Amazon Takes Aim At Scammers But Hits Authors

kuNOTE: There are numerous updates at the bottom of this article, including responses from Amazon – the latest update being from March 31 as this story continues to develop.

The short version is that Amazon has apologized for incorrect enforcement around TOCs and Quality Notices and stated you may now have a rear TOC without fear of removal. Amazon also said it is taking the scamming problem seriously. I have doubts about that, but you can make your own mind up…

Amazon is an extremely innovative company – and usually quite responsive to self-publisher’s concerns – but sometimes it gets things very wrong too.

Today is one of those times.

I’ve received several reports from writers threatened with having books removed from sale, and heard even more worrying stories from others who had their titles actually removed from the Kindle Store without notice.

What were these authors guilty of? What crime did they commit for Amazon to adopt such heavy handed treatment? Something completely innocuous: the Table of Contents was at the rear of their books instead of at the front.

Yep, that’s it.

We’ll get to what might be the root cause of this crackdown in a moment, but Amazon is claiming that having a TOC in the end-matter instead of the front-matter is a breach of the (ever-changing, 100+ pages) Kindle Publishing Guidelines (PDF). Amazon says that rear TOCs result in a poor reader experience, and it has very suddenly decided to clamp down heavily on this practice, without notifying the community-at-large, even though moving extraneous front-matter to the end of the text has been fairly standard practice for years.

Some individual authors are receiving Quality Notices warning them that their title will be removed from sale unless the TOC is moved to the front. Normally these notices – which appear to be generated by bots – give us just five days to comply. Other writers are having their buy buttons removed without receiving these notices.

To give you an idea of how disruptive this can be, read the story of author Walter Jon Williams – who had his Nebula-nominated SF novel Metropolitan removed from sale during a BookBub promotion. Can you imagine?

His buy button was eventually restored a few days later, but Amazon wasn’t finished. After he moved his TOC to the front of the book and uploaded the new version, Amazon then sent an email to all previous purchasers of the book saying that the author had now corrected serious formatting and editorial issues. Walter Jon Williams said that there were no such issues with this book – which has been on sale in one form or another since 2005 when it was originally published by HarperCollins – and the sole change he made was to move the TOC, as requested.

Needless to say, he’s not too happy at this message going out to his readers. (I should say that the author has been remarkably restrained considering the circumstances, I would be hulk-smashing in all directions.)

Metropolitancover7001Note: I don’t know Walter Jon Williams but I’m sure he won’t mind if you would like to show your support by grabbing Metropolitan at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple or Kobo.

Metropolitan is currently #10,436 in the Kindle Store. But, after a BookBub promo, his book should be much higher in the charts than that. Because of the way parts of the Amazon recommendation engine work (such as what is colloquially known as the Popularity List), being off sale for those several days could continue to depress his Sales Rank and his general Kindle Store visibility for some time to come.

I would also imagine that Walter Jon Williams is significantly out of pocket over this incident (the BookBub ad alone would have cost him $570), and he also missed the chance to take a run at the charts. He won’t be able to get another BookBub for this title for a minimum of six months so this is also a considerable lost opportunity.

In fact, this incident may have affected his BookBub numbers to the point where he could struggle to get his next ad. And while there are plenty of hard-working e-book deal sites which deliver good results for authors (and an infinite number of crappy sites), even together they would struggle to approach the power of a BookBub. It really is the only game in town at that level of sales.

This is serious stuff.

Aside from the awful timing in this author’s situation, any momentum in the Kindle Store is hard won. Having a title off sale for a period will cause that book to plummet in the rankings – and it may not recover until the next promotion, which could be months away. Leaving the financial aspect for one moment, when Amazon opts for the nuclear option it can cause a huge amount of stress.

Walter Jon Williams is not alone – he’s merely the most high profile case thus far because he had the incredible bad luck to trigger this clumsy, automated response during a major promo. Others also had their books pulled without any kind of notice, and many more again have received Quality Notices threatening to remove their books from sale unless they move their TOC to the front.

In other words, it’s a sh*tstorm, and one that was completely unnecessary. I’ll get into how this all started, and what I think Amazon was trying to achieve in a moment, but first I think it’s important to get a sense of scale here.

How many authors and books are affected by this? It’s tricky to say.

A straw poll indicates maybe half of my author friends put their TOCs at the back. Certainly anyone who compiles e-books with Calibre could be affected – one of the most popular tools – or anyone who uses Guido Henkel’s formatting method (which I heartily recommend). And anyone that has read Let’s Get Digital or Let’s Get Visible – because it’s how I recommend authors lay out their books; it’s pretty standard advice.

If I had to put a number on it, I would guess tens of thousands of titles are affected – if not more.

When I started self-publishing in 2011, it was considered best practice to put the TOC at the back of the book. The reasoning is fairly simple, and reader-friendly: it gives them more of the actual text to read in the sample. And when you have a non-fiction book like Let’s Get Digital, the TOC can take up considerable space.

That’s a pain for browsers to wade through and where you can lose an on-the-fence purchaser. Readers aren’t inconvenienced by the TOC being at the back, as it can be summoned with the tap of a button anyway. Further, I don’t believe it was contrary to Amazon’s terms and conditions back in 2011 – either way, it certainly has never been enforced. Until now.

What was Amazon actually trying to do? This is where the story gets worse.

One of the quirks of Kindle Unlimited is that we are all fighting for money from a fixed pot, putting us into competition with each other in a way that we aren’t normally. And KU has been plagued by scammers and opportunists – “authors” who who seek to gain an edge with unethical behavior (I hesitate to call them authors because they are often internet marketers who farm the actual writing out to someone else).

Amazon has been very slow to act. Indeed, the switch to a per-page compensation model is widely believed to have been at least partly prompted by these authors publishing junk booklets which were only a few pages long and contained no real content, but still triggered a full KU borrow payout – but that change was a year in coming and Amazon did little to combat these guys in the meantime.

The latest wheeze from this shady crew was to place a message at the start of their KU titles encouraging readers to click through to the end – because this fools Amazon’s system into thinking the entire book has been read, the author of that title then receives an inflated payout from the KU pot, and then honest, hard-working writers who aren’t pulling these cheap tricks on readers have less money to share. It’s a mess. These guys are peeing in the KU pool and Amazon is paying them by the gallon.

And it seems this is what triggered the TOC crackdown.

(Note: in the absence of any comment from Amazon, this is speculation. But, at the very least, the issue needs to be raised and the contrasting responses from Amazon should be highlighted.)

Here’s an example of one such message. They really aren’t hard to spot, it’s right in your face when you open the offending book, sample it, or click Look Inside on Amazon:

Screenshot taken from a KU scammer’s book

Despite how glaringly obvious these messages are – similarly obnoxious text appears in the product description too – and despite how near-identical the phrasing is across the various perpetrators, it seems that the only method Amazon could devise to catch these guys was to crack down hard on anyone who had rear TOCs – whether they were enrolled in KU or not. The worst part is that banning rear TOCs doesn’t even seem like it will solve the problem as these guys could use regular links, footnotes, or other alternative methods to funnel readers to the end of their books.

The real problem here is that Amazon has such a crude page-counting method that it doesn’t actually know which pages were read, or whether a giant chunk was skipped. Which is kind of blinking important when you are operating a hugely popular subscription model where author compensation is supposed to be based on actual pages read.

What I’m saying is Amazon can invent flying delivery robots, but can’t handle a 1990s-level internet marketer scam.

To rub further salt in the wound, Amazon seems to be taking a very relaxed approach to these scammers. Multiple threads on KBoards have examples of books which are using these CLICK HERE links to artificially inflate their KU payouts. These titles were reported to Amazon by whole bevy of authors/readers from KBoards, as well as in separate efforts elsewhere, but Amazon has been incredibly slow to take down the offending titles.

Here is one example. Last week, this title still had one of these scammy CLICK HERE messages on the first page. It was reported to Amazon some time ago, and the title was eventually removed from sale a few days back. The buy button was then restored after the author presumably took remedial action as the CLICK HERE notice is now gone. However, Amazon didn’t bother checking the author’s other books – there are two more with identical CLICK HERE messages inside (example).

These aren’t isolated incidents – and Amazon’s laissez faire approach to the perpetrators is typical too.

Here’s another title doing the same, and, as a bonus, also breaching a bunch of other rules at the same time, like keyword stuffing in the title. This one had its buy button removed and a quality notice slapped on its product page in the last day or so – but Amazon dragged its feet, taking a week or two to act, a courtesy it doesn’t seem to extend to the innocent. And this particular author has three more titles on Amazon all pulling the exact same immediately obvious tricks under the exact same name (example). Clearly, Amazon hasn’t even bothered to spend five seconds looking at this author’s other titles.

I can understand Amazon’s need/desire to automate as much of its processes as possible, but when it comes to removing books from sale, especially when the system seems to generate so many false positives and completely miss the actual culprits, then it’s time for a serious rethink. At the very least, some human intervention should be required before a book is threatened with removal – let alone actually taken down and an author’s income (and reputation) put in jeopardy.

I’m all for erring on the side of safety, but Amazon seems to be in the curious position of erring on the side of safety with obvious scammers while immediately dropping the hammer on the innocent.

As I said up top, Amazon is usually very responsive to author concerns, particularly if it is something which impacts on customer experience. In 2013, I crowdsourced a list of problems and feature requests and gave it to Amazon at the London Book Fair.

