The Pitfalls of Self-Publishing

March 12, 2012 — Leave a comment

In a recent blog post American fantasy fiction author Jim C Hines, wrote a very interesting insight into the world of digital self publishing . This is a must-read for any budding authors out there who are thinking about putting their work on the internet. In the article Hines outlines some of the trials and tribulations of his working relationship with Amazon, and highlights many of the things self-publishers need to be on the lookout for.

One of the problems he encounters that people looking to self-publish their work through Amazon should be wary of is the random and unexpected dropping of the retail price of the product. His book Goblin Tales was priced at $2.99, from which he would receive a 70% royalty rate, meaning that he would earn approximately $2 for each copy sold.

Goblin Tales -  Jim C. Hines

Goblin Tales – Jim C. Hines

He explains that although Amazon’s decision to offer 70% of royalties to the authors seems like quite a good deal and has made them a ‘major player’ in self-publishing and e-books, it may not be quite as rosy for the budding writer as it seems. Hines warns, “Amazon can and will adjust your price as they see fit.”

Hines encountered several problems in his attempt to control the price of Goblin Tales, he put it on sale during the holidays, and then when he tried to raise the price again, because another retailer (Kobo) were slow to raise their rate, Amazon, kept the reduced rate too because of their price-matching policy.

It was not long after this issue was resolved when Hines noticed that Goblin Tales was suddenly reduced in price by Amazon to just $.99 again. Hines’ first course of action was to search any other retailers of his book to check that they had not reduced the price, thus meaning Amazon had invoked the price-matching clause again. He could not find the book on sale anywhere else; all other listings showed the correct price of $2.99. He also spoke to a few other authors that had also had their book prices cut to $.99 and therefore assumed it was either an arbitrary price cut or a database glitch.

His next step was to contact the Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) team; they responded to him promptly and did, within a few days, restore the price of Goblin Tales to the correct $2.99. However, they also pointed out section 5.3.2 of the Amazon/KDP Terms and Conditions, which allows them the; “…sole and complete discretion to set the retail price at which your Digital Books are sold through the Program.”

He then discovered discrepancies in the royalties he received for the book. With the publisher of his physical books DAW, if a bookstore puts his product on sale, he still receives royalties based on the cover price – this is normally the way these things work. This is not the case with Amazon however – and they calculated his royalties from the sale price, meaning his earnings were slashed by 2/3 for each copy sold when it was going at a cheaper rate.

He has since emailed them several times, asking for clarification on their Terms of Service, in order to understand exactly when and why his book might suddenly experience a dramatic price drop, but is yet to get response.

To conclude, Hines argues that though self-publishing through Amazon does have certain advantages, one should defiantly be aware of some of the pitfalls. He says:

I certainly intend to keep my e-book collections up on Amazon. I’m even planning to publish another one. I’m not telling people not to publish through Amazon; I am telling you to go in with your eyes open, and to understand that despite what the cheerleaders might suggest, Amazon is not pro-author. They’re pro-Amazon…Bottom line? They make the rules, they can change the rules whenever they feel like it, and they aren’t liable when they break the rules.

As someone who has often dreamed of becoming a published novelist, Hines blog has definitely given me some food for thought. If I ever pulled my finger out and finished any of the epic novels I start writing, I would probably be inclined to give putting it on Amazon a go, it would, after all, be much easier to do that, than say get a lucrative publishing deal that the likes of already established authors get. Reading Hines’ article however, has given me a useful insight…Always read the small print!!

Bruce Cat


An SEO consultant, Geek blogger, Internet Marketer and Martial Arts instructor based in London, who loves fitness, good food and gadgets. Check out my other Life Hacks and fitness blog, follow me on Twitter @brucecat , like my Facebook page, add me to your Google+ circle and find me on Pinterest

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