Author Topic: Time to Hang It Up  (Read 17858 times)  

Offline justphil

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Time to Hang It Up
« on: September 21, 2016, 11:54:39 AM »
This will be a long post.  Fair warning.

Disclaimer:  While I'd love to link my books and my bookstore, frankly, I can't trust one or both won't be vandalized by those on this board who will be delighted to hear I am considering leaving Amazon.  Sorry.

Further, I am issuing advance notice I will not be responding to the usual instigators, so don't bother.

I've been publishing on Amazon now for five-and-a-half years.  I've hit that button more than sixty times.  I have romance, sci-fi, fantasy and non-fiction titles.  I've probably either bought or personally made more than 100 book covers using stock art, commissioned art, professional fonts, you name it. 

I'm making one more attempt to gain some kind of traction on Amazon before I hang it up.  I'm going to try and set the first titles in my three series to permafree and boost visibility with occasional Freebooksy ads.  At this point, my entire promotional strategy depends on whether Amazon allows me to do so.

Not sure if this will be of any value to anyone else, but these are my experiences. 

With the exception of a tiny blip in mid-2011 and another in September of 2015, my sales have been uniformly zero or close to it.  I get occasional glimmers of activity when I pour money into Bknights ads.  No other kind of ad platform affects my Amazon sales at all.  It's just throwing money into a hole.  I can always give away hundreds of books as long as I spend money to do so, but the sales don't follow like they should.  The books don't rank.  We never get any traction.  Month after month after month no matter what.  We sell ten books here, fifteen books there and then back to zero until we pour more money into more ads.  Even these meager results require us to remain perpetually exclusive with Amazon.

We get a few hundred KU page reads a month.  Now, these reads always come in batches, which is circumstantial evidence people are reading all the way or most of the way through the book they borrow.  The problem is there are only one or two people at a time doing so.  This is circumstantial evidence that only one or two people at a time are able to find the books in the first place.

My books are technically fine.  I have an English degree.  I'm academically qualified to teach creative writing so I can state with confidence I have no grammar, vocabulary, spelling or punctuation problems.  I'm also an experienced programmer, and I hand-code both mobi and (validated) epub versions of every book I publish, so it's not a formatting issue either.

I have more than 40 five-star reviews across all my titles, so the people who do read the books seem to enjoy them.  I have my share of negative reviews as well.  They rarely complain about story or technical issues.  They mostly complain about length (I publish short works and bundle them). 

The problem is really very simple:  nobody has ever heard of my books and by the looks of things, they never will.  Publishing on Amazon is the ultimate "solve a puzzle, win a prize" competition.  Like most authors I flail from one scheme to the next, trying to find something, anything that will get my books in front of people who would likely enjoy them.

For example, I have enough books in my romance series to, through KDP Select, have at least one free book available every day forever.  As long as you have at least 18 books, you can rotate them through their five free days for 90 days at a time, at which point the first book is eligible again.  The only problem with that system is it ties the entire series to Amazon exclusively forever.  It's kind of an ersatz permafree system.  That was my major promotional strategy in 2014.  It worked about as well as you'd expect, which is to say I gave away a half-dozen books a day on average and sold virtually nothing. 

It should be noted that through this system, I have even stronger circumstantial evidence only about 4-6 people visit any book page on a given day unless I have a paid promotion going.  They are always apparently happy to take a free book, but rarely willing to buy, which only proves I'm trying to sell entertainment on the Internet.  Far better funded companies than mine (Disney) have been utterly obliterated attempting the same thing. 

Now at this point I suppose I could make the whole series exclusive, fire up a Bknights promotion every day (which would be a logistical nightmare) and just pour free books into the market as fast as possible in an attempt to gain traction and/or mailing list subscribers.  The only problem with that plan is the problem with every plan on Amazon:  It makes my books worthless.  It makes my marketing program look desperate (because it is desperate).  And at the end of the month, it will cost $150 and likely return not even close to that amount in sales. 

Over the last couple of months I've done some tinkering with Facebook ads.  This was really the moment when I realized all was probably lost.  I wrote a non-fiction book about a fictional character a couple years ago.  There are a fair number of people on Facebook who have expressed an interest in that character.  So I ran a campaign targeting that audience with a professionally designed ad featuring the book cover (one of my better ones) and some rather expensive art.  I set a $60 limit and turned it loose. 

The ads got about 100 clicks at a 1.15% click through rate, which is astronomically high by Internet standards (I know this because I wrote a book on it).  The ad pointed at a landing page on my site which redirected to the book's page in my bookstore, where it was on sale for about 30% off.  I spent just under $60 at roughly $0.34 a click. 

See if you can guess how many books we sold? 

Remember, this is a unique book about a fictional character with a worldwide audience well into the tens of millions pointed at an audience that, according to Facebook, is highly interested in that character.  All the ingredients were in place, but no cookies came out of the oven.  It was astonishing and inexplicable.

It should have worked, but we didn't get a single sale.  Not one mailing list sign-up.  Not one message.  Throughout the campaign (more than 10,000 impressions) we got one page like.  That was it.

Without putting too fine a point on it, that was devastating.  At this point, it's not that I'm tired of the game.  I'm just tired of losing.  I have other businesses where I'm much more successful.  I'm not perfect, by any stretch, but at least I win occasionally. 

