Is Amazon Changing How We Write Books, As Well As How We Buy Them?

Is Amazon Changing The Way We Write Books, As Well As How We Buy Them?

Yay for uniformity!

The other day, I tried a little experiment, and attempted to browse Amazon as though it were a good old-fashioned, bricks-and-mortar bookshop. It didn’t end well. It’s a miracle that my laptop survived the experiment, given my frustration.

Most bookshops I know, whatever the size, broadly have 3 sections for adult fiction: ‘Bestsellers’, ‘General Fiction’, and the perennially popular* ‘Crime’.

The bigger bookshops, in this country at least, might have further sections for ‘Sci-Fi/Fantasy’ or ‘Irish Interest’: but broadly, and for decades, booksellers simply used to separate ‘Fiction’ from ‘Non-Fiction’ and ‘Children’s’.

My experiment on Amazon went broadly as follows: first I stupidly thought I’d browse through ‘Bestsellers’. But Amazon said ‘No’. Amazon decreed that I couldn’t merely browse by ‘Fiction’ bestsellers from their home page. There were only 5 Fiction bestsellers available on the landing page, and no option to click through to a longer list.

Is Amazon Changing The Way We Write Books, As Well As How We Buy Them?

With some effort I eventually found the top 100 ‘Bestsellers’, which included all non-fiction and children’s titles, meaning I was presented with a massive pile of gimmicky recipe books from half-baked celebrities, along with 23 books about 11-Year Old Boys (Not Girls) Who Save The World.

I persisted in looking for adult fiction, but found that all fiction lists are categorised on a genre basis, so trying to drill down further meant I was forced to branch off into ‘#1-20 in in Police Procedural’ ‘#1-599 in Paranormal Romance’ or ‘#1-10 in Family Sagas’ rather than just the Top 100 in straight ‘Fiction’. Merely browsing for ‘Fiction’ itself, regardless of how it was selling, required at least 3 clicks, and 377 points on University Challenge.

We now live in the Amazon Era (as distinct from the Mesozoic, Protorezoic, or that time when everyone for some inexplicable reason wore flared trousers). This is the era when readers are no longer allowed to browse aimlessly and come across something unusual. We are no longer allowed to not know what we want, and get a nice surprise. Now we have to know at least the class of thing we want, in order to get some sort of lame and derivative version of it.

Yeah, Whatever, But What’s Your Point, Tara?

When I think back to how I bought books 10 or 15 years ago, I generally went straight for the discounted 3 for 2 tables, and picked up a cover or title which caught my eye. Then I read the blurb on the back. Then I made a decision. I often went for the quirky or unusual. Sometimes it was an author I’d enjoyed before. But I never bought on the basis of genre.

I have to conclude that Amazon doesn’t want us to breeze into their online store and look for something random and unique which could knock our socks off. Their algorithms not only don’t encourage it, they actively discourage it. Instead, Amazon forces us to decide our next read by genre, before we’ve even looked.

The thorniest issue for authors has always been discoverability. Discoverability can mean the difference between a long writing career and a short-lived angstfest which leaves a nastier taste in the mouth than chocolate cake served with politics and a side of bombs. For an author’s career to flourish, at least one of their books has to be discovered by thousands, rather than hundreds, of readers.

So what does an author do, when the genre of a book determines their discoverability? Does it change how they write?

I say the answer is: yes, of course it does, if they want their books to sell.

Ooh, Big Claim, Tara. Bet You Can’t Back It Up

Let me ask you a question: How many books have you seen in the last six months which are apparently ‘gripping’ with ‘a ‘shocking twist in the tale’? How many books feature a frightened woman or her shadow on the cover, promising you a psychological thrill worthy of standby underpants?

Is Amazon Changing The Way We Write Books, As Well As How We Buy Them?

I know I’ve been harping on about the wearying dominance of Grip-Lit/Psychological Thrillers on the market for a while now. But think about it. How many books have you read lately which made you think – ‘Hang on, this isn’t a thriller at all. This is actually a romance, but with a psycho thrown in’? Or ‘That’s not a jaw-dropping twist. That’s a completely ridiculous plot line shoehorned into what could otherwise have been a decent book about narcoleptic palaeontologists’?

I’ve seen so many books lately which appear to have been changed at some stage of the writing process into something they’re not. It’s ruined them. We’re promised something they can’t deliver, purely to force them into our hands – despite the fact that most of us weren’t even looking for whatever that ‘something’ was in the first place.

I can’t help but wonder what it means for their authors. Does it mean a jumpstart to a successful career, or the premature demise of a promising one?

Most of us just want a good story: to disappear into someone else’s world for a while. If all publishers want right now is something easily pigeon-holed into an Amazon bestselling category, then it seems to me that it’s up to indie authors to change the game. But with the likes of Amazon calling the shots on genre shoehorning, how the hell are we ever going to find them?

*  the first time I typed that, I mistyped ‘poopular’, which made me laugh for approximately 115 seconds. I think we can agree this should be an actual word we should all make an effort to use it at least once a day. You’re welcome.

Advertisements

  132 comments for “Is Amazon Changing How We Write Books, As Well As How We Buy Them?

  1. Carl Rackman
    April 19, 2017 at 7:24 am

    ‘Poopular’ – a new antonym of ‘popular’ which perfectly describes 99.9% of the books on Amazon 😆. Yesterday I invented ‘intersting’, an antonym of ‘interesting’ which perfectly describes the content of clickbait posts.

    Liked by 8 people

  2. April 19, 2017 at 7:41 am

    The worst part is when your book doesn’t fit into any specific genre (at least not the fairly rigid and limited list that Amazon offers), so you sort of have to shoehorn it into a category and hope for the best. Because I refuse to change my stories to fit into somewhere they don’t belong!
    Also, poopular? Most excellent, Tara, most excellent. A new word for the ages. Maybe even a new genre? I see a slew of celebrity ‘books’ which sell bucketloads simply by virtue of the name on the cover, regardless of the absolute drviel inside. But maybe that’s just me. 😉

    Liked by 6 people

    • weebluebirdie
      April 19, 2017 at 8:53 am

      Yup, hence those damned Girl books. Long live the Independent bookshop; where I’ve found many a gem. They let me sit on the floor and bring me cups of coffee. And best of all, Bookshop Jill went on the Internet when I was imminently homeless and we found my new home. Couldn’t have got through that day without her.

