bad books

Why Do So Many Bad Books Sell on Amazon?

amazon promotes bad booksWhy do so many bad books sell on Amazon? This is the question many authors are asking these days. There are far more bad books than good books (which is always true of any entertainment field), but what’s different this time is that low-quality stories often seem to sell better than good stuff.

“Low-quality” isn’t a judgment about taste, reading level, or genre. I mean that books with poor writing, obvious filler, nonexistent characterization, and sometimes entire copy-pasted passages get into the Top 100 of popular categories. As a reader, when I fall for one of these top-charting books, I find myself thinking, This book shouldn’t be anywhere close to the top.

How Can So Many Bad Books Sell on Amazon?

Aren’t there any moderators?

Let’s talk about Amazon, the indie author’s self-serving best friend. Anyone who wants to sell fiction has to sell on Amazon, or else they’re just nibbling around the edges with Kobo, B&N, etc.

Paid advertising is not an option for most authors; it’s a challenge to break even on a $3 product, much less make a profit. Instead, authors have had to rely on Amazon to show their books through also-boughts and category charts.

For a while, this worked well. Amazon would show you books you truly wanted to buy, and those books were often more creative or served niches better than traditionally-published books. But now, Amazon’s recommendations aren’t based on quality or relevance, or even sales performance.

What they show you is mostly based on:

1. How similar something is to books you have already bought.

1. How recently it was published.

Yes, Books “Expire” Now

Amazon actively suppresses the visibility of works more than 90 days old. Even if books sell well and get many good reviews during that period, wham! They fall off the cliff on Day 31, 61, or 91. (This is well covered on kboards. Search for “30 day cliff,” and you’ll find an avalanche of intel.)

Obviously, books don’t suddenly lose quality after a set number of days. Amazon does this because it makes them more money, the same reason they do anything. For an author to stay visible, algorithm-gaming has to happen, and that gaming starts at the product level.

Publish Something New, Every 30 Days (Even if It Stinks)

Currently, the best way to stay visible on Amazon in category fiction, such as YA, mystery, or romance, is to release every 30 days.

This is because Amazon promotes new books as rising superstar or hot new trend. But after 30–90 days, your book is kicked from the showroom to the stockroom, where only people who specifically search for it will ever find it.

Authors simply can’t write fresh, imaginative, well-crafted novels in 30 days. But authors can manufacture copycat stories with interchangeable parts in 30 days (again, not judging—this is a paraphrased quote from a Harlequin writer).

Some of the most successful genre names are assembly lines of ghostwriters, editors, and trend-scrapers. The thought process goes like this:

Shark shifters are popular right now, so let’s bang out a shark-shifter romance and call it Deep Blue Billionaire, and stuff the subtitle with keywords. Just copy the plot from last month’s tiger-shifter billionaire romance, make the girl a maid instead of a personal chef, and change the names and city.

A ghostwriter will fill in the outlined plot. It will get a cursory copyedit. A cover designer makes it pretty and clickable at thumbnail-size. And that’s a product. It works… for about 30 days.

I can’t blame these assembly lines for existing. They’re playing the game the best they can. No author can afford to invest their time in quality if they’re actively penalized for it.

The Algorithms Sell You What You’ve Already Bought

The recommendations reward this book-fabrication process. If I buy The French Duke’s Dilemma by bestseller Author A, and they’ll show me The German Prince’s Problem by savvy copycat Author B. The plot points will be exactly the same, perhaps with the covers done by the same designer.

Amazon looks at the newest book that is the closest match to what’s in my purchase history. It’s skin-deep and simple, but it must work because Amazon keeps doing it.

That is, if you get organic also-boughts at all.

Why Have Those Also-Boughts Disappeared?

Aren’t also-boughts what drive sales? Why did Amazon take them away?

I’m speculating here, but I saw an article from 2017 that claimed e-book sales were stagnating.

If true, this is a problem for Amazon, which needs growth to keep corporate people happy. They have to make more money, and if it’s not coming from book-buyers, it has to come from somewhere else.

When did they roll out AMS ads? Was that… 2017, perhaps?

