Working with Amazon

by Terry Persun

September 2015

AI recently gave a talk on “Befriending the Giant” where I explored Amazon’s more than a dozen programs for authors. That talk took all day and was very intense, and still it was impossible to get very deeply into how to work with Amazon on a broader scale. So, for this piece I’d like to discuss how an author might increase their Amazon footprint.

Those who are Amazon-adverse might not want to read on. But I find that the more information I have about a particular industry, the better equipped I am to find a way for it to work for me. That’s important if you’re even mildly interested in publishing today. And Amazon is a big player, whether authors like it or not – and I’ve heard both sides of that.

Let me back up briefly. With the publishing business in a turmoil due to all the changes in production and delivery, as well as the huge influx of small publishers willing to create POD and e-book only lists, two things are very relevant. One is that the large, New York-based publishing conglomerates are taking on fewer and fewer new authors, unless they are already selling well. And, two, Amazon is continually creating new programs to try to help authors get the visibility they deserve. Admittedly, there is a lot of gray area between these two statements, but there you have it.

So, what has Amazon been up to? Everything.

In my research, it’s apparent that Amazon is thinking like an author (“Where are all the possible places I can get published?) and trying to fill each niche. At the top end, they have a standard publishing business called Amazon Publishing, with a dozen imprints for genres such as romance, science fiction and fantasy, mystery and thriller, etc. These imprints pay advances and take agented submissions primarily, but will sometimes go after an author who is selling well (as the New York publishers do). Like the large publishers, Amazon Publishing’s imprints look at very few unsolicited manuscripts.

At the other end of this trail is self-publishing, but rather than look at that, let’s look at other ways Amazon is exploring publication, and how you might exploit their programs and services. Amazon Scout is a form of crowd publishing, where an author uploads a completed and ready for publication (edited and proofed) novel, and readers can then vote for it. Within 45 days a novel can be selected and published. The author is paid $1500 upon publication, and receives a nice 50% royalty package.

Kindle Worlds is another way Amazon is exploring publication for authors. This is their version of fan fiction. An author gets to choose from over forty different worlds to write in, including worlds based on television programs such as Wayward PinesSilo Saga, and The Vampire Diaries, as well as worlds based on popular novels such as Toby Neal’s Lei Crime Series, J.A. Konrath’s Jack Daniels and Associates, and my own Doublesight Fantasy world. For Kindle Worlds, writers can submit short stories, novellas, or novels based on the world they select, and are paid 20 to 35 percent royalties on their sales. Anyone can write within Kindle Worlds as long as they play by the rules.

There are other programs worth looking into as well, like Kindle Singles for short stories over 5,000 words, StoryFront for stories you might read in an anthology but can now buy individually, and WriteOn, a platform where writers can upload whatever they want and gain valuable feedback from other WriteOn authors and readers.

Then there are the Amazon self-publishing platforms, CreateSpace (for Print-on-demand books) and Kindle Direct Publishing (for e-books). I’ve used both platforms and find them easy to use – they offer well-written directions for both – and essential in offering print and e-book formats to my readers. Having access to all the sales figures through these programs on a regular basis helps in marketing my books, too. I can see what works and what doesn’t. I can change covers any time I’d like to see if it makes a difference in sales, and I can fix any mistakes people find and upload the corrected version easily.

Your footprint on Amazon is important because so many people now buy their books online. The more titles you have available, the more short stories, novellas, and novels, the greater the chance readers will find you. Another aspect of having strong visibility on Amazon has to do with other writers and readers. If your work can be seen in multiple places, your name gets known and you become a familiar person to readers. And, I suspect, it helps with increasing your visibility through Amazon’s algorithm. Essentially, a writer can work through material on WriteOn, then submit it to Amazon Singles (if short) or Kindle Scout (if it’s novel length). Any length piece can be submitted and published through Kindle Worlds. And if your books and stories begin to sell, Amazon Publishing will notice, and so will the New York publishers. And that’s when all your options open up even wider.

Terry PersunComment