With Amazon, it's a never-ending siege of failure with no end in sight.  I've written more than a million words of commercial fiction.  But nobody can see my books, and I don't know how to fix it. 

I'm perfectly willing to admit perhaps I just suck at marketing.  I've been building games, books, apps, etc. for a long time and while I'm very good at one-to-one sales and very good at recruiting people into my company, when it comes to retail, everything comes crashing to Earth, usually painfully and expensively.   I can build the products.  I consider myself an above-average writer.  I just can't market.  Fair enough.  Nobody can be expected to be good at everything. 

Absent five-figures a month spent jackhammering my book titles at potential readers until they can't stand it any more, I honestly don't see any viable way to market e-books, at least on the web.  To be fair, I've been on the Internet since the late Cretaceous, and I don't see any viable way to market anything on the web any more.

But then again, the whole point of Amazon KDP was we weren't supposed to need to be good at marketing.  At least that's what we were told in the beginning.

When Amazon announced the self-publishing platform years ago, the deal was we would write the books and Amazon would market them for us.  Even now, on the main KDP page it says "reach millions of readers."  Except that's not what happens.  Each book reaches a half-dozen people a day and will only move if it's free or if I'm pouring money into ads (or both).  There's no millions of readers anywhere to be found.  Or, there are millions of readers, but only if you solve the puzzle of the Amazon machine and get it to show your books to more than six people a day. 

My books were supposed to be easier to find because they were so exhaustively categorized on Amazon.  Except they aren't, really.  There are only a couple dozen effective keywords.  My fantasy series, for example, doesn't fit into Amazon at all.  There's no combination of keywords that will get it into the right categories.  This seems to be rather common with middle grade and YA books.  It's strange, because you would think Amazon would be highly motivated to try and support the YA and middle grade market.  They even have a special program called "Freetime" for it.  We're not allowed to be a part of that, though.  So my YA/middle grade fantasy has zero sales month after month after month and Amazon would apparently prefer it stay that way.

My military sci-fi series launched with five books in four weeks.  It was the fastest selling, and because of the keyword situation ended up in about eight browse categories.  I sold a few hundred copies across the series (now 16 books) and kept publishing for several months afterwards.  The reviews were positive, if meager in numbers.  And then it tailed off and back to zero, where it has remained ever since.   

The romance series took a bit longer to get published (19 books, 14 months) and had about the same pattern.  Few hundred sales over the year and back to zero. 

Right now, if I do nothing, the sixty titles I have on Amazon (in four genres) will sell an average of seven copies a month forever, earning me about five dollars.  In other words, the five-and-a-half years I've spent writing, advertising, making covers, formatting, programming a system to build mobis and epubs, etc. will have been a complete waste of time save for the couple thousand total books I've ever sold on Amazon. 

One would think that I would have at least improved over those years.  One would think that I would have developed some kind of readership, even if it's only a few dozen people.  But I didn't.  I don't know why, and I suspect I never will.  I think I became a better writer, but being a good writer doesn't matter if nobody reads what I write. 

Hereabouts, we've been treated to story after story about how all of a sudden, somebody's book started to sell.  My personal favorites are the one about the author who launched cold (new pen name, new series, no history as a writer, no platform, no nothing) and made $1400 in the first month, then went on to sell a half-million books for millions in income. 

We know better, because that story is no different than a story about how someone invented an anti-gravity machine.  There is no reasonable mechanism by which an author with no experience or history can just walk into Amazon KDP and move $1400 worth of books in their first 30 days without some kind of artificial help.  It's about as credible as an average athlete with no experience walking into training camp with the San Francisco Giants and hitting .340 against major league pitching.  It can't be done, regardless of talent, strength, speed or agility.  We already know this, but for some reason, we're willing to believe it because it gives us some small measure of hope, I suppose.

My other favorite is "I published my third book in the series and then WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO I'm on a roller-coaster to moneyland and the party never ends!"  It's like someone flipped a switch.  It reminds me of the lottery. 

People buy lottery tickets because they hear stories of the people who won.  Lotteries are a cruel enterprise built on selling false hope for real money.  On Amazon KDP, we don't buy a lottery ticket.  We have to write a book every time we enter the contest, and like the lottery, we have absolutely no control over whether we win or not.  All we can do, as we are repeatedly told, is write another book. 

I've worked for content mills before.  I got a smidgen of pay for a few hundred words.  It's soul-destroying work, but at least it pays.  Amazon reminds me of writing for a content mill, except I don't get paid.  Even at a penny a word, I make more writing [crappy] articles about how to build a fence than I do writing 80,000-word books on Amazon. 

I find it curious that my Amazon sales chart only responds when I'm sending paid traffic to my book pages.  I'm well aware Amazon can tell when my traffic patterns change, and I'm sure they have their site set up to make my book slightly more visible if I buy Amazon a little traffic.  What better way to build the world's largest e-commerce site than by off-loading your marketing expenses to your vendors?   

The problem is, the math doesn't work in my favor.  I feed a dollar into the machine and get 97 cents back.  No amount of kicking, punching or shoving that machine is going to change those numbers.  The machine was built by Amazon for Amazon in much the same way slot machines are built by the casino for the casino.  The machine wants traffic so it can sell trampolines and luggage and televisions.  That's why it advertises 112 other products on my book page and puts a price tag of $0.00 right next to my book cover.  It's training customers to associate the word "worthless" with my book while simultaneously ringing the cash register on the stuff Amazon really wants to sell.

