The company that my wife (Jill Jones) and I operate, Bloated Toe Enterprises, recently launched an extensive, time-consuming effort towards improving the lot of authors across the region. Note that there was no mention of “we.” Jill saw the need, had the know-how, planned the design, and wrote the programming code for our new venture, the North Country Authors website. There is no cost to anyone. Authors who supply basic information will be featured there, including photographs, biographies, books, news, and book-related events. The site will be kept up-to-date at all times.
The group North Country Authors was actually formed several years ago. Although we had a vision of where it should go, time was lacking. But after attending regional book events during the past decade, Jill recognized the need for organization. With that in mind, she went to work. The current configuration of NCA is easy to navigate and provides loads of information.
One of my roles was reaching out to authors, letting them know about the new NCA. Those with no website keeping the public informed will now have a distinct online presence (if they provide us with information). For those already on the web, this new site will help further elevate their profile.
It was during the “reach-out” phase that I ran into a familiar problem: instead of being simple to contact, many authors simply can’t be found. If you’re a writer or aspiring author, that’s one giant step towards failure. You should be easily accessible through an email address.
Here’s one reason. Let’s say the next “reach-out” comes from a library, a historical society, or some other group looking to host a lecture or book signing. The author might be paid for appearing, or might earn income through sales at the event. In that scenario, there are some guarantees: if you can’t be found, you’ll miss out on income and free publicity—and people will probably soon stop looking for you.
Don’t let anonymity sound your death knell in the world of writing. Try any web browser and search your name. Can someone do that, and after a few clicks, reach you by email? If you can’t be easily contacted, it’s something you might want to remedy.
And if you’re considering a pen name, you might have your own reason, but remember, if it’s to maintain privacy, then rest easy. It’s not necessary—you will not be hounded by paparazzi just because you wrote a book. Remember that very often, in selling your book, you’re selling yourself. It’s personal, and name recognition is important. You’ll most likely need all the attention you can get.
While we’re on the subject of books, Amazon was in the news again this past week. As I’ve noted before, authors selling their own books might find ways of using Amazon to their advantage, but be careful of getting stomped. The company’s only interests are dominating the market and making money.
Why are they making headlines? In an ongoing battle against the world’s other major publishers, Amazon recently used a tactic they employed against little ol’ me several years ago. As a self-publisher handling my own distribution, I made my books available from only one source on earth: me. (It was a marketing ploy that worked, but no time to explain here.)
Despite that fact, my books suddenly began appearing on Amazon. Back then, authors dreamed of such luck, but I wasn’t one of them. I complained to Amazon and received a call from one of their lawyers. We argued back and forth for some time, and in the end, they agreed to remove my books from their website.
However, they also told me they could list anything for sale, even if they didn’t have it and couldn’t deliver it. Why would they do that? Because they fully understood that the average online shopper almost automatically goes to Amazon to buy any book, lured there by the belief that if Amazon doesn’t have it, it isn’t available anywhere.
In my case, that wasn’t true, so it was hurtful to my business. And I soon discovered their promise was only temporary. When authors like me didn’t cooperate, the next step was to administer punishment: relisting some of my books, and applying one of several killer notations—Out of Print; Not Currently Available; or Ships within 4–6 Weeks. When you see those entries, you’re likely to either buy something else or give up looking. Many shoppers opt for other purchases: you lose, Amazon wins.
To combat Hachette Books, one of the publishing giants, Amazon has recently employed the same tactic. Instead of the victim being little ol’ me, it’s the likes of J. K. Rowling, J. D. Salinger, and others. Are you familiar with those “Pre-Order” buttons on Amazon’s book listings? Thousands of copies can be pre-ordered before a book is actually available.
Well, for Rowling’s book, soon to be released by Hachette, the “Pre-Order” button has been removed. But there’s more. Assuming you’re familiar with Amazon’s ability to deliver almost anything quickly: for Salinger’s and a host of other books already in print, shipping is being delayed by 3 to 5 weeks. (Apparently those same-day drone deliveries of the future will be for Amazon products only).
And for many books that are currently available from other sources, the company has done what it did with my books: marked them as Not Available. Remember, most online shoppers go straight to Amazon, so Not Available carries a lot of weight in their purchasing decisions.
The tactic is punishment for their publishing rivals (the scrap relates mainly to the cut each gets from the sale of e-books), but it’s also very harmful and scary to authors. Sure, the elites like Rowling and Salinger will be fine anyway, but others won’t, and Amazon couldn’t care less. Those who fall by the wayside are just collateral damage in the battle for domination of the publishing world.
And the customers? Apparently not even a consideration at this point. Amazon’s attitude: screw ’em … they’ll be coming back anyway. And that’s no gamble. The data collected from online customers doesn’t just help them predict consumer behavior. They also steer your purchasing decisions in a big way. Whether you’re happy or not is irrelevant: they know you’ll return for the next bargain.