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7.21.2014

Digital Revolution Act Two: TheTrue Nature of Amazon Revealed?

Fascinating report from Author Earnings (see here). In the traditional publishing world, the reaction to that report was rather negative (according to the UK Guardian), putting into question the methodology. But even taking into account all the limitations of this report, it still reveals a lot about about Amazon, keeping in mind that 120,000 books included in the report comprise approximately 50% of Amazon e-Book revenue and that Amazon's own publishing ventures (five imprints) account for only 6% of the total, a surprisingly small share compared to 38% of the "Big Five" (legacy publishers):



OK, Indies account for 31 percent. Fascinating but at the same time frightening: remember, we are dealing here with JUST 120,000 titles (so, out of those, some 40,000 titles are indies) But this is out of a total of how many books in the Kindle Store, 3 million? 4 million? I’d love to know.

Assuming it's somewhere between 3 and 4 million, that means less than 3% float to the surface and get bought, perhaps even as little as 2%.

The other frightening aspect of this (otherwise brilliant) analysis is the focus on rankings. It really confirms that there are no quality gatekeepers on Amazon, number of sales rule the day! Sales beget sales, historical sales keep a book floating for several weeks, and when sales dip for too long, the book sinks out of sight.

Sales numbers decide whether a book shows up or not in any reader’s searches.

I perfectly understand the logic but I deeply regret it.

It means that numbers trump quality.

Readers navigating Amazon will keep seeing the same books over and over again. If you’ve got a book that doesn’t hit the #100 rank, there’s no hope for you. None whatsoever. Because it means you have no Internet presence, not enough fans to buy your books together at a given point in time so that the ranking is boosted up. Authors with fans acquired in a previous existence as a traditionally published “mid-list author” have an obvious head start in this rankings game, no question about it, and that head start is decisive.

Good for them, but if you’re a newbie, never published before by a trad publisher, beware!

If all this notwithstanding, you do decide to jump into self-publishing, then the two genres that you should write in to have any hope of success, according to this report, are romance and science fiction/fantasy - but especially romance, look at this amazing graph:


Yes, on Amazon, the "Big Five" only seem to do well in thrillers and non-fiction. Thrillers also happens to be the area where Amazon imprints do best. However, for non-fiction, children's and literary fiction, Amazon imprints are no match to the Big Five, they literally disappear...

Broadly speaking, literary fiction and children's fiction don't make the cut on Amazon, it would seem that both kids and persons who like literary reads need printed books from legacy publishers to be happy (I can't say I'm surprised - that makes sense; ebooks are only good for quick reads when traveling or waiting at the dentist's).

Of course, all this data needs to be taken with a grain of salt (we know nothing of the rest of what's on Amazon - from where exactly the other half of Amazon earning stems from, and of course, Amazon won't tell).

This puts the battle between Hachette and Amazon in perspective, doesn't it? Some of Hachette authors are surely hurt but it is likely that many are NOT suffering all that much because the majority of their books are not sold in the Kindle Store...

Still, I am shocked that the whole analysis hinges on only 120,000 titles...Your views?

7.18.2014

FAO Revived: But For How Long?

This is the fourth (and last) article about FAO that I wrote for Impakter magazine:


FAO: Revived But For How Long?


Over the past 100 years, agro-biodiversity has steadily disappeared with the adoption of modern agricultural practices and the globalization of the food system and marketing.

Something has gone seriously wrong with agriculture worldwide.

Every year local land varieties and landraces are lost, livestock breeds are at risk of extinction and, on average, six livestock breeds are lost each month. As of now, some 75 percent of the world food comes from only 12 plants (mostly rice, maize and wheat) and five animal species. More than 90 percent of crop varieties have disappeared from farmers’ fields.  In fisheries, all the world’s 17 main fishing grounds are now being fished at or above their sustainable limits.

Who says so?

Read the rest here.

7.16.2014

A Perfect Summer Breakfast

What a way to start a perfect summer day! A foamy cappuccino, a crisp croissant (or cornetto if you are in Italy), fresh fruit and a good book:



Am I plugging my latest book? Yes, shamelessly, ha ha! I just got it in the mail, brand new, fresh from Create Space's printing presses (you can see it here on Amazon - for some mysterious reason, the blue in reality is several shades darker than on the website, looks much better).

I confess that I love a printed book. It looks more real than the digital version, it's got pages you can turn, a shiny cover you can slide your fingers on, and you can write in the margin. Call me old-fashioned, but I don't feel I've published a book until I hold it in my hands...

And I'm not afraid to say it's a damn good book...Though I must also confess that I find it hard to self-promote, it goes against the grain. I've been brought up by old-fashioned parents who felt children should be seen and not heard.


...Well, not quite like that (though it pretty much sums up the influence of my mother and father, Mom was always the one who showed affection and Dad the one who discussed ideas). And it's hard to shake off a lifetime of acting reserved and demure.

