If you hadn’t noticed: we authors talk a lot about how bitter we are over Amazon, or at least specific actions they’ve taken. When pursuing our whole careers– our dreams for many — hinges on the good graces of a giant like Amazon, and even their slightest slumbering twitches can destroy an authors livelihood, we’re not left with a terribly pleasant feeling.
You can feel powerless, which leaves you anxious; and anxiety impacts both your creativity and your productivity.
Of course, the flip side of the coin is that Amazon was what gave so many authors the opportunity to actually become authors in the first place.
For those of you too young to remember the period before eBooks and Amazon swept in to completely shake the foundations of publishing: getting your work of passion and dedication published was a near impossibility.
In the 90’s all the big publishers shut down submissions, refusing to take anything from random authors. The only means to get their attention was a convoluted, crapshoot of submitting to journals and magazines, hoping your short stories would get accepted, and that subsequently enough of them would that you might get noticed by someone.
Or maybe if you were one of the lucky few: you had connections, knew a prominent agent who could get your work considered.
Of course, all of that only got you a shot at consideration. Then your work was put before someone whose arbitrary and subjective taste determined whether you would be a best seller or a bin filler.
There was a time (and for some that time still exists) when the big publishers were exalted. They were the “gate keepers”, though heaven forbid you point out how arbitrary and shoddy they were at selection. Twelve publishers turned down Harry Potter before it found a home! Some of the worlds most acclaimed and adored authors never received much in the way of publication.
For instance: though he has a large fan following today, H.P. Lovecraft never was able to publish much more than some shorts in periodicals in his time, and even then it took other more successful authors who loved his work and had editorial connections to get him that. Like so many, the man who inspired our latest work of horror never received many accolades in his life time.
The eBook revolution that Amazon kicked off brought the power of choice to the reader, and freedom of self-publishing to the author. It has resulted in immense successes, like Fifty Shades of Grey, and it has led to countless mid-listers who can cater to their small but adoring group of readers.
Amazon did that against the grain of the industry, because the opportunity was handed to them. The big publishers — which had for so long dominated readers and writers alike — spurned eBooks, fearful of upsetting their own control over the industry. They passed on a medium which lets readers get what they want with ease and convenience, what would have let them produce books at a much lower cost. And the result was someone else stepped in to do it for them.
Even today, the big publishers do their best to hold back the industry. Have you seen the price of eBooks from most of them? They exceed the price of hard covers in most cases! The best they can offer up is limp excuses about “formatting costs”, a ridiculous excuse to hide the real reason: because they can.
Amazon even recently upturned their own apple cart, by launching Kindle Universe. And while I haven’t formed my own opinion on how I feel about that yet, I’ve gotta admire their willingness to dive head first into a new business model, rather than risk being obsoleted by the passage of time.
So what’s the takeaway from all this? Am I saying Amazon is great?
Sure, I won’t rob them of that acknowledgment. They’ve given me the opportunity to pursue a dream I never thought possible growing up in the pre-eBook era.
Though I still feel like a tick making my home upon a sleeping elephant. At any moment some twitch might throw me off, some subtle shift might crush everything I’ve built. Heaven forbid, the elephant might even wake up some day!
As great as Amazon has been for readers and authors alike, the most epic fumble of the big publishers has been depriving us of options. So blinded by greed — greed for money and greed for control — they never got their shit together enough to give us a genuinely alternative platform.
Amazon is where the sales are, and you’re a member of a very elite club if you manage to make a living anywhere else.
So forgive me if I’m not often grateful enough for what you’ve done for us, Amazon, but the anxiety of this tick upon your hind quarters causes me to worry. To fret. My future is uncertain because it all rests on you laying perfectly still.