Amazon’s response was fantastic, taking action on a number of fronts, and I was extremely impressed overall. However, one problem it skipped was the issue of Quality Notices. Here’s what I said then (remember, these were issues presented on behalf of a huge group of contributing authors):

Amazon occasionally sends out emails warning that books will be removed from sale because of potential copyright issues, breaches of the Terms of Service, formatting errors, or typos. But the automated system doesn’t work very well. […] The general issues with customer service (noted above) are compounding the problem. […] It’s particularly frustrating to see this crackdown on non-issues when egregious breaches of the Terms of Service seem to go unchecked for months.

Obviously, the situation has deteriorated. This needs to change.

What should you do if you have a rear TOC? Move it to the front.

At least, that’s what I’m doing. I don’t want to go through what Walter Jon Williams did. I have a big promo starting next week and can’t take the risk of getting caught up in something like this. (Note: if you are about to buy Digital, you will save a few dollars if you wait until March 19.)

So instead of working on my next book, I will be spending the day formatting and testing and re-uploading. I presume thousands of other authors will have to do the same thing.

UPDATE March 12: 

Turns out there is a lot more to this story, all of it worrying and none of it reflecting well on Amazon. I have a contact at KDP who I emailed two days ago and didn’t get any response. Which is poor, but exactly fits with how Amazon has handled this issue.

The problem is much more serious than outlined above. And Amazon is fully aware of what is happening and is doing very little about it. The only conclusion I can draw is that Amazon doesn’t care.

So here’s what I’ve been hearing over the last 24 hours: the scammer examples I linked to are actually quite tame. The serious guys aren’t just using TOCs to inflate their page reads, but, as I speculated in the post, links to the back of the book, footnotes, and all sorts of other wheezes (like filling books with page breaks, filling books with the same text in 10 different languages – done by Google Translate – and then having a link go to the English version at the back, etc. etc.).

In other words, cracking down on rear TOCs is completely pointless and is only causing the innocent to suffer. Good job Amazon!

And these scammers are far more successful than the examples linked to above. Many have been in receipt of All-Star Bonuses – taking that money from the authors who truly deserved it. Again, all of this has been reported to Amazon. Aside from not demanding the return of these fraudulently achieved bonuses and giving it to the authors who should have received them, Amazon is failing to sanction the culprits other than taking down the individual reported book – meaning the scammers are allowed to continue using these tricks in the rest of their books (and the most successful have giant catalogs), which don’t seem to be checked. This is basic stuff. Amazon should be checking the rest of their books, banning repeat offenders, withholding royalties, and giving the bonuses to those who should have received them. But Amazon is simply not taking this seriously.

It gets worse.

The main guy at the centre of this has been printing money – getting up to a million page reads A DAY (from a screenshot he posted). He was named on a KBoards thread, and you can dig that info out yourself if you wish, and he also appears to be selling a turnkey scammer system for $47 a pop to internet marketer types who want to grab some of this “easy” KU cash – one of the reasons this has exploded lately. He also has a private Facebook group with over 1,000 members learning his tricks.

All of this was reported to Amazon publicly and privately weeks ago. Detailed information was sent to the jeff@ Amazon email address. But no action has been taken, aside from the piecemeal, half-hearted attempts to take down a book here and there. Meanwhile, these guys continue to rake it in – at everyone else’s expense.

This is simply not good enough, and we need to send that message very clearly to Amazon.

Update March 15: Amazon made an official statement yesterday, after which I spoke to someone there.

I had, as you can imagine, a long list of questions. They will have to come back to me on most of those, but this is what I can share for now:

(a) Amazon didn’t confirm whether the TOC mess was related to its own efforts to stop scammers, but did admit that there were enforcement issues around TOCs and apologized for same. It will be reviewing those procedures to try and prevent a recurrence.

(b) Amazon will be trying to make it right with authors like Walter Jon Williams. It can’t discuss particulars but will begin reaching out to affected authors shortly.

(c) It sounds like the matter is being taken seriously and Amazon appreciates all the scammer reports (which you should continue making). It has its own processes for identifying this stuff, and has been investigating this stuff itself, but your reports also help. Amazon doesn’t publicize such efforts because it doesn’t want to broadcast scamming techniques before they can plug the holes, but they are attempting to deal with it.

That doesn’t cover everything. Far from it. But there were plenty of issues I raised that Amazon said they will be coming back to me on. Questions like:

1. When will Amazon have a system in place which can actually count which pages were read, rather than skipped?

2. When removing a scammer’s book, why does Amazon not look at their other titles?

3. Will Amazon be attempting to claw back bonuses paid to scammers, and will they be paying those bonuses to the authors which should have received them instead?

4. These scammers tend to be breaking all sorts of other rules too – it’s one easy way to identify them. Will Amazon have a more rigorous process to police such behaviors – e.g. title keyword stuffing – in the future?

5. Will Amazon be updating the Kindle Publishing Guidelines and other Help Pages with regard to TOCs? The statement yesterday said that people now don’t have to move their TOCs but there is conflicting (and ambiguous) information out there. Will this be clarified?

6. It hasn’t yet been established if any of the filler content these scammers are using was plagiarized, but that wouldn’t be a huge surprise given how little of that stuff the plagiarism tool actually seems to catch. Are there plans to improve same?

7. There are hundreds of millions of dollars which are going to be paid out by KU this year. Is it too much to ask that some resources go towards policing this stuff?

And there was lots more too – we had quite a long talk. That’s all I can remember off the top of my head. I’ll update further with any responses.

Update March 31:

I spoke with Amazon again at the beginning of last week. Sorry I couldn’t update this post sooner, but (a) I was busy and (b) I wanted to give Amazon some time to try make good on its pledges, and also not make any overly hasty conclusions about its response.

Amazon opened by saying that it was taking the matter very seriously, that it was a priority, and that it was devoting significant resources to the issue. But Amazon also said that the amount of scamming going on is actually relatively small.

I found the latter statement a little curious, but, before I get into that, here are responses to the questions posed above (and my thanks to Amazon for answering same):

  1. When will Amazon have a system in place which can actually count which pages were read, rather than skipped?

Amazon can’t disclose details for obvious reasons, but it is working on a more robust page counting system.

  1. When removing a scammer’s book, why does Amazon not look at their other titles?

Amazon does look at a scammer’s other titles when removing books and acts accordingly.

  1. Will Amazon be attempting to claw back bonuses paid to scammers, and will they be paying those bonuses to the authors which should have received them instead?

Amazon clearly stated that it will be clawing back All Star bonuses where scamming has been determined and it will also be awarding those bonuses to the authors who should have received them instead.

  1. These scammers tend to be breaking all sorts of other rules too – it’s one easy way to identify them. Will Amazon have a more rigorous process to police such behaviors – e.g. title keyword stuffing – in the future?

Amazon already has rigorous systems in place to check for abuses like this.

  1. Will Amazon be updating the Kindle Publishing Guidelines and other Help Pages with regard to TOCs? The statement yesterday said that people now don’t have to move their TOCs but there is conflicting (and ambiguous) information out there. Will this be clarified?

This should all be updated now and any ambiguity removed.

  1. It hasn’t yet been established if any of the filler content these scammers are using was plagiarized, but that wouldn’t be a huge surprise given how little of that stuff the plagiarism tool actually seems to catch. Are there plans to improve same?

Amazon is always making improvements to its tools and systems.

  1. There are hundreds of millions of dollars which are going to be paid out by KU this year. Is it too much to ask that some resources go towards policing this stuff?

Amazon is taking this matter seriously and significant resources are being devoted to this issue.

I wasn’t hugely satisfied with these responses, as you can imagine. Obviously, something doesn’t quite jive there. If the amount of scamming is small and Amazon is making this matter a priority and devoting significant resources to it, why are we seeing little improvement in the last three weeks?

Amazon has actually improved its response to direct reports of scamming – I think that’s fair to say. However, it also seems that it’s only titles which are directly reported to Amazon which are being taken down. Amazon doesn’t seem to be making a proactive attempt, independent of those reports, to identify scammers and remove those titles.

It’s not the job of readers/authors to police the Kindle Store. And if Amazon is paying us all collectively from a fixed pot than it has a duty to prevent fraudulent publishers from engaging in what can only be described as stealing from that pot. But Amazon isn’t just sleeping on the job, it’s leaving the doors unlocked and the windows open underneath a giant neon sign saying FREE MONEY.

Let’s be very clear about something: we aren’t taking about genuine authors here who are engaging in some extra-curricular shadiness. These scammers are not authors. They are internet marketers who outsource the “writing” of these books (or simply plagiarize and/or rework genuine books in many cases, I suspect). It would be a much trickier problem if we were talking about genuine authors engaging in shady behavior, but that’s not the case. No authors will complain if Amazon takes a hard line with this crowd.

The second and fourth answers are laughable, quite frankly – demonstrably false PR blandishments which show that Amazon is still hasn’t grasped the seriousness of this issue. But I wanted to wait and see if Amazon actually stepped up its response.

Even when Amazon does identify a title which has breached its guidelines, it still seems to be taking a kid glove approach with actual scammers. Often the titles are only down temporarily, and then re-uploaded with the same cover/title/author name and only one of the rule breaches addressed. For example, the scammer will often remove the more obnoxious CLICK HERE messaging, but keep the keyword stuffing aimed at flooding search results, and keep the filler content aimed at bloating their page count and payout, and then swap in more subtle inducements to click to the end. I’d have a little more sympathy for Amazon on this front if I didn’t predict exactly this in my original post.

