Monday, November 19, 2012

Eyes Wide Open

Oh, man. Have you guys heard about this Tim Ferriss thing?

His latest book comes out tomorrow, and he's basically promoting it as a "banned" book because Barnes and Noble, along with most indie bookstores, are refusing to stock it.

Their refusal to carry the book is not based on its content, of course. It's really only based on one thing:
Amazon's the publisher.

Oh, hey! Amazon's my publisher, too.

I haven't talked about this much, but now I find myself wanting to, at least a little. So here it is:

When my agent and I were considering the offer from Amazon Children's Publishing for SANCTUM, we talked about the pros and possible cons of it. I'm a compulsive information seeker, and so I did a lot of research. I don't go into anything with my eyes shut. Instead, I take a look at data, evaluate my options, and make my decisions. This situation was no different.

At the time (July 2011), B&N hadn't yet announced their official policy of not stocking Amazon pubbed books. In fact, I don't think they even had an unofficial policy at that point, at least, not one they'd stated publicly. HOWEVER, there was abundant evidence suggesting they might go in that direction. Borders hadn't stocked B&N published books, after all. Lots of indies were blogging and getting quoted in news articles about how they had no intention of stocking Amazon pubbed books. Twitter was full of ... chatter. As it always is.

Still, it seemed like an intriguing opportunity. I took a good, hard look at what Amazon was offering me for the series. I thought about my options. I talked it over with my agent. And I made the call.

My book isn't in B&N (though you can order it from them online). It's a Kindle exclusive. I don't know if any indies are stocking it, and I respect their choice not to if they don't (I'm grateful if they have).

And yet: I don't regret the choice I made. I've had great support from my publisher. Also, I've seen Sanctum's sales numbers from its first month after publication, and they please me.

Would I like my books to be in bricks-and-mortar bookstores? Of course I would. But: I made my choice. So did Tim Ferriss. And bookstores will make theirs. That's what it is: a choice. A business decision that comes with its own pros and cons. I think it's clear Mr. Ferriss knows all of this, though. He's a smart guy, an expert self-promoter with a huge platform, who has developed a savvy and potentially innovative marketing plan for his book. I doubt there's as much outrage here as there is cool-headed strategy. I really wish he hadn't appropriated the term "banning", which brings with it some pretty significant meaning. But again, I suspect the decision to use it was made because the term is fairly emotion-laden.

Getting published is all about these decisions. Authors decide if they'll accept offers from publishers, or they decide to self-publish, or they decide to shelve projects and move on to the next. They decide how they market their works. In the constantly shifting terrain of the publishing world, each and every one of those choices comes with its own opportunities and consequences. It's tricky!

And ... that's life, right? We all live with our choices, and very few of them are easy black and white, particularly because we are so intricately connected to one another. Given that complexity, I have loads of respect for people in any part of this industry who remain focused on the legitimate strengths and advantages of their choices rather than focusing on the disadvantages and blaming them on the choices of others. But I guess that's a choice, too.

I'll be spending time with my family this week, so I'll be back next Monday. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!


  1. Sarah, I'm so glad you talked about this, because I was wondering how you felt about it and whether you knew this was a possibility when you signed with Amazon. I am not surprised that you researched it thoroughly and went into the deal with your eyes wide open. (And I'm impressed that Amazon shared sales figures with you so quickly!)

    You are right -- this IS all about choices. Just last night I came to a realization in my revisions that I was going to have to completely cut an element of my story that I really love. Because I made the choice to accept an offer to publish this book as MG rather than YA - and having made this choice, I need to accept the consequences. Major darlings are going to die.

    When an author makes a choice about how to publish his/her book -- by whom, for whom, in what format -- and how to market it, there's not much honor in blaming how others choose to respond.

  2. Thanks for sharing. This kind of info is important to know now and remember when the time comes for me to sign.

  3. Man, I hate limitations. I have a hard time with this. Honestly, I prefer my Nook over my Kindle, which is the older version. Of course, this doesn't affect me with your book; I own a hard copy. But with other authors it does affect me - thus, in turn, affecting them.

    I know I'll be at this point soon, so I'll have to start examining all the information as you did. Thanks for sharing this.

