Episode 89 – Netline, Festivals, and Hustlas

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Question of the Week: Do you think Amazon should do something about books taking over categories they don’t belong in? Or should indies just take advantage of the category situation?

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The pair of publishing podcasters have a new nickname (and you’ll have to listen to find out)! After praising their patrons Kathy Coatney (Dad’s Girls http://www.kathycoatney.com/dads-girls/ ) and Tara Ross (Cubicle Jail to Laptop Lifestyle http://amzn.to/1ZNNHWl ), they took on a trio of tips about Netline, genre fiction, and building your dream team of employees. News stories focused on Ilona Andrew’s self-published novella, British literary festivals, category coups, Flipkart’s bow, the rise of audio, and taking risks vs. gambling. This week’s Question of the Week: Do you think Amazon should do something about books taking over categories they don’t belong in? Or should indies just take advantage of the category situation?
What You’ll Learn: 
  • Jim and Bryan’s new nicknames!
  • How to use NoiseTrade and Netline to get more subscribers
  • Where Russell Blake thinks indies have an advantage
  • How to build up your dream team of employees
  • Which trad pub urban fantasy author is trying self-publishing
  • Why British literary festivals are getting called out
  • What’s making it so difficult to search for books on Amazon
  • The big news coming out of India for Flipkart
  • Why audio is changing the book industry is such a big way
  • Whether or not publishing for profit is a black and white affair
Question of the Week: Do you think Amazon should do something about books taking over categories they don’t belong in? Or should indies just take advantage of the category situation?

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  • Michael La Ronn

    For the record, I just about spit out my coffee in laughter when I saw that graphic!

    I’ve had similar problems finding books on Amazon because of mis-categorized titles. I do think that something should be done, but I’m not sure we’ll see much of an improvement other than them correcting the biggest offenders. Once ebook retailers develop the ability to scan the contents of books for contextual metadata instead of relying on keywords and categories that authors provide, I hope this problem will go away.

    • You should know better than to laugh at a Hustla!

    • Bryan

      Hehehe. Good stuff, Michael :). Agreed that the future may dispense with this problem.

  • In defense of Shawty Fell in Love with a Hustla (though a book with 170+ reviews needs no defense) it’s categorized under “African American > Women’s Fiction”. Amazon itself must be placing it under the general Women’s Fiction category. It doesn’t appear that’s anything the author did or had control over.

    The line between genres can be blurry. Mostly women read romance, so some authors (and readers) may not be knowledgeable about the genre conventions of traditional publishing and may not be intentionally skewing things. If mostly women read erotic werewolf shifter romance, one could be forgiven for thinking that it could be Women’s Fiction, IMO. I’ve met plenty of new authors who have no idea what the genre conventions are.

    That being said, I think that mis-categorization is a problem. Maybe a solution could be allowing readers to vote up or down on a book’s category placement the way they can for helpful and non-helpful reviews. The top 100 lists are quite useless as they stand for many of the subgenres. Then again, relying on the top 100 lists for discoverability seems like a flawed strategy.

    • Bryan

      Agreed, Leslye. By the end of the ep, I realized that Shawty actually did belong on the list. It’s just SO FUN TO SAY! 🙂

  • Nakeesha Seneb

    Whaddup Shawty, Hustla! I don’t know that the lists matter to anyone but authors. As a reader I never rely on the lists to search out new reading fodder. I rely on word of mouth. Or I’ll go to Goodreads and rely on it’s reader cultivated lists of like-genre books. Amazon is a general store, not a book store.

    • Bryan

      Whaddup?! 🙂

  • Bill Weiss

    I fail to understand how a scammer who misrepresents book categories could sell many titles, as buyers would know the books are incorrectly categories and either not buy, demand a refund, or leave scathing reviews, all of which would make intentional misrepresentation pointless.

    That said, those who miscatagorize through lack of knowledge or by mistake would soon learn through feedback and make necessary changes.

    It would be helpful to have some kind of questions app that helped choose correct categories.

    • Bryan

      A lot of the books we’re discussing aren’t scammy… they’re just romance books that sell a lot of copies whose authors want to be #1 in a category so they pick one that… very vaguely relates.

  • Any effort to game the system should and will be dealt with by Amazon. They are in the business of selling as much product as they can and one way to do that is for customers to have an enjoyable shopping experience. If I’m looking for a book in a certain category and I see random titles that have no business being there I will be put off and may not spend my money with Amazon.

    It is just like reviews. If you can’t trust reviews and you lose faith in the system the system breaks down and Amazon will not allow that to happen.

    Finally, I suggest Shawty and Hustla start throwing some shade at all those authors who write a self-help book and get it listed in the farming/ranching category (or similar such nonsense).


    • Bryan

      Shawty throwin’ the shade!

