How To Query Amazon: The Little Goat That Could

This wasn’t supposed to happen to George Berger, especially when he was this close to throwing in the towel. You see, George made a (rather public) vow after two years of tepid sales – he would give it one more shot, and, if his latest story was also universally ignored, he would hang up his quill, for good.

His next release wasn’t overflowing with obvious commercial potential. It was, after all, a coming-of-age story about a goat. On top of that, it was a defiantly literary story – and fans of same have been relatively slow to switch to digital. And, being a 12,000 word novella, only an e-book edition was planned.

Undeterred, and with his vow to quit fresh in his mind, George decided to make a real go of his final attempt. He commissioned a talented artist to draw a striking cover. He workshopped the blurb with several other writers until it really sang. And then George sprang Midnight’s Tale upon an unsuspected world.

Around the same time, George decided to query Amazon’s Kindle Singles program. While not in the strictest sense one of the Amazon Publishing imprints, Kindle Singles is a curated list of shorter work and one must query Amazon for acceptance.

The program is particularly coveted by writers because they hold onto their rights, get paid 70% royalties at prices below $2.99 (standard is 35% for cheaper work), and, most importantly of all, benefit from considerable exposure from the visibility of being selected and the promotion Amazon puts behind Kindle Singles.

This was George’s query letter (reprinted with his permission):

Hello;

With considerably more hubris and chutzpah than actual hope, I’d like to submit Midnight’s Tale, ASIN B0084V2MW6, to the Kindle Singles program. It’s a literary tale of life, love, and self-discovery in the vein of sundry well-received works by famous and talented people I would never dare try to compare myself to.

Sincerely yours,
George Berger

While that query letter sat in Amazon’s slush-pile, something strange started to happen. People started buying George’s little story about a goat. Lots of people. Threads began appearing on reader sites such as Kindle Boards, praising the book. And George sold more copies of Midnight’s Tale in a week than his six previous books did in all of 2011.

George couldn’t quite believe what was happening. Midnight’s Tale raced up the charts. He was appearing on bestseller lists for short fiction, he was topping the Hot New Releases chart for shorter work. But what happened the following week was even more unbelievable.

Midnight’s Tale was accepted into the exclusive (and often lucrative) Kindle Singles club.

Here’s George to tell us more:

The Little Goat That Could

I’ve been hanging around the indie publishing world for two years now, and ever since Kindle Singles was announced back in January 2011, right from the beginning it was clear that they were not particularly interested in publishing fiction. From day one, Singles has been described as for “long-form journalism”, which is pretty unambiguous, really. And while they do accept fiction, obviously, it accounts for about fifteen percent of titles, with literary fiction being around a third of that. Right now there’s one romance and one fantasy title. Two whole science fiction titles, and one of ‘em is by Ray Bradbury.

I honestly have no idea why I submitted Midnight’s Tale to them. It’s my tenth e-book, my eighth piece of short fiction, and the first, the only, one I’ve ever submitted to Kindle Singles. Meant as something of a swansong to my less-than-successful fiction-writing career, I’ve never harbored any illusion that it’s particularly great, but it is – if you can overlook the fact that it’s about a goat — the book of mine with the greatest chance of popular success, I think. I probably figured it was the only title that had even the tiniest hope of acceptance, so I submitted it late one night on something of a whim. I had no real expectation that it’d be accepted, as I think my query letter rather clearly shows.

Two weeks later, I got an incredibly short and to-the-point email from someone at Amazon; the editor of Kindle Singles had read Midnight’s Tale, really liked it, and wanted to include it in the program, if that was okay with me. I didn’t have to think long about my answer, and almost exactly a week later, it became the 203rd Kindle Single on Amazon… and the only one about a goat.

The whole thing has been completely surreal. I’ve heard so many stories from writers who are a hundred times better than I, who submitted titles for consideration and then never even heard back from Amazon at all. People who’ve written bestsellers, people with serious name recognition, people who write full-time with deathly seriousness don’t get accepted, and some acerbic putz nobody has ever heard of makes it in on his first try, with a book about a freaking goat? I can’t help but feel I’ve gone through the looking-glass, or down the wrong leg of the Trousers of Time, or something. Amazon Tweet’d about Midnight’s Tale, and mentioned it in an email they sent who-knows-how-many people, and I just have to smile and shake my head; do they not realize it’s a book about a goat, in which nothing much happens? Man… There’s also this very strange bittersweet element to the whole thing, not just because it was supposed to be my last fiction e-book, but because it’s the only piece of even remotely literary fiction I’ve ever written and published, and people who enjoy it are very, very unlikely to enjoy any of my other books. Out there are thousands of writers, much better than I am, who’d love to have a title accepted as a Kindle Single because of the exposure it’d give them, the new readers it’d bring them, and who gets accepted? Yours truly, who now cringes with fear every time anyone buys any of his other titles, expecting subsequent returns or two-star reviews. (I’m not kidding, either. Literally while typing this note, I received an email from a reader complaining about the grammar in another book… and one of my better titles, at that. Probably.)