      Liked by 3 people

      • April 19, 2017 at 10:06 am

        I want to go to your bookshop. Can you bring it here?

        Liked by 2 people

      • April 19, 2017 at 5:16 pm

        Wow, that’s quite a lovely story (though I imagine at the time it wasn’t nice at all). I worked at an independent bookstore years ago and it was such a pleasure – we were all readers, and loved recommending books to customers. It’s how I started writing, actually. Long live the independent bookstore – I hear they might be on the way back, which is good news for everyone 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

    • April 19, 2017 at 9:05 am

      I had the same problem as Helen. My book just didn’t sit in one Amazon category but potentially three. But it isn’t going to change the way I write – but then I’m indie. I imagine trad publishing houses are putting pressure on their authors to ‘conform’. And don’t get me started on titles and covers. It’s sad that originality has taken second place to bottom line.

      Liked by 5 people

      • April 19, 2017 at 10:07 am

        That’s a definite, Pam, and a sad time indeed. Some sort of revolution is on the cards. I think indie authors are half way there.

        Liked by 1 person

      • April 19, 2017 at 5:15 pm

        I agree, Pam. Also, I feel that if I start trying to ‘force’ my stories to go in another direction, the muse might decide to wander off and visit someone else 🙂

        Liked by 3 people

    • April 19, 2017 at 10:06 am

      The celebrity books seem here to stay, Helen, so I hope poopular will tag along with them.

      As for the genre mismatching, another thing which drives me mad (despite the fact I’m sure I’d do it myself) is people shoehorning their books into rare categories just so they can say they have a #1 Amazon bestseller. I’m all for calling yourself that if you’ve achieved #1 in a truly busy category such as ‘Crime – Police Procedurals’, but if you were #1 in ‘Literary Fiction – Shamrock Melancholy’, then you can feck right off.

      Liked by 4 people

      • April 19, 2017 at 4:57 pm

        But I see loads of posts by indie authors full of advice to do just that — pick (or ask Amazon to create!) a narrow category just so your book can end up #1 in it. Big fish in small pond. But do readers ever drill down into the muck at the bottom of the pond? I suspect this advice is similar to the endless analyses of “how Amazon’s algorithms really work.” Everyone’s looking for the magic trick.

        Liked by 1 person

        • April 19, 2017 at 5:05 pm

          So true, Audrey, it’s a trick tried by a great many – but it can backfire, too. When I see those posts on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram, for instance, which say “# 1 on Amazon today! OMG so thrilled!!!!!” I immediately look to see what category they’ve put it in. The minute I see that sort of narrow category, I immediately dismiss their book as a piece of contrived rubbish and vow never to read it.

          The phrase “#1 Amazon bestseller’ has become as meaningful as “the luck of the Irish” (I mean, just look at what’s happened us over the years!)

          Liked by 1 person

          • April 19, 2017 at 5:19 pm

            Ha! You’re right about that phrase. It’s probably worth some research. As to Amazon categories, I notice that regardless of which ones I’ve chosen when publishing books on KDP, Amazon slaps on their own categories. Someone referred to that in another comment. So the Amazon lake is a pretty murky place in which to fish. (Sorry about all these pond/lake/fish metaphors!)

            Liked by 1 person

            • April 19, 2017 at 10:01 pm

              I can’t see a single reason why that would be good for anyone, Audrey. It’s a shambles.

              Liked by 1 person

      • April 19, 2017 at 5:14 pm

        Or, ‘Japanese historical romances’. Also, number 1 is something that changes moment to moment – apparently Amazon has said people aren’t allowed to use the term when advertising any more, which says a lot about the value of the ranking. Feck right off indeed!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Lizzie Gates
    April 19, 2017 at 7:53 am

    This is precisely the reason why I love secondhand bookshops. The little pile of eccentric books in a corner under miscellaneous is always worth a trawl for the original and inspiring. That’s why we should – in these Amazon – and hag-ridden – days, cherish the independent bookseller.

    Liked by 1 person

    • April 19, 2017 at 10:12 am

      Very true, Lizzie. At the very least, I should be putting my money where my mouth is, and stop browsing Amazon altogether. Although, to be fair, I use it mainly for inspiration or information for blog posts. I still buy my books from proper shops.

      Like

      • Lizzie Gates
        April 19, 2017 at 10:30 am

        Me too. And the prices are much keener than the Amazon discount with its P&P – if that’s a consideration!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. April 19, 2017 at 8:20 am

    Now, listen, you. I just searched Amazon for these books you speak of about narcoleptic paleontologists and found — nothing. Oh, there’s a series about narcoleptic vampires, but for some reason I’m not drawn to vampire books. (It may have been that teacher at Cragside Primary School, before I got lucky and moved to Benton Park; the memory of a woman like that never leaves you). If you’re going to whet our appetites, be good enough to provide ASIN numbers so I can find the damn things.

    Liked by 4 people

    • April 19, 2017 at 10:14 am

      Oh, but it’s all part of my grand plan, John. At some point I plan to write my Opus Maximus, which features 2 narcoleptic palaeontologists and an optically frustrated train enthusiast. I just have to find the right genre for it, and I’m set.

