What Amazon Fails to Understand About Readers (and Authors)

I recently bought a friend’s first novel. It was so exciting, launching my Kindle Reader and clicking on the cover in my ebook library, then boom – there I was, on the first page of Chapter One, thrust right into the first line of her smart, funny story.

Except when I start a new book, I don’t want to skip straight to the first page of the story. I want to linger on the cover for a moment, contemplating the choices that the author, artist and publisher have made in using this image to convey what the book is about. I can swipe past the copyright page and legalese and other “front matter,” but then I like to peruse the Table of Contents for a while. I want to know how many chapters there are, how long each one is, even some of the titles (but only the first few, lest they give anything away). This is especially important when I’m not holding an actual book, so have no other indication of how long it is.

If there are dedications, I want to read them. I want to get a better sense of this author and who in the world is important to her. She and I are about to enter into the intimate relationship of storyteller and audience – why would I ever attempt to get this close without bothering to take in all that she wants to tell me?

And yet, Amazon has decided that all of that is not important. It’s all the fluff that can be skipped on the way to the start of the story. In fact, they’ve decided that as a reader, I’m so lazy or incompetent, or I have such a short attention span, that they are going to go ahead and skip it all for me. I’m not sure who in the corporate offices up there in Seattle made that decision when they began programming ebooks for the Kindle, but as both a reader and an author, I’d like to explain why this is such a mistake.

Reading a book is not some utilitarian function that one just has to get through to move on to the next task, like washing the dishes or taking out the trash. HSL SabrinaReading is a gift of time spent on ourselves, and I am assuming that most readers are like me (a grand assumption, I know, but tell me if you’d disagree): we do it for pleasure. Reading a book has a certain ritual to it. We all develop our own ways of approaching new books that maximize the joy we will get out of them. I don’t want Jeff Bezos or anyone else telling me that my way of reading is wrong, and I sure don’t want Amazon making that decision for me.

Amazon banked on the fact that a good portion of us would fall in love with ebooks. That we would overcome our need for the tactile pleasure of turning a page in exchange for the convenience of carrying 1,000 books with us at all times on a device that weighs about the same as your average dime-store novel and takes up less space. But if they ever want me to curl up on couch to savor my ebook, they can’t treat it like some homework assignment where they “help” by taking me straight to what they think matters. Amazon doesn’t ship print books with the first eight pages glued together, so why do that with an ebook?

Worse, for some books, valuable content is lost in this process. The books I write are nonfiction, and there is crucial information in a short introduction in front of the Table of Contents that I now realize some readers miss. I know this because I recently dropped in on a conversation on a discussion board about one of my books that went like this:

Reader #1: It was a quick read, and there were some good parts, but it’s not going to change anyone’s life.

Reader #2: I’m sorry, but you are wrong. It’s changing mine. Plus, if you think it’s a quick read, you are reading it wrong. The author even tells you that.

Reader #1: What are you talking about?

Reader #2: Right in the beginning, she says it’s not a quick read, and to take your time and do all the exercises and try all the techniques. She actually says it doesn’t work if you rush through it.

Reader #1: There wasn’t anything like that in mine.

For authors, Internet etiquette demands staying out of conversations like this, and I was thrilled that at least one reader explained what might have been the problem, but it is so frustrating that this particular problem even existed, since it was caused by Amazon and it did not need to be. The section that Reader #1 missed is right there, right before the page that Amazon has decided my ebook should open on. It is a loss for both her and me that she never saw it.

Front matter in books may include all sorts of information that readers probably want: other books in the series, dedications and acknowledgements, suggested additional reading, and for self-help books, perhaps ways to approach the material to get the most out of it.

At least give us the choice, we authors and readers. Give me the option as an author of choosing what page I want readers of my ebooks to start on. For me, it would be the cover, but for others it may be a dedication page or an introduction. Then give readers the choice of starting on the author’s chosen page, the Amazon default start page, or the cover. Or, simply start every book from the beginning of the file and trust that your customers know how to get to where they need to be.

Yes, the reader always has the ability to scroll back from the opening page and see all the content they paid for, everything that the author and publisher intended for them to have, but that begs the question: Why should they have to? What possible purpose is served by opening a new book on any page other than its cover? Is Amazon saving money not delivering those precious few pages from the cloud to the device, or are they just convinced that their readers would lose interest and give up if they had to start at the beginning?

I know the answer, of course. Amazon has an algorithm for paying authors for borrowed books only if the reader makes it past the first ten percent of the book, and they probably believe that authors are stuffing useless content in there to hit the ten percent mark before the reader even has the chance to decide. But applying that cynical logic to every ebook delivered – even the ones bought, so the ten percent threshold is irrelevant – robs the reader and the author of the chance to make that crucial connection that those early pages provide.

I don’t want my new relationship with a book, with all its promise of knowledge and thrills and emotions, to start in the bedroom. I want that slow build of courtship that leads to longer and deeper satisfaction, which only a few get-to-know-you pages can supply. Please Amazon, don’t take that pleasure away from us, the author and me. It’s what we do all of this for.


Valerie Alexander is the author of Happiness as a Second Language: A Guidebook to Achieving Lasting, Permanent Happiness, a #1 Seller on Amazon in the Happiness and Self-Help categories, How Women Can Succeed in the Workplace (Despite Having “Female Brains”), and Success as a Second Language: A Guidebook for Defining and Achieving Personal Success, available for pre-order now, to be released on Amazon in January, 2015. She’s currently reading The Accidental Dick, by Karen Berger.

