Reflections on fantasy, SF, writing, music, technology, life…

Refuting Lee Child’s take on Amazon’s book-selling

My thanks to Kathryn Jankowski for pointing out Joe Konrath’s refutation of Lee Child’s opinion piece on Amazon that I posted about recently.

Rather than leave the link in a comment, I am posting it separately as Konrath’s article, titled Fisking Lee Child, makes some excellent points. I particularly liked how he highlights the differences between the few bestseller category authors like Child and the thousands of other writers.

Well worth reading for a balance to Child’s arguments.

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An author’s perspective on Amazon’s book stores

Since my previous post on the implications of Amazon opening physical book shops, the Guardian has published an opinion piece by thriller writer Lee Child on why he thinks this is a bad idea: Lee Child on Amazon’s real-life bookshops – and why we should be worried.

Apart from the implications for publishers and print books, he also weighs in on the terms and conditions Amazon imposes (and subsequently adversely changes) for writers following the indie publishing route.

Some good and interesting arguments against an Amazon monopoly.


Many advantages to Amazon opening physical book stores

Anyone interested in Amazon’s approach to book retailing (and most writers will fall into this category!) will be interested in this analysis in Computerworld of Amazon’s approach to physical stores and its strategy to leverage “bricks and mortar”:

This is why Amazon will open physical bookstores

The point here is not so much competition with other book shops as positioning its overall placement of products, delivery and how Amazon’s publishing business competes with other publishers.

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Review: “Snuff Tag 9” by Jude Hardin

This crime / thriller is the third in a series about an ex-musician turned private eye / security consultant called Nicholas Colt. I picked it up through a Kindle offer as I thought the idea intriguing: someone turns a computer survival game called “Snuff Tag 9” into a real-life challenge to survive. However, I was sadly disappointed by the end result. I am reviewing more as an analysis of why it did not work.

The story set-up is straight-forward. Nicholas Colt, the protagonist, dismisses the threat in a letter brought to him by a new client but, for the money, checks out the invitation to participate in the game (with dire threats if not accepted). He finds his client killed and himself substituted to participate. The main problem with this is that the story is told in first person from his point of view so the reader knows he will survive, dampening a lot of the effect, and being about how, not if, he will survive.

The antagonist is a bored billionaire who refers to himself as Freeze, the ultimate control character in the game. However, rather than interesting he is just a two-dimensional selfish psychopath with too much money and who never comes alive as a character, instead wavering between stereotype and caricature.

The late-entering ninth character in the game, we are told, is someone significant to at least one of the players. Given Colt is a late substitute and the weakest player in the line-up, not expected by Freeze to survive the first day, why are both candidates for the role people close to him? Because the plot needs it, I guess and strikes as lazy writing.

While Colt’s back story is well brought in for readers like me entering part-way through the series, the same points about his past are brought up several times in the story. This is another irritant with the story: the repetition is not just back story either. As one reads this novel whole paragraphs are rephrased and re-used sometimes back-to-back. To repeat the point as laboriously as the author, he says the same thing a different way without adding new information. Why? It is more lazy writing, as if Hardin is padding the story to reach a word count. Given this is professionally published novel, what happened to the editor? Given the repetition is worse and more noticeable the further one gets through the story, it is as if the editor was under time pressure and skipped or got fed up at eliminating it.

All in all, a disappointing read but it must give hope to new writers that if this can get published professionally the barriers to entry are not as high as one expected!

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Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s view on how you measure success

I have admired Kristine Kathryn Rusch as an author and editor for a long time (my subscription to F&SF ran through her editorship) so I was particularly interested to read her blog on the changing measures of success for writers.

She sets out the ‘traditional view’, which includes:

    Selling your first short story/article
    Selling your first novel
    Hiring an agent
    Winning a major award
    Hitting a bestseller list
    Selling more than one novel
    Selling overseas

I confess there is a lot here I can relate to (if only in ‘aspirational’ terms!)
Then, looking at some comments by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos (who says ‘the three big ideas at Amazon are a focus on the future, customer obsession, and a willingness to invent), Rusch then redefines what it means to be successful as an author in today’s market.

The article – The Business Rusch: Markers – is fascinating and if you are at all interested in how publishing has changed over the past ten years, including how technology has enabled self-publication to disrupt the traditional model, then I recommend you check it out.

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Amazon’s unfair e-book refund policy

Amazon allow refunds on e-books for up to seven days after purchase. While I agree it is reasonable to allow someone to change their mind if they buy a book and then, reading the first chapter, realise it is not what they wanted or expected, I do feel that authors are getting a raw deal here. A 24 hour refund policy should be reasonable. Also, on Kindle, it tracks how far through a story has been read, surely it is not beyond Amazon’s programmers to refuse to refund if a whole book or substantial part has been read?

If you agree, check out this petition at


Abandoning Amazon because of their tax position? Waterstones not ready to take up the slack

In recent weeks there has been a lot of chatter in the UK press about global firms such as Starbucks and Amazon avoiding local taxes in the countries the operate in through accounting devices increase local costs and route profits through lower tax locations. Not illegal, but is it ethical?

I have been a regular and satisfied customer of Amazon in France and UK for some time. I am also, when in UK, habitually drawn to Waterstones excellent book stores which have received a generous portion of my custom over the years.

In the light of the discussion about tax and supporting local businesses, when I needed to buy a book for my daughter’s birthday, I decided to try Sadly, it has been a frustrating and, ultimately, fruitless endeavour. The web site was not quite as easy to navigate as Amazon but I found the book and, with a competitive price and an indicated delivery date of 4 to 7 days, ordered it on 22 December. An acknowledgement indicated estimated delivery date of 29 December so some days ahead of the birthday.

Delivery date came and went, birthday arrived and still no book and no email indicating status or despatch. After waiting a fortnight from ordering, yesterday I phoned the customer service desk. Relatively straiight-forward set of menus and a UK landline number for customers phoning from abroad (rather than the costly 0845 numb ers that drive me mad) meant I got through easily. After confirming the order number (twice) I was told the book had not been desptached yet.


And there was no indication when the publisher would be supplying it. So it is “out of stock”? I asked. Yes. Why could this not be indicated on ordering? Response: that was why they said 4-7 days delivery originally. They then said they would investigate with the publisher and would send me an email updating me on the expected delivery date.

Going into email today, two emails from Waterstones waited for me. One automated, the other from Customer Services. Both said the book is now out of print and cannot be supplied. Aggghhhh!

Given it is intended as a present and is related to my daughter’s up-coming visit to Korea this left me up the creek unless…

Amazon’s UK site showed they still had two copies left. I immediately ordered it. Estimated despatch date Saturday 12 January with free delivery within the week. However, within three HOURS of ordering I received an email from Amazon confirming despatch, estimated delivery date: next Tuesday, 15 January.

Result: birthday missed, no sale for Watersones, one hacked-off customer and the book ordered late from Amazon… but at least it seems to be coming.

Oh! Final point: When on the call to Waterstones, I was offered the opportunity to feedback on the Customer Service. Pressing the button to do this I was informed all I had to do was hang on at the end of the call. Yeah, sure! I hung on and hung on and… nothing. (The suspicious side of me suspects a light illuminates so that they know this will happen and, if the customer is less than impressed, the call gets dropped. This is the main reason I decided to blog about this experience.)

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