Where would I be without Amazon?
With the ongoing PR war between Amazon and Hachette (and the Big 5, generally), all centered on an increasingly confusing contract dispute, I’ve been thinking a lot about that ubiquitous online beast. This amorphous Aladdin’s Cave of All Things Retail. And, say what you will about their pluses and minuses – and there are many of both, no doubt – its simple existence has changed countless lives.
As a relatively unknown writer who self-publishes, I now know that what I do will land in the hands of readers. That after it’s beta-read and edited, properly formatted and polished to a beautiful shine, I’ll be able to head on over to KDP, download the book and the cover, hit Publish and, in very little time at all, have my latest work Live.
Ten years ago, in a world without Amazon or KDP, this wasn’t the case. Ten years ago, the manuscript would have sat ignored as I labored over the query letter. It would have gathered dust as I tried again and again to crack some unknown query/synopsis code that would merit the attention of Those In New York.
Ten years ago, my only hope for some kind of a career hid in some tacit “you’re good enough” nod from the Gatekeepers of Traditional Publishing, because, back then, my being “good enough” sat squarely and forever in the hands of Unreachable Others.
Long story short, ten years ago I would not be the writer I am today.
My focus has always been on the telling of the tale. Yes, it needs to be well-written with attention to proper sentence structure and an engaging narrative. And, yes, the characters you create need to be not only unique, but also easy to identify with. These are all basics in the writing of a good book.
That was my focus. Still is my focus. Writing a good book. And, like so many before me, the hoops one needed to hop through to get a good book into the hands of readers who craved a tale well-told were too onerous. This hopping of hoops killed careers before they could ever find their footing.
I know it would have killed mine.
Then along came Amazon.
Amazon opened the doors. Instead of hoops, Amazon offered opportunity. Seeing an industry denying undiscovered talent their chance to be heard, Amazon stepped to the plate.
Single mothers in the Midwest found their romance novels becoming bestsellers. Goth kids dressed in black discovered they’re not alone, their zombie books collecting earnest raves from their peers. Retirees who’d put their dreams of Writing on hold so they could pay the bills and raise a family reinvented themselves as novelists with a lifetime of stories to tell.
Would any of them have found a home with the Big Five if they’d had to hippity-hop through all those hoops? Would these everyday, average, ordinary folks with neither connections nor celebrity been given the time of day by the Big Five if we were still stuck in a World Without Amazon?
In short, what Amazon did was good for writers and even better for readers.
Because Amazon understands that readers don’t care who publishes who.
A recent study (http://authorearnings.com/reports/the-50k-report/ ) showed 41% of Amazon’s genre ebook bestseller list comprised of smaller, indie published books and single author-published work compared to 22% for books released by the Big Five.
Furthermore, and surprisingly, these non-Big Fivers appear to be making more from their work than those who sit under the traditional publishing umbrella ( http://www.selfpublishingadvice.org/do-self-publishing-authors-earn-more/ )
At the end of the day, you simply can’t deny how greatly lives, and an industry, have been changed by this Amazonian opening of doors. A change more traditionally based writers and publishers are still struggling to adapt to.
And I, for one, am grateful. Safe to say, as long as Amazon keeps ‘em open, I’ll continue to walk through, armed with new stories to tell.
Screenwriter, playwright, actor, and author of Martuk … the Holy and The Martuk Series, Jonathan Winn was born in Seattle, WA. He currently lives in the US.
Martuk … the Holy: Proseuche is his second full-length novel and can be found on
Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/martuk-the-holy-jonathan-winn/1119920244?ean=2940149790333
24 replies to “A World Without Amazon – A Guest Post from Jonathan Winn”
Amazon opening up publishing the way they did was an immense world-changing action. I suspect we’ve only begun to see the changes. Great article, Jonathan. It echoes so many things I’ve felt since I started on the indie journey after years of a) beating my head against tradpub, followed by b) being accepted by tradpub, followed by c) being cast aside by tradpub, followed by d) being OVER tradpub.
