Self Published Authors Get Ready, You're Being Dumped

If you’re a self published author, get ready for some disappointing news.

Your usefulness is coming to an end. Yes, you have all worked very hard for very little return in building an empire to be exploited by multinational enterprises, but sadly, your job is almost done and it’s time now for you to be given the ‘boot’.

It all started with the Amazon’s KDP Select program that offered ‘manna from heaven‘ in exchange for granting Amazon exclusivity to your ebooks. And yes, it was very nice for a few months, until the rules were changed. Without notice of course.

You see, the problem was that self published titles were just way too popular, so their ‘weighting’ on bestseller lists had to be reduced. From 100% down to 10% of their value.

Yet even after this dramatic change, these pesky self published titles managed to claw their way to the top of bestselling lists. Not something that would have pleased the Big Five I’m sure. So more work needed to be done.

The next move came with the massive deletions of reviews on self published titles. No, not the paid reviews by registered Amazon reviewers working on Fiverr, but those nasty reviews written by pesky self published authors who actually read a book and honestly posted a review.

Clearly Amazon believed that this was just not right that authors should be allowed to review books, even though major publishers have wrought  the book review system for decades and habitually use well known authors to write book reviews. But what’s a little hypocrisy when an end needs a means?

If these measures weren’t enough to ‘kill off’ these pesky Indies, then came this new move.

‘Add to all this the unexplained changes in Amazon’s algorithms that keep the books in the KDP program from competing with publishing house titles as best-sellers.’ Source: http://www.indiesunlimited.com/2012/11/15/velvet-rope-a-dope/

My understanding of this last change was to preclude self published titles from appearing alongside major published titles in the ‘Customers Also Bought’ widget on Amazon book pages. Judging by my own ebook sales, it has worked spectacularly well, as my unit sales dropped off a cliff.

So what happens after the destruction of self publishing?

To fill the new void that is going to be created by ‘killing off’ the Indies and genuine self published authors, the Big Five are offering their own self publishing services. Simon & Schuster are the latest to offer this …..

This is not self publishing. It is old fashioned vanity publishing that charges anywhere between $1,500 and $25,000 to publish a book, with little chance of success. In fact it is a very old fox in new sheep’s clothing – Author Solutions and Author House.

My advice has always been, do not walk away from them, run away! Vanity publishing has such a bad reputation, but as it has now been renamed and re-marketed as self publishing by the Big Five, everything is ok. Right? Wrong!

If you’re a self published author, the message is clear, and get ready for more bad news in the near future. All your free ebook giveaways were for nothing. You were all just way too popular for the good of the publishing industry, who are now struggling to afford their champagne lunches every day.

But boy, did you help sell millions of Kindles. Well done. But you’ve served your purpose, now pack your bags and get the hell out of publishing!

Of course, I could be completely wrong about all this.

Self Published Authors Get Ready, You’re Being Dumped

250 thoughts on “Self Published Authors Get Ready, You’re Being Dumped

  • 18/12/2012 at 11:05 am
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    Sadly this article shows the lengths major publishers and Amazon.com will go to strengthen their monopoly on publishing. It is no secret that for more than 20 years mass market publishers have been squeezing the middle out of publishing. Their overriding desire is the bottom line. They’ll publish crap (poorly written material like Fifty Shades of Grey) if it will make money and damn those authors who don’t write books that will sell by the millions (or at least the thousands and earn a hefty profit). The new climate is anything but new. It’s the way things have been for far too long. It may be that small and specialty presses will once again (as in the eighties) have to step in to save exceptional authors who don’t sell enough for the big boys.

  • 18/12/2012 at 7:18 pm
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    I for one certainly agree that you are wrong, and you never give up on “good thing” you are building into an empire, because you will have cheated yourself out of what could someday have been create.

  • 18/12/2012 at 8:15 pm
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    “No, not the paid reviews by registered Amazon reviewers working on Fiverr,…” So cynical, so funny, so sadly true.