The scammers have only focused on certain niches to date (mostly certain specific sub-categories of romance and self-help), so you may not be fully aware of how flooded the Kindle Store is with this crap.

Try searching the Kindle Store for “cowboy romance” or “victorian romance” or “seal romance” or “historical romance” or “regency romance” or “mail order romance” or “amish romance” or “shifter romance” and you will see exactly what I mean. The scammer books are usually immediately obvious from the title-keyword stuffing like “Romance: Regency Romance: [ACTUAL BOOK TITLE]” – in fact most of the scammer books take this exact form, right down to the position of the semi-colons in the title.

Which makes this stuff incredibly easy to find. If you want to.

A lot of these books are hovering around the 20,000 mark so maybe Amazon doesn’t think it’s important – but those borrows are taking money from the collective pool and the scammers are doing what scammers always do: they are working on volume. But even at rankings of 20,000 you can grab some decent visibility and squeeze genuine authors out of the sub-category charts. Some scammers are doing much better than that too – I’ve seen scammer titles hovering around the Top 500. And I’m sure there are many, many more titles at worse ranks, but I’m not digging particularly deeply here. Obviously Amazon has infinitely better tools for identifying this stuff. If it wants to.

Right now, it’s hard to avoid the impression that Amazon simply doesn’t care. I honestly don’t know how anyone could conclude otherwise.

About David Gaughran

David Gaughran is Irish, living in Prague, and the author of Mercenary, A Storm Hits Valparaiso, Let's Get Digital, Let's Get Visible, and this here blog.
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298 Responses to Amazon Takes Aim At Scammers But Hits Authors

  1. Idelle says:

    Hi David,
    Are you familiar with Mill City Press? If so, what are your thoughts about that company? Thank you.

    Like

    • I’ve never heard of them, but a quick glance on their site makes it look like a fairly typical third-party self-publishing platform, which, at best, would not be a recommended way to go for all sorts of reasons covered here – look under “Self-Publishing Companies”: https://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/basics/

      Like

    • Brent Tharp says:

      Mill City is a publishing-services company, but is better than most. They don’t charge a markup over wholesale to authors, don’t charge for providing original files, and allow authors to retain all copyrights. But how much they do on the marketing side is anyone’s guess. All the foregoing comes from The Fine Print of Self-Publishing by Mark Levine, so take it for what it’s worth, but Mill City appears to be relatively legit. But as David indicated, using a third-party service and giving them a percentage is not a good way to go unless you’re getting some real tangible benefits on the back end, which one rarely gets with these companies. Lots of promises without much delivery.

      Like

  2. Really interesting article, David. Thanks for sharing it. I shall reblog it.

    Like

  3. Mostly I’m grateful for what Amazon has done in enabling self-published authors to exist but some of their choices (deleting or blocking reviews for no apparent reason) are beyond infuriating!

    Like

    • I agree deleting and blocking reviews is infuriating. Amazon takes down reviews by anyone who is your “friend” on Facebook. When a real author finishes a book, I’d venture to say they “share” it on Facebook. Those are the real reviews, and yet the scammers get 100’s of their bought reviews put up. I have combated this somewhat by making a “page” for my readers, but I’ve still lost a lot of reviews. It’s frustrating to know that the scammer ahead of me in the rankings paid for his or her reviews and they are still there. Also the trolls who go through and just put one stars on all the competition….how do you bury those? Amazon won’t take them down even when they are clearly bogus.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Debra says:

        Arwilda – you can actually go to where your reviews are listed and upvote the more positive reviews – you can do this yourself. This way, your negative review(s) will get pushed down to the bottom. This obviously won’t eliminate them, especially when Amazon won’t remove them, but at least they will be less noticeable.

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  4. Weird. Baen has had the TOC in the back since forever.

    Furthermore, putting a TOC in the ebook itself is arguably redundant now that Kindle ebooks have an external TOC.

    Like

    • Yes, this! Unless your book is non-fiction or your TOC contains information that can’t be seen in the TOC that shows up on the device menu, why in the world are people still using them? It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. Readers can access the TOC from the menu, there’s no need for a linked list at the beginning or the end as far as I can see. What bothers me, though, regardless of the TOC issues, is this trend toward Amazon making changes to policy without giving us time to comply before there’s a take-down notice.

      Like

  5. Reblogged this on Nikki McDonagh – author and photographer and commented:
    Has this happened to you? Interesting article about Amazon’s view on what constitutes incorrect formatting issues resulting in books being taken down.

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  6. Pingback: Important information for those with books published on Kindle. |

  7. Reblogged on yvonnehertzberger.com. Thank you.

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  8. Dan Meadows says:

    When I first heard about this skipping to the back thing, I was confused. I thought I’d seen somewhere that there was a time element to the per page read. I distictly recall wondering how that would work given the variance in the density of writing as well as the pace at which different people read. But if something like clicking a link to hop to the back registers as reading the entire book, I guess not. And it really begs the question, how much of any of the KU payouts represent actual pages actually read? Full disclosure, I’m not a fan of metered reading. It forces a non-existent one-to-one equivalency between pages in vastly different styles and forms of writing. There’s just too many variables to produce a truly fair payment system, I think. This appears to be yet another case in point to me.

    Like

    • Well, yes. There is an immediate question to answer about how much of the pot went to these scammers, whether they were in receipt of KU All-Star payouts (I’ve seen some speculation that they were) – and of course whether Amazon will do anything to make the situation right with both authors who should have received those payouts instead, and authors who have been caught in the crossfire of this TOC crackdown.

      Like

    • Maggie Dana says:

      Dan, I could swear I saw the same information as you did about there being a time element involved for figuring out (by Amazon) the number of pages read which would, if invoked, nullify those who skip immediately to the last page. Wish I could find that article or forum post or whatever my struggling brain is trying to remember the specifics of.

      Like

    • Tammi Labrecque says:

      David — At least one of these scammers absolutely got an All-Star bonus for January; you included it in your post, actually. It’s this “author”: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0191R1K38

      Scroll down that product page and you’ll see this:

      https://scontent-lga3-1.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-xtf1/v/wl/t34.0-12/12784409_10102891085797739_1274183934_n.jpg?oh=8c431ee3934555191c9610eef2ff4484&oe=56E59517

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      • Jackie Weger says:

        Tammi: That book you link to, had one of those CLICK HERE mesages on it this a.m. Now it’s gone. But it still has some formatting issues. And the TOC is still back of book matter.

        Like

      • Tammi Labrecque says:

        I have to say, I’m disappointed if Amazon is just going to allow them to fix it and not pull their page read money and All-Star bonus. A lot of people I know saw their incomes take one heck of a nosedive due to the huge drop in the KU per-page rate for January.😦

        Like

      • ruby madden says:

        So, in this instance – A.B.R Publishing is both plagiarizing & scammng?

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    • kdjackson73 says:

      This troubles me a lot. It has been suggested that I try the self-publishing on Amazon but after reading this post, it makes me very nervous. I work hard on the stories I create just like everyone else I am sure. To heard that this is being pulled with little to no notice for honest to goodness writers but lets the spammers continue to carry on makes me sick and untrusting of using Amazon as a place to self publish. Thank you so much for posting this article.

      Like

  9. Jake Parent says:

    That’s horrible. Good on you, David for helping out Mr. Williams.

    Like

  10. Pingback: New Covers and Update to TOC for Books on Amazon – EZ Indie Publishing – Advocate for Independent Publishing

  11. Pingback: Amazon Takes Aim At Scammers But Hits Authors | The Passive Voice | A Lawyer's Thoughts on Authors, Self-Publishing and Traditional Publishing

  12. TymberDalton says:

    I use Scrivener to write in and now to compile my e-books, and it’s super-simple to put the TOC wherever you want it. I’ve still been putting mine in the front, so thankfully this won’t hit me. (At least not my self-pubbed titles. I’ll need to see if the ones my publisher puts out are in the front or back.)

    Like

    • kdjackson73 says:

      I have a question. Can a person use Scrivener on a tablet. I have to use a tablet and blue tooth keyboard due to damage to my right hand and injuries to my legs (I was in a near fatal wreck). Please let me know because I have noticed that a lot of writers swear by it.

      Like

      • Tony says:

        Are you a MAC or Windows user? For windows, the Surface PRO is a tablet that will run Scrivener. Or Jutoh (my personal favorite). Or any other PC software.
        I’m not a MAC user, so I can’t comment on the options there.
        And are you trying to figure out if it will run on a tablet you already own?

        Like

  13. Pingback: Books with Table of Contents in the back of eBooks targeted by Amazon – Diane Tibert

  14. Jaye says:

    As outrageous as some incidents are, Amazon is in a tough position. Scammers are clever and extremely busy and staying ahead of them is impossible. Anyone who has an email account knows those people never stop and never cease in their quest to scam individuals or a system. Even though the results can be heavy-handed, automation keeps prices down. How much of their commission are writers willing to give up in order for Amazon to hire live eyeballs to track individual books?

    I’m a book producer and I have clients who want things in their books that I know will make reading more difficult for users AND be contrary to Amazon’s ToS or best publishing practices. I’m an ebook reader first and foremost, and I despise books that are poorly constructed and/or impossible to navigate. I always go with reading experience first, even if I have to argue with my clients.

