Report From AWP 2014
5 (Different-ish) Ways to Create Time for Writing

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?