So what is this book Forever Young about? A near-future thriller (yes, scary!), it is set 200 years from now. Last week it got a Nevil Award for climate fiction and has already garnered 5-star reviews on Amazon. Actually, last year, when I published the opening, it got a lot of attention on Goodreads (23 ratings) - and more recently on Wattpad (400 reads) and Readwave (1685 reads, 13 likes, my most successful short, a 3 minute read, see here).

Here are some excerpts, and I treasure them, there is nothing that makes a writer happier than a good review that shows the reader enjoyed the book:
  • "Futuristic and yet spot on" (Beate Boeker, here) 
  • "A highly plausible future. Scarily plausible" (Bob Rector, here)
  • "A prophetic view of our future" (Lit Amri) 
  •  "a roller coaster ride" (Marsha Roberts, here
  • "A growing tension among the main characters as the fatal end approaches" (C.E. Rodriguez)
  • "A fascinating concept, Nougat provides beautifully-written science fiction, with enough reality to scare the hell out of us" (Vikki Patis, see article here)
So why not make your summer perfect and get Forever Young?

Right now, if you live in the UK, the digital version is under promotion (at a 70% discount) - until 22 July, so hurry! If you don't live in the UK, don't despair, the digital price is low and the printed book can be had with a free digital version. I made sure to make the digital version free; in my opinion, this is something  that should be standard: if you buy the printed book, you should always get a free digital version, it makes sense.

Now, as to why Amazon doesn't run "countdown deals" in markets other than the US and UK, I have no idea. Not fair. I can only presume that in the near future, they will do so.

Wondering about where I took the image with my book and cappuccino? On this terrace:


That's our house in Umbria, an old stone farm near Lake Trasimeno, one of the main settings of my previous book, Crimson Clouds. Yes, under that umbrella, a perfect place to read a book! 

Cheers and have a happy summer!


7.15.2014

Digital Revolution Act Two, Amazon vs. Hachette: What Future for Indies ?

The on-going Amazon-Hachette war that started in April is viewed by many as a paradigm shift. The digital revolution is not over yet and the ground is moving, major actors are re-aligning themselves. Whether Hachette or Amazon wins or loses and with what results for authors, particularly for self-published authors, remains to be seen. 
 
Bob Rector
In short, Amazon is shaking up the publishing industry and a lot of people don't like it. I blogged about this last week, (see here), and got a remarkable comment from Bob Rector, who's not only a talented novelist (if you haven't read Unthinkable Consequences yet, you should) but also a successful playwright (Letters from the Front, an award-winning play that toured the world for 15 years) and a veteran film director who first became famous with "The Now Explosion", historically the first experiment in music video.

He has a uniquely upbeat take on the changes happening to the publishing industry, no doubt because of his long experience, and I wanted to share it with you. This is what he wrote (I love his uplifting conclusion and I added the highlights): 

Claude, your blog post "The Author-Reader Amazon Revolution:Mirage or Reality?" is a very informative and sobering article that once again leaves my head spinning about the book market today. But also conjures up some memories along similar lines.

A little less than 40 years ago I jumped through these same kinds of hoops but in a different medium: film. I was part of a small production company that decided to make a low-budget feature film for theatrical distribution. The timing was right because several G-rated low-budget 'outdoor-adventure' films had done very well, chief among them was Grizzly Adams. The attraction to this genre for the filmmaker was that Mother Nature provided all the sets and most of the players (wildlife) for free. All you had to do was get the cast and crew to a really spectacular location and tell a reasonably entertaining story about a hero single-handedly fighting man's abuse of nature. 

I was chosen to write, direct, and edit for the simple reason that I had more experience than anyone else involved, plus I was still riding on my fame from The Now Explosion. The film was titled Nature's Way but before its release was changed to Don't Change My World. 
We made the film for next to nothing, just like today's indie authors produce a book. In its initial screenings audiences responded very positively but to go into wide release, we ran into the same obstacles that indie writer's face. We weren't MGM or Universal or 20th Century Fox and they owned the game. 

The major studios had long-established relationships with movie theaters around the world, as well as marketing and distribution operations that ran like the proverbial Swiss watch. On the other hand, we were, in effect, knocking on the door of each individual theater. They didn't want to deal with someone who only had one film to peddle and no marketing machinery behind them. We eventually did sign with a small independent distributor who managed to get our film released nationally but playing at only one or two markets at a time, so the money generated trickled in and seldom covered expenses. Plus the theaters, since they were dealing with a small fry, slow paid, and sometimes no paid, us - something they didn't dare do with the majors. When we protested they simply said, "So sue us." 