      Like

  5. April 19, 2017 at 8:22 am

    Reblogged this on Anita Dawes & Jaye Marie.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. April 19, 2017 at 8:26 am

    It could possibly be time to scrap genres altogether, just list them all as fiction or not. Then we could go back to judging a book by its cover…

    Liked by 3 people

    • April 19, 2017 at 10:15 am

      I wish we could. I heard once that in some countries like Turkey, they still don’t distinguish between genres – it’s either fiction or non-fiction, and that’s it. Although everywhere Amazon reaches, they’re surely going to change things.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. April 19, 2017 at 8:50 am

    Hopefully, these are the reasons bookshops will never become extinct! Nothing beats a good old browse, and bookworms understand this. Fact of life: there’s a worm in every apple, but hopefully, a silver lining to every cloud. Nice to be able to self-publish, but impossible to keep the drivel out. Annoying to browse on Amazon, but great when you’re looking for something in particular….😊

    Liked by 1 person

    • April 19, 2017 at 10:19 am

      Also, Amazon recommendations are extremely suspect and mean nothing, whereas a recommendation from a person working in an actual bookshop speaks volumes. And yes, Amazon is very handy for books you can’t find anywhere else. There’s no getting away from that unfortunate fact.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. April 19, 2017 at 11:27 am

    You write as if there were some escape, Tara.

    I think I may have bad news.

    Not only does Amazon force a choice of genre on the reader, they do so on the author as well. You know those colleagues who engineer a category so they can be in the top ten (“My title just hit #2 in Children’s Gender-Bent Uncozy Murder Mysteries! Squee!”). I’m in the opposite category, of course, trying to write the sort of epic fantasy with literary pretensions that virtually no one has time for anytime. My circus, my monkeys and I like them, so no worries.

    But if you DON’T play the game, Amazon does, and really badly. Witness my novella “The Ring and the Flag” which concerns an Elvish captain sent on a secret mission to defuse a demon-fueled conspiracy, and is ranked by Amazon… under Non-Fiction.

    The rank has seven figures, so I doubt you’d run across it even if you wanted. But there it is, and just try changing it once the Zon has made up its (not-quite all-seeing) mind. Is nonmiscient a word?

    Liked by 3 people

    • April 19, 2017 at 12:26 pm

      That’s exactly the point I was making, Will; that Amazon are forcing a choice of genre onto the writer too, which seems to be changing the way books are being written. But I’m confused about the ranking issue – why your book is being ranked by Amazon under a different genre to the one you would have selected when you put it up on Amazon in the first place?

      Like

  9. April 19, 2017 at 12:00 pm

    Reblogged this on Jan Hawke INKorporated and commented:
    If anyone can fathom Amazon’s ‘bestseller’ policy (while poking it with a big stick) it’s Tara! Me? I’m just banjaxed all round… 😛

    Liked by 1 person

  10. April 19, 2017 at 12:03 pm

    This is just one area in which I feel that Amazon is changing how books are written. The serial? Man, I hate the serial. Sure, you can argue that the serial is just an updated version of how Charles Dickens wrote but that’s just a cop out. And an absolute deluge of books jumping on the same bandwagon (stepbrother romance, retold fairy tails, etc. etc). But Amazon uses this complex algorithm which helps authors if they write in the same genre of a popular book so….. If an author is concerned with selling books (just books, not good books), then Amazon’s complex math trickery influences their writing choices. Then, there’s the rest of us ….

    Liked by 1 person

    • April 19, 2017 at 12:31 pm

      By serial do you mean e.g. a trilogy, with books 1 and 2 having cliffhanger endings, or do you mean a series, D.E.? Because I must admit I love a good series. If the characters are engaging enough for me to want more, I want more, simple as that! There are lots of tricks which some people are making good use of on Amazon to get visibility. I find I only get annoyed when they’re being used by crappy books. When good books game the system and win, I’m cheering from the sidelines…

      Liked by 1 person

      • April 19, 2017 at 1:00 pm

        I love a good series! I should as I’ve written two 😜 No. I mean those 50 page parts of books that cost $2.49 each. Money grabbing.

        Liked by 1 person

        • April 19, 2017 at 1:05 pm

          Okay, I’m 100% with you there. They should come with a health warning. The worst thing is that most try to conceal what they really are. More despicable and far less cute than a cartoon villain.

          Liked by 1 person

          • April 19, 2017 at 1:13 pm

            Now I’m imagining some author – who is strangely wearing a witch’s hat and has a crooked nose – cackling away as she writes. Is that an apple next to her drpping poison?

            Liked by 1 person

            • April 19, 2017 at 1:18 pm

              Nope. Too interesting. The serial villains are sitting in dirty tracksuits, scoffing junk food and taking occasional breaks to make snide remarks on Facebook.

              Liked by 2 people

  11. April 19, 2017 at 1:18 pm

    Tara, you crack me up. Spot on, as always, and funny to boot. Poopular! I can think of so many uses for that word. It’s the magic of English that it lends itself so well to new words. When other languages need a new word, they just use an English one! As for Amazon, it has changed literature forever, but bookstores will never go away completely, thank heavens. And as for me, I write what I want. Sometimes it fits into a genre, and sometimes it doesn’t. My insistence on being independent of a rigid system of categorization will probably doom me to a life of penury, but oh well. I’ll die poor but happy.

    Your posts always bring a morning smile. Keep it up.

    Liked by 2 people

    • April 19, 2017 at 2:15 pm

      Great stuff, Jim, glad to be of service – even if Amazon aren’t 😉

      Like

  12. April 19, 2017 at 1:23 pm

    Reblogged this on Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. April 19, 2017 at 1:28 pm

    Very interesting post!

    As a romance writer, it’s a bit easier to determine genre.

    However, both as writers and readers, we’re going to have to adapt to Amazon. They revitalized a lot of authors’ careers when stores like B&N came in. They made mega-authors more popular, but all but destroyed a lot of the middle guys.

    Still, it is interesting. I never purchased books the way you mention. I usually had a couple of authors I liked and wanted more of their stuff. Or, I’d get a recommendation from a friend for a book they thought I’d like.

    DH, however, really misses the old indie stores (there are none by us atm). He’s a huge fan of science fiction, and he loved to go browse the Sci Fi section and pick up a few new authors to see if they were any good. Some were excellent, as good or better than the mega authors. Some, not so much. But he loved the hunt.

