Amazon’s Order Policy Will Affect Indie Authors and Publishers

A recent article in Publishers Weekly (Amazon Stands by Books) came and went without a lot of fanfare, but independent authors and micro publishers should be paying attention.  The article is about a drop in sales due to changes in Amazon’s order policy, which the company says is a result of a cut in the warehousing of products.  However, Amazon assures publishers that they stand by books and are not planning any moves to relegate book sales to third party sellers.  For the bigger publishers, this may be comforting, but for independent presses, and authors who publish and distribute through Ingram, there may be a problem.

How Ingram Works with Amazon

Ingram is a wholesaler.  If you print books in quantity, you may have a distribution partner or you may warehouse the copies in another way.  Orders placed directly to Ingram will be fulfilled according to the terms you have set.  If you are a Print-on-Demand publisher, then Amazon and other retailers will populate your title on their sites when you select “global distribution” as you upload your title to Ingram Spark.  An article that goes into this more deeply can be found here.

How Indies will be Affected

In the past Amazon often ordered a small quantity of print books for new titles without a distribution partner.  A dedicated sales rep could increase that number, but many indies cannot afford to pay for one.  Also, having a partner does not guarantee you will get a bigger order. 

Now, Amazon may order zero copies of a new title, unless there is a pre-order demand.  In that case Amazon may only order the number of copies required to fulfill those orders on release date.  If that happens any additional orders will take “1 – 3 weeks” to fulfill, while Amazon waits on a new bulk order.  If their algorithm does not predict many sales soon, it is possible that Amazon will not stock additional copies until an order comes in. 

Unfortunately, a traditional book distributor is not going to solve this issue either.  Recently we have been told by indie presses that there is “nothing that they can do”.  Amazon makes their decisions and they can’t be refuted. In these cases authors are linked to the market through a “middle man”.  They have to wait in the dark  for something to change.   

While this is happening, there could be second-hand sellers on Amazon offering the book as “in stock”.  They may appear as “trusted sellers”.  Some of these people could have received a review copy for free and they are turning it around to earn a few bucks.  The books could have associated shipping costs and delivery dates of several days or more.  It looks bad to prospective Prime book buyers who are trained to get their products in two days or less.  It could deter people from purchasing.

Solving Amazon’s Order Policy Problem

The most direct way for Print-on-Demand (POD) publishers to solve the problem created by Amazon’s order policy is to publish directly to their KDP platform in paperback or hardcover.  If you do this after your title has been uploaded on Ingram Spark, your Amazon upload will overwrite Ingram’s.  You can still link your ebook to your account, even if you published that format through Ingram only.  

This method ensures that Amazon will have a vested interest in your book being available on their site.  Amazon has become your printer for the format you uploaded.  Your terms selling directly on the platform will be 60/40 in your favor, the book will be Prime eligible, and you can participate in direct advertising.

For independent publishers who print in quantity and have a distribution partner, the solution is murky.  Like so many inequalities in life, POD is a lower-class option because it is, for lack of a better word, “down market” publishing.  The reason small and micro presses pay distributors is to raise their status.  In some cases these relationships make them eligible for the advantages afforded to the bigger companies.  The question is, does this relationship truly elevate a book’s status?  Is there even enough room to consider titles from small presses?

Without traditional distribution, indie press books may not be eligible for certain awards.  Also, larger media outlets such as USA Today will not consider any POD books for review.    There are over one million books published every year.  This number it too high for media outlets to cover everything that is released.  Traditional distribution may provide some access to what the Big Five publishers can do.  It will not solve the ordering issue.

What Can Authors Do?

The first thing authors need to accept is that publishing your book is Step 1.  You may think you are done, but your work is just beginning.  Authors will need to come out of their comfort zones and become entrepreneurs who have platforms and marketing plans.  In the words of one of our clients, practice “shameless self-promotion”.   

Also, authors need to consider whether they want to work with a traditional publisher, a hybrid, or do it solo.  Make it a priority to find trusted sources who will explain how things work for indies. The divide between indie and big five publishing has only gotten wider over the last few years.

A friend of mine used to say “growing older isn’t for sissies”.  Well, writing and marketing a book isn’t either.  There are no shortcuts; it takes time, costs money, and there is no single path to take.  Be informed, prepared, and patient. 

What Does it Cost to Hire a Publicist or Digital Marketing Consultant?