I applaud your having successfully hopped through the hoops to get trad pubbed in the first place. It sounds like you, joining a cast of thousands, it seems, realized that although trad pubbed can be good for some, it isn’t good for you. And because of Amazon, that realization need not mean your dreams of living a writing life had to die. :)
Great post. If it weren’t for Amazon giving us indie publishers an amazing tool, I certainly would have given up the desire to share my stories long ago. I love to write. I love to tell a story. What I did not love was the illogical entry to become traditionally published. Yes, writing a killer novel is the quickest way to that point; no doubt about that. But there have been MANY authors who have written a killer novel and subsequently pushed aside because they did not know the magic and ever-changing formula to gain entry into the great land of Trad Pub. Personally, I won’t lose a wink of sleep if my books don’t sell well. I write because I love it. I write to share. And Amazon gave me, along with countless others, a way to share our words.
One wonders how many voices were found and how many rediscovered their love of reading because of Amazon stepping up to the plate and offering us a tool to tell our stories.
It really has changed the game. :)
What would happen if, God forbid, you know…Amazon had to shut down? Then what would we all do? Is *anyone* actually making money through BN’s Nookpress? How about Kobo? The only place I earn money on my books is Amazon to date.
Amazon has the best formatting for their e-books, hands down, than any other platform (biased opinion, and no I don’t work for Amazon) and makes it incredibly simple to upload and format your books to their Kindle’s needs and specs. It’s just unparalleled. The author of this post mentioned jumping through hoops and well, there are hoops aplenty if you decide to craft something brilliant for iBooks (Apple). Like for starters you actually need to own a current Mac that is newer than 2008!
This leaves a vast swath of authors who will have to go through someone else to achieve that platform. And what’s the ROI for it anyway? I’ve heard reports that it’s on par with Nookpress! It’s dismal, this whole state of affairs.
I think that books by indies are getting better in every way: quality of writing, storyline, memorable characters, interesting themes, and more polished artwork as well. Their craftsmanship far outguns anything I’ve seen from the Big 5 in years. Best cover artwork I’ve seen from the Big 5? Maybe a few Stephen King titles, but most of them are boring and understated. Nothing much with a lot of pinnachè, pizzaz, style, intrigue! And we as both readers *and* writers crave…awesome. And the readers deserve awesome. Awesome books on all fronts (in my experience) have been from indies. And of course a few King titles.
So if Amazon went kaput tomorrow? Where does that leave us? The mid-western mother’s and the goth kids and the Hugh Howey’s and the Scott Marm–, well you get the idea. We’d all be scrambling to figure out how to disseminate hundreds of millions of books.
Okay now I’m just freaking out about the true end of the world…the end of the Internet. :o
And your freak out is freaking me out! LOL But you do bring up some great points, mainly about the ease of use one finds with Amazon as well as the rising quality with self-published and indie-published work.
In my opinion, the quality issue really comes from not only being held to a different, and higher, standard than the Big Five — i.e., a typo in one self-pubbed books paints all self-pubs with the same damning brush — but also a growing awareness from those who self-pub that they NEED to be BETTER than the Big Five.
When it comes to Amazon going kaput … let’s just not even go there, m’kay? ;)
Great post Jonathan. Your thoughts mirror the ones that have gone on in my house and I’ve watched my wife transform explosively after she published back in March.
Don’t worry too hard about Amazon going kaput. I’ve seen that sentiment echoed a few times in other posts by authors and I’ve been looking for a place to say this for a while. I’m an engineer and I know a ton of them in addition to me. I speak their language. If Amazon shut down the Indy published world they built tomorrow, there would be thousands of authors looking for a way to take their work from their hard drive to the digital readers in their reader’s hands.
I would personally make an effort to fill that gap with as many mutant engineers as I could round up for a late night job and would likely fail. I bet Mark Coker would be all over it as well and he’d probably succeed. Hundreds of other people just like me would see the opportunity opening up if Amazon disappeared. There would be a mad rush to fill that gap, to get there first and to win the approval and support of the author community. Platforms will come and go. Amazon has built a monster and that monster isn’t going back to sleep.
Don’t lose any sleep. I don’t.
Thanks again for your post and I’m headed over to Amazon to check out your stuff.
Mutant engineers helping people publish books?
There must be a story in there SOMEWHERE! :)
One of you will have to write it. I have the creativity of an overripe kumquat on antihistamines.
