Just because it's unpleasant doesn't mean it's not true

(A note: I do seem to be getting better from that stupid sinus infection, but I'm still a little under the weather. Hopefully soon I'll be doing actual novel writing again instead of just blathering on here.)

Last night as I was lying in bed, blowing my nose, I started thinking again about the whole kerfuffle over Amazon's KDP Select exclusivity program. Some thoughts occurred to me, and I resolved to write a blog post about them in the morning. Then morning came, and Passive Guy also had some thoughts on the kerfuffle, so at least I'm not alone in thinking this topic could benefit from a little probing (which will hopefully not degenerate into the beating of a dead horse).

As I mentioned in my earlier post, one of the things that struck me about the comments were how upset people were that Kris Rusch challenged KDP Select (and challenged it mildly--she has books enrolled in KDP Select, so it's not like she's rabidly against it). And she notes, "The 'spirited discussion' . . . happens every time I write something even passingly negative about Kindle or Select."

Passive Guy touches on this in his post, where he notes that some of the comments on his site got "a bit heated," which he argues is "typical." The reason, he writes (emphasis added):

The certitude of small sample sizes leads authors to question or discount others who report much different sales experiences. If someone comments that 78.23% of their ebook sales happen on Nook, that person must be an outlier. Because, of course, I’m not an outlier. What happens to me must be what is happening to most authors.

And if I’m the outlier, I must be doing something wrong and I don’t like to think about that.

People don't like to think about the possibility that they might be doing something wrong. And they ESPECIALLY don't like to think about the possibility that they might be doing something risky.

So you wind up with lovely little logic tangles, like the comment on Rusch's post, "My short-term goal was to get to a place where I could reliably support myself and my family with my books."

Guess what? RELIABLY supporting yourself and your family is NOT a short-term goal, because you can't support your family really well for six months and then stop. That person made a gamble on KDP Select, it paid off, and now she's...wait for it...diversifying out of KDP Select (because she's not actually stupid).

Another wrote, "there is an objective way to measure the success of various approaches to self-publishing: revenue."

HOLY FUCK NO!!! God! That's like saying the "objective" way to measure the success of investing is by the percentage return on your stock. So if you have every last dime tied up in a stock with a P/E ratio of 2,000, you're in great shape because that stock has gone up 500% over the past three weeks! No problems there!

Remember--your time frame matters. A lot. Are you making lots of revenue now, but it's going to evaporate the next time Amazon changes its algorithms? (Sorry, kids, hope you ate your fill over the past six months!) Are you setting yourself up to have a broader, more stable audience, or are you setting yourself up to make a big SPLAT and wind up the centerpiece of a Wall Street Journal pity piece?

The question you need to ask yourself is, What happens if the plug is pulled on KDP Select? What if Amazon isn't available to me? What do I do then?

This isn't some cold-medication-inspired gloom-and-dooming. It's reality. Amazon will block books on the suspicion that there might be something funny with them--what do you do if that happens to you? Rusell Blake wrote about how, by simply altering its algorithm, Amazon dramatically reduced his sales: "Whereas I would see 150-200 books a day sold following a free promo in March or April, my May promos bumped sales to maybe 20-30 per day."

That's several hundred sales--gone! Poof! Hopefully Blake has other marketing strategies in the works and can make up those sales. Hopefully he wasn't expecting that revenue to "reliably support myself and my family."

Like I've said before, this is simply how life is when you own your own business. Depending entirely on a single source of income is always a huge risk. You may decide to take the gamble, but know that you are taking a gamble--if it pays off, your gamble paid off. That's all. Don't look back on it after the fact and say, "What I did was perfectly safe! Anyone who says it was a risky move shall taste my wrath!"

What I think people really don't want to think about when it comes to self-publishing is that it is largely dominated by a single player: Amazon. Like many if not most writers, I get almost all of my book sales through Amazon, despite not having made any kind of push there. (Of course, almost all of my income comes from the Illuminati, a proud example of a well-diversified secret society!) If Amazon stops selling self-published books, a lot of writers are going to be totally screwed. This whole little industry will experience some massive dislocation.

It's a very scary fact--it's the elephant in the room as far as risk is concerned. People really, really want to pretend it isn't there. When someone like Rusch points at it, even in passing, people freak out.

But it's there. It is there, and it is real. Ignoring this risk won't make it go away. Writing nasty notes to or about Kris Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith won't make it go away. Pretending that it's not really a risk because Amazon is so cute and user-friendly won't make it go away. The risk will still be there.

What can you do about it? You can take some of those lovely KDP Select revenues and start (say it with me) diversifying the hell out of Amazon. At the very least, diversify your marketing so that the next algorithm change doesn't gut your sales and bankrupt you. Diversify into non-e-book sales channels. Make serious, long-term efforts to build audience in other retail outlets. Don't act like Amazon is the be-all and end-all in publishing, and for you, it won't be.