That Poor Author

You know, I like a good Amazon kerflufle as much as the next person, but when I read stuff like this… I mean, don’t get me wrong. I hear where that independent bookseller is coming from and I can appreciate him not wanting to give that kind of financial information or support to Amazon.

But man, does your heart not go out to that author? Finally, there’s the publishing contract. And with it, the marketing money. You are a real author! And now, a bookstore won’t carry your book, not because of something you did, but because of Amazon’s war with independent booksellers. I mean, I expected A City of Ghosts would never get into bookstores, so I didn’t think it was somehow hurt by being published by CreateSpace.

In fact, quite the opposite. I’ve had a great experience with them. Found them very easy to use and very helpful when I needed it and occasionally, I get a check.

But that’s the trade-off with self-publishing–you have a lot of control, places like CreateSpace have set things up to be super easy, but you’re never going to be in a bookstore. Fine.

But man. When you think you have a “real” publisher only to discover bookstores view you as almost worse than self-published, since you’re helping to sow their destruction?

Ouch.

This, though, is a bigger problem for Amazon. If people start to feel like they can’t trust your reviews, it starts to impact the credibility of the company in the mind of the public. A lot of Amazon’s issues most people don’t care about. They’re not paying close attention to the tax stuff and, if they live in a place that doesn’t have bookstores, they could really give a shit about the plight of bookstores.

But if they just have the uneasy feeling that a place is lying to them?

That’s not good.

I’m not sure how Amazon goes about fixing that or even if they can, but that seems to me to be a bigger Achilles’ Heel than “some bookstores won’t like you.”

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4 thoughts on “That Poor Author

  1. Commenting on the issue of Amazon reviews first:

    Both the Vine program, where Amazon gives people a chance to get things for free if they’re in the “in group” and the straight-up review program are annoying to me.

    I know of one New York Times best-selling author who got his agent by posting reviews on Amazon.

    He now posts positive reviews of pretty much everything because he doesn’t want to piss off potential publishers and other agents.

    IIRC, the Amazon reviewer who gave City of Ghosts a lower rated review was a Vine program member.

    The Vine program wasn’t even mentioned in the linked article, but it’s even more insidious. If you are top-ranked reviewer you get to be in Vine. And there you get not only free books but also big-ticket free items like TVs, refrigerators, software bundles, gaming consoles, etc. Twice a month Amazon sends a newsletter out to all Vine participants that gives them a shot at a long list of products if they agree to review those for the site. They are told they “might” be asked to return those products but only 2-3% of Vine review products are requested back.

    You have to have a large number of high-rated reviews to be in Vine. And you get the high-rated reviews by posting positive reviews and asking other Viners to vote you “helpful”. I can’t believe that article author didn’t mention Vine, because it would have made her case that much stronger. She could’ve mentioned the cabal of viners that agrees to uptick one another’s reviews to keep everyone in the club. This is an open secret. Just spend a bit of time on the Vine boards.

    I know I went into all of this before when you were talking about your lower review but I’m bringing up again because It bodes especially ill for independent authors. Vine’rs tend to have an agreement to rate self-pubs and independent authors lower because those companies don’t swag the Vine newsletter. They also will take books they don’t normally read just so they can keep their Vine status. Then when they give you a lower rating–because they don’t like your book since it’s romance and they don’t read romance–and all their friends say that it was the Most Helpful, that review gets prominent placement on your book page.

    I’ve gotten to the place where if the review says it’s part of the Vine program I rate it as unhelpful just because.

  2. That independent bookseller is an idiot.

    I understand where he’s coming from (to a degree) but if he were smart he’d realise that one of the last pillars of strength remaining to the brick and mortar seller is author presence. No matter how inexpensively I can get George Martin’s next book on Amazon I cannot go there to be in the same room with him while he reads from it or signs my copy right in front of me.

    The independent sellers’ real enemy isn’t Amazon as much as it has been B&N/Borders and other big-box book-and-crap retailers. Those stores shifted book retailing into a front-list wide-and-shallow model, with much of their actual shelf-and-peg space going to non-book items like music, journals, pen sets, cards and niche gifts. With Amazon killing those outlets it’s a good time for Independent sellers to do what they do best; narrow and deep specialty sells (instead of the most recent 2 books from the top 100 authors, stock the whole list from all the top mystery authors of the last 75 years); personal appearances and advisory service.

    To start telling Amazon authors “no” is to kick down one of the legs you have left to stand on.

  3. Coble, I actually think that these to articles hand-in-hand tell us a great deal about the strength of the independent bookseller–someone you can trust needs to sort this shit for you.

    If I can’t look on Amazon and know whether I should trust that A CITY OF GHOSTS is a great book (or perhaps a shitty book), it’s helpful for me to be able to go to a bookstore and say “Hey, what do you hear about this new Betsy Phillips book?”

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