Where Amazon Can Improve for Authors and Readers

Well this post has been a long time in coming.

No, seriously. We’re currently on Topic List IX, right? This post was a considered topic back on topic list VIII. Or maybe it was VII. I only started keeping track of carry-over topics with list number IX.

Point being, this one’s had a while to stew. It wasn’t a proper topic for Being a Better Writer, which meant that it needed to get it’s own posting on a day that wasn’t Monday, and so … well, after a few months of looking for time, here we are.

So, to the task at hand, then: Where Amazon can improve. I’ll warn you now, if you’re one of those readers that bears a solid dislike, or a powerful grudge against Amazon for some reason, this probably isn’t going to be the post for you. Likewise if you’re one of those convinced that the rise of Amazon will be the downfall of all that is holy about books and the publishing industry. See, while no company is perfect, from my perspective Amazon’s entrance into the publishing industry, along with its associated push in favor of ebooks and a more open publishing sphere, is a good one. Not perfect, but good.

Of course, that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement, and that’s where today’s post comes in. See, I’ve been published on Amazon for several years now, and while I do like their service … it’s not perfect. No, far from it. There’s actually quite a bit of room for improvement, quite a few flaws that really could be fixed up to make Amazon’s publishing—and specifically, their Kindle service—not only more appealing, but easier and simpler to use. And I worry that since Amazon has entered a position of dominance as far as indie publishing goes, they’re simply going to do what they have been doing—which is rest on their laurels—rather than really looking to improve their service on both ends. Because as a platform that I sell my products on, I want my readers to have the very best experience. And if Amazon doesn’t improve, well, that leaves it open for someone else to sneak in offering services and advantages that, quite honestly, Amazon should have added years ago.

Right, enough beating around the bush. To put it plainly and simply, Amazon has stagnated. The only reason that they’re still on top is that no one else has come along offering anything better in large enough quantities to entice Amazon’s authors and clientele away. But the truth is, it’s only a matter of time until that does happen. Anyone who’s used Amazon’s Kindle service has undoubtedly looked at it and thought “You know, this would be so much better if …” and inevitably, the someone who thinks that is going to be in a position to do something about it and create something better. At which point a lot of authors might jump ship to the newer, better service.

Customers, too, because what you’re about to look at is not just a collection of what improvements Amazon needs to make for authors. No, customers need improvements as well … and Amazon isn’t delivering them. Again, they’re resting on their laurels, content for the time being to simply do little or nothing to improve their service. And that needs to change.

So, let’s talk about customer improvements first to Amazon’s Kindle and Self-Publishing services. What needs to be improved that’s fallen drastically by the wayside?

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Price and Profit

So I learned something rather embarrassing a week ago.

Since the release of Colony, one of the more common questions I’ve received from fans about it has been “How should I purchase your book in order to make sure you get the largest cut of money?” Which is actually a pretty valid—and thoughtfully appreciated—question. This question comes from a reader who isn’t just concerned that they read a book, but that the author of said book is able to support themselves to the next one. Some of you may be scratching your heads even so, though, thinking to yourselves “Wait, I thought it was just an ebook?” Well it is, but there are two ways you can acquire it.

The first is to simply impart money to Amazon.com ($7.99 in this case, unless there’s a sale going) for a digital, DRM-Free copy of Colony. And for many readers, that’s what they do. However, I’m also a fan of putting my books up on Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited Program, which is kind of like a Netflix for books, and that means that it’s also available to those paying for the KU program to read whenever they want. Now, KU pays authors, but the question from these readers is “Which way pays you more?”

And it turns out, in giving my answer, I screwed up.

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Casual Readers Not Welcome

Some of you might remember a post I made a few months back, during the lead-in to the whole Hugo Awards Fiasco, that asked the question “Am I a fan of Science-Fiction and Fantasy?

Well, to my surprise this morning, I have an answer.

According to George R.R. Martin, I am not. You probably aren’t either. Instead, you are a “casual.”

At least on the one hand, we can all nod and applaud for consistency. Martin’s comments about people not being “true” Sci-Fi/Fantasy fans was what prompted my first post on the topic, but now, in a comment saved by Dawn Witzke over on her blog, we have a very direct statement addressing Mr. Martin’s exact thoughts on the nature of things:

You’re making the same mistake that many of the Puppies did — assuming that more voters would make the award more relevant.

If it were only the number of voters that mattered, the People’s Choice Award would be more important than the Oscars. It’s not. The Academy voters are fewer in number, but they bring more expertise to the decision. Same’s true of worldcon fans. These are people who live and breath SF and fantasy, for whom “fandom is a way of life,” not casual readers.