    Have an amazing week and Thanksgiving! (ooh, go check out what I'm giving away today...)

  4. You continue to impress me with your candor and insight. Thanks for sharing :) Happy Thanksgiving!

  5. Happy Thanksgiving, you! Great post and I feel the same. I have to add that the people I work with at Amazon have been such a blessing that it far outweighs the brick and mortar stuff. Sure, I'd love to be in more stores and think it would help sales, but I'd pick Amazon again if I had to do it over. No regrets.


  6. Well, since most books don't actually make it into brick and mortar stores, having Chapters (in Canada) and B&N sell it online is still good. It's better than having them not support it at all.

    I know a number of writers who made their decisions with their eyes closed and now regret it. Never a smart thing to do.

    Great post, Sarah. Have a great Thanksgiving!

  7. Good for you, writing this post! It needs to be said.
    You're wicked smaht.

  8. My book, The Marble Queen, comes out in a month with Amazon Children's Publishing, (it was originally a Marshall Cavendish sale and yes I freaked when they sold my title to Amazon). I'm excited and pleased with the attention Amazon has shown the book, so far.

    They have bought ad space in trade mags. They have sent copies to book award committees upon my request. It's been reviewed favorably by big three review outlets. Kirkus liked it! And, I'm participating in a Worldreader program with Amazon for the month of December.

    Either I have stuck my head in the sand regarding the controversy, OR people (as in non-publishing types) don't really give a damn where they buy books.

    In the grand scheme of things, does it really matter? Bookstores aside, where do people buy their books? Target? Walmart? Costco? Book Fairs? Amazon?

    And of course, they borrow them from the library!!!!

    I've ordered most book purchases from over the years, so it's been okay to tell friends and family that the book is only available online.

    Of course, there are going to be those people who refuse to buy from or Walmart for whatever reason. That is a choice, too. I plan on having a shitload of copies on hand in case someone wants to buy one on the spot.

    Haters gonna hate.

  9. When I was on sub, we subbed to Amazon and I did the same kind of research before we subbed. And in the end I decided, if Amazon were to offer, I would take it. What I really wanted out of the publication experience was an excellent editor and a dedicated team working on my book. Amazon would have given me that. So, I think you made a good decision. :D Thanks for addressing this, Sarah! And have a great week!! <3

  10. Somebody's a good marketeer. Even I had heard of the Tim Ferriss banned book thang.

    Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

  11. Very informative post. I love hearing about the publishing side of writing from writer's who've had to make these difficult decisions.

  12. You know how I feel. So far Amazon has come down on the side of writers. They've given us the power to own our work, to control our work, and the freedom to do what and when. AND they've made it possible to earn a living being a FT writer, so at this juncture, you'll have a hard time getting me to badmouth them.

    As I've said before, I think you made the right decision. Happy Thanksgiving!!! :o) <3

  13. Thanks for this interesting and informative post! It's funny because I didn't realize for a while that your publisher was Amazon, and then I noticed it inside the ARC and was surprised and intrigued. I knew Amazon was publishing but I'd encountered so few of them before.

    Anyway, have a happy Thanksgiving! (Oh and I totally pushed my cousin into reading Sanctum. She was over this weekend and was like, "Hey, is this good? I've seen it before and it looked interesting." And I was like DO YOU WANT TO BORROW IT??! :D )

  14. Victoria Strauss was interviewed today at Literary Rambles, and her latest is with Amazon.

    And of course, what makes an actual banned book worth reading is what it says, not competition between publishers.

  15. The word "banned" may be inflammatory, and maybe deliberately so (which, if so, I think is poor behavior on Ferriss's part). But what this policy amounts to is essentially a wholesale-level boycott, enacted by distributors against authors who do business with a retail competitor that is also now a publisher.

    I am sympathetic to brick-and-mortar stores that are being hammered by online sellers, and especially in the face of Amazon's heavy-handed tactics. But seeing booksellers boycott authors to punish those authors for working through a competitor is dismaying, and antithetical to the literary ethos we like to pretend exists in the publishing world.

