A sobering look at what an author is facing these days.

When Amazon was new, I thought it was a wonderful way to get people reading. I still think it’s even better than those lurid paperbacks and comic books in the mid-twentieth century which caused a lot of sniffing and sneering amongst the literary crowd but enabled folks to read things they couldn’t afford before.  Now Amazon and Kindle make inexpensive (read cheap) books even more available.  After all, we are a fast-food nation; fast-food-books was inevitable. 

But even in the heyday of paperbacks and comics, books with more depth were still easily available too. Now Amazon is training authors to use the best system for them to make money, not for readers to experience good books.  Authors are being pushed into a system of faster and faster candy mints and throw-away thoughts.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got nothing against candy mints. They have their place. But as a steady diet they really stink, and that’s where Amazon keeps trying to lead us. There are a lot of good books on Amazon.  And I’ve read a lot of the millions of “bad” books.  Many are no worse than the paperbacks and comic books of the old days, and most are not a bad way to spend an afternoon.  But too often I feel like I’ve wasted the time and money no matter how small the amount.  How do readers find the meat & potatoes if the Amazon table is drowning in candy mints?

When I’m not reading, all I want to do is write, but I don’t want to turn my books over to the agent-reader-editor-publisher-galleys-in a couple of years-‘sorry, you didn’t recoup the advance’ thing either. And then have a big-name publisher drop them into the ‘out of publication’ (i.e. author-untouchable) bin if they don’t make enough money in the first six weeks.

With Amazon, books never go out of publication.  On the other hand, the Amazon system is geared toward authors who can pump books out as fast as they can. And then do all the marketing on their own or pay for it to be done.  And it takes constant research to keep up with what’s the latest best thing — Ads?  Newsletters?  Blog posts?  Blog hopping?  Swapped reviews?  Guest posting?  Goodreads?  Facebook author page? (“Add your business address so customers can reach you!”  What, my bedroom? Not on Facebook!) More and more I’m seeing authors begging their readers to leave a review — “just a few words!” — because this is what the Amazon algorhythm monkey understands.

My last book to be published went up on Amazon a few years ago.  You can still buy the first one.  But I’m not a fast writer, and I’m never going to finish the next book if I’m spending my days trying to game Amazon and their constantly changing “bestseller” algorhythms.

The other day I listened to a young working mother refuse a free bag of fresh veggies from someone’s garden, saying “Thanks, but I like to buy stuff that’s already washed and chopped up.”  One Facebook group that I follow because it discusses new mysteries and suspense novels seems to have devolved into posts listing all the books they read this month, or this week, or today, like it’s a competition.

I’m a full-on capitalist and welcome competition, but I don’t know how to compete in this new world.

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