Category: Business

Interview With The Book Designer About My Box Set Experience and Rebecca Hamilton

Tomorrow, my interview with The Book Designer goes live. Here’s the link to the article: Andrea Ring on Becoming a Bestselling Author (and Her Experience with Promoter Rebecca Hamilton)

Since I gave the interview, a great deal of controversy has come out about these box sets, how Rebecca conducts herself, and how she conducts business.

I first learned of the controversy on The Passive Voice. I read TPV daily, and on April 28, one of the headlines was “The Bestseller Box Set Gig.” The excerpt posted talked about the illegitimacy of 20 authors banding together to try to hit a bestseller list using black-hat marketing methods such as gifting thousands of copies. And PG (the Passive Guy), who I respect, commented that “when everybody is a bestselling author, the marketing benefits from such claims decline substantially in value.”

I happen to agree with PG. I didn’t join the set to make a list, but to push myself and learn about marketing. (But that’s irrelevant to the discussion.) I had just been through the grueling process of joining a box set effort and trying to market it and cooperating with 21 other authors, and I could personally attest that all of our marketing methods were above board. I could shrug off the commonly held notion that 20+ authors hitting a list is not the same thing as hitting a list on your own with a single title (it’s not, although it’s still legitimate), but many commenters were suggesting that I was unethical, that no one had ever benefited either monetarily nor career-wise from such participation, and that the whole thing is akin to vanity publishing and buying your way to success.

I was heartsick to learn that so many people felt this way. I wanted to comment, but by the time I had seen the article (I was out of town), comments had been closed. (I don’t think I ever recall PG closing comments, BTW.)

And my interview was still out there, processing.

So I sent an email to my contact at The Book Designer, alerting her to the post and saying that if they needed to pull the interview with all the controversy, I understood.

And in the mean time, I read the entire article referenced in The Passive Voice post. On one hand, I could refute a lot of the underhanded methods cited as occurring in every box set – they weren’t used in mine. We didn’t pay for reviews. We didn’t incentivize readers to buy books. We didn’t gift thousands of copies (although we did gift some – about 3% of our total sales, and many of those were not claimed – but Amazon’s Terms of Service allows for gifting).

On the other hand, some damning evidence was provided about these things going on in other sets or in other services offered by Rebecca’s business, GenreCrave. There was evidence of bullying authors into silence if they disagreed with Rebecca or asked for a refund.

I went from heartsick to feeling physically ill. I combed through every post online I could find about the situation. I re-read my contract and compared it to what people were saying. I admit, I became obsessed.

I consider myself an ethical person. I would never, ever bully someone nor condone the same from someone else. I’ve never paid for a review – I barely have any reviews on my books! Many of my books focus on ethics and philosophical debates, for crying out loud! How did I get mixed up in this? Especially when I’d truly had a positive experience and was proud of myself for doing something so against my nature?

So I took a deep breath. My career was not at stake. Not really. No one’s ever heard of me. 🙂

But my personal integrity IS at stake.

Our box set was scheduled to be taken down on May 2nd, and I could only sigh in relief. BUT…we got a message in our box set Facebook group that Amazon was offering to promote the set if we stayed in KDP Select for another 90 days.

And The Book Designer wanted to run my interview despite the controversy.

I agonized. I toiled. My husband and friends wanted to strangle me, I’m sure. I finally decided to pull my book from the set. And I agreed to let the interview run.

The other authors and I in our box set did nothing wrong. We worked hard, and that’s it. We don’t deserve to be painted as villains, as unethical, as black hatters. And that’s why I continued with the interview. While my career might not take a hit from the association with Rebecca, the careers of a lot of the other authors in my set might. I had an opportunity to set the record straight about the Dark Humanity box set, and I took it.

This interview is not an endorsement of every service Rebecca ever gave or will give – I only have this experience to relate. And it’s not meant to ignore or negate others’ experiences.

I will also say that the discussion online about the entire controversy has been continuing even up until this very moment, and I’ve been following as I’ve had the time. And to answer the questions I’m sure I will receive at some point…

Yes, my feelings have changed since I originally gave the interview.

Yes, I’m questioning everything that was done in our box set. The marketing methods were above board. Period. But other issues have been pointed out regarding Amazon’s ToS, and I’m considering those and if they apply to our set. At this point, I’m not sure what I could do about those things if I believe we were in violation, but I will absolutely own up to it.

To be continued…


I Found Quora…and I Like It

Social media has always been tough for me. I love interacting with people, but I’m not inclined to share my every thought. I don’t take selfies – heck, I don’t like taking pictures of myself period. And I’d rather have a deep, philosophical discussion about the meaning of life than tell everyone what I ate for breakfast.