E-books are the candy dish next to the Amazon cash register.  They're free and worth every penny!  Take a handful while you're dropping $800 on a gas generator!

Meanwhile, Amazon takes up to 65% of my cover price.  If I'm doing all the work (and paying for the ads), including the marketing, why do they get paid at all?  What exactly is Amazon doing for their 65%?  They certainly aren't marketing my books.  I have five-and-a-half years of data to prove that.

It's kind of like the old question about the education budget.  Here in California, we spend more than $10,000 a year per student on education.  If we are very generous and say the teacher in a classroom of 30 students earns $150,000 a year, there is still $150,000 a year left over.  Since schools are perpetually without books, field trips, supplies, librarians, buses, extracurricular activities, facility maintenance, clubs, athletic equipment, music equipment, science equipment, computers, tools, gymnasiums, playground equipment or air conditioning, one might wonder just where the hell the rest of the money went? 

My main freelancing business earns me more in 36 hours than I make in a year on Amazon and doesn't take even a fraction of the time.  I think I speak for quite a large number of authors who have had the same experiences.  This platform has no future because it doesn't offer authors like myself any kind of a roadmap to success.  What it proves instead is we can publish dozens of commercial-quality books on a web site with more than 2.4 billion unique visits a month and fail utterly to attract a dedicated readership of even ten people. 

Amazon complains long and loud about the people who "game the system."  To be fair, they have a point, because those people ruin the experience for their customers.  But let's be fair to the authors while we're in such an egalitarian mood.  Writers and publishers wouldn't have to game the system if legitimate success on Amazon weren't meted out with an eyedropper.  Furthermore, what success we do see is as inexplicable as my failure to sell a single book using Facebook ads.  We see books in the top 300 with [crappy] covers, bad writing, bad formatting and insane prices.  We see books the author and publisher clearly put no time into.  They sell by the dozens every day, and then we look at our own work, where some of us have invested thousands upon thousands upon THOUSANDS of man-hours, and see nothing but devastation, failure and wasted time.

Amazon is a marketplace that totally de-couples hard work, talent and craftsmanship from financial success.  It really is no different than the modern job market for the 20-somethings.  They are told they need marketable skills, only to find themselves laid off, fired or passed over after they invest sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars obtaining them.  Such things breed cynicism and gloom. 

At this point, I have every reason to believe if I simply wrote a check for $300 and printed 100 copies of my middle grade fantasy adventure, put a bookmark with a URL to my mailing list in each one and simply handed them one copy at a time to parents at Starbucks, I'd probably get more readers and mailing list signups in a month than I've ever had or ever will get from Amazon.  I'd be spending three bucks a "click" but at least I'd be giving a real book to real people instead of wondering why 100 people clicked on an ad and then totally ignored it, or why 334 people downloaded a free copy of a five-star rated book and then ignored every other book in the series. 

This is all assuming of course all those downloads and ad clicks were real people.  At this point I have no evidence to prove they were. 

According to the charts, there are a couple hundred successful authors on Amazon.  The rest, like myself, sell nothing.  Ultimately, all Amazon has accomplished is to recreate the traditional publishing industry where, instead of outright rejection, the un-anointed authors have the false hope of future success perpetually dangled in front of them by a machine:  success they will never achieve, no matter how many books they write. 

Like I said, I'm going to give it one more try with the permafree strategy.  If that doesn't work, I'm taking my e-books down from Amazon for good and investing my efforts elsewhere.  I could read my books aloud into a webcam for YouTube and probably make more money on ads at this point.

I hope my experiences will be helpful to others. 

Offline Herefortheride

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Re: Time to Hang It Up
« Reply #1 on: September 21, 2016, 12:01:56 PM »
Well, you have certainly spent a lot of time clearing yourself of any liability for not reaching your goals.

One thing that stuck out was that you said, people are willing to read your free book but not willing to buy...that should be setting off alarm bells for you. Because many other authors make tons of money on people buying books 2-3 and guess what, lots of them don't pay for ANY ads.

So, yeah, pack it up, if you feel you must. There is no place for that kind of attitude in business.
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Offline justphil

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Re: Time to Hang It Up
« Reply #2 on: September 21, 2016, 12:07:14 PM »
Quote
Well, you have certainly spent a lot of time clearing yourself of any liability for not reaching your goals.

I have done no such thing.  I take full responsibility for choosing to publish my books on a platform where they will apparently remain invisible forever. 

Quote
people are willing to read your free book but not willing to buy.

More accurately, they're willing to download the book.  I have no evidence those books are being read. 

Quote
Because many other authors make tons of money on people buying books 2-3 and guess what, lots of them don't pay for ANY ads.

According to the ranking charts on Amazon, there are about 200 such authors. 

Quote
There is no place for that kind of attitude in business.

A strange accusation to level at someone who invested five years and wrote over a million words.   
« Last Edit: September 21, 2016, 12:10:39 PM by justphil »

Offline C. A. Mitchell

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Re: Time to Hang It Up
« Reply #3 on: September 21, 2016, 12:12:32 PM »
Have you considered using single spacing instead of double? Single is the norm now, and double might put people off.