The sad fact of life was that the audiences who saw the film loved it, but getting it in front of an audience was a constant uphill battle that cost more than we could possibly make, especially since much of the time we never saw the money that came into the box office. By the time the theater took its cut (much more severe than Amazon's take) and the distributor took his cut (always with extra expenses added) and the advertising agencies took their cut, nothing was left (sound familiar?). 

The film finally generated significant revenue when it went into non-theatrical release, primarily on cable channels like CineMax (HBO). It was also broadcast by the BBC and several other operators in Europe. The US Navy purchased a hundred or so 16mm prints for showing onboard their ships. A specialty distributor who provided inflight movies for airlines licensed its use. Same for a distributor who supplied films for college campus theaters. And finally the film was released to the newly emerging home video market. The point being, we had to search out and broker all these deals ourselves. 
And the same is true for indie publishers/writers. Anybody who has been in business, whether it's selling books or selling paper clips, knows that it's never easy and you have to work at it continuously. 
Selling is ALWAYS job one. During the 15 years we toured our play Letters From the Front around the world, selling and marketing was a nonstop daily job - and I mean every single day.

So I guess I come to this issue with a little different and perhaps more cynical (based on experience) but realistic perspective. 
If there's money to be made, then big money is going to control the market. Always. Never been any different since the beginning of commerce. Might makes right. 
Will fair play come into play? Don't count on it. 
The question to indie writers/publishers is: what are you going to do about it? Throw up your hands and say the deck is stacked and I don't stand a chance so to hell with it? Or, I have right on my side but I can't win so I might as well not play? Are you going to take Amazon and the other major players to court and sue them for what you believe are unfair practices? Good luck. They each have teams of lawyers just waiting to bury you. 

Before you jump to the conclusion that I'm being dark or negative, please don't. 
As the old saying goes, there's more than one way to skin a cat (although why anybody would want to baffles me). Most of my professional life has been spent finding alternate routes around established institutions, with varying degrees of success. My first rule is to never let somebody else define my pathway to success. If I'm going to fail, I want to fail on my own terms. As far as indie publishing is concerned, my wife (a fellow author) and I are still experimenting and searching out alternative paths. It will take time but it always does. I'm confident that we'll find a way that works for us. We've done it many times before.

The threshold we're shooting for is not just to make money for ourselves, but to make money for somebody else, preferably a large well-funded organization. That's what we've done before. We found a way to make money for major companies with our product, lots of money. Then they started writing checks to us, big checks. I'm not saying this is the only path. We're all supposed to be creative people -- so be creative about this too!

To be exceedingly trite, we don't look at this as a problem, we look at it as an opportunity. A huge ground-floor opportunity. And we don't expect anybody or any organization to do the heavy lifting for us. Maybe we're naive. We'll see.
Letters From the Front stars Bobbi Kravis and Bob Curren meet with troops at Ft. Lee, VA after a performance and distribute free letter writing kits (source: "Why Letters from the Front is so important today", click here

7.13.2014

More About FAO: the Dark Years

Another one of my articles about FAO appeared on Impakter, see here:
http://impakter.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/hell-cover-1050x623.jpg

FAO: A Descent into Hell

In the 1990s, the political world,  the so-called “international community” could not countenance the growth of a UN agency that apparently was a sinkhole of ever-growing expenditures and seemed to have more highly-paid directors in its organigram than anyone else. FAO and its Director General were violently criticized in the media, especially by the Heritage Foundation and by Graham Hancock in his book Lords of Poverty.

To read the rest, click here.

7.12.2014

More About GMOs, Big Pharma, Big Corporations and Our Future

Farmer plowing in Fahrenwalde, Mecklenburg-Vor...
Farmer plowing in Fahrenwalde, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
One of my readers had more to say about the last post about GMOs:

"...it's not that I disagree with you in theory re GMOs; it's that I'm sharply concerned that agro-giants like Monsanto are as prone to self-deception regarding the "rightness" of their actions or beliefs (that's human nature) as are Big Pharma, BIO, Big Oil/Gas/Coal, Big Medicine, nuclear power, and major food manufacturers. So much done and planned by these entities is about control, securing their long-range power, and profits. Also, the nature of Capitalism and competition demands that new technologies and breakthroughs are rushed into production before potentially catastrophic 'bugs' are worked out. Considering the stakes involved with GMOs and their global use, I can't see them at this point as a boon for Man, and definitely not wielded as a proprietary weapon by Monsanto for gaining control of the world's future food production."

