Amazon Has A Fake Book Problem

Fake books – powered by clickfarms – are gatecrashing Amazon’s charts. And despite being aware of the issue for well over a year, Amazon has failed to resolve it.

If you look at the Kindle Store Best Seller charts right now, and click over to Free Books, you will see that the Top 20 currently has five suspicious-looking titles.

None of them have reviews. All were published in the last week. They have no Also Boughts – meaning they have had very few sales. Each of these titles are around 2,500 pages long, seem to have duplicated content, and are enrolled in Kindle Unlimited.

What is going on here?

For over fifteen months now, scammers have been raiding the Kindle Unlimited pot using a well-worn trick. They usually pilfer the content first of all – often by stealing an author’s original work and running it through a synonymizer – and then upload it to Amazon, thus avoiding the automatic plagiarism detectors. They make sure the “book” is as long as possible, but as they are enrolling the title in Kindle Unlimited, they keep it under the program’s limit of 3,000 pages.

These thieves make the book free for a few days, and then use a variety of banned methods to generate a huge and immediate surge in downloads – generally suspected to be bots or clickfarms or dummy accounts, or some combination thereof. These fake books then suddenly jump into the Top 20 of the free charts, displacing authors who have gone to considerable effort to put together an advertising campaign for their work.

As the Amazon staff tasked with dealing with reports of suspicious activity don’t seem to work weekends, when authors and readers report these fake books to Amazon, no action usually gets taken until the following Monday. By then it’s often too late, and these titles have returned to the paid listings, and the subsequent boost in page reads (which normally follows a free run), enables them to grab a huge chunk of the Kindle Unlimited pot – the same shared pot that all authors get paid from.

Sometimes Amazon zaps these fake books when staff return to work on Monday, and presumably then withhold KU payments (one hopes). But often Amazon takes no action and just leaves these titles up. And Amazon has had little effect in fixing the overall problem a full fifteen months after it was first made aware of the issue.

In fact, the situation has deteriorated to the point where these scammers are getting bolder in the face of Amazon’s increasingly lax attitude, often attacking the free charts during the week now also. Continue reading

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Who’s Pointing At You?

The Also Boughts on your page are an important indication of what readers are buying along with your books.

But those particular Also Boughts are only part of the story. What’s really important is which books are pointing back at you.

Let’s use my long-suffering book Liberty Boy as an example again.

As I explained yesterday’s post – Please Don’t Buy My BookLiberty Boy was dragged down into the ranking depths after having no Also Boughts for months thanks to an Amazon snafu. I eventually fixed that problem in a fairly crude way by running a 99c Countdown and throwing whatever ads I could get at it.

The promo itself did okay and sold a few hundred copies for me. But I didn’t target the campaign in an optimal way. If you look at the Also Boughts which appeared afterwards, I had lots of books outside my target category (Historical Fiction). This meant I suffered a dead fish bounce – i.e. no halo effect – something I’ll talk about more in a future post.

For now, just look at these Also Boughts:

Not a complete disaster but far from ideal. The first is a Western, the second is one of Mel Comley’s psychological thrillers, the third is a box set of two of my historicals (I think I ran that free at the same time to try and pair them), next is a mystery, and then, I think, some action/adventure. Bit of a hodge podge.

Glancing at your Also Boughts is a just a quick-and-dirty way to check if you have a problem or not. A bit of triage, if you like.

To dig deeper, you need to try and find out who or what is pointing at you in the Amazon system. What are you paired with? Amazon doesn’t make it easy to find this out, but there are two ways of doing it.

First, you can manually click on the books in your own Also Boughts, and then page through to see where you appear on their Also Bought strip – with closer to the front being better, obviously.

If I click through to that first title, Yellow Hair by Andrew Joyce, I’m nowhere in his Also Boughts. Which means some of the purchasers of Liberty Boy bought his book, but very, very few of his overall purchasers bought mine (the discrepancy probably being explained by his book outselling mine by a fair bit, and my only sales really coming from that promo period when they were likely featured on the same day).

