Nightmare on Amazon Street

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(NOTE: The nightmare ended on Friday, Feb 5,  7 days after it began,)

So, for those who don’t know, as of this moment, Macmillan and their imprints (mine being St. Martin’s Press) have been pulled off the virtual shelves of Amazon. For me, until I learned about the war I thought something awful had happened to my book.

My first hint of trouble came during a Friday night computer conversation on She Writes, an online community for women writers, when someone said that they couldn’t buy my book on Amazon.

I rushed over to the site in a virtual run.

My book was only available, according to Amazon, from ‘third party sellers.’ I was no longer a member of the Kindle family. The Murderer’s Daughters was homeless. Thinking this was an individual software problem, I shot off a Friday night email to my agent, editor, publicist, rabbi, primary care physician and God.

My beloved agent responded with calming words, but was (at the time) mystified by the problem.

Being incredibly neurotic in the department of ‘must address now’ (a quality which does not endear me to anyone but my doppelganger sister) I foolishly called Amazon. An hour and a half later, after being fobbed off from one clueless rep to another, I was sobbing, yes, actually sobbing, on the shoulder of my husband. “But what if my review (I was expecting a major newspaper review) comes out tomorrow?”

Still thinking this was a ‘me’ problem, I went to my usual source of writerly comfort, Backspace for Writers, where I posted my crisis on the forum. After many loving replies assuring me that Amazon is not the only bookseller, in fact, not even the top bookseller, I got an instant update, simultaneously, from Backspace and Twitter, that more than one St. Martin/Macmillan author was missing from Amazon.

Soothed into the misery loves company arms of shared sadness, I wrested my arms from around my laptop and went to sleep, certain that by morning this technical glitch would be solved.

At 6:30 I plugged back in. And there was twitter confirmation from my new BFF in Australia: it’s an Amazon vs. Macmillan vs. Amazon problem. Quick, to Backspace, there it was—links to the New York Times and Publishers Marketplace articles. Wow, it was a corporate smackdown, with Amazon throwing its weight like an Internet J. Paul Getty.

I breathed. Made coffee. Took in our hard copy Boston Globe and New York Times and tried very hard to keep my hands off the computer for five minutes. Unsuccessfully.

It’s scary. I am a new author of a debut novel (it came out on January 19th.)  And like when I was in the throes of the incredible mono-mindedness of mothering a newborn, I find myself spending every possible moment babying my book. So, having it thrown out of one of the major daycare facilities in the nation, that scared the heck out of me.

I’ve been reading the tweets pinging back and forth in the virtual world, along with the few articles that have surfaced so far. There are pro-Amazon factions. There are pro-Macmillan factions. Pro-reader. Pro-consumer. Pro-frugalistas. And I can’t help feel a little lost here.

The helpless writers have no weapons (except words) despite having quite a dog in this fight.

Hello, Barnes and Noble. Love you, Powells!

Most of all, thank God for independent booksellers, right? I’ve always done as much as my buying there as possible. Now I am willing to truly talk with my wallet, forgo the temptations of discounts and armchair shopping (though you can certainly shop Indies on line!) and support my fellow authors at full price. I’ll never take my local bookstores for granted again!

Lesson learned.

UPDATE: Monday morning: I wrote this post on Sunday evening. Soon after, Amazon said they would lift the ban, but Macmillan books are still MIA on the Amazon site.

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24 Comments

  1. Posted January 31, 2010 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    Hi Randy :)
    I’m sorry your debut novel THE MURDERERS’ DAUGHTERS was caught in the crossfire.
    Personally, I don’t like Amazon at all. I know they’re huge & all but I dislike their pricing, the fact that the ebooks bought for the Kindle are “on loan” and not owned, and they don’t have PayPal!
    I prefer Book Depository and the stores you mentioned. :)
    When I promoted your book on its Release Day, the link was to Book Depositoy.
    I sincerely hope all the readers who want your book will buy it elsewhere in protest to Amazon.
    “Power To The Readers!” :)
    Love & Best Wishes,
    Rob

  2. Chuck Leddy
    Posted January 31, 2010 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

    Unfortunately, Randy, the booming eBook market is in a major transition right now. Amazon has dominated it for the last 20 months and set the $9.99 eBook price point for the whole eBook market. Now, with so many challengers coming in (the iPad, the B&N Nook, etc.), Amazon is feeling threatened. Yes, they are throwing their weight around and lashing out at publishers (like Macmillan, alas) that dare to challenge Amazon’s eBook hegemony by cutting deals with Apple and others. I think Amazon is making a bad choice by choosing to bully publishers, pulling their books off the Kindle site. I think the publishers want to see Amazon dethroned from the eBook throne for EXACTLY these kind of bullying tactics. BUt for now, Amazon is still the major eBook player. In 6 months? Likely we’ll have a different retail landscape for eBooks, and likely higher prices for eBooks (maybe $19.99) . . .but for now, as one of the other posters said, you ARE caught in the crossfire. Not your fault, certainly not TMD’s, but I hope Amazon stops the bullying tactics and works WITH publishers/authors. Only time will tell.

    • Posted January 31, 2010 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

      Thanks, Chuck. The amazing thing to me, is that they didn’t just pull Macmillan’s eBooks, but the hard copy ones also. Unreal.

  3. Posted January 31, 2010 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

    I thought of you and all the other recent debut authors when I heard.

    I feel so sorry for all of you!

    I suppose in compensation SMP know all too well what happened.
    I guess if it affects sales they’ll take that into account.

    Anyone searching you on Amazon still sees your book on the
    3rd parties and it’s well enough integrated that many people
    don’t notice or care about the difference.

    But yes, this sucks.

