Why I Publish On Amazon

I imagine that some people are wondering why some of my books are published directly through Amazon rather than through a commercial publisher. I, like many others, have concerns about Amazon cornering the book market and driving out competition from small independent bookstores. Personally, I try to shop as much as possible at Pegasus Books in Berkeley, CA.

When I began my writing career, some 30 years ago, my dream was to be published by a company that would market and distribute my books, as well as provide an advance. In those days, publishers would support a book tour of readings and publicity events, connect you with print media as well as  radio and TV interviews. And they would try to get your book reviewed in major publications.

My first book, One Breath at a Time, came along at the tail end of this era and got a fairly good push. However, the two other books I published through commercial publishers got very little support. I was very proud of my second book, A Burning Desire, which explored how the Dharma could be used as a Higher Power in the Twelve Steps. It got no support, and it has sold feebly. I know that part of that is the fact that many people just didn’t feel the need for another book on Buddhism and recovery, and the title isn’t great (my fault). My third commercially published book, Recovering Joy, had a similar fate.

Let me first say that I consider myself very lucky to have been published at all. And I have done reasonably well financially from that–certainly not enough to support myself, but enough to feel that my efforts were worthwhile. But the reason I decided to explore so-called “self-publishing” through Amazon comes down to two things. One is that the royalty rate from commercial publishers is usually around 7.5%, which works out to a little over one dollar per book, while Amazon gives me almost five times that. The second reason is that I have a following. Not a huge one, but one big enough to make it worth putting my books out.

The math, then, only makes sense. If I sell 100 books a month and get a moderate advance from a publisher it could take a decade or more to “earn out,” to start collecting royalties beyond the initial advance. I’ll add that I will only find out how many books I’m selling every six months, while Amazon shows my sales daily. With Amazon I get a modest but meaningful infusion of cash every  month. Instead of giving a commercial publisher 92.5% of the money my books generate, I’m actually getting more like 30%.

The part of this that I regret is that my local bookstore can’t carry my Amazon published books. Amazon doesn’t seem to offer a wholesale rate to independent bookstores, presumably because they are trying to put them out of business.

As I hope you can understand, this is not a compromise that I love making. Do I give my work away for a crummy price, or do I affiliate myself with a company that is known for exploiting its workers, crushing small businesses, and having an owner who wallows in an obscene amount of wealth? Neither choice is appealing. But, frankly, I want to be compensated for the work I do, and Amazon does that better than commercial publishers

If you are interested, here are the three books I’ve published through Amazon:

Buddhism & the Twelve Steps Daily Reflections: Thoughts on Dharma and Recovery

Living Kindness: Buddhist Teachings for a Troubled World

Buddhism & The Twelve Steps Workbook