Okay, you’re right. We won’t go there…but it’s the true taboo apocalypse that I’ll bet you no author out there in their right mind could really write about without crying and gnashing their teeth and pulling out their hair. Talk about moving a reader! :p
I love Amazon and I shop there every day. I am glad it gave all of you a voice to connect with readers but if the bookstore went away tomorrow, you would all be fine. With the collaboration you all already show with each other and because you and your significant others have experience in all manners of trade including legal, programming,publishing, graphic arts and marketing, I believe you could work together to create your own store and design it so it would best fit you and your readers” needs.
What would happen if, God forbid, you know…Amazon had to shut down?
Google, Walmart, and Apple would step up and do the same thing.
Oh, PLEASE! Stop with the ignorant Apple bashing! I see enough of that over on the KDP Formatting Forum. We don’t need to see it here.
First: EVERY platform (Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, et al) has certain suggested formatting instructions that you should follow in order to get the best display of your book on a particular device. Apple’s are no worse than anyone else’s. In fact, they are quite detailed and helpful. As for “hoops” to jump through… if you want to play with the big boys, you going to have to play by their rules, and that fact has been true for many, many years. It’s always been true that if you wanted a TradPub to consider your book manuscript, you had to type it out a certain way. No, you could not submit it on lined paper, written in green ballpoint pen, no matter HOW much that was your favorite way to write. Yes, if you want to submit to Apple, there are hardware requirements. If you don’t have the hardware, you can hire someone who does to submit your book for you, or you can go to a library that has Macintosh machines and use theirs. It’s the same as what happens if you can’t design a cover. O.K., you get someone who can to do it for you. And let’s not forget that ALL of the retailers require you to have an Internet connection. Don’t want one? Can’t afford one? Too bad.
Second: Amazon does not “format” your books. They convert whatever you send them into a Kindle book. You do the formatting first in the file that you upload to Amazon. If you follow their guidelines, and know enough to follow a few standard publishing conventions (indenting, line spacing, etc.), your book will look pretty good. If you don’t… well, I don’t know what books you have been reading, but there are plenty of indie Kindle books that could use a major amount of formatting help. Unfortunately, most of the time the author doesn’t see anything wrong with it. Doesn’t have a clue, in fact. He/she is just glad to get it up there.
Third: A part of the Return On Investment of ANY platform is what you make of it. There are hundreds (thousands, maybe?) of indies who publish on Amazon and who complain that they sell NO books. There are also stories galore (if you would do some research) of others who publish on multiple platforms and find that they sell the most on Nook, or Apple, or Kobo. Why? I don’t know, but part of it HAS to be that they do good marketing for wherever their book is available.
As for what would we do without Amazon… we would sell our books other places. Better, worse? Sell more, sell less? Sure. All of those. But remember: readers HAVE to read. They are driven to it. With a little effort on our collective part as author-publishers, they will find our books and they will tell others where to find them. We will prevail. The indie publishing genie is out of the bottle. There is no putting it back.
Great post, John.
Another point that’s often overlooked — for many international authors, Amazon opened up the world.
I’m an Australian writer. Ten years ago I would have had to jump through all those hoops just to get published in my home country. Now, with the click of a button I can make my work available to much of the world. The US and UK markets are now available to me, which means millions more potential readers.
It’s an amazing development.
YES! That’s a wonderful point. I’ve received Thank You emails from people in France, the UK, Australia, Belgium, Italy, Greece, the Middle East. Basically anywhere people can access Amazon and buy books, I’ve heard from. I’m not sure that would have been the case — at least as quickly as it is now — had I relied on traditional publishing ten years ago before Amazon.
That really is a fantastic point and I thank you for chiming in and mentioning it. :)
Add Germany to that list.
I’m German writing in English. Getting anything published was hard work – I did manage a few short stories – but I never even tried selling a novel in English. Now I’m gearing up for a novella series to self-publish.
Amazon has made all the difference, even in reading. It allows me to buy books in English easily and quickly, even print. Before them, it took weeks to order through a bookstore, and I’d pay a lot of money for a costly British edition, because shipping the cheap US editions would be even more expensive… I practically stopped buying used since Amazon stepped up.
When I initially began following the Amazon vs. Hachette battle (mainly because of Hugh and the Passive Guy drawing attention to it), I was a little confused by what the parties were really fighting over. I did a bit more reading and a fair bit of thinking, and now I think I better grasp the essence of the conflict. I offer my thoughts on the matter here in the hopes readers may find it helpful:
What a lovely and thoughttful post. :o)
A few thoughts:
What Amazon is doing for indie-authors is amazing, at least for now. They have made it possible for us to get our works out to an audience. The technology also serves up these works to readers who are actually the true market niche for that purpose.
