.  But it also means:

Opportunities for writers on Amazon are incredible.

Not only does Amazon widen the reach of legacy published books, it offers the chance to others who are tired of knocking on the doors of New York houses to publish their own work.  (I'll write more about the actual programs to do this in part two of this post.)

Self publishing, now more often called indie publishing, is no longer quite so frowned upon, especially with the success of authors such as Amanda Hocking, J. A. Konrath, and Hugh Howey. Some stats I picked up from one of the panels: 

  • In 2013, 1/4 of the top 100 on Amazon were indie-published titles.  In 2014, the company expects that figure to go higher.
  • In Germany, the number of indie published books in the top 100 was more like 50%.  In the United Kingdom, 30%.  In India (where Amazon has only been established a couple of years) it was 20%.

Those figures astound me.  As some have said, it's the wild west for authors these days.  (I'm also not good at looking beyond the obvious with statistics.  I'm a writer, not a mathematician.  Though I did manage to raise one.  Anyway, if you see a way we should dig deeper into those figures, let me know.)

And I'm about to divulge some stats that will make you run for your nearest computer to upload your work.  The afore-mentioned Hugh Howey, a writer of science fiction, sold 40,000 Ebooks of his title Wool in May of 2012, to the tune of $150,00 income.  In one month.

Hugh Howey is the current poster boy for Amazon success.  He did so well with his Ebooks that when legacy publishing came knocking at his door, he decided to sell them only his print rights and hang onto the rest himself.  (That a writer was able to negotiate such a contract with the big boys and girls is somewhat of a revolution in and of itself.)

Hugh sat on one of the panels I attended and he's a lovely man, gracious and willing to share his ideas about his success.  He writes an informative blog about his writing and publishing and his books are pretty damn good–I'm currently reading Wool.

By the way, Howey recently created waves a tsunami across the internet, with his report on genre indie author earning.  Read it here.  You can also read a story about it here.

And, all those wonderful, mind-blowing figures aside, there's this:

Discoverability is still a crap shoot.

Discoverability is the new buzz word in indie publishing circles.  It refers, as you have no doubt inferred, to the process of getting your books found among the noise.  I consulted the Google for advice on how many books are published on Amazon and other sites each year, and wasn't able to come up with a definitive answer (though I did read some fascinating articles when I should have been writing).  But we all know that there are a lot of books out there, some excellent, some mediocre, some awful.

The question is how to make yours findable in the midst of the field.   The answer to that deserves a post of its own, one I will no doubt write soon.  But Howey said on the panel that spending time writing good work is the most important thing.  He had put up multiple titles before he actually spent much time marketing his work (and then he used mostly social media).  Many genre indie publishers are finding success with old-fashioned serials, releasing their novels one segment at a time, as Howey did with Wool.  Others augment their novels with shorter works set in the same world.  And most all of them write in series and write a lot.

Amazon says it is working on the discoverability issue.  And one thing I came away from the AWP panels feeling was that they really do have the interests of authors at heart, especially when said authors are making them lots of money. (Because, at the end of the day, Amazon is, after all a corporation, and corporations exist to make money.)

Okay, that's it for part one.  Look for part two in the next few days.  In that post, I'll talk about the various programs that Amazon offers.  And by the way, I'm certainly not against the other indie publishing platfroms out there, including Kobo, Lulu, Smashwords and a gazillion others.  It's just that I've learned more about Amazon, and let's face it, our buddies in Seattle dominate the market.

So what about you?  Are you planning to indie publish?  Or are you dedicated to going the legacy publishing route?  Do you have experience with either?  I'd love to hear in the comments.

PS.  I'm experimenting with the font size on posts.  It suddenly occurred to me the default font size was a bit smallish.  But this font looks big to me. Weigh in, please–which do you prefer?

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20 Responses to Amazon for Authors, Part One: Opportunities

  1. J.D. 03/10/2014 at 05:53 #

    The new font does look. Appropriately for this article, I am opposed to change, so I prefer the original. I don’t mind this one. The danger I see is not Jeff Bezos. My computer is middle aged. The circuit board isn’t covered in cobwebs, nor is it a sleek speed demon. When I go to a website I wait, then wait a little more–for all the video to load. I don’t want to look at video; I want to read! I find it more and more difficult to READ about sports, my second passion. The script below the video gets smaller and smaller. One of my favorites (He is very popular at this time.) is Peter King who writes MMQB for Sports Illustrated. He WRITES. His pieces are not even magazine length, but by comparison . . . . I fear for the life of the written word.

  2. J.D. 03/10/2014 at 05:54 #

    I should’ve said: The new font does look bigger.

  3. J.D. 03/10/2014 at 05:55 #

    Read twice; publish once.

  4. Charlotte Dixon 03/10/2014 at 05:59 #

    Oh J.D. I'm so glad you brought this up–it is one of my pet peeves.  I, too, hate video.  Hate it!  One reason is that I can read so much faster than it takes me to watch a video.  By the time I go through the ads and the intro, I'm done.  I'm a quick scanner, so I can get the gist of the article and get out in half the time t takes me to watch something.  I'm glad I'm not the only one.  Do you ever read Grantland?  I don't read it regularly, but visit it once in awhile.  My son told me about it.  And hey–great to see you on Twitter!

