The dangers of relying on a single market

I’ve been watching with interest as so many of my author colleagues migrate toward Amazon self-publishing as the be-all and end-all of success. And I understand why they’re choosing to do so. That heady feeling of control over your product and your destiny. That sense that, yes, the author can determine not just the price of his product but also the cover design and the content. I’ve chosen to stay with traditional publishing because I happen to enjoy working with my editor and my publishing house. I appreciate all they’ve done for me.

And today, I see another reason why my choice has been justified. I checked on Amazon to see how my new book LAST TO DIE is doing, and was startled to come across this announcement on the site:

While this item is available from other marketplace sellers on this page, it is not currently offered by Amazon.com because customers have told us there may be something wrong with our inventory of the item, the way we are shipping it, or the way it’s described here. (Thanks for the tip!)

For some unspecified reason, Amazon — the largest online bookseller — has stopped selling the hardcover edition of LAST TO DIE. Without warning, just like that.

Luckily, my book is still for sale by other numerous retailers, from independents to bookstore chains, online and in brick-and-mortar stores. But imagine if the only bookseller carrying your book suddenly, without warning, without reason, chose to halt all your sales. What could you do? How would you ever find your audience? How do you battle against a monopoly?

For this reason alone, I’m happy I’ve gone the traditional publishing route. It’s frightening to rely on the good graces of a single unpredictable bookseller. It’s frightening to know that, with the flick of one electronic switch, your sales could be halted.

Times are changing in the industry, but that old saying still holds true: Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

17 replies
  1. Jude Hardin
    Jude Hardin says:

    I’ve been watching with interest as so many of my author colleagues migrate toward Amazon self-publishing as the be-all and end-all of success.

    Hi Tess. Just because an author is self-published doesn’t necessarily mean he or she is exclusive to Amazon. Self-published titles can be sold practically everywhere traditionally-published titles can, with the exception of brick-and-mortar stores.

    Amazon imprints (Thomas and Mercer, 47 North, Montlake Romance, etc.) are another story. Those titles are not self-published, but the ebook versions are exclusive to the Kindle. I signed a multi-book contract with Thomas and Mercer for my Nicholas Colt series because the royalty rates on ebooks were much better than industry standard, and because Amazon’s marketing muscle is second to none. So far I’ve been very happy with my decision. The editors and other staff members are a joy to work with, and sales have been steady. And of course it isn’t likely that Amazon is going to pull one of its own titles the way they did yours. I’m sure there’s a good explanation for that, by the way, and that they’re working to resolve the issue.

  2. Tess
    Tess says:

    Jude, I’m glad you’ve had a good experience with Amazon as a publisher. I just have to say that I’m nervous about their complete power over an author’s sales. I’m nervous about how they’ve wielded sometimes capricious power over whether a traditionally published book is even offered for sale. I just feel safer having other markets open to me.

  3. Jude Hardin
    Jude Hardin says:

    I’m nervous about how they’ve wielded sometimes capricious power over whether a traditionally published book is even offered for sale.

    I’m not aware of that happening, but of course any retailer can choose the products they want to make available. I doubt if you’ll find any copies of FIFTY SHADES OF GRAY in Walmart, for example.

    I know you’ve done incredibly well, Tess, but the vast majority of traditionally published books lose money. 80% last I heard. Typically, titles are only on bookstore shelves for a few weeks max, authors get dropped, etc. And the ebook royalty rates for some of those contracts are practically criminal.

    So far, none of Amazon’s imprint titles has lost money.

    Ask anyone who has done both. They’ll tell you they STRONGLY prefer their experience with the Amazon imprint over their experience with the traditional publisher. I guarantee it.

  4. sdonasnrse
    sdonasnrse says:

    Ms Gerritsen, as an avid fan and reader I personally don’t and have never purchased from amazon. For this reason alone I’m glad you have made the decision you did or myself and many like me would never have been introduced to your writings.

  5. Jude Hardin
    Jude Hardin says:

    For this reason alone I’m glad you have made the decision you did or myself and many like me would never have been introduced to your writings.

    That was one of my points. Nobody is exclusive to Amazon except self published authors who opt for KDP Select, and that period is only for ninety days at a time. The trade paperback versions of my Thomas and Mercer titles are available on all the major sites (Barnes and Noble, Books-A-Million, etc), just like Tess’s.

  6. Jeff Shelby
    Jeff Shelby says:

    Tess – that stinks and has to be incredibly frustrating. I hope it gets sorted out soon.

    I agree with you that putting all one’s eggs in one basket is dangerous. But I think it’s also important to point something out. You stated that you’ve chosen to remain with your traditional publisher because you enjoy working with your editor and the publishing house. While that’s terrific – I think that’s the situation most writers hope for – most writers don’t get to choose whether they stay with a publisher or not. The publisher chooses. The writer rarely has a say. The house determines who stays and who goes. The writer just has to accept the decision.

