Episode 110: End of Summer Grab Bag

On August 28, 2020, we went back to the well of Twitter and the #WritingCommunity feed for a grab bag of questions. Here are the show notes:

Theme for the day

End of Summer Month Grab Bag


  • Join our community on Patreon
  • Is Amazon a bully? Amazon and Antitrust Laws
  • It’s that #PitMad time again
  • What inspires the stories you write?
Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Link to the podcast

Segment 1

It’s no secret that the publishing industry is in serious upheaval these days. It’s one of the most disrupted markets operating on a global scale. Some of the issues include:

  • Counterfeit books
  • Self-publishing and book quality
  • Reviews and the legitimacy thereof
  • Search engine optimization and genre specification expertise

We’ve talked about a couple of those issues on previous episodes. But this week our fellow Columbia II SCWA member Bonnie Stanard blogs about a recent letter written to the Chairman of the Antitrust subcommittee at the U.S. House of Representatives. Link to the letter here. The letter accuses Amazon (per Bonnie’s blog, link to be added after it posts Sunday):

  1. Below-cost pricing that squashes competition
  2. Refusing distribution unless the supplier purchases advertising
  3. Requiring publisher to offer Amazon similar or better terms as any competitor
  4. Requiring publishers to restrict price discounts to consumers
  5. Steering customers to illegale sellers of counterfeit/unauthorized books
  6. Manipulating discovery tools to make books hard to find (unless ads are purchased)
  7. Steering consumers towards Amazon’s own products

So let’s assume these accusations are true and talk about what this means first for Authors. I could business nerd on this for a while about how Amazon used books and publishing to create its online behemoth and how it is primarily a logistics company using data — browsing, searching, buying data on millions of customers — to make decisions about how it acquires and makes available goods and services.

We could also say that Amazon moved into digital publishing faster and better than competitors. That it used that investment to surge ahead in sales and to create an advantageous position that no amount of Antitrust interference will be able to suspend.

Are readers better off with Amazon in the marketplace?

Are writers better off?

Should publishers find a way to compete without directly-competing with Amazon?

As an Author, what will you lose if you’re not selling your book on Amazon?

There are some publishers and authors who are fully in the Amazon camp — my publisher is one of them. They say you cannot be serious about selling a book if you haven’t put it on Amazon. And, if you want to “self publish” Amazon is one of two platforms — the other is iBooks via Apple and Apple has significantly less reader traffic than Amazon.

Are Authors between a rock and a hard place here? Or do you have options? Dignity? Self-respect? Gonna go with probably not there if what you want is to sell books — not give them away — sell them.

Segment 2

Next Thursday, September 3rd is the next #PitMad scheduled. Are you going to pitch?

We’ve had a lot of discussion around the process to get published — finding an agent, finding a publisher, etc. Let’s talk about our journeys (again) and the the challenges we encountered and some of the advice we’d give.

  1. Have a good book. — put it through the work of beta readers, workshop, feedback, editing, professional (yes, pay someone) edits.
  2. Have a marketing strategy — you need a starting point (your platform) but you also need a list of the things you plan to do immediately and over the foreseeable future, to promote the book.
  3. Have a query strategy — why do you want this publisher? Why do you want this agent? This is like applying for a job, it requires research and time. Find comparable titles, understand the publisher’s advantages for the author, and consider whether you’ll need an agent to get to them.

How important is it to have an Author Brand?

How important is it to have a second book — the “what’s next?” after this initial one?

What’s the pitch for #PitMad? What kind of research should you do before participating? Maybe look through the #PitMad tweets that got likes — hearts — and see if you can figure out what they have in common? Also, look at the agents who participated in the last one and see if any of them are on your target list.

Segment 3

One of the questions on the #WritingCommunity hashtag feed today was whether or not movies or TV can be a source of inspiration for writing stories. Let’s add that to music and other art and talk about “inspiration” in terms of where do you get it?

I use music a lot. I’m not much into poetry but a good song lyric will send me down a rabbit hole of storytelling. I have one book born out of the song “Brick” by Ben Folds and another so tightly connected to “A Long December” by Counting Crows that its lyrics are actually in the book.

Some other song lyrics that have spawned stories for me:

  • The Airborne Toxic Event’s “Sometime Around Midnight” when he says, (well, the whole song really) but this line specifically: “Then she leaves, with someone you don’t know…”
  • Trisha Yearwood’s “The Song Remembers When” says, “we were young and were in love and we were easy to convince.”
  • Recently, a favorite hard rock band covered a song I loathe by a guy named Gotye, but the cover is good enough that I caught this super cool line: “You can get addicted to a certain kind of pain.”

Writers will often suggest a walk in nature or some other outside-your-workspace thing to jog a story loose. I like travel for that. When I leave town, get on an airplane, just being in the airport, I feel that wanderlust and the stories get unstoppered. I can’t stop myself from writing.

We did an episode on Fan Fiction and talked about how sometimes stories can inspire questions we can answer with our own work. Like, what happened to Tinkerbell’s sister, the Winter Fairy Periwinkle? Has an author ever left a stone unturned that made you want to write that story?

Want to learn more about Short Story Basics? Click here to get the class.

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