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Beauty, Confidence, Happiness — Your Advice Needed!

Thank you so much to everyone who entered the giveaway this week. I am in the process of sorting through all the entires and counting to see who won, so if you haven’t heard anything yet, don’t worry — you will soon!

In the meantime, I would love your advice! I am developing an app for the Happiness and Success books, and am striving to choose the right font for the Happiness half of the opening screen. The one for Success was easy — very commanding and easily conveys success. I need the Happiness one to convey joy, be easily readable, and give the user confidence that this app is a reliable source for advice, tips and community for anyone seeking Happiness.

The choices are below. They are the maximum size and boldness they can be, so this is the best version of each of these. Let me know what you think.

happy fonts

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Happy Holidays Happy Readers (and future Happy Readers)!

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000448_00019]December 8th, 9th and 10th, I am giving away signed print copies of Happiness as a Second Language.

The odds of winning are very good, and I hope you’ll enter often and encourage everyone you know to as well.
All you have to do is fill out the form below. Winners should receive their prizes prior to December 25th.

This is my way of saying, “Thanks!”
Your readership, support and happiness mean more to me than you’ll ever know.



1. Each person may enter up to THREE times throughout the three days.
2. Your entry must contain your real name and a valid email address.
3. Entries are received in the order they were submitted. I will give away up to TWELVE books, according to the following schedule:

Book #1 will go to Entry # 17
Book #2 will go to Entry # 151
Book #3 will go to Entry # 389
Book #4 will go to Entry # 550
Book #5 will go to Entry # 551
Book #6 will go to Entry # 725
Book #7 will go to Entry # 908
Book #8 will go to Entry # 1111
Book #9 will go to Entry # 1496
Book #10 will go to Entry # 1834
Book #11 will go to Entry # 2150
Book #12 will go to Entry # 2500

3. If you are a winner, I will notify you by email to get your mailing address.
4. A list of winners may be published on this site.

Best of Luck!

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Women Entrepreneurs — Video #6 — Women Helping Women

In the final video of the Digital Hollywood series, I talk about why women don’t help each other out, and what we need to be doing to ensure we all succeed, even in corporate environments that weren’t designed for or by us.

Valerie Alexander: Women Helping Women is the Way to Thrive

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Women Entrepreneurs — Video #5 — Be the “B-O-S-S”

There’s no “I” in TEAM.

There’s also no “B-O-S-S.”

Men understand hierarchy instinctively. Women don’t. We need to know when we are in charge and we have to own that position, without apology.

Valerie Alexander: Be the B-O-S-S of the TEAM

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Happy Thanksgiving, Y’all!! — #SpeakHappiness Today

What an awesome holiday! A whole day set aside to be grateful!

Today, as you are surrounded by loved ones, or even if you are alone eating a frozen turkey dinner, give yourself the gift of gratitude by stopping for at least 5 minutes and Counting to Five (count five things that are making you happy at that very moment!)

This is also the perfect thing to do when some family member is getting on your last nerve, or screaming children are stopping you from making the perfect green bean casserole. Snoopy ThanksAs you feel yourself losing it, stop and rattle off five things at that moment that are making you happy. You can do it! And it is a great signal disruptor.

Finally, because I love all of my readers so deeply, I am going to share with you the recipe for the easiest, most impressive pie you could ever take to a holiday celebration. The only tricky part is remembering to add water to the boiling pot every 30 minutes or so. Other than that, you really can’t mess this one up. Enjoy!


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Women Entrepreneurs — Video #4 — The Impostor Syndrome

This is an excerpt from the “Women Entrepreneurs” panel at this year’s Digital Hollywood. In this clip, I talk about the perceptions women have of our own success and failure, and why we might think we’re worse than we are, by virtue of the fact that we are working outside our own natural instincts.

Valerie Alexander: The Impostor Syndrome

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HUGE NEWS — Berkeley “Science of Happiness” Course Offered Again — FREE (Thanks @GreaterGoodSC)

As many of you know, this fall I took the Berkeley MOOC (massive open online course) “The Science of Happiness.” What most of you don’t know is that the course requirements far exceeded the 2-3 hours per week that the instructors had predicted, and a majority of the students fell behind due to work, family or other obligations, including yours truly.

To rectify the situation, the Greater Good Science Center at Berkeley is offering the course again — FOR FREE — as a self-paced class, for which you can get an Honor Certification (free) or a Verified Certification (paid, if you need this class for a continuing education requirement or possibly college credit).

This in an enormous gift, and I am very grateful to have the chance to catch up on all the material at my own pace. The course materials I did make it through were extensive and very interesting. If you are curious about how our brains function, and what practices work to make human beings happier, I highly recommend this class.

IMG_1029And if you want a great step-by-step guide for learning Happiness (as if it’s a whole new language), then I even more highly recommend this book.


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Women Entrepreneurs — Video #3 — Changing Direction is Not Failure

If you are striving towards success, and find that the path you’re on is not the right one, either because you aren’t getting where you want to be, or you figure out that it’s not really where you want to be after all — change direction! It is one of the most success-oriented choices you can make!

Valerie Alexander: Changing Direction is Not Failure

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Women Entrepreneurs — Video #2 — Female Brains

I dare you to watch this and not go, “Hmmm…”
Would love to hear what you think in the comments below.

From Digital Hollywood 2014: How Women Can Succeed in the Workplace (Despite Having “Female Brains”)

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