I find it quite possible they removed the organic also-boughts to “encourage” authors to take out in-house ads (Amazon Marketing Services / Amazon Ads). This is the row of sponsored products that often replaces the organic product recommendations. Authors pay for those.

Now, when a book is sold, Amazon can mine 3 different resources:

  • The Books. Amazon gets a commission.
  • Readers. Their data and profiles, to sell them more product.
  • Authors, who must make up for the lack of organic visibility with ads they pay Amazon for. Since authors aren’t generally great marketers, many probably pay more per borrow or sale than they make, but just don’t keep track of it. Cha-ching!

All this encourages lower-quality books to be produced and shown to buyers.

But if the Books Stink, Why Are People Still Buying Them?

People compromise and have poor impulse control—factors marketers exploit regularly. Readers grab junk food over real food because when they’re hungry, they’re hungry now. To make it worse, Amazon’s decreasing delivery times and increasing list of conveniences are training us to be impatient, spoiled children.

So What Can You Do to Compete With All the Junk-Food Books?

Gaining visibility at a low-enough cost to make a profit on sales is the entire game. Here are a few techniques that are working in my sphere, which is dark fantasy and fantasy romance:

1. Serialize Your Fiction

Amazon wants something every 30 days? Fine. Serialize your works. Break them up into 20–30k word installments and publish them every 4 weeks. Is it ideal? Of course not. You’ll get 3-starred by some people for putting out incomplete stories, but that’s better than getting no visibility at all.

To test, you can take an old work that’s not selling and chop it up. Don’t change anything, because you’d be putting out multiple versions of the same book and confusing people. Just re-issue the pieces with some new covers and see what happens. Amazon doesn’t care if what you publish is 2,000 words or 200,000 words, as long as it comes every 30 days.

2. Cross-Promote With Other Authors

Use newsletter swaps and reciprocal Facebook posts. These are becoming more and more important, now that Amazon is not giving books organic traffic. If my niece loved Detective Manny & The Dazzling Diamonds, chances are I’d also buy Super-Sleuth Sammy & The Enchanting Emeralds. Reach out to other authors. They’re all in the same situation. Despite what you may feel, they’re not your competition. They’re your allies.

3. Record Your Own Audiobook

This is not to put on Audible, but as free content for places you can’t otherwise reach. Upload it to iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, YouTube, everywhere you can think of. The purpose is to get more people aware of what you do. You don’t even have to do the whole book, because the function is exposure. You can read novellas, short stories, etc. Just be organized and link back to your book or website.

4. Start a Patreon or Other Subscription Site

There is a lot of info on how to do this already, so I won’t get into it here. Even if you don’t have that many patrons, you will have a Review Army which will give you those necessary 5–10 first reviews to bump your Amazon rank for new releases. Your podcast could integrate with a Patreon easily.

***

I hope this at least gives you some insight on what’s going on. I don’t think the way Amazon operates is sustainable, but it’s what we have to work with now.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! What tactics have you tried to gain visibility with your on-sale books? Tell me in the comments!

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About Katherine Marsh

Katherine Marsh works for a dark fantasy publishing company in Chicagoland as an in-house marketer and email list manager for books, graphic novels, and other multimedia.

Comments

  1. As an author and a freelance editor, I am constantly befuddled by the number of books that are published by both traditional houses and indies that have either not been edited, or the editing job is immature and not professional. I read this post with interest hoping there would be some answers to the “How did this thing ever get published” question. While I thought you had some good comments about Amazon, the question remains unanswered.

    • adelejournal says

      This is rather a big question, isn’t it? I don’t think all the aspects can be covered in 1500 words. I strictly deal with indie genre fiction marketing, so I know nothing about the editorial process… only that a lot of indies don’t *have* editors. You sound more informed than I am about this process – what is your best guess about why bad editing is allowed to go live?

      • Editing costs money. Fewer and fewer people are willing to pay for it. There are also short-cut DIY “editing” options available, and budget-strapped indies who don’t know any better go for those. Even in traditional publishing houses, editors are expensive: they consume overhead through their salaries and benefits performing work that’s essentially invisible and doesn’t materially affect sales. Many, many houses have dumped their editing staff and only contract out to the least-expensive freelancer. It’s a lose-lose scenario, with an ever-growing army of self-employed editors trying to keep quality in the equation as their rates get forced downward to the point many can’t support themselves.