But, let’s just step back and have a think on this: Can you just set up your own web business and market to the same folks? Much like a bazaar, Amazon offers everything to everyone. And, a close inspection of the technology that makes that happen would reveal that, like every business, Amazon has carrying costs to allow that bazaar to exist.
Would you expect that Amazon hires US based IT coders to run their site?
Would you fault Amazon for using offshore coders in its efforts to trim their expenses?
See, the globalization thingie works both ways.
What has traditionally been the seat of power has been owning the means of production, and owning the means to protect it. And, I am talking about physical protection, ie force surrounded by some ‘law’ that allows said force to be applied.
I think this little exchange between Hatchette and Amazon is just the first shot across the bows of a much larger conflict that is looming.
Remember, not everyone has Internet, electricity or even reliable food and water sources. The ability to distribute product is every bit as important as the product itself in these cases. And, technology has armed the old paradigm with enormously powerful surveillance and tracking abilities. That, too is part of the success of Amazon – it’s business intelligence and database assets. You do get ‘recommendations’, don’t you?
Before this goes over into tinfoil hat land, just consider that even Amazon has built-in barriers to entry. The successful author wears many hats, and those that can do, or afford to pay for, the things that always work in marketing and advertising will naturally have a stronger voice, as long as the current economic models exist.
Money = power, because it can be spent to attract attention, and hence the ability to influence.
Obvious, yes. Likely to change, no.
As others have commented: what to do if Amazon shut down?
Do it ourselves.
1. Offer your books for sale on your own website. PayPal and SquareMarket make this possible with minimal cost. The highest cost to yourself would be paying for the software to run the POS (Point Of Sale) operations so once someone paid for your book, they could download it automatically.
2. Become an entrepreneur and create an ebook-selling website. A good example of this is BitBooks.co. The programmer, Jaz, decided to make an ebookstore where readers could purchase books in bitcoins. So far, so good. I’ve sold a couple of books through his site. The best way to make such a site a success is to ensure that customers can easily locate books in a clean interface. Give the customers a broad-ranging selection of search criteria so they can pinpoint titles that they are looking for that might not be so easy to locate via simple genre searches.
3. Go out and do some good ‘ole fashioned hawking. Grab your bamboo cane, put on your straw hat and red-striped jacket and start yelling, “Step right up folks for the greatest literary masterpiece four bucks’ll buy…!”
Just because Amazon is the biggest gorilla in the zoo doesn’t mean that some little monkey can’t push it off the top spot. Just ask MySpace about Facebook…
Great article, Johnathan. Here’s my story in brief.
I had been writing for about fifteen years before I discovered Amazon’s KDP. Like many people I knew some folks who talked about wanting to write a novel and a couple who actually had done it. I had written twelve novels. I didn’t know anyone else who had written that many and had not broken through the “traditional” route.
I knew that I was serious about my craft (I didn’t just talk about it or putter around with a few chapters on occasion. I worked hard on it) but I didn’t know if I had any talent. My family and friends read some of my books and they said they enjoyed them, but everyone knows that friends and family are biased. Their encouragement means a lot, but how well can you trust it?
When I discovered KDP my motivation for publishing was to see if I was any good at writing. I wanted verification from people I’d never met.
I offered my first book for free (it’s still free) to attract readers because I wasn’t really looking to make money off of it. Since February almost 50,000 people have downloaded my book for free. I know that it’s not a big number for some of the more successful writers (like Mr. Howey) but it was a pretty amazing number to me. Reviews began to come in, and while some were negative of course, most of them were very positive. Not only that, but my other two books began to sell fairly regularly as well.
Because of a medical condition I can no longer work and my wife and I support our family on her income and what I make from book sales.
If Amazon didn’t provide this opportunity I wouldn’t be able to help support my children. They have given me much more than fans and a paycheck–they’ve given me my dignity back.
I want to thank Amazon for all they do to help people realize their dreams and I want to thank you, Johnathan, and you, Mr. Howey for all your work for indie writers everywhere and for showing the world that with enough talent, hard work and imagination that people can accomplish their dreams.
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