Catch 22 — Djuna Shellam The Write OWL — Epi 27

Catch 22

The term Catch 22 became popular with Joseph Heller’s 1961 Catch–22 novel and subsequent 1970 film. Catch 22 is a situation that fits perfectly with the current situation in which many indie novelists and publishers find themselves. The definition and a full explanation of the saying is HERE.

In this episode of Djuna Shellam—The Write OWL, you could say I vent my frustrations with the current marketing situation for my books. Some might call it bitching, others whining. I’m inclined to say both would be correct. In particular, how marketing success depends on reviews, that so many readers are reluctant to give, when dealing with Amazon sales. In the process of my “venting,” I manage to stir up the hornet’s nest.


One thing I failed to make clear in my video, is that to be involved in Kindle Digital Publishing (KDP), and by default, Kindle Unlimited (KU), an author MUST be exclusive to Amazon, digitally speaking. Meaning, you are not allowed to sell digital copies from your own website, or from any other vendor, such as iTunes, Barnes & Noble, and so on. That’s a big ask. Despite Amazon being the largest retailer of ebooks (and probably physical books, as well), your marketing is limited as a KDP member. If a reader wants your ebook, they have to buy it from Amazon. If your titles aren’t getting noticed because there are so many other titles, (or a detrimental algorithm), but your success depends on reviews, you’re stuck with whatever crumbs get tossed your way. Yup, there it is—the old Catch 22.

The main advantage of being in KDP/KU is that Amazon Prime and KU members can borrow your title and you’ll get a portion of a resource pool shared amongst all KU titles, and allegedly, KU titles get a bit of a stronger push from Amazon. Though your digital titles are exclusive to Amazon, you are not precluded from selling your paperback or hardback titles from wherever you want. For a more detailed explanation about KDP and KU, check out this blog piece HERE.

The Hornet’s Nest

I know you’re curious about the above-referenced hornet’s nest, wondering, what does she mean by that? Simply, I’m daring to discuss readers who have either taken advantage of promotions where my titles are free for a certain amount of time; or, they’ve borrowed any or all of my titles via KU, and not left a review or a rating. When I say “review,” I mean something as simple as giving it one to five stars (rating), or something as elaborate as actually writing a review.

The kicked hornet’s nest really comes into play where I talk about readers who complain on Facebook and other readers’ outlets that these days they’re expected to write reviews and share posts and all kinds of other things other than just read a book. Can’t they just read a book and go on with their lives? Why should they be made to feel guilty and somehow responsible if they don’t participate in marketing the author? They seriously feel put out that an author might be hoping for something as simple as a moment of their time to respond to what they just read. Not a lot to ask in return for essentially giving a reader their hard work for free (or at a discounted price). This is not all readers, of course, because many do understand the importance of adding their voice to the overall process.

Yes, I realize members of KU pay for KU or for Amazon Prime, so to them, it’s not free. And, yes, authors do receive a certain amount per borrow (usually less than if the same title is sold, and the rules are always changing), so we are talking about two different things—but with the same end result.

Catch 22Amazon sales are ultimately driven by reviews. Amazon borrows are also driven by reviews. Authors choosing whether or not to remain with KDP depends upon 1) whether sales numbers justify remaining exclusive with Amazon, and 2) whether the number of borrows justifies remaining exclusive with Amazon. Without substantial reviews, the cold hard fact is, neither sales or borrows happen. When neither sales or borrows happen, then an author whose work you might really enjoy, may lose their motivation to list on Amazon; or, worse case scenario, discontinue writing altogether. When you’re exclusive to KDP, despite getting some sales and some borrows, if you don’t get reviews, eventually, you get nothing. Catch 22.

In the video, I talk about libraries… I should clarify that even though I am aware that KU is a library of sorts, one that members pay $10 per month for, I was actually addressing readers who really do want books for FREE, ALWAYS because they read so much they’d go broke buying books. One thought sort of morphed into another with no warning and no clear delineation.

As I also mentioned in my video, I’ve given an awful lot of ebooks away for free, and as a previous member of KDP/KU, have had many borrows, but… very few reviews in return. Now, given that the reviews I have gotten are stellar—which I so very much appreciate and am so incredibly humbled by—I feel fairly confident my books are not terrible, and that a possible reason I’m not getting reviews is that my books stink. I honestly don’t think many readers truly understand how important reviews (or stars) are for independent publishers and authors. We don’t have a giant marketing department behind us or a million dollars for publicity when we publish a book. It’s just us and our little independent publisher. Generally speaking, we just love to write and hope to supplement or eventually replace our income with what our writing can generate. Do what you love and all that, right? In the end, we do depend on our readers, and hope that they can find it in their hearts to spread the word to help other readers find us.

Admittedly, I get frustrated by the Catch 22 aspect of the whole thing, and sometimes wonder, am I fighting an uphill, unwinnable battle? Am I just wasting my time writing? Of course, I won’t stop because I love writing too much, but still… it does give one pause from time to time. Most importantly, I certainly don’t want my frustration to upset my readers or potential readers. Consider this a friendly, frustrated rant (bitch or whining session). And, if you squint your eyes just so, you can probably see that despite my frustration, I really do love you all—a lot.

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