Do Amazon and Createspace rip off Indie publishers with failure to correctly report sales?

Outrageous! Sadly, though I can quite believe it. I don’t trust Amazon; I work with them only because I must.

I know I’ve other authors, indie especially, following this blog. Surely you’ve seen this happen as well. Make noise, look at the good it did Ms Hogarth with the Space Marines debacle! We’re writers, damn it, let’s remind Amazon why you treat bards ith utmost respect!


Guest post by John. R. Clark, Managing Editor at AgeView Press

When AgeView Press Indie pubbed the book FLYING SOLO in May of 2012, the author, Jeanette Vaughan  immediately began tracking sales.   She heard from excited friends and family who immediately emailed when ordering their copies.  The first sales were off of Createspace’s e-store with the title ID number given to the author.   Then, through Amazon, a week later, when the book went live on the site.  Finally on Kindle, when the ebook format was completed.

Initially, things appeared kosher.    People exclaiming that they had ordered the book, were showing up within a day or two on the electronic royalty reports with a reasaonable accuracy.    But by June and July, sales descrepencies were noted by the author from customers claiming that they had purchased the book directly through Amazon, not an Amazon affiliate.    Many of these sales were simply not listed.The author contacted…

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Publishing, agents, and my thoughts

To be frank, I think self and indie publishing have a bad rep.  I know that, part of it, is deserved; far too many people out there who went to a vanity press like Lulu without any actual work except pressing buttons on a keyboard until there were thousands of vaguely English (or French, Italian, Japanese, or whatever) words spread across a few hundred pages.  Sad thing is, there’re books out by major publishers that are hardly better, really.

The sad reality is that, while self-published and indie press are gaining momentum and a foothold, while they are being given respectful nods from the likes SFWA president John Scalzi (well, he’s given up the post to someone else, but he hasn’t taken charge yet, that I know of — I’m not a member and doubt I ever will be, so I don’t watch closely), but by the same token no matter how many copies you sell a self-published title and some indie press titles don’t qualify for membership.

The reality ought to be that putting it out yourself with today’s POD and digital options what they are, that a self or indie published title gets the same respect as any other.  If it’s good, it’s good, if it’s bad it’s bad.  This isn’t the case.  A book that sells less than 2000 copies, but through Tor, might get a movie deal.  An indie or self press that sells that many can forget it, unless you know someone.  A book on the NY Times bestsellers list, might get a deal (self or indie, I mean), but they still might not.  Another sad fact.  Apple is the only electronic distribution channel that allows everyone to arrange for pre-orders.  Can’t do that through Amazon’s KDP or CreateSpace, nor Kobo or Nook or … anyone, let’s not be silly here, I mean you’re not a serious author or publisher or whatever!  You’re just a cute child making a four page picture book with crayons and running to Mother.

Until this perception completely changes, for some authors, self publishing really shouldn’t be the way to go.  An agent, a big publisher, years of waiting to see your book … that’s the only way.  Oh, sure, you can say “It’s more important people see it, than anything else, so I’m selfing it.”  Bully for you.  The point is, you’ll have to be a mix of lucky and prolific to make and maintain a living.  If writing is a hobby you’re quite good at, this is fine, but if you wish it to be what you write on census forms as your job, then probably not so much.

Now this isn’t to vilify the traditional publishing methods.  Some agents are very nice people, some publishers apparently try quite hard to do their job well.

The fact remains, some genres and types of books you pretty much can’t self-publish … the market doesn’t really exist yet.  The would-be professionals should stick with agents and traditional methods, while the quality hobbyists pave the way, and of course you could elect to write something to help in this, by all means.  Want to do middle grade reader books?  Want to be in the Scholastic Book Fair?  Yeah, and look around, there’s a reason that Goosebumps and Fear Street, Baby Sitters Club and Sweet Valley are still fairly common at certain age ranges.

In other cases it’s nothing so dire.  Erotica or Romance?  DIY or take an agent, the question is just how fast do you want to make those sales, and do you want an advance?  SF?  Don’t bother, in my opinion, with traditional model.  If it isn’t Military SF and NEW Space Opera (which in my opinion isn’t Space Opera) you won’t sell it to the big boys, and even if you write the stuff they want the typical rates are just insulting, you may as well go DIY for all the difference it’ll make, unless you really need a bit of lump sum cash to make a downpayment on a car, or some such.  Westerns?  If your name isn’t Louis L’Amour you’re probably better off self publishing … or possibly not depending how you look at it — Westerns are pretty close to dead, so possibly that Advance, if you can get one, will be the only pennies you see for the book.  Mysteries?  I couldn’t say, if it isn’t the Bernie Rhodenbarr books by Lawrence Block I haven’t really read it, well … the first half dozen Sneakie Pie and Rita Mae Brown books, too.

Research.  All I can say is research, and when in doubt try to get your questions straight, straight forward, and clear and then find a good, helpful person in the industry to ask them of.  An agent, perhaps, or an editor.  Don’t ask them about your work, ask them about the details in general.  Ask them for the numbers, for the fact, for the stats.  Ask them for what one might expect.  Then think, soul search.  Are you writing for money?  Possibly you want to go major publisher, unless you know you’ll be prolific — self-published work doesn’t necessarily sell many copies, but a few copies over several books adds up well, but a few books with an advance might be a nice lump sum you can invest.  Writing an obscure thing?  Is there actually a major publisher out there who’ll touch it?  Might just as well do it yourself.  In the end it’s up to you, what do you want out of your writing, how do you want people to find it, and so on.

I still feel that I’d rather self-publish most thing, but Now & Forever, for example, I have decided (given a positive response from an agent) to traditionally publish.  It seems a better choice given its genre, but I’ll merrily drop it onto the world myself if they say no, because think it’s a fun, cute story and had fun writing it so I’ll have fun sharing it as well, how and via whom doesn’t matter.

Exploring possibilities

So I’ve made a couple of agent inquiries this weekend.

Really not many. As I know how to do this on my own I was quite particular in who I elected to send inquiries to rather than sending to every agent I could find. I thought, Why not? There’s nothing to lose, and an advance to gain.

There goes money again. Well, frankly, I may write because I have stories I wish to tell, but we live in a crass capitalism and I like to eat and have a home, and wages don’t go far these days.

In the end I submitted to two agents only:

Ms Lakosil of Bradford Literary Agency and Ms Diver of The Knight Agency.

I was promptly rejected by Ms Diver. I wasn’t very surprised. I’d actually changed my mind about submitting an inquiry to that agency, initially I hadn’t felt very interested.

This does not mean Now & Forever is not going to be self published, only that it might not. I should expect a reply from Ms Lakosil before editing will be done so no delays there, and I she expresses interest I’ll discuss detail regarding time frame expectations and so forth to decide if I wish to go a traditional route.

In truth my opinions of publishing came largely from my love of SF. The SF houses are, in my opinion, trying to commit suicide. As such I want nothing to do with them professionally. While it can be truly said that publishing houses are all suffering some malady of the mind and a terrible case of short sightedness it is to varying degrees dependent on the publisher and, most importantly, genre. Romance, it seems, is a touch less demented and as such I’m willing to test the waters a little and see how I feel.