he other night we were coming home from dinner, NPR on the car radio. It was the program Intelligence Squared U.S., where a topic is discussed under formal rules of debate. The “winners” are the team that move public opinion more their way based on surveys run before and after the discussion.
So that night’s discussion was “Amazon is the reader’s friend”.
I’m not crazy about self-publishing. I’ve mentioned this before, no secret. My own effort (Early ReTyrement, for sale at the bottom of this page (see how this works?)) was decent enough. I got the specific book I wanted, took it to shows, held down booths, sold a bunch. I’d have actually made money except for having to buy my way out of a copyright violation (for a song quoted). But I moved a couple of hundred.
However, I have read a lot of screwball self-published books that shouldn’t have been sold, let alone even written. I could tell, reading them, that they were not written by readers. They were written by people who wanted to get out of whatever lousy jobs they currently held (or perhaps they wanted to live the dusty-library sweater-and-pipe image of an accomplished writer). Regardless, those books were bad. Really bad.
I knew going into this debate that I didn’t see Amazon as the reader’s (or anyone’s) friend. They are a business, a scary-big business. They are going to give readers exactly what they want while sucking every penny they possibly can out of their pockets. And that’s fine – that the shareholder-promise and all that. But Amazon isn’t my friend – not because of my book, no. Our deal was perfectly acceptable. I have my own reasons, two, specifically.
One – they kill the pleasures of bookstores, and especially used bookstores. The entire experience of pushing shoulder-first down a fire-marshal-blanching narrow aisle between looming dusty shelves is lost if you can find your treasures a click away. I can think of a number of books I found by poking about (a couple of you benefited by my finding and reviewing Derailed, located for a buck at Maya’s Books and Music in downtown Sandford). So, yes, this is a personal objection to Amazon – if buying books was sexual intercourse, the used bookstore is hip-to-hip action while Amazon is mailing in your sperm donation. So I think.
And Two (the big one) – I excel at writing but I suck at marketing. Most people do. My own company sets up its salary review process so that the employee enters his rankings first. Why? Because most people won’t talk themselves up. Modesty prevents it. So if you think you are really good but feel like it’s bragging, you’ll naturally underrate yourself. The company knows this and plays it this way on purpose – they save millions in wages over the span of their ranks. And me, I suck at such self-promotion for writing. I post bi-weekly blogs that pick up a couple of hundred readers, my Facebook presence is hardly a ripple, and I’m certainly not an up-and-comer. I’ve noted trying to get my book into a local bookstore and how much I hated that traveling-salesman feel as I pushed it. But setting it to free on Amazon, pricing-games, and faking up my reviews to drive up notice, no, I suck.
I’m a writer, not a marketer. And if anything, I’m not too upset by it. Do you think Hemmingway would have fucked around with his Amazon hits? No, I think he’d have gotten the shotgun out earlier, I’m guessing.
No, I’m sticking with the old school of publishing – yes, in a shrinking market, it’s increasingly hard. I’ll need to find an agent who will rep me and get my book in covers. But then again, I’ll get a team of editors, of contracting officials, and perhaps some marketing help. And damn if that’s not better than promoting myself, something, frankly, I hate doing. (heh, even though I’m doing it now) (badly) (see?)
Oh, and for the record, by the end of the broadcast, more people came around to the idea that Amazon wasn’t the reader’s friend, so yay for our team.