    Liked by 1 person

    • April 19, 2017 at 2:35 pm

      My jury’s out on who destroyed the middle guys, Elizabeth. It’s all too easy to blame behemoth Amazon for taking out the little guys – but what about the big publishers who reduced advances to unliveable levels, or ploughed entire marketing budgets into big-name titles whilst completely ignoring their own mid-lists, all but ensuring their demise?

      I know I’m throwing a punch at them in my piece, here, but I have to be fair too and say that Amazon are only doing what they do to make online selling a necessarily algorithm-driven, profitable business. They’re big enough not to care that small squeaks like me are throwing punches, but it doesn’t mean I can blame them for everything that’s gone wrong in publishing – and let’s face it, there are so many things wrong in publishing, I have blog fodder for infinity.

      Like

  14. Scott
    April 19, 2017 at 1:42 pm

    Good post. Perhaps that is why I often end up reading something I read long ago. I don’t enjoy the chase.

    Liked by 1 person

    • April 19, 2017 at 2:38 pm

      I know what you mean, Scott. Finding a book shouldn’t make us tired.

      Like

  15. April 19, 2017 at 1:51 pm

    Reblogged this on Don Massenzio's Blog and commented:
    This post has some great insight into Amazon as a bookstore from Tara Sparling’s blog

    Liked by 1 person

    • April 19, 2017 at 2:38 pm

      Makes me wonder how Amazon’s new physical bookstores are laid out too, Don.

      Liked by 1 person

      • April 19, 2017 at 3:33 pm

        True. I wish they were print on demand. There are some bookstores in Europe that are doing this.

        Liked by 1 person

        • April 19, 2017 at 3:42 pm

          That really would be consumer-driven thinking, Don. What are the chances?!

          Liked by 1 person

          • April 19, 2017 at 3:46 pm

            I think they’re moving that way. The new KDP print book service is a move away from CreateSpace and toward an Amazon POD solution.

            Liked by 1 person

  16. April 19, 2017 at 1:59 pm

    Reblogged this on Anna Dobritt — Author.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. April 19, 2017 at 2:02 pm

    First, I heartily agree that poopular is a word and will endeavour to use it henceforth.

    Second, I believe I time traveled too far back in my brain as I tried to remember how I used to shop for books based on the sentence above, however now that you bring it up, I actually branch out quite a bit more since Amazon changed my habits. When I go to a brick and mortar, I used to go to the scifi/fantasy section and then back and forth by the same three tiny shelves over and over (while occasionally doing squats) looking for a dragon book or futuristic female hero I hadn’t read. No easy task, but it was a good whole body workout.

    Liked by 1 person

    • April 19, 2017 at 2:40 pm

      That’s a score for the writers at least, Allie. I suppose being presented with what we really don’t want has to result in the odd hidden gem too!

      Liked by 1 person

  18. April 19, 2017 at 2:06 pm

    Reblogged this on Wild and Woolly Wordsmithing and commented:
    Excellent post, Tara! Must share!

    Liked by 1 person

  19. April 19, 2017 at 2:14 pm

    I’m indi (who writes thrillers LOL), and what drives me the most nuts, is when fellow indi’s stoop to a cheat… some of us respect our work and prefer to stay true to our books with the title and image….. BUT THEN we run into other indi’s who are shamelessly giving us all a bad name by extending their titles into full two and three sentences, packed with “keywords”…. yes we all know that Amazon is a mere search engine. No that doesn’t give us the right to cheat our way to the top by treating our books like some heartless website with the best of the best SEO orginization….. It kills me how many people care about $$$ more than the integrity of their own books…. great post!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • April 19, 2017 at 2:43 pm

      To be fair, I can’t say that I see that as cheating, Didi. Online bookselling might be deviating into a pretty undignified Battle Of The Marketing Strategies, but if indie authors are using keywords to improve discoverability – and in doing so, improving their discoverability – then perhaps they’re doing something right? After all, at the end of the day any author who publishes a book is doing it in order to have that book read, and if you can’t beat ’em…!

      Liked by 1 person

      • April 19, 2017 at 3:02 pm

        I guess I’d agree with you more if the ones I’ve seen felt more honest and true to the books… I guess with anything there are honest and dishonest ways of using proven tactic… There is absolutly nothing wrong with a keyword or two in your title when it fits and works with the story 🙂 … what I’m referring to is when people look up top keywords and then just list them endlessly as a part of there tittle even when it doesn’t fit the books content, just to drive a sale… I guess I should have explained a little differently? To each their own I guess. But it’s definitely a peeve for me lol

        Liked by 1 person

        • April 19, 2017 at 3:41 pm

          I suppose worrying about what other people are doing will only make us unhappy in the end! We need to take what we like from success stories, and leave what we don’t.

          Liked by 1 person

  20. April 19, 2017 at 3:30 pm

    Tara-speak inspires three smashing new categories: general fecktion, science-fecktion, and non-fecktion. Stick those in your jungle Amazon.

    Liked by 2 people

  21. April 19, 2017 at 3:55 pm

    Hi Tara,
    It’s not only Amazon, when you submit your book to Nook Press or iBooks, their genre is even more limited. You get the same results…lost in space. My book “One Month, 20 Days and a Wake Up” can’t be classified as a memoir or nonfiction because I declared it as fiction based on my life experiences. KDP forced me to declare it as historical fiction. Really? (I shook my head in defeat). I agree authors need to know how their book is going to be marketed and adjust its presentation according.
    ‘poopular’, ‘poopular’, ‘poopular’, ‘poopular’, ‘poopular’, There is a weeks worth, I’ll be back next week to add more. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  22. April 19, 2017 at 4:09 pm

    Since Amazon is a search engine “if enough people would type in that as search criteria like that Amazon might adjust because they do catalog what people type the most as a search engine which would affect their algorithms.

    I agree with tho we do have to go about it differently but if large enough group type the same thing “we MIGHT could affect change on it” since it is a software, not a person with a bias doing it.

    Interesting experiment and food for thought. Great post.
    Enjoyed reading. Happy A to Z Juneta @ Writer’s Gambit

    .

