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Anne R. Allen's Blog


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Anne writes funny mysteries and how-to-books for writers. She also writes poetry and short stories on occasion. Oh, yes, and she blogs. She's a contributor to Writer's Digest and the Novel and Short Story Writer's Market for 2016. 

Her bestselling Camilla Randall Mystery Series features perennially down-on-her-luck former socialite Camilla Randall—who is a magnet for murder, mayhem and Mr. Wrong, but always solves the mystery in her quirky, but oh-so-polite way.

Anne lives on the Central Coast of California, near San Luis Obispo, the town Oprah called "The Happiest City in America."

Anne blogs at Anne R. Allen's Blog...with Ruth Harris 
and at Anne R. Allen's Books

Sunday, April 14, 2013

What are Algorithms—and are They Killing the "Kindle Revolution"?

First, an awesome announcement: this blog will be named to Writer's Digest's Best 101 Sites for Writers in the May-June issue! (special thanks to Lila and Janet for the heads-up.) We are so jazzed! The magazine should be in stores soon. Subscribers have already got their copies. Many, many thanks to whoever nominated us!! 

To celebrate this exciting news, my publisher has made all my mysteries 99 cents until the end of April. That's at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. This includes The Gatsby Game Food of Love, and the Camilla Randall Mysteries, either as the boxed set or singly, and No Place Like Home, usually $4.99 (still only at Amazon, alas.) Click those links or click through the book covers in the sidebar. Here's my author page at Barnes and Noble.

And Ruth Harris has joined in, making her Park Avenue Boxed Set only 99 cents as well. (That's 33c a book!) 

OK, we hear about them all the time, but what the *%@# are algorithms, anyway?

An algorithm is a line of code that gives a search engine a step-by-step process to produce a desired result: like a list of websites, a bra that fits, or a suggestion for the next title to put on your TBR list.

They aren't new. In fact they were invented in the 8th century AD by a Persian guy named Abū ʿAbdallāh Muḥammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmi . The word "algorithm" or "algorism" is a corruption of his name: al-Khwarismi.

But in the digital age this venerable type of formula has taken on a huge importance for the marketplace. An algorithm can make or break sales of any product online. As superstar author Hugh Howey said in an interview on Reddit, “I'm guessing 90% of my sales are from reader recommendations and Amazon algorithms.”

Or as his interviewer called them "the inscrutable Amazon algos."

They're sure not scrutable to me. I'm pretty sure they have to do with math, at which I suck. Seriously. I had to be counseled for “math anxiety” in high school.

Besides, algorithms aren’t that easy to define—even for the people who work with them. The Wikipedia article says, “While there is no generally accepted formal definition of 'algorithm,' an informal definition could be 'a set of rules that precisely defines a sequence of operations.' For some people, a program is only an algorithm if it stops eventually; for others, a program is only an algorithm if it stops before a given number of calculation steps”

Yeah, right. If you’re like me, your eyes have started to glaze over already. Secretly, I think of them as little robot elves who get things done inside my computer.

Like bringing up 64,300,000 links in .52 seconds when you put the word “algorithm” into Google’s search window.

Pretty durn clever, these elves. And kind of Big Brothery. They're what Facebook uses to analyze your “Likes” and figure out if you’re gay, conservative and/or smart.

They’re not infallible. They're responsible for sending you those emails from Amazon suggesting you buy or review your own book, and they're the reason you got spammed with dozens of ads for refrigerators after you accidently Googled “fridge” instead of “fudge” last week.

But they work well enough that businesses increasingly depend on them. A new online lingerie retailer, True&Co, uses a questionnaire and an algorithm to sell mail-order bras—a product that’s difficult to fit even in real-life dressing rooms. According to the NYT, at True&Co “women end up buying more of the bras chosen by the algorithm than the ones they select themselves.”

As you might imagine, online book retailers depend heavily on algorithms to get books in front of the people who might buy them.

David Gaughran talked about the complexity of Amazon’s algorithms in making Amazon’s bestseller lists on his blog, Let’s Get Digital.

“Amazon has a bevy of Bestseller Lists, all split into Free and Paid listings. The big one is theTop 100 in the Kindle Store, and placement on this list can drive staggering amounts of sales. This list is populated with items ranked #1 to #100 in the overall Kindle Store, which includes not just e-books, but also things like games, magazines, and newspapers.

