Amazon for Authors: Yay or Nay?

Amazon Box

With the onslaught of digital technology, e-readers and hand-held devices, there is no doubt that physical books are no longer as popular as they used to be. As a direct result, authors are also having to change not only the way they write, but the way they publish, sell and market their books as well.

At the top of the digital book food chain is, without a doubt, amazon.com. A diverse online store with a plethora of products at generally competitive prices, you can find anything from a book to a Halloween costume to a coffee machine. In any conversation related to a specific shopping need, book-related or not, one of the first questions out of someone’s mouth is often, “Did you check Amazon?” Additionally, they practically pioneered the commercialization of the e-book with their Kindle device.

The Good and the Bad

Carried into the publishing world, this is potentially the greatest author tool ever. You or your publisher can not only sell your books there, but those without a publisher can publish them, market them and even have them shipped, all on their own! According to mystery writer Joanna Campbell Slan, best selling author of the Kiki Lowenstein and Cara Mia Delgatto mystery series, Amazon has given countless authors the chance to make a real living from their work. However, although she genuinely appreciates everything Amazon has done for her career, not everyone feels the same.

While there is no disputing the fact that there is no one out there with a broader reach or more experience than Amazon, music journalist and mystery author Deborah Grabien feels that “Amazon can be aggravating and capricious in what they do.” At the end of the day, though, she doesn’t deny that Amazon is still where everyone goes for deeply discounted print books.

Photo Credit: Nicholas Grabien
Photo Credit: Nicholas Grabien

On the other hand, she highly recommends that for self-publishing, people should “make sure they read every dotted ‘I’ and crossed ‘T’ of Amazon’s terms before they do. The process can be tedious and take an incredibly long time, for very little in return.” The flip side, as always, is that in the end, Amazon’s reach goes so far beyond that of any others, especially if you’re dealing with e-books.

What Does It All Mean?

So what does this all mean to up-and-coming authors working hard to find their niche in the publishing industry? The simplicity of it is that Amazon is a double-edged sword. It can be incredibly gratifying to see your name and your book pop up when you type it into that search box, but problems still arise. For hard copies of a book, a print-on-demand type of situation is often warranted, which can be costly, time-consuming and doesn’t guarantee any kind of publicity or marketing. How will anyone outside of your inner circle of friends know to look for you?

Many authors use social media, and a lot of it, to get their name out there, including giveaways, contests, opportunities for free copies of books in exchange for writing reviews, and much more. While Amazon offers a place for money to change hands and shipping to be taken care of (in some cases), there are still myriad details that rest fully on the shoulders of the author. Is it worth the aggravation? Is it easier than going through the process of finding a mainstream publisher?

The answer is as complicated as the process. For someone with an established publisher who is setting up book signings and putting out both print and digital versions of a book, Amazon is the ultimate solution, offering free shipping in many cases, and no sales tax in the states that allow it. This increases both sales and exposure. Yet for those in the self-publishing arena, it can be a lesson in futility. Who handles publicity, marketing and the building of name recognition? The sad truth is that it’s often the authors themselves, taking time away from the actual writing to do things they may not necessarily be good at.

There appears to be no easy solution, but sometimes the best experiences can be those we muddle through, learning from mistakes and enjoying each small step of success. After all, just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, even Stephen King received dozens of rejection letters before someone actually took him seriously. With modern technology, he might have skipped right over that part and catapulted to his stratosphere of success. Maybe not, but one can hope.

 

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