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Amazon: “Authors are our customers” Except in Forums

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Amazon LogoJoe Konrath (who, if you are unfamiliar with him. is one of the authors who abandoned legacy publishers and has been more than flourishing in the digital environment) has a new column out, provocatively entitled, “Amazon Will Destroy You.” In this he addresses some of the manifold shortcomings of mainstream publishers. Here’s one thing that really leapt out at me, speaking to old-school publishing industry (emphasis mine):

“[Amazon is] doing all the stuff you never did–hell, they’re doing stuff that you never even thought of. They’re all about pushing it forward. They’re all about gathering and analyzing data. They’re all about challenging themselves to do better, to focus on the future, to learn from the past. They’re all about pleasing the customer (and I heard from no less than half a dozen Amazonians that they consider authors to be their customers.)”

Besides the rest of this being a thought-provoking read, here’s what is nibbling at my mind right now. If you have ever spent any time on the Amazon discussion forums, whether you are an author, a reader, or both, it must be abundantly clear to you that there is a huge animus against authors “peddling their wares” to readers at Amazon.com. There is a quite virulent reaction against it, usually referencing the TOS (which includes policies against spamming forums with ads) but the reactions I see are generally hypervigilant against any author even mentioning that they have written a book, if they are posting anywhere outside of the single sanctioned “Meet Our Authors” board where it is officially OK to natter on about one’s work.1

Now here’s what’s bending my brain: if on the business side (per Konrath, at least), Amazon “considers authors to be their customers”, but they have allowed a situation to develop where authors even mentioning their work in public fora provokes extreme backlash (and I do not think it an overstatement to say that) – then something is askew here. I want to ask “What’s wrong with this picture?”

I will certainly grant that with the lowered bar to publication, electronic media is now flooded with a glut of mediocre or abysmally sub-par work from over-eager “authors” who haven’t taken time to improve their writing or as much as get it edited by a competent editor. People who can’t tell the difference between a possessive and a plural, and who aren’t clear yet on what a story arc is. I don’t want these people flogging their wares to me any more than (the majority of) Amazon readers in the forums do. On the other hand, I’m perfectly happy to hear from a quality writer, someone whose work is readable by every measure and embodies quality storytelling. Sure, I’ll no doubt hear about that sooner or later via the verbal buzz – but then again, perhaps not: with the burgeoning of the authorial population, the noise to signal ratio has become high, and it is not always possible to spot the wheat amongst the chaff.

So if Amazon considers authors their customers, what are they doing to enable them to talk about their work, beyond the baseline act of putting their product up for sale and posting to a single forum where self-promotion is allowed? If an author is one of the many who does not qualify or is not invited to a special publishing relationship with Amazon (which effectively showcases their writing), how does one establish any presence there whatsoever, beyond the basics of Author page and hopefully a fan or three who will mention the author’s work in their own forum posts?

My point is simply that Amazon has not thought this position through far enough. Some critical pieces of this puzzle are still lacking. I don’t want to hear from newbie hack authors, but I do want to hear from people who write competently and even engagingly. Is it going to be the case that that kind of effective promotion can only come from outside the Amazon system itself (except for the small percent that are showcased and specially nurtured in their publishing programs)? Right now I’d say it appears that that is the case.

I don’t know what the solution is. I personally have zero interest in attempting to be heard in the author-bashing free-zone that is the Amazon discussion boards. Heck, I’m still figuring out the ins and outs of Amazon from the authorial perspective, anyway. All I can say is that as a systems thinker, the disconnect between this espoused opinion by Amazon insiders (“authors are our customers”) and the actual behavior on the boards (made possible by Amazon TOS policies) is startling in its incongruity and right now does not make sense to me.

Man will I be glad when all this transitional shite is behind us. Meanwhile, if you see a solution to this cognitive dissonance, please share your thoughts. I see only questions, no answers.

1 For a case in point see aforelinked thread, which reduces the de facto readers’ take on author promotion to the advice “just don’t”. This post and the related thread discussion is a microcosm of the common response on Amazon discussion boards:

Do not ever assume that any of the customers here want to be introduced to your book.
Posting your book, a link to your book, or a post about your book does not contribute to any discussion on here. Not even to requests for suggested reading material. If such requests are made, thay are made by customers to other customers, not to authors.

Given the general tenor of this topic on those boards, this is an extraordinarily polite schooling of new-comer authors to the reader attitudes on this subject.  More of the usual snarliness is evident in subsequent thread comments.

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Author Deborah Teramis Christian

Teramis wrote her first book at age 9, but like all good literary lizards has taken her time charging upon the market. Finally in a situation where she can write full time, she is becoming the Dragon, Unleashed, or a close facsimile thereof. Roar, said the saur.

Teramis On the Web

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MilSciFi Interview - re "Live Fire" in No Man's Land

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This military science fiction anthology contains "Live Fire," Christian's Tiptree Award-nominated short story set in the Sa'adani Empire, the setting of her science fiction novels. Now available at Amazon in print and Kindle editions.