Still, it’s a good motivational tale for writers of short fiction, I guess. There’s clearly a healthy demand for (what people inexplicably think is) quality short fiction, regardless of subject, and if a hack like me can get a title accepted as a Kindle Single, pretty much anyone with minimal skills at writing can. On a broader, less cynical note, I think it’s also an encouraging example of how writing outside your primary genre or style can be rewarding. Leave your comfort zone, your usual style and setting, and see what happens. Who knows? You could be (snicker!) the next George Berger, right? :)

About George:

Born in a hospital on his birthday, to his parents, George Berger came from a quiet and unassuming background nobody cares about to produce a succession of quiet and unassuming books nobody cares about. His books are characterized by instantly-forgettable titles, vivid and realistic dialogue, an eclectic assortment of subjects, pervasive but slightly warped humor, and consistently poor sales.

When not writing, Mr. Berger dabbles in electronics, tinkers with his antique bicycle, administers computers, thwarts crime, and invents interesting but completely untrue things to add to his biography.

* * *

A huge thank you goes to George for sharing this heart-warming story. I bought and read Midnight’s Tale yesterday. It’s fantastic, and I think George is going to have to change the sales part of that bio pretty soon.

The rest of George’s books are here (UK here). And if you want to keep tabs on him, you can follow him on Twitter here and his blog is here.

So, what’s the lesson here? The optimists in this brave new world always say that cream eventually rises to the top, and that while luck plays some role, you can increase your chances of getting lucky by doing all the right things: writing great stories, pricing them competitively, getting a striking cover, and writing enticing blurbs.

While George was planning to walk away from writing if Midnight’s Tale was a failure, he still gave it every chance to be successful by shelling out for great art and working really hard on that blurb.

He also wrote a great story, of course. And while there are lots of great stories from great writers who haven’t gotten noticed yet, I hope they take heart from George’s tale. He could have given up already. The universe seemed to be telling him that he wasn’t good enough. But he stuck at it for two tough years, and then got lucky.

That’s about it for this happy Monday. Did I tell you to buy Midnight’s Tale yet? (UK peeps here.)

Seriously, it’s only 99c. Go, scoot.

About davidgaughran

David Gaughran is a 34-year old Irish writer, living in London, who spends most of his time travelling the world, collecting stories. He is the author of the South American historical adventure "A Storm Hits Valparaiso" and the short stories "If You Go Into The Woods" and "Transfection" as well as the popular self-publishing guide "Let's Get Digital: How To Self-Publish, And Why You Should."
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61 Responses to How To Query Amazon: The Little Goat That Could

  1. Great story. I’m glad he’s found success and didn’t give up.

  2. Matthew Iden says:

    Congrats, George! I guess it goes without saying that this little Goat–though an unlikely candidate for the Kindle Singles program–would *never* have found a home in the traditional publishing world.

    Hurrah for goats…and for the new world of publishing.

  3. Sara Flower says:

    Very inspiring! Thanks for sharing this.

  4. LM Preston says:

    Wonderful post. It’s nice to know that in this business of publishing, sometimes time is your friend. Books that would’ve been considered failures can find life with one sale at a time.

  5. KCarey says:

    Its very encouraging to know that one can make it.

  6. Jaye says:

    Hi, David. Terrific article, as usual. To me this is the perfect example of right book/right place/ right time. I don’t mean that every best seller is a result of luck. I’m not saying that at all. I think of it more as timing. If the right book is available at the same time that people want it, then it stands a good chance of becoming a best seller. Or at least, a pretty good seller. What George and his goat did exactly right was having the book available. And, as he found out, it never hurts to ask.

    Congrats, George.

    Since I’m in the mood for a good goat story, off to find one.

  7. Pacific NW YA Authors says:

    His bio alone would’ve made me want to read Midnight’s Tale. Wonderful story.

  8. Debora says:

    “People who enjoy it are very, very unlikely to enjoy any of my other books.”

    <—- Raises hand to say, "not true" :).

  9. Love a good success story. If George’s bio is any indication of what I can expect from Midnight’s Tale, then I’m sure I’ll enjoy it. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

  10. deedetarsio says:

    Curious, George! I am a fan because of your author bio–Brilliant!–and I’m heading right on over to check out Midnight’s Tale!

  11. Thanks so much for sharing, George and David! What a great tale… and I can tell simply from George’s funny bio that he can write. I’m also happy to learn something about Kindle Singles. At first I thought they were exclusively non-fiction, so I’m glad that you clarified that. I think I’ll submit some of my shorts to them. Can’t hurt, right?