    • Agree strongly. Finding an error stops me dead in my reading. I can see how a self-published book can contain errors, but one from a publishing house? Does no one know how to edit? Quite frustrating.

  2. Mary George says

    Ugh. It had to come, didn’t it . . . “How to Aspire to the Self-published World of Amazonian Sales.”

    Next.

    • adelejournal says

      I won’t sugar coat it; the Amazon gaminess is pretty ugly in many genres of fiction. Fortunately, women’s fiction and creative nonfiction tend to be better, at least in my experience as a reader.

  3. Upcoming Author says

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post, Ms Marsh.
    I’ll readily grant that you’re much more knowledgeable on this topic than me. Is your conclusion truly that the amazon matching algorithm is the biggest (or at least big enough to offset making incomplete/copycat books) driver for sales?

    Would you rate a solid presence on goodreads and similar websites and giving out free copies for reviews as much less effective than trying to work with/around the algorithm (despite the inevitable cost to book quality the latter causes) ?.

    As a reader I’ve never actually bought any of the recommended books from amazon (word of mouth, online reviews on sites like goodreads, and recommendations from websites/blogs account for all my purchases). I am aware this means I tend to buy books that are already reasonably successful (or that have been written by authors that already have written successful books).

    • adelejournal says

      Not exactly – since there may be no organic recommendations in certain genres.
      I’m saying that, generally, Amazon exposure (on Amazon itself) is the biggest driver of sales, for most indie authors in a competitive genre. Most authors rely on Amazon to do their marketing for them, since advertising a $3 product is not for the faint of heart. That means optimizing exposure on Amazon.

      Optimizing Amazon exposure doesn’t depend on quality. Unless you violate their TOS, Amazon doesn’t care how bad or good your book is. They do care about sales, and review number and star rating. (The free copies for reviews is where this really pays off.) Those are the big factors. Goodreads may help – I don’t have much information about that, so you may have to ask the people on Kboards or even someone like Chris Fox.

      If you *are* looking to optimize your exposure on Amazon, my information may already be out of date. I would say this – check what the Self-Publishing Formula / Mark Dawson has to say, especially about managing a mailing list.

      They stay on top of the game, and are reputable and honest in terms of what’s working and not working. Chris Fox is very open about what he does to stay on top of the Military Fantasy genre, and is a huge nerd with spreadsheets and everything. Nick Stephenson of Your First 10k Readers also has some great stuff that is free. He also has a paid program that looks legit.

  4. Thanks so much for sharing with us today, Katherine!

    • adelejournal says

      This is a really stimulating discussion, and I can tell people are really motivated to get to the bottom of an often-unfavorable situation. Thanks for the opportunity.

  5. There is a lot of crap on Amazon but since ebook sales only account for 20% of book sales, the trend-chasers only see short-term gains. Those in it for the long-term also offer paperback or hardback versions that far outsell the ebook. I am less interested in the gaming of ebook sales because, to me, the problem rests with those who choose to scam the system other ways while Amazon turns a blind eye (obviously it’s for profit) when legitimate book sources refuse to acknowledge their scam (mass buying of your own book to drive up sales, paid reviews, fake reviews, plagiarized works, repackaging public domain works and selling them for profit, etc.)

    • adelejournal says

      ‘…while Amazon turns a blind eye (obviously it’s for profit) when legitimate book sources refuse to acknowledge their scam (mass buying of your own book to drive up sales, paid reviews, fake reviews, plagiarized works, repackaging public domain works and selling them for profit, etc.)’

      Yes, clearly you’ve been around the scene as well. I know you can’t police everything, but Amazon has been horrible.

      The percentage of print vs ebooks truly depends on genre. ‘Book sales’ includes both fiction and nonfiction. Romance, for example? A cursory search yielded the headline from 2016 ‘Romance Makes up 4% of Print, and 45% of eBook Sales.’ It went up in 2017 – 61% were ebooks, and that was only reporting trad-pub, so it’s probably even higher!

      However, I’d be very surprised to find even 10% of young children’s book sales are ebooks!