He is right of course. It is certainly in the nature of Capitalism to rush innovations into production before proper testing is fully carried out, with potentially catastrophic results. And if anyone interpreted my last post as unconditional support for the Big Corporations and what they they are doing to us, that was NOT my intention and I want to clarify right here (though anyone who's read Forever Young already knows what  kind of bleak, dismal future I believe we are headed for because of these Big Corporations). So this is what I wrote in reply:

"I sure don't trust Monsanto and Big Pharma and GMOs can only become a boon for mankind if we CONTROL the Big Corporations through law and government enforcement. But that's not likely to happen in the US at least, with the firm grip on power that the Republicans, especially the Tea Party, have acquired, spurred on with the millions showered on them by the Koch Brothers and people like them!
Monsanto-Prozess
Monsanto-Prozess (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And Capitalism, focused as it is on the pursuit of profit rather than the happiness of Man, is fundamentally egotistical, in some cases maybe evil. So yes, I do see a very dark future... Still, I have hopes that the future I depict in Forever Young won't happen and that a book such as this one, while it aims to entertain, will also make people think twice about who they vote for and what policies they support.

No question about it, my book is issue-driven though I try hard not to lecture but to "show" what happens!"


Yes, this is why I write novels rather than non-fiction, though I'm seriously contemplating moving to more non-fiction, to be published under the name Claude Forthomme, as I do with all my articles on Impakter.com; I might yet tackle the major issues facing our society with my "weapons" as a social scientist rather than as an entertainer. Because, fundamentally, novels are meant for entertainment. They can be issue-driven (as all my books are) but issues in my opinion must always take second place to the plot, the characters, in short, the story being told to entertain the reader. Indeed, that is why climate fiction "works", because it works on the emotions. Strings of data put together by scientists really never quite manage to do that, they appeal to our rational mind, not our emotions.

So, for the moment, I'm firmly wedded to climate fiction and planning on a follow-up to Forever Young, called Forever Young, 400 Years Later as our friends wake up from their long hibernation, some on a distant, pristine planet ready to settle it and the others in Antarctica, poised to reconquer what remains of the (devastated) Earth.

Still, I may yet branch out in non-fiction...Will let you know!

7.09.2014

About GMOs, Climate Change and Our Future

2013 March Against Monsanto DC 58 


Yesterday, following up on my articles about FAO, I received a couple of interesting questions in my email box from a reader who was concerned with GMOs and wondering about their nutritional worth and safety and whether they might provide a solution to feeding mankind in the face of the population explosion and climate change. He was worried that demands for consumer goods and services would "skyrocket while supplies plummet and consumer abilities to pay higher prices could be non-existent" - and that, as a consequence, our political class would "embrace solutions that [coincidentally] promote and entrench the fiscal aims of the world's richest corporations and richest 1%."

This person asked me whether anything I had experienced through my work with FAO indicated whether these concerns are grounded in fact.

My response was an emphatic "yes!", and I gave him some arguments that I want to share here with you.

First the GMOs. 

A lot of nonsense has been written about them, especially in Europe, and there's little doubt that GMOs are the most likely way we'll be able to feed an increasingly large and hungry population. Not as bad as in the film Soylent Green (Soylent is a contraction of soya and lentil) which you may have seen and if you haven't, you should try and see it, it's very striking.

Here's the official trailer:


And if you're curious you can see the whole film (97 minutes) on YouTube here:



The film dates back to 1973 and is eerily to the point, focused as it is on a world on the verge of extinction as a result of overpopulation and global warming. The message is that as all earth resources are depleted, we shall end up eating our own dead transformed into nice green pills (soylent!), and not even be aware of what's in them because the secret is in the hands of a global governing elite, the One Percent.

The soylent idea hasn't died out with that film. See the articles below about the magic drink concocted by some young California inventors - intriguing, but not something to look forward to if you like good food!

In the comments to the film trailer, you'll notice that some people protest the film got it all wrong, that we should be concerned not about eating corpses but about GMOs...

That's ridiculous of course. GMOs are not scientific monsters, they are just genetically accelerated modifications to improve plant and animal productivity and avoid excessive use of pesticides, herbicides and other chemical additives - better yet, allowing us to avoid altogether our current and highly destructive reliance on them.
Beware of formulations that claim GMOs are different from "traditional cross breeding" because they pick a gene from one species and "combine it into another". That would be mixing oranges and bananas, and scientists aren't about to do that, there's no market for "banoranges" and such a product makes no sense!

GMOs rely on the same principles as traditional breeding to select and improve characteristics; it's just that thanks to modern genetics, the breeding for improvement can be accelerated and doesn't require waiting for new generations to come up and grow and then cull them to isolate the desired traits. They can be built in, skipping the waiting periods that traditional breeding requires, and they work not by pulling genes from another species but selecting the desired genes, for example those that account for improved resistance to heat. Obviously a huge plus in the face of global warming. And the idea that GMOs can pass some genes into your digestive tract and attack your own genetic structure would require considerable experimenting to prove it because it's not plausible...

GMOs were often discussed among my colleagues at FAO and I never found anyone who was both a scientist and against them. Indeed, the fact is that GMOs could yet save us all, but we're not there yet. Bottom line, it really is a political and socio-economic problem - not a scientific one. Sciences has the answers, it's just that society doesn't wish to hear. People stick to their habits and traditions, they fear change.

