Seriously flawed standards
Now, on a serious note.
I happened upon a writer on Twitter and Facebook:
Her Twitter introduction: “Amazon Int’l Bestselling Romance Author | Survived my 1st publishing with coffee & wine | Music Lover | Star Wars Geek Since Birth.”
She explains how non-writers are scamming the system at Amazon
graciously allowed me to reprint (aka copy/paste) her post.
I need to tell a story – it’s going to be a long one, so settle in if you’re interested in hearing it.
I began writing my first book in 2013. I self-published it on December 27, 2015. I was new to the business and I literally knew nothing. I made my own cover, which I’m embarrassed of now. But hey – I was brand spanking new and was learning as I went. And yes, there were typos galore in this first book. My January 2016 sales raked in a whopping $1500. I was shocked! After all, I was a nobody – a brand new author who nobody had heard of and I made $1500 in my first month!
I charged $5.99 per ebook for my debut title (Heart of Stone) and it was enrolled in KU. Looking at the sales, I thought I really had something going. My husband convinced me to quit my day job and do the author gig full time. Please note…I didn’t say “writing” full-time. Being an author comes with a ton of administrative tasks – setting up and maintaining a website, managing social media, searching for advertising opportunities, sending out newsletters, and every other possible thing to help keep you relevant in this business. Only a fraction of time is spent actually writing.
My second book published a year later (Stepping Stone). It was a continuation from the first book, which would eventually become The Stone Series. Since I initially published, I’d learned a lot. I set up a pre-order for book 2, I planned a release party, and everything was going well. I was still a “nobody” in the grand scheme of things, but I managed to get 839 pre-sales at $5.99 a pop. Great! Things were going well, so I hired a PA to hopefully help me with the busy work so I could write more. She didn’t last very long, but it was a learning experience. Eventually, I brought on two other PA’s who are still with me to this day – they are amazing! At this point in my new writing career, life was good.
Set In Stone was the 3rd book in The Stone Series. I published that in January of 2018, a little more than a year after book 2. My pre-orders were through the roof, I managed to snag one of the coveted Book Bub featured spots and came close to hitting USA today. If I thought life was good before, it was definitely looking even better now! I was so grateful because I knew I was doing better than the average indie author. I wasn’t sure if it was my marketing/business background that was aiding my success or if it was solely because of my writing. It may have been a little of both. To me, I was just appreciative for the small measure of success I had achieved.
But then, something changed…
$0.99 price points were literally everywhere. The market was flooded with authors like RR Banks, Cassandra Dee, or Mia Ford. The list was endless. They were at the top of the charts, beating traditionally published, well known New York Times bestselling authors like Maya Banks and Nora Roberts. The book covers almost all looked the same, each one boasting bare chests and abs or scantily clothed women and messy script-like fonts. None of these authors had pictures of themselves anywhere, but pretty logos where a profile pic should be. They didn’t attend book signings. They were spending tens of thousands of dollars on marketing, and regularly achieving the Amazon All-star bonus, bumping legitimate authors from attaining it. Their books all followed themes, such as Daddy, Virgin, Seals, Sold, Wanted. But the thing that was most puzzling was the content of the books – these books were very poorly written. They were shorter in length too, averaging 30-60k words. They were also miscategorized on Amazon.
Naturally, other authors and publishers began to get curious about these rising all-stars. It didn’t take long to discover that these “authors” were Amazon scammers. Many of them were men who lived in India or the Philippines, and published under a female pen name. These scammers worked the system multiple ways. Some “stuffed” ebook content to artificially inflate page reads on Amazon, which in turn boosted their ranking and visibility on Amazon. Typically, they released a book every 3-5 weeks. Most weren’t authors at all, but hired ghostwriters to fill their catalogue. While I don’t have an issue with ghostwriters, I do have an issue with someone owning success when they never even wrote the synopsis.