    There are many ways to make proper and useful navigation guides in ebooks that do NOT eat up the sample. It just takes some thought and knowledge of how an ebook works. One way is to do a short ToC in the front of a book with a link to a complete chapter guide that goes in the back. And yes, most ereaders contain internal ToCs, but if an ebook is poorly constructed, and many are, the internal ToC is useless. Some older ereading devices do NOT display the internal ToC and a lack of a proper ToC makes those books impossible to navigate.

    The more honest writers/publishers up their game and raise the quality bar, the easier it is to sort out the scammers.

    Like

    • You have made some fair points, but maybe consider this too: I do a pretty good job at formatting my books. Maybe not all the neat little touches that a professional formatter like yourself might apply, but they are clear, clean, error-free, and display perfectly on any device (and the TOCs work). I’d safely guess that they are in the top 10% of what’s out there. But if my reasonably-good-but-not-absolutely-perfect books aren’t reaching the required level, and can be taken down for not meeting what can only be described as a fairly arbitrary standard, then we have a problem.

      Like

      • Jaye says:

        I’ve read all your books, David. They’re well constructed and I doubt very much you’ll run into problems. Guess it’s time for me to put up a blog post about ebook navigation that meets publishing guidelines but doesn’t wreck sampling.🙂

        Like

      • That would be very useful, thanks. Can you cover how to force opening on a certain page? Some books I bought can open in the middle of the front TOC, or on the title page, or halfway through the intro. I think it’s supposed to default to the start of Chapter 1, but it doesn’t seem to work that way in practice (or maybe those guys have gunk code in their books which is messing with that, I don’t know).

        Like

      • Jackie Weger says:

        I just have to step in here; I hire a professional editor and formatter and both are very good. I’ve had two or 3 QC notices–misspelled word or dropped quotation mark and we repair those within hours of the QC notice. However, how well my books are produced, or David’s, will NOT affect the sales of scammer units. Once downloaded and the reader ticks that Click Here to back of book, it’s over and done and the author paid out of KU. The book buyer is hustled. Even if the unit is returned for another because it was not a pleasing reader experience, the book earned KENP. The ordinary book buyer doesn’t have a clue and seldom complains. I don’t. If I download a book and find it’s not for me. I return it for another.

        Like

  15. Pingback: Amazon Now Freaking Out Over TOC Location in Kindle eBooks? | The Digital Reader

  16. Pingback: Amazon Takes Aim At Scammers But Hits Authors | Ruth Nestvold – Indie Adventures

  17. So your advice is to move the TOC just to be on the safe side? I have a new release coming out next week, so I suppose I shouldn’t take any risks…

    Fortunately, none of my published books have a super-long TOC, but I can see it being a little inconvenient for sampling if you write a big thick novel with chapter titles.

    Like

    • Right. My longer historical is north of 100k and has quite short chapters for a bunch of reasons (multiple, disparate protags etc.). I think there are 80 or 90 chapters, and because the style was a touch more literary, I gave the chapters titles like “The Mountain That Eats Men.” So there’s a TOC which will take up loads of Kindle screen pages and can’t really be compressed easily. It’s worse again for non-fiction, where it is often standard practice to have an extremely detailed TOC. If you look at Digital’s product page on Amazon you can see just how long the TOC is (I copied it into the blurb too): http://www.amazon.com/dp/B005DC68NI/?tag=lesgedi-20

      Like

      • I tend to group my chapters into ‘acts’ and just put the acts in the TOC at the front (five or six items at the most). The HTML pop up TOC is built to include all of the chapters rather than just the ‘acts’.
        I’ve never had a TOC that ran over more than one page.
        Do many fiction readers ever use a TOC?

        Like

  18. I was reading aobut this on Kborads theother day. Great summary, David! Reblogged.🙂

    Like

  19. My formatter wants to know…

    “All the way in the front? Before the copyright page?”

    Any clue?

    Like

    • I guess copyright/title page, then TOC, then the start of the text.

      Like

      • Converting with Calibre, if I check the box that says “put TOC at beginning of book,” it puts it right after the cover image and before the copyright page. I wonder if there’s a (not-too-complicated) way to change that? I don’t mind the placement too much, but after the copyright page seems like a more logical place.

        Like

  20. Is it against the terms not to have a TOC at all? Seems a bit inconvenient, possibly, but i’m curious.

    Like

  21. The listing is still not 100% for Metropolitan – the ‘Look Inside’ returns an error or a blank. So the Zon still hasn’t sorted it properly.

    Like

  22. Is there any indication of whether all (or most of) the authors being targeted have their books in KU?

    Like

    • It seems authors/books both in KU and not are getting targeted. What appears to trigger it is changing price/republishing the book for whatever reason (like editing keywords etc.). That’s what also seems to trigger the copyright notices that are sent out by bots now and then. So my guess is the guts of the book are scanned when uploaded and/or when someone goes through the publishing process again (which you have to do to change price), and then certain titles are flagged based on some (pretty shoddy) algorithm and the notice gets sent out. It’s not clear if there is any human intervention in the chain up to that point (my guess is not).

      Like

      • Ah. I thought they just sent out a blanket threat-mail, but that would have crashed their system and cost millions in sales as authors rushed to re-load their books.

        Like

      • Come to think of it, using an author change as the trigger could kill a lot of bookbub promos. They usually involve the author logging in and changing the price shortly before the promo starts…

        Like

      • Exactly. We had this issue before with the automated notices asking you to prove copyright. It has been an issue for three years now and nothing has been done. I’ve seen loads of authors get stuck at 99c after a BookBub, missing out on tons of income, and only able to raise the price eventually several days later – when they have already lost chart visibility. Considering the likely amount of books with rear TOCs, it’s a recipe for disaster.

        Like

      • cvwriter says:

        I’m not sure changing things is a trigger. I hadn’t updated anything for the book of mine they removed.

        Like

  23. Lurker111 says:

    Let me be the contrarian here and say that end-of-book TOCs (in order to have the Look Inside extended) really annoy the heck out of me. Also end-of-book copyright pages, which are a joke and cast doubt on the penalty part of the enforcement of copyright.

    The better approach would be for Amazon to allow the author to determine (within reasonable limits) where the Look Inside should end. Amazon already recognized the “toc” bookmark; let it also recognize a “LookLimit” bookmark, or the like. I have suggested this to them.

    Like

  24. I always find this kind of thing quite worrying. I am not self-published and so not directly in contact with Amazon. I have seen more than one copy of my book displayed when you enter the title in their search, and apparently this is to do with pirated copies, or second hand copies or something: I’ve no idea.

    Frankly Amazon is plain mysterious to me and I just hope I don’t get picked on !

    Like

  25. geraldine says:

    Reblogged this on geraldineevansbooks and commented:
    Why does Amazon do these things? I’m getting ever-so-slightly disenchanted with the mighty Zon.

    Like

  26. Thanks for the notice, David. I’ve just released my second novel, and my TOC is at the back. I think I’ll wait to change it as I’m struggling to find time to write in the midst of promoting my current release. If my book gets pulled, then at least I’ll know it’s not just me.

    Like

  27. scotbayless says:

    Great post David, thank you so much for calling this out. I do have a question however. Might this crackdown only be happening on books enrolled in Kindle Unlimited? We have several books for sale on Amazon, none of which use a front TOC (because why would you need it when pretty much all readers provide their own navigation based on the TOC wherever it sits). But, because we publish on other platforms too, we’ve stayed away from KU.

    I’m tempted to ask Amazon, but I’m a little reluctant to break into jail. If you or any of your subscribers have received notices from Amazon regarding books that are NOT enrolled in KU, I’d be grateful for a heads-up. Meanwhile, we’re going to revise the format of all our books just in case.

    Like

  28. Michal says:

    Great David! How can we hammer this message into thick Amazon’s skull?

    Like

  29. Scammer? Scammer? You mean marketer.. What is with you Long book authors? You are a bunch of cry babies.. Mind your own business. if you want to make money being a author on amazon learn how to be one. don’t cry because other authors are better then you..

    Like

    • It’s a scam, not marketing, to create a 25,000-page “book” composed of a mishmash of unrelated material and then put a link to a giveaway that sends people to the back in order to trigger a read. This is the kind of thing that was happening, and what triggered the 3000-page cap (probably as a stopgap) and then this crackdown.

      If you really are a legit author of long books, you should be as outraged as we are that scammers are sucking a hundred bucks or more a pop from the common pool with these tactics.

      If you’re not outraged, then there’s something wrong.

      Like

      • Central planning never works. Amazon are learning what the Soviets did long ago: if you pay people by tons of tractors delivered, you don’t get more tractors, you get tractors that weigh twenty tons.

        If you announce that all books are worth $1.50, you get a lot of short books. If you announce that every page ‘read’ is worth $0.005, and lack any ability to tell whether the page was read or skipped over, you get books that do everything possible to convince readers to skip to the end.

        Whatever they do, so long as they insist that all words are worth the same, the scammers will find a way to take advantage of that.

        Like

      • Granted, scammers will scam, but that’s no reason to cop out on enforcement. That’s akin to saying “thieves will steal” as if that is an excuse not to take security measures, and to try to make sure those security measures target the real offenders rather than customers. Every system needs regulation in order to discourage the worst scamming.

        Like

      • Lurker111 says:

        As a programmer myself, it would never have occurred to me to let a “jump” from page A to page B imply that all intermediate pages were read. It doesn’t cost much in the way of space to have a bitmap in the Kindle format, where each bit indicates a page actually viewed. If we’re talking html here, the bitmap can be in two-byte ASCII “hex.”

