Warning! Lots of thoughts that are a bit scattered, but I try to keep them coherent at least. I’ll blame writer’s brain and the fact that I’m almost done with book three of my series. Yay!
Okay . . . carry on.
If you read my blog here in there, you’ll know my feelings toward Amazon are complicated, with a capital C.
But I’m not alone.
There are lots of people who think Amazon is either a devil or an angel, depending on who you talk to, and if it’s on Monday, Wednesday, or Friday. (On Sunday you might find a select few in church praying for Jeff Bezos’s soul.)
Dean Koontz’s book deal with Amazon only added gasoline to this already wicked fire. Was he smart? Greedy? Some accused him of starting the toppling of the traditional publishing model, although a few other bigger-named authors have inked deals with Amazon too, like Sylvia Day, with less scrutiny.
Everyone is quick to point fingers, but the fact is, traditional publishing has been on a decline for years because they cling to an old model that is no longer working in the changing landscape.
Depending on huge bestsellers like Stephen King, Nora Roberts, John Grisham, and James Patterson is harmful. People who champion this say coddling the big authors funds the little authors. But I questioned this in two ways. The mid-list is shrinking. Who exactly are they funding? And more importantly, if new authors are not being sought out, their careers nurtured, who will replace these top authors? We can’t depend on all authors like Stephen King to have children who will take over their publishing empires.
One of the most frustrating things about traditional publishing is the lack of risk-taking. Yes, they are the gatekeepers of quality, but while they are busy keeping quality inside their walls, they are also keeping quality out, too. Only so many books are published every year—and those numbers include already established authors. There’s no room to grow.
Yes, they are the gatekeepers of quality, but while they are busy keeping quality inside their walls, they are also keeping quality out, too.
No one ever said if you want to be rich write a book. Some publishing houses or small presses won’t give an author an advance anymore, and if they do, it isn’t much.
Traditional publishing asks a lot of writers who want to be published:
- Query an agent. This could take months, if not years.
- Go through edits with said agent, if you’re lucky enough to follow the lengthy guidelines required to query each agent and have one sign you.
- Wait for your agent to sell your book. If she can. And that’s contingent on a few things: what kind of book you wrote, what’s selling, and what other agents are peddling. There are not many editors to go around.
- Then you might have to go through more edits with that editor.
- Wait a year for publication.
- Market your own book (with a cover you may not like and edits you don’t agree with, but you wanted to be traditionally published, right?).
- Make a fraction of book sales because your agent and publishing house take a percentage off the top.
- Hope your first book sells so maybe your agent and editor will take a look at another book.
Never mind that after you’ve gone through all of that, depending on what kind of contract you signed, your book isn’t yours anymore; your rights are gone.
To be honest, the more I learn about traditional publishing, the less it appeals to me. And to other writers. And where do writers turn when they want to publish, but don’t want to go the traditional route?
To be clear, publishing with an Amazon imprint is still considered being traditionally published. You can’t be considered without an agent. Which does make me a bit confused. If agents are so vocal about Amazon ruining traditional publishing, how will an author find an agent willing to submit their manuscript?
I listen to Print Run Podcast and the two agents who host make it clear how they feel about Amazon, Amazon’s view on books, and what they are doing to publishing as a whole. Take a listen to their latest episode where they discuss the Koontz defection, and cross them off your querying list if you want a deal with Thomas & Mercer or Montlake.
And that brings us back to what traditional publishing thinks we should do. As authors, we want our work read, not shoved under our bed because an agent’s intern was having a bad day and rejected our query.
We turn to Amazon as self-publishing authors.
But that isn’t what enrages the traditional publishing industry. What makes them so mad is that authors who publish on Amazon are making money, and there’s nothing they can say about it, or anything to defend themselves. I’ve seen proof of writers who can make good money publishing quality books. Consistently.
Living wage money.
In traditional publishing, where does the money go? To the CEOs of the huge corporations that own the publishing houses, and to the big authors who earned the gigantic advances. There is no mid-list in publishing anymore. We’re all over on Amazon earning 70% royalties and keeping our rights to our books.