    You sales are down — my commissions for sales like yours are down too. The freedom offer by the net is being sucked away by large corporate entities — the barrier to entry are back up sports fans!

    • 18/12/2012 at 11:51 pm
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      Troy, what data are you seeing that support those suppositions?

      Right now, the average price of indie books on bestseller lists is climbing, so indies are making more money on sales.
      The market percentage held by indies has remained almost entirely unchanged all year – at least 35% overall for ebooks in the USA, and roughly 45-50% of fiction ebooks.

      YOUR sales might be going down. Mine did, actually, too (because I failed to keep up a 90-day release schedule, largely). But I know scores of writers who have seen sales climb every month all year, even during the rough election months. That’s all anecdotal evidence. Some writers see sales climb, other see sales fall. Overall, indie market share *hasn’t budged*, and indie average prices *have climbed*, so overall, indie writers are grossing a total that is *significantly* higher than it was this time last year.

      There are no barriers to entry.

      There are barriers to success – finding readers, getting fans, building a customer base, writing and releasing enough product to keep people interested, those are all barriers to reaching a high level of success – but there are no barriers to entry.

      And *everybody* has those same barriers to success, regardless how they are published.

      • 19/12/2012 at 12:06 am
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        I agree with you Kevin. Except for one missing factor. Amazon algorithms are the mysterious factor that Indies can’t beat. No matter how hard an author builds a base, changes in Amazon’s algorithms can mean a feast for a while, and then a famine. I’ve seen this happen over and over again. This is why I believe it is imperative for self published authors to get away from their Amazon addiction and publish on multiple platforms and have their books available on as many retailers as possible.

        • 19/12/2012 at 3:58 am
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          But the good news, Derek are these two bits:

          1) Indies have, so far, been discovering those algorithm changes – and precisely how they impact sales – before the big publishers do. Right now, there are big publishers scanning indie forums to keep an eye out for the data indie writers are compiling, because it’s some of the best ebook industry analysis available today. WE get that info first. ;)

          2) Indies are in a better position to make changes based on those algorithm changes. Amazon changes something, we ADAPT. We shift prices, or change marketing strategies. We can turn on a dime! We are nimble, agile, fast. We are the sleek dolphins gliding alongside the oil tankers of the big publishers. ;) They can’t change their tens of thousands of books overnight to take advantage of changes. We can! So every time Amazon changes things up, it is more likely to benefit indies than major publishers. ;)

    • 19/12/2012 at 12:19 am
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      Troy, there are clearly two types of writers who publish on Amazon. On the one hand you have authors who writer from a literary angle, and those who write from a demographic angle. With phrases like ” 90-day release schedule” it would seem that Kevin falls into the latter category. These authors write to the demographics. In other words they see who is buying the most books in what category and then tailor their book to the market. The other type of author writes in the genre of their choice and are not influenced by demographics. One writes where their creativity leads them, the other whores after sales and will write anything that is selling at the moment regardless of subject matter. So take what those who write to the market say with a grain of salt. These authors grind out whatever is popular at the moment and will show higher sales because they are specifically targeting the groups and subjects that sell the most books.

      • 19/12/2012 at 3:49 am
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        I think that’s a gross oversimplification, Rick. There are many, many types of writers out there. ;) And there is room for all sorts of storytellers.

        When I said “90 day release schedule”, I was referring back to an earlier comment I made. You don’t need to release a new novel every 90 days. Even a short story or novella will keep your name visible in those “new” categories where many readers browse for books. They buy the novella, like it, look for your other stuff, buy some of that, too…

        It’s a fact of life that most writers don’t make a living from their first ten or so books. It takes *time* to build an audience. It takes book after book. That’s the way the profession has pretty much always worked; it was that way under old traditional publishing for everyone except the lottery-winning breakout bestseller, and it remains that way in indie publishing.

        Whether you write one book a year or five, it’s going to take a good stack of books before you make your living at the game. Oh – and if you stop writing, your name will fade, sales will slump, and your income will fall.