Because of these people, the world of indie publishing completely changed. More people began to see the book world as a business opportunity and nothing more. The craft, the art, and the time perfecting written words was beginning to get lost. Buying and selling recycled ghostwritten manuscripts became common place – I have actual proof of this happening (if you’re an author who does this and are or were in the infamous Chance Carter Ryver Bookclicker chat, you might want to block me from your Facebook now because I have no issue calling you out and posting proof…I’ve truly had enough of the scams). Perhaps to some people, they aren’t scammers. After all – hiring a ghostwriter, advertising, and selling content (even if they didn’t write it) is actually perfectly legal. Pulling stale books off Amazon and selling the manuscripts to others to use, repackage, and republish is also perfectly legal (whether this is a violation of Amazon’s TOS is unknown to me). In my opinion, the way this practice is flooding the market is tainting the publishing industry and ruining it for those who ACTUALLY WRITE WORDS.
Unfortunately, real authors began to see the uptick in $0.99 price points and the stellar Amazon rankings that came with it. They began to think they’d rather sell 10 ebooks at $0.99 than 1 eBook at $2.99. More and more LEGITIMATE authors and publishers began to change their covers to include sexy abs and priced their books at $0.99. Many readers now expect a $0.99 price point and won’t ever pay more for a book.
This eventually became the norm, especially in indie publishing. If you go on Amazon right now, you’ll find a sea of covers that are practically identical. I have no issues with abs – I love them as much as the next hot-blooded female. The problem is that many authors now feel they HAVE to have abs in order to sell.
In the meantime, I’m sitting back watching it all – watching how scammers/non-authors changed the rules of publishing and manipulated the entire book world in a matter of a few short years.
The thing is, real authors aren’t helping each other by falling in line with a precedent set by these people. We are only ADDING to the problem when we do this. The best advice I ever received was from Sylvia Day – she told me to never cheapen my work and that my time and effort was worth more than $0.99. Okay, great…easily said by someone as big as her, but let me break this down mathematically for you.
Remember how I mentioned my pre-sales? Let’s take my second book, Stepping Stone, and use it as an example.
839 pre-sales x $5.99 = $5025.61
Subtract Amazon’s cut of 30%, and I actually saw about $3518.
This book took me one year to write.
Divide $3518 by 52 weeks in a year = $67.65 per week/$9.66 per DAY.
Considering that…how many people do you know who can afford to work for less than $10 per day?
Now, let’s take the author who charges $0.99 per book because that seems to be the new industry norm…
839 pre-sales x $0.99 = $830.61
Subtract Amazons cut of 70% (since all books priced under $2.98 only receive a 30% royalty), the author would only receive $249.
Divide that by 52 weeks in a year = $4.79 per week/$0.68 per DAY.
Considering that…how many people do you know who can afford to work for less than ONE DOLLAR per day?
Yes, backlists matter. That adds to the income, but only if an author has a decent sized backlist. Also keep in mind, most indies don’t have pre-sales totaling 839. During the entire release week, most are lucky to crack 200 total sales. Now think about advertising, editor and cover design costs, Facebook takeover giveaways, the general costs of doing business (website and domain charges, the purchasing of ISBN’s and registering copyrights, etc…). Then there are the reviewers who think nothing about shredding an author in a review, yet mark it as DNF. It’s no wonder why most indie’s struggle to stay afloat.
So…to the people who say they can’t afford to spend more than $0.99 on an ebook or email authors to ask them for free books – please stop. If we CHOOSE to run a sale or offer a book for free, that’s one thing. But please don’t expect it. Authors know you have to eat, but authors also have to eat. Five years ago (a.k.a. the Golden Years), it was rare to find an ebook priced under $2.99. Now, it’s the norm and authors actually get criticized for charging too much.
Now…let’s move on to production time. Scammers influenced this too. I remember waiting 2 years for a Harry Potter book to come out. Nowadays, people are so trained to getting a book every six weeks, the pressure is on legitimate authors to turn out books faster. So…what do you get? Rushed work. If you thought an author who produced a book once every three months was good, imagine how good that book could be if the author had 6 months to write and perfect it.
Speaking of Harry Potter… how many waited until the ENTIRE series was out before picking it up? Personally, I don’t know anyone who did. Yet, all I see now on Facebook are comments from people saying they are “waiting until all books are out”. When and why did that mindset change? I’m just going to throw this out there for the sake of putting things in perspective. My recent release, Cadence Untouched fell completely flat – despite the fact I spent the same amount on advertising and followed the same strategy from a year before when I came close to USA Today. Sooooooo many people said they were waiting for book 2 to come out. Fine, great. However, if I didn’t already have Cadence Defined (book 2) completed, I probably wouldn’t have finished the duet – the sales just weren’t there for me to justify it. Authors are generally their own worst critic. Poor new release sales are almost worse than bad reviews. They make us second guess literally EVERYTHING we are doing. So, if you’re waiting for an entire series to be out before you buy, the author just might not give you the conclusion because they think there isn’t an interest.