    Liked by 1 person

    • April 19, 2017 at 11:11 pm

      I’m not sure how that would work out, Juneta, as the logic behind their algorithms is results-driven rather than search-driven. From a user perspective it doesn’t suit what I want, but from a selling perspective it definitely suits what they want. The whole system of online selling is predicated on people knowing what they want and searching for a specific thing. But at least we still have bookshops to browse in.

      Liked by 1 person

  23. April 19, 2017 at 4:09 pm

    My experience may not be representative but I’ve found that even in a genre like Crime fiction, it’s not easy to be discovered if your book doesn’t fall into one of the more popular (one “o”) subcategories like Police procedural. I’m finding that playing Amazon’s game requires too many contortions and that’s one of the reasons why I’m about to withdraw my book from the Kindle store and, after a giveaway period, sell it direct from my blog. (I wasn’t able to give it away before because I don’t want to give Amazon exclusivity for 90 days.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • April 19, 2017 at 4:53 pm

      I’ve seen that in Crime too, Anders. Although technically I think you could call anything with a cop within a sniff of the place a police procedural. We’re used to people playing fast and loose with genre selection now, which is half the reason readers are so jaded, I think. The very best of luck with your new selling adventure.

      Liked by 1 person

  24. April 19, 2017 at 4:33 pm

    Love this post, Tara. Fascinating and fun.

    Liked by 1 person

  25. April 19, 2017 at 4:42 pm

    Interesting, i hadn’t thought of that before. I’m not a reader who prefers one specific genre either – maybe similar styles, but not genres. I much prefer browsing the bookshelves for something to catch my eye. What a bummer that Amazon doesn’t have some equivalent, but maybe they’ll add that functionality in somehow at some point.

    Liked by 1 person

    • April 19, 2017 at 4:55 pm

      Whatever Amazon does or doesn’t do, Amy, I think you have it right. Nothing beats browsing the bookshelves, especially in a shop you love. And I think it’s safe to say that very few people feel that emotion for the Zon.

      Like

      • April 19, 2017 at 5:01 pm

        I commented but it put into moderation I think because of my signature link.

        Liked by 1 person

        • April 19, 2017 at 10:05 pm

          Hi Juneta, that’s right, anything with an outside link will go into moderation – sorry! If you leave out the links they’ll go straight through. I’ll go and retrieve that now.

          Like

      • April 19, 2017 at 6:13 pm

        That’s true. I usually find a book I want outside of Amazon, and then go to Amazon to purchase if purchasing from Amazon. Browsing online in other places or ideally browsing in a physical bookstore is the way to find books. I think most readers know that, and I hope most writers will write with THAT in mind instead of copying the style of every other big book out there.

        Liked by 1 person

        • April 19, 2017 at 10:06 pm

          Until their publishers make them do otherwise, of course 😛

          Liked by 1 person

          • April 19, 2017 at 10:13 pm

            Lol okayyyy, and hopefully the publishers give in to a writers’ dreams too….a little too naive and hopeful? 😛 hahaha

            Liked by 1 person

  26. April 19, 2017 at 4:42 pm

    Oh, well, I read through the comments, Tara, and I’m going to stick out like a sore thumb here. On one point, I align with your followers in that I write whatever I want to write without a second thought for where it will end up on Amazon. Amazon’s algorithms and rankings are what they are and they’re dictated by the public’s purchasing habits on the whole. Celebrities and best-selling authors have an edge whether deserved or not. People are swayed by poopularity. I think it’s a matter more of who you are than what you write. Here’s where I differ: I prefer to search by genre. If I had to wade through all those YA romances, I think I’d have a stroke. Even searching by genre, I tend toward the better-known authors or heftily reviewed books in order to avoid the poop. So, what if I want to read something new and fresh and different? Where do I go? Book bloggers. I follow quite a few and have come across some great books that way. 😀 As always I enjoy your posts and the discussions that follow. Happy Reading!

    Liked by 2 people

    • April 19, 2017 at 4:56 pm

      Now, you can’t just come around here and try to defeat arguments with open-minded logic, Diana. I won’t have it. That kind of sage recommendation and lateral thinking has no place on this blog. Shame on you. Oh, and thanks. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

    • April 19, 2017 at 5:42 pm

      You’ve inspired such a good discussion here, Tara. To add to Diana’s well-reasoned argument, I’ll throw out these thoughts. I love bookstores too, especially used bookstores with fiction lumped together in a gorgeous, serendipity-producing mess. BUT: with all the books being published now, by the big 5 (or is it 4?), small publishers and indies, there is no way any physical bookstore could stock them all. AND: many book bloggers/reviewers are now overwhelmed by authors wanting reviews, to the point they’re having to become gatekeepers. That leaves most indie books unfindable, without a good, neutral search engine to dredge them up (neutral doesn’t sell, I guess). Dare I say it — too many books? Too many writers? (OK, I’ve written and published 4 novels, a ‘box set’ of those novels, and 4 short fiction pieces, but hey — I’m special). 😉
      I keep thinking of my job as a cataloguer in a library, from which I retired a year ago. We carefully applied subject and genre terms to fiction books, following a principle of absolute neutrality. (We had no terms like “Crappy celebrity memoir” or “Cardboard characters” or “Predictable plot”0. Searching a library catalogue should produce that ideal browsing experience. The problem, of course, is that libraries can’t buy everything, and therefore tend to select the most popular (hopefully not poopular) books, not the indie-published gems that will never see the light in a reader’s eyes.

      Liked by 2 people

      • April 19, 2017 at 10:16 pm

        It’s hard to argue against the premise that there are too many books out there, Audrey, so I generally don’t. We can say that the cream will always rise to the top, but of course it doesn’t. And in a saturated market, whatever cream there is appears to be getting homogenised past the point of palatability.

        Liked by 1 person

        • April 20, 2017 at 4:11 am

          As I’ve suspected — the main reason anyone should write is for the love of it, and they should temper their expectations of fame and fortune.