        PS: As for me? I don’t write that fast. I have a full time job, and kids, and life takes its toll. Most full time writers I know produce many hundreds of thousands of words of fiction per year, though. “Writing fast” is really just about spending more time at the profession. If I write five hours per week, and you write fifty hours per week, you’re probably going to produce new books in about 1/10th the time I will. It’s just simple math.

        Most writers who want a full time living from writing books will need to put in full time hours to achieve their goal, and then continue working full time hours to maintain it.

        Most writers who want their books to sell will need to produce books which in every way match the quality level of the big NYC houses. That is the bar you must reach or exceed, unless you’re very lucky.

        Most writers who want to build a career quickly, instead of over 5-10 years, will have to produce multiple novels per year. The more GOOD books (or short stories, or novellas) you write per year, the faster your career will tend to progress.

        Most writers who want to make a living from their books will not be able to do so in the 99 cent price level. The average bestselling indie book is now around $3.50, and that number continues to climb.

        The day when you could write a book, toss it up without editing or proofing with a bad cover at 99 cents and make good money are over. Mainstream readers have moved into ebooks, and they want quality books. They’re also willing to pay quality prices for them, so many indies are doing QUITE well at $3.99-6.99 for full length novels. Amazon has also gotten tired of the 99 cent books, since they don’t make much money from them; they have changed their algorithms to favor pricing which brings them more money. Incidentally, those prices also bring the WRITER more money, so most experienced writers took one look at this data (last May!) and raised their prices on long form works (lots of folks still sell shorts for 99 cents, which is fine, but some writers are even selling shorts for $2.99 now – and are selling copies).

        If you want to succeed, you will (probably, barring a stroke of fortune) have to produce highly professional books, with excellent content; you will need to price them as professional works; you will need to continue producing more of the same to keep readers interested; and you will have to KEEP doing so for as long as you want to retain income on the older works, because otherwise all those writers still writing will rise above your work, and yours will vanish.

        In general, writers who work the hardest and produce the best stuff will sell best and earn the most. I don’t really have an issue with that. ;)

  • 18/12/2012 at 9:37 pm
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    Well put Troy. Yes, the barriers are slowly being put back up and the lock keepers are back in town. As for Fiverr and paid Amazon reviews? Well, let nothing like hypocracy get in the way of free enterprise huh? As my reviews by fellow authors may be banned and deleted, I guess I should consider spending five bucks to make my reviews safe.

  • 29/12/2012 at 10:22 am
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    Brilliant article. Not many things literally make me ‘laugh out loud’ but this did! I didn’t know the big publishers were starting to offer self-publishing services – looks like they are finally waking up to what’s going on. My decision to self-publish, despite a publisher’s interest, was purely financial, going on the experience of authors who had moved from traditional to self-publishing. I’m glad I did and I like having control. I also like fighting the big guys!

    • 29/12/2012 at 2:24 pm
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      You say your choice to self-publish was purely financial. Well if a real publisher was interested they would be offering a check. Sounds to me like a vanity press was trying to get you to pay them. That’s not a real publisher, that’s a parasite who preys on the vanity of would-be writers to bleed them of cash and get them nowhere in a writing career, except poorer.

      • 29/12/2012 at 2:39 pm
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        Or the check offered was so piddling that she decided she’d almost certainly make more money going indie.

        That’s why most professional writers make the switch, Rick. ;)

  • 05/01/2013 at 8:31 pm
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    I would have thought sheer profits would keep Amazon fighting for the self-publisher – we do all the work, we market our books as hectically as we can, and they rake in a chunk on every sale, that’s like a licence to print money. I can well imagine the conventional publishers getting twitchy but surely it is in their interests to haul on board the gravy train instead – get their readers panning the waters to find reasonable books, then offering marketing help to the chosen ones.

    Maybe we should be doing that ourselves – like United Artists in early Hollywood, combining forces and hammering out our own futures.