The second title tells the same story. I know Mel Comley – she’s a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author. She has sold well over 1 million books. Should I be excited by her appearance in my Also Boughts?

No.

While she has a rabid audience for her thrillers, those people do not read historical fiction. There is no crossover, not in any meaningful terms. And you can see that in her Also Boughts – all similar books to hers, and mine doesn’t appear anywhere. The only reason she is in my Also Boughts at all is probably because we were on something like ENT on the same day and were likely grabbed at the same time by a bunch of dealhunters (and I haven’t sold much of that title since).

Checking the connections this way is a little time-consuming. There is another way to see, at a glance, the connections between your books and others – yasiv.com – which uses the Amazon API to give you a visualization of which books you are paired with. It’s a free tool which can be quite illuminating. And disturbing.

This is the hood where Liberty Boy is hanging: Continue reading

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Please Don’t Buy My Book

I’m just back from The Smarter Artist Summit in Austin, Texas. I won’t try and capture the magic of the event – Kobo Mark does an excellent job – but I would like to talk about the big takeaway: the dangers of Also Bought pollution.

Also Boughts are probably the most important aspect of the entire Amazon recommendation ecostructure. And also the least understood.

They are much more than a little strip under your book’s description – they power a huge chunk of the recommendations that Amazon serves to readers.

The Also Boughts are what tells Amazon that the readers of my non-fiction also like reading Susan Kaye Quinn, Sean Platt and Johnny Truant. Amazon uses this data to decide who to recommend books to – because Amazon is always seeking to show readers the books they are most likely to purchase.

For this reason, it’s important to monitor your Also Boughts. They can really help you, but also totally break you.

Case Study #1 – Great Success!

When I first launched Let’s Get Visible, I knew it was important to have the companion book Let’s Get Digital in the #1 Also Bought spot, and vice versa, so that when one title had a sales spurt, Amazon would recommend purchasers (new and old) the other one in the set. The launch plan was simple enough: tie the Also Boughts together, push both books as hard as possible, and then sit back as they both bootstrap each other up the charts, creating an awesome feedback loop.

In detail what I did was this: Continue reading

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This Free Tool Could Slightly Change Your Life

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You know I’m not one for hyperbole, but this free tool could slightly change your life. I also have news on a sale, a freebie giveaway, then something bearing a passing resemblance to a competition, as well as an interview, a guest post, and a gratuitous picture of a panda. Although is a picture of a panda ever really gratuitous? That question unanswered, and many more…

If you ever wanted to try my fiction, it has never been easier to do and you can pick up all three historical novels I’ve written for less than a dollar.

FinalLibertyBoyCoverLARGEpx400I’m running a Kindle Countdown Deal on my last release Liberty Boy, meaning you can grab that one for 99c from Amazon US, and a post-Brexit near-equivalent 99p from Amazon UK. Apologies to those living elsewhere, but please direct all raspberries in the direction of Seattle – they only allow Countdown Deals in those two territories right now. The 99c offer only runs until Thursday so get with the clickin’.

uncommonsoldiersThis one is a little more inclusive: Uncommon Soldiers is a twinpack of historicals containing my first book A Storm Hits Valparaiso and my second Mercenary. It’s available from all the Amazons and you get BOTH for free – as long as you download it before Friday. But hey, why wait.

There you go, three historical novels for less than a dollar. Buy early and buy often! We can even play a fun game. I make up at least one word for each book and try and slip it past my editor, who is way too sharp for any such messing. But she is easily bribed, so if you find all three I guess I’ll have to come up with some kind of cool prize.

As part of promo week, I’ve been appearing hither and tither and generally tarting myself all over social media. I have an interview over at Unusual Historicals – a great site if you like HF set outside the usual Tudors etc. – where I talk about the rebellious background to Liberty Boy, namely the lesser-known (and spectacularly unsuccessful) 1803 Rising, and why I chose that as the backdrop for my story. Continue reading

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This Is The Modern Publishing Business

asandfriendsnewScammers used to operate at the edges of the publishing business, but have wormed their way into its heart. And the entire industry is in denial.