The exact algorithm Amazon uses to assign a Sales Rank to each book is a closely-guarded secret, but the general make-up is easy to deduce. Simply put, your Sales Rank tells you how many books are selling more than you at this moment in time (it’s updated hourly). However, it also takes account of historical sales. More recent sales are weighted much more heavily in the algorithm, though, and velocity plays a big part too (how much your sales are increasing at that moment in time). There’s a lot more to it, but those are the basics.”

David talks more about how Amazon’s algorithm-driven recommendation engines work in a post from February 2013.

But the most important thing to know about the algorithms book retailers use is that they CHANGE. Those robot elves are programmed by real people—who are constantly inputting new data.

Mark Coker changed algorithms at Smashwords last year to encourage authors to stop devaluing their work by giving away so many free books.

Mr. Coker said, “At Smashwords, up until January of this year [2012], our algorithm for best sellers just looked at absolute downloads, but authors gamed that system by offering discounted or free books using the Smashwords coupon tool. So we changed our algorithm to focus on gross sales, so now when you look at the Smashwords best seller list, you’re looking at absolute dollar sales, which we are using as a representation of the interest of customers.”

Amazon changes its algorithms more often than Smashwords. Which means a whole lot of the “rules” you hear about how to sell big on Amazon are based on algorithms that no longer exist.

If you're in the indie author scene, you've no doubt heard a ton of rumors about what the Amazon algorithms will reward or penalize. You’ll hear that more than 50—or 100—“likes” will get more recommendations, or any 3-star or lower reviews will exclude you from the also-boughts or downgrade your author rank. Or that uploading from a non-US country downgrades your status, or dissing Amazon in their forums will be reflected in your sales ranking. Some of these may be true or may have once been true, but they’re hard to prove. And trying to game them generally isn't a good idea.

That's because the one thing we do know for sure about algorithms is that Amazon does not like it when you try to game them.

Which is probably why the Zon is removing the “like” buttons and “tags” on US buy pages. Every author group I belong to asks people to “like and tag” each other’s book pages whether or not the books are in a genre you read or enjoy. Which means the “likes and tags” no longer have meaning for tracking a person's individual preferences, which was the point in the first place.

Even though nobody can know for sure how the “inscrutable algos” are programmed, Amazon watchers can tell when there’s been a change. Some people make a serious study of them.

With the advent of KDP Select—Amazon’s program for books they have exclusive rights to sell—the algorithms were changed to benefit Select members. Select books get more weight in the popularity lists, more suggestions for “also bought” books, e-mail recommendations, and are featured when somebody searches the genre. That makes sense. When you ask for an exclusive, you need to give perks.

Now there’s an even more privileged “White Glove” program for books that have been “self-published” through a literary agency. It has a longer exclusive period and gets the benefit of even more also-boughts and other promotions.

Nothing wrong with that. It’s Amazon’s store and they can promote what they want. But it does make it harder on the truly self-published and small-press competition.

The “Kindle Revolution” that Amazon sparked in 2009 allowed individual authors to self-publish cheaply and gave them an equal opportunity with big publishing’s authors to get discovered. This was a brilliant way of providing a lot of inexpensive books for their brand new Kindle at a time when most people didn’t even think they needed an ereading device.

It was win/win. Amazon sold Kindles—and individual authors got to enter a marketplace that had been reserved for big corporations for half a century.

In doing that, Amazon shook up the book world and did a service to new authors that was pretty unprecedented.

But since then, Amazon has become a publishing company itself. Their Thomas and Mercer, 47North, Montlake Romance, and other imprints now compete with the Big 5. They also compete with the indies. Guess who the algorithms are likely to favor? (I did mention the elves are smart?)

Meanwhile, Amazon's competition as a retailer continues to grow. Kobo and Apple are gobbling up market share. Like any big business, the Zon wants to dominate the competition and keep its place as Alpha Dog of the online retail business.

So they’ve made it very appealing for authors to sell exclusively through them—both with their KDP Select and White Glove program.