Offline Out_there

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Re: Time to Hang It Up
« Reply #4 on: September 21, 2016, 12:13:34 PM »
It sounds like you've had it up to here with the self-publishing business. Walk away and keep your sanity.

Personally, I treat it as a hobby and after the first few months, I only spent money on it from what I earned. My profits are modest, but I enjoy writing and am happy that some people seem to enjoy my books. When it is no longer fun, I'll quit, too.

Take care and best of luck.

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Offline Cherise

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Re: Time to Hang It Up
« Reply #5 on: September 21, 2016, 12:17:45 PM »
They mostly complain about length (I publish short works and bundle them). 




Phil, this is it, right here. Not many readers are looking for short works.

Offline justphil

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Re: Time to Hang It Up
« Reply #6 on: September 21, 2016, 12:20:22 PM »
Quote
Have you considered using single spacing instead of double? 

I do use single spacing. 

Quote
Not many readers are looking for short works.

They don't buy the bundles either.  If people are actively avoiding the books because they are episodic, that's one thing, but they can get more for less with the bundles and those sell worse than the shorter books.  You might be right, but Amazon demands a new material every 30-90 days, and I can't write 110,000 words at an acceptable quality level sustainably on that schedule. 

« Last Edit: September 21, 2016, 12:25:10 PM by justphil »

Online AliceW

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Re: Time to Hang It Up
« Reply #7 on: September 21, 2016, 12:20:35 PM »
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. With 60+ books where none are selling, there must be enough material to put your finger on what is at fault, if you are open to looking at your work and path with a critical eye. Having an academic career and technically correct grammar is awesome, but what about story and voice?

And yes, you can launch one book as a complete unknown and move 1k+ in your first month. I did. Did I use some promo? Yes, small sites that took new releases with no reviews (like BKnights) which got me that first leg up. Then people started buying. There are many authors here who do well right from the first month, it's knowing your market, the tropes, and bringing a unique voice to the story.

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Re: Time to Hang It Up
« Reply #8 on: September 21, 2016, 12:24:23 PM »
Are you quitting altogether or are you just quitting Amazon and going wide? Did I miss that in your post?



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Offline mmflores

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Re: Time to Hang It Up
« Reply #9 on: September 21, 2016, 12:28:12 PM »
This will be a long post.  Fair warning.

Disclaimer:  While I'd love to link my books and my bookstore, frankly, I can't trust one or both won't be vandalized by those on this board who will be delighted to hear I am considering leaving Amazon.  Sorry.

Further, I am issuing advance notice I will not be responding to the usual instigators, so don't bother.

I've been publishing on Amazon now for five-and-a-half years.  I've hit that button more than sixty times.  I have romance, sci-fi, fantasy and non-fiction titles.  I've probably either bought or personally made more than 100 book covers using stock art, commissioned art, professional fonts, you name it. 

I'm making one more attempt to gain some kind of traction on Amazon before I hang it up.  I'm going to try and set the first titles in my three series to permafree and boost visibility with occasional Freebooksy ads.  At this point, my entire promotional strategy depends on whether Amazon allows me to do so.

Not sure if this will be of any value to anyone else, but these are my experiences. 

With the exception of a tiny blip in mid-2011 and another in September of 2015, my sales have been uniformly zero or close to it.  I get occasional glimmers of activity when I pour money into Bknights ads.  No other kind of ad platform affects my Amazon sales at all.  It's just throwing money into a hole.  I can always give away hundreds of books as long as I spend money to do so, but the sales don't follow like they should.  The books don't rank.  We never get any traction.  Month after month after month no matter what.  We sell ten books here, fifteen books there and then back to zero until we pour more money into more ads.  Even these meager results require us to remain perpetually exclusive with Amazon.

We get a few hundred KU page reads a month.  Now, these reads always come in batches, which is circumstantial evidence people are reading all the way or most of the way through the book they borrow.  The problem is there are only one or two people at a time doing so.  This is circumstantial evidence that only one or two people at a time are able to find the books in the first place.

My books are technically fine.  I have an English degree.  I'm academically qualified to teach creative writing so I can state with confidence I have no grammar, vocabulary, spelling or punctuation problems.  I'm also an experienced programmer, and I hand-code both mobi and (validated) epub versions of every book I publish, so it's not a formatting issue either.

I have more than 40 five-star reviews across all my titles, so the people who do read the books seem to enjoy them.  I have my share of negative reviews as well.  They rarely complain about story or technical issues.  They mostly complain about length (I publish short works and bundle them). 

The problem is really very simple:  nobody has ever heard of my books and by the looks of things, they never will.  Publishing on Amazon is the ultimate "solve a puzzle, win a prize" competition.  Like most authors I flail from one scheme to the next, trying to find something, anything that will get my books in front of people who would likely enjoy them.

For example, I have enough books in my romance series to, through KDP Select, have at least one free book available every day forever.  As long as you have at least 18 books, you can rotate them through their five free days for 90 days at a time, at which point the first book is eligible again.  The only problem with that system is it ties the entire series to Amazon exclusively forever.  It's kind of an ersatz permafree system.  That was my major promotional strategy in 2014.  It worked about as well as you'd expect, which is to say I gave away a half-dozen books a day on average and sold virtually nothing. 