If you are an individual or a small business, the question of what does it cost to hire a publicist or digital marketing consultant is an important one.  If you are just looking for an intern to post for you on Facebook and Instagram and you aren’t in need of a professional strategist, plan, campaign, etc., then this may be more than you need.  If you are investing in your business, career, product launch, or all of the above, then read on.

Several years ago I wrote a blog about hiring a publicist and it continues to generate traffic and interest.  Although the goals of these jobs are the same, the tools we use and the way we go about getting the job done has changed.  Instead of becoming less demanding as a result of a shrinking traditional media landscape, our jobs have grown.  In order to be successful we have to grow communities, sell to target audiences, conduct events virtually and in person, and get press attention every time we hit a goal.   The cost to hire a publicist or marketing consultant is going to be based on the level of experience of the person/team and the amount of time your project is going to take.  The more experience, skills, and services you want, the larger the budget.

What Does it Cost to Hire a Digital Marketing Consultant

I specialize in individualized brands, which include authors, experts, academics, thought leaders, and specialists of any kind.  Most of these people develop their images on social media in order to gain the credibility they need to sell something or be featured in the mainstream media.  The best way to do this these days is through social media.  There are so many firms out there offering social media services it is very difficult to know what to pay or what you should get.  Here are a few services to look at when you are deciding who to hire:

Plan and Strategy: Whether you are already on social media and are not getting the results you want, or you are completely new to this world, a strategy and plan are important.  A lot of people will worry about posting more and creating cool content without understanding how much their efforts are achieving.  You need to know that in order to make a difference and accomplish your goals.  Firms that offer these services should be spending at least four to six weeks working on your plan and strategy and additional time teaching you how to implement it.  The cost: $10,000 – 20,000.

Monthly Content Development and Posting:  This job requires a range of things from writing blogs to designing graphics and composing posts on multiple platforms.  It will require materials from you including photos, boilerplate copy for your business, and any slogans you use.  Video content can come from you directly in the form of single, in-person commentary, or be developed further by your marketing team.  This may also include running ads.  Posting will include a content calendar, scheduling, and analysis.  The range of costs: $600/month for a single campaign on one platform – $2,500+/month on multiple platforms.  The cost is dependent on the number of platforms and the amount of content that needs to be produced and scheduled.

What Does it Cost to Hire a Publicist?

I’m sure if you are Lady Gaga you are spending many thousands a month to have a PR team run your brand.  At that level you have someone listening and monitoring your brand on social media, planning, posting, blocking press and news stories, granting interviews, and more.

For our purposes, we are going to stick with a more general level of service and cost.  Again, there are many service options and people who offer them.  I differentiate them in a couple of ways “plug n’ play” and “customized campaigns”.

“Plug n’ Play”: These services are usually very reasonable, but they are limited.  If you are looking for someone to accomplish a part of the job for you, like offering a list of media contacts or pitching a set number of outlets, this would work for you.  The costs: For a limited campaign or service: $hundreds to purchase lists; $5000+ to be pitched to a specific list of contacts and scheduled for reviews or interviews over a short period of time (6 – 14 weeks).

Customized Campaigns: A campaign like this could involve regional and national media, bloggers, influencer targetting, event planning, national media, and speaking engagements.  Depending on whoever else is on your team it could also involve social media and brand management and marketing.  If you are looking for long term public relations for yourself and your brand the costs are usually set monthly for a contracted period.  If you are planning a single product launch or book launch then the campaign is usually set up as a “project” and charged accordingly.  The costs: $3,500 – 5,000/month for a retainer/contract, $20,000+/project.

Whether you are looking to grow your brand, business, or product, it is important to have a plan and a way to execute it.  Hiring an expert is an investment.  Being informed about the services and costs will help you determine what you will pay to have done and what you will do on your own.

Where can I get service around here?

In the words of a frustrated business and homeowner, where have all of the conscientious service people gone?

Granted, they probably have been missing all along, it’s just now that I need them, they still are nowhere to be found.

I wrote about this long ago—how important it is to provide excellent customer service to your clients.  I have even represented clients who have made a living counseling big companies on what service is, and how to promote the practice of excellence among their employees.  Recently, I’ve been amazed at what I’ve observed, so I’m going to go off the blog’s topic for a bit to share a couple of stories with you.

