Why Self-Published Authors Ought To Reconsider Amazon

I'm a self-published author. My understanding, from every writer's convention or publishing forum I'd participated in was that I could not make it as an author without Amazon. For some who have found significant success, particularly due to the ebook format, perhaps that is true.

But let's be realistic: most of us aren't going to be that smash self-publish success story. Some of us are writing simply because we can't not write. Because of that reality, I want to tell you why you should rethink Amazon.com as a "must" for how you sell.

First, let's get a few minor things out of the way from what I've learned from a pretty standard self-publishing experience in which you get a little local PR, make some sales, get your book in the local bookstores, and are mostly satisfied because you simply have a book of yours finished and on the shelves somewhere.

Minor: Readers who refuse to pay for shipping.

When I published my book, a few people wouldn't buy it if it wasn't on Amazon because they didn't want to pay for shipping.

I guess I'm not too keen on that reader, at this point, considering what I'm going to describe to you further in this post. What Amazon does to you is not worth catering to that reader who refuses to pay a few dollars in shipping. Unless you sell to hundreds of thousands (and most of us won't), the reader who doesn't want to pay for shipping isn't worth the hassle because you don't make a lot of money off of the sale, anyway, and what that person doesn't realize is that Amazon forces a hike in the price that makes it more expensive than if they'd bought the book elsewhere, paid for shipping, and Amazon was nowhere in the selling equation.

Minor: Your electronic content is too readily available.

Do some basic searching. Find out how many authors whose books are only available in the Kindle format have discovered other "authors" stealing their book.

It's easy to steal the copy right out of a digital book.

Real paper books are not only not dead, but making a comeback. Consider making your book only available in paper, i.e. you aren't locked into Amazon because of the Kindle format.

Major: Amazon makes it difficult to remove your content.

Try removing your book from your author page on Amazon. They basically inform you that they don't remove books, even if they're out of print. They don't make it easy to get your books out of their system.

Once you put it in there, it's there. That doesn't seem like a problem, until you consider the next point...

Major: Amazon has policies that make their system a haven for online bullies.

There was a protest in my area that lasted half a year, and because I did not support the violent actions of the protesters, I became a target (as did hundreds of others in my community). I locked down every social account I could find (they found a few I'd forgotten about), but I still received filthy threatening messages and emails. I was doxxed and harassed and had photos of me made to look like Hitler and Satan. In at least one case, I had to contact the police to report the harassment.

Most social networks make attempts to deal with trolls and harassment. They aren't perfect, but they try. They also give you the ability to block and restrict access to those folks who simply want to harass and troll.

Consider Amazon a social network that doesn't give you any control. Anyone can leave a review, with an anonymous fake name if desired. They don't even have to be a verified purchase to leave the review, so Amazon runs no checks to attempt to make their review system legitimate. In an effort to build the biggest product review database in the world, they allow severe abuse that has a direct financial component. The review and one-star rating have a direct and negative impact on your sales i.e. your livelihood. I have not problem if a verified purchaser leaves a one-star review, because at least they put their money where their mouth is. But anonymous non-buyers having the ability to hurt the author and tank sales? Not acceptable.

While you might not agree with me on my stance at the protest, keep in mind that what happened to me can happen to you for any reason. You simply need to make someone angry. That's all it takes.

I reported the comments, some of which were protesters who had harassed me in other forums, and left a response explaining why they were left. After several days and multiple email messages and winding support systems as I was passed from one support person to another as they slowly "escalated" my complaint, I was finally told that they "understand your concerns, but the review doesn't violate our posted guidelines, so I'm unable to remove it in its current format. We try to encourage our customers to give their honest opinions on our products while staying within our guidelines. As a retailer we are interested in cultivating a diversity of opinion on our products. Part of that is allowing our customers to air their honest thoughts on items they have received."

Having your book listed on Amazon provides trolls a place where they can both damage your reputation as well as your income, and there are no safeguards or possibilities for you to get any serious justice out of it.

