Gaming the System

I love connecting with other authors. I’ve been doing it for more than 15 years. I love talking to people who get it. People who understand how you can be proud of being rejected more than 500 times, who can sympathize with bolting awake at two a.m. and scrambling for a pen, or who can help you through the twelve step program to stop obsessively checking your Amazon ranking.

I’m on a lot of writing e-mail lists and Facebook groups and so on. And sometimes it’s great. Other times, it degrades into a groupmind effort to game the system. Lately I’ve started getting messages about the new “Like” button at Amazon. I’m paraphrasing here:

Please, please, please go to Amazon and like my books and I’ll like all of yours and we’ll get bigger like numbers and that will (somehow) sell books and soon we’ll rule the universe!

Before that it was swapping tags and reviews on Amazon. And you can’t forget vote-trading for awards, big and small.

Too much self-promotion can be obnoxious, but to me this crosses the line from promotion to deception. If you’re begging your readers to “like” your books, you can at least assume they’ll only do it if they actually like you and/or the books. Whereas when it’s writers running around to click each others’ books just so those writers will do the same for them, you’ve basically rendered the whole thing meaningless.

I don’t know why it bugs me, because most of the time, this scrounging for clicks and tags and likes and whatever makes very little difference. I think part of it is a principle thing: I hate seeing authors going down what feels like a rather slimy path. Partly it just feels sad.

Yet, occasionally, manipulating the system works. One self-published author told me how successful he had been with adjusting the price of his e-books, dropping them to 99 cents to boost sales and get onto the Top 100 lists at Amazon where random browsers are more likely to find them, then raising the price to $2.99 for the bigger royalties.

But that’s an exception. (Given the number of 99 cent e-books, the vast majority are not making the Top 100 lists.) And it’s not deceptive the way the “Hey, I’ll give your book five stars if you do the same for mine!” approach is.

So I guess to those authors trying to game the system, I’d say:

  1. I understand the urge. I know how desperate we are to somehow control and improve our sales.
  2. Swapping “likes” with a dozen other authors is not going to have any significant impact.
  3. Whatever I might think of Amazon’s practices, they’re smarter than just about anyone at selling and marketing books. Thinking you’re going to beat their system and make it work to you is about as likely as heading to Vegas with a system to beat the house. Good luck with that.
  4. Worry more about writing the next book and less about the trappings of false control.

That’s my rant for today. Discussion and debate are welcome, as always.