  • A D Davies

    Answering the question before listening to the show because this has been a bugbear of mine for ages. When trying to get our Time Travel Action Adventure “Project Return Fire” into a science fiction category, my co-author and I found those festooned with romance and erotica. We managed to get out book on page one (search Time Travel Action Adventure, and even “Action Adventure” and there we are) but had to wade past time travelling ladies looking to bone hunky cavemen or aliens, etc, and further down the pages there were plenty with nothing to do with time travel.

    I really don’t understand the point from either an author’s standpoint or from Amazon’s. Apologies for the BSP but it’s relevant: if you’re looking for modern day soldiers travelling back to fight Nazis you will probably search “Time Travel Action Adventure”. If you want to read about a schoolteacher getting it on with a neanderthal you can either pop over to Ibiza or search “Caveman erotica”.

    Ahh, the therapeutic benefits of a good rant…

    • Bryan

      Festooned. Good word. Yay for rants!

  • Yeah, Amazon needs to do something about the categories, along with the keywords, and recommendations. My book “Hard Vacuum”, for instance, is in the movie adaptations category. I didn’t put it there, but I mention in the description that it’s like an 80s action movie. The important word there being “like”. It’s not an adaptation.

    I think they need to incentivise people to give their engine information. For instance, if they offered a discount to me if I gave more detailed information on the book I just finished, I might do it. That information could be things like what categories it should be in and what books it was similar to. Which would allow them to make a much more accurate system.

    • Bryan

      I think you can ask KDP directly to move it to a different category if you’d like!

      • Yeah, I’ve considered it. At the same time, I’m #1 in the category 🙂

  • Chris Syme

    Yes there is a problem. Will anything get done? Probably not. Where there are systems that humans do not monitor, there will be gamers. Unless we have a solution that works for them, I doubt they would act. With 5000 books a day coming in, I am sure this is tough to monitor. I wish they gave a crap about us, but…

    • Bryan

      We need more Amazon humans! 🙂

  • This is just another typical gaming-the-system “strategy”, and we all know those will not last for long, especially on Amazon. So, I wouldn’t worry about this current scheme too much. Amazon has shown time after time that they will pick these sort of buds out…though doing so has left all honest authors a bit burnt and bruised in the process in some instances.

    • Bryan

      I feel battered! Agreed, they’ll take care of it eventually.

  • a. dalcourt

    I stopped using the Amazon book search for genre fiction when romance and erotica began saturating the different catergories. As a non-romance reader, it’s become impossible to discover new fantasy or science fiction writers with a plot that centers around sex or falling in love. Give me epic space battles! Give me trolls and noble dragons. But PLEASE STOP I don’t want knights f***ing the dragon or vice versa. I’m tired of it. I’m seeing similar trends in other free to read sites and honestly it’s just made me resent the romance genre even more.

    I’ve gone back to brick and motor stores to do my shopping – I just can’t find anything I like with romance indies jiggling their bits everywhere.

    • Bryan

      No more screwing dragons! Thanks for the comment, A :).

      • Amelia Smith

        If you don’t want screwing dragons, please don’t read my books (at least not the current series).

        • Bryan

          Hehehe. I don’t mind ’em. I just was supporting A over here :).

  • I’m really glad you guys brought up the categories thing. While I totally understand why so many romance authors are getting their books into other categories for visibility, as a reader and an Amazon shopper, the whole thing really sucks. It’s really annoying when I’m trying to find a good new horror book and all I see are shirtless werewolves. It truly is bringing down the shopping experience on Amazon.

    I have to think that Amazon will address this. They care about their customers and the customer experience above all else, and if they can find a way to discover who out of people leaving reviews are friends with the author, I’m sure they can figure this out. They have to do it.

    • Bryan

      They should do it. Over under on when they do something about it? 🙂

  • I do think Amazon needs to improve their search engine and their category listing. True, some authors are trying to game the system, but others who write crossover or mashup subgenres may have difficulty selecting categories. Like Leslye said, I think Amazon will place books in categories according to their criteria. In my experience, I’ve found my books in categories that didn’t seem to match with my keywords.

    Those authors that purposefully add their books into unrelated categories are only causing confusion in an already flooded market. Using Russell Blake’s comparison of Amazon to Walmart- it’s like a shopper going to Walmart and searching down an aisle marked ‘Kitchen pots & pans’ and having to dig through bags of potting soil. Nothing wrong with potting soil, but it will cause frustration and confusion.

    • Bryan

      Nice potting soil example, Kathy :).

  • Patrick Stemp

    QOTW: Yes! Get Game of Thrones out of my Science Fiction categories! I’m sick of seeing it there. It’s not just indies screwing around with these.

    • Bryan

      That’s for sure. SCIENCE!