Europeans are up in arms about GMOs, terrorized by what I can only call politically-motivated disinformation. In France, there are groups of farmers convinced that GMOs will destroy their crops, and in the name of "genuine" food, they reject them in toto, without trying to understand that an ear of corn is still an ear of corn, even if genetically modified so it can grow with less chemical support.

In India, there is the famous GM Genocide: over the past 16 years, it is estimated that more than a quarter of a million Indian farmers have committed suicide and this tragedy is firmly laid at the doorstep of the big seed engineering corporations like Monsanto. See article here and trailer:



Now, like all problems in our society, this is a highly complex issue that has not one but several causes, and I will only quote here some of the major ones to give you an idea of the complexity:

(1) the Green Revolution introducing modern agriculture to India some 40 years ago has now spread across the land and has benefitted only the better-off farmers able to shoulder the debt needed to finance the additional inputs (fertlizers, chemicals, irrigation) - inputs that were not required in traditional agriculture; smaller farmers who tried to jump on the banwagon were crushed by debt;

(2) some of the new varieties introduced, including GMOs, were not always adapted to the environment and did not give the expected returns: insufficient or lack of adaptive research, excessive optimism, a headlong Monsanto rush to make money on its seeds are among among the causes - hence, more debt and increased poverty;

(3) with modern agriculture, much more water is needed and both the quantity and quality of water is quickly collpasing as too much is drawn out of the water table - hence again, low returns;

(4) totally insufficient social services and government support to farmers facing difficulties; rural populations are left to fend for themselves as Big Corporation agents selling seeds and other inputs continue to promise the moon while usurers lend money to farmers at cutthroat rates.

Some GMOs are involved, but they are not alone in causing the problems: it's the whole of Indian agriculture that is undergoing "modernization" and hence losing its population as the younger generations move to the cities; suicides are, alas, part of the process, particularly in the Indian environment where the authorities do not come to the help of farmers.

Nonetheless, over time, the role of GMOs will be re-dimensioned, and the promise that GMOs can help feed the Earth's growing population will eventually force acceptance - a limited acceptance, with caveats to ensure that human health is preserved, but acceptance nonetheless. At least enough to ensure that hunger is kept at bay.

Just like the climate change activists in the States will eventually win out over the deniers, as global warming becomes a reality and the question of who or what caused it takes a back seat; and people realize there's a problem to solve and that finger-pointing is a waste of time.

These things however take time to happen, new ideas filter down with difficulty, and it's very likely that when they do, it's going to be too late.

The only thing an otherwise superb film like Soylent Green got wrong was the date: 2020. We're not headed for disaster that soon. In Forever Young, my own attempt to look at the future and figure out the most likely outcome for mankind, I've set the date 200 years from now: in my view that's how long it will take before we get to that critical no-return point - because we are dealing with slow-moving socio-economic trends. 

Melting Twaites ice shelf (October 2013 aerial survey NASA)
But the handwriting is on the wall, scientists have warned that we have already passed the critical point in Antarctica with the melting of huge ice sheets that will require revising the predictions about the future rise of the sea level (see AP news here).

I expect sciences will regularly call out alarms about "turning points"; it will be like climbing down a staircase into hell, step by step.

But the real battle will be on the social front. The Big Corporations are in pole position to win the power game (and economic game). The One Percent model of society is definitely looking very real, with gated communities already springing up everywhere to protect the ultra rich.

Good-bye middle class, hello global elite and of course, good-bye to any real democracy. Because real democracy only works when you have a large middle class. If you don't, then elections start looking like what is happening now in Afghanistan...More generally, viable democracies, whether in the Middle East or elsewhere, cannot emerge without the support of a widespread middle class.

A very dark vision, I agree. But if we don't realize where we're headed, nothing will get done in time to avert disaster. I do believe that it is the role of a certain kind of literature and movies to help us, through emotions (and entertainment!) to become aware of what's happening. It's far more effective than reams of scientific data.

That was certainly my objective when I wrote Forever Young - I started the book with positing that thanks to scientific advances, we can expect one of our current problems - aging - to be totally fixed. But if it's totally fixed, what kind of problems will that "fixing" in turn bring on?

The answer (given our current social trends) is obvious: only the very rich will be able to afford the expensive cures to stop aging and live looking "forever young" till the day they drop dead. The rest will not. And there you have it! The ultra rich not only will live in gated communities, protected from pollution, war, pestilence etc but they will also look beautiful and young for 120 to 140 years (the "normal" maximum life span of humans). Imagine the envy and social tensions...