    Would you be sympathetic to large book chains that boycotted authors who had done readings or book signings at competing stores or indies? It's a parallel practice: authors promoting their works in ways that support competing businesses. Should B&N dump all the stock of authors who have any business with non-B&N stores? That seems beyond the bounds of reasonable competitive behavior, but I don't see that it's that different from boycotting authors published by Amazon.

    Either every marketplace, including for books, will degenerate to a WalMart-style cutthroat gouge-fest of manipulation and grinding penny-pinching, or people will do business in a way that promotes values worth caring about, including literature and the nurturing of artists and authors. The latter will not be as profitable, and in the end may not be sustainable in the face of the WalMarts of the book world, without some reconfiguring of what we think marketplaces are for in the first place, but those facts by themselves are not an argument for corrosive hostility to one's own raison d'etre.

    A bookstore that refuses to sell books? How is that possibly a healthy business?

  16. Wow everyone really is looking at this from the wrong perspective, ten million authors a year try to put their books in book shops who refuse it for a hundred different reasons, big F'n deal jerk offs, so a smart company decides it doesn't want to give money to it's competition gee what a F'n surprise.

    Wake up people Amazon and B&N are just books stores who have their own Tablets, Google books will crush them within 5 years, why? you have to buy a nook or kindle or in short a books store own piece of merchandise to read them. there are tens of millions of Iphone, ipad and hundreds of millions of notebooks and laptops that Google books goes straight onto, it works better than both book platforms, and when you do a Google search who do you think will get top billing?? Add to that both B&N and Amazon have requirements for US tax file number restrictions, are not linked to major Australian and many other country banks where Google does for sellers. They aren't even in the running with user friendly access. EG: even buying. I bought a Google book, and from the first buy click top opening the book to 20 seconds, genuinely. card number post code, chose web or app and it is there to read, scroll down, flip through like a book, use the slider bar to jump large sections, book mark, use view in web view to alter text size, and it always opens at where you finished reading even without bookmarking, has protection automated, not by request or extra costs. has all the same preview of 20 percent before you buy, and they don't sell like the amazon $2 shop which is better for authors who paid for illustrators and editors who have paperback as well as online.

    Last but certainly not least, if i choose web as the buy download, I don't need to send the book anywhere, i can go on your ipad or laptop or phone and read it as long as i log into Google it is there, something B&N and amazon cannot do, you see your book is on everyone's computer for the owner of the book. so you can even have left you ipad at home and read it on someone else s, opening at where you left off. You couldn't give me a kindle now for free, why? so if i leave home without it i can't read my books? No thanks, Google crushed them in design and access. Timmy boy, you don't even need either of those platforms.

  17. Interesting. All of it. The world of publishing seems to be changing at lightning speeds, and I have to wonder if all of the rhetoric surrounding these current issues won't be rendered irrelevant in short order by new publishing processes we have yet to visualize. As interesting as these developments are now it begs the question: What else is coming?

  18. Use of the word "banned" is definitely going to get lots of commentary! I wonder if people will get frustrated in why he calls it banned. It seems really sad that brick and mortar stores will punish authors because they have a beef with Amazon. Sigh. But at least for the majority of readers, your book (and other Amazon author books) are readily accessible.

    Have a WONDERFUL Thanksgiving, Sarah!

  19. I wondered why I couldn't find your book. I purchase from Barnes and Noble or, but I don't purchase anything from Amazon. I'll keep an eye out for used copies, but I won't be purchasing from Amazon. :C (I'm assuming you have hardcopy based on this article).

    1. You can purchase from Barnes&, but if you ask any B&N or in independent bookstore, and they would probably order it for you :)

  20. SO much to consider! I think you made an excellent decision. :)

  21. I'm sure you've heard this story: The other day I was in Barnes & Noble searching for something. I had to go online to find it.

    Online sources are the fastest way to find variety. Plus, if you look for them, you'll find lots of small bookstores post their listings on Amazon.

    Hope you had a nice holiday. :)

  22. I had no idea about the banning of Amazon books by the mortar-and-brick bookstores. It seems foolish considering regular bookstores are losing their chance to make money from Amazon books just to try to hurt Amazon. I doubt Amazon (and its authors) will suffer any real damage.
    Thanks very much for the educational post. I'm a new follower. :-)