Not Enough Memes in the World For My NO: Amazon, Stop Dragging Me Into Your War With New York
I had this whole other post started last night, and then I abandoned it until the wiser hours of the morning. In between now and then, Chuck Wendig has written this, and I can’t say I disagree on a single of his points, though I was up until blarp o’clock talking on the phone, not to a toddler. I agree that this letter from Amazon, which I was sent because I once tried to upload a free short and then gave up because they made it too hard, is so freaky weird wrong that I seriously still wonder if they aren’t being punked. (Though I like his sentient Al theory.)
Before I get going, however, I want to address readers up front in case you (wisely) see author politics and want to run screaming. Before I turn inward toward industry, let me clarify points I have been worrying my readers might be concerned about.
- I want you to buy my books from wherever is most comfortable and easy for you. I will never tell you where to buy your books. If you ask me where I want you to buy them, my answer is always, “Wherever your book buying experience is happiest and best for you.”
- I will never make my book exclusive to Amazon, because I know a significant chunk of you don’t want to shop there. To my best ability, I will place my books with as many book-buying options for you as possible, including paperback.
- I will never ask you to email anyone on my behalf. Not a publisher, not another author, not any business or individual. I think that’s tacky and gross and invasive of our relationship. If you ever choose to do such a thing on your own, that’s fine. But I want my readers to read my books, and I want that reading experience to be the best for you that it can be. I want nothing to get in the way of that, especially an activist campaign.
Now I’m going to talk shop. Please don’t feel bad if you say, “I think I don’t want to read this.” Mostly this is for the authors in the room, because a number of us are scandalized and upset, and we’re talking to each other through our pain.
I CANNOT BELIEVE a book distributor just emailed me and asked me to write an angry letter to a publisher who is not my own. That is still ringing in my head ten hours later. Is Amazon hoping I’m really stupid? Because if I write a letter to a major publishing house parroting the party line of the entity currently at war with them, I run the real and likely risk of being blacklisted not only at that house but all NYC houses. Not because they are big colluding colluders. Because they talk to each other at lunch. You’ve put them all in the same boat, Amazon—you outright say in your letter you see this as a flagship for the great ebook pricing revolution—and even if you hadn’t, those editors chat. If I am a tool to someone at St Martin’s, the Harper Collins editor she goes to the gym with will hear my name associated with bad behavior, and if my agent floats a manuscript to them, they will remember that I’m that ragey-pants bitch who flounced at the SMP editor they do pilates with. So, no. I’m not shooting myself in the foot because you’ve decided all authors should be collateral damage beside the Hachette authors.
Even if that weren’t a fast track to being blacklisted—legitimately so—again, they are not my house! This is not my business! I have no horse in this fight except for the awkward part where except for the extortion, hostage taking, propaganda and bully tactics, I agree with several of Amazon’s points about ebooks. Yes, I sell more books when they’re priced lower. Yes I make more when I get a higher percentage. And yet I don’t always make more money when my ebooks are priced lower. On my popular books I sell about the same number because readers are buying it at any price, and the way math works, I get less when the book is priced lower. Yet I’m okay with that, because I believe if I create enough work of quality, if I work hard and reach deeper and deeper into mainstream romance culture and work hard hard hard to politely, patiently convince readers who haven’t read LGBT romance to try me—I believe, like a doe-eyed Pollyanna, that someday this will pan out for me in a big way.
I don’t know if that’s true, though. My research is personal and based on many variables I have no true details for, and by the way Amazon, YOU are the greatest withholder of information which would help me better understand my career. If you would tell me what the fuck your “bestseller” numbers mean, if you would stop prioritizing sales of people who publish exclusively through you–if it made any goddamn, consistent sense, I could do stuff with that data. But you give me charts with no graph lines and no numbers except on one side, and if I blink the whole board changes.