It should be noted that through this system, I have even stronger circumstantial evidence only about 4-6 people visit any book page on a given day unless I have a paid promotion going.  They are always apparently happy to take a free book, but rarely willing to buy, which only proves I'm trying to sell entertainment on the Internet.  Far better funded companies than mine (Disney) have been utterly obliterated attempting the same thing. 

Now at this point I suppose I could make the whole series exclusive, fire up a Bknights promotion every day (which would be a logistical nightmare) and just pour free books into the market as fast as possible in an attempt to gain traction and/or mailing list subscribers.  The only problem with that plan is the problem with every plan on Amazon:  It makes my books worthless.  It makes my marketing program look desperate (because it is desperate).  And at the end of the month, it will cost $150 and likely return not even close to that amount in sales. 

Over the last couple of months I've done some tinkering with Facebook ads.  This was really the moment when I realized all was probably lost.  I wrote a non-fiction book about a fictional character a couple years ago.  There are a fair number of people on Facebook who have expressed an interest in that character.  So I ran a campaign targeting that audience with a professionally designed ad featuring the book cover (one of my better ones) and some rather expensive art.  I set a $60 limit and turned it loose. 

The ads got about 100 clicks at a 1.15% click through rate, which is astronomically high by Internet standards (I know this because I wrote a book on it).  The ad pointed at a landing page on my site which redirected to the book's page in my bookstore, where it was on sale for about 30% off.  I spent just under $60 at roughly $0.34 a click. 

See if you can guess how many books we sold? 

Remember, this is a unique book about a fictional character with a worldwide audience well into the tens of millions pointed at an audience that, according to Facebook, is highly interested in that character.  All the ingredients were in place, but no cookies came out of the oven.  It was astonishing and inexplicable.

It should have worked, but we didn't get a single sale.  Not one mailing list sign-up.  Not one message.  Throughout the campaign (more than 10,000 impressions) we got one page like.  That was it.

Without putting too fine a point on it, that was devastating.  At this point, it's not that I'm tired of the game.  I'm just tired of losing.  I have other businesses where I'm much more successful.  I'm not perfect, by any stretch, but at least I win occasionally. 

With Amazon, it's a never-ending siege of failure with no end in sight.  I've written more than a million words of commercial fiction.  But nobody can see my books, and I don't know how to fix it. 

I'm perfectly willing to admit perhaps I just suck at marketing.  I've been building games, books, apps, etc. for a long time and while I'm very good at one-to-one sales and very good at recruiting people into my company, when it comes to retail, everything comes crashing to Earth, usually painfully and expensively.   I can build the products.  I consider myself an above-average writer.  I just can't market.  Fair enough.  Nobody can be expected to be good at everything. 

Absent five-figures a month spent jackhammering my book titles at potential readers until they can't stand it any more, I honestly don't see any viable way to market e-books, at least on the web.  To be fair, I've been on the Internet since the late Cretaceous, and I don't see any viable way to market anything on the web any more.

But then again, the whole point of Amazon KDP was we weren't supposed to need to be good at marketing.  At least that's what we were told in the beginning.

When Amazon announced the self-publishing platform years ago, the deal was we would write the books and Amazon would market them for us.  Even now, on the main KDP page it says "reach millions of readers."  Except that's not what happens.  Each book reaches a half-dozen people a day and will only move if it's free or if I'm pouring money into ads (or both).  There's no millions of readers anywhere to be found.  Or, there are millions of readers, but only if you solve the puzzle of the Amazon machine and get it to show your books to more than six people a day. 

My books were supposed to be easier to find because they were so exhaustively categorized on Amazon.  Except they aren't, really.  There are only a couple dozen effective keywords.  My fantasy series, for example, doesn't fit into Amazon at all.  There's no combination of keywords that will get it into the right categories.  This seems to be rather common with middle grade and YA books.  It's strange, because you would think Amazon would be highly motivated to try and support the YA and middle grade market.  They even have a special program called "Freetime" for it.  We're not allowed to be a part of that, though.  So my YA/middle grade fantasy has zero sales month after month after month and Amazon would apparently prefer it stay that way.

My military sci-fi series launched with five books in four weeks.  It was the fastest selling, and because of the keyword situation ended up in about eight browse categories.  I sold a few hundred copies across the series (now 16 books) and kept publishing for several months afterwards.  The reviews were positive, if meager in numbers.  And then it tailed off and back to zero, where it has remained ever since.   

The romance series took a bit longer to get published (19 books, 14 months) and had about the same pattern.  Few hundred sales over the year and back to zero. 

Right now, if I do nothing, the sixty titles I have on Amazon (in four genres) will sell an average of seven copies a month forever, earning me about five dollars.  In other words, the five-and-a-half years I've spent writing, advertising, making covers, formatting, programming a system to build mobis and epubs, etc. will have been a complete waste of time save for the couple thousand total books I've ever sold on Amazon. 

One would think that I would have at least improved over those years.  One would think that I would have developed some kind of readership, even if it's only a few dozen people.  But I didn't.  I don't know why, and I suspect I never will.  I think I became a better writer, but being a good writer doesn't matter if nobody reads what I write. 

