Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Amazon is my shepherd. I shall not want. - Bill Kirton

by Bill Kirton
Those nice people at Amazon emailed me recently to say there was a book they were sure would be of great interest to me. And they were right. The only problem was that I’d not only read it, I’d written it. The book in question was the fourth in the series I’d written for Pearson, Brilliant Workplace Skills, and, to try to penetrate as well as benefit from their marketing strategy, I asked myself why they decided that that was the book for me.

First, why Workplace Skills rather than the others? I’m well past retirement age and, in fact, I took early retirement to concentrate on my writing, so I only share my workspace with me. Which means I have little need for the book’s insights into topics such as promotion prospects and how to enhance them, interpersonal relationships, office politics and protocols. And as for the likelihood of me finding romance in the workplace... well, really! So I have to conclude that they couldn’t have thought the content would be of interest.

Which leaves style. Maybe they thought ‘Ah, he’s a writer. He’ll appreciate the finely rounded phrases here, the prose rhythms and cadences, the immaculate structuring of arguments, the inspired organisation of the material and the impeccable choice of words’. But no, style and content can’t be separated so arbitrarily. And anyway, all of you, the sophisticated literati who read these blogs, will already have curled a scornful lip at the inept, heavy-handed irony of this paragraph and dismissed it as a mere filler, a pretence that this posting has a theme, a direction, a purpose.

So what else? Maybe they’ve looked at my novels and decided that the fiction writer in me needs to be mentored by his non-fiction counterpart. After all, I’m clearly rubbish at writing crime novels. My detective makes jokes, doesn’t have a drink or drug problem, isn’t particularly scruffy and lives with a funny, attractive woman to whom he’s happily married. He cares about people, too, and he’s more interested in truth than in justice, so he’s obviously not cut out to be between the covers of a modern crime novel. And, even when I try history, the crime bit gets overtaken or at least muddied up by romance. As for The Sparrow Conundrum, what self-respecting auteur would admit to committing such garbage to paper (or screen)? It's not even mid-list, for God's sake. And Alternative Dimension? Well, it’s almost a confession that I’ve lost touch with reality.

Or maybe there’s something else, something unthinkable really. Maybe, in their desire to dominate the world and take the place of oxygen, the Amazon king-makers have lost the plot. They clearly have a ante-pre-post-modern-structuralist attitude to taxation, for example, and their zero hours employment practices have overtones of the original industrial revolution. And now their boss has bought The Washington Post. OK, there's no denying that their ebook revolution has, mostly, brought opportunities (and revenue) to writers who previously could only gaze through steamed-up windows at the frolics of those the gatekeepers had favoured. And yet, and yet...

Could it be that they … I hesitate to articulate it … they know very little about books? Surely they don’t think Brilliant Workplace Skills is a … a product, something electronic maybe, an executive toy, an object you put on your desk and … well, play with until it’s time to go home. No, that can’t be it. Amazon is the pinnacle of evolution, the ne plus ultra of refinement and civilisation. Amazon is the reason the Big Bang happened. No, the fault must lie in me (and, no doubt, many other writers). Amazon can’t possibly have made a mistake.

(The car, by the way, is a 1956 Volvo Amazon. I got the picture from Phil Seed’s Virtual Car Museum


Lee said...

Perhaps Amazon doesn't make mistakes, but Jeff Bezos seems to have made a big one!


Jan Needle said...

or maybe they don't know much about books, but they know a lot about marketing. they've persuaded (inveigled? conned?) you into writing this entertaining piece about them, and me and thousands of others to read it. i won't be buying the volvo book, but your detective sounds like just the job. excuse me while i nip over to kindle and buy one of your books!

Wayne said...

If you've logged into Amazon, or an Amazon cookie remains on your PC, they can track what you look for on their site.

If you've looked for your book on Amazon (who wouldn't), they've tracked this and effectively put "1" next to your name and your book to show you are interested in it.

Have an experiment. Log into Amazon and search for something you have no interest in, e.g. Donkey Derby or Quantum Physics. Have a click around the related books and then close your browser and see what Amazon suggests for you next time. Maybe a madcap Donkey scientist who wants to take over the world... Bwahahahaha.

Erm ...Excuse me, I'm going for a lay down.

Bill Kirton said...

Thanks for the link, Lee. I enjoy that sort of specifically targeted spoof.

You see, Jan? My cunning plan worked.

Wayne, yes I know nothing's as it seems and we're putty in their hands (or at least I am) but pretending that Amazon moves in mysterious ways helps me to justify the title I chose for the post.

Lydia Bennet said...

very enjoyable post Bill, I always wonder how Amazon choose books to mail out as recommendations to people - I assume they go out to millions but perhaps they are all targeted according to what we look at online. I wonder how people do the 'pre-ordering' thing, how do you put a book up for pre-order, I've not seen it described anywhere yet it's often offered. The whole thing's a mystery.

Bill Kirton said...

Thanks Lydia. I can't offer an answer to your question re. pre-orders but I can report that a book called Brilliant CV Writing was listed on Amazon for 2 years. It was (supposedly) written jointly by me and an Australian academic and it could be pre-ordered. Only one problem - it had only ever been a gleam in an editor's eye, Pearson had never listed it and had no idea where Amazon had got it from.

Chris Longmuir said...

Lydia, my new book Missing Believed Dead appeared on Amazon (paperback version) for pre-order. Nothing to do with me. I had aimed for a launch on 11 July, but when I registered my ISBN I just put July, so I reckon my ISBN must have been registered for 1 July. The book appeared on Amazon in June for pre-order on 1 July, so I was pushed into launching earlier than I intended. At the time it appeared I was still working on it in Createspace, so it wasn't approved for sale by Amazon. So I reckon the pre-order bit is linked to the ISBN registration.

Lee said...

It occurs to me that Amazon never emails to suggest a title, though I frequently buy books from them. Maybe there's a way to opt out of this sort of spam in your profile (and maybe I did so without remembering) - which of course doesn't address the question of their criteria.

Reb MacRath said...

Loved the passage, Bill, about how your detective doesn't fit the mold. I'm a fellow rebel on that score: Boss MacTavin always gets very well paid.

Bill Kirton said...

Thanks, Reb. I have to assume that Jack Carston gets well paid, too, because he's always opening bottles of wine at home (but, needless to say, never drinks to excess).