Saturday, February 18, 2006

Victoria Strauss -- Amazon Goes Into the Slush Pile Business

Like many authors, I sell some of my out-of-print books on Amazon through the Advantage program. Amazon takes a hefty percentage of each sale, but it lets me keep the books available.

The other day I got an email from the Advantage folks, with the following subject line: "Join Amazon's Talent Acquisition Program and get your books discovered by large publishers." Hmmm, I thought. I opened the email:

How would you like to rise above the clutter and get your titles in front of large, mainstream publishers? Are you interested in increased distribution and marketing support for your book? Does the prospect of signing a book contract with a major publisher appeal to you?

WTF??

I read on:

Amazon.com is proud to present its new Talent Acquisition Program (TAP), designed to help small vendors achieve these goals. Enroll in the program and Amazon.com will include your titles in monthly sales and marketing reports that reach the desks of acquisition editors at large publishing houses. If they express interest in a title of yours, we will provide them with your contact information and notify you.

Whoa. Had I accidentally stumbled into an alternate universe? Or was Amazon actually proposing a mass-mail submission program, using come-on language very much like that of a number of similar fee-based services of dubious value? Compare and contrast:
  • Bookblaster ("Picture this … you open your email inbox and there are numerous requests from literary agents and publishers, all wanting to read YOUR manuscript. Now gaining access to literary agents and publishers who handle fiction is possible with Bookblaster.")

  • ECPA 1st Edition ("You've got a great idea for a book...If only you could get the right people to take a look at it...Well, here's your chance. There are publishers that are always looking for good authors and fresh ideas. And you can submit your proposal to them directly--online.")

  • The Writer's Edge ("Do you have a publishable manuscript? Are you intimidated by the challenge of reaching decision-makers in the publishing houses?...The Writer's Edge provides you with an edge--an effective way to get your proposal into the hands of editorial directors.")

  • Airleaf, a.k.a. superspammer Bookman Marketing ("Every authors [sic] dream come true! Selling a book to a royalty paying, traditional publisher is always a long shot for unknown authors. However, Airleaf Publishing has developed a unique list of Senior Editors at the biggest publishing houses, and we also know how each publisher accepts new submissions. This puts you at least two steps ahead of the thousands of authors submitting books every week.")
It's no mistake, folks. If you’re in the Advantage program, you can sign up to have your self-published, small press-published, or out-of-print book included in some sort of monthly email to a list of publishers. The announcement mentions "participating" publishers, which suggests that this will be an opt-in list (at least as far as the publishers are concerned; the editors who actually get the email may not feel the same way)--so presumably at least some of the people getting the reports will be interested in them. But I wonder how long their interest will survive the inevitable deluge of sub-par self-pubbed books. I also wonder how many publishers actually will opt in. With huge slushpiles and floods of agented submissions, what's their incentive?

For the record, I don’t think that Amazon intends to rip anyone off. TAP is free to Advantage members, who only have to sign up to be included in the program--no (apparent) strings attached. But clearly Amazon (which describes TAP as "truly a unique opportunity") has no idea how much its pitch for TAP resembles the slick, deceptive pitches of fee-based submission services.

I’m reminded of the time that Xlibris, one of the big vanity PODs, contacted scores of editors and agents to offer them a kickback for “successful” referrals. Unlike the fraudulent vanity publishers that promote the same kind of deal, Xlibris didn’t mean to scam anyone; it simply didn’t know that such kickbacks were notorious because of the shenanigans of scam outfits like Edit Ink and Commonwealth Publications. Its ignorance did not last long; anger and ridicule ensued. Xlibris withdrew its offer in some embarassment, only a few days after making it.

Bottom line: Amazon is promoting a pipe dream. Submission services--no matter who runs them, and with what intent--are ineffective at best. Even so, I'm sure the eternally-springing hope of hitting the big time, as well as the equally eternal search for the magic short cut, will draw a lot of people into this program.

8 comments:

Michaelc said...

This confirms my belief that Amazon (and Google) eventually will do anything that they can do, without regard for anything other than their bottom line. It's scary to see them retrace the steps of their scammier predecessors.

P.N. Elrod said...

Thank you for this bit of scariness.

I'll be updating the writing FAQ page on my website with a link to this info, oh, about NOW!!!

Faith said...

When Xlibris launched my email and snail mail boxes were flooded with mail from them. No matter how many times I deleted and blocked their emails, they always found a way to send me more.

A. J. Luxton said...

Am I missing something? It doesn't look like Amazon's trying to send them your manuscripts -- just a sales report. The wording's a bit fuzzy, and I don't think it would necessarily do any good, but it doesn't look like a submission-bombing service.

Michaelc said...

cpunuPicture an editor at a major publishing house receiving an e-mail from Amazon.com with (conservatively) 100 books listed, perhaps with a meaningless Amazon sales rating number attached. The editor knows that there was no screening process for these titles. Why in the world would the editor bother to even look at the list?

You know, a thought occurred to me. Maybe this is a way for Amazon to encourage Amazon Advantage members to buy copies of their own books, under the impression that if they beef up their sales number, a major publisher will be more likely to notice them.

Brrrr. Scary. I hope I'm wrong and it's just cluelessness on Amazon's part.

Victoria Strauss said...

Michael, I really think it is just clumsiness on Amazon's part. Even if the Advantage members bought lots of their own books, it'd be less than a drop in the bucket for Amazon's overall bottom line.

a.j., the submission-bombers don't actually send out manuscripts--they either mass mail some sort of press release or query, or else send out an electronic or snail mail "catalogue" with listings of available manuscripts. What Amazon is proposing seems to be a lot like the latter. Anyway, my problem isn't so much with what it's doing as with the pipe-dream language it's using to promote the service.

Michaelc said...

I remember watching iPublish crash and burn, all the while wondering how they could be so clueless, being an arm of a major publisher and all. This strikes me as the same kind of boneheadedness.

A. J. Luxton said...

Victoria: Aha -- that makes sense. Thank you for the clarification.