Hereabouts, we've been treated to story after story about how all of a sudden, somebody's book started to sell.  My personal favorites are the one about the author who launched cold (new pen name, new series, no history as a writer, no platform, no nothing) and made $1400 in the first month, then went on to sell a half-million books for millions in income. 

We know better, because that story is no different than a story about how someone invented an anti-gravity machine.  There is no reasonable mechanism by which an author with no experience or history can just walk into Amazon KDP and move $1400 worth of books in their first 30 days without some kind of artificial help.  It's about as credible as an average athlete with no experience walking into training camp with the San Francisco Giants and hitting .340 against major league pitching.  It can't be done, regardless of talent, strength, speed or agility.  We already know this, but for some reason, we're willing to believe it because it gives us some small measure of hope, I suppose.

My other favorite is "I published my third book in the series and then WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO I'm on a roller-coaster to moneyland and the party never ends!"  It's like someone flipped a switch.  It reminds me of the lottery. 

People buy lottery tickets because they hear stories of the people who won.  Lotteries are a cruel enterprise built on selling false hope for real money.  On Amazon KDP, we don't buy a lottery ticket.  We have to write a book every time we enter the contest, and like the lottery, we have absolutely no control over whether we win or not.  All we can do, as we are repeatedly told, is write another book. 

I've worked for content mills before.  I got a smidgen of pay for a few hundred words.  It's soul-destroying work, but at least it pays.  Amazon reminds me of writing for a content mill, except I don't get paid.  Even at a penny a word, I make more writing [crappy] articles about how to build a fence than I do writing 80,000-word books on Amazon. 

I find it curious that my Amazon sales chart only responds when I'm sending paid traffic to my book pages.  I'm well aware Amazon can tell when my traffic patterns change, and I'm sure they have their site set up to make my book slightly more visible if I buy Amazon a little traffic.  What better way to build the world's largest e-commerce site than by off-loading your marketing expenses to your vendors?   

The problem is, the math doesn't work in my favor.  I feed a dollar into the machine and get 97 cents back.  No amount of kicking, punching or shoving that machine is going to change those numbers.  The machine was built by Amazon for Amazon in much the same way slot machines are built by the casino for the casino.  The machine wants traffic so it can sell trampolines and luggage and televisions.  That's why it advertises 112 other products on my book page and puts a price tag of $0.00 right next to my book cover.  It's training customers to associate the word "worthless" with my book while simultaneously ringing the cash register on the stuff Amazon really wants to sell.

E-books are the candy dish next to the Amazon cash register.  They're free and worth every penny!  Take a handful while you're dropping $800 on a gas generator!

Meanwhile, Amazon takes up to 65% of my cover price.  If I'm doing all the work (and paying for the ads), including the marketing, why do they get paid at all?  What exactly is Amazon doing for their 65%?  They certainly aren't marketing my books.  I have five-and-a-half years of data to prove that.

It's kind of like the old question about the education budget.  Here in California, we spend more than $10,000 a year per student on education.  If we are very generous and say the teacher in a classroom of 30 students earns $150,000 a year, there is still $150,000 a year left over.  Since schools are perpetually without books, field trips, supplies, librarians, buses, extracurricular activities, facility maintenance, clubs, athletic equipment, music equipment, science equipment, computers, tools, gymnasiums, playground equipment or air conditioning, one might wonder just where the hell the rest of the money went? 

My main freelancing business earns me more in 36 hours than I make in a year on Amazon and doesn't take even a fraction of the time.  I think I speak for quite a large number of authors who have had the same experiences.  This platform has no future because it doesn't offer authors like myself any kind of a roadmap to success.  What it proves instead is we can publish dozens of commercial-quality books on a web site with more than 2.4 billion unique visits a month and fail utterly to attract a dedicated readership of even ten people. 

Amazon complains long and loud about the people who "game the system."  To be fair, they have a point, because those people ruin the experience for their customers.  But let's be fair to the authors while we're in such an egalitarian mood.  Writers and publishers wouldn't have to game the system if legitimate success on Amazon weren't meted out with an eyedropper.  Furthermore, what success we do see is as inexplicable as my failure to sell a single book using Facebook ads.  We see books in the top 300 with [crappy] covers, bad writing, bad formatting and insane prices.  We see books the author and publisher clearly put no time into.  They sell by the dozens every day, and then we look at our own work, where some of us have invested thousands upon thousands upon THOUSANDS of man-hours, and see nothing but devastation, failure and wasted time.

Amazon is a marketplace that totally de-couples hard work, talent and craftsmanship from financial success.  It really is no different than the modern job market for the 20-somethings.  They are told they need marketable skills, only to find themselves laid off, fired or passed over after they invest sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars obtaining them.  Such things breed cynicism and gloom. 

At this point, I have every reason to believe if I simply wrote a check for $300 and printed 100 copies of my middle grade fantasy adventure, put a bookmark with a URL to my mailing list in each one and simply handed them one copy at a time to parents at Starbucks, I'd probably get more readers and mailing list signups in a month than I've ever had or ever will get from Amazon.  I'd be spending three bucks a "click" but at least I'd be giving a real book to real people instead of wondering why 100 people clicked on an ad and then totally ignored it, or why 334 people downloaded a free copy of a five-star rated book and then ignored every other book in the series. 

