Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Up the Amazon without a paddle

My first novel was published as a paperback in September 2012 and a few days later it appeared on Amazon in a Kindle edition, which was, apparently, the way things were going now. I didn’t have a Kindle, but to show my appreciation, I downloaded the free Kindle reader on my laptop. I didn’t really want an electronic version of anything at that stage, but an encounter with Hilary Mantell finally persuaded me to invest in a proper Kindle reader. A hefty hardback edition of Bring Up The Bodies smacking you in the face when you fall asleep, reading, causes serious concussion, whereas a Kindle reader merely bruises the nose. And you don’t lose your place when it slides to the floor and shuts itself.

So yes, I converted to an e-reader and now I use it all the time, at least for fiction. And as an author, I have really learned to appreciate its value. My books have been on Kindle deals and sold A LOT, as a result. I mean, a serious lot. Enough to keep me afloat and writing.

Other e-readers are available, to coin a phrase. I have been on Kobo deals too, and have sold… several. Almost into two figures. What I have learned is that Kindle is the only e-reading platform that matters.

And Amazon knows it. If you want to self-publish, use Amazon. Put your book on Kindle. Easy-peasy, give or take the agonies of formatting, and your book is available to the whole world. Let them publish it as a paperback too. It won’t get into bookshops of course, but bookshops are so yesterday, darling.

My latest novel, Shadows, has been taken on by a publisher who markets books solely through Amazon. Even I, as the author, cannot buy discount copies to pass on at book fairs or talks. (You can’t imagine how amusing I find this.) If you agree to turn your back on all other platforms, Amazon and Kindle will offer you all sorts of promotion options. What’s not to love? Amazon, after all, is the leader so far in the lead, that all the others can’t even be seen for dust. No wonder Amazon’s founder Jeff Bezos was listed as the richest man in the world, if only for a few hours. His organisation goes from strength to strength. There is no stopping it. It would be idiotic not to buy into it.

But then, this is now, and as Scarlet O’Hara pointed out, so eloquently, “Tomorrow is another day.”

Remember 2001, A Space Odyssey?  Made in 1968. HAL, a computer, developing a mind of its own, takes on the humans it’s supposed to help and tries to eliminate them. It’s the perennial nightmare of out-of-control technology. Lovers of conspiracy theories have pointed out that if you move up one place in the alphabet, HAL becomes IBM. In 1968, IBM was the computer giant that was going to dominate the world. No-one could compete with it. Until, out of nowhere, Microsoft popped up. And now Microsoft rules the world, until…

My third novel, The Unravelling, is set partly in 1966, which I regret to say I can remember vividly, so no research was needed, and in 2000 or thereabouts, which is only seventeen years ago, but I had to research diligently to remember exactly where we were on our hurtling trajectory into a new world.

In 2000, in Britain, broadband was just being introduced. I didn’t get it until several years later. Accessing the internet, for me, meant hi-jacking the phone line late at night or early morning, and waiting in agony as every web page maliciously containing an image took half an hour to download.

The Unravelling involves a woman, Karen, trying to trace someone from her past. In 1990, what would she have used? Phone books? A trip to the records office in London to trawl through marriage indexes? In 2000 she did have the internet if she could get at a computer. She could try a search engine. The big one was Yahoo, or Alta Vista if you wanted to be really serious. Everyone on the internet used Yahoo, little thinking that a search engine called Google, dreamed up by a couple of Californian students in 1998 would soon sweep Yahoo into the gutter.

There was a new social networking website Karen could use in her search. It was called Friends Reunited, created in 2000. Still a very small thing in the period when my book is set but it grew and grew. It grew huge. So huge that by 2005 it was bought up for £120 million. Nothing was going to stop it. Except that now it no longer exists, because in 2004 a bunch of students including Mark Zuckerberg launched a thing called Facebook. Then there was Twitter. Then there was Instagram. And then, and then, and then…

So, in the publishing world, Amazon is top dog today, but who knows what will pop up tomorrow and leave it as a small smudge on history? Self-interest tells me, as an author, to take whatever it has to offer, because I and other writers, traditionally and self-published, would be fools to resist. But where will we be when the wheel turns and we are left dependent on a company that no longer matters? We need a strategy, to prepare. The trouble is, I have no idea what we should do. Any suggestions?


  1. You'd know better than me, obviously. I learned to type on a typewriter, used Tippex to blot out my many mistakes, Duplicated stuff on a Gestetner(complete with all the messy setting up and turning of the handle) and addressed envelopes in that old-fashioned sloping angle that was required of us in the seventies.And my first book was written on NotePad.:)

    1. I used carbon paper, which never worked properly, after writing initially in long hand in a dozen cramped notebooks, before moving on to an Amstrad word-processor - I still have several manuscripts on Amstrad disks that I can no longer access. But those were the days when there were dozens of major publishers who all replied to direst submissions within 6 weeks, and Amazon was just a river in South America.