        So if someone were to hit the jumper in the TOC, the bitmap would only show ONE page read.

        Like

    • Considering you have two reviews across your four titles, I think we’re good.

      Like

    • Claire says:

      @Clark: It’s called blackhat marketing for a reason, and it is not sustainable marketing because the algorthims are often changed to weed out low-quality content. It’s the easy, sleazy marketing method, and no one likes it other than the person doing it. So if you expect that particular gold rush to last forever, think again.

      Amazon are slow on updating their algorithms to provide secure and high quality content to their readers, but it is something I hope they will eventually (come on already!) do because no one wants to buy books from a store that only sells junk mail.

      The length of a work of fiction means absolutely nothing, so I have no idea why you keep throwing that into your argument. But I mostly write short fiction or short novels, and I make it as high quality as I can because I suspect that somewhere down the line Amazon will wake up and realise that quality should be the most important variable in their organic search algorithm.

      Until that day, enjoy it while it lasts.

      Like

    • kdjackson73 says:

      Speaking as someone who is about to get her degree in marketing…what you are doing is not marketing! It is unethical and I personally believe that you all need to go back and learn a few things in marketing. I have not seen one cry baby on here but I have been ripped off by those type of books myself. Shame on you! Because of your actions you make it harder for us newbies to get a small window to showcase our honest work. Get a clue please.

      Like

    • Patrick Szabo says:

      This IS our business. I just read your author bio on Amazon and, holy crap, if that’s any indication of your “writing” then not even the best scams in the world are going to help you.

      Like

  30. Jackie Weger says:

    Boo-ya. When I arrived on the indie scene, I read Let’s Get Visible and instructed my formatter to put the ToC in back of book matter. I have also passed that suggestion onto hundreds of authors. I received a QC notice on one of my units, but not the other six. So, moved the ToC to front of book in all of my units for fear of a book being blocked for sale during a promotion such as the one Walter Jon Williams experienced. Those catfisher books gaming the KENP system need to be stopped at point of publication. The way it is now the onus is put on book buyers and alert authors to report the scams. That’s not my job or the book buyer’s responsibility to assure a quality customer experience. It’s Amazon’s at point of publication.

    An author on Kboards mentioned a catfisher/scammer with 100 books. I looked. I don’t know if it is true or not. But the author has 100 boxed sets, rotating the same books in the sets. All of which had the CLICK HERE message to send the reader to ToC at the back of the set. Published by Passion Publishers Random House. All of the books are still for sale with the ToC at the back.

    IMO the quality control issue is selective and spotty. My books are exclusive to Amazon and I am not a best selling author. Going wide is not an option. I don’t have the readership. Nook is shutting down in the UK and the European market and my colleagues who do publish wide tell me it takes a year or more to establish a name and sales on KOBO–none of which even come close to Amazon sales. Nothing for it but go with the flow.

    Like

  31. Book designer here. I find this development very odd indeed. For all the reasons David mentioned, I’ve almost always put the TOC in the back of ebooks (at least for fiction titles). Thank you for bringing this to my attention.

    A quick FYI for anyone using Calibre and unsure of how to make the TOC go in the front instead of the back (assuming you are starting with an EPUB file, but may work if you started with Word doc). Import your title into Calibre and then select that title and click the Convert Books button on the top menu (should be the third button). Look at the menu on the left, and second from the bottom should be an option called MOBI Output. Click that. In the options that appear on the right, the third item down should be a check box for “Put generated Table of Contents at start of book instead of at end.” Make sure this option is selected (and that any other things you normally would do are done) and then hit OK at the bottom right. The newly generated MOBI file will now have the TOC placed in the front of the book,

    Like

    • Thank you Coreen, that’s very handy for us Calibre users.

      Like

    • Tony says:

      I’ve used Calibre, but my tool of choice these days is Jutoh (http://www.jutoh.com/). With Jutoh, you can put your TOC anywhere, not just front or back of book. One other major benefit is that I can make retailer specific ebooks from a single Jutoh file/book. For example, I can add a sample chapter of a sequel and include a “buy here” link that points to Amazon when I generate the mobi, points to iTunes when I generate the iTunes ePub, point to B&N when I generate the B&N ePub, etc; I can generate “reviewer only” messages when I generate a book to be given to reviewers; etc. Very flexible, only one file.

      Like

      • Have you tried Jutoh in relation to publishing on Smashwords? I’m looking for software that caters to their finicky setup, as I’ve gotten some good sales there. The software I was using is not compatible with Windows 8.1 and above.

        Like

  32. I had this exact same thing happen to me just a few days ago, and it was shortly after my BookBub promo of a new trilogy box set of the first three books of my main series, which was flying high in the 4-500s ranking, a huge boost for me. I’d meticulously set up my promotion strategy and spent over $1000 on it to make sure it got and kept momentum.

    I suddenly got a no-warning notice that they had pulled my book due to the “user experience” issue of my TOC being at the back, as well as some other trivial issues such as page breaks missing. I frantically fixed things and within 48 hours had it back on sale, but by that time it had dropped into the 3000s. Fortunately, it rebounded, but those hundreds of lost sales hurt.

    The question is, why yank that book when almost every single one of my other 20+ books had the same “issue”? Why only that one?

    My theory is that they are prioritizing the most popular books because those would be the biggest money leaks if they actually were scams. But letting bots do this work and pulling legitimate books without warning during their biggest runs is unconscionable. I wrote a bitter complaint, which they said they would forward to the appropriate people…we shall see.

    To ensure this does not happen again, I spent a dozen man-hours updating all my Kindle files and re-uploading with the TOCs at the front again – which will, in itself, degrade the user experience. I can only hope the damage done to me and other legitimate authors is outweighed by the reduction in scamming.

    Like

  33. CJ Parmenter says:

    Hi David, thank you for posting the link to Amazon’s Kindle Publishing Guidelines. I downloaded the PDF in hopes that there would be some way to easily reference the critical change discussed in your post. According to the revision history summary at the front, the last recorded change seems to be “reorganized document.” That’s it.

    I guess my question is two-fold. Does Amazon send out a notification when they make updates to this document? And, since these “general best practices” seem to amount to life and death for our indie published books, do you know of any “watchdog” sites or blogs out there that keep an eye on critical changes that Amazon makes? (I realize that’s probably a stretch–but the internet is big).

    From the PDF, this seems to be the relevant quote:

    5.1 HTML TOC Guidelines
    Place the HTML TOC towards the beginning of the book and not at the end of the book. This ensures that a customer paging through the book from the beginning encounters the TOC naturally. Incorrect placement of the TOC affects the accuracy of the “Last Page Read” feature. Correct placement ensures that the TOC appears in sample downloads of the book.

    It seems innocuous and straightforward, but there is no indication (colored type, etc.) that this has recently been changed. Also the main heading, “General Best Practices,” wouldn’t seem to equate to a list of strict regulations, follow or else. I suppose the crackdown proves otherwise.

    Like

    • Thanks for quoting the relevant section. I’m not aware of any notification Amazon sends out when making changes to this document. But you would think the smart thing to do would be to highlight changes which would affect plenty of existing books – like Amazon already does when changing cover specs or whatever.

      Like

  34. Pingback: About thoseTOC shenanigans | Jen Rasmussen

  35. Thanks for bringing this up, David, because I had a similar experience with many of the titles my company (Grey Gecko Press) publishes. I received several of these notices over the course of a week on multiple titles, and I’ll outline what I discovered. Keep in mind, this is from my personal experience, and may hold no bearing on others.

    Amazon doesn’t care about the TOC being at the back of the book – at least they didn’t for me – even though that’s what they said. When I pushed back at the sudden-onset Quality Notices for books that had never had a problem, some of them published through KDP for nearly five years, I finally managed to argue them into telling me what the REAL problem was (at least at the time).

    Our books weren’t using NCX protocols.

    For those of you who are unfamiliar with NCX, it’s the coding in your ebooks that allows readers to see chapter titles in the Go To list without actually viewing the TOC. So when you hit the “Go To” button, you’d see several chapter titles listed, usually centered on the one you were currently reading.

    Amazon requires the use of these NCX files, but they haven’t been enforcing that until now, it seems. Once I got them to admit that was the problem, I included these in revised editions of the titles I’d received Quality Notices on, and Amazon was happy to approve the change. The important part being that I NEVER MOVED THE TOC – it remained (and still does) at the back of our books.

    Including this NCX coding was a bit of a nightmare to learn. There weren’t any really clear instructions out there to do it. If, like me, any of you use Mobipocket Creator to create your ebooks from HTML – and I use Guido Henkel’s formatting tools as well, for more than 50 titles! – then you’ll need to edit your [Title].opf file to include some additional text. I recommend using Notepad++ for both the HTML and the editing of the .opf and .ncx files – it will make things a lot more readable.

    For a limited time, I’m making the .NCX file we’re currently using as a template available for download so that others with this problem can at least have a place to start. You can download it here: http://bit.ly/1TAIAYz

    I’m also available if anyone has questions, but I don’t have the time to provide detailed tech support. Start with the file above; it should get you most of the way.

    And David, just so you know, “Let’s Get Visible” has proven to be one of the Top 5 Most Useful Publishing Books I’ve ever bought. Thanks for all the wisdom, it’s helped us tremendously.

    Jason
    Chief Gecko
    Grey Gecko Press

    Like

    • Hynek Palatin says:

      Have you tried Sigil, Jason? You can hand-code your HTML *and* create the NCX file (aka the logical TOC) from your headings just by clicking a button.

