Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Amazon Ain't eBay, folks!

By:  Kimberly Hitchens is the founder and owner of Booknook.biz, an ebook production company that has produced books for over 1000 authors and imprints.

Hi, gang!  This week, a look at what forms our thinking about various aspects of authorship, and whether that's a good thing or bad.

The Tao of eBay

After four+ years of making books, and seeing the ebook "gold rush" that has ensued since the first Kindle millionaire, I have been constantly surprised by something that seems to pop up often, on the Kindle forums. There is a pervasive theme of ill-prepared books being considered, by their creators, as "good enough."  You've read me say it here before:  it's the "The World is my critique group" mentality, when manuscripts are  published to Amazon before they are ready. 

 What does that even mean? Why is work that has not been proofed, edited, or even properly written in the first place, "good enough?" This has driven me nuts for the past eighteen months, since I started to really note the onset of "good-enough-itis," as I call it. Assuming that the average author has read a number of books, may have taken some creative writing courses, etc., how does this occur?

After giving it a lot of brainpower (okay, at least 5 minutes), I had a startling thought—had the hopeful authors of self-publishing confused Amazon with eBay?  Or, perhaps that their thinking had been formed by "the Tao of Ebay."

Beanie Babies and Bedroom Sets

After all, the Internet grew up not with Amazon, or eBooks, but with garage sales; with the gold mine that was created by the truism (the "Tao of eBay") that one man's trash was another man's treasure. Isn't that how the monolithic billion-dollar empire called eBay came into being? On the back of Beanie Babies? Essentially, someone's leftovers? And if we disregard eBay—and say that Beanie Babies were collectibles, not leftovers—it's hard to overlook Craigslist, which surely survived and thrived on detritus. What person living, under the age of ninety, hasn't bought something that they found on Craigslist? Hell, I once renovated an entire house's countertops with granite slabs I bone-yarded on Craigslist, being sold by a guy going out of business.  

Maybe this, then, is the source of the virus of "good enough." If we are all accustomed to listing our garage-sale items for sale online, maybe there are some hopeful writers that think that putting second-hand (second-class) writing on sale is also the way to go.

But a new book is not, by definition, second-hand. While on eBay, a seller is rated, transaction by transaction, on anywhere from one to tens of thousands of item sales, an author on Amazon (or Barnes and Noble, iBooks, Smashwords or Wattpad, etc.), is rated by his or her book. Today's book; the book most recently published; the book of the NOW.  Granted, there will be dozens or hundreds or thousands of buyers/readers, and some percentage of those will leave reviews, but if we have learned anything over the past few years, it is that people are more likely to leave reviews when they do not like a book, or feel that they've been ripped off, than they are if they are simply satisfied with their purchase.

I wonder if this "garage-sale" mindset has influenced some of the writers I see on the KDP Forums, who say "well, I couldn't afford an editor, so I've published it, and if it sells a lot, then I'll pay for an editor to edit it."  Or, "[s]ee, this is my first book, so, I've done as much as I can, I just thought I'd throw it up there and see what happens."   It reminds me strongly of things I've actually said--about eBay, Craigslist and garage-sale items.  "Well, I don't think that old bike of Bob's will sell, but I'll just throw it up there and see if I get any takers."  And, for garage sale items, gifts you can't regift, etc., that's not a bad idea at all, because your unwanted goods may very well be someone else's treasure.

But the problem is, if an item like Bob's old bike doesn't sell, that failure won't taint my life as an eBay seller forever.  My "experiment" simply doesn't sell.  Same thing at a Garage Sale, or a Craigslist ad.  But if you slap up a book before it's ready on Amazon, and it does poorly--or worse, gets scathing reviews because it was born before its time, that can taint your life as an author forever, particularly if you have more books already up for sale, or have some ready-to-go.  Sure, you can change your nom-de-plume (and many have), but if you have a perfectly good name of your own to use, or if you really love that nom-de-plume you picked out, why abandon it in the dust? 

Goodreads, Wattpad and Other Critters

It seems that many writers today eschew the idea of writing buddies, writer's classes and writing/critique groups, as I've noted here before, using the readers of Amazon as their "critique group."  I've never wrapped my head around that--I'd rather be humiliated in a small group than by dozens of strangers, for the eyes of possibly millions of people--but then I'm chicken that way.  ;-)  Maybe the feedback of people that they can't see, or don't have to see again, is somehow more palatable.

If that's the case, then, I'd highly recommend trying other platforms, to get a sense of whether your book is ready, before you make the big step of hitting the "publish" button.  Goodreads seems to have a lively and thriving "Creative Writing" community that gives near-instant feedback on sample chapters (or your whole book, if you're feeling brave!).  Wattpad, a free site, allows you to post almost anything for feedback.  Wattpad is targeted at a younger audience--it has a lot of teens, but if you're writing YA, it's absolutely spot-on for your demographic.  There are numerous online critique groups or Writer's Forums; I particularly like Holly Lisle's Writer's Bootcamps, which is for folks serious about becoming published, successful authors, and is moderated.  And, of course, NO list of critique forums would be complete without The Critters Workshop, which is legendary.  Scribd, I've personally found not that great...it seems to attract people looking for philosophical or political debate more than readers of genre fiction, if that's your "cuppa," as they say.  But I'm sure that there are dozens more--if you leave a comment, leave a spot for up-and-comers to post their work for excellent feedback! 