  7. Tess
    Tess says:

    Jeff, I do have a choice of which publisher I can go to. If I’m unhappy with mine — or they’re unhappy with me — I can search for another house to go to. But the actual SALES outlet of books cuts across all publishers, and all authors, and if Amazon, which is the biggest e-seller in the world, whose sales share is getting larger and larger, chooses not to sell a book, then the author can’t get his book to market. Unless you drive from city to city with your trunk full of books.

  8. Jude Hardin
    Jude Hardin says:

    I’ve been informed that Walmart does indeed carry FSOG, which is surprising considering they’re history of refusing to sell certain “morally objectionable” material.

    Anyway, the point stands. Any retailer can choose what they want to sell.

    There wasn’t much of an ebook market before the Kindle came along, so naturally Amazon is the leading e-seller. Plus, they just do it better than anyone else. And a lot of authors are moving in that direction because they’re being treated much more fairly than they were elsewhere.

    If you’re a superstar, it probably makes sense right now to stay with your traditional publisher. Otherwise, not so much. And as the market for dead tree books dwindles, and as more and more bookstores close, it makes less and less sense to stay with media corporations that pay embarrassingly low electronic royalty rates to the people who create what they sell.

  9. Bailey James
    Bailey James says:

    Thanks for these thoughts, Tess. I had the privilege of listening to you and Michael Palmer last fall at the medical writer’s conference in Cape Cod. You should be pleased to know your and Michael’s example got me motivated to finish my first manuscript, Transplant. Even better, the second one, Powder, past the 50K word mark this week.
    I’m pleased to say that Transplant is now being considered by an agent in LA, the third agent I submitted a query to. I had given myself a one year window for the book to be picked up before self-publishing through the Amazon CreateSpace. What you’ve written gives me pause about the plan now.
    It’s always been my philosophy to avoid being overly dependent on a source over which I have no control. If someone as bankable as you can be treated this way, I can imagine how I’d be regarded. Besides, I want the sense of pride that being signed by an agent would bring. Granted my day job as an orthopedic surgeon both makes the expense of self-publishing less of an obstacle, as it does to the need to generate income from the book, but I think I’ll stick with the traditional route, at least for now.

  10. PackingPadre
    PackingPadre says:

    Tess,

    I got my Kindle copy from Amazon on the first day of issue, probably before this kerfuffle started.

    It irritates me. Amazon is playing the role of book burner and understand I am a Prime member at Amazon and use them for books, small appliances, clothing, etc.

    But when it comes to backing someone I consider a friend, versus a corporation _ yeah, yeah I know the Supremes have ruled corporations are people too _ the living, breathing friend gets the support.

    Best of luck. I’ve been in and out of hospital in Indy with atrial fib and CHF so I haven’t had a chance to read your latest yet. Believe me, I’m not going tango uniform with an unread Dr Gerritsen on my Kindle.

    Daniel

  11. Jessica Lupo
    Jessica Lupo says:

    Hi Tess,

    Yes, I agree with you about the traditional publishing route. I started off by self publishing my novels on Amazon through the Kindle Select program. At first, it went well. It was strictly good for short term only. After a short while, sales dropped off and people caught on to the free promo days, and instead of purchasing the book, they would end up just waiting til I put it up for free, lol. I was lucky enough to be able to sign with JK Publishing back in May and have been very happy with them. It’s nice having your books on several sites so readers are able to buy them where they prefer. Self publishing is great if you have no other way of getting your books up there, but yes, for those of you who are planning to switch to self-publishing, if you’re signed with a good publishing company, stick with them! 🙂

    -Jessica Lupo

    If you like hot, fresh Paranormal-Romance stories, please check out my books:
    http://www.amazon.com/author/jessicalupo

  12. PackingPadre
    PackingPadre says:

    Tess,

    Now the a fib has led to cellulitis and I feel too crappy to read. However, I’m catching up on the TV episodes of Rizzoli and Isles that I missed. It’s interesting to see the differences between the books and the series.

    One I don’t like is Maura’s mother. I’ll say no more because I don’t want to be a spoiler. I’ll just say I like the book version the best.

    Another irritant, the TV show writers didn’t research their own costars and as a result missed the fact Sasha Alexander is a Serb. They needed a cop who spoke Serbo-Croation and if they’d bothered to look up Sasha on Wikipedia, the answer was there.

    I hope Indianapolis can get a book store visit next novel. After all, we are the 8th largest city in the USA, have been host, successfully I might add, to a Super Bowl and will be host city for the NRA convention in 2014. How about giving us a chance to host Dr Terry Gerritsen?

    Daniel

  13. CD1
    CD1 says:

    Jude wrote: Ask anyone who has done both. They’ll tell you they STRONGLY prefer their experience with the Amazon imprint over their experience with the traditional publisher. I guarantee it.

    This statement is true only because of one other truism: most (yes, most) of the self-published novels are not up to traditional publishing standards, and thus are rejected by traditional publishing.

    Notice I said most–not all.

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