Let me be frank. I’ve seen “bestselling” authors on Amazon charts, particularly the gay romance chart, publicly crow about their sales numbers, and every time my eyebrows raise, because let me tell you, I know a lot of authors at publishing houses riding the lower levels of those same charts whose numbers smoke the pants off these “bestsellers.” These are always Amazon-only sales, which means these authors are being snookered, told they are better sellers than they truly are, and by miles. This is an example of not only Amazon not helping me but deliberately walling off large bodies of authors into a ghetto, feeding them slop while smiling and telling them this is the best gourmet soup ever, as good as if not better as the stuff they get at that silly New York house down the street! This is great, right? Don’t look over the wall. Stay focused on me.
Because Amazon is not simply a Barnes and Noble who also sells beef tongue, coffee pods, and gluten free groceries. Amazon has become a publisher too, which means they are a publisher trying to dictate terms to other publishers, trying to shrink and thereby control the publishing environment. Let’s be very clear about that and not sugar-coat it. If they were one or the other, it would be different, but they are both. This changes everything and forever gives me pause.
Yes, Amazon, a higher percentage and lower price points which generate higher sales is wonderful. I have that in my publisher Samhain. They give me a beautiful bridge between the assets of New York and the benefits of a small, lean publisher. And so far you’re leaving them alone. But if you successfully topple New York, what will you do to my publisher? What happens when you’ve killed all publishers or all but enough to keep the government from breaking you up as a monopoly and you decide I should settle for 25%? Or back down to New York levels of percentage, but with no production value and basically no control whatsoever, because you have it all now? I love the utopia you paint, except for the part where you’re in control of it all.
I love Amazon. I use it at least once a week to order something. I buy my books exclusively on kindle one click download because it’s the way I like to do it. I make, no question, the lion’s share of my money on Amazon. We’re at this moment waiting for what we call in this house the “Amazon check” from Tough Love, the payment from my publisher where Amazon’s release day numbers show up in the royalty payout. It’s always the big dump, the money we can use to pay things down and squirrel away, and those numbers always carry on for several months. When I give away books and readers tell me format, overwhelmingly it is mobi. There is so very much about Amazon that defines and shapes my life and my career.
Which is why I get so upset when I see things like this. I don’t want to hate Amazon. I don’t want them to drunk text authors and god help me, readers, pissing me off so much I start getting books from elsewhere and figuring out how to upload them on my kindle. Because I’ll buy less books then. Part of the lure of one-click is it’s so effortless. I have no time to second-guess myself. I can buy a book via a twitter link on my phone. My kindle becomes littered with gems while I shop for groceries. My readers love Amazon. I want Amazon to stay.
I don’t, however, want Amazon to take over. I think the Big Five have a lot to learn about ebooks and the way the world is turning, but I believe whole-heartedly they should be able to make those decisions themselves. I understand and respect they have much more data than I do and are making the choices they make because they truly believe they’re the best for them and for their authors. I comprehend that there is a true and frustrating ceiling to being a largely ebook author, and that Amazon is only interested in helping me reach further if I give them exclusivity—though as mentioned above, I don’t know how in the world I’d be able to measure my success.
I don’t want to be kept in the dark. I don’t want one bookseller to rule them all. I don’t want to kiss the ring of anyone—I don’t want New York to be able to make my small publishers go away because they’re frustrating to the world they used to know and understand, and I don’t want Amazon to create some post-apocalyptic new world order. I want to write my work, get paid a fair wage for it, and get the widest distribution possible. So no, Amazon. I won’t be emailing on your behalf. You need to fight your own battles. And honestly, you need to be careful. Yes, I spend a lot of money at your business and enjoy a number of sales because of you. I want you to remain strong and let me keep doing both those things. This? This isn’t strength. This is insanity.
Amazon. Sell shit. That’s what you do well. If you don’t like New York publishers, don’t sell their books. You don’t have to. Except you know what we all know, don’t you, that they still make the lion’s share of everyone’s money. Should they maybe join this century? Yes. Are things in publishing going to get worse before they get better? Yes. Very much yes. But this isn’t helping. This is a power grab and manipulation, and I absolutely don’t ever want you to involve me in it again. And never bother my readers. If you try to shame my readers into your war, I really will start shopping elsewhere, even if it’s less convenient and means I can’t stream Hot in Cleveland on Amazon Prime anymore. As you point out, there’s a lot of content out there. I’ll find a way to survive.