It is of course always hard to look into the future and figure out which current social trends are likely to play out. Sometimes, movie makers and novelists do better than social scientists...Perhaps because they are less constrained by numbers and free to let their imagination fly. That (I hope) is what happened to me when I wrote Forever Young: it was, I confess, a lot of fun to try and figure out what our most plausible future would look like. If you want to find out what I think of the future facing our great-grand-children, read the book!
If you're still with me, I have good news for you: starting on Thursday 10 July, Amazon is running a countdown deal on my book (concerns ebook only).  This means that Forever Young instead of its usual $5.99 price will cost you only 99 cents on July 10,  and it will rise by one dollar each day, $1.99 on 11 July, $2.99 on 12 July and so on until its back to its initial price. So hurry up to get the biggest possible discount, click here!

Offer applies only to the US market. The same countdown deal will start on July 17 for the UK market. Regrettably Amazon does not run any countdown deals in any other market. Sorry about that!




But if you prefer to have a printed book, Forever Young is also available at a discount here (you can get it for less than $13).

7.07.2014

The Author-Reader Amazon Revolution:Mirage or Reality?

Indie writers, and that means "self-published authors", are up in arms over the Amazon-Hachette spat, all rushing in the defense of Amazon. For a perfect example of the sort of blog post siding for Amazon, see here (or link to it here):


Yes, the Big Publishers, once upon a time six big publishing houses and now down to five (but for how long?), "controlled the book industry." As explained in that blog, "They decided which stories you were allowed to read. They decided which authors were allowed to publish. They charged high prices while withholding less expensive formats. They paid authors as little as possible, usually between 2% and 12.5% of the list price of a book".

Amazon, on the other hand, "trusts you to decide what to read, and they strive to keep the price you pay low. They allow all writers to publish on their platform, and they pay authors between 35% and 70% of the list price of the book."

Then, at the end of the post, there's a petition to sign, open to readers and writers alike, see here.

PLEASE NOTE THE NUMBER OF PEOPLE who have signed that petition.

Notice something strange? So far, very few people have signed - at the time of writing (July 6), only 4, 804.

Surprised? I must admit I am - I thought more self-published authors would have joined in by now. If you drift down to the comments, you get a sense of who signed - mostly self-published authors.

You first come across David Gaughan's strong statement (trust him, he's a fighter!):
"Amazon has done more than any other company to create a level playing field where hundreds (and probably thousands) of independent authors like me can make a living from book sales for the very first time. As a reader, I recognize that Amazon has done more than any other company to create the digital market, and to lower prices for readers. Publishers are fighting to increase those prices and to prevent Amazon from discounting. As a writer and a reader I think this would be an awful, regressive move - probably designed to protect the status quo and the millionaire status of a small group of bestselling authors. Don't believe the anti-Amazon hype!"

David Gaughan is certainly one of self-publishing's major success stories - as are the next commentators down the line, Hugh Howey, Theresa Ragan, John A. A. Logan, all leaving testimony to their success thanks to Amazon.

And to think that this is a website - the blog title says it all: ebooksuccess4free -  with over 2,000 followers, to be exact: 2,612 at the time of writing! I'm just saying that to point out the extent of the Indie "revolution", the number of people who are taken in by this kind of language and are no doubt already self-published or thinking of it.

If one goes by the number of signatories to that petition, then it becomes obvious that at least 4,500 self-pubbed authors feel strongly loyal to Amazon. Not a big number but certainly a vocal core group!

Because, quite clearly, these are all people who have bought into the Indie ideology, people who overlook or want to ignore the simple economic fact that "New York Publishing" that once "controlled" the book industry was in that "control" position merely because, following American Capitalism tenets, the Big Publishers in New York were better able to produce a good product (read: best selling book) than all the others - than small presses, and of course, vanity presses (that's where self-publishing authors used to be found).

It's not a matter of "control" but a matter of excellence. 

And, contrary to what is written in that blog, Big Publishers never decided which stories readers were "allowed to read" or which authors were "allowed to publish". Allowed by whom? Book publishing is not a terroristic industry!

Book publishing is subject to the laws of the market like any other industry. What people want to read sells, what they don't want to read, doesn't sell.

It's not the Big Publishers who "decide" but the readers.
 
Self-publishing is the way to go if you can't wait (at least) three years before seeing your book in print - and three years is probably on the optimistic side.

Consider: you need to send queries to literary agent and hope that you will land one. Recent data shows that agents receive on average over 3,000 queries per year and take on...2 new clients a year! Do the math, or rather, don't do it, it will get you depressed. Once you've signed a contract with an agent, it doesn't mean your book will be grabbed by a publisher, that could take another six months or more (if it works - if not, back to square one with a new book). And once a publisher has taken you on, it's another 18 months at least before your book hits a shelf in a bookstore.

Self-publishing is incredibly fast, on average three weeks rather than three years.