This is all assuming of course all those downloads and ad clicks were real people.  At this point I have no evidence to prove they were. 

According to the charts, there are a couple hundred successful authors on Amazon.  The rest, like myself, sell nothing.  Ultimately, all Amazon has accomplished is to recreate the traditional publishing industry where, instead of outright rejection, the un-anointed authors have the false hope of future success perpetually dangled in front of them by a machine:  success they will never achieve, no matter how many books they write. 

Like I said, I'm going to give it one more try with the permafree strategy.  If that doesn't work, I'm taking my e-books down from Amazon for good and investing my efforts elsewhere.  I could read my books aloud into a webcam for YouTube and probably make more money on ads at this point.

I hope my experiences will be helpful to others.

Phil, thanks so much for sharing your experience so honestly. I think it's human nature to want to share one's own success stories--it's not nearly as exciting to tell the world about how your book was released to crickets. On Kboards and podcasts you'll mostly hear from people having great success, not the other side of self-publishing. I definitely think it's possible to find success as as Self-Pub author, but like in any field, it's not a guarantee by any means.

As someone above mentioned, I do think that trying full-length books might have made a difference, but honestly if you're feeling exhausted of the whole thing, I don't blame you at all for walking away. I think as a culture we attach a lot of Romanticism to pursuing creative things/athletic things you know, that kind of exciting jobs. But if something is giving you more stress than joy you either have to reevaluate how you're approaching it or just walk away altogether. Sometimes we get so attached to one single aspect of life that we think without we can't possibly be happy. We can. It's not the end of the world. Perhaps you'll walk away and after a few months or years you'll come back refreshed. Or you might not. Either way best of luck!

Offline justphil

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Re: Time to Hang It Up
« Reply #10 on: September 21, 2016, 12:30:22 PM »
Quote
but what about story and voice?

No reader has ever complained about my stories or voice.  Like all authors, I have the occasional "writes like a third grader" review, but that's Internet background noise, not serious critique.

Then again, so few people have apparently read my books that I can't credibly claim a trend one way or the other.   If someone is willing to step up and say "you suck as a writer and here's why" and can back it up with some level of academic credibility, then I am more than willing to put down my pen and never write another word.   That hasn't happened yet.  On the contrary, I've had many reviews filled with high praise. 

I have a university degree with a creative writing emphasis.  I've written a million words.  If my writing is that bad after all that, then I'm afraid there isn't much that can be done. 

Quote
Are you quitting altogether or are you just quitting Amazon and going wide? Did I miss that in your post?

I'd rather not quit altogether.  I have my own shop and other authors to work alongside.   I just don't see how publishing on Amazon helps. 
« Last Edit: September 21, 2016, 12:32:09 PM by justphil »

Offline alawston

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Re: Time to Hang It Up
« Reply #11 on: September 21, 2016, 12:31:18 PM »
At this point, I have every reason to believe if I simply wrote a check for $300 and printed 100 copies of my middle grade fantasy adventure, put a bookmark with a URL to my mailing list in each one and simply handed them one copy at a time to parents at Starbucks, I'd probably get more readers and mailing list signups in a month than I've ever had or ever will get from Amazon.  I'd be spending three bucks a "click" but at least I'd be giving a real book to real people instead of wondering why 100 people clicked on an ad and then totally ignored it, or why 334 people downloaded a free copy of a five-star rated book and then ignored every other book in the series. 


Um, yeah, that would probably be quite a good idea, actually.


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Offline justphil

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Re: Time to Hang It Up
« Reply #12 on: September 21, 2016, 12:36:34 PM »
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Um, yeah, that would probably be quite a good idea, actually.

I think there's something to be said for the real world.   ;)

Offline stacia_s

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Re: Time to Hang It Up
« Reply #13 on: September 21, 2016, 12:37:23 PM »
You do sound really frustrated, although I can't decide if it's with yourself or everyone else. The fact of the matter is that whatever you doing right now isn't working for you. Only you can decide if it's worth it to keep trying or to give it up. I do think that with so many books published it's not just a matter of Amazon sucks. Like is mentioned above, short stories have a much smaller market but it is totally possible for someone to make 1k in their first month with no platform. People aren't buying your books for a reason, because they are buying books. It's impossible for anyone to say what your problems might be. If you just needed to vent, go for it I guess.

Offline Chandra

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Re: Time to Hang It Up
« Reply #14 on: September 21, 2016, 12:38:35 PM »
Thanks for sharing your story with honesty and lucidity. It looks as though you did everything that how-to books advise the self-pub author to do -- you wrote prolifically, you promoted aggressively, and you approached your work with dedication and professionalism. One can't blame you for feeling let-down.

But IMO the fault doesn't lie with Amazon in particular or even with self-publishing in general. It's just extremely hard to find readers these days when it seems as though everyone writes and no one reads!

Don't give up. Judging by your post alone, you're an excellent writer with a strong voice and sense of humor. Keep writing, but perhaps do it at a slower pace in your spare time. That will take the pressure off you to succeed, and you might enjoy the process more.

Offline Amanda M. Lee

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Re: Time to Hang It Up
« Reply #15 on: September 21, 2016, 12:42:02 PM »
I'm still confused how this is Amazon's fault.