    • 06/01/2013 at 11:50 am
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      I think there’s a deeper story developing Elizabeth, and it all has to do with KDP Select and Amazon Prime. Now, my assumptions are made purely on anecdotal evidence and what I hear from other self published authors, but here’s my spin on it.

      Amazon’s algorithms are favouring those authors who are enrolled in KDP Select and have granted exclusivity to Amazon, which is quite logical as Amazon derive income from both sales, and borrows to Prime members. But by granting exclusivity, authors have signed away their independence. So, are they Indie authors anymore?

      The other clear sign that Amazon are favouring Select authors is in the royalty rates that are offered. As I have withdrawn from KDPS now, my royalty rate has dropped from 70% to 35% in a number of Kindle Stores.

      As have my sales I might add. Since removing all of my ebooks from KDPS in October last year, but I still have them on KDP of course, my sales have dropped 50%. I haven’t changed my promotion or marketing in any way, so I’m assuming it’s the effect of not being cross promoted by Amazon’s algorithms as much as when I was in KDPS.

      But you know what? I prefer to be a self published Indie author. And especially the Indie bit.

      • 06/01/2013 at 6:19 pm
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        I do not think there is evidence that Amazon is favorign Select books with their algorithms. If anything, the evidence suggests that Amazon USED to favor Select books much more highly, but has been steadily degrading that favoritism over the course of 2012, and now there is little benefit to be found in using the Select program.

        I sympathize with your reduced sales; many writers have seen sales go down. Others have seen sales go up. Many factors are involved in sales changes. ALL book sales go down around a major election, for example. Ebook sales tend to drop in December because they make bad gifts, and most people are holding off on personal purchases because of the December holidays. Your release tempo also matters a lot: how often you release new, good titles matters enormously, and if you’re not on a quarterly release schedule, consider moving to one. Keeping something in the “released in the last 90 days” list helps sales.

        I don’t think it’s something we can blame on Amazon, though. I think it’s something we need to take ownership of and solve for ourselves.

        • 06/01/2013 at 7:20 pm
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          I have to disagree Kevin.

          Amazon must favour KDPS titles now, because as you said, most of the original benefits of enrolling in KDPS have been gradually whittled away to near zero. For example, a free book give away, which counted as a sale when KDPS first started, is now dow to 5% of sale value. As for Prime borrows, why would anyone borrow a book priced under $4.99? Which most KDPS authors are under. And while I agree that sales fluctuate, mine fluctuated south in a hurry the day after I took all of my books out of KDPS. And this was after 2 years of steady sales. I just don’t go with coincidence on this one.

          The other point is that real authors don’t work on a 90 day release schedules. That is not writing, that is just ridiculous. It’s a recipe for releasing rubbish, which is what is damaging not only the Kindle, but also the ebook platform in general.

          • 06/01/2013 at 7:44 pm
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            You say they “must” favor Select books. But where is the evidence that they ARE doing so? Frankly, so long as some folks are willing to continue enrolling their books, I don’t think they “must” do anything. I wonder if they plan to continue the program through 2013, to be honest. Right now, it looks like they are, but I’m seeing all benefits of being a part of it decline, across the board.

            I agree that the KLL borrows favor higher priced books. Also, the visibility algorithms all now favor higher priced books. The benefit of charging 99 cents is now in the toilet. It’s gotten so that I am pushing my short story length on new works into novelette range so I can charge $2.99 for them instead of 99 cents.

            Amazon isn’t interested in a bunch of 99 cent bestsellers, so they’re actively making it more difficult to reach bestseller status at 99 cents. If you are pricing under $2.99, your work is *significantly* less likely to make sales.

            As for the schedule, I beg to differ. ;) Most full time professional novelists produce 2-6 novels a year, every year, for as long as they want a career to last. That has ALWAYS been the case. And I’m not just talking about long form work, either; you might produce two novels and two short stories or novelettes. That’s still a quarterly release schedule.

            If you write 1000 words per hour, and spend as much time revising as you do writing (experienced pros will spend less time than that on revision, but most of us are not experienced pros), then writing and revising just two hours a day, five days a week, is 250,000 new words published per year. That’s 2-3 new books, or two books and a couple of novellas. For working VERY part time hours (ten hours a week!).