Consider: from the moment your draft has been finalized and fully edited, you might spend another week or two on the book cover (either do it yourself or get a book designer to do it for you, the safer way to get a professional looking cover) and three or four days to upload your book on the various e-platforms, mainly KDP, Smashwords for onward distribution to all the others and Google Books. None of it is technically challenging, all you need is a regular word document, a good quality jpeg image for your cover, and you're done. Super easy.

Self-publishing is for control freaks and Amazon lovers (that's where it works best for all authors, including new ones). It makes sense for anyone with the daring spirit of an entrepreneur, but - and it's a very big "but"! - once your book is up there, on Amazon's virtual shelves, the real work starts.
Flower Child ~ Published Book Cover
Flower Child ~ Published Book Cover (Photo credit: LadyDragonflyCC - >;<)

Marketing.

You need to reach out to your readers, your market.  And let's face it, for an author who loves to write and let his/her imagination fly, marketing is devastating. It's not in his/her genes. And even if it happens to be in those damn genes, it's a time and energy suck.

True, marketing is not something only self-published authors have to do. Even traditionally published authors have to engage in a lot of book promotion, go on book tours, sign copies etc but a whole lot more is needed if you are self-published... unless you're one of those savvy professional authors who's been traditionally published before and you have a fan base you can count on to get your book started on all those Amazon best-seller lists.

Don't kid yourself, Amazon's best seller lists remain the best way to sell books in the digital world.

And, depending on the kind of book you've written, there are many kinds of lists you can be on. Metadata, hello!

Make sure you've got your metadata - your book description and keywords -  right for your book so that it goes into the "right" slot where readers can find it. Because Amazon has been incredibly kind to authors (and publishers!): they've multiplied the lists to fit an eye-popping range of genres, from recondite stuff like "aging" to "space opera" - the idea of course is to help readers find the most popular (read best-selling) books in their particular area of interest.

If you're a midlist author and already have fans looking for your books, they'll be happy to read one of the titles you've pulled out of your back list - books they may have missed or that they'll want to buy in digital version to read again because it was one of their favorites, they've read it many years ago and have now half-forgotten it. And if the price is very low, why not, stick in the Kindle and read it on the plane or while waiting at the dentist's.

And the more you sell on Amazon, the more you sell. It's like a stone gathering moss. The famous section "other customers also bought" gets filled with books in similar genres and people will click on all those other titles...and get to yours! Neat!

Sales propel more sales.

If you have any doubts about the importance of cracking the Amazon sales rankings, Smashwords most recent survey leaves no doubts about it whatsoever, see here:



The trouble is to get that damn ball rolling.

For a long time - roughly from 2009 to 2013- self-publishing was a manna from Heaven for traditionally-published authors with a recognizable name in their genre; at least for all those able to get back the rights to their back list.

But now, most of them have gone through their back list and have no new title to offer...unless they quickly write a new book. So, it should come as no surprise that sales in the Kindle store (and on other e-platforms) have hit a plateau. Midlist authors have run their course.

The digital gold rush is over.

There are other reasons too:
  1. Existing ereaders are filled to the brim with low-priced and free books. The market for ereaders is still expanding but at a lower rate. The fast pace of growth of early days is gone - this is normal for a gadget reaching maturity.
  2. Add to that the huge number of titles available in the Kindle store and elsewhere. Because it was so easy to self-publish, there's been a tsunami of self-published authors since the Kindle was launched six years ago. Amazon won't reveal the number of titles in the Kindle Store, but it's likely to be around 4 million, and probably half of that is self-published. Anyone with numbers is welcome to comment below, nothing would be more desirable than having some solid data.
  3. In spite of this vast number of available titles, few authors manage to sell over 100,000 copies of their books. In Amazon's year end report for 2013, you find that, yes, 25% of their book sales came from self-published authors but also only "150 Kindle Direct Publishing authors each sold more than 100,000 copies of their books in 2013". Top sellers, we are informed, included "Hopeless" by Colleen Hoover and "Wait for Me" by Elizabeth Naughton.
One hundred and fifty authors! Out of how many hundreds of thousands of self-published authors (perhaps even a million or two)?

"Hopeless" was traditionally published, by Simon & Shuster UK in July 2013, and in just one year got 7,322 reviews. Elizabeth Naughton, the author of "Wait for Me", has a more interesting experience to offer. As she told Galley Cat (see here), she launched her book by giving away 500,000 copies between the end of 2012 and the middle of January 2013, and, as she proudly noted, "now that book is the #2 overall bestseller at Amazon and has been ranked in the top 100 for more than two weeks.” She is indeed a very savvy and active marketer; to understand this, take a look at her blog here. "Wait for Me" gathered 2,661 reviews since it was published in 2011. Now, selling at a 66 percent discount, it maintains a remarkably high level in Amazon's best seller ranks, though no longer #2 but around #5000, pretty good considering it's not "new". For her, an author of dark, romantic, paranormal noir novels, one of the best selling genres on Amazon, the gold rush is surely not over.