  • David R Bernstein

    Amazon’s algorithm works like Google, Bing, and Yahoo did 5-7 years ago.. The most sold books are like inbound links were for search engines back in the day.. Whoever has the most no matter the relevance wins. And the keywords do the sorting/identification. Just like basic meta tags did for the search engines back then. This is why Google will step up big for ebooks soon. They already have a book scanning and learning platform in place as well as a much richer and relevant way to evaluate content.

    • Bryan

      I hope you’re right, David. I’d love it if Google stepped up. Maybe the Oyster acquisition will help.

  • Amelia Smith

    Romance may spill over into categories where it doesn’t belong, but there’s no good way to keep categories neat and tidy all the time. Many of us write between genres and across genres and if you keep out all of those ambiguously-genred books, how will people ever find things that aren’t cookie-cutter pieces fitting neatly into the center of the genre? What’s more, a lot of these cross-genre books are very popular. Outlander is all over a bunch of different categories, for one example.

    • Bryan

      This is true. At least there’s nothing built into the system to keep them neat and tidy. Maybe some kind of button for crowdsourcing (click here if this is in the wrong category).

  • Crissy Moss

    QOTW: This has been a problem for a while. A while ago there was an article about Non-Fic categories being topped by books that weren’t even in that subject. Jim is right… if you go to Amazon to look up a book on car repair and the top books are about fixing your microwave it won’t matter if they have the similar category of home repair.

    On the other hand, fiction doesn’t always have such hard categories when placing books. A book can be superhero, and romance, and young adult all at the same time. Heck, the guys over on SPP have a book that’s western and fantasy. And who’s job is it to go in and clear all the books from certain categories? Who get’s to say “this book isn’t science fiction enough to be in science fiction”?

    I can understand why they haven’t been able to clean the categories out. Even a report feature would be a problem since I’m sure there are people who would report a book just because the cover didn’t fit their idea of fantasy.

    It’s also good to note that authors don’t always put their books in the categories that their book appears in. I did not put my “Witch’s Trilogy” books in young adult, nor did I use keywords that I thought were young adult in nature, but Amazon still put my books there. Perhaps they do have some sort of algorithms to classify books and we just don’t know what they are.

    • Bryan

      Good points, Crissy. Thanks.

  • C.Steven Manley

    I’ve actually had a couple of readers comment on finding erotica in the superhero category when looking for my books. One of them wanted to know “what the hell is wrong with Amazon?” I could only shrug.

    I think the solution- or at least the start of a solution – might begin with adding a step or three to the KDP upload process in the form of a questionnaire that would help specify books that were heavily slanted towards explicit sex or other adult content as well as specific genre tropes and settings. Then, when the choose your categories step comes up, your options would be limited by your answers to these questions. Couple this with making adult/Erotica a primary category with plenty of genre subheadings and a crowdsourcing button that would allow someone to report books that are explicit in whatever way and only have overtones of whatever category they are shelved in, then you might-maybe -have the seeds of some kind of real organization.

    Does this smack of gatekeeping? Yes. Could it be gamed? Probably. But I don’t think we can have the organization we desire at the same time as the current complete freedom of placement that we enjoy. When all is said and done, I really don’t know that the disorganization hurts sales because readers are going to find the genres they want to read, regardless.

  • Perry Constantine

    All throughout this episode, I kept hoping the Amazon categories would end up being the question of the week. This is absolutely a problem. And Bryan, like you, I’ve been frustrated with it in regards to the superhero genre. Shifter romances are not superheroes. They have nothing to do with superheroes. They should not be in that category, period.

    And yet, the category is absolutely DOMINATED by them. It annoys me on two levels. Not only do I have a superhero series that gets buried by those improperly categorized books, but as a fan of superhero fiction, I have to go through several pages of shifter romances before I find an honest-to-god superhero title.

    Amazon does need to fix this. Like Jim said, in the long term, this is just going to send people to other stores. The only reason it hasn’t happened yet is that the other stores are even worse with searches than Amazon.

    But that will change at some point. Eventually, someone’s going to come along and invent the Google of ebooks. And it will be a game changer.

    Oh and also, a belated congratulations to Jim on his election victory!

  • Daniel Martone

    I think the consumers can handle this problem. If someone went to the Superhero category and bought that #1 book, expecting to get a superhero book, they’d probably be pretty angry and give it a negative review. I’ve seen that happen in many of the YA categories… I think (ok, I hope) the consumer is smart enough to look at those lists and filter down to the real books. If there comes a point when say the top 25 are all mis-categorized, then Amazon will have to step in and correct it.

  • Daniel Martone

    Also, I wanted to wish Bryan, Jim, and everyone on this board, a Merry Christmas / Hanukkah / Yule (for the Wiccans)/ Kwanza / and of course, Festivus!

    • Bryan

      Thanks, Daniel. Same to you!