            Full time novelists produce at four to six times that rate (working 40-60 hours per week).

          • 06/01/2013 at 8:09 pm
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            There is never anything that resembles evidence when it comes to Amazon Kevin. We all know that. But I think you are arguing my point. that KDPS is worthless unless you are a new author seeking a little bit of exposure. And I mean a little, because that’s all it gives now.

            With regard to how many books an author can produce a year, I’d agree with two. Perhaps. A novel of 100,000 words takes an awfully long time to research, write, and even longer to edit, fine tune, proof, beta read and prepare for publication. I think you are talking shorts and novellas, which are a different story.

            But I think you nailed the point though when you mentioned ‘inexperienced’. Just banging out crap at 1,000 words per hour to feed the Kindle machine is not writing.

            I can sometimes spend an hour just researching for a single paragraph. Word count is not writing.

          • 06/01/2013 at 8:27 pm
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            I am assuming you mean beyond the obvious evidence that KDP select pays 70% royalties as opposed to 35% for regular KDP books. So in fact authors who do not give Amazon exclusive rights are penalized half of their royalties.

          • 06/01/2013 at 8:35 pm
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            Isn’t that bad enough Rick, and a sign that if you’re not in KDPS, you’re heavily penalised? No matter the algorithm games, having your royalty rate cut by half tells to me that Amazon wants you exclusive, or you suffer the consequences. I’d rather go elsewhere. I don’t react well to thuggery.

          • 06/01/2013 at 9:06 pm
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            It is indeed bad enough, Derek, but there are also other ways Amazon penalizes author as with the algorithms.

          • 06/01/2013 at 9:15 pm
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            Having read your latest blog post Rick, I wondered if you could have included Amazon in your list of what’s wrong with the US. Quite honestly, Amazon is a thug. I probably should add Apple, Google and Microsoft to them too. But maybe that is how the US works now. By whatever means?

          • 06/01/2013 at 9:37 pm
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            Interesting, Rick. My non-Select books still get 70% royalties. I admit to being disturbed that only Select books get 70% in India, but I haven’t seen any changes to the regular royalty rates in other nations, have you?

          • 06/01/2013 at 9:50 pm
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            I’d go check your own KDP book price details page Kevin. The new Kindle Stores Amazon have added recently only pay 35% for non KDPS enrolment. The only exception being Canada.

      • 14/01/2013 at 3:36 pm
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        Interesting point.

        Want some more anecdotal evidence?

        I have TEN titles on Amazon now, NONE of which are in KDP Select. I removed them back in September, 2012.

        As a side project and learning experience, I helped my daughter produce and upload a short story to KDP, one that is very similar to the THREE children’s stories I have out.

        Her title has remained enrolled in KDP Select.

        This month to date I have exactly ZERO sales on the KDP platform, although I do have sales on BN, Lulu, ACX, and Createspace.

        The short story?

        With her ONE title, my daughter has a higher “author rank” on Amazon . . .

        than I do . . . with TEN.

        So yes, I DO believe that with Amazon and KDP Select, you either play ball . . . or you are OFF the team.

        -John

        • 14/01/2013 at 6:53 pm
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          More anecdotal evidence: I disenrolled from Select in June. Saw zero hit to sales. Sales still progress at roughly the same slow pace they had been. No marketing, no Select, still make sales.

          It’s all anecdotal. Which is…worthless.

          Want non-anecdotal evidence?
          Of the top 20 bestselling ebooks on Amazon, 30% (6) are self published. Of those, one is in Select.
          Of the top 100 bestselling ebooks on Amazon, 28% (28) are self published (down a bit today, due in part to the big boost in sales of old Reacher titles and a huge sale on trad pub nonfiction Amazon did yesterday, with over 2000 ebooks over 80% off). Of those, 10 are in Select.

