There is no magic bullet

Something that’s been really bothering me for a couple years now is this pervasive idea in indie publishing that there’s a formula to success, and anyone can be making five+ figures from their writing if they follow the formula. You’ll see it a lot on social media, especially on Facebook in writers’ groups. Authors will post that their book isn’t selling, and the peanut gallery will come racing in with the old tried and true: Change your cover, change your blurb. Re-edit the book. Are you doing Amazon ads? Are you doing Amazon ads correctly? If you’ve done all of the above and your book still isn’t selling, you must have done one of the above incorrectly. Redo it. Change your cover again, change your blurb again. Re-edit the book again. Redo your Amazon ads again. Repeat.

What these people really don’t want to have to admit is that there is always a factor you can’t control, and that’s luck. While it’s true that a good cover, a good blurb, and a well-written and well-edited book will help, we all know that there are books selling gangbusters on Amazon that have horrible covers and are written like junk. And then there are lots and lots of great books with great covers and blurbs that just aren’t selling. There are authors that advertise on AMS or Facebook, and they’re advertising “correctly,” and their books are still not selling. They’re doing everything they should, [1]Note that I’m not talking about myself here. I am well aware that I’m not doing things “right”, I just am too sick to give a crap. 😂 But I feel I should point out that … Continue reading and the book just isn’t selling. There’s nothing you can really do about that. Sometimes that’s just how it goes.

Unfortunately, there are people within the indie author “community” who prey on authors who are in this boat. They want you to believe that there is a special formula that you can use to guarantee success in publishing. They happen to know exactly what that formula is, and they can teach it to you for the low, low, price of $500! And, really, that price is a steal, because this content is worth $2000, but they’re giving it to you for this great bargain price because it’s not about the money to them. It’s about helping other writers.

Guys, these people are con artists. I unfortunately have had some very close experience with a couple of them, and I’ve seen some of their numbers. They’re full of it. Their real moneymaker isn’t their books, it’s you. It’s the naïve authors who are paying them hundreds of dollars, and the hundreds of other authors who are paying them hundreds of dollars, to give you advice that you could get for free and that may or may not work for you, depending on whether you get lucky or not.

This has been bothering me for a while, but the last straw—and what drove me to writing this post—is Kindle Vella, Amazon’s new serial platform which had a disastrous rollout in July. Amazon did a terrible job of promoting it to readers, meaning most people don’t know what it is or why they should spend money on it. Amazon has relied entirely on authors nagging their audiences to sell this product to them. They only rolled it out in the US, meaning that authors in other areas and readers in other marketplaces are shut out. The app is (or at least was on launch) only available on iOS, not on Android or on Kindle, Amazon’s own platform! They expect readers to come back and re-vote for a story every single week, which most people aren’t going to know or remember to do, but those votes are essential to authors getting ranked and getting paid. Even the top-ranked stories for the first month earned less than $50. Amazon sweetened the deal for authors by paying a bonus out of a $200,000 pot paid among all the authors, and that was basically the only thing that made all the nonsense they’d gone through worth it. I saw authors looking at their statistics and sinking into a pit of despair that they were doing so “poorly”, despite the fact that everyone was doing poorly because the way Amazon rolled this platform out was an unmitigated disaster.

And six weeks in to this very rocky experiment? Here come the snake oil salesmen peddling online classes about how to master Kindle Vella. When the truth is, it’s impossible for anyone to know. It simply hasn’t been around long enough to have any kind of reliable data. We can guess, based on what kinds of stories do well on other serial platforms like Radish and Kiss, but we don’t know that the same audience is going to be using Vella, so we don’t know that what works on Radish or Kiss is going to work on Vella. We don’t know that this service is going to take off at all. We don’t know that the serial bubble that burst in 2015 isn’t going to burst again in 2021. We don’t know that Amazon isn’t going to get bored of it like they did with Kindle Worlds and just shut the whole thing down. Even if it does turn out to be successful, we don’t know how many readers are going to use it, what type of story they’re going to like, what kind of money is going to be spent on it, or what kind of numbers are going to constitute “midlist” or “successful.” The entire thing is a gamble and is going to remain a complete guessing game until the service has been out long enough that the bugs have been eliminated and several months of solid, reliable data can be compiled. But I legitimately saw an advertisement yesterday for a $400 course (and that’s just the introductory price) with the tagline, “SOMEbody is going to be the first Vella millionaire. Why not let that be you?

Cue me throwing up in my mouth.

Guys, please don’t fall for pitches like these. I’m not calling them outright scams—I’m sure that some of their advice is going to be valid and useful, and maybe some people will find success using the methods they outline in their courses[2]idk about the Vella one since it’s too early to say, but these companies all offer lots of different courses—but they’re not worth $400. The vast majority of authors are never going to see a return on that investment. It doesn’t matter to these people. They’ll talk nice to you and pretend to be your friend, but they’re not. They’re salesmen. They got your money. That’s the only thing they care about.

