This is not going to be a funny post. I am not going to talk about how yesterday, I spent 45 highly frustrating minutes hiding like a spy in the utility room, trying to photograph the blue-tits as they attacked the bird-feeder outside, and how every time I made the slightest noise they all shuttled off, leaving me feeling embarrassed with just a blurry photo of something reminiscent of my sixth-form photography project, which was deemed ‘sinister in its abstract usage’. Nor am I going to talk about how it disturbed me today when, on the BBC News web-site, I came across a story about the new gigantic Boeing 747-8 plane, which immediately made me think of the Titanic and how that ended (I didn’t think of the Titanic because the plane also doubles as a boat, by the way, as it doesn’t. I thought of the Titanic because if you ask me, a huge great plane like that is just asking for trouble).
Instead I am going to talk about the battle-ground that is Amazon. The warriors, in this case, are not clad in armour but seated in front of computers across the land: they are independent authors, or indie authors, if you like (I personally don’t particularly like the term indie author; it makes me feel like I should be wearing tight jeans and sat here with a fashionable hair-cut I can neither comprehend or want, and that’s something which I’m just not into!). Definitely regression from what warriors of the past would have wanted for their kind in the future, but warriors nonetheless.
Because if you’re an independent/indie author on Amazon, you’d better be prepared to fight.
I think Amazon are basically good, let’s get that straight from the out-set. Yes they’re a massive corporate organisation who love nothing more than making stupid money and pretending they understand what it’s like to be a broke unknown writer, but at the same time, their platform is nothing less than essential for anyone wanting to sell their work in paperback or on the Kindle. That doesn’t mean I agree with everything the firm do — I don’t. But as with anything in life there are positives and negatives. And remember: with rare exceptions, you care just as much about making money as Amazon do. Or, more accurately, you need to make enough money to keep you going, which you could argue is the same for Amazon with their ever-increasing overheads. You can try and argue against that point by saying that you’re just one person and they are enormous and have lost sight of their magnitude in pursuit of success, but the argument drowns as soon as you realise that humans are all essentially greedy. Soon as we have anything, we all want something more, even if the stakes are very low.
But enough with the pessimism, and back to the battle-ground.
One really incredible thing about Amazon is that they offer you the opportunity to interact with a readership. Not a spokesman, not a manager — YOU, the author. This is possible through their Author Central programme, which gives you a customisable page to woo readers with, or via their numerous discussion forums where you can reply to threads and start your own.
The problem is that it’s getting out of hand. In a big and potentially damaging way. And readers are getting sick and tired of authors shamelessly promoting their work — which you really can’t blame them for, if I’m honest, so am I. To the point where now, I suspect that 75% of readers don’t even bother to click through to a book page unless they recognise the author’s name or the pitch was truly mind-blowing and they have to read that book. And to be honest, why should they? When almost every thread in a discussion is infected with someone — often out of context, with the most tenuous link imaginable — trying to sell their work, why should a reader waste their time on a complete unknown, let alone 6 hours reading their novel?
For the independent/indie author, it poses a real and difficult-to-process issue: do you risk continuous posting and hope readers will be intrigued enough — or broken down mentally enough — to check out your book, or do you hold off and hope that the other promotional work you do will pay off?
By the way, you can now buy The Number 3 Mystery Book for just 69p! Did I mention that?
There’s another dilemma, of course: if you don’t do enough promotional work and connect with your readers, then your work won’t actually find any readers.
What it comes down to, I think, is integrity. There’ll always be people who have no shame. People who really do think any publicity is good publicity. But at the same time, the real writers will eventually shine through. Until then we’ll all just have to hang on because it’s going to be a bumpy ride.