Moving in Stereo: Stepping outside of the Amazon Ecosystem

Morning all, and a great Friday and (potentially) weekend to you. This has been a long week, and I’m glad to see its ass-end heading out the door. Let’s just hope all of March isn’t so wild and inconsistent because I may just be forced to drastic measures. Evil measures.


Today I want to talk about the Amazon ecosystem and why I’ve recently increased my distance from it. Let me first admit to some trepidation at sounding a little out-of-touch with this post, as I’m quite aware that some people out there have come to the same conclusion. That conclusion being that the Amazon ‘game’ that so many of us play either doesn’t work or keeps us from seeing the bigger picture of book promotion. I have no idea how much of a trend this movement may be, but I still see an awful lot of posts about getting reviews on Amazon/Amazon sales rankings/Amazon removing likes/Amazon killing puppies, and I just wanted to say a few things about it.


Getting this out of the way first: I have nothing against Amazon. In fact, I use it pretty much every day for ordering Kindle books or music or vitamin supplements or what-have-you. I run a thriving Amazon Marketplace business (Brown Pig Brown what) and use Fulfillment by Amazon. This is not meant to be an anti-Amazon post in any way. They’re a pretty spiffy business, and I respect them quite a bit, but let’s face it: Amazon is not – and cannot – be the center of the universe. I suspect not even the company truly wants to be at the center of everything, for all its attempts to carry a broad selection.

Yet for many reasons, some of them valid and some not-so-valid, the indie community has hoisted Amazon as the standard bearer for our movement, the place where you have to succeed if you want to be anything at all. Amazon rankings are held up as the gospel truth and people (even myself) hand over exclusive rights to their works in exchange for a small handful of cash each month, if that. Pretty much all of us have done it, and the Amazon ranking system is set up to encourage it, even if it seems that essentially zero readers actually pay attention to that system. Most that I’ve questioned don’t even know it exists, though it would be fascinating to see a study done on the topic.


Thinking about this led to something of an epiphany toward the end of last year: a lot of people out there don’t use Amazon, or don’t want to use Amazon. Hell, plenty of people refuse to read eBooks. I know, I know. This should be self-evident, and I knew it on an intellectual level, but the consequences of that state of affairs didn’t truly settle on my bones until just then. Even with that revelation, it took quite a bit more time to understand that my target audience might truly be comprised of a lot of those folks.

With that in mind, I reworked my approach to marketing. I eased off of the online marketing gas and put more into personal appearances and sales to test this theory. I came away with some surprising data from my first appearance in December. Did I sell hundreds of copies? No, but then it was a small local craft show and I only attended for two to three hours. I did, however, totally blow away my online sales for January in the matter of a few hours.

Encouraged, I booked time at a convention, which has also been covered on this blog. The first few days were bleak, no lie about that, but I matched my total from the December show and outpaced online February sales by a decent margin. As surprising as this might have been, it fell right in line with my experiences to date: I’ve always sold more copies in person, face-to-face, than online, and with a much higher profit margin. Unfortunately, those “didn’t count”, as they didn’t show up in the Amazon rankings.

It sounds stupid. Hell, it is stupid. Money is money, and readers are readers. Who cares if a number on Amazon goes up?

Well, I did. I still bought into the Amazon ecosystem myth, right up until a few days ago, when it became crystal clear that my audience might not be on Amazon after all. So many people who buy my books in person seem less tech-savvy and show a much greater appreciation for the works once they’ve finished them. I don’t understand the connection as I guessed that my books appealed to a more tech-savvy populace, but whatever. I’ll go with what works, and I’m especially ready to cast off the chains of what has become a traditional online marketing approach.

Could this real-world success translate to online success? Haven’t a clue, but I’m not going to worry about it. The only real metric to success is finding an audience and then focusing on it, and those folks seem to be sliding into view, one by one. I hope that more authors realize this and get out there to pound the pavement. I know it’s easier to do this stuff from behind the keyboard, but I fear that the personal appearance and real-life book tour may fall by the wayside, replaced by canned guest posts and purchased reviews. That’s a damned shame because it’s a vital part of our cultural heritage as authors, Amazon ranking or not.

This post may not be for every one of you. I know lots of people who are walking the same path that I’m walking, and I raise my glass to you. I just think that it’s time to broaden horizons and maybe incorporate older approaches with the newer approaches. Have you been pursuing this path? I’d love to hear from you and share what works and what’s proven to be a blind alley. Every writer’s path is assuredly different, and it’s always fascinating to see what folks have dug up. Let me know in the comments.

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  1. It does seem like the game has indeed changed. And even though there are those such as J.A Konrath who still bang the drums for Amazon, I think some indie writers are catching onto the fact that Amazon isn’t the end all of book selling. And as Amazon puts more and more unnecessary regulations on book selling (Amazon randomly removing positive and honest reviews, rules against sites promoting free books, etc.), I think more independent writers are going to look for different avenues.

    As far as the ranking system? Completely useless or the best thing that can happen to you, depending on how high up you are on the food chain. If you’re in the thousands, you can forget about it. But I know a few author buddies who have hit the top hundred in a category and their sales shot up astronomically (and that includes being in the top fifty in the free category). Of course, relying on the Amazon ranking system proves to be a catch-22. In order to be in the top 100, you gotta make some serious sales. And in order for you to start making serious sales, you gotta hit the top 100. Unfortunately, once you slide off that top 100, Amazon’s algorithm and site doesn’t seem to help readers find you too easily.

    The prospect of selling at a convention sounds like an exciting idea (as well as one day being able to do a big tour). You might like Ariel Gore’s “How to be a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead”. It’s a bit outdated (written in 2007) but there’s a lot of good advice on public speaking, book appearances, and even how to do a cross country book tour on a no-budget. is also a good place to find some tips and tricks. Although Jim Munroe has expanded to film, comics, and games, he originally made his living selling books independently (and this was BEFORE ebooks were available).

    You do bring up a good point and I’m tempted to one day go out and sell some dead wood. Especially if Amazon keeps on getting more crowded and convoluted.

  2. You write that “[t]he only real metric to success is finding an audience and then focusing on it…” and I agree. As writers, we believe (and wish and despair) that sending our words out into the world will be enough to lead our audience to us. No other artists expect that to happen; singers start at hole-in-the-wall venues, painters start at tiny galleries or a Parisian street corner, and even poets are in on the ‘pound the pavement’ action with poetry slams. Fiction writers seem the only category of artist that honestly believes we can exist anonymously behind our works, rather than having to be a partner to those works to get them to the audience they deserve.


    PS That goat at the top is tripping me out! 🙂

  3. I have a love/hate with Amazon. I have sold many books there and would not have been able to get near that at this point in my career without their promotions and marketing boosts. BUT–I am always marketing elsewhere as well. You are spot on talking about YOUR niche–find it and sell the hell out of it. We have to know what we are and who to sell to. RIght now I would have a minor heart attack if someone told me I could no longer sell on Amazon as an indie. So until I can do otherwise they are on my cool guys list.
    Great post–thanks!

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