A Writer's Defense of Amazon

As anyone who has been reading my HuffPost blogs knows I'm "of the left." So I understand the impulse to regard corporations as bad and giant companies as downright evil. Enter the Amazon takeover of the world and destruction of all that is right and holy in publishing. Only there is another side to all this that I -- as a mid-level author of more than a dozen books and several best-sellers -- would like to offer. I love Amazon and here's why.

Many years ago when Laura Bush read a paragraph from one of my Washington Post op-eds on Meet the Press, the book my op-ed referenced (a work about my Marine son) sold out in moments. Had there been enough books, let alone a Kindle e-book, or a Create Space print-on-demand book, it would have been on the bestseller list almost instantly. Instead, the publisher ran out of hardcovers, and it was six weeks before the book was back on shelves. Only because Oprah later interviewed me did the book finally make it to the list.

Want to talk about Engulf and Devour Corporations? What about the fact that over a 20-year-plus writing career, every time I turned around, the company I was with (beginning with Macmillan) was bought and folded into a bigger conglomerate? What writer-editor "relationship"? What "nurturing of talent"? My editors got fired, moved on or were otherwise shoved aside. In such a context publishers nurture new writers only in their dreams.

For the last few years all publishers wanted me to use my social media to sell books. Author tours? Those were now my speaking gigs through which publishers asked me to promote my work. Editing? My editors kept moving on within the ever reorganizing corporate world.

I self-published my new book WHY I AM AN ATHEIST WHO BELIEVES IN GOD: How to give love, create beauty and find peace. Given the bestselling status of some of my previous books, several of my former secular publishers and several religious publishers were interested in publishing it. However they wanted me to craft this book to fit their marketing strategies. "Does it go on the New Atheist or the Religion shelf?" they asked. "Can you rewrite it to fit one or the other market?"

My answer was no. Yet you can find the book I wrote on Amazon.

I don't view you as a market segment. I view you as my partner, an individual reader, a friend as complex and maybe even as conflicted, as I am. Why should either of us "fit" anywhere?

My liberators at Amazon have freed me to write for you directly and to say what I want to say to anyone I want to say it to. The Internet and its innovators are doing more to facilitate the reemergence of content-laden, craft-rich, hands-on art, individuality and perhaps even spirituality, than all the galleries, agents, critics, churches and publishers combined.

As e-books have moved into center stage, all my traditional publishers overpriced them, doing everything they could to hang on to print in a digital age. And like some old boys' club, agents and even reviewers played the game of lamenting the old days when "upstarts" like the big book chains came along, displacing the smaller bookstores, to be displaced themselves by Amazon.

Yet some millionaire authors are siding with the book publishing conglomerates against mid level authors like me. As Barry Eisler writes in the Guardian:

James Patterson pays for full-page ads in the New York Times and Publishers Weekly, demanding that the US government intervene and do something (it's never clear what) about Amazon. Richard Russo tries to frighten authors over Amazon's "scorched-earth capitalism". Scott Turow conjures images of the "nightmarish" future that Amazon, "the Darth Vader of the literary world", has in store for us all. And "Authors Guild" president Roxana Robinson says Amazon is like "Tony Soprano" and "thuggish".

Eisler notes that millionaire authors side with giant publishers because they make a lot of money there. What about the rest of us? I'm grateful someone is selling my books!

So what is Amazon like to deal with as an author? I self-published my most recent book through their company Create Space. If it was up to me, Create Space would run the country. Instant response. Fair pricing. Help when I need it.

And I'm not leaving out my friends in the small independent bookstores! In September my book will be distributed to traditional stores by MBN, a trade distributor, and unlike the publishers who offer stores a 40 to 50 percent discount, I'll offer a 60 percent discount. I'll also back up my commitment to the stores by tying in when I speak in a town. The stores may not like the fact Amazon has the book, but they will be glad enough to jump on a best-selling bandwagon. This is not a zero-sum game: more is more for everyone. Kindle buyers won't buy the print book anyway, but they will be talking it up...

With a "mainstream" publisher I get 10 percent. With Kindle I get 70 percent. With a publisher I see royalties once or twice a year--after they hold back a never-clearly accounted-for reserve against books that may be returned. Amazon pays every month, and I can go online and see exactly what my book is earning. When I need help, Amazon helps me faster than any editor or agent ever returned calls. If I want to promote my book and give it away, Amazon lets me (another way they support authors not only in word but in fact). Publishers even made me ask them to run excerpts so their permissions departments would have something to do.

Amazon treats authors like clients, not like children who are lucky to be allowed in the room. Amazon is transparent and instant in a digital world. Traditional publishers are opaque in their accounting at best, slow and (unless you are a celebrity author) clueless about doing more than having you sell your own book online in a world they both resent and try to ignore. And those big advances? I've had best-sellers, but I'm not a famous author, just a writer plugging away. The advances are less than I can earn selling through Amazon.

My advice to authors? Don't forget that the reason you have an agent is to protect you from publishers stealing all you earn instead of just most of it! Don't jump onto the facile bandwagon of anti-Amazon rhetoric. They are book sellers, in other words your friend. Hachette and company are huge corporations. I'm an individual author struggling to make ends meet. The big publishers treat writers badly. Amazon pays me more from the sale of a $2.99 Kindle download than my publishers used to pay me from a $26.00 hardcover sale. Amazon has literally allowed me to take control of my writing career.

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