Member Blogs > ten pound island book companyRabbit Hole Publishing

  • Sun, 24 Nov 2013 05:25:43    Permalink

    My writer pals talk about the harsh realities of getting their work published in today’s difficult market. My indie bookstore acquaintances, in their darker moments (they generally put on brave fronts) talk about skyrocketing rents, rising costs, and the decline of the printed word. My IOBA colleagues talk about the difficulties of selling used books in an online environment monopolized by Amazon. My ABAA colleagues talk about how institutional budget cuts and the rise of digital publishing have made it harder than ever to sell antiquarian books.
    Sounds hard, however you cut it.
    But what if I told you, as my buddy Anthony Weller told me recently, that there is a vast marketplace in which millions upon millions of books are sold each year, in which getting published is a snap, in which no one loses money?
    It seems my friend Weller was poking around on the Internet the other day, and he fell down a rabbit hole into a strange alternate publishing universe.
    He happened to stumble upon a book by a woman named Helen Bryan

    called War Brides. Published by Amazon as a Kindle Edition at $3.99 (with an option for an Amazon POD paperback edition costing $8.97), the book has a rating of 4 ½ stars, and is blurbed on its Amazon page as a “national bestseller.” And it probably is, since it ranks #333 in Amazon’s Kindle Store sales.
    Anthony’s cursor then drifted down the page to the “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought...” section, where he saw an array of other, similar, titles, also published by Amazon. They all appeared to be in the romance or fantasy categories, and many had solid rankings in the Kindle Store. When he clicked on one of these he was led to more of the same kind. And more after that, etc. You could probably repeat the process all afternoon and come up with hundreds of Amazon-published books, most of them romances, and many of them with strong Kindle Store rankings.

    But what does this mean in terms of actual sales?
    Well, none of the books had “real” reviews in trade journals, because Amazon disdains them. So it was hard to get a handle on how these books were received by the general public. Instead, Amazon books have “Customer Reviews.” And it was these customer reviews that provided Anthony with a sort of metric. Here’s how he worked it out:
    The above mentioned Helen Bryan’s War Brides currently has an astonishing 3285 customer reviews.
    To take another example, Catherine Ryan Hyde’s When I Found You has 1897 customer reviews.
    Anthony Weller’s most recent book, which was also published by Amazon, was called The Land of Later On. It got 60 customer reviews.

    Weller knows he sold 25,000 copies of Land of Later On. And he knows that, of those 60 reviews, 10 were from friends. That would mean he got 50 “real” customer reviews, or one for every 500 copies sold. So, he figured, a single customer review, excluding friends, would indicate 500 copies sold.
    That means Helen Bryan’s War Brides sold 1,642,500 copies at $3.99 on Kindle. When I Found You, 948,500 Kindle copies at the same price.
    You get the idea. Multiply those by thousands of similar titles and you wind up with millions of copies of books no one except Amazon’s captive audience has even heard of. Books that are never reviewed anywhere but on Amazon, that probably don’t exist in more than a few hundred paperback copies, books whose sales don’t even show up on Nielsen BookScan – the industry standard. Even if Anthony is off by a factor of 10, that’s still an awful lot of copies.
    Anthony talks about this alt lit market as if it were a new continent he’d discovered, or a portal to a hollow earth


     inhabited by industrious housewives
    Catherine Ryan Hydeearning handsome livings writing about relationships, edging up to, but never quite reaching, explicit sex. Amazon only takes 25% of the selling price so, by Anthony’s calculation, War Brides has earned about $5 million.
    If he changes his name to Antonia Weller I’m organizing an intervention.
    Meanwhile, my crime novel The Old Turk’s Load, has just been named one of the best first novels of 2013 by Deadly Pleasures Magazine. Deadly Pleasures is America’s premiere fan-oriented mystery magazine, so somebody out there likes the Old Turk. However, the book only has 14 customer reviews, suggesting only 2000 someones. Anthony’s metric must not apply to crime novels. 
    Perhaps the Deadly Pleasures award occasioned the email I recently received from a gentleman named Muhtesim Guvenc. Mr. Guvenc, it seems, works for Lir,  a literary agency operating out of Istanbul, Turkey, “bringing the best of the Turkish literature.” He was writing to see if the translation rights were available for The Old Turk’s Load

    The rights are indeed available, but Mr. Guvenc may be in for a surprise when he reads the book.

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