Why I’m Thinking of Leaving Amazon

 

Each of us are given a constellation of gifts. We do not get to choose what these gifts are. We do not have to like them – and maybe you will spend years being petty and angry about not getting the gifts you wanted. For example: I wanted to be a scientist, but I was not given the gift of mathematical intuition. I spent years training to be a physicist, and you know, I can force it, but it’s exhausting because there’s no true inspiration behind what I do. It is entirely manmade. Artificial. Artifice. Only after deciding to cultivate a gift I was given – that of being able to write with honesty and intensity – only then did I begin to see my purpose. I also got another gift that I initially spurned, but it is the perfect match for my writing: I am good at testing software. Testing provides for my financial and creature needs, and in a physical, material way supports the transcendent gift of my writing – transcendent because it is the thing I am meant to give back to the world. Trying to force the mundane and the spiritual into the same pen was a lot like my years playing at physicist. It was a pointless fight. I’m finished.

If you read my last post, you know that I’ve been trying to live by some monastic principles. I’m paring back the noise and replacing the question of “What do I want?” with “What is right for me to do?” I see now that there are very few things I must do:

  • Love my fellow man and practice compassion.
  • Be a faithful wife.
  • Write.

Part of my spiritual quest has been to be deliberate about where I spend my attention. I can choose to spend my attention on gaming the publication system, or I can spend it quietly growing into who I am meant to be. I can choose to focus on the superficial, or I can choose to dwell in the numinous. I can keep trying to figure out how to monetize my literary gifts, or I can be grateful I don’t need to figure that out because I have another gift which intersects the realm of commerce. For all of these reasons, I am considering pulling my books from Amazon, and making them free on Wattpad, Smashwords, and my own site, oddskybooks.com, where three free stories are available now. I just need to find the time to make the transition, probably after my ten-week craft class is over, because there is a lot of behind the scenes effort that goes into such a shift.

I keep thinking of the monk who is purported to have written the Codex Gigas. The Codex is three feet tall, weighs one hundred and sixty pounds, and was written longhand prior to 1295. We know almost nothing of the author other than the remarkable fact that he spent somewhere around twenty-five years working in probable isolation to produce this book. This was an act of faith. I have a feeling he understood the production of the book was never about him, and that his glory was in the act of responding to the call he was made to answer. I want to write with that purity. I want to be absent from the intention. That is humility. And again, it is faith. Someone will point out that the colloquial name for this book is the Devil’s Bible, because of the legend that the monk supposedly made a deal with the devil to write the entire 160-pounds of it in one night so as to save his own life, and also because there is a rather cartoonish illustration of a devil included amongst the pages. Maybe that happened. The picture of the devil-thing is real. However, literary forensics indicates the quieter story, the one of plodding decades of anonymous writing. I think also of Murdoch’s The Book and the Brotherhood (someone help me here! I think that’s the book I mean, but Mudoch wrote so much!). After a character’s death, someone goes through the deceased’s desk and finds thousands of pages of gorgeous poetry, the sort of work that could have brought fame. Murdoch’s point is that there are pure ways of creation that are abstracted from the communal shouting match. Can I be humble enough to stop even secretly hoping my writing will make me visible to the world?

Leaving Amazon is in alignment with my beliefs, although it is in stark contradiction to the clamoring voices who are telling me that’s not how the game is played. I’m choosing to focus on quiet and contemplation. I have faith that the people who are meant to find my stories, will. If no one is meant to find them, not even one person? That’s not up to me, either. My calling is to write and to share; my calling is to practice compassion; my calling is to be steadfast in my relationships. I’ll be a good wife, a kind stranger and, maybe someday, truly become the person I’m meant to be.

As ever,

-aniko

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11 thoughts on “Why I’m Thinking of Leaving Amazon

    • Thank you for commenting! I agree that there are many reasons to write, and there is no requirement that publication be the only or primary motivation. I think I’ll write deeper, more nuanced works if I’m growing into who I’m meant to be – stagnation or fear of becoming aren’t fertile ground for literature!

      -aniko

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  1. A courageous and inspiring post, Aniko. You have to do what’s best and right for you – and whether that’s selling thousands of books on Amazon or making your books available for free is your decision, and yours alone. I think all of us, sooner or later, have to make one basic choice: am I writing for money, glory, the sake of my ego? Or am I writing because I simply feel the need to, because it’s the one thing that I can do and feel called to do? It’s rarely that simple, of course – I suspect that behind each writer there is an entire constellation of reasons and motives, not all of which may necessarily be compatible – but I still think that those are the two basic paths that we can follow.

    I’m often dismayed by the number of voices in the self-publishing community who insist not only that publication (on Amazon and the like) is the logical and indispensable outcome of writing, but that what sets apart a serious writer from a hobbyist is making x number of sales. That’s claptrap. I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with selling books per se, just that if that’s our sole measure of success then something really has gone horribly astray. There are already plenty of writers out there who see writing and publishing as some kind of financial master plan. Fair enough, and good luck to them. But I’m concerned at the apparent scarcity of those writers who see money and personal glory as secondary, or even entirely unimportant (of course, it could just be that these writers, by their very nature, tend to make less noise).

    In any case, the world needs more people like you, Aniko. You treat your talent with the respect it deserves. And, whatever you decide to do, I truly hope that you will find fulfilment and happiness!