I'd highly recommend finding another way to sell books and not even open up that avenue of abuse on Amazon. Find another place. They do not take this issue of fraudulent reviews seriously, because they are simply more interested in "cultivating a diversity of opinion" instead of protecting the creators who generate the content they make profit off of.

Major: Amazon makes your book more expensive, but less profitable.

Unless you publish your book through their self-publishing system (CreateSpace), you will not make much profit listing your self-published books there.

I did not want to use CreateSpace, because it put my book's entirety of existence in the hands of Amazon as both publisher and seller. I did my book through another print-on-demand publisher.

Amazon's rules are that if you want to list your book with them, they must have the lowest price. If that book is found anywhere else online available for less, they mark their price down to remain the lowest. Readers think that's great, but consider some realities.

The actual cost to print my first full-color book was $17.87. To account for standard wholesale discounts, I have to add to that cost or I would lose money. That wholesale discount, however, has an Amazon component to it, as you'll see in a minute.

Amazon has additional markups that add to the cost and make that wholesale discount as high as it is.

In the end, to meet the profits that Amazon wants to make on each sale of my book, you can see from the first graphic that I only make about $1 for every book I sell on Amazon. Sure, I could mark it up higher, but $30 is high enough for a softcover. Even for a full color book with lots of imagery in it, my goal price had been to charge the reader no more than $22. Had I not listed on Amazon, I could have charged less (even with shipping, it would have been less) and still made more than $1 a book.

Books I sell on Amazon amount to next to nothing (I've done better selling off of my website), but Amazon makes about $7 off of each sale, all while letting online trolls abuse the review system.

Even if you make the decision not to list on Amazon, your book will find its way there (sans profit to you) through other systems (e.g. used book sellers). But at least you can have some up-front control on initial release and a lower price by not putting it on Amazon.

In summary: to get my first book on Amazon for the convenience of consumers who don't realize how Amazon works, the book was made far more expensive than it would have been simply so that Amazon could make the cut they wanted which were more profits than the author of the actual work made. You might think you're getting a deal on Amazon because of free shipping with your Amazon Prime, but if I didn't list with Amazon and set my price as I had intended, even with shipping, it would have been less than ordering off of Amazon with "free" shipping.

To be honest, when I sold my first book in person, I chopped the price down to what I had originally intended, about $8 less. I simply couldn't list it cheaper online or Amazon would respond negatively.

We're all familiar with Amazon's fight with the publisher Hachette. If you've ever bothered to dig into it and get past the consumer mantra of "but Amazon gives me cheap books", you'll realize that there are a lot of creators who are doing hard work for not much, and are also opening themselves up to losing control over their listings and what people use the reviews for.

Leaving reviews on Amazon simply as a consumer is bad enough; as I've written elsewhere, it opens you up to annoying online marketers who see what you've reviewed and contact you to tell you that they think you'd be interested in their book or product. But creators and sellers have long known the reviews are a serious tactic competitors use to sabotage sales via reviews and ratings, and now authors can experience the same thing if they dared express an opinion that runs contrary to a particular zeitgeist.

Reality check for most self-published authors.

Most of us aren't going to make it big. And if you're like me, you don't care. I simply want to write, and I like having a book to hold and read when I've finished a project.

If you can't let go of the idea of being one of those breakout self-published authors, you'll always be owned by Amazon.

My plan, then, is to continue the book I've been working on for several months regarding what my community experienced at the hands of some of the protesters. I won't be listing it on Amazon. The price will be lower because of that, even with shipping. I'll sell it directly from my website or in person. And I'll probably sell just as many without immediately giving the single-celled trolls of the internet yet another place to attack me for daring to disagree and write about that disagreement at the place of sale.

Side Note: In a recent incident in which my work was plagiarized by someone using Amazon's self-publishing system (CreateSpace), Amazon was willing to work with me as far as taking the information I provided and plugging it into their system to make a determination. I want to give them credit for having a system to review complaints and taking them seriously.


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