I have computers in my office.  No big deal, right?  Well, in smaller businesses we don’t have the luxury of calling up the IT department to come fix a problem—we have to find a reliable contractor or do it ourselves.  I finally found the time to get a “professional” in to set up a network, cloud drive, backup systems, and the like.  Did he come on time?  Yes, he sent a tech over at the assigned time.  Did he know what he was doing?  I’m not sure.  Did he have a fight with the tech in the office over what solution he should employ to fix my problems?  Oh, yes.  Did said tech call me later to try and get my business, thereby undercutting the “friend” and contractor I originally hired?  Yes he did.  Did my problem get fixed?  Yes, after three days, and although the fight and pursuant phone call from the tech were a bit uncomfortable, I was charged under the original agreement even though it took twice the time (no doubt in part because of in fighting among personnel).

Where can I get service around here?At home, I have a dog.  She’s my first dog ever, and I love her to bits.  However, she runs like the wind and needed an electric fence to keep her penned in before the town dog catcher found her miles from my house.  I fell victim to a direct mail coupon and called that company to ask what I would need to do to get the fence I already had up and working.  They sent a person over a couple of weeks later and basically they upgraded my system and implemented their technology in place of the old that had probably been at the house since the early 2000s.  Then came the training portion of the deal, which was very pricey, but knowing that I am a newbie when it comes to dogs, I felt that it would be prudent to have the professionals guide me in the process.

The first guy who fixed my system walked me through the initial training session which is all about getting your dog used to the flags that indicate where the fencing is.  Fine.  The second guy came about a week later and obviously had a different style, in fact he was a bit disappointed in trainer #1 who had not given me a proper leash, and maybe wasn’t as effective as he could have been.  Okay.  The second training was about luring the dog to get “shocked” by the collar and then calming her down.  A negative response system they call “The Correction”.  The third day came and the guy who had come on day 1 appeared with a colleague along for the ride.  He wasn’t particularly impressed with what trainer #2 had done and made it clear that it would have been better to do things a bit differently.  Well, to make it short, they let the dog go and she saw her “boyfriend” next door on his lawn; she bolted; was zapped profusely; and came crying back to our yard.  Oh my goodness was the trainer unhappy about this.  He must have said at least four times “I wish I had known that other dog was out there”;  “That wasn’t the way it was supposed to happen”; etc. 

For my part I thought it worked perfectly, but I could tell that Katie (my dog) and I had disappointed him.  He left shortly thereafter and alas, that was my third and final session.  So $400+ later I was left feeling a big deflated by the training process and vowed to follow the rules left by the company.  Then my husband said one night, “I would just let her run around and figure it out”, and I said “Me too.”  That’s what we did and slowly she is figuring out what her boundaries are.

Dog trainers and tech support throwing each other under the bus in front of a customer?  Overpaying for training during for which you, the customer, are chastised and left feeling like you didn’t get the proper instruction for your money?  What is that all about?

I won’t go into the many calls I make to contractors that don’t get returned.  Or the people who come out for estimates and then I call back to start work and they never resurface.  It goes on and on.  Back to business, I’ve been told by media people that publicists don’t return their calls, and that is just unfathomable to me.  I mean, we spend our days trying to get a returned email or call with expressed interest—to have someone call me and not call back?

All I can say is, service is in part about manners and respect.  If you don’t respect your customers then you really should do something else.   I’ll keep getting things fixed, installed, up-to-speed, and will consider every strange or unpleasant experience one to learn from.  I will treasure the ones that go well, and I will keep those businesses on speed dial.

We were “slammed”…

If you subscribe to a utility company, for home or business, beware because “slamming” does exist and it is incredibly annoying to deal with.

We recently opened an office and purchased a “business bundle” with Verizon.  A month or so after we were set up and running a phone call came in to the office.  An employee answered and her end of the conversation which went something like this…

“Yes, we do have Verizon.”

“Yes, that is the company name.”

“We don’t have any questions about the service.”

etc., etc., etc.

It seemed like a routine customer service call, until the questions became repetitive and went on for longer than what we deemed to be a regular call.  So, she ended the conversation and hung up.

For a few weeks after that, the same person or company kept calling asking the same questions over and over.  The second call we ended within a couple of questions;  The third, maybe after the first question; and the fourth time I recognized the number, picked up the phone and told the person that we were going to take action for solicitation harassment (sounded good at the time) if the person didn’t stop calling.