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Larry Correia On the Hugo Awards

So, Larry Correia, they guy who started the Sad Puppy movement in the first place, has written up his thoughts on last weekend’s Hugo Awards. As Larry was the one who started the whole Sad Puppies movement in the first place (all alone, three years ago), its an interesting look on the conflagration that swept through the awards on Saturday. It’s also pretty accurate. Larry doesn’t mince words, he goes right to it and talks about what SP was about, and how Saturday’s fire proved him right. He makes points like this—

I said that most of the voters cared far more about the author’s identity and politics than they did the quality of the work, and in fact, the quality of the work would be completely ignored if the creator had the wrong politics. I was called a liar.

—which when coupled with this tweet from a Hugo Awards voter—

Sandifer

—means one thing and one thing only. Larry was right. This award has been political for a long time.

There’s a few standout points from the article I’ll quote here below, but for the full effect, go read the article yourself. It’s worth it.

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Ribs Are Fragile Things

If I’ve been sort of quiet on this blog for the last few days past the Being a Better Writer post, well, it’s not without reason. I had a bit of an accident Saturday, and yesterday I finally decided to go see a doctor and get a verdict. The result? I’ve cracked at least two of my ribs and torn up my abdominal muscles nicely. On the one hand, this means that it hurts to breath and I can’t go do a lot of my favorite summer activities for a few weeks. On the other hand, short of disrupting my sleep schedule and bringing in some pain, there’s little to it to prevent me from writing, so now is the time to see how many short stories I can get done in the next week or two.

And on the third hand, if that’s a thing, it’s more experience I can put back into my writing. Because now I have first-hand experience on exactly how it feels and sounds to crack one’s own ribs, and that’s useful currency in the kind of stuff I write.

Speaking of writing, work on Unusual Events is coming along nicely. As it stands, I have one novella (SUPER MODEL) and several shorter stories done (Vacation, Monthly Retreat, and then a few older stories I just need to polish). At least, I call them shorter stories. Apparently some of them would count as novelettes. So it’ll be a pretty long short story collection—so not so short—from the look of it. But I’ve got another few stories to finish for that before I start divvying them out to Alpha readers first.

Lastly, a few weeks ago I wandered down to my local library and grabbed a book that I’d been hearing name-dropped quite a bit: Ancillary Justice. I was kind of curious to see what the hubbub surrounding the novel was all about, as there was a lot of stuff flying back and forth about it online. And while I haven’t finished it yet (I’m only about halfway through), my initial impressions are, unfortunately, very unimpressed.

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And Sci-Fi/Fantasy Gets Crazier

Wow.

I mean … wow.

With all the excitement of E3 over the last week and my work on short stories, I haven’t really been following the Hugo Awards that closely. After all, most of what was being said had died down to a pretty standard echo chamber, to the point where checking out File 770 was starting to feel like loading the same page with the names on most of the articles transposed one posting down and the same comments from the day before. Honestly, I know that Mike Glyer is just trying to chronicle the whole thing, but at this point, its all become so samey that it’s not really doing anyone a service. It’s sort of like advertising for a product like Comcast. Everyone knows their product is trash, that they’re a terrible company, and that you can’t take anything they say in their advertising as true, but they keep saying it anyway.

File 770 feels like a lot of that right now. Insular makes a blog post with outlandish, unresearched claims. The next day someone else makes it with the same claims, even if the first claim has been completely disproven. They don’t care, and they’re not going to read anything that challenges what they want to believe. The end result is that reading File 770 feels a bit like standing in an echo chamber full of Comcast ads. And that comparison is actually relevant because of what happened sometime last week: an editor at Tor lost her head online and said some things she really probably shouldn’t have.

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Battle of the Lone-Star Reviews

No, I’m not talking about Spaceballs, though that’d certainly make for a fun post. Though, since I’ve brought it up, I might as well put a plug for it right here: If you haven’t seen Mel Brooks’ classic lampooning of Science-Fiction Space Opera, you definitely should. But this post isn’t going to be about that. No sadly, this post is going to be about some dirty pool that’s been played in conjunction with—what else?—the Hugo Awards.

Now, while I haven’t posted about the Hugo Awards in quite some time, that still doesn’t mean I haven’t been following them. At a distance, since even attempting to stick my neck into that mess, even to just post a quick comment, is the equivalent of stripping yourself naked and running into a no-man’s-land (quite literally) of trigger-happy, ad hominem attackers. Watching the comment threads circlejerk back and forth with congratulatory backslapping only cements how far this division has come—there are dedicated, very vocal commentators on both sides, a lot of whom (particularly on one side) absolutely refuse to talk to the other side. They want backslapping, not debate. They want a safe space to shout their opinions over and over again, with no challenge to their statements.

So yeah, not much reason to get involved in that. But there’s been a newer development that I’ve noticed. Now that the packets are out and the votes are being weighed, some parties have apparently decided that it’s not enough to do the whole “No Award everything we don’t like strategy.” Now there’s another tactic flying around.

Lone Star reviews.

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