Yet, somehow this is all Amazon’s fault. Mostly because Amazon is accused of not caring about books. It’s brought up time and again Jeff Bezos started moving books because they are compact and couldn’t break.
The traditional publishing houses, and anyone associated with them, holds on to the philosophy Amazon doesn’t care about books. I can say the same about the traditional publishing industry, too. If a book doesn’t sell, you’re out. Your career, too. There are no second chances, no molding of careers. Can an industry who doesn’t pay their authors, or help them sell their books, say they care about the writer or the book? They aren’t publishing for art, they’re publishing for money, and authors aren’t getting a piece of the pie. Caring about a book and caring about selling a book are two different things, but they don’t have to be mutually exclusive. I love my books. I love selling them, too.
Maybe books are loss leader on Amazon, but that doesn’t change the fact that Amazon gives every writer something that an agent or traditional publisher won’t or can’t.
A lot of authors take that chance and turn it into a four, five, or six figure career.
And Amazon is the bad guy?
I get Amazon lets too many things slide: book stuffers, plagiarism, letting indie authors publish crap that wastes customer dollars if they don’t look closely enough at the product. But the thing is, it doesn’t make them any different than any other company. Everyone has bought something brand new from a store that didn’t work when it should have. People buy cheap crap, because stores sell it, all the time. It doesn’t make it right, but Amazon isn’t doing anything new.
You can say they treat their employees like crap, but again how is that different from any other company? We all have not-so-nice things to say about where we work. Walmart is a huge culprit of this. Not long ago it came out that their workers were working off the clock to get all their work done.
Questionable ethics abound. Starbucks employees are racist. McDonald’s serves unhealthy food. Jimmy John’s founder trophy hunts. No one stops drinking coffee, and McDonald’s is still the number one fast food restaurant in the United States.
Authors don’t have a problem making money doing something they love. And if everyone else does, it’s time to do something about it.
Traditional publishing isn’t letting more authors in. Every year they keep more out.
Barnes and Noble is still in shambles, though it would be great if the new owners could give Amazon a run for their money. Apple Books doesn’t seem to be a contender, and you have to jump through more hoops than a circus tiger to publish with Google Play. When I was wide, Draft2Digital wasn’t able to publish my books there.
Everyone can complain about Amazon, but no one is stepping up to compete. Shouldn’t that be what the traditional publishing industry’s job?
Dean Koontz obviously felt that his publishing house wasn’t going to give him what he wanted or needed for the next handful of books in his career.
That’s not Amazon’s fault.
Amazon may not love books, but they are forward-thinking and are willing to pay authors for their work.
What do you have to say, traditional publishing industry?
Seems like all you can do is point fingers when you’re the only one in the room who can do something.
All this paper is good for something. I’d rather write another book for my backlist than take the time to query agents who will reject me.
I may have vented some frustration with Amazon in the past, but the truth is, writers should go where the money is, and for now that’s KU for the page reads and a 70% royalty for self-publishers (or an imprint if you can get it). With no one else willing to give authors competitive alternatives, I’ll take my chances.
And instead of writing 500 query letters, I’ll take that time to write another book.
It’s important to note that in some genres it makes more sense to query. I write Contemporary Romance. That’s one of the top genres that does well in the self-publishing space. YA fantasy, middle grade, and picture books do better when you can take the time to query. I’m not saying you can’t self-publish, but those kinds of books require a different kind of marketing, and you’ll need to do your research and make sure you understand how you’re going to reach your audience once your book is self-published. Always research the best way to publish your books.
There’s a lot of opinion on the state of publishing and whether or not querying is a viable option. Amazon is accused of not caring about books, and training readers to want free things. Traditional publishing is accused of not moving forward and staying in the past. It’s interesting to take a look at all angles and read different sides to different stories. For more reading look here:
You can read another opinion piece from the New Yorker, here.
This is a great read on both sides. PUBLISHING INDUSTRY NEWS
Amazon’s Influence on Authors & the Publishing Industry
Stay Away From Traditional Book Publishing by Dean Wesley Smith