In an ocean of books, how can your poor little one float to the top? Who says it's good and worth reading? Nobody in the mainstream press (the New York Times, the UK Guardian, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal etc etc): articles there are reserved for traditionally published authors. Self-published authors cannot expect to get critique from literary gurus - all they get are Amazon "customer reviews" - better than nothing but rarely professional, though Amazon has tried to create a "professional" group of critics through its Vine Program that selects the most popular reviewers.

Self-published authors can't even expect to get attention from presenters on any of the major TV or radio shows. At best, they get attention from literary bloggers who have reasonable traffic on their blogs, though, as a recent Gallup survey indicated, nobody buys following advice on social networks (only 5% do).

What recently happened to Edan Lepucki's debut novel "California" published by one of the Hachette Group imprints, could never have happened to a self-published author. That kind of fairy tale is reserved to traditionally published authors. Indies, not unsurprisingly, are very angry at Stephen Colbert who got the ball rolling on his TV show by brandishing the "California" book and urging viewers to buy it, as a way to counter Amazon.

For more about this, here is the New York Times article (click here), calling Edan Lepucki a "winner in the Amazon war" when she got an unexpected "boost from Colbert". No less than the New York Times paid attention to this minor event!

Yes, major writers, TV personalities, mainstream journalists and celebrities of all sorts are siding with Hachette and the traditional publishing industry against Amazon, and hence, self-published authors. Just to quote one major author, a Pulitzer Prize winner: "In her arresting debut novel, Edan Lepucki conjures a lush, intricate, deeply disturbing vision of the future, then masterfully exploits its dramatic possibilities." ---Jennifer Egan, author of A Visit from the Goon Squad.

And, needless to add, self-published authors do not have access to the more prestigious literary prizes of the calibre of the Pulitzer or Man Booker. That's an out-of-bound area for all indies. For how long? Who knows, but one thing is certain, it's not a situation that is about to change anytime soon.

In other words, anyone considering self-publishing should realize that the road ahead is very short. No important prize will come your way, no major literary critic will ever pay attention. Even someone like Hugh Howey who was an outstanding success with his famous WOOL is still waiting for recognition from the "publishing establishment" - even though he got a deal with Simon and Shuster as well as a film contract.

When Amanda Hocking, historically the first self-published author to achieve success, accepted the contract offered by St Martin's Press, a prestigious traditional publisher, she knew what she was doing. She explained it quite clearly, saying something like "I want to become a household word across America" (that's what I remember reading at the time).

Indeed, no self-publisher can ever hope to achieve that. For many reasons, that I plan to explore in various blog posts over the next few weeks. My goal is very simple: based on my own experience as an author and observations as an economist, I want to cut through all the hype surrounding self-publishing and get  to the truth - nothing less can help my fellow writers, and in particular any aspiring writer wondering whether to go the traditional road or attempt self-publishing.

And the truth is that if you are an ambitious author looking to be read by as many people as possible (in my view, a legitimate goal), you will never become, as Amanda Hocking pointed out, a "household word" unless you are traditionally published.

True, a number of self-published authors manage to sell over 100,000 copies per year and make a decent living out of it. Good for them! But they are very, very few, an absolute minority - something akin to the percentages that get picked up by literary agents; we are talking of 0,002 percent and less.

We are talking about black swans - the kind of high improbability that Nassim Taleb wrote about in his 2007 best seller.

Yet we read in all the blogs of self-published authors that have made a success of their publishing venture, from J.A. Konrath's Publishing Guide for Newbies to sites like the one mentioned above, that self-publishing is the way to go. It pays for itself, it's rational, it puts you in charge of your books and your earnings. And, cherry on the cake, the stigma that used to be attached to vanity presses and self-publishing, is gone.

The digital revolution has miraculously done away with that stigma!

Do you believe in miracles? If you're a writer seeking to publish your books, don't believe in miracles, you could be deeply disappointed...

Look for more about the stigma attached to self-publishing in a future post about my "lessons learned" in self-publishing, and in the meantime, I've collected a few articles for you below.

Related articles:
Now, my question to you. It concerns the "Hachazon War".

Considering that Amazon is trying to change in its favor the terms with a Big Publisher (Hachette), down to 50%, and considering that there is nothing to encourage Amazon to continue to pay 70% to self-published authors, are you going to sign that petition?

What are your reasons for signing (or not signing)? Please share.  

My opinion? I have a confession to make: the Hachazon War could be the handwriting on the wall. If Amazon is standing up to Hachette, why should it give a better deal to self-published authors? It looks like the time has come, in Amazon's view, to tighten the screws and start making money - pulling 50% in rather than the 30% it has accepted so far. And if they do decide to go down that road, what can self-published authors do to stop them? Sign another petition?

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