And last month they bought Goodreads. We still have to see how that will affect self-and small-publishers. David Gaughran thinks it’s a boon to authors. But some others, like Jarek Steele, and The Author's Guild —not so much. But Mr. Coker saw a silver lining: a way of thwarting people who try to manipulate the elves with paid reviews. For a nice, balanced overview of the argument, read Porter Anderson's piece in Ether for Authors at Publishing Perspectives.

The one thing people agree on is that Amazon wanted Goodreads' data to feed its algorithms. As Gaughran says “Amazon’s recommendation algorithms will be vastly improved with all the data that Goodreads has been collecting.”

So is it true that the Amazon algorithm elves are no longer friendly to indies? Do they only like you if you publish through them, or have an agent—or at least give them an exclusive?

I think it's clear that multi-platform indies are not in the Zon's A-list any more.  I’m not sure we’ll see as many 100% self-pubbed authors reach the heights that Amanda Hocking and John Locke did in the heady early days of the "Kindle" revolution. But indie books by previously traditionally-published hybrid authors are still breaking records. And agents are still trolling the Amazon bestseller lists.

Indies are also hurt by the Big Six books that are being offered as cheaply as indies. (There have been amazing giveaways of big name author’s books, especially in the UK. And this week I saw Barbara Kingslover's iconic novel The Bean Trees for $1.99)

Some people think this all means that the self-publishing revolution is dying.

But the fact is, the trend to self-publishing and boutique digital press publishing is not only alive and well, but growing.

This is because Big Publishing has done nothing to change their attitude that the publisher/author relationship must be one of master/slave. They have made themselves less attractive to new writers with ever more draconian contracts and demands that authors hire publicists and provide expensive traditional marketing with their own funds while the publisher risks nothing, sometimes offering no advance.

The fact that Amazon aspires to become a big publisher itself may make Amazon less attractive for the truly independent author.

But the door to successful self-publishing has been opened and it’s not going to close. The Zon may no longer be the fairy godperson of indie self-publishers, but it's not the Great Satan, either.

And more important:  it's not the only game in town. Amazon now represents less than 50% of the ebook market.
  • A huge number of readers prefer to read on their iPads, which makes the Apple store a big contender.
  • 50% of Apple ebook sales are outside of the US, where the Zon is not always revered, due to a habit of tax dodging. 
  • Kobo has a growing share of the international market, plus Kobo ereaders are selling in indie bookstores, which gives indie authors a chance to reach readers through old-time word-of-mouth, in-store promoting. 
  • The moribund Barnes and Noble/Nook store is undergoing a major overhaul with the new Nook publishing. Those who fear change say it's a disaster, but many in the know say it's much more user friendly and heralds new and forward thinking from Nook, which is still a player in the ereader market. 
  • Plucky little Smashwords is expanding all the time. They are the only way for non-US writers to get uploaded to region-specific sites like Barnes and Noble, so they are becoming more and more useful to indies all over the world. 

Self-and small press published authors who want to be on top of the next trend need to spread their marketing to all platforms, instead of spending all their time courting the Amazon algorithms with freebies and/or organizing armies of fellow authors to give likes and tags and fake reviews.

Launching a book in Amazon's Select program still seems to be a good move. (It works for me, anyway) but after the first three to six months I think most writers need to spread out to other platforms and promote there.

What we do not want to do is keep repeating what worked when the algorithms were the BFFs of the indie authorpreneur and the word "Kindle" was synonymous with "ereader".

The  Indie "Kindle" Revolution may be fading, but the Indie Digital Revolution is still in a dynamic and robust infancy.

What about you, scriveners? Have your sales been affected by the changes in algorithms? Have you heard rumors that you need to do certain things to keep on the good side of the Zon elves? Do you miss the "likes" and "tags"? Do you fear the indie revolution is petering out? 

UPDATE: There is now an algorithm that writes poetry. See, I said those elves are smart! The New York Times now has a Tumbr site where they post algorithm-written haikus based on news stories, called Times Haiku. Here's my favorite. (From an article on Margaret Thatcher's legacy.)

But we are British
So most of us stood around
In awkward silence. 