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    • I’ve read the various essays and opinions about the distinction between a hobbyist and a serious writer. To conflate the reaction of the public, as measured by copies sold, and the “seriousness” of the writer’s relationship to writing is illogical, but popular. It is a false premise to start with the number of sales and somehow map that to the purity of a writer’s dedication to the craft. The number of books sold says more about the author’s marketing acumen, generalized luck, and status on social media than it says about their relationship to their gift. There are both best sellers who are very serious about the craft, and serious writers who never sell more than a few copies. Then there are those who are best sellers, and who don’t give a fig about the craft and churn out terrible, unreadable works at a crazy pace. The latter have great marketing, branding, and an amplified voice in social media – they are selling snake oil, and laughing all the way to quitting their day jobs.

      As illogical as it is, I’ve bought into that delusion one more than one occasion. It only ever resulted in me becoming disconnected from my gift. There are just so many voices shouting that the only way to be a REAL WRITER is to make money selling books (or, in some circles, to be published by a traditional publisher & still not make money, but it counts as proof you’re a REAL WRITER).

      It is crucial for a writer to know why she is writing. It is difficult to discover, though, because I think we have a tendency to lie to ourselves. It took me years of engaging with the question before I could get to my truth.

      Thank you for commenting, Mari – as always, your thoughts augment and enrich the original post.

      -aniko

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  2. You know, Aniko, I think that you and Mari are my favourite writerly ladies, but possibly only because I agree with the both of you on so many topics. I did not listen to my Zen master when he said ‘The purpose of life is to remove ego, but make a few quid along the way’. I have since learned that the ego stuff is easy, but making a few quid on Amazon is the hard bit. Like you, I’ve played with the idea of leaving Amazon, but would it not be much more subversive to make everything free? If your work is free on Smashwords, then if enough people report it as free to Amazon, their algorithm will make it free, to price match. Persuade enough writers…

    If the machine is broken, then sell the parts and build a new machine.

    This article is the best I have read on the subject. So well done, I want to pat you on the back and possibly give you a hug; I’m not known as a hugger, but I will send you a non-threatening and quite English pat on the back 🙂

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    • Mari is a lovely one, isn’t she? What she says is thoughtful and kind. I am glad to know her.

      And you, for that matter! I reply to your ‘non-threatening and quite English pat on the back’ with a non-threatening, Texan hug. We are a friendly bunch – we have to be, living this close to year-long summer.

      I hadn’t considered staying on Amazon and converting everything to free. You’ve given me a new avenue of thought (and possibly action) to pursue. Something told me to post this, and see what the responses were before I made a final decision. It could be that you’ve just handed me the final bit in this publishing/joy conundrum. Thank you for sharing your subversive thoughts!

      -aniko

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  3. Having only recently come to the behemoth that is Amazon, I’ve often had mixed feelings. One of the positive feelings I’ve had is the fact that there are people loading obscure and otherwise forgotten literature there for free, and to be downloaded for free too. I love the fact that Amazon is a repository of knowledge both good and bad to be there for the foreseeable future. I’m fascinated by texts from the obscure, and on many occasions Amazon has been my only source of supply. Rather than resign from Amazon, how about you make the words that you want to share with the world at no charge permafree – this is as simple as setting your Smashwords price – so that your message can always be shared – or make it public domain. If you have a message – put it out there – it doesn’t always have to be about the money, unless you need to pay for the roof. Messages meant to help and guide should be seen – whatever the platform used.

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    • Jo, it is nice to meet you. Thank you for taking the time to leave a thoughtful comment. I appreciate it!

      I also use Amazon as my source of obscure texts, and I am grateful they are there. I think what your comment, and a preceding one from J.D., have made me realize that maybe I am making a logical error. I don’t want to combine paying the bills with my art, so my first reaction was to leave the outlet that represents “Money Making” – Amazon. Another friend sent me an email and reminded me that Amazon is where people find books – not only the odd, niche books, either. She pointed out that leaving there will make it much harder for anyone to locate my stories. As you say, “Messages meant to help and guide should be seen – whatever the platform used,” and I agree. I have some more thinking to do!

      Thank you again, Jo, for taking the time to share your thoughts with me.

      -aniko

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  4. Wow. What a beautiful, honest piece, Aniko. Did I mention that I LOVE the way you write? Elegant, dignified, heartfelt and so, so classy. I, too, am growing more into my gift, and like you, am embracing the newfound freedom that comes with acknowledging it.

    I’m new to the self-publishing game (and it is a game, with its own set of rules and different kinds of players) and I chose to publish on Amazon (because… well, it’s HUGE) but, like you, I’m not so sure I will stay there. I’m not so sure that I like its ecosystem. That said, I would love to be self-supporting with my writing, but (given that I have a secure job that is not too taxing on my time and creative imperatives and don’t have to) how to do that is THE big question that remains unanswered. And I’m still playing around in the Amazon space until I can see a way forward…

    I will watch your journey with interest.

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    • Diane, hi! Thank you for leaving such a thoughtful and kind comment. I never know who my posts will reach – or how they will react – and it is very, very heartening to know that another writer I admire has found something of value in my writing.

      I don’t have a problem with Amazon, per say. It’s more a problem with my own mental framework. I see Amazon as equating to commerce, rather than as a way to share my art. I get the money making and the sharing conflated, and for some reason it always hinges around Amazon. I’d guess that’s because many writers focus on what they are making on Amazon, or how to leverage the system, or … the list goes on and on. I get worked up about sales, when really, sales and money never had anything to do with my writing. I started publishing because it felt selfish to not at least try and share the story that was given to me to write. And, yes, I have some definite metaphysical (nearing spiritual) views about where my stories “come from.” So… I guess what I’m trying to say is – I think Amazon is a great place to be. It has the widest audience. Everyone who reads knows (and probably loves) Whispernet. My thoughts about leaving Amazon reveal more about me than about that particular market, I think!

      As you watch my journey, so I am watching yours! I’m very excited for you & wish you all the best.

      as ever,

      -aniko

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