Shortly thereafter I received a service notice from Verizon that I ignored because I hadn’t ordered any service.  I figured it was just a glitch in the system.  And then the bill came.

The bill was about $100 more than what it should have been, so I took the time to scan all 8 pages and found at the end of the bill a company name I didn’t recognize and substantial charges billed by that company.  I called Verizon and was told that I had changed my long distance service to another carrier and that I was no longer receiving the promotional package rate. WHAT?!  So I told the customer service rep that there was a mistake– I told her about the strange phone calls which must have been related to this, and how incredible this was, and what has this world come to, etc.  She told me that we had been slammed and that she would amend the bill and the previous bill (which I hadn’t checked thoroughly) and would cancel the offending party’s service agreement.  She also put a freeze on my account so that I am the only person who can make service changes.

But that wasn’t all.  A month later another bill came with $50 in charges from this other company.  I called Verizon immediately.

Me: “I called a month ago about a slamming incident and it appears that this other company is still charging me for services that we never ordered.”

Verizon: “I can take care of that for you.”

Me: “Thanks.”

Verizon: “In the future what you might want to do is call this company and cancel the service yourself”.

Me: “But I never ordered the service.”

Verizon: “Right, but you need to cancel it.”

Me: “But isn’t is illegal…what they did?”

Verizon: “Well, yes.”

Me: “But I still need to call them?  I don’t want to call them.  They are a nefarious organization that is doing something illegal.  Why should I have to call them?”

Verizon: “Well, I’m just saying this is how you can best end the problem.”

Me: “Uh huh.  Well, thanks.  Bye.”

I’m waiting for the next bill.

Contracting a contractor

My company is one of many businesses one might call an outside “contractor”, meaning that some people hire me and my staff for single projects or sometimes for all of their public relations needs.  Here are some things that I feel are important to keep a service business, like mine (or yours) in business.

1. Above all providing a service means that someone has paid you to do something and you are supposed to deliver it.  On paper there may be a signed contract between you and your client that lists the things you are going to do.  So the first rule of thumb is to finish the job.  This may seem obvious to some, but I recently had my house painted, ahem, half-painted and the painters pretty much abandoned my house and my disheveled yard, without completing the job.  Their “mailbox” is full and I don’t know if I will ever see them again.

2. Keeping in touch is another golden rule.  Of course you are doing the work you said you would do, but clients also like it when you check in with them, letting them know how things are going, if you need something from them, etc.  Don’t wait for your client to call you.  If you haven’t been in touch in a while, it’s a good idea to drop a quick email or call for just a brief update.

3. Managing expectations is one of the hardest things to do.  As public relations professionals we all know that a lot of the work we do does not result in a story on the front page of a national newspaper.  Personally I think it is important to be upfront with your clients so that they know that you are going to attempt to get the brass ring, but that there are never any guarantees.  Sometimes you may even have to turn down business if what your client wants is something you really don’t think you can deliver.  It’s better to do that than bang your head against a wall and live in fear of what you knew all along was never going to happen.  Don’t be negative, just pepper your enthusiasm with some reality so you don’t paint yourself into a corner (ah yes, painting, as mentioned above)

4. Be responsive and practice good customer service principles.  You might be surprised by the number of people who ignore their clients.  I’ve been told by businesses I’ve hired that they think responding to some emails is a waste of time…well, yes I can see that as an argument if I am sending them notices about the same thing a hundred times, but when a client asks a question, he/she does require an answer.  If you feel that there are too many questions coming your way and that you can’t answer all of them, then you need to think about #3 and have a conversation with your client about what you can respond to and when.

5. Give your clients a status update and most of all let them know if something you agreed to do isn’t working.  In public relations sometimes an initial strategy might not take off the way we planned.  Or another opportunity presents itself and we want to jump on it.  Remember that as a contractor you are ultimately being paid for your time, so if your time is being spent unwisely it is up to you to let the client know.  Based on your recommendation, your client should let you know whether or not you should continue with a course of action you think isn’t working.  Certainly don’t miss out on a prime booking because you have to wait for an answer, but if we are talking hours spent, let the client partake in the decision making since he/she is signing your check.

I’m sure you all could provide many other suggestions for working as an “outside contractor” but these are some of my primary rules of thumb.  Do I always do all of them perfectly?  No, I hit my bumps just like everyone else, but I do know that these things are important based on my own experiences (see above painter mishap).