When you’re first starting out as an indie author, there are aspects of the business that are really hard to understand. For example, despite having tried multiple different times with various different methods, be it books or videos or advice from friends, I have never been able to figure out AMS or Facebook advertising. So I absolutely understand how a class dedicated to teaching you those things could be appealing. I personally would recommend that you try some free resources to start with, or maybe buy a book for $10 or less. Obviously I’m not the boss of you, but I do urge you to consider not giving money to people like this, as it both enables them and encourages more of them to pop up. But no matter what you do, please remember that there is no magic bullet. Just do your best and don’t let your self-worth be tied to anyone else’s definition of “success.”

NOTES

NOTES
1 Note that I’m not talking about myself here. I am well aware that I’m not doing things “right”, I just am too sick to give a crap. 😂 But I feel I should point out that I’m not talking about myself so that the rest of this post doesn’t come off as sour grapes. I am talking about the authors I’ve seen with amazing books, gorgeous covers, and engaging blurbs, who are marketing, advertising, doing newsletters and social media, who have nitpicked those covers, blurbs, and books to hell and back and are beating themselves up thinking that there’s something wrong with their books when there isn’t.
2 idk about the Vella one since it’s too early to say, but these companies all offer lots of different courses

3 Comments

  • Lyssa

    September 15, 2021 at 12:19 PM

    Update as of September 15: An author friend who’s doing Vella just told me that she got a bigger bonus from Amazon this month than last month—she’s not sure if Amazon increased the pot or if people are getting larger chunks than last time because of authors dropping out. She doesn’t think her story’s performance has anything to do with the bigger bonus because she hasn’t been doing a lot of work in terms of promoting it/frequently updating it and it doesn’t have a lot of readers or followers. (She only made $4 in royalties this month without the bonus.) She also said that one of the top performers she knows of (who made $29 in royalties this month) got a $10,000 bonus. That’s great! BUT. Caution. Amazon has done things like these bonuses before in order to get people on board with a product or service. And they will eventually take this bonus away. They ALWAYS do. There are going to be people who milk the bonus system to make big bucks. And I suspect that the snake oil salesmen mentioned in this post are going to build the bonus into the strategies they’re teaching their “future Vella millionaires.” And then, as always happens, when Amazon pulls the plug on the bonus, people are going to lose income that they rely on. So, again, be very, very careful. If you are able to make good money off Vella via the bonus, that’s fantastic, but make sure to always keep in mind that this bonus is temporary and don’t rely on it as your primary income. Don’t be blindsided when Amazon inevitably screws its authors over again. And, you know, still don’t give the snake oil salesmen money.

  • D

    November 11, 2021 at 6:38 AM

    Amazon Vella is asinine. Serial fiction didn’t work when Stephen King and Piers Anthony tried it. Books are not written one chapter at a time, and I’ll wager a shiny quarter right now that more than 75% of these “books” by “authors” will be abandoned after three or fewer chapters.

    Readers won’t buy because the books are overpriced. Why pay 50 cents for a chapter of a book that probably won’t even be finished (and isn’t likely to be any good due to the poor writing process and lack of editing even if it is) when you can get the first book in thousands of series for a three bucks or less?

    The idea is stupid. Blogs are not books and bloggers don’t know the first thing about writing books. We live in an era where people watch entire seasons of a TV series at one time— and Amazon thinks they’ll wait a week or even a day to get the next chapter in some random ass book by some random ass author? Again, two of the biggest names in their genres couldn’t make serialized fiction work, and it’s not going to work now.

    1. Lyssa

      November 11, 2021 at 6:42 PM

      That’s a good point—they keep trying to brand serialized fiction as being like TV, but this isn’t 10 years ago when people were used to waiting a week for a new episode of a TV show. Of all the timing, right now is when people expect instant gratification, so it’s weird that right now is when Amazon is trying to make serials a thing again.

      I didn’t mention it in this blog post, but I was really surprised when Vella was announced because even though places like Kiss and Radish are expanding, another major serial publisher—SerialBox—just rebranded a couple months before Vella launched to focus only on audio because the serial fiction in ebook format wasn’t profitable. So it’s definitely confusing timing that makes me concerned about Vella’s long-term viability.

      I just remember when I first started publishing, everyone was chopping their novels up into serials. Then that bubble burst and everyone was putting their chopped-up novels back together. That was only in 2015/16 or so, so it’s curious to me that this trend has resurfaced so soon. (And I suspect that more authors are going to go through the same grief that they did 5 years ago.)

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Prev Post