So, anyway:  above and beyond Mom and Dad, and your friends, give your manuscript a whirl at one of these places first.  You may have to shop a bit, to find a good fit--but the  results are quite worth it.  LJ knows more about Goodreads than I; I'm so busy at the shop, I don't get much of a chance to drop in over there, but I have seen some pretty damn fine creative writing in progress, and I've noted that some authors, like the fellow who wrote the very successful (in terms of fans and downloads and feedback) Harry Potter fanfiction books (the James Potter books) went on to do extremely well with his writing career, due to the fan-base he built, almost solely on Goodreads, which translated to his "for-sale" books at Amazon, etc. 

And isn't that what we all want?  For you, as an author, to do GREAT?  You betcha.
For a total HOOT this week:  http://lousybookcovers.tumblr.com/ 
This is a DO NOT MISS.  It's the "CakeWrecks" of BookCovers.
I now visit it daily, for my daily grin, or even LOL.  Seriously, don't miss it.  I'll post other "bad cover" outlets on my next visit!


  1. Great post, Hitch. I'm finding more and more of these "it's good enough" people contacting me for reviews or blurbs.

    1. Hey, Marlyn: Thanks, although it's probably far from "great," and I doubt it will get the attention it deserves--the idea, not the blog post, LOL! I do wish that there was--and this will be the Next Big Thing--actual curation of the books, I think.

  2. I think your analysis is spot on. For those people with the "just throw it up there" mentality, writing is a hobby and whether they make money at it is probably irrelevant. For anyone serious about treating their writing like a small business, then an investment is necessary.

    I keep hoping Amazon will develop software that keeps the utter dreck from taking up space on the internet. And I'd love to see it go one-step farther and label books that exceed a certain number of errors.

    As for critique groups...even a few good beta readers will do the job.

    1. LJ: Well, I keep trying. I push Critique groups wherever I go; I think that Critter is one of the best places to grow thick skin and learn to GIVE critique as well as receive it. And if someone's looking for a "softer" critique experience, either the Lisle groups/forum (private, members only) or Goodreads, frankly, are great.

      I, too, as I noted to Marlyn, wish that a curation mechanism could be created; it doesn't have to be Amazon, but...where? Goodreads already provides reader reviews, as do several other places. I don't know what would work--a chart? A list, that you could sort by number of errors, typos, bad grammar? The matrix gets pretty complex, when you start really thinking about it (and trust me, I have!). Thanks for the comment and the tweet, LJ!

  3. These "it's good enough" ebooks drive me crazy! It's difficult to evaluate them because I may like the book, but hate the fact that I'm figuratively thrown out of the book because of typos, poor English and every other problem I can think of.

    1. Hi, Beverly: Thanks for the comment! They drive lots of people crazy. I get to see them more than the average bear, I think, because I see posts from these authors on the KDP Forums, and when I open their "LITB" (Look Inside the Book) to see ("why isn't my book selling," or, "why did I get this bad review?") it's hard not to cringe. And far too many literally say, "well, it's GOOD ENOUGH." I think "Good Enough" is becoming my own personal "Niagara Falls." (Points to anyone under 50 who knows the pop culture reference!)

      I, too, get thrown out of the story or the book--exactly what the authors should NOT want.

      Thanks, Beverly!

  4. I agree with your analogy 100%, Hitch, and this mentality drives me insane. It seems lots of people are calling themselves authors these days, but how many realize that being one involves a lot more than just throwing words on paper?

    You can throw garbage against a wall, and it may or may not stick--but it's still garbage.

  5. AMEN! I wish I could write that in bigger letters! This post is just so spot on. I've been hitting the gold rush analogy recently myself, but from the angle of support services, i.e., just like the 1848 miners, the support services are the most reliable way to make money. However, when I saw the "gold rush" comment, I knew I was going to like this post.

  6. Hitch, your post is a hoot! And sadly true. I'm wondering how many beginning writers have unpublished their books, fixed them after the fact (or not), changed the title, and tried again. Thank goodness most regular ebook readers are now downloading samples first…. I think…. Aren't they?

  7. Loved this post but it scared me a little, too-- because I heard a traditional publisher talking about this as well-- decreasing editing rounds and putting "good enough" books out there.

    I think one thing that does give traditional publishing an edge over indie publishing is the number of editing rounds. Now, the novel can still be bad-- but the grammar should be good.

    I was at a large literary conference last year when a well-known publisher discussed decreasing the number of editing rounds and somewhat reasoned that people are getting used to the dilution of so many self-published books being of bad quality.

    Whether self or traditional publishing-- editing matters a lot-- and I would like to see both groups embrace and keep this tradition.

    Just my thoughts.

  8. Great post, Hitch! I see this attitude from people who contact me, insisting they just want a low-priced, light copyedit or final proofread, when it's obvious to me within a page or two that their story is lacking in so many ways -- that it needs developmental editing and/or content editing and/or stylistic editing first! In many cases, they need to put it aside for a while and study the craft, or at least critically read some bestselling fiction in their genre.

  9. LOVE this. Love it. As an author, bookseller, and publisher, I'm definitely going to share this!

  10. your current write-up can be a hoot! And also however true. I am thinking how many commencing copy writers possess unpublished his or her textbooks, predetermined these people following your reality (or not), modified the identify, as well as attempted once more.Sell on Amazon


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