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Re: Time to Hang It Up
« Reply #16 on: September 21, 2016, 12:43:06 PM »
Um, yeah, that would probably be quite a good idea, actually.

Beat me to it.
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Offline noirhvy

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Re: Time to Hang It Up
« Reply #17 on: September 21, 2016, 12:43:20 PM »
Life is tough. A hockey goalie said how would like a job where when you make a mistake 40,000 people jump to their feet and boo?
You have to offer what people want. Gilligan's Island or A Long Day's Journey Into Night or Debbie Does Dallas. There's no guarantee.
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Either take the guff or drop out.

Offline suliabryon

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Re: Time to Hang It Up
« Reply #18 on: September 21, 2016, 12:44:35 PM »
It is really difficult to offer advice without seeing a cover, reading a blurb, or being able to look at what's inside. OTOH, I TOTALLY understand wanting to stay anonymous as more than one person posting on these boards has gone on to have their books suddenly inundated with single star reviews after sharing a thread that not everyone agreed with.

Based on what you are saying, honestly I think length is probably your biggest issue. You bring up the fact that you bundle. Okay. Yes. Short works, publishing quickly and then bundled were the Amazon gravy train at one time, from what I hear. They aren't anymore and haven't been for awhile. Genre is always a factor, and I have no idea exactly how short your works are, but you say over a million written words and 60+ published stories? If I do the math that is an average of 16,000 words per "book". those are short stories. VERY short. I published a 36k word prequel novella earlier this year, the start of a series. Four months later I published a 100k word novel. The novel sells and has KU borrows 6 times the amount of the novella, right out of the gate. And I get people who read the novel and then go back and buy the novella because book 2 in the series isn't out yet.

That whole "publish every 30-90 days" thing or die is rubbish. Does it mean you will gain traction faster? Maybe. It can. If you can pull it off and write quality books with the right market tropes and get them out on that schedule. But nothing is a guarantee, and I've seen plenty of authors succeed who don't publish that quickly. Clearly, the markets you are targeting would prefer something different from what you have been doing. Why not try writing something longer, and see what happens? What do you have to lose at this point?

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Re: Time to Hang It Up
« Reply #19 on: September 21, 2016, 12:45:01 PM »
No reader has ever complained about my stories or voice.

60+ books and zero sales is compelling evidence that there is a problem (and it has nothing to do with advertising) it's just whether you want to acknowledge it or not.

From reading your posts it appears you just want to vent about lack of sales. I totally get that. But if you're not prepared to dig deep and change, then perhaps it is best you walk away. If you keep doing the same thing, you are going to get the same result - zero.

Offline justphil

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Re: Time to Hang It Up
« Reply #20 on: September 21, 2016, 12:45:53 PM »
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I'm still confused how this is Amazon's fault.

It may not be Amazon's fault.  The results are the same, however.  My books are invisible. 

Offline Rick Gualtieri

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Re: Time to Hang It Up
« Reply #21 on: September 21, 2016, 12:48:38 PM »
We all gotta do what we gotta do.  It's the nature of running a small business.

Good luck in whatever path you decide.


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Offline justphil

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Re: Time to Hang It Up
« Reply #22 on: September 21, 2016, 12:49:00 PM »
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Why not try writing something longer, and see what happens?

That's an option.  My #3 best-seller all-time is 79,000 words.   I suppose if people are that averse to short works it won't do any good to bundle them.  That would explain the larger failure of the bundles over the shorter works.   It's something to consider.   

Offline sela

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Re: Time to Hang It Up
« Reply #23 on: September 21, 2016, 12:51:05 PM »
Phil, I feel for you. I really do. It must be soul-destroying to write and publish so much work and have nothing to show for it. This is a cruel business at times and what is good is not always what sells and what sells is not always good.

I would be willing to look more closely at your books -- whether romance or SFF -- and offer my advice and help if you would be willing. I write romance and do so successfully, and I read SFF and do so successfully. ;) PM me if you are interested and I will do what I can. I will be gentle but honest. I have been a member of several workshops where I was a critter of other people's works and I have standards and ethics. I have helped other authors before and will do it again. Amazon algorithms reward sales and so getting those sales is really what counts. Amazon algorithms reward new work and velocity so getting new works out there and doing so quickly is really what counts.

In the end, you may have great stories, but if Amazon readers aren't seeing them and if Amazon isn't seeing sales, you have to be in charge of getting your books in front of Amazon readers and visible to Amazon algorithms.

Consider my offer. I helped an author on this board go from selling no books in months to selling $1200 - $1500 a month for several months running using Facebook ads, new covers, new blurbs and keywords.

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Re: Time to Hang It Up
« Reply #24 on: September 21, 2016, 12:53:15 PM »
Middle Grade is a hard sell in ebook. A very hard sell. You're idea of hand selling paper copies is actually a very good one. There are children and MG authors here who do just that at different events.

I'm in the middle of writing a cookbook with my cousin who is a chef. I told him he can expect little to no sales in ebook and cookbooks in general have a lot of competition. But he does festivals like fish festivals and Italian festivals plus the restaurant where he works does events like wine tastings. He can also sell the books there. He'll probably do decently at hand-selling.

Suggestion, drop out of Select, not Amazon and go wide. Don't miss out on a single sale.



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