Must Authors Depend on Monopoly? It Can’t Bee.

Amazon deletes a book. I don’t bee-leave this is the only way.

Tucker Lieberman

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detail of a painting of a friendly busy honeybee on a yellow background with a few honeycomb hexagons painted in marbled colors not seen in nature
Bee, by artist Marten Norr. Used here by permission given personally by the artist.

Today, this bee has something to say about tiny-press and self-publishing.

Bzzzzt: Work hard, and follow your bliss.

But bee-ware: Someone may take your honey.

Writers use Amazon to sell books

Many small presses and self-published authors use IngramSpark to distribute to independent bookstores.

That doesn’t prevent us from listing our book on Amazon too. If maximizing our sales numbers is important to us, we use Amazon.

That’s what happens when there’s a monopoly. Everyone feels obligated to use it. If you write a book and you want strangers to find it, you list it on the biggest website.

You’re free to forgo the biggest website, but what’d be your sales strategy then? You’d be electing a whole other level of work.

Sometimes, Amazon boots authors

Amazon doesn’t know you. You were never introduced. You signed no contract. There is no deal. You have no one’s phone number, no control.

They list other people’s products that violate their own rules, and they don’t ever have to take them down.

They may list your book for a couple years, then suddenly delete it.

You can complain. You’re welcome to shout into a box, glue the box shut and throw it over a bridge, wherein the sound of your voice shall never be found.

What option is ‘good enough’?

Balancing pragmatism and idealism, we speak of what’s “good enough.”

Doing something is much, much better than doing nothing. It counts for something rather than nothing.

Doing something now, especially when there’s an urgent need, is light-years better than doing something in ten years.

Doing something good is better than merely contemplating perfection. The latter approach is called letting the perfect be the enemy of the good; it’s perfectionism taken to its tragic extreme, a dressage walk into oblivion.

Often we congratulate ourselves when we’re pragmatizing more, idealizing less. But if an ideal is compromised too hard, the outcome isn’t pragmatic. Our ideal was to write for readers. If we rely on Amazon to do pragmatics and it delists our book, we have no readers, which is not ideal.

Who compromised the ideal? Perhaps not we. Amazon greased the playing field, and ideals went flying upon stepping there.

Balancing motives of income and creativity, we choose our own version of “good enough”: selling “just enough” books at the right price while staying “true enough” to our artistic visions.

But available compromises shrink as the monopoly grows.

Once the machine is deemed essential to sales, you feed the machine to sell your book. You depend on the machine, or at least people think you do. If you don’t play, everyone assumes you’re not trying. After a while, the machine bites the hand that feeds it, because it can.

What’s “good enough” about this situation? Nothing.

It’s all of our books

It wasn’t my book that was booted from Amazon, at least not this time. It was someone else’s.

But it can happen to any of us. We’re in this hive, making honey, drip by drip.

It’s all of our books.

The bee makes a work of art

The bee does what it must and what it will.

It’s limited by what it is and what its community must do to survive. Yet in another sense, it’s free.

It works every day, all summer. But the day is long, the summer is long.

Time elongates, has space.

It must fly in a straight line. It must hum in circles.

It knows what it’s supposed to do and what it wants to do.

This dual knowledge, conveniently, is the same buzz. The buzz is inside the bee and all around it. It works and makes art. It makes a work of art.

full view of Marten Norr’s painting of a friendly busy honeybee on a yellow background with a few honeycomb hexagons painted in marbled colors not seen in nature
Bee by Marten Norr

If we were bees, I think—
—no, we’d think, buzzing together in collective opinion —
—that our lives and hives would be good enough.
For us, for them, for honey, for roses.

And if a human stole our honey, as sometimes Very Large Bee-ings are known to do, I’d hope they’d leave us enough to eat, that we might continue working and enjoying in peace. I’d hope they’d leave us bee.

There is another way. I have to bee-leave.

— Tucker Lieberman

Marten Norr does book cover design and illustration. If you’d like to buy some art for your next project, that we bees may work in joy together, reach out to him. Thank you, Marten, for this bee.

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Tucker Lieberman

Editor for Prism & Pen. Author of the novel "Most Famous Short Film of All Time." https://tuckerlieberman.com/