          Liked by 1 person

      • April 19, 2017 at 10:38 pm

        I love book stores and libraries too, but as you mentioned, Audrey, the selection is limited by shelf space. Other than sheer luck, what has worked best for me is writing lots of books so readers have all kinds of ways to find me and plenty to read if they like the first try. Secondly, and I hate to say it… carefully managed, infrequent giveaways. Too many and readers will wait for the next free book, but those once in a while giveaways can generate lots of followup sales and get the word out little by little. 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

  27. April 19, 2017 at 5:51 pm

    OMG, how come I didn’t discover your blog earlier??? This post is so well written and you practically pointed out what’s obvious from the book selling world. When I first fell in love with reading, which was just two years ago, I had no idea how to choose books or explore new ones. So I simply browsed through Goodreads and picked the ones that piqued my interest. At first, I didn’t know what all the ratings of books were about so I kind of enjoyed most of my reads because they were my choices! But after getting more familiar with Amazon or “genres” or “hype/ratings”, I gradually realized that I no longer liked what I read in the previous months.

    As you mentioned, I do believe Amazon changed the way authors write. Some of my ex-all-time-favorite authors changed their writing style tremendously and thus, their stories turned out to be one of those “popular bestselling” books and lack their originality.

    Anyway, in order not to fall into another reading slump due to those categorized books, I decide to read the books that catches my eye first regardless of its rating or other’s opinions from now on. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • April 19, 2017 at 10:40 pm

      I don’t know, Jax, where the hell have you been?! I’ve been waiting for you for so loooooong. Didn’t make me any thinner, sadly, as I appear to have been eating chocolate the entire time. Glad we finally caught your eye, though. The internet doesn’t always fail us. I’m doubly glad you’ve fallen in love with reading – so have I, and it’s the most healthy relationship I’ve ever had. Never once has a book cheated on me, insulted my family, or stolen my chocolate. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      • April 20, 2017 at 2:40 am

        Hahahaha, you’re so right on the last (chocolate) part! LOL I’m also glad you manage to find books that interest you most to read and they aren’t disappointing! 😀

        Liked by 1 person

  28. April 19, 2017 at 6:15 pm

    D’you know, this is why I keep banging on about libraries. I’m always at my most adventurous in a library (steady!) in that I’m not just faced with bestsellers and new releases and books of the moment. There’s no better feeling than, as you say, discovering a new author for yourself without having a marketing department brainwash me, or worse, trick me into buying their books. Publishing has fostered a kind of ‘throwaway’ culture around books recently and it would seem, authors. Those shoe-horned stories you spoke about seem expendable, like there’s no real thought put into an author’s career and long term viability. And they don’t need to, because there’s 17 billion more authors lining up to take their place and thrash out more ‘hot releases’ that rise and spark like fireworks in the night sky and then putter out into the blackness. I suppose I’ve always looked at this from a writer’s point of view, but yes, it’s short-changing the readers too. Great post, as always, and very poopular.

    Liked by 1 person

    • April 19, 2017 at 10:44 pm

      Ain’t that the truth – it’s all about short-termism at its worst, Evie, and the powers that be don’t even seem to realise it. it takes so much time and effort to build an audience, and yet they just throw it all away by not nurturing authors’ careers once they’ve got one.

      Liked by 1 person

  29. April 19, 2017 at 6:20 pm

    As usual, Tara, you’re right (and I’m not saying that to score brownie points… though if there were REAL brownies to score I wouldn’t be adverse… contact me for my address 🙂 )

    This demand to assign “genre” is not only mucking up the reading/finding books process, as you discovered, it’s wreaking havoc, as also so accurately pointed out, on authors attempting to crack the code of invisibility.

    If you look at my Twitter feed at the moment, my pinned tweet says: “What do you most want readers to get from your work?: ‘A GOOD story. And the experience of FEELING something.'” Period. And that IS what I am trying to do as a writer. I write the stories I’m compelled to write; I am NOT compelled by genre. But the demand to fulfill a genre, to neatly fit your work into some category that’s considered popular, viral, high-selling, viable, is incessant.

    I’ve had agents and book consultants tell me “literary fiction” (which, it seems, is the only category on places like Book Bub or other promotional sites for any fiction that ISN’T tightly bound by crime/romance/paranormal genre) is the “hardest category to sell” and, therefore, generally anathema. Great, right? Whaddaya do when what you write is JUST FICTION?

    This demand to narrowly fit your work into a round hole is clearly why some writers take that often incongruous turn in the attempt to make their fiction something OTHER than “just fiction.” Why they feel the need for some irrational, not-particularly-narratively-supported plot twist. The battle between writing what moves you, what feels organic and real, and what the market (meaning anything from literary agents to publishers to Amazon) demands, is both confusing and exhausting.

    But good writers, honest writers, remain dedicated to writing what compels them, the stories that wake them up in the middle of the night begging for expression — genre, category, query letters, marketing formulas, and Amazon be damned. Which means their books may be harder to find, based on the long and winding road you stumbled upon, but which may also mean their discovery is all-the-more worth the search-challenge.

    Liked by 2 people

    • April 19, 2017 at 10:57 pm

      Looks like the game has completely changed, hasn’t it, Lorraine? Authors once had to deal with editing decisions which went against their gut feeling. Now they have to deal with marketing decisions which can change their book beyond recognition.

      Like

      • April 20, 2017 at 12:32 am

        Yes… it’s all so strange and somewhat untraversable. At this point my only advice to a writer would be: write what you’re driven to write, write it well, product it well, and then… well, then go out for a walk. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  30. April 19, 2017 at 6:27 pm

    Apart from Amazon, you try fining a genre marked action/adventure if you want to use one of the promo email boost companies. Seems it’s not a genre any more, or as old fashioned as the big brass band era. One of my books actually had a travel label – OK it’s set in Africa but it’s NOT a travel guide, another in the same series is listed as non-fiction and I certainly didn’t choose tags like that! They are Wilbur Smith type books anyone remember him?