An unintentionally revealing aspect of the tiresome Amazon-Hachette dispute was a series of statements from an organization purporting to advocate for authors’ rights. One of the heinous crimes Amazon was said to have committed was treating books like toasters.

With such a claim, Authors United was attempting to tap into a current of feeling about the commoditization of literature – as if Amazon was the first company to put a price tag on a book, and writers around the country were hitherto living off laurels and kudos. It’s tempting to suggest that other entities in the publishing business might be doing as well as Amazon if they also treated books like toasters and attempted to sell the bloody things, but I digress.

What this characterization by Authors United highlighted was that most precious of things: how the industry likes to view itself. Publishing, you see, is far above the rough and tumble of everyday capitalism. Publishers may make profits now and then, but only as an accidental by-product of their true pursuit: the promotion of literature. Without publishers there would be no books, of course, and we should thank the heavens that an eagle-eyed intern plucked Beowulf from a slushpile or the world would be very much the poorer. Continue reading

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Book Launch: LIBERTY BOY

LibertyBoyCoverNew release time!

LIBERTY BOY is available now for $3.99 from Amazon US | UK | CA (and all the rest too).

It’s the first book in a new series, and the first I’ve set in my home country of Ireland – specifically, in the aftermath of Robert Emmet’s failed 1803 Rising.

The wonderful cover was done by my very talented sister – Kate Gaughran – and a huge thanks to her for that.

Before I get into the background, here’s what Liberty Boy is about:

Dublin has been on a knife-edge since the failed rebellion in July, and Jimmy O’Flaherty suspects a newcomer to The Liberties–Kitty Doyle–is mixed up in it. She accuses him of spying for the English, and he thinks she’s a reckless troublemaker.

All Jimmy wants is to earn enough coin to buy passage to America. But when the English turn his trading patch into a gallows, Jimmy finds himself drawn into the very conflict he’s spent his whole life avoiding.

Continue reading

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Let’s Get Digital Is Free. Maybe Forever?

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FREE at Amazon | Apple | B&N | Kobo

I first published Let’s Get Digital in July 2011, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, and then released a (much) revamped and updated version in September 2014.

Combined, both editions have sold well over 25,000 copies at this point, which is about 24,000 copies more than I ever hoped. So my sincere thanks to all of you for that – particularly the generous authors who contributed to the book and the army of writers recommending it to others.

Speaking of which, a friend told me the other day that she was grateful I’d written the book because it gives her a quick and easy way to answer emails from newbs.

Well, let me tell you, I’m totally fine with monetizing other people’s laziness. If I could monetize my own laziness I’d be richer than Croesus (one of the original investors in Facebook).

I know they are ten-a-penny now but back in 2011 there weren’t so many self-publishing guides. There was lots of great advice online, albeit scattered across a hundred different websites. I had the time to sift through all this stuff. I’d just moved to Sweden. I was at a loose end (we’ll just skip very quickly over that neat euphemism for being unemployed). And I figured it might be useful to pull all that advice together and organize it in a way that was accessible and useful for a newbie.

Like me.

You see, I was very wet behind the ears when I wrote Let’s Get Digital. I had only sold maybe 150 books – there are no zeroes missing there, people – and I’d only published a few short stories. While I had been writing for a few years, I’d only written a couple of novels. And even that paltry output sounds better than the actuality because one was permanently trunked and the other still a draft or two away from being ready.

In other words, I was hardly a grizzled veteran. But I wasn’t bringing nothing to the table. I had been studying the market for a while, taking in the changes that were starting to ripple through the industry. Plus I’d seen this movie before and knew how it ended.

When I was working at Google (more than ten years ago now), I saw industry after industry get disrupted by the internet. Each of them thought they were special, that they had insider knowledge or uniquely valuable skills that couldn’t possibly be disintermediated by a mere website or replicated by some kind of plebian crowd wisdom. It amazed me that one industry couldn’t learn from the other. Travel, retail, financial services, insurance, newspapers, telecoms – they were all disrupted at different times but they all made the same key mistake of underestimating the threat that digital posed. Continue reading

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