But knowing this was my Achilles’ Heel in the marketing-driven world of writing and selling books, I attended an IWOSC marketing seminar. I knew they wouldn’t tell me what I wanted to hear – “You don’t need a social media presence!” – but I was hoping for some nuggets of wisdom that would make it a bit easier to put myself out there.

One of the presenters mentioned a site called Quora. People ask questions, and other people answer. You can have a dialog with others in the comments. I thought, “Who knows? Maybe my obscure knowledge of metrology and statistics and philosophy can actually help someone.”

So I registered on Quora and started to browse. A question about Donald Trump caught my eye, and I was drawn to answer because…why not?

I got some views. Some Likes. A few comments. Not all the comments were positive, but the engagement was. The discussion was respectful and productive.

So I answered some more questions. Other people started requesting my answers! This was awesome!

Two months later, it’s still awesome. I’ve met some great people, I’ve honed my answering skills, and I recently became a Most Viewed Writer in Teaching. You can read my content here: Andrea Ring’s Quora Profile

I encourage everyone to check out Quora. It’s a great way to share what you know and engage with people from all around the world. Thank goodness, I’ve finally found a social media site I’m comfortable with!

A Letter to Sports Authority CEO Michael Foss

Dear Mr. Foss,

I received your email today regarding Sports Authority’s bankruptcy. I don’t pretend to know anything about the inner workings of your business, but I am a regular customer. And you’ve frustrated me of late.

One of your stores is two miles from my house and resides in the same shopping center as Target, Dick’s, and REI. I am an Amazon Prime member. To get me in your store, you need to offer better value than all of those retailers. And 95% of the time, you don’t.

I was in the Tustin, CA, Sports Authority two weeks ago. My best friend’s son was going to Outdoor Science School for a week, and since two of my kids had already attended, she asked for my help gathering the necessities. Specifically, she needed to purchase long underwear, wool socks, and a waterproof jacket, and she needed the items in one day.

Amazon Prime was our first choice, but the items she wanted didn’t have same-day delivery.

We next went to Target. Winter items were already phased out.

We knew REI would have what we needed, but their prices for clothing are high. So we tried Sports Authority. Long underwear was over $20/piece for the size we needed, and the only pattern available in the right size was camouflage. No. Wool socks were $20. No. They had no appropriate jackets. So off we went to REI. Bingo.

Admittedly, your store is not catering to Outdoor Science School. But why shouldn’t it, since every 5th grader in our county attends? A smart store manager would keep a small display of items well stocked, and would know when local kids are attending. And your higher prices wouldn’t necessarily be an issue if a parent could get everything they needed in one place.

I said I am a regular customer, and this is true for one specific item: shoes. I have four kids, all active, and this is one item I cannot buy on Amazon Prime – I need to try shoes on. Inevitably, when we go in to buy shoes, we also look at other items…clothing, tennis accessories, backpacks. But the prices are outrageous. My kids go through 2 backpacks a year, and it doesn’t matter whether I spend $20 or $80 on that backpack – it fails. So why would I spend on the higher end at Sports Authority? And the clothing…it dominates the store, and the prices are high. Yes, there is a market for high-priced active wear, but it’s shrinking. Target now sells great activewear at low prices. And Target is down the street from you.

You are facing the same problem that Barnes & Nobles is facing – the only people who are going to buy items at Sports Authority are the ones who need something RIGHT NOW (and let’s face it, it’s way more satisfying to browse in B&N for an hour than it is at SA, and yet B&N is still going down). So here’s my advice, for what it’s worth:

Small, focused stores. Tennis Authority. Golf Authority. Heath & Wellness Authority. Offer services (same-day racket stringing, knowledgable staff that can recommend the proper equipment and great teaching pros). Devote the most floor space to items people want/need to buy in person: shoes, equipment (gotta hold that racket in your hand), reasonably priced add-ons that customers can’t resist (water bottles, grip tape), but don’t junk up the checkout with $2 candy bars.

Price match. Maybe you already do this, but if you do, your customers don’t know about it. Offer to get any item they want at the same price as Amazon, and make sure it’s delivered by the next day.

Partner with the local community (again, maybe you do this, but it’s not known). Sports are expensive, and schools struggle with sports programs. Partner with high school sports teams for bulk pricing on uniforms, shoes, and equipment. Send a sales rep to high school games/matches, and have them make the rounds to parents. “Hey, we’ve got a special on racket stringing. If you give me your racket today, I’ll deliver them to your coach tomorrow.” $5 more for a new grip, give a coupon for 10% off their next shoe purchase. Take the easy money. And once you develop the relationship, the parents will come to you (I would).

You have no leverage in this online, Amazon-dominated world. None. You need to do things differently and better, and the only way to do that is to up your service game. Do what Amazon cannot.

I hope you make it. Consumers are better off with lots of competitive retailers. Best of luck.

Andrea Ring

Former tennis coach and sports lover