      I’d also like to know what 20% of total book sales means. Is it looking at total revenue? Because absolutely, a $20 hardback or $8 paperback definitely brings in more revenue than a $4 ebook.

      If you look at the total sales amount of 4 copies of a cookbook in hardback ($80) and again in ebook form ($12), you can conclude that ebooks are only 15% of the book’s total sales. But the author might get the same royalty, regardless of format.

      Also, how many of those hard-copies are POD through CreateSpace / Amazon’s program? We sell a fair number of paperbacks, especially the large print, and those are also self-published.

      If you were my client, I would ask you these questions:
      1) Are people buying more hardbacks in your genre – is that truly where the market is?
      2) What is the breakdown of actual copies sold in hard-copy vs ebooks in your genre?
      3) How would you get these hard-copies made and distributed? Is POD through Amazon a viable option?

  6. Another entry for the “capitalism is bad” trope!

    Also to confirm, this ‘new time window’ you’re addressing is about the formal publish date of the work in question? Not when first listed on Amazon? Meaning an old book published long ago, but for the first time listed for sale today on Amazon, will not be within the 30 day window?

    • adelejournal says

      Amazon has not created a favorable environment for quality creativity, that much I agree with. The window is when you first release on Amazon. This is why a lot of authors are re-releasing their books with extra scenes and novellas, or doing box sets. A box set also looks like a new release, a strategy that we are using next month to keep sales in the public eye before the next installment.

  7. “Advertising is a valuable economic factor because it is the cheapest way of selling goods, particularly if the goods are worthless.” Sinclair Lewis

    MacDonald’s and Burger King continue selling the same hamburger, fries, and obesity as our favorite local restaurants go out of business. And, as long as we cooperate and conform, they will stay in business.

    • adelejournal says

      Are you saying that readers are complicit in continuing to pump energy (money) into the system? If that’s what you mean, I definitely agree, but I think Amazon makes it really hard to find good books when everything is 1) really easy to impulse-buy, and 2) has misleadingly high reviews.

      Even my boss says that her books (admittedly entertainment fiction) shouldn’t be as highly rated as, say, The Master & Margarita.

      Pretend you had a magic wand and could change anything… what do you think would help to fix this system? What changes would you like to see?

      • Hello Adele,

        Yes, part of what I’m saying is the general public is complicit. There is a market for pulp fiction (of the worst kind) just like there is a market for erotica, R-rated movies, etc. The worst culprits are the mass marketers. They want to sell product and that’s all. They don’t care about the contents. The cover gets more commercial attention than the story. Pumping out formulaic stories does neither the artist nor the reader any favors.

        If I had a magic wand I would separate the two art forms (formulaic repetitiveness vs unique) and let them stand on their own merit as judged by the readers. Yes, I know it would be difficult to apply these standards. But now, we seem to have none. Authors who want to write a unique story are forced to sell next to the author who can pump out a novel every 30 days.

        At this rate, someone is going to combine “Gone With The Wind” and “Debbie Does Dallas.” They’ll call it, “Scarlett Saves Atlanta.”

  8. A few years back, DC relaunched their whole comic line as The New 52 (’cause there were 52 titles). They followed a strategy where they would periodically cull all titles selling under a certain number of monthly sales and replace them with new ones.

    This worked great initially. The extra publicity and sales bounces from regular new launches pushed sales high, and low margin comics were quickly removed to limit their impact.

    However, after a couple rounds of this ‘cull and replace’ strategy, their sales dropped alarmingly. Basically, readers had no faith that the new titles would actually last and not be culled themselves, so they didn’t buy them. DC had given them a message that they had no emotional investment in their comics, they only cared about short term sales. So their fanbase responded by not investing in new titles either.

    DC ended up having to do another complete overhaul of their range only 18-24 months after they did the first one.

    I’ve nothing at all against authors who use short term marketing or release very regularly, we all have different views and goals. But I do think you have to be mindful of the message you give readers. Long term I reckon a loyal fanbase is going to serve you much better than 30 day boosts, and you get a loyal fanbase with quality.

    • adelejournal says

      Yeahh… DC’s strategy seems ill-advised. My boss has mentioned this, being a comic book person.

      ‘Long term I reckon a loyal fanbase is going to serve you much better than 30 day boosts, and you get a loyal fanbase with quality.’