  5. Zan Marie 03/10/2014 at 06:30 #

    The new font size is good. I’m not getting younger and I need it. 😉

    I’m not worried about the written word as long as Amazon keeps selling books, and they do–hand over fist. I don’t read magazines and don’t follow sports (sorry J. D.). That said, I really want to try the legacy publishers first. I’m not a marketing guru and I’d rather keep writing instead of learning how to market.

    Speaking of Hugh Howey–If you think Wool is good, the next book in the trilogy-Shift-is even better. I haven’t read the last book in the Silo universe yet. Dust is waiting on my Kindle for me to get to it. 😉

  6. Charlotte Dixon 03/10/2014 at 07:09 #

    Hi Zan Marie, I agree.  As long as people are reading, I'm happy with however they get their books.  And people do seem to be reading in huge numbers these days.   Now its all your fault that I have to go download Shift.  I've restrained myself so far, after finishing Wool yesterday afternoon (I started reading and couldn't stop) but I knew I wouldn't last long!

  7. Zan Marie 03/10/2014 at 09:58 #

    Sorry about that, Charlotte, but it was only a matter of time before you bought it. You know that, don’t you? 😉

  8. Charlotte Dixon 03/10/2014 at 10:02 #

    Yes.  But I can always blame you, can't I?  :-) 

  9. Ledger D' Main 03/10/2014 at 11:37 #

    When Hugh Howey signed with Legacy Publishing did he have to remove his E-book version?…it would be interesting to know how well his brick and mortar version dos vs his 1&0s version—book units not dollar units…

  10. Charlotte Dixon 03/10/2014 at 13:06 #

    No, he held onto his digital publishing rights.  And I'm not sure if the legacy print version has come out yet, so dunno about the figures.  Howey is pretty open about sharing things, though, so I'd read his blog regularly.

  11. Amanda Martin 03/11/2014 at 00:08 #

    Great post (especially after Chuck Wendig’s recent Amazon bashing post). I self-publish with KDP Select and find it a simple process. Discoverability is indeed the biggest issue, and until this month I only sold a handful of books a month. But I ran a free promotion for my latest novel, had 2,500 free downloads and, as a result of the visibility, went on to sell 70 books. It isn’t Hugh Howey’s 40,000 (oh how amazing and frightening that would be) but to shift 20x my usual number of books in a week shows that people will buy it if they only see it.
    I know the chances of me ever making a living from selling books are slim (unless I find a way of writing and editing more quickly and get a lucky break) but these days I spend my time blogging, writing and learning my craft, instead of writing query letters to agents, waiting, chewing my nails, getting crushed and starting all over again. Viva the revolution! :)
    P.s. the bigger font looks better on my mini ipad!

  12. Charlotte Dixon 03/11/2014 at 06:22 #

    Amanda, thanks for weighing in.  It appears that March is Amazon-bashing month!  I've got another link to an article in the New Yorker that doesn't say nice things, either–I'll include it in the next post.  Thanks for reporting your results, I think they are very heartening.  That's a lot of readers who are now aware of your work! And yes, so many writers would rather be writing and blogging than dealing with the publishing world.  Thanks for weighing in on the font, I hadn't even thought of how it looks on tablets and phones (duh).

  13. Milli Thornton (@fearofwriting) 03/11/2014 at 08:37 #

    Charlotte, I love the bigger font size. Looks great on my screen. And now it’s much easier to read your words of wisdom and inspiration.

    Your article has put huge zest in my morning. I’m an indie author through and through, and have been since 2000. For various personal reasons, I was content with my position way down in the grassroots for years, but my aspirations in that regard have been changing. And I’m just in time for the revolution, whoo hoo!

    OK, I’m off to read about Hugh Howie and genre indie author earning. Thanks for the links!

  14. Charlotte Dixon 03/11/2014 at 09:06 #

    Enjoy your reading, Milli, and thanks for commenting! 

  15. Kristen Luciani 03/11/2014 at 15:13 #

    I have a completed ms and I’m trying to figure out the best publishing option for it. It’s good to know there are so many resources for indie authors if I decide to go the self-publishing route. We are not alone! Lol!

  16. Charlotte Dixon 03/11/2014 at 16:09 #

    I think Hugh Howey said something to the effect that he is a tourist at the best possible time to be a writer.  I agree–at least we have options.  Ten years ago we didn't.  Good luck with your book.  Keep us posted on what you decide to do!

  17. Peter Nena 03/14/2014 at 00:33 #

    I’m planning to indie-publish my novel and this post has been of tremendous assistance. Thanks, Charlotte Dixon.

  18. Charlotte Dixon 03/14/2014 at 05:58 #

    I'm so glad it was helpful!  I'm working on another post (that seems to be taking me longer than I thought) about some other Amazon services which I hope will also be helpful.  Look for it this weekend.  And hooray for your publishing your novel!  Keep us posted on how you're doing with it!

  19. Don Williams 03/16/2014 at 07:10 #

    The best way to be discovered on Amazon is simple, but expensive: MONEY!

    For example: A $1,000 per month Amazon will list your book with all of the top-selling books of a similar nature or genre. This way, your work will get exposed to the millions of people hunting for books similar to yours. That’s easy; getting the money is the hard part.

    I’ve been thinking of going the Amazon route for over a year, and, hopefully, I’ll be getting there soon.

  20. Charlotte Dixon 03/16/2014 at 12:54 #

    I'm not familiar with this program, Don.  I didn't hear any of the Amazon guys talk about it, but I certainly don't claim to know everything, either!  I think one think that will get you featured more prominently is reviews, lots of reviews!

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