      Like

      • Tony says:

        Or Jutoh (http://www.jutoh.com/). It’s not free, but it won’t break the bank here. I commented above on other things it can do, and it will definitely handle the NCX for you. I can’t recomment this software enough.

        Like

      • Tony-
        Does Jutoh software automatically create the NCX files with defaults?

        Like

      • Tony says:

        There are a few different ways that Jutoh assists you in creating a TOC. You can make it look for styles that mark headings, or have it create an entry for each document within the book, a combination, or manually add entries to the TOC. You can set the levels for each entry manually, by specifying what style belongs to what level, or a combination. It then creates an inline TOC and a toc.ncx. So you have full control over each entry in the TOC, the text for it, where it links to, and its level. But you do not have direct access to the toc.ncx file: it just creates it for you. There may be configuration settings that will let you control other aspects of the toc.ncx; the app is at once simple and complex. The best thing to do would be to ask Jutoh support; they are very responsive.
        Here is a sample toc.ncx that I pulled out from one of the books I’ve formatted (removed all nav points but one for the sake of brevity):

        The Escape (Unbounded Series #3)

        Table of Contents

        Like

      • Tony says:

        Dang, WordPress removed all of the markup. Let me know if you want to see that ncx sample; I can email it.

        Like

      • Thanks Tony. I have no problem creating the TOC in Jutoh – I keep the configuration details pretty much set at default for the mobi format, so wasn’t sure about the NCX detail. Thank you for your suggestion. Happy formatting🙂

        Like

      • Tony says:

        I misunderstood your question. Open one of your Jutoh files, then click menu Book/Edit Configuration. There is a “Generate NCX” check box (3rd line under the Options heading). I believe it is turned on by default.

        Liked by 1 person

      • thank you – I’ll check the setting there.

        Like

  36. cvwriter says:

    I was one of the authors this happened to. They removed my book from sale without warning because of the rear TOC (I use Guido Henkel’s wonderful formatting guidelines). I wasn’t in the middle of a Bookbub promo, but I did take a hit in sales, and the book hasn’t been able to climb back up to the rank it had before it was removed.

    Also, one of those authors you linked (the A.B.R. person) was a KU All-Star in January, which is a whole other issue in itself.

    Like

  37. Carol Lightwood says:

    The good news out of all this is that Williams’ book is at No. 25 on the cyberpunk list as of 10 a.m. this morning. Thanks for the heads-up David.

    Like

  38. Hitch says:

    @ Grey Gecko Press: it’s not the lack of an NCX. We have recently had an Edgar-winning client with a Boxed set get pushback on this. In fact, her book was removed from sale. The issues were twofold. She had a “guarantee” page at the front (guarantees a reward if a reader finds ANY error in the book), that linked first to the back of the book, and thence to her website, and indeed: she had a “full” TOC at the back of the book.

    (Quick aside: I have warned all my clients that the Publishing Guidelines have, for forever, advised NOT to put the TOC at the back of the book, which, I assume, is due to the advent of Calibre-converted books, which by default puts the TOC at the back, which can and does wreak havoc with the “time left in book,” et al, calculations.)

    We had, however, put what I call the Wee TOC, in the front matter. Generally, it looks like this:

    TITLE
    Start Reading
    Full-length Table of Contents.

    In the case of the Boxed Set, it looked simply like a centered list of the three titles, hotlinked to the respective book. What ELSE would you do in a Boxed set?? I mean, think about it.

    We linked this short TOC to the “Go To,” but, as you can see, any determined reader could easily get to the full-length TOC at the rear of the book.

    Naturally, the book had an NCX, as we’re professional formatters (since 2008). Regardless, Amazon insisted that the “full-length TOC” at the back of the book had to be removed.

    My question to them, then, was simply this: WHO SAYS what has to be on the TOC? What guide, rule, etc., says that the TOC has to be everything? And in turn, Amazon advised me (after crickets for two days) that we could use whatever we wanted in the Wee TOC.

    That’s the solution we’ve arrived at for our client. I hope it helps someone here.

    Like

  39. Back in June a number of people voiced concern about KU changing into a “paid per pages read system”. You pretty much dismissed them all as “chicken littles”. I wonder if that has changed since this latest fiasco?

    Paying authors by the number of pages read, pushes many writers into desperation mode. And it’s an easy loophole for scammers to exploit. There are still some questionable ways to get pages read that aren’t as easy to detect. Including the manipulation of internal links inside the ebook.

    We’ve moved into a system that has authors battling over the % of money in a pool, rather then simply being paid for a sale. That isn’t good.

    Like

  40. If the customer finds value in it and is getting value out of it, which they are, a box set for a low price is a great value for the customer it delivers hours of entertainmnet.. And I as a author want to be paid for the work I did to create that value. We as authors are not paid fairly when it comes to Kindle unlimited.. I am sorry you long book authors who are hoping to when the lottery and make it big time with one book have not learned how to market yourself and your work and get paid for it at the same time. Stop crying. it’s the same old battle you long book authors started to wage against us small book authors.. we will always make more money then you because we are honest with ourselves and we are in it for the money. We provide value for the reader first. and I am sure one of you cry babies are going to look up my books and send amazon a email. And I will adapt and over come like I always do, becuase you cry baby authors, force Amazon to make a change and we adapt and end up making more money. We short authors are ready and prepared for another change in how Amazon pays us for Kindle unlimited downloads, because authors like you are jelouse and cry to amazon. I don’t like to work for free, do you? I will adapt to it and come out on top again. I provide great value, and not once has a reader complained, my customers love to read and ask for more. We short writers are well aware that you are sending email to amazon and crying. Maybe you should spend less time writing emails to amazon crying about how someone is doing better than you and more time on learning how to be successful. Christ.

    Like

    • Your argument would be slightly stronger if you could spell the word jealous.

      Like

    • PolyWogg says:

      Clark – Throwing up a cover, inserting some text with typos and other errors, copying stuff off the net, is not anyone’s view of “value” nor does it make you an author. And the only person whining/crying is you that your scam attracts the attention of readers and writers who complain to Amazon that you’re polluting the site with your crap on a cracker.

      Like

    • Bless your little heart. Sit down, the grown-ups are talking.

      Like

    • It’s not about long vs. short. It’s about a system that pits authors against one another in a Hunger Games style scenario. We went from being truly independent, to being totally dependent on Amazon. Everyone jumped into KU and quite frankly handed the keys to indie publishing over to just one vendor — Amazon. Now we battle amongst ourselves over a limited pool of money. Personally, I prefer sales to borrow. Write your book, market your book, then sell your book. Amazon already has built in protection in that a ebooks can be returned or a refund if the buyer wishes. I know there’s no going back to a simple sales model, but I damn sure wish we could.

      Like

    • Or knew what a comma splice was.

      Like

    • Patrick Szabo says:

      Good lord, you can’t even write coherently. Scamming does not equate to success. Scamming = stealing from Amazon. Keep on keepin’ on, Meathead.

      Like

  41. Oh this is awful – the people they should be hitting are the “authors” releasing one hundred books in a week – the books start with English and the look inside bit finishes with Spanish! There is a group on Facebook moaning about the fact that Amazon are pulling their books. If they tried writing books in one language perhaps they would fair better. Given I am not fluent in any other language, I prefer books that start in English to stay in English lol. But obviously people like this person don’t agree. http://www.amazon.com/ROMANCE-Inspirational-Christian-Contemporary-Novelette-ebook/dp/B01CF4795W/ref=cm_rdp_product

    Like

  42. Claire says:

    Thanks for the head’s up and the great article about it all.

    Do you think this applies to books that aren’t in KU? None of my books are, and there are a lot of books to change over if this is going to hit books outside of KU. I don’t think I’ve been hit with this yet. Or at least, I can’t see any hijinks. It doesn’t sound as if it would be an issue for a non-KU book.

    “What I’m saying is Amazon can invent flying delivery robots, but can’t handle a 1990s-level internet marketer scam.”

    The above quote is what I’ve been thinking about the entire Amazon algorithm lately. There’s no reason why scamming should be possible. There’s no reason why a bot can’t scan every book for spam, plaguarism and blackhat marketing. If Google can deliver quality content in their organic search, why can’t Amazon deliver it in theirs?

    Sure, I love space rockets (especially if Bezos sticks Donald Trump in one), but a little less money spent on rocket science and a little bit more spent on developing an intuitive algorithm would be a vast improvement, and it’d remove this kind of issue because it would be clever enough to know the difference.

    Like

  43. Oh, Amazon. I’ll be sharing this in my author groups when I get on Facebook in a bit.

    I’ve always done my own formatting, with Calibre. I upload epubs everywhere, including Amazon, and have ALWAYS used Calibre’s built-in Edit TOC function. It builds and edits an NCX file. Because of that, I’ve never bothered with putting a TOC anywhere else. If lack of NCX files is truly the problem, as Amazon told Jason at Gray Gecko Press, I should be fine. However, I will keep an eye on my books.

    I read a lot of ebooks. Probably more than paper now. As a reader, a TOC embedded in the front of an ebook drives me bonkers! Especially when it’s a sample. I’ve downloaded samples where I end up with–I kid you not–THREE PARAGRAPHS of actual novel. Because of the stupid TOC in the front. I can’t make a decision on three paragraphs, so I don’t buy it.