1) Readwave: A showcase for short stories: ReadWave is a community of readers and writers who love to discover and share new stories from contemporary writers. Readers can access thousands of stories and read them for free on mobile or desktop--and writers can use ReadWave to build up a fanbase and market their stories online. ReadWave has created a new reading widget, that allows bloggers and website owners to embed stories online in a compact form. The ReadWave widget is the first reading widget to allow readers to "follow" the writer. When a reader follows a writer they are added to the writer’s fanbase and can receive updates on all of the writer’s future stories. ReadWave puts writers in touch with the readers that are right for them. This looks like a great innovative site. You know how I've been encouraging you to write more short fiction? This is where to put it to start building a fan base.

2) The Saturday Evening Post’s Second Annual Great American Fiction Contest—yes, THAT Saturday Evening Post is holding a short fiction contest. Could you join the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald; William Faulkner; Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.; Ray Bradbury; Louis L’Amour; Sinclair Lewis; Jack London; and Edgar Allan Poe? $10 entry fee Deadline July 1, 2013

3) Inspirational anthology accepting submissions: A "Chicken Soup for the Soul" author is looking for heartwarming inspirational nonfiction pieces. Do You Have a Story on "Staying Sane in the Chaotic 24/7 World"? If you have a great story and would like to be considered for the anthology, 30 Days to Sanity, Send submissions to: 30 Days to Sanity at Box 31453, Santa Fe, NM 87594-1453. Or e-mail stories to stephanie@30daystosanity.com The maximum word count is 1200 words. For each story selected for the program a permission fee of $100 will be offered for one-time rights. There are no limits on the number of submissions. Deadline is May 1, 2013

4) Stanford Story Slam The first ever Stanford Story Slam has opened, a chance for a team of writers to win $500. Anybody can enter. To enter, you must collaborate to write about this prompt: “There are over 15,000 bikes used by students, staff, and faculty to get around Stanford campus. Over 300 bikes are stolen each year. Where do they go?” The Stanford Arts Review will publish the winning entry. Here’s more from the organizers You don't have to be a Stanford student to enter. Deadline is April 22.

5) The 35th annual Nimrod Literary Contest: The Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry and The Katherine Anne Porter Prize for Fiction. The Awards offer first prizes of $2,000 and publication and second prizes of $1,000 and publication. One of the oldest “little magazines” in the country, Nimrod has continually published new and extraordinary writers since. For more information about Nimrod, visit their website at www.utulsa.edu/nimrod. Deadline is April 30th.

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Blogger Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

First, congratulations on the Writer's Digest Top 100!
Second - whoa... A lot of changes and possibilities. Goodreads reviews and stats feeding into Amazon rankings? For my books, that would be a plus.
And Amazon accounts for less than half the eBooks now? Go Apple! As an iPad owner, that is the first place I look for a book.

April 14, 2013 at 10:33 AM  
Blogger Natalie Aguirre said...

A big congrats on making the Writers Digest Top 100! We made it last year and it was so exciting.

I have to admit the rankings info is still confusing to me. Glad to see all these options expanding though.

April 14, 2013 at 10:36 AM  
Blogger Vera Soroka said...

Congrats on the Writers Digest Top 100!
Thanks for explaining all of this. I often wondered what those things where and what they really meant.
I'm from Canada so I'm a Kobo girl so I'm hoping that they become a major player with ebooks. Amazon is not the only game in town.

April 14, 2013 at 10:44 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Yay! for us. But it's mostly you, Anne, and everyone knows it.

So double and triple Yay! for you! You're the best! :-)

April 14, 2013 at 11:29 AM  
Blogger CS Perryess said...

Fantabuloso! Your blog belongs on any list of Best Writerly Blogs.

And is it any surprise that Al Khwarizmi's name was also transmogrified into everybody's favorite form of math -- algebra! I was a painfully compliant student, yet got booted (forever) out of Algebra 1 for saying something along the lines of, "But I already know the answer. All these steps are a waste of my pencil lead."

Could it be that all the disparaging comments made over the generations regarding Al Khwarizmi's brilliance are coming back to haunt us in the form of Amazon algorithms?

April 14, 2013 at 12:10 PM  
Blogger Melanie Schulz said...

Congratulations, and thanks for the info on Kindle.

April 14, 2013 at 12:15 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Alex--Good to hear from an actual iPad user that what I've been reading is true. The Apple store is definitely becoming a player.

Natalie--You've got such a great site! I do think that more options is good news. As the Amazon door closes a little, others are opening.

Vera--Kobo is smart because instead of going head to head with the Mighty Zon in the US, they're expanding in markets where the Zon doesn't exist, or has annoyed people with surcharges and a royalty cap at 35%. (Yes, Amazon isn't that user-friendly in non-US markets)

Ruth--Yay us!

CS--So this guy is Mr. Algebra? I did not know that! Thanks Mr. Wordmonger for that fascinating bit of info. If I'd known, I probably would have put his face on a dartboard when I was in high school.

Melanie--Thanks for stopping by!

April 14, 2013 at 12:38 PM  
OpenID paulfahey said...

Just adding my Congrats, Anne on the great WD honor but also thanking you and your publishers for making your books and Ruth's available so reasonably this month. I just filled out my Camilla Randall library with Ghost Writers in the Sky and Ruth's Park Avenue Boxed Set. Thank you both. Really looking forward to some serious reading while I think about what I'll write next. BRAVA to you both!!


April 14, 2013 at 12:57 PM  
Blogger Roland D. Yeomans said...

Congratulations on the Writer's Digest Top 100!

The Zon also watered down the impact of 99 cent books, making them count for only half a sale in their accounting. Similar tweaking for them in relation to free books.

Our blogs are even hit by algorithms as in Panda. If your blogs fail to live up to their formula, you may find your blog not appearing until many pages from the third (which is the limit for people searching these time-attention challenged days).

Many experts feel that Amazon has ditched the Indie authors. We were good to get into the dance. Now, their sights are set on more profitable targets.

The Goodreads purchase unsettles me. Then, Goodreads reviews have a tendency to be snarky without cause. I really do not have the time to invest with so many outlets for my time. My job as rare blood courier demands most of my time.

Good post as always, Roland

April 14, 2013 at 12:57 PM  
Blogger Roland D. Yeomans said...

Congratulations on the Writer's Digest Top 100!

The Zon also watered down the impact of 99 cent books, making them count for only half a sale in their accounting. Similar tweaking for them in relation to free books.

Our blogs are even hit by algorithms as in Panda. If your blogs fail to live up to their formula, you may find your blog not appearing until many pages from the third (which is the limit for people searching these time-attention challenged days).

Many experts feel that Amazon has ditched the Indie authors. We were good to get into the dance. Now, their sights are set on more profitable targets.

The Goodreads purchase unsettles me. Then, Goodreads reviews have a tendency to be snarky without cause. I really do not have the time to invest with so many outlets for my time. My job as rare blood courier demands most of my time.

Good post as always, Roland

April 14, 2013 at 12:57 PM  
Blogger T.L. Bodine said...

First off, congrats on the WD nom - tat's big news :)

And I have to say, I'm relieved that so many indie options are cropping up and acting as real competitors to the 'Zon. I've always thought nothing could be worse than trading in the Big 5 for the Massive One. Monopolies are scary things. But us writer folk are smart enough to steer clear of that, and nothing's going to stop this indie revolution now. You can't stop the signal...

April 14, 2013 at 1:10 PM  
Blogger E.J. Wesley said...

FANTASTIC post! And very indicative of why this site is being listed as a 'WD Best'. Seriously HUGE congrats, and absolutely well deserved.

This blog is THE resource I continually come back to for publishing insight and perspective.

Re the post: I think being an Indie means you just have to to keep exploring and paying attention to changes in the industry. We don't have the luxury of just putting our head down and writing all the time, just to put something out the same way we've done before.

With your previous book, maybe doing KDPS made some sense. This time it might not--and maybe only a few months have gone by. It changes that quickly.

As to what you were saying, I agree that it doesn't mean you have to know or understand how the algorithms work. Just listen to what authors (preferably ones without axes to grind--like the fabulous bloggers here :) are saying about their experiences.

I just used the new Nook Publishing site to get my latest into the world, and I have to say that I really liked it. Super easy to use, and you can even edit the epub files after uploading, share with collaborators, etc. Truly believe it is the new standard authors will expect form Smashwords, Amazon, and the rest.

As with most things, I suppose time will tell.