    Liked by 1 person

    • April 19, 2017 at 11:00 pm

      i remember Wilbur! He was big in our house. But your reference to promo boost companies has made me wonder, Lucinda – how have we come to a point where the book industry is supporting hundreds of extortionate marketing services?! The mind boggles, and not just because someone gets to change the genre of your book based on its location.

      Like

  31. April 19, 2017 at 9:43 pm

    Maybe I’m just being cynical but with these algorithims I wonder if they really are showing ‘best sellers’ or books that the publishers have put most promotional funds towards……

    Liked by 1 person

    • April 19, 2017 at 11:02 pm

      I’m tempted to think the same, but there is some fairly conclusive data which suggests otherwise. I’ll be doing another post on that soon, but the evidence suggests that Amazon aren’t actually gaming the system like we would suspect. If I were to be really cynical I’d say it was because they’re just so big and powerful they don’t even need to.

      Liked by 1 person

  32. April 19, 2017 at 10:24 pm

    Who needs poopular crime fiction when we have so many poopular politicians? You are very convincing, and my small experience with agents only supports this. I had one of those wild, dreamed-of reactions from respectable agents who had read my MS and couldn’t wait to make it into a best seller. I rewrote as requested, following their advice, and sent a new draft. Many weeks of silence, then a brief dismissive email. This gist of this was that they didn’t think I would, after all, turn my story into a psychological thriller they had in mind.

    Liked by 1 person

    • April 19, 2017 at 11:19 pm

      Oh, for Blog’s sake. I had a taste of that myself, but for different reasons. File under Things If We’d Been Told In The First Place We Could Have Saved Enough Time To Write Another Damn Book. It’s my most poopular file.

      Liked by 1 person

      • April 20, 2017 at 7:23 am

        I was lucky, I took my daughter’s advice. After that first wild, and unsettling, phone call she advised: engage with them, learn all you can as they are professionals, but expect nothing. The re-writing was probably an improvement.

        Liked by 1 person

        • April 20, 2017 at 9:34 am

          Same happened with me. The re-write vastly improved the book and to be fair, the agent spent a considerable amount of time on it and yet got nothing out of it either. I can’t really complain about that.

          Liked by 1 person

  33. April 19, 2017 at 10:26 pm

    Well now. I have whiled away many a happy hour in an actual bookshop, but that was before bookshops became what they are today. The lack of choice and variety is appalling. My local bookshop thinks its a toy shop as well. Less space for books. My other nearest Independent book shop turned up its snooty nose at me when it found out I was just an Indie and not trad pubbed. As for the rest… celebrity everything, get me out of here!!! They’re a farce… big publishers buying up all the prime space in the front of the shop. Book shops control what readers buy just as much as Amazon does. They won’t/ can’t afford to take a chance on quirky lesser k own writers. Amazon drives me crazy for many reasons, but I love that when I finish reading a great book at 2am in the morning I can instantly go online and download the next one in the series to my Kindle, or another by the same author, and carry on reading. I love carrying a a hundred books in my handbag whenever I leave the house. And as I live in the country, and can’t always get to shops, especially with Carys in tow, Amazon has helped me keep my sanity! As with most things in life, I find that Amazon, and the real physical bookshop, both have their pros and cons. You didn’t know I could be so sensible and reasonable, did you?

    Liked by 1 person

    • April 19, 2017 at 11:23 pm

      Yeah, the day bookshops started selling shelf space was a dark day indeed, Ali. I’m sorry to hear you were unlucky with your local bookshop, though. Most of the ones I’ve heard about, even in Dublin, have been enormously supportive to indie author friends, and although many independent shops base their bestseller lists on the Eason/Argosy catalogue lists, which are far from perfect, at least they’re not selling slots to the highest bidder.

      Like

  34. April 19, 2017 at 10:43 pm

    I agree one hundred percent. But what does it really mean? The ultimate death of the mid-list literary novel. Traditional publishers who still promote them will be forced into a niche market or ultimately (to make money) give way to the Amazon model.

    I rarely find good ADULT literary novels on Amazon. iTunes is better at promoting them. But iTunes and Apple can’t reach the market Amazon grabs because who really uses iBooks on a Samsung? (Can they? I don’t know.) Publishing houses are being absorbed by global businesses and trimming their editorial staff, not to mention redefining editorial functions toward studying the market and finding books tailored to demand. (http://bit.ly/2o5a0No p. 88-89).

    Most mid-list literary novels are as forgettable as genre fiction. I have to go to my bookshelves to find literary fiction I read ten years ago. The only title that comes to mind is The Lovely Bones, but how would it be marketed today? Crime? Teen Romance? Paranormal? None of those genres describe that book. I can see it getting lost in the wash of titles online.

    That’s assuming a publishing house would even look at it. I can already see the response to the pitch. How do we list this? What’s your target market?

    Readers, is no longer an acceptable answer.

    Liked by 2 people

    • April 19, 2017 at 11:40 pm

      Absolutely agree. But regarding books being tailored to demand – what demand? Is it what’s currently selling extrapolated to more of the same? Because that’s not really demand. That’s just flotsam. The only real demand I recognise is when I love an author so much I’d read anything they wrote, even if all that was available is cheeky filler in the form of a novella.

      Like

  35. April 19, 2017 at 10:50 pm

    Reblogged this on Wind Eggs and commented:
    Tara Sperling’s post strikes a chord. Online distributors like Amazon steer us toward genres we enjoy, and away from the discovery of literary gems. The more we focus on preferred genres as readers, the less flexible our writer’s brain.* Our own books suffer and our readers suffer in turn.

    This is a fundamental discovery of neuroscience at the end of the century. A brain you don’t exercise is a brain that ossifies. The more you limit your reading choices, the weaker the neural connections to writing styles and tropes beyond our preferred genre, Ultimately, we cease to recognize the titles as readable at all.

    Liked by 1 person

    • April 19, 2017 at 11:41 pm

      Thanks for the re-blog, Phillip. But one of these days I’m going to call for a Sparling instead of a Sperling 😉

      Like

  36. April 19, 2017 at 11:26 pm

    There’s definitely an odd catch-22 aspect to it. One has to write a story unique enough to appeal to audiences as something “new”, but still fit nicely into one of 6-12 genre categories.