          Select is obviously still helping at least some writers in sales of their work. But I do not think the actual evidence supports the idea that those without Select are automatically in trouble, sales-wise. Look elsewhere for the problems.

          • 14/01/2013 at 8:54 pm
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            Unfortunately Kevin, Amazon are so famously secretive that anecdotal evidence is all anyone has to work with. Amazon don’t even give information to governments unless threatened with a gun at the head, and even then they don’t tell all. So the only way to gain any insight into what’s happening is to follow the Kindle Boards (which I detest), pay attention to what other KDP and KDPS authors are saying and look at what happens to your own books. Amazon sure as hell aren’t going to tell anyone.

            As everything to do with Amazon and Kindle, sales and promotion is driven by mysterious algorithms, I would have to say that no one other than Amazon knows if titles are penalised after being withdrawn from KDPS. My own experience says a definite yes, as has been the experience of many others. But can I prove it? No, of course not. I just look at my steady sales of hundreds of copies for month upon month until the day I withdrew 15 books from KDPS, when somehow sales dropped to exactly zero overnight, and I drew my own conclusion. Call it simple logic, coincidental, anecdotal or worthless, but it is what happened.

  • 06/01/2013 at 12:37 am
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    Hey, you know what’s even bigger than Amazon and the Kindle?… Apple and the iPad. I go through Smashwords to seel to Apple, and I get 60% list price (compared to 35% from Amazon- I refuse to give them excluvisity). All the iPads, iPods, and iPhones in the world vastly outnumber Kindles.

    Consider that above and answer this question for yourself…. Who needs Amazon? I don’t. Do you? Really?

    • 06/01/2013 at 12:50 am
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      James, I have had 4 books published on smashwords for 8 months and sold 2 books. The same books on Amazon have sold over 200 in the same time period. I made $6.20 on smashwords and several hundred on Amazon. Apple has proprietary software for publishing directly to iBooks that require you own a Mac but they have no problem trying to sell their products on my PC. Although Amazon is out of control and treats Indie writer/publishers like shit, it is still the best place to sell book.

    • 06/01/2013 at 1:10 am
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      According to the data on one poll, 75% of the users who read ebooks on Apple devices buy their ebooks from Amazon.

      The Apple market share on ebooks is single digit. It’s behind Kobo and B&N, and a WAY smaller market than Amazon. Mostly because their store is badly deficient compared to all their major competitors…

  • 06/01/2013 at 6:37 am
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    I’ve had my head stuck in the revision machine lately, coming up for air to see – this, is very disheartening. Unfortunately, I’m already too far in to stop, research and reassess (I’ve got my deadline to meet, come hells or high water I shall meet it) but after that I’ll have to look more deeply into this.

    Who know, maybe this will be the first time I’m actually Happy that my sales numbers have always been small.

  • 15/02/2013 at 5:37 pm
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    Amazon is definitely up to something to destroy independent authors. Deleting allegedly (underline allegedly) fraudulent positive reviews, allowing clealrly fraudulent negative reviews to remain, removing tags, and changing the algorithims to favor Big Six-published e-books are all contributing to kill indie sales. And it’s working. Do a search and see how many authors are saying exactly the same thing: starting in October 2012 sales have plummeted after months and months of consistently strong sales.

    I hope Amazon will do the honest thng and change their policies, restore deleted reviews, etc. There’s room for everyone in this ball game.

    • 16/02/2013 at 11:32 am
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      William I would have to disagree with you as far as Amazon trying to destroy Indies. I see it as they wish to control the ebook market extending as far as the review process and choosing which indie succeeds. They are definitely trying to find a model that works for them. the problem is that people are not going to let them have that much control. Indie publishing has been such a boom because it throws out the controlling publisher who wants complete control of our intellectual property. We won’t be playing “Meet the new boos, same as the old boss” as the Who so aptly put it.

  • 15/02/2013 at 8:47 pm
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    Hello,
    I hope that what you are saying is not true. That would be terrible if Amazon was that ruthless. But, I will keep my eyes open.

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