    I stopped being an Amazon customer years ago, and the things I see them doing to us indies continually reaffirms my decision not to do business with them as a customer.

    Like

    • We hand-code all our HTML from scratch (or very nearly), rather than using Calibre, which is why we ran into this issue. I’m something of a perfectionist (which is why none of our books will ever go through Smashwords Meat Grinder), and when I started doing the coding, I’d never seen any mention of NCX, so it never occurred to me that our books were lacking in that respect. It was a long two-week period, but I’ve since updated everything.

      Again, this was several months ago, so is likely not tied to the problems we’re seeing now, but it was back then, so something to note for those authors/publishers like me who didn’t know about it.

      Like

      • As a reader, books definitely need an NCX table of contents,(it’s annoying when they don’t have one) and I’ve been including a mini toc at the front, “Start reading/full table of contents /about the author(or,”other books by this author ” /copyright information” and I’ll bet that this satisfies Amazon. These are nice because they’re a quick way for the reader tojump past all the front matter.

        Like

      • Fwiw, Jutoh is a great program for building ebooks. Much easier than html encoding, and cleaner than Calibre.

        Like

      • Chong, I’d like to get Jutoh at some point, but I can’t afford it yet. That’s how tight my budget is at the moment. In the meantime, I’m happy with the way Calibre and Libre Office work together. I have great looking files that 99% of the time go through validation with zero errors. The key to a clean Calibre epub is to convert straight from the Libre/Open Office ODT file format. Trying to do it with a PDF or even a DOCX leaves you with a lot of manual editing to do.

        I don’t do Smashwords either. The requirements are ridiculous, and Meatgrinder is one of the most outdated pieces of software currently in operation. Draft2Digital built a conversion engine that makes beautiful epubs, and all you have to do is make sure you use page breaks and have your chapter headings in a bigger point size. They have all sorts of cool stuff in their back-end for us, and I adore their service and the support team.

        Like

  44. and trolls always point out speill and grammar errors.. What a loser, no wonder your crying to Amazon. your probably a socialist or democrat and feel entitled to make money on amazon instead of actually earning it.. loser.

    Like

  45. You know where I found your post? On a small author facebook group and I will make sure I spread the word as others are doing.. You long book authors started this battle, well we short book authors know how to win. We have proven that time and time again, after each time you forced amazon to make a change, we changed and end up making more money. But I think it’s time we short authors start fighting back and doing some complaining of our own. And I will be leading that battle, I know thousands of short book authors..

    Like

  46. I have a TOC at the front of my books, but somehow in the process of going from Word doc to .mobi, I now have TOC’s at the end. I thought Amazon was doing it! I am using Calibre to do the conversion, now thinking I must have something set wrong that is making that happen. Yikes!

    Like

    • cvwriter says:

      You aren’t doing anything wrong. The default setting for MOBIs on Calibre is to have the TOC at the end. There’s a setting you can click when creating them that will put it in the front.

      Like

  47. T.A. Grey says:

    Reblogged this on Write On! and commented:
    A look into one of the negative aspects of Kindle Unlimited. I recently read a book on KU that had this same clickbait in the front of the book. I had never seen it before, so I clicked but it was for nothing I wanted — a sort of “special offer”. It wasn’t until I clicked that I realized the whole point was an effort to ensure the author receives full payout for their book. Such drastic measures only seems to point to further issues with the KU system.

    Like

  48. Tammy Salyer says:

    Has anyone heard if this is only affecting authors in Kindle Select?

    Like

  49. Linda Lee says:

    I downloaded the booklet “Building Your Book for Kindle Using Microsoft Word” from Amazon in 2013. Under the section titled “Building the Front Matter of Your Book,” I found the directions for placement of the Table of Contents and how to insert a hyperlink. Then again, the booklet was specific to Word and Kindle. Obviously, other publishing platforms are different.

    Thanks for the informative article, David.

    Like

  50. Amazon removed one of my titles for a week directly after a BookBub ad because (get ready) the author-produced ebook didn’t exactly match the structure of the original publisher paperback per the “Look Inside” of the paperback. I had no warning on that one, either.

    And yeah, it totally destroyed the promotion/cost me big monies. Here’s hoping that BB will be understanding if I ever work up the nerve to submit that book again.

    Like

    • Jackie Weger says:

      @DorannaDurgin: That is downright scary because many of us who own and indie publish our backlist, revise our original mss. Wow. Am I missing something?

      Like

      • Well, it was a mistake on their part and it was acknowledged to be a mistake–it just took them a stupid-long time to fix it and I was the one who paid for the stupid (it took most of that time to convince them they were comparing two separate editions, and then they had to wait for the “right person” to be on shift to fix it).

        My front matter, which previously alluded to light changes, is now pretty specific about such things (not that it would have stopped them, but in terms of CYA you do what you can do…). But the situation is a good example of how slap-happy Amazon is when it comes to yanking books, especially if the book is seeing a surge of sales. Had they given me a warning notice, I could have prevented the whole mess.

        Like

  51. Linda Lee says:

    Reblogged this on The Write Stuff and commented:
    #Amazon #publishing #tips: Building the Front Matter of Your Book for KDP–more specifically, where the Table of Contents belongs…

    Like

  52. Pingback: Amazon Takes Aim At Scammers But Hits Authors | Kentucky Mountain Girl News

  53. Thank you for sharing this information, David. Maybe I’m missing something, but how does having the TOC at the beginning help the situation of people clicking to the end? By placing the TOC at the beginning, we are actually giving people the tools needed to simply click to any part in the book without having to page through it. Of course the user could already do that with the menu button, but this is even more in your face. I feel that this is just encouraging more click through to end scenarios…

    Like

  54. I feel there are two issues being conflated here. First, placing the TOC in the back IS a poor practice and it is one that can cause issues with file validation when an author is not careful and not technically adept. I know this because I spend a lot of time volunteering to fix files for authors. Naturally, that means I’m seeing the ones that are the most borked up, but there you go. So, first, the reason authors started moving material to the back rather than the front where the ePub specification actually says it belongs (Amazon’s documentation more or less follows the ePub standards as to best practices not specifically related to Kindle engineering) was to give readers the best, most relevant sample.

    Amazon’s decision to provide the sample material from the physical first file to the calculated end portion rather than, say, the start location provide by the start tag or the guide section (or the ePub 3 equivalent), meant that readers of fiction would get a sample that was not relevant to their purchasing decision. That is, all that front matter instead of the story. Totally understandable. And Amazon is to blame for putting fiction authors in that position.

    Scammers/spammers who load the portion of their book viewable in preview or a sample with scammy crap would (and could) do so regardless of Amazon’s method of implementing a more customer friendly sample/preview technology. They’d just figure out where to put their spam regardless.

    And so, the problem isn’t really the TOC. It belongs in the front where all the standards orgs say it should be.

    With a properly coded file, Amazon could easily exclude certain material from the normalized page calculations. I completely agree with the criticism of Amazon in that regard and with their ham-handed “solution .” It’s lazy on their part AND it’s a problem, in part, of their own making.

    Lastly, the comments to this post demonstrate that many have NOT read the IDPF ePub standards or spent time at the Dublin Core documentation. Both those organizations have explicit descriptions of the standards and the reasons for them. In addition, it’s clear several commenters have never looked at how programs like Calbre or Jutoh construct their files. The ones have I have seen (because I have fixed them for others) do not come close to complying with the standards. Not even close.

    I wish authors didn’t have to be experts in what’s going on under the hood. It’s a disgrace but as yet there is NO 1-click tool that produces a clean, fully compliant file.

    Like

    • Tony says:

      I just did a quick search through the IDPF ePub standards and couldn’t find anything stating that the TOC should be at the beginning of the doc. Would you link to that for us? Its useful information.

      Like

  55. Pingback: Kindle authors, move your TOC…or else | Christina L Rivers

  56. Pingback: Thinking Like a Publisher | Self-Published Authors Helping Other Authors

  57. dorothyanneb says:

    Reblogged this on DA's Ephemera and Etceteras and commented:
    I don’t fully understand why you’d ever put a TOC at the end of a book unless you were trying to scam the system yourself, but there you go.

    Like

  58. kingmidget says:

    I realize that with e-books things are slightly different, but since when do fiction books need tables of contents? I have TOCs for my short story collections, but I don’t have TOCs for my two novels. If you just have numbered chapters, what do you need a TOC for?

    Like

    • C. S. Lakin says:

      They don’t. Not only do I edit fiction for authors and publishers, I also format many. I’ve never seen a TOC in the back of any ebooks myself.

      Like

      • kingmidget says:

        But they don’t belong in the front either. I think the problem is that with e-books people expect hyperlinks to take them to different chapters. But with a novel that doesn’t really make sense. I’m wondering when Amazon will kill my novels because there is no TOC.

        Like

  59. gregwithnail says:

    I’m not convinced putting ToC at the back is as common as you suggest; I have NEVER seen this!
    I don’t think it’s as universally helpful as you state; if I’m considering buying a non-fiction book, I *want* to see a detailed ToC in the sample.
    That said, Amazon is behaving in typically arrogant fashion here. Their job is to sell *our* work, not to interfere with it. Even if Amazon is right about where the ToC should be, an author who believes otherwise should be entitled to shoot himself in the foot.
    Is this the thin end of the wedge? What next? Emails from Amazon complaining that the “Return with Elixir” is in the wrong place? Quotas on characters representing minority groups?
    What we ought to be doing is standing up for ourselves en masse, rather than running for cover. I know it’s easier said than done, but a bit of solidarity and defiance wouldn’t go amiss. (And on a related note: WTF is it with including an Amazon link with your invitation to support Walter Jon Williams? If people respond to that, Amazon will perceive it as a vindication. “See, we were right. We made you change your book and now there’s a spike in sales.”) It was a fine and noble thing to include links to buy Mr Williams’s work, but Amazon needs to be punished for this, not rewarded. Ditch that link and leave the competitors’!)