    I remember an author by the name of M.S. Weech talking about how he recently had to settle on a genre for one of his books. He ended up choosing horror/thriller, but in reality the story is not scary so much as an introspective dialogue about how we regard death. It’s certainly supernatural, but very mellow and philosophical, and not at all scary.

    But these are the conventions that publishers and retailers choose to use. Regrettably, while the consequences of those choices should rest firmly on their shoulders, it’s often the author who has to accommodate the powerful business entity.

    Liked by 1 person

    • April 19, 2017 at 11:44 pm

      Blog be with the days of General Fiction, Adam. I never thought I could miss something so vague, so much! Business isn’t actually that difficult. I don’t buy the notion that restrictive genre categories are necessary to sell books.

      Liked by 1 person

      • April 20, 2017 at 12:15 am

        Mmm. But as you say, it makes it harder for them to govern and control. In a lot of ways that need some “buttons” to push to steer and manipulate their clients.

        I saw an article on business recently that cited how roughly half of the “strategies” developed by businesses are frequently designed with the intention of either making it harder for new rivals to enter the market, or make it harder for customers to go outside of the existing company for their purchases.

        There’s a lot of business practices that are very selfish on the part of the corporate entity, and work against the best interests of the client or the society as a whole. But in this time we can primarily support or protest through where and how we choose to spend our money.

        Liked by 1 person

  37. April 20, 2017 at 5:50 pm

    Have to say I’ve more or less given up on Amazon for book buying as it’s so non-productive and frustrating unless I’m searching for books by a particular author. These days I tend to shop in my local charity shop. Yes, I know authors suffer, but my conscience is salved by monies going to other good causes. My local charity shop offers a range of books, some of which are by authors I’ve never heard of never mind read. I go by the blurb and a dip into the contents, and if it looks interesting I hand over my money. Usually I stock up and buy five or six at a time to keep me going. This is my local bookshop – there is no other. Have read many excellent books from here, and occasionally have even gone on to the Amazon site to order another book by an author I have particularly enjoyed.

    As for genre, I’ve always struggled as to what niche mine should fit. Readers, I suspect, are heavily influenced by films and television programmes, so look for similar books (which can never live up to the special effects, lip trembling close-ups and enviable lifestyle accoutrements of the screen). This leaves those of us trying to write something slightly different out in the lonesome cold.

    Liked by 1 person

    • April 20, 2017 at 10:25 pm

      The only genre which would keep both reader and writers happy could well be General Fiction then, Dorothy. Stick it in fiction, let us read the blurb on the back and decide for ourselves.

      Like

  38. April 20, 2017 at 6:51 pm

    Back in the days when I cared I spent an afternoon following advice on finding genres/search terms that were not too small to be seen by readers, but not too big that your book would disappear in the sheer quantity of titles. It made no difference. What bugs me is that when I put the title of my third novel into Amazon it still doens’t show up in the search results!

    I don’t give a hoot about genre rankings anyway, except for the one in which my first novel is at number thirteen. The system works perfectly in that example. (Actually I’ve just checked and it’s gone up to number ten. My book is in the Top Ten Amazon Bestsellers List Free Paranormal Vampires. Nah, suck on that naysayers!)

    My plan for discoverability is to create a band and play live at the Azteca Stadium in Mexico City. Can’t be any harder than selling an ebook.

    Liked by 1 person

    • April 20, 2017 at 10:29 pm

      I never thought of that before, Chris! You’re right, can’t be any harder. Really looking forward to seeing you on Graham Norton. Will that be before or after Mexico City? And should I get my lawsuit in for whatever song I’m going to claim you’ve plagiarised now, or wait until you’ve been at #1 for 8 weeks?

      Liked by 1 person

  39. Sue Bridgwater
    April 24, 2017 at 11:10 am

    Reblogged this on Skorn and commented:
    Another example of the dumbing down of the world. 😦

    Liked by 1 person

  40. April 24, 2017 at 11:53 am

    Agree totally. The genre thing is infuriating and nonsensical unless you’re the kind of writer who takes notice of the bonkers plot lines agents tweet they are ‘hungry for’. Amazon offers another diabolical twist to help out the reader, or get them totally lost in the labyrinthine meanderings of the genre trail—categories and key words. These can have absolutely nothing to do with the story, but if you slip your book into an obscure and quirky category like ‘teen time travel and adventure with intergalactic anteaters’, you have much more chance of getting it into the best sellers ranks than if you stick it in ‘crime’ or ‘romance’ say. I’m not saying the book has to have even the whiff of an anteater, but if you’re a stickler for honesty you could slip one in here and there.

    Liked by 1 person

    • April 25, 2017 at 9:42 am

      That is a most ingenious not to mention dastardly plan, Jane. I love it. Everyone should do that immediately, if for no other reason than to make almost all categories useless.

      Like

      • April 25, 2017 at 10:39 am

        It would certainly make it easier to find books that suit very peculiar tastes 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  41. David
    April 27, 2017 at 8:02 pm

    I agree it wasn’t easy to browse, but after a little bit of effort, I found “Bestsellers in Literature & Fiction” with the small print explanation “Our most popular products based on sales. Updated hourly.” Alternately I could browse the “The New York Times® Best Sellers List” or several award lists: Man Booker Shortlist, National Book Critics Circle, etc. As for the writer’s side of the story, I guess I assumed that the author got to choose any number of tags or genres that they thought would help their book find an audience.

    Like

    • April 27, 2017 at 8:19 pm

      That’s good to know, that we can browse through those lists, David. I wish they put links on the homepage, instead of their own ‘also-liked’ recommendations, which I find rarely hit the mark. Regarding tags, I’m beginning to understand that authors don’t always get complete control there, especially when it comes to Kindle Unlimited. My issue with the focus on genre is that I believe many writers are just hammering their writing into what they think will sell (e.g. psychological thrillers) instead of what they’re best at (e.g. political satire about bovine rebellions)

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: