I’m a pretty optimistic person, I guess. I didn’t used to be years ago, but these days I tend to lean towards the “anything is possible” side of things. Keep plugging away. Don’t give up, because all hard work leads to profit… eventually. I can’t actually ever think of a time that this philosophy hasn’t served me well.
That doesn’t mean I always stick with the same game plan and doggedly play it despite all signs pointing to roadblock. I’m starting to think Amazon is more of a roadblock than anything else.
Amazon’s Anti-Indie Authors Policies
When I published my first book, “Intangible,” in 2013, I told myself it was going to take ten years to really gain traction, and if it was less then I’d be pleasantly surprised. It’s only been three (almost exactly), so I have no business being discouraged yet… and I wasn’t even tempted to be discouraged until Amazon rolled out the Kindle Unlimited Program in the summer of 2014. Since then, whether I’ve been enrolled in the program or not enrolled in the program, sales have slowed to almost nothing.
Apparently this week, Amazon made it even harder for authors: they’ve rolled out a free e-book program for Amazon Prime members. So far as I can tell, there are only 1000 books in the program now; but my guess is this is going to be a negative both for authors who are in the program (they’ll get paid by the page probably, the way Kindle Unlimited works), and for authors who are not (why would a member pay for an unknown e-book when he could just as easily read a different one for free?)
Competition for Amazon?
This week I listened to this podcast with Amy Collins on how indie authors can get their books into physical bookstores and libraries. Amy has a history as a book buyer for a bookstore chain, a sales rep at a division of Random House, a sales director for a smaller publisher, and then the owner of a company designed to help smaller and indie publishers get wider distribution.
According to Amy:
- Foot traffic in libraries is increasing in the United States. (This isn’t what The Atlantic said earlier this year, though.)
- Independent bookstores are growing, not shrinking. This article also says that physical book sales in general are going up, which makes me happy… and this was the reason for Amazon’s new physical bookstores, open so far in Seattle and in San Diego. They wanted a piece of the action, and because other physical bookstores have virtually refused to carry Amazon books (since Amazon has hurt their bottom lines so substantially), they had to build their own bookstores to do it.
- The rules of how to get your books into physical bookstores and libraries change roughly ever six months.
Next Steps for a New Marketing Plan
I’ve never loved the Amazon-only approach… I just did it because they were the behemoth. That’s where everybody was buying. Smashwords exists, sure, and Barnes and Noble also recently came out with Nook Press as an alternate self-publishing platform. But after three years on Smashwords with “Intangible” and “Invincible,” I don’t think I’ve ever seen a cent. I tried getting into local Tucson bookstores, but they put my books buried in the corner somewhere such that they could only be found if one already knew they were there and specifically went looking for them. According to my consignment contracts, I eventually collected what was left of my inventory (which was most of it) and didn’t bother renewing because what was the point? I tried sending letters to my local library attempting to get them to carry the books and never heard back. I tried submitting my books to Kirkus (one of the really big book review groups that doesn’t accept unsolicited books because they usually only go through the big publishers) and, predictably, never heard back. I tried enrolling in Kindle Unlimited: useless.
Since this isn’t actually my #1 career, I’ve since fallen back on the “just keep writing and eventually they will find me” strategy. But with the Amazon deck increasingly stacked against Indie authors, this seems increasingly foolish. And according to Amy, a lot of the approaches I tried once and crossed off my list are worth revisiting now, because apparently the rules have changed.
I find this… exhausting. When I cross something off my list I like to move on to something else because it makes me feel like I’m getting somewhere; circling back around to stuff I’ve already tried feels like running in place. And yet, two years after I’d crossed medicine off my list of possible careers, I decided to go to naturopathic medical school… the timing just wasn’t right the first time around. I wouldn’t have been ready. Maybe it’s like that.
So I’m attempting to psyche myself up again, focusing on my vision of where I want to go so that I don’t get bogged down in the day-to-day details of a marketing checklist that in the short term largely feels like it’s not heading anywhere. But, here’s my list:
- Re-submit to every library in Tucson. Sent them free copies of my books.
- Re-submit to Kirkus, Midwest Book Review and Booklis. Send them physical copies of my books whether they like it or not.
- Post books on IngramSpark (aka LightningSource — this sends to the wholesalers — bookstores and libraries don’t want to buy from Createspace bc they don’t want to give their money to Amazon.)
- Sign up with Overdrive (the e-book distributor to libraries nationwide) and get an account with them.
- Post all the rest of my books to Nook Press now that I’m no longer exclusive with Amazon.
One thing at a time, I guess!
If a patron asks a library to purchase a certain book or series it often ends up in the collection. Have you considered asking fans to submit requests to their local libraries?
Jim Strawn says
I don’t know if you’ve gone to any writers conferences or workshops but sometimes they can connect you to an agent or publisher (or they may be part of the conference).. One is coming up locally.