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How Not to Succeed as an Author: Tell Readers "Please Don’t Buy my Books on Amazon"

VernonDownsCover[1]While some authors want to sell as many books as possible to as many people as possible, other authors have decided to pursue the nobility of obscurity and poverty.

Jaime Clarke, author of the not-yet-released novel Vernon Downs, doesn’t want you to buy the book from Amazon. He’s even launched a website called Please Don’t Buy My Book on

Dear Reader,

I hope you’ll take a moment to consider this personal plea: If you’re even remotely interested in my novel, Vernon Downs, please don’t buy it on Amazon. 

Mr Clarke would instead prefer that you take the more difficult path of pre-ordering the book from the publisher or waiting to get the book from your local indie (like Newtonville Books, the one that Mr. Clarke co-owns). If you do pre-order from the publisher, you have the option of listing your preferred indie:

If you want to support your local bookstore, enter their name and address in the Special Instructions field when you check out and Roundabout will donate 50% of the monies (excluding shipping) to that bookstore.  You can’t yet order Vernon Downs directly from your local bookstore because the distributor that fills those orders would also have to fill orders to Amazon.

This novel isn’t due out until April of next year, so this request is more of a publicity stunt than anything, but it still represents one author’s efforts to drive away readers.

And he’s not alone. Shelf Awareness reports that another bookseller turned author is making a similar request. Bill Petrocelli, co-owner of SF-based Book Passage, uses his books' website to direct possible readers to indies.

Petrocelli commented: "I get really disheartened every time I see a routine, mindless 'buy-link' to Amazon on author websites. (It’s even worse when it’s an author I know or one who’s coming to our store for an event.) Needless to say, I never even considered doing that. I thought about simply directing any sales to Book Passage, but I quickly decided that wasn’t such a good idea either. As an author, it’s in my best interest to spread sales around and get as many stores involved as possible."

Funny, I thought his interests as an author was best served by selling as many copies as possible for the best price he can get. Being an author is a profession and/or business, after all, and more money is inherently better than less money.

Or at least that’s my opinion, and it looks like it’s not a universal one. This attitude that authors should forgo their own financial self-interest in favor of supporting indie bookstores has been growing stronger of late.

Back in June The Bookseller posted a rant by one indie bookseller who wanted authors to prop up his struggling bookstores:

Here’s an interesting list of authors, can you guess what they have in common? Joanne Harris, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Alison Weir and Julia Donaldson. The answer is they all have websites that direct readers straight to Amazon to buy their books. Now here’s another list: Kate Morton, Ian Rankin, Tom Holland and Patrick Ness. The websites of these authors direct readers to buy their books either from Amazon or a multiple.

So what? Well, as an owner of two independent bookshops I feel angry that these authors, unthinkingly or by design, have chosen to support Amazon, W H Smith or Waterstones without giving a fig for independent bookshops.

How best to gently debunk this?

1. An author’s interests are best served by getting as many copies sold/read as possible.

2. They’re competing with a vast number of other authors in a maelstrom of distracting ways for a reader to spend their time, all of which are trying to get the attention of readers who have a near infinite supply of reading material.

3. Any time an author makes buying a book even the smallest amount more difficult that author runs the risk of losing the sale and losing the reader completely.

It’s in an author’s interest to make it as easy as possible to buy their books, and that’s why they tend to  offer potential readers the simplest way to buy the book: Amazon.

Does everyone have an Amazon account? No, but there’s a good chance that they will have an account, and sending a potential customer to a site where they don’t have to create an account is always preferable. It removes a step in the buying process.

One might loath Amazon, but in this day and age it is a necessary evil.

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Will O’Neil September 23, 2013 um 11:44 am

While I understand where you’re coming from, you make a very big unexamined assumption: that any author *should* see his/her interest as best served by maximizing financial gain. In other words, it’s a moral imperative that overrides individual choice. I certainly know a good many microeconomists who would agree with this and who found their economic theories on humans as singleminded profit maximizers. On the other hand, I know behavioral economists whose studies of actual humans show that other priorities often supervene.

Alexandra Lynwood (@AlexLynwood) September 23, 2013 um 3:24 pm

Presumably if you publish you want people to read it though, even if you don’t care about the money it makes?

Therefore throwing obstacles in the way of them doing that seems self-defeatist.

fjtorres September 23, 2013 um 12:21 pm

My take is simple: don’t want the book bought at Amazon? Don’t sell it through Amazon.
Anything else is hypocrisy and meaningless grandstanding.