      I truly want to believe in this. I have authors I’m waiting for, who have 5 years in between books. I hope that one of my favorite authors (who is Katharine Eliska Kimbriel if you’re into historical fantasy) will have an smashing release when she comes out with her next book. I desperately hope that quality continues to count for long-tail sales.

  9. Kudos to Ms. Marsh for an excellent dissection of Amazon’s constantly changing algorithms. However, I don’t care for your characterization of such ‘ghost written’ books as ‘bad books.’ At Agile Writers we feel success is finding the reader who is waiting for your book. Let’s not judge quality. The reader is the ultimate judge. I’ve expanded my opinion on my blog, attached.

    Ms. Marsh’s article should be in every self-publisher’s arsenal. Well, done Katherine!

    https://agilewriter.wordpress.com/2019/07/08/good-vs-bad-book-dont-judge/

    • adelejournal says

      I don’t judge writing quality. I couldn’t possibly speak for all ghostwritten books, and my tastes are personal (and honestly pretty common!) I thought I specifically said this:

      ‘“Low-quality” isn’t a judgment about taste, reading level, or genre. I mean that books with poor writing, obvious filler, nonexistent characterization, and sometimes entire copy-pasted passages get into the Top 100 of popular categories.’

      BUT I see now that I should have said poor *grammar* – that’s what I mean by ‘bad writing.’ Despite having read my post and getting outside eyes to it, that managed to slip through the cracks, and I can see how it comes across.

      • Mary George says

        Pardon my humble opinion, but “Let’s not judge quality?”

        What an outrageously indecent thing to say, when everybody here has been loyal to the cause, which is, exactly, to strive for better story and superb writing!

        To placate this, to lead the devoted writer down the path of “Hey, lighten up already – look how Amazon works! You can sell, sell, sell if you’ve got something the readers will grab onto, and better still, if you can churn out more in 30 days, ladies and gentlemen, then throw caution and your revisions to the wind and keep tapping that keyboard fast, because *LOOK!*, we’ve got something here, a way to get your books to millions of readers that really don’t care about the quality of your writing or how lame your plots are entwined or how ridiculous the dialogue sounds or how the backstory filler put you to sleep – you can now feed a story to the 4 bucks a pop ebook market and WOW, just watch the dollar signs kaching all the way to your direct deposit!”

        Buyer beware….and writer, be aware…never compromise the bar you’ve set for a market made for mediocrity.

  10. I love to see actionable information. Let’s call this the Dickens method and recall that the progenitor made a living on serialized stories (here putting out a section every 30 days), the novels they became (no reason to neglect folks who want a whole story at once; call it the back catalog) and from speaking fees (Dickens was a big hit here in the former colonies as a speaker). There are certainly worse careers to emulate. Thanks, Ms. Marsh.

    • adelejournal says

      This is exactly the approach we take. We’re going to release a ‘box set’ of the first 3 installments – which will be a full novel, all put together – next month. This is working for us better than anything we’ve done, any outside advertising.

      I would definitely check out Your First 10K Readers, Chris Fox, and the Self Publishing Formula podcast for more actionable info. Their business is staying on top of this, and giving your ethical strategies.

      • Some of my writer friends have suggested that the ‘Dickens approach’ could be viable in my genre – crime/mystery. I am sure there are other serial suitable genres as we see with TV programming. But to keep up the momentum and the quality takes a Dickens or at least a dedicated and focused writer – or a team as has been suggested. I’m not either so I wonder if having the material written and edited in advance would work – for a few months.

  11. Thanks for sharing this Katherine.
    I’ll admit, I find it pretty disappointing but not at all surprising. Hopefully, it’s eventual failure will pave the way for course correction and better practices in the future as far as indie ebooks sales go. Until then, your advice seems like a great approach to the problem without sacrificing standards.
    And I’ve also appreciated your replies in the comments, all helpful stuff.

    • adelejournal says

      I think this is a low period. It may be unfounded optimism, but it’s quite possible that a solution will arise to either work with Amazon (like Goodreads is supposed to, but doesn’t quite) or an alternative to Amazon.