Congrats again on the success, all! :)

April 14, 2013 at 1:20 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Paul--I'm so glad you've picked up Ghostwriters. It's set in your neck of the woods. Well, not too far away--Santa Ynez and Solvang.

Roland--Taking weight away from 99 cent books really hurt indies, especially when people like Barbara Kingsolver are selling for 1.99. I didn't go into the general search engine algos, because I understand them even less. For some reason, the Google elves like us, but I have no idea what we've done right.

T.L. I'm with you on monopolies. They're never good for the general public. No matter how much people love the Zon, they must see that healthy competition is the key to healthy commerce.

E.J.--Thanks much, and thanks for the share on Google+. Yeah, my next book may not go into Select. Up to my publisher, but they'll have to see if it's working any more. Some people say 99c is the new free.

I'm SOOOO glad to hear you had a good experience with the new Nook Publishing. When it was first announced, a lot of indies acted as if asteroids were about to wipe out civilization. Then a few people tried it and went, "Oh. That was fast. And kinda cool."

April 14, 2013 at 2:09 PM  
Blogger Debra Eve | Later Bloomer said...

Congrats, Anne and Ruth! So well-deserved. I've already got your Camilla box set, Anne, and owe you two reviews :) Am very excited to go pick up Ruth's.

I conducted my own experiment recently. I dropped my book to 99 cents for a week, then raised it to $2.99, then to $3.69. It's selling best at $3.69. At 99 cents, it pretty much dropped off the radar. so it looks like Amazon is favoring higher-priced books these days. I'm starting to think that $2.99 price point might be passe, too.

I agree with you, Anne -- I'm at the beginning of this whole indie publishing thing, and it's time to branch out to other digital sellers. Thanks for the great advice!

April 14, 2013 at 2:34 PM  
Blogger Kim (YA Asylum) said...

Really great article! Thank you for all the information and links. I've never thought that much about algorithms (I too had math anxiety back in high school), but I know they are really important so I'm glad I got to read more about it.

I'm still not sure how I feel about Amazon buying Goodreads, but if they can make Goodreads more reliable review wise that might be nice. I know a few people that have had their books trolled and the reviews skewed because of it.

And a big congrats on being named one of the best sites for authors by WD!

April 14, 2013 at 4:45 PM  
Blogger fOIS In The City said...

Congratulations Anne and Ruth. This is well deserved. As an avid fan and consistent Sunday reader, I am pleased to see you get this recognition :)

And as always, a great post. Does algo remind us of algebra? Do we crings and break into a sweat thinking of how to reach the heights of the higest mathematical equation?

What is good to know is that the playing field might level off for other ereaders, but on the whole, what I also see is that agents and the Big FIVE ... no longer SIX ... are learning from the Big Zon.

Also, I thank you again for your weekly links. This is something I truly believe many of us should try. Shorts are a great way to learn our craft and get name recognition. YOu are the Bomb :)

April 14, 2013 at 4:49 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Here's a comment from Florence Fois, one of our most dedicated peeps. Blogger seems to have blocked her comment: (curse you, Blogger!!) so here's her comment, rescued from spam:

fOIS In The City has left a new comment on your post "What are Algorithms—and are They Killing the "Kind...":

Congratulations Anne and Ruth. This is well deserved. As an avid fan and consistent Sunday reader, I am pleased to see you get this recognition :)

And as always, a great post. Does algo remind us of algebra? Do we crings and break into a sweat thinking of how to reach the heights of the higest mathematical equation?

What is good to know is that the playing field might level off for other ereaders, but on the whole, what I also see is that agents and the Big FIVE ... no longer SIX ... are learning from the Big Zon.

Also, I thank you again for your weekly links. This is something I truly believe many of us should try. Shorts are a great way to learn our craft and get name recognition. YOu are the Bomb :)

Florence--Thank you so much!

April 14, 2013 at 5:57 PM  
Blogger Claude Nougat said...

Anne, a thousand congrats, and Ruth too, for your nomination - so well deserved, your blog is my first stop to get really up-to-date info! And I love your style too, love yours books, everything, in one word, I'm a fan!

My experience with the big Zon has always been correct - since I'm not a best-seller, there's really nothing to report!

The only thing I regret is that their book trailer package at Create Space is so expensive and you can't lower the cost by providing your own images, something that a lot of indie film makers who make book trailers for you will do, like for exmple, Polish film maker Magda Olchawska - it makes sense: providing your own images necessarily cuts down on costs...

April 15, 2013 at 12:09 AM  
Blogger Anne Gallagher said...

Late to the party.

Congratulations! Of course you're on the WD list of best blogs. You and Ruth totally rock.

As to Amazon and the algos...don't get me started. They've messed with my career so many times and screwed me over just when I finally gained traction I don't even want to deal with Amazon anymore. Yes, I understand it's business and they can do what ever they want, but it just seems to me, they built their business on the little self-pubbers, and now they're the all powerful, they let us drift in the wind.

I've always been on Smashwords, only played the Select game once or twice, and it never helped me. My thing was always just to write the next book. And now on Smashwords it's finally paying off. Apple has finally found me and sales are picking up significantly (knock on wood). I've also published on B&N independant of SmashW and plan to do the same on Kobo.

Amazon isn't the only game in town, it really never was, but it's only now that the other markets are coming around to help, rather than hinder the self-pubbing market.

As they say in the stock market DIVERSIFY and that's exactly what I'm doing.

April 15, 2013 at 3:18 AM  
Blogger Laura Pauling said...

Do I wish I'd been ready to go with self publishing when Select first took off? And POI rushed authors through the chart. Def. Careers were made that might not have happened so easily.

But, I'm glad now that the freebie rush is over. I'm glad now that to make it requires a really good book. Yes, it's up and down, but that's normal.

I'm not sure I'd want to go back, even if it is harder today. When has publishing ever been easy?

And congrats, Anne!

April 15, 2013 at 3:40 AM  
Blogger LTM said...

Me = Wait... The Bean Trees is only $1.99?! *runs to Amazon*

OK, I'm back... *pants* LOL! :D

GREAT article. Thanks, Anne! I didn't find Select to be very helpful to me, so I agree completely with crossing platforms. <3

April 15, 2013 at 5:55 AM  
Blogger Coleen Patrick said...

Congrats, Anne!!
Love your posts,always appreciate the information. If there's one thing I'm learning about this pub business, it's to keep on learning. :)

April 15, 2013 at 6:39 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Debra--That's fascinating that your book sold better at $3.69 than $.99! I'll have to keep that in mind once the promo is over. Right now, the sale price has got two of my books in the top 100, so it's working, but I know it wouldn't work long. Algos seem to favor new data, no matter what it is.

Kim--You're right that the Goodreads thing has some serious drawbacks. The Goodreads trolls are definitely a problem. It seems to harbor gangs of indie-haters, who give books one star without reading them. Not helpful data to send over to Amazon.

Florence--Brain fart there. I do know they are now the Big 5, not 6. :-)

Claude--I don't have any experience with CreateSpace book trailers, but I know they're all pretty expensive. I'm not a big fan of book trailers. Unless you've got a cat playing a piano in it, I don't think anybody will look at it except other authors and marketing people. I only watch them to be polite to writer friends. I don't know anybody who has bought a book because of a trailer. If I had money to spare, I'd put it into audiobooks. There's money in them thar headphones.

Anne--I know you're one author who suffered a lot from the changes in Amazon algos. I also noticed just today that they've eliminated a lot of romance categories, like romantic suspense for for author rankings. I major pain. They seem to be hitting romance authors hardest. No idea why. I'm so glad you're selling other places. That's the future, I'm sure!

Laura--POI and KND don't seem worth the price to me any more because of the restrictions on free books. But maybe it's good in the long run, so we're less likely to devalue our books.

LTM--More aand more authors are reporting Select didn't do them any good. What worked last month may not work this month. Everything changes so fast.

Coleen--You're so right. The only thing we know for sure is that everything can change on a dime and we'd better be paying attention.

April 15, 2013 at 10:11 AM  
Blogger Christine Ahern said...

Congrats on your Blog acknowledgment! So well deserved. I think I will have to read this post several times to understand even part of the information you have so succinctly shared with us. Math! Ack! My brain just does not want to go there. But, alas...I guess it must.

April 15, 2013 at 2:00 PM  
Blogger Meghan Ward said...

Congratulations on making the Writers' Digest top 50, Anne! That's fantastic, and you deserve it.

As for algorithms, GoodReads talked about how it planned to change its algorithm (when I met with the Director of Community right before Amazon's acquisition) and I think it still plans to do that. Of course, Facebook has an algorithm for determining which of your friends' posts you see, and Klout has an algorithm to determine your social media influence. What's frustrating about all of these algorithms is that they change periodically, so once you figure out one system, it changes and you have to deconstruct the algorithm of the next system. I guess that's a good thing - it makes all of the systems more difficult to game.

April 16, 2013 at 6:32 AM  
Blogger Tyrean Martinson said...

Congratulations! And thank you for this extremely informative article about self-publishing and the big zon.
I'm planning to check out that short story site, because it sounds great! Have you heard of figment? I wonder how they compare.

April 16, 2013 at 7:20 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Christine--I think a lot of writers don't realize how much of our sales--and our reading choices come from machines doing this kind of calculation. It's like a scifi movie--the robots have taken over :-)

Meghan--I didn't have room to go into it, but yes, algos control all of our online life--not just Amazon. Everything on Goodreads, Facebook or any social media platform--plus all our online shopping is algorithm driven. And the only thing we know about them for sure is that they change.

Tyrean--ReadWave looks like a great site. I hope they catch on. Anything that encourages short story writing gets major kudos from me. I don't know about figment. I'll have to check it out. Thanks for the share on Google+!

April 16, 2013 at 11:07 AM  
Blogger Alice said...

Whoo hoo, I'm so excited for the two of you and your blog!

I still don't get algorithms but I am totally excited for your top spot in WD.

Lots of hugs and cupcakes!

April 16, 2013 at 8:10 PM  
OpenID Janet Boyer said...

YAY and you're most welcome! The WD honors are much deserved. Go Anne and Ruth!

April 16, 2013 at 10:41 PM  
Blogger Icy Sedgwick said...

Excellent post - and really explained quite a lot of things for me. Now that people have ereaders (whatever they may be) I think they're going to want content, so there will always be a market for new writers, but there will no doubt be a new 'revolution' to change the game again. Writers just have to go where the readers are.

April 18, 2013 at 4:20 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Alice--Thanks for the cupcakes! :-)

Janet--I might still not know about the wonderful honor if you and Lila at Popular Soda hadn't notified us. And you took the time to scan the whole page so we could read the article and see we're #8--I know the order doesn't matter, but still, it's nice to be close to the top where people can see us. Thanks a million!

Icy--You've made a very important point. E-reading is growing every day with the tablet and smartphone market, so there are more and more readers who want our content. We need to get our writing out to as many places as possible so they can find it.

April 18, 2013 at 9:10 AM  
Blogger LK Watts said...

Hi Anne,

Congratulations on your achievement. That is just so amazing.

Thanks so much for this information. This is probably the reason for my recent slow sales. But nevermind, I'll just have to keep on writing.

April 23, 2013 at 9:35 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

LK--Sometimes it helps to know why something is happening, even if you can't do anything about it. At least you know it's not the fault of your book. Or your marketing. Things keep changing so fast. And you've got it right: keep writing. The more books you have out there, the better your chances, no matter what the robot elves are doing.

April 23, 2013 at 12:12 PM  
Blogger Lisa Gail Green said...

Really interesting article! Thank you. There's so much information to keep track of that's changing all the time - like you said!

May 23, 2013 at 1:35 PM  
OpenID janiceheck said...

Congrats on the Writer's Digest award and also letting me know about Bean Tree. Gonna head on over to Amazon to get it when I finish this note. This article was very informative and explained a lot about things that I was not even aware. Tricky little algorithms, and tricky algorithm manipulators.

May 23, 2013 at 6:53 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Lisa--Yeah. They've probably changed again since I wrote this :-)

Janice--I'm not sure the Bean Trees is still on sale. Those usually only last a day or two. I got that info from Bookbub. Their newsletter is free and it gives a list of books free and on sale that day. Or if you're in the UK, try EBookBargainsUK (EBUK) You're right about all the tricking going on. Elves and counter-elves :-)

May 23, 2013 at 7:42 PM  

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