Do I dare bring up Amazon’s role in all of this? Oh, where to begin with the retail giant that got its start because of authors…
While they’ve cracked down on some of the scammers (by removing authors such as Chance Carter, Julianna Connors, Sierra Sparks, Amy Brent, and Cassandra Dee), many are still running rampant. Just take the recent situation with Christiane Serruya as an example. Amazon also has its own romance publishing label. I just recently started paying attention to it. The books they publish get better Amazon visibility in general, effectively forcing all other authors to spend more on Amazon AMS ads just to be seen. Then there’s the issue with what Amazon is doing on Audible. They’re driving all attention to the Audible Studios audiobooks. For the authors who paid thousands for their narrators out of pocket, we’re kind of SOL in that department since there’s no way to get paid advertising space over there.
The pressure to sell is ridiculous. I made a post a few weeks ago about an author who’s posting bogus “mega” giveaways to gain traction and visibility on Facebook. I honestly think she’s doing this because she’s folding under the pressure. So many are turning to unethical practices just to keep up, while authors who follow the rules are getting lost in the publishing abyss.
So….readers, if you want to help an author…
– BUY their book. Don’t ask them to gift it for free.
– EXPECT and be WILLING to PAY more than $0.99… after all, prior to 2012, you probably paid a small fortune for paperbacks at Borders or B&N. It shouldn’t be any different now, but it is.
– If you can’t buy the books, consider the library – yes, you can “check out” ebooks at the library and authors still get paid (we do get paid less, but it’s something at least).
– WRITE A REVIEW – one sentence is all you need to do. It helps an author’s visibility on Amazon.
– Do not wait to buy a book until the whole series is out.
– Try something new. If you’re bored with “the same old stories”, maybe don’t buy the “same old cover” just because it’s priced cheap. Remember, sometimes you get what you pay for.
And to my author friends…
– In the words of Sylvia Day… “Don’t feed the beast.” Do not cheapen your effort, your time, and your work by charging $0.99.
– Newsletters – if you are sending them daily, it’s no wonder why click rates and open rates are down across the board. Many scammers send daily, sometimes more than once a day. Flooding a reader’s inbox is just plain annoying. Eventually, we all get ignored because of this… I miss the days when opening an author’s newsletter was fun. I’m sure readers share the same sentiments.
– AND FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT’S HOLY, stop placing high bids on AMS ads – we only hurt each other when we do it. WE are our own worst enemy. The more you bid this time, the more you’ll have to bid next time. It’s an unending cycle that only Amazon benefits from. The scammers and the cheaters set this precedent – don’t exacerbate the problem. A keyword list I used a year ago had an average bid of $0.15 – 0.25 per click. That exact same list now suggests I pay $1.00 – 1.40 per click.
As for me and where I stand in the middle of all this mess… I’ve spent a good portion of my time over the past two months thinking about whether or not I should just walk away from writing all together. I work an average of 14-16 hours a day, 7 days a week. Currently, because of what I feel like I’m up against (scammers, $0.99 price points, a market saturated with ghostwritten work, the Amazon giant, etc), I’m reevaluating my entire career path.
My family is suffering because both my husband and I work VERY long days. While he has something to show for it, I’ve definitely been falling short as of late. Work-life balance has fallen to the wayside. I feel tired, beat down, and exhausted from the constant uphill battle. An authors life isn’t glamorous. I’m not saying any of this for sympathy or to make you run out and buy my book – not at all. I’m saying that, based on several conversations I’ve had with other authors (both indie and NYT bestsellers), we are all under the same pressures and feeling similar things. Many solid writers are reevaluating whether or not this is all worth it. The deck has seemed awfully stacked as of late. It doesn’t matter if you are a big or small author – we are all being hit hard right now.
It’s up to legitimate authors to set a NEW standard.