Jennifer September 23, 2013 um 12:46 pm


I don’t particularly like Amazon, I don’t have a kindle and refuse to pay money for a file I would have to convert to read on my e-reader of choice (even though I am quite capable of doing so), and my response to pretty much every Amazon is eeeevil article is put your money where your mouth is. If you think Amazon is trying to destroy bookselling, then stop helping them by making your books available there. Otherwise you’re just a hypocrite.

fjtorres September 23, 2013 um 3:28 pm

Exactly: they play to the peanut gallery in public and count the amazon-delivered ca$h in private to pretend they are "above" mere lucre.

flyingtoastr September 23, 2013 um 4:22 pm

You do understand that authors have no control over the retailer that sells their physical books once it hits a wholesaler’s warehouse, right? If these authors want to get their books onto shelves in their local indy’s will have to get it into Ingram’s (or B&T’s or whomever) warehouse, and once it’s there Amazon has the same ability to source the title.

Note that this article is about physical books – not self-published ebooks.

fjtorres September 23, 2013 um 5:22 pm

I fully understand he has no control whatsoever over the book once he sells it to a traditional publisher.
Which is why he should not be undercutting his own publisher.
He took the money, he has no say.
If it runs against his principles he shouldn’t have sold out his control.

flyingtoastr September 23, 2013 um 4:40 pm

I think you’re making a mistaken assumption with the premise of this commentary, Nate. Namely, that selling with Amazon will *always* result in more sales. In the short term you are probably right – in the long term, maybe not so much.

In the near future selling a book and not having it sold on Amazon is going to negatively impact sales. Amazon has a significant share of the market in the US, so not being available is clearly going to make the book more difficult to obtain for some people, and thus less likely to be bought.

However, in the medium and long term it is probably in the author’s best interest to reduce the power and share of Amazon. Amazon doesn’t do author events or signings, their discoverability is still atrocious compared to a physical location, and their promotions with smaller publishers are nearly nonexistent. If Amazon is successful in driving physical bookstores out of business (which is their ultimate goal, let’s be realistic), it is highly likely that a smaller-name author would see a drastic drop in sales.

Thus, I would argue that it is in fact in the author’s best interest to make their book available from Amazon, but *strongly* encourage fans to purchase from a local B&M store.

Nate Hoffelder September 23, 2013 um 5:03 pm

Yeah, just like in the 1990s authors should have been worried about the chain bookstores selling too many copies.

The problem with your argument is that it depends on a simplistic and static view of the market. It assumes that no one will come along and disrupt Amazon.

fjtorres September 23, 2013 um 5:33 pm

And it assumes his middling masterpiece is going to be universally available at Walmarts, Walgreens, and supermarkets.
Lost in his "high-minded" big-city parochialism is the fact that for entire swaths of the country there are exactly zero B&M outlets for his kind product. So it is Amazon or nothing.
And right now, nothing would be most fitting.

I wonder what would happen if an Amazon rep were to call the publisher and say; "We are going to honor your author’s request and delist the book. If you have other authors like him, let us before we waste warehouse space on their books, will you?"

flyingtoastr September 23, 2013 um 9:36 pm

And you’re assuming someone will come along and disrupt Amazon.

Your post depends on a simplistic and static view of the market as well – you’re assuming that authors selling through Amazon has no effect on other avenues of their sales – when it is patently obvious to the most casual observer that it does (see: Borders). The best thing for an author is to have as wide a ranging distribution as possible, and for that wide ranging distribution to persist – which Amazon is certainly threatening.

And I’m not sure about your dig at the chain bookstores – there were plenty of authors then calling on people to shop locally just as there are now. In fact, I’m willing to bet if this guy had instead told people not to shop at chain stores you’d be celebrating his tough stance on the Companies That Kill Kittens™.

Nate Hoffelder September 23, 2013 um 11:17 pm

Here’s your next disruption:

Tony Hursh September 25, 2013 um 12:51 am

"when it is patently obvious to the most casual observer that it does (see: Borders). "

Borders failed because it was a textbook example of the 1970 retail model (see: Sears).

This is 2013.

Tony Hursh September 25, 2013 um 12:47 am

"their discoverability is still atrocious compared to a physical location"

Sorry, that’s simply not true. Amazon is constantly suggesting things to me that I might want to buy. In general, they do a pretty good job of it. They also HAVE just about everything I want to buy, in print or out of it.

"Discoverability" is the meaningless buzzword du jour, certainly, but it doesn’t count for much in the real world.

The last time I was in a B&N, I had a hard time discovering any books whatsoever among the coffee mugs, clothing, and other tchotchkes.

Steve Vernon September 25, 2013 um 6:12 am

"Discoverability" in the traditional bookstore is indeed a VERY dubious concept.

I’ve written small press horror – and a couple of them actually made it into bookstores, only to be isolated and ghettoized in a small horror section in the very back of the bookstore – and that was assuming you even FOUND a horror section in any given bookstore. These days most of the horror are helter-skeltered in amongst the regular fiction.

The books I release traditionally these days are for a regional publisher. My books are segregated in a regional section which is OFTEN very hard to find in a lot of bookstores.

These days – aside from the aforementioned tchotchke-trinket-trash – you’ll find tables and shelves filled with "the usual subjects". Stephen King and James Patterson and a sacred dozen are ALL displayed prominently at the front of the store. I’ve sat at bookstore signings and watched person after person walk into the bookstore, stop at the front display, pick up a book that EVERYBODY is reading and walk to the cashier, leaving the rest of the bookstore completely undiscovered.

Amazon – on the other hand – has umpteen little clockwork devices designed to hunt you down and say something along the lines of – "So, you like books about pregnant lighthouse keepers? You REALLY ought to look at these three wonderful books about pregnant lighthouse keepers!!!"

Tony Hursh September 25, 2013 um 6:33 pm

Sure. It’s the same mistake that most newspapers made. They all wanted to give the appearance of covering Big Important National and International News, so they cut back on the local reporting.

Unfortunately those big stories are available everywhere, for free.

Some of them seem to be wising up and adding more local coverage. Whether it’s in time to save them, I don’t know.

I won’t make a trip to a bookstore store to buy Stephen King. I might go there to meet a local indy author, though.

Unfortunately, most of the indy bookstores are too snobby to have anything to do with indy authors. I don’t know why this is; it doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.

Tony Hursh September 25, 2013 um 12:59 am

Missed this before:

"If Amazon is successful in driving physical bookstores out of business (which is their ultimate goal, let’s be realistic)"

Their ultimate goal is to make lots of money by giving their customers what they want. The presence or absence of physical bookstores is totally orthogonal to that. It might be a side effect, but it’s not their goal. Are you seriously suggesting that Bezos has some sort of visceral hatred for B&M bookstores, such that wiping them off the face of the Earth is his primary goal in life?

Jayne September 23, 2013 um 7:22 pm

For some reason this guy was on my wish list. I suspect that reason was an Amazon recommendation because he edited a book with Dennis Lehane.

I will honor his request that I not buy his book from Amazon. I have now removed his name from my wishlist and have added him to my do not buy list.

Rob Siders September 23, 2013 um 8:56 pm

"For many small publishers like Roundabout, Amazon accounts for a large portion of sales, but the publisher realizes very little of the purchase price owing to Amazon’s discounting policies."

In what way is retail purchase price relevant in request? The guy says he owns a book store. Either he doesn’t understand the role of the intermediary in the wholesale chain or he’s being dishonest.

Keishon September 24, 2013 um 12:05 am

How about I don’t buy it at all? Author requests like this are usually ignored. I find it amusing that they should be so presumptuous. Never even heard of this writer so I am commenting just to hear myself talk.

Chris Meadows September 24, 2013 um 4:56 am

Well, you’ve heard of the writer now. So in a way, his anti-Amazon stance has done its work. They say there’s no such thing as bad publicity…

Will Entrekin September 24, 2013 um 7:53 am

Sure there is. Now we know to avoid Vernon Downs, Jaime Clarke, and Roundabout Press all in one fell swoop.

Steve Vernon September 24, 2013 um 6:19 am

It’s all about perception, isn’t it?

The fact is – Amazon IS a bookstore, whether people want to believe it or not. It’s a big, all-powerful, sky-net-lookalike BOOKSTORE that sells books, has a backroom/warehouse, employs people/drones/nanobots/small-trained-piranah and keeps us authors happy.

I’m a hybrid-author.

I am happy when Amazon sells one of my self-published efforts.

I am happy when Amazon sells one of my traditionally published works.

I’m even happy when Amazon sells one of my USED books.

Why not, I buy at used bookstores regularly.

Does that make me a money-grubbing Mammon-worshipper? Hell no – that flame is fanned by the fact that I’ve got bills to pay. When it comes to money-grubbing I make Milburn Drysdale, Scrooge Mcduck and Monty Burns look like freaking pikers!

The fact is I still remember growing up in a town where the nearest bookstore was over twenty miles away. Back then I would have LOVED to have access to Amazon and/or any other sort of mechanism and/or corporation that made book-buying easier. I’m a book addict baby.

If I can bring the pusher home for dinner I’M DOING IT!

Indie Publishing Podcast – Return to the Honky Tonk with Bon Scott #EBBB | Bluebonnets, Bagpipes & Books December 4, 2013 um 8:10 pm

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