    And now I’m off to buy that story about the goat…

  12. Congrats, George, and thanks David for hosting this guest blog. Stories like this remind us that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

  13. Janelle says:

    LOVE this underdog story. Thank you.

  14. The idea of e-publishing just gets better and better. Thank for the encouragement.

  15. Ryan Chin says:

    Love it. The greatest thing about e-publishing is that once you get a piece of work out there then it’s immortal. You never know when a video, an essay, or another piece of work will spark some buzz. Anyone else remember the Droopy episode with the goat? Billy goat goat goat goat goat……

  16. Thanks for sharing, George, and congrats!

  17. philipparees says:

    Great post, and good to have you back, David. Its now got me thinking about that 11000 word poetic novella based in the sixties! You make it sound as though Amazon is being selective with their ‘singles’. If so what are the so called parameters that this goat butted?

  18. Congrats to George! I’ve been sprinting through some short stories, catching up on the craft with classics and modern shorts, SF (my favorite) as well as other genres, trad-pub and indie. George just got added to my list!

  19. Tyler Wills says:

    Great topic David. Well done George, hope all your other work picks up on the back of this too.

  20. Wo3lf says:

    Congratulations George and thanks for the article David. Man, it feels like were in the 20s and the novella is king again. ANYTHING is possible when you can write about anything.

  21. Wo3lf says:

    Sorry, I forgot to add the ‘ in “were”. It should, of course, read “we’re” and not “were”. Let’s just write this mistake off to exuberant typing caused by a good article, shall we. Technically, it’s David’s fault for publishing a story with a happy ending. I could blame him, but I won’t. I walk a different path. I’ll blame George for having such good fortune and forcing David to write about it. ;-)

  22. PJ Jones says:

    This couldn’t have happened to a more awesome person. Congrats, George!

  23. Anne Holly says:

    The only person I would be happier to see succeed than George would be me, and even then only just a little more. Very happy to see this news!

  24. Mira says:

    What a wonderful story! You go, George! kudos to you for hanging in there. And that’s the best query letter I’ve ever seen. :)

    Thanks for sharing his story, David.

    Oh, and bought and downloaded.

  25. Chris Bauer says:

    George is clearly a very talented writer who has now been discovered. Loved the query, loved the bio, and I expect I’ll love the story. Well done, George. Well done, David, for this encouraging update.

  26. ozengo says:

    Will just have to buy this book and review it on purplezengoat!

  27. People will be flocking to buy it!
    I’m not kidding!
    You’ll be fleecing ‘em!
    Is there anyone who hasn’t herd?
    Sorry! I’ve milked these puns for too long already. I’d better butt out. Bleat off. Get the flock outta here…
    Oh no – still room to ram another one in. Come on, that last one was shear genius!
    Baaaah, humbug.
    :0)

  28. Dan Harris says:

    Wonderful. This makes me happy.

  29. Sam Torode says:

    Enjoyed the sample, and just bought “Midnight’s Tale”!

    I always wondered if the Singles had a gatekeeper, or if anyone could label their book as such…

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  31. That is an awesome story! What a terrific feta…ahem, I mean feat! (I’m lovin’ the goat puns.) I love literary writing, so I purchased MIDNIGHT’S TALE immediately after reading this blog post. Good luck to you! May you goat onto even greater success!

  32. I’ve been reading George’s witty self-deprecating posts on Kindleboards for quite awhile, and I’m delighted that his words are reaching the wider world!

    And now I want goat cheese.

  33. Adam Pepper says:

    This story is all kinds of awesome!

  34. Pingback: Writing Blog Treasures 6~30 | Gene Lempp ~ Writer

  35. The world’s most famous goat hits the Top 500!

    #497 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
    #2 in Books > Literature & Fiction > Short Stories > Single Author
    #2 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Fiction > Short Stories
    #11 in Kindle Store > Kindle Singles

    http://amzn.to/LanDBT

  36. What an amazing story — congrats, and thank you for sharing your succinct yet brilliant query.

    One question, though: I thought Kindle Singles only bought ORIGINAL work (as in, never published — or even self-published — elsewhere)? I guess I’m mistaken?

  37. acflory says:

    Always great to hear of a writer succeeding in this competitive market! Gives hope to us all.

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  39. I’ve added the Goat to my wishlist on Amazon. I didn’t realize that querying Amazon regarding shorts was an option, so thank you for the info!

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  44. Tora says:

    “I can’t help but feel I’ve gone through the looking-glass, or down the wrong leg of the Trousers of Time, or something.”

    I should’ve known the author of this goat story is a Pratchett fan. The cover is another lovely selling point. That’s 99 cents from me :)

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