      My boss thinks KU created a lot of the problems. KU is inherently scammable and gameable. The borrowing/pagereads payment system is great for high-volume casual genres (romance, LitRPG, fantasy) but the exclusivity prevents authors from ‘going wide,’ so they have to choose KU and the friction-free money AND RANK BOOST they get from borrows, or turning their backs on optimizing Amazon and going into hardmode.

      • jorgekafkazar says

        Regarding KU, I’m reminded of the anecdote from Townsend’s Up the Organization. Avis was planning to set up a low-cost brand to compete with Budget and Thrifty, etc. They were well along with the project when Townsend ran into a low-level manager in a hallway and asked him what he thought of the concept. The man said: “I don’t know what you call it, but we Polacks call that p*ssing in the soup.”

        Townsend immediately cancelled the project.

  12. Thanks Katherine, and this is something I’ve struggled with as well. I want to write great stories (not there yet, perhaps, hopefully someday). I don’t want to pay for reviews or generate fake ones of course, because I think both practices are dishonest. They seem to frown on reviews for a free copy, and even if they don’t – I’ve had no success in finding such a mythical being 🙂
    Unfortunately that leaves indie authors at a severe disadvantage. I did not know about the 31-day cliff, but that does make a lot of sense.

    • adelejournal says

      Brad, here’s some real talk about reviews. Yes, fake reviews / payola reviews are totally dishonest. But at the same time, it’s kind of like doping in the Olympics. Everyone does it, even/especially trad pub (who are ALSO dependent on Amazon’s distribution, I might add.) You HAVE to have reviews because no initial reviews can sink a book. Your book will look like a ghost town to be avoided. Even BAD reviews are better than no reviews.

      We have 25k on our mailing list, so we can do payola’s close cousin – leveraging our wildly enthusiastic mailing list of fans. We cherry pick the people who are likely to give us 4 and 5 stars. While we welcome the more critical reviews, we don’t welcome them in the first 2 weeks of launch.

      Amazon doesn’t frown on reviews for free copies – that’s only prohibited for physical products, since review scamming is so bad there.

      When you do ARC programs or giveaways, what you’ll get is an unverified review vs ‘verified purchase’ attached to the review, but honestly it doesn’t seem to matter. Social proof is social proof.

  13. This is a very interesting discussion. My take away from this is that it is very important to have your writing objectives firmly in mind. This has probably always been true, but it seems like so its so easy to set yourself up for heartache (and wallet ache) if you aren’t realistic. If you are intent on supporting yourself as an author, and don’t want to take the traditional publishing route, you simply can’t ignore Amazon. Since Amazon changes what it does on a regular basis, once you are prepared to start self publishing you need to get the best material available to develop a strategy and modify it as Amazon changes.

    • adelejournal says

      While it always seems that commercial objectives are the enemy of quality, I think it’s actually true now. The only way our writers can write is because the sellers sell (like me.) Realistically, a lot of authors have to become ‘savvy marketers’ – and selfishly, I wonder how much time it’s taking away from readers getting their true vision, you know? Like, would we get Haruki Murakami or China Mieville if they had to self-publish on Amazon? Or would they think, ‘Nah, this is too weird. It’ll never sell. I better make it more mainstream.’

  14. David Snyder says

    I found a funny article from The New York Times, saying there are way too many books, publishers keep pumping them out even though they know there are too many, and most of them are horribly edited and poorly conceived—and we don’t really need anymore.

    And that in three weeks all the new books would be replaced by a whole new batch no one needed either—while the other ones from three weeks ago would go off the shelves to be seen no more. And so the endless cycle of books no one needs by people who can’t really write keeps on going–killing trees needlessly. Or something along those lines.

    This was in 2004.

    https://www.nytimes.com/2004/07/18/books/the-last-word-how-many-books-are-too-many.html

    Three years before the first Kindle.

    We’re talking trad.

    I wonder if it has gotten worse?

    I also wonder whether we should be focusing on quality not quantity?

    Hmmmmm.

    I’m looking at the man in the mir-ror!

    🙂

    • adelejournal says

      if I were a writer, I would want to focus on quality, because that’s what I want to put my time into. It just wouldn’t feel good pushing out fast work that isn’t my best. A book is a legacy. I’d want to be proud of my work.

      As a marketer, my answer is different. If you want to make money on Amazon, you simply must play the Amazon game – whatever the rules may be – OR depend on outside traffic (your mailing list, FB ads, name recognition and search, whatever) to get eyeballs on your book.

      Now, my game is Amazon exclusive. Not trad pub (though they still rely on Amazon) or ‘going wide’ on Kobo, B&N, etc. So my advice is tailored to Amazon specifically.

      But no matter where you sell, you must get traffic. Every salesperson knows that it’s a numbers game, always. If you have the best lemonade in the world, it’s worth nothing until people come to your stand. Right now, Amazon is less like selling the finest artisanal lemonade, and more like selling Kool-Aid right in front of the city beach in July.

  15. Dave Ryan says

    What a great subject to address, Katherine! As an indie author recently published on Amazon myself, I initially had a good launch through word of mouth and on Facebook, then sales flattened. My ads on Amazon got me 17 impressions in a week and a half. Then I downloaded a data mining program and educated myself on a more pointed strategy for advertisements, put in a full day coming up with relevant keywords, and I’ve been regularly getting at least 1,000-3,000 impressions per day and I’m selling, admittedly small numbers each day, but selling, a book with no reviews yet because people seem to think it’s work, even if they really liked it.

    Obvious I’m still in the baby stage of indie publishing, but in my more literary genre, there is no conceivable upside to serialization, and in my opinion, if you can’t plunk down $50 to start an ad campaign on Amazon, if you can’t also pay $100 for a data mining program to help you target right, if you can’t also pay for a $30 graphic designed book cover on Fiverr, if you don’t even download a copy editing software program to check your grammar…maybe you need to keep pounding out those query letters to a traditional publishing house. Self-publishing is like owning your own business, you have to work it and you have to invest in it.

    Amazon is awash in e-books, and the days of organic reach are done. Nowadays free advertising (word of mouth) isn’t actually free.

    • adelejournal says

      It’s hard to swallow, even for me. I’m a reader, which is why I went into this business, and I don’t like to think of authors having to create ‘marketable’ products at the expense of quality or their own vision. But this is the reality right now. Though I loathe Facebook, FB ads are good for writers because of their micro-targeting.

  16. Just a quick question about self-publishing.
    Are there any alternatives to Amazon as a platform for self-publishing? I’m not aware of any. But then I haven’t searched diligently.

    • adelejournal says

      You can publish your books on Kobo, B&N, Google, and iBooks, but all of those are 20% of the ebook market share. Amazon has 80%.

  17. They did not take ‘also bought out. I was just looking through some books through that yesterday. I’m looking at a book I have my eye on right now, in another window on my other monitor, and ‘Customers who bought this item also bought’ is right there, above the fold – just under the main description of the book.

    On top of that, there are two other sections that essentially are different versions of that idea… the ‘What other items do customers buy after viewing this item?’, and ‘Customers who viewed this item also viewed’ – near the bottom, under testimonials.

    • adelejournal says

      Yes – I noticed I have them too, and I’m glad of it. A few months ago, they were not there for most genre fiction, and sometimes I’d get TWO rows of sponsored ads instead. Amazon makes changes constantly.

  18. E.J. Perez says

    Great post/article, I am currently writing a novel in parts and have published 3 books of a 9 part series. I changed the novel format to fit into a novella format with cliff hangers. The plot sequence changed, but I think for the better. ( I know some readers won’t like this) but it gives me the opportunity to put my novel out quicker and into readers hands.

    • adelejournal says

      There ARE other advantages to ‘serializing,’ and getting your story out to people faster is one of them. As a reader, I actually love novella series. They’re like episodes of a miniseries. I feel like I can easily handle 20-45k words, but if I see a book is above 100k… I always fear that I won’t have time to read it, or won’t finish.

      I know some people get mad about novellas – we get 3-starred for ‘incomplete stories with cliffhangers’ all the time. But readers just don’t understand that authors have to do what they can to win the Amazon game.

  19. Thanks for the article, and the helpful comments! I’ve heard of several different self publishing companies, but what are good ones? I was planning to go through Lulu, but I’ve heard that there’s been issues with royalties. Thanks!

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