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Models, models, everywhere...

And not the good-looking sort, sadly. No, what I've been musing on this week are models of business, specifically books. (Of course, this being a writer's blog.) Much of what I've been mulling over is concerned with my own future direction and plans.

So, what I first wanted to talk about is Amazon, and the way they sell books. I focus on Amazon because, honestly, for e-books they are the only gig in town for many authors. They're the biggest, the most visible and the one most intrinsically linked to Kindle, the biggest and most visible e-book reader brand. They are the closest thing I've seen to a monopoly, and that's worrisome (partly for the book business in general, but also for the many, many authors who rely on them.)

Amazon is one huge bookshelf, essentially. Too big for anyone to browse through without guidance. Which means there are two ways to find a book - find it in their system, or know specifically what you want to buy and enter its details. It's the first example I wanted to talk about.

How does Amazon decide what books you should see? It uses algorithms. Algorithms that are a complete secret, that no one fully understands - although many claim to - and that the fate of your book pretty much relies on, especially if you are either self published, e-book only published or with a small publisher. Those algorithms - we think - are based around sales, sales spikes, and review quantities (and, let's be honest, the Amazon review system is flawed. More in a moment.)

What does that mean? It means that the slow-burn books, the ones that come through by word of mouth become harder to discover. It means that those authors who are a little cannier than others can work what's known of the algorithms and do well from them. But, most importantly for this blog - it means if Amazon change the algorithms in your disfavour, and you're reliant on Amazon sales for your income (as most of the big e-book sellers are), you're very vulnerable. (It also means you can write the best darn book known to mankind and no one ever finds it but that's a blog for another day when I'm feeling mean and grizzly about things.)

From a writing perspective, this is irksome and worrying. From a reader perspective, it's irksome and worrying. We are no longer choosing our own books, but being fed by algorithms the book Amazon feel they stand to make the most money from (because, make no mistake, those algorithms are all skewed to make Amazon money.)

 I said above that the review system is flawed, and it is. Things I know that go on (and sometimes get caught, and sometimes don't) include review exchanges - you give me 5* and I'll repay the favour - purchasing reviews, posting reviews from fake accounts... it goes on and goes on. This happens because Amazon include review numbers in their algorithms, which means authors need them to make their books more visible. Any wonder some people will cheat? This is their income, after all.

Things that also happen - Amazon removing reviews from authors connected to other authors by Social media (I have, like, hundreds of writer friends. We share a common interest of writing and, usually, reading. I don't review all of their books - I would neither have the time or inclination - but I have, some. And I give an honest review - although I'm unlikely to post a really awful review, but would decide not to leave any review instead.) Which brings us to the vulnerability of writers - all it takes is Amazon to decide a writer or publisher has infringed the rules, and they can remove the book with no warning or right of appeal.

For pretty much all the authors I know who are self or indie published, that would be the end for that book. No other sales outlet can take up the slack. Which means, as I stand at the moment, I'm vulnerable to all that. (Fortunately, I've kept the day job!)

All of which has me musing what way to take my career. When I started writing, I had no doubt - I wanted the career route which meant an agent, a traditional publishing deal, and a career. And it all looked pretty good for that happening, until step 3 fell through and then step 1 cast me adrift, and I found myself firmly in the indie route.

I've had an absolute blast going down that route. I have had my books out, have gained confidence without too much pressure, worked with fantastic people and learned skills and knowledge a trad career would not have given me. I'm not, actually, planning to move from that route for the next couple of years. (I have a book coming out with a small publisher next year, which I think is going to do well and which I love, and who I'm enjoying working with. I also have two other projects I'm not chasing anything other than an indie route for - one is a novella and it combines nicely with some shorts to the perfect length for me to release, and the other is my only true Young Adult book and I'm not looking to be repped as a YA author. Not again. I learn my lessons.)

But the time has come to review where I'm going after that. I've just finished my first big, big project - Abendau - and will probably start another series (a duology, I think, but we'll see.) I do have another standalone calling, too, but the series is my main focus.

This series is, I think, more marketable than most of my stuff. It's fantasy, rather than sf, so character-led is fine. It's adult (young end of adult, but still adult), not young adult. It has Storm-Mages. Everyone loves a nice Mage!

I'm not ruling out indie books again (and, as with Inish Carraig, I might not be able to sell the series, anyhow) - but this product suits the agent-deal route better, I think. But it's not just that: because I straddle both the indie and trad world, and because I've been lucky enough to go to a couple of conventions and meet a range of writers, I've seen both worlds. And the trad authors are, in my opinion (and I'm aware this opinion is open to a roasting - but remember, this is about me and my career, and I absolutely respect everyone else's decision to make their mind up about what they want and how they'd like to achieve it) safer. If Amazon pulled the plug tomorrow, they would still have a writing income. (A hell of a dent, of course, but they wouldn't lose everything.)

I've been a self employed consultant for over 15 years. I never, ever put all my eggs in one basket - and nor does anyone else I know. Sure, I have key contracts and one, in particular, provides reasonably steady income, but I always have a couple of additional things on the go or, at least, that my skills are up to date enough in that I could transfer to. Why? Because markets are funny things - they change, sometimes swiftly. To not be prepared for such a change would be very naive. I believe the same is true of my writing career and, I strongly believe the Amazon model, risks authors losing all their income very swiftly, in just a few key changes.

For that reason - and because I prefer the trad model anyway and believe it is still the model more authors do well within, long term (yes, yes, I know, there are exceptions and valid arguments on both sides) - I am going to get back on the agent trail. I'm not going to snatch at any various offers out there for my future work, but instead try to get back to the model that, I believe, makes this a more viable career in the long term.

It also means I'd better get writing.... ;)


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