    • Posted January 31, 2010 at 8:16 pm | Permalink

      Thanks, Gary. Even though I know that in reality it would truly affect THE MURDERER’S DAUGHTERS, it did feel like I tripped in the middel of a race. It’s really nice of you to write!

  4. Posted January 31, 2010 at 9:02 pm | Permalink

    I second that. When I went to Amazon, there were still a lot of
    ways to purchase TMD. So you will still get a lot of sales.
    And also, it should help to know that you are totally not alone.
    SO many books have been pulled! And I think a lot of people are
    confused about what’s happening and the future of publishing.
    Take a deep breath, HJ! This is one of those moments where the
    writer says “I wrote the best book I could.” The rest is up to
    the Gods of Business.
    Love, BT

  5. Posted January 31, 2010 at 11:54 pm | Permalink

    This message up on the Amazon site.

    Amazon gives up.

    Books aren’t back yet, but presumably will be soon.

    • Posted February 1, 2010 at 8:31 am | Permalink

      Thanks Gary. Monday morning: still no life on Amazon site. Guess they are bringing us back . . . s l o w l y.

  6. Joyce Hamel
    Posted February 1, 2010 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    I understand your trauma. I am a member of Amazon’s Vine Program and was lucky enough to read The MuMurderer’s Daughters in pre-publication. I gave it 5 stars and have recommended the book countless times. I am not that angry with Amazon. They have a great business model and they brought digital reading via the Kindle to many avid readers. Apple played more hardball which will pprobably erupting in higher prices for customers, not necessarily more profit for authors. If it were not for Amazon, I would not have read your book in pre-publication. It’s a shandah that this whole thing happened. And yes, praise to the few small booksellers remaining!

    • Posted February 1, 2010 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

      Dear Joyce,
      Thank you for your kind and generous reply! Yes, I’ve always loved Amazon and hate to see any long-term damage to anyone!!! And thank you for your words about my book–that means so much to me. And I love, love, love the Amazon Vines program: such a great way to get early reviews from the people that matter most (to me.) I am as much a reader as a writer, and I gobble books like crazy–so I completely understand your concern. Warm regards.

  7. Posted February 1, 2010 at 10:12 pm | Permalink

    Ugh. I wondered how this whole mess was affecting Macmillan authors. I’m sorry you’re caught in the web of it, Randy. Book release – especially for a first book – is so fraught with emotion. I found the experience to be such a rollercoaster. There was certainly more joy than pain, but it was a rollercoaster nonetheless.

    I also found I had to – willingly or not – cede control once my book was out in the world. So much of the process was now in the hands of others (reviews, sales, etc.). This was a hard, gradual adjustment. I would’ve likely been sobbing too if I’d had to go through such a dramatic loss of control less than two weeks into publication.

    Amazon can feel like the center of the universe, just for the ease of being able to check the daily (or hourly) sales rank. But like you pointed out and others have echoed, there are oodles of other retailers.

    Your book will find its readers in spite of this. Good books find their readers.

    • Posted February 2, 2010 at 1:24 am | Permalink

      Hi Miriam! Thanks for your good and reassuring words. Very comforting. And here you are in the midst of your paperback release. Everyone: get THE LOCAL NEWS by Miriam Gershow!! Wonderful book. In fact, I will tweet it and FB it before turning in.

      Hey, let me know if you ever want to guest post here, Miriam!

  8. Posted February 2, 2010 at 12:09 am | Permalink

    My heart went out to you in reading this beautifully written blog. I can’t imagine the
    feeling of powerlessness in this situation. Having just signed with
    an agent for my debut mystery, I am beginning to see how it must
    feel for you to have something you worked so long and hard for
    (the launch of The Murderers’ Daughters)taken out of your hands.
    The good news is that it is still being sold in the normal way
    here in Canada. Amazon.ca is selling it and all the other St.
    Martins/Minotaur authors. Best wishes for a successful year!

    • Posted February 2, 2010 at 1:22 am | Permalink

      Bobbi, thank you a million for your comment. I’ll take a visit to your website — let me know when your book is sold!! And thanks for the hello from Canada.

  9. Posted February 2, 2010 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    Hi Randy,

    What an unfortunate headache this has been! I’ve got a feeling this will all be resolved very shortly! Here’s to hoping!

    -Ben

    • Posted February 2, 2010 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

      Thanks Ben. Macmillan/St.Martin’s has been nothing but great–and in the long run, it’s really a good thing for writers.

  10. Posted February 3, 2010 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    Randy,

    It’s an awful situation that may well impact debut novelists more than anyone. Here’s to hoping Amazon straightens things out soon. You have a wonderful book on your hands, and I know you’ll rebound from this.

    Therese

    • Posted February 3, 2010 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

      Thanks, Therese. The support I’m receiving from friends is what’s the silver lining here. And everyone reading this should read THE LAST WILL OF MOIRA LEAHY!

  11. Wendy Webb
    Posted February 4, 2010 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    Hi Randy,

    I’m a fellow Macmillan author. My debut novel, THE TALE OF HALCYON CRANE, is coming out March 30. I feel your pain and your panic, and I’ll march to my local B & N this afternoon to pick up a copy of your book, and tell all my friends to do the same.

    Hang in there!

    • Posted February 4, 2010 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

      Thanks, Wendy. I will go pre-order yours on Indiebound. Please feel free to write again with links to pre-sale sites.

  12. Posted February 5, 2010 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

    Randy,
    What a perfect analogy- feeling like you tripped in a race. Oof. I’m so sorry. I bought your book through Sony Reader’s bookstore as an e-book, and I’m truly enjoying it. I love your blog. My novel also deals with domestic violence… I appreciate that your blog touches on this subject as well. Anyway, I think writers and readers ought to boycott Amazon! How dare they?

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