2013 BEA Amazon Roundtable

2013 BEA Amazon Roundtable

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I was invited to participate in an Amazon Roundtable. There were three authors present: CJ Lyons, Stephanie Bond, and Hugh Howey.  The first two are Kindle Millionaires, or authors who have sold over 1 million kindle copies.  Howey is apparently 300,000 sales away from that mark.

Also present was Nader Kabbani and Libby Johnson McKee from KDP and Createspace.

The others included Jane Friedman (formerly of Writer’s Digest), David Vandagriff of the Passive Voice, Len Edgerly of the Kindle Chronicles, Porter Anderson (Writing on the Ether), Amy Edelman (Indie Reader), Jason Boog (GalleyCat) and Mercy Pilkington (Good E-Reader).

CJ Lyons shared that she was frustrated at the pace of traditional publishing. She is a prolific writer and self publishing suits her writing pace. Lyons also traditionally publishes but she did not speak of this much during the meeting.  She self-published four titles in 2010 and by January 2011 was making a living writing.

She became a NYTimes bestseller when she put her title Blind Faith on sale for 99c.  Most of her books are priced $4.99.  She sent out a newsletter asking her readers to do her a favor and put her into the top 25 on the Kindle Bestseller list. They responded and she ended up #2 on the NYTimes list and #12 on the USA Today list.  She said that her market share is around 250,000 to 300,000 readers and she is trying to grow her readership.

Stephanie Bond has published over 50 books. She was able to reclaim some of her backlist titles and put a dozen of them up for sale on Kindle in 2011.  Within six months she was making a living off her KDP sales alone.  She did not like traditional publishing’s protracted book scheduled or the project by committee.  She is thrilled to get her books out quickly.  She has a new series called 2 Guys Detective Agency that is exclusive to Amazon and has been optioned by the producer behind Bones.

Hugh Howey calls himself an accidental bestseller. Howey was charming and self effacing and respectful of both Lyons and Bonds, and pretty much nothing like how he presented himself in the infamous blog post. It was quite the dissonance so I emailed Howey after the event which was kind of a strange thing because I hardly ever email anyone that I don’t know unless it was about business.  And this wasn’t at all business related and I felt like I was attacking him in some way.  But I also wanted to have the opportunity to share with him how the blog post came across to me and I have to confess that his explanation made sense to me.  To wit, it never occurred to him that it would be taken in a sexually connotative way and now when he looks back on it, there is no other way for him to read it.  I got the impression that he not only truly regrets ever saying it but that he has a new appreciation for gendered language.

I came away from the conversation both grateful that he took the time to explain his position and that he did so without rancor in response to my somewhat weird email.

He mentioned he could live off his audio book royalties alone.  This is consistent with what I’ve heard about another major self publishing star – that her ACX audio book royalties are quite large.

The theme from the three authors is that Kindle Direct Publishing has made it possible for them to make a living as an author. This was echoed by Mr. Kabbani; the goal, Kabbani said, is to reach out to authors who are neglected and enable them to write for a living.

After the introductions there was actually very little time to talk. I recommended that Amazon create a nook conversion kit. I’ve heard from a lot of readers that they are ready to move from Nook to Amazon but have hundreds of epub books.  Amazon has the capability of converting an epub to a mobi through its KindleGen program.  I asked that they incorporate that into their Personal Document Service.

Len Edgerly recommended that they not have a two tiered system – treating books separately that you sideload (such as not showing public highlights and notes of books you may have purchased elsewhere) v. the ones you buy from Amazon.

There was some talk, led by Amy Edelman of indiereader, about promoting self published books as something unique and special, much like the indie music label or the indie film label. Authors felt that only a few of their readers knew that they were self published but that some readers did email to find out where the best place to purchase the book was.  Hugh Howey believed that much of his cachet was due to being a self published author. When he was being courted by major publishers his question was how much they were going to pay him to give up the label of “self published.” Admittedly, that is the source of much of his publicity and celebrity – like a small town boy made good.

IndieReader wants to capitalize on that type of sentiment that is attached to Howey.  I admit to being a bit skeptical about the average reader caring that a book is self published or traditionally published and suggested that the major cachet of the self published book is price. I could be completely wrong about that (you let me know in the comments).

After the meeting, I was invited to do two things.  Submit ideas about Goodreads integration with Amazon and submit ideas on how to improve the Kindle reading experience.  I’d like to do this but I want to include your input.  In the comments, would you share your gripes and wishes for an improved digital reading experience? I will send this thread and a letter to the two contacts I was given for this.  

If you have any questions, let me know.