    Like

    • I’m on the move atm, but I just wanted to specifically address the point regarding including an Amazon link: aside from anything else, because it would deliver the maximum benefit to Walter Jon Williams – which is the point. I think we’ll disagree if we get deeper into the weeds on Amazon but I’m confident we’ll agree on that much.

      Like

  60. C. S. Lakin says:

    This really shouldn’t be an issue for fiction writers. Novel have little to no reason to include a TOC. Some distributors like Draft2Digital will auto include a TOC for ebook, but those default to the front. Honestly, in all the years I’ve been editing hundreds of manuscripts, formatting ebooks, and reading ebooks, I’ve never seen a TOC put in the back or heard of doing so. Nor would I ever recommend putting one in a novel at all. What’s the point? For nonfiction, though, it’s a good warning, although logic tells you that it serves no purpose to have a TOC at the end, after the reader has finished reading a book.

    Like

  61. I was literally bemoaning a front-of-book TOC last night! Reading a random book I downloaded, I had real trouble getting past the TOC, because I’m using a Paperwhite, and have to touch the edges of the screen to turn the page. Well, when the TOC links extend right up to the edge of the page because the chapter headings are long (or the font is large), it’s almost impossible to page past the buggers without hitting them, and being whisked off to the middle of the book! Which, on a Paperwhite, takes about 5 minutes to get back from…
    Grrrr!

    Like

  62. Thank you for this article, David. I have re-blogged it with a link to your site.
    I’ve also moved all my TOC’s!

    Like

  63. acflory says:

    Reblogged this on Meeka's Mind and commented:
    Scary new development for all Indie authors. The big message is: if you have your Table of Contents at the back, move it to the front. ASAP! Read David Gaughran’s complete article to understand why.

    Like

  64. Claire Ryan says:

    David, I remember talking to you about the KENPC and how Amazon was likely calculating that and the number of pages read. I think this is two separate issues, roughly related to each other.

    Amazon calculates the KENPC from the Start Reading Location to the end of the file, with the text being normalized based on whatever they’ve decided in the default settings. But the actual amount of pages read is based on the percentage stored in a bookmark; Amazon does this for every book regardless of whether it’s a KU book or not, so it’s convenient. Read% x KENPC = pages read by that user.

    The problem there is that you can move the bookmark to the end, and it will store the % as 100.

    If I recall right, we did talk about this exact issue as a possible problem with KU. I assumed then, and I still think so now, that there was no way in all the hells that Amazon relied solely on the Read% to determine the pages read, because it’s a blindingly obvious flaw in the algorithm to any programmer with a brain, and Amazon employs some of the best tech people around. I would surmise, based on their response to the scammers, that they know full well what they’re trying to do, and they’re basically treating it like it’s not a problem because they can distinguish between pages read as a result of a reader naturally progressing through a book, and a reader who skips to the end. The scammers certainly hope that the skip works, but if we’re to assume that this is the case, then we’d have to assume that Amazon’s KU team are total idiots.

    The other side to this is that Amazon likely can’t tell the difference between a legit TOC, and one with skip links inserted into it, using automated means. A hyperlink is a hyperlink, as far as a computer is concerned. Hence, any attempted crackdown on scammers trying out skip links is probably doomed from the start.

    So, the TOC position – well, I think the TOC position is relevant because Amazon calculates the KENPC from the Start Reading Location, which (I believe) may be automatically determined from the position of the TOC. In many books, though not all, the SRL can be counted as the start of the first segment after the TOC. When I was doing some research into the KENPC I found that some books opened to a weird location because their TOC was at the end.

    The SRL is known to be very oddball, and whatever means Amazon uses to calculate it is not bulletproof. I think they’re cracking down on the TOC position now because it’s become enough of an issue in KU to warrant it. I say this because, if the TOC position were the problem, forcing their users to adhere to a new standard would be the simplest and most cost effective solution. (They don’t have to pay a developer to code around it, they can automatically notify people, etc etc.)

    That’s what I know I’d do if I were faced with this and I was told there was no budget for dev work to fix it.

    Like

  65. Pingback: De Gouden Regels Uitgediept, Deel VI | Maria Staal

  66. Reblogged this on Alison Williams Writing and commented:
    A really important post for all self-published authors.

    Like

  67. Cat-Gerlach says:

    ouch – with 27 published titles and a very slow Internet connection moving the TOCs will be more than a day.

    Like

  68. Cat-Gerlach says:

    Reblogged this on Independent Bookworm and commented:
    Important for authors only.

    Like

  69. I’m stupefied that Amazon is acting so stupidly. I don’t think it’s too difficult to create a program that counts the actual pages read… Anyway, I hope they will hear your concerns and take actions. All authors should thank you for your efforts (thank you, so.)
    I reported the scammer you show as an example, by the way.

    Like

  70. I’ve posted an update above but I’ll copy it here for anyone following comments. The story gets worse.

    UPDATE March 12:

    Turns out there is a lot more to this story, all of it worrying and none of it reflecting well on Amazon. I have a contact at KDP who I emailed two days ago and didn’t get any response. Which is poor, but exactly fits with how Amazon has handled this issue.

    The problem is much more serious than outlined above. And Amazon is fully aware of what is happening and is doing very little about it. The only conclusion I can draw is that Amazon doesn’t care.

    So here’s what I’ve been hearing over the last 24 hours: the scammer examples I linked to are actually quite tame. The serious guys aren’t just using TOCs to inflate their page reads, but, as I speculated in the post, links to the back of the book, footnotes, and all sorts of other wheezes (like filling books with page breaks, filling books with the same text in 10 different languages – done by Google Translate – and then having a link go to the English version at the back, etc. etc.).

    In other words, cracking down on rear TOCs is completely pointless and is only causing the innocent to suffer. Good job Amazon!

    And these scammers are far more successful than the examples linked to above. Many have been in receipt of All-Star Bonuses – taking that money from the authors who truly deserved it. Again, all of this has been reported to Amazon. Aside from not demanding the return of these fraudulently achieved bonuses and giving it to the authors who should have received them, Amazon is failing to sanction the culprits other than taking down the individual reported book – meaning the scammers are allowed to continue using these tricks in the rest of their books (and the most successful have giant catalogs), which don’t seem to be checked. This is basic stuff. Amazon should be checking the rest of their books, banning repeat offenders, withholding royalties, and giving the bonuses to those who should have received them. But Amazon is simply not taking this seriously.

    It gets worse.

    The main guy at the centre of this has been printing money – getting up to a million page reads A DAY (from a screenshot he posted). He was named on a KBoards thread, and you can dig that info out yourself if you wish, and he also appears to be selling a turnkey scammer system for $47 a pop to internet marketer types who want to grab some of this “easy” KU cash – one of the reasons this has exploded lately. He also has a private Facebook group with over 1,000 members learning his tricks.

    All of this was reported to Amazon publicly and privately weeks ago. Detailed information was sent to the jeff@ Amazon email address. But no action has been taken, aside from the piecemeal, half-hearted attempts to take down a book here and there. Meanwhile, these guys continue to rake it in – at everyone else’s expense.

    This is simply not good enough, and we need to send that message very clearly to Amazon.

    Like

    • Claire Ryan says:

      Oh wow… I take it all back. Amazon are employing actual idiots on the KU team.

      Like

      • Claire, you’ll be interested in the nitty gritty here. The scams are so simple and obvious that I refuse to believe that Amazon couldn’t stop this if they actually started taking the problem seriously: http://selfpubli.eu/index.php/selfpublishing/67-die-betruegermaschen-im-kindle-unlimited-system#English

        Like

      • Patrick Szabo says:

        The people that spearheaded KU are desperate for it to be a success. Their jobs likely depend on it, thus they’re pretty much turning a blind eye on the actual problem.

        Like

      • They are not idiots. These scammers are sending tons of traffic to Amazon via Facebook ads. They also actively encourage readers to join KU. And for Amazon.. well how many KU subscribers are there really. Amazon never tells us. My guess has always been that KU is pure profit for Amazon. Not too mention the additional traffic it draws to their website where people will stay and buy other products. Indies are now pushed in a corner where KU is pretty much the only game in town. Why should Amazon settle for a lousy 30% per sale, when they can now just pay out pennies per book. Also, since the money is in a pool, they can just us authors battle it out “Hunger Games” style. They are not losing money.. I’m sure of it. They are making money. Authors lose out. Amazon wins. They’ll only make a move when KU members complain. They could give one whit what happens to authors.

        Like

    • S. J. Pajonas (spajonas) says:

      I’m ready to send a stern email and ask for all my books to be pulled out of Select. I wonder if they would do it. I don’t want to be associated with these scammers and they’re bleeding the legitimate authors dry.

      Like

    • Jackie Weger says:

      March 12, 2016
      David: You are correct: I browsed some of the reviews on several of the catfisher/scam artist books and readers are complaining about books in different languages when the book page data says English language. Oddly, QC has NOT asked the authors of these books to move the TOC to front of book matter. Some of the scammers are on alