In the Land of the Free

Something weird happened this weekend. And I’m not talking about my being attacked by an alien Elvis impersonator in a Gorilla suit. I’ll tell you kids that story some other time.

What happened was this: I was checking the sales numbers for my books in the Kindle store. (I know Bob Mayer says that doing this too often means you’re taking your eyes off the long road, but it’s all so shiny and new right now it’s hard to keep myself from checking at least once a day. And that’s okay because I’m pretty sure I’ll grow out of it, just like I grew out of compulsively checking my blog stats every fifteen minutes.) Anyway, the last time I checked I had sold exactly five of my new scifi/horror short story “Derelict.” But when I checked my numbers on Saturday night that number had shot up to twelve hundred.

I froke out.

I chicken danced right across the ceiling I was so excited. Unfortunately my feet got caught in the fan blades, and I thumped back down to reality. “Wait a moment,” I said to myself. “Did not a wise man once tell me that if something seems to good to be true it probably is? And further was not this wise man my father, who’s noble office I am preparing to celebrate on the morrow? Perhaps this warrants further investigation.”

And what do you know, good old dad was right. Because when I checked my Amazon page I saw that my ebook, which had been listed at the bargain-basement price of ninety-nine cents, had been marked down into the sub-basement of freebies.

At first I was angry. Because hey, this was my story and they were just giving it away? Without my permission?

And then I remembered another wise thing my dad once said: “Always read the fine print.” So I did. And lo and behold, I found out that Amazon has every right to take your story and mark it down to whatever price they feel like.

Gradually my anger faded and was replaced with a heaping dose of pragmatism. I learned two things that night, things that my fellow authors would do well to keep in mind especially if they plan to ever go the indie/guerilla/self/gorilla-publishing route.

1. Amazon is large and in charge.

Seriously people, the Kindle is it right now. I’m sure some of you out there love your Nooks, and for what it’s worth I don’t own either, but from my side of the equation I can tell you that I’m selling way more ebooks through Amazon than anywhere else.

Which means that Amazon can basically afford to do whatever they want to do and you’ve just got to sit there and take it. Sure you can go out and whine and moan about how big they are and how its not fair, but none of that really matters. You’re in the game, and these are the rules. Maybe they aren’t “fair” but that doesn’t give you the excuse to stop playing to win.

2. Free stuff is the best publicity ever.

I want to reiterate something I said at the beginning of the post. Before, my story was in the hands of a total of five people. At this point it’s in the hands of nearly two-thousand.

Now sure, some of those people only downloaded the story because it was free. Maybe they won’t ever even get around to reading it. But now I have two five-star reviews on that story, where before I had none. And the odds are good that if people like my writing, some of them will check out my other ebooks. And having my story move so many copies so fast has done wonders for it’s ranking.

So yeah, maybe I’m just being a Pollyanna here but I see some huge potential upsides to all of this in the long run. And it is a long run. So I’m gonna pace myself, and keep doing my best. Because, honest success doesn’t come overnight.

P.S. You really should go and check out Derelict if you haven’t done so already. You’ve got no excuses now, and I really think you’ll like it. If you do like it, maybe you would be inclined to write a review?

13 responses to “In the Land of the Free

  1. I know you had time to calm down before you posted this, but I’m in awe of your attitude. I also recognize the “what else can you do about it?” factor. Good stuff to know. Thanks for reminding me to think of the silver lining.

  2. Going to Retweet this, because I think its a valuable learning experience both in terms of realizing this CAN happen for those of us who haven’t yet self-published, and in looking at it with a silver lining.

  3. I’m light years away from publishing anything, but this is good information to have. I would have figured it out anyway (assuming I ever get anything on Amazon to sell) but you provided a massive shortcut in my learning curve. Thank you.

    PS– Love your attitude. I would have felt the same way… eventually, but that whole “we can price your work at any price point we choose” clause has got to sting, especially when cash is so hard to come by these days. You’re absolutely right… 2,000 readers is better than 5 any day, even without the paycheck. And, some of those 2,000 readers are going to be inclined to buy something next time.

  4. Congrats! on the great ranking! and on the big downloads number! I would freak out at Amazon taking away my profits, though! This is the first I’ve heard of that practice. I suppose ‘selling’ alot of free books is good in that it upped your ranking and more people know about you now. But the loss of income on the book would still sting me. Do they ever take a book they’ve reduced to ‘free’ and go back to charging for it? I hope so. I do think they should notify you when they do that, so it’s not a surprise. That only seems fair. I hope this leads to many sales of your other books.

    • I feel I need to give a bit of clarification. Amazon didn’t do this completely at random. A slightly less polished version of this particular story is available for download for free from and has been for some time. Amazon has a policy which says that they will match the lowest price out there. I could contact manybooks and have them remove the book from their site, but I’m rather warming up to the notion of getting the extra exposure on Amazon at least for the time being.
      But be warned, if you give your book away somewhere else, Amazon will occasionally drop their price accordingly.

  5. I knew that Amazon sometimes lowered the price of books, but I had no idea that, by publishing with them, you were actually giving them the right to do so whenever they wanted, because you’d lowered it somewhere else. Just one more reason to add to my increasingly long list of reasons why I’ll probably never publish with Amazon. One of my primary reasons for epublishing is to have control over my work. Publishing with Amazon negates that completely.

    In my mind, there are no benefits that outweigh that one fact.

  6. #1: That’s incredibly awesome!
    #2: HOW DID I MISS IT? Did you post about it? golly wolly you published another story and I missed it?! I must have it! I feel like such a failure as your biggest fan. I will remedy that right away.

  7. I wonder how many authors who go the route of self-publishing, indie publishing, etc with no agent or traditional publisher actually makes any money. It is a hard road to go.

    I agree you have a great attitude Albert.

  8. Kendra Johnson

    I was able to download Kindle PC (apparently for free) and I read your story. It was great! I wrote a glowing review, of course. My review should be available on the site within 48 hours.

    I was tickled to discover that the story was about outer space, as this is my favorite type of science fiction. Al, I thoroughly enjoyed it and I want more!

  9. Awesome! Besides, with our first books, we need the exposure more than the money. That way, our second books would be a better hit. 🙂

  10. I would love for Amazon to drop one or more of my short stories to free. I put four out as singles a) to test my formatting-fu, and b) to serve as promotion for the novels that are coming out next month. (Each story also contains teaser chapters for two novels). I’ve got them up for free through Smashwords, Nook, etcetera, so hopefully Amazon will get around to discounting them at some point. If I could force Amazon to give them away, I’d do it in an instant.

    BTW, Albert — I love your stuff and as soon as I’m done being chained to my desk to finish the final editing on my stuff, I’m definitely shooting some reviews your way.

  11. wow – thank you so much for sharing that experience. A question – was Derelict a short story? Or a full length novel? I ask because I would like to put up some of my short fiction for free on Amazon. As a way to get my stuff out there in prep for when i release my book. I am in total agreement with you – 2000 readers exposure is waaaay better than a handful. And defn those numbers can only add to the promotion of your other work and reputation as a writer. Congratulations and as a soon-to-be ebk author, thank you again for the useful info.

  12. Hi Albert. I had no idea you had published another story. Glad to know. If you post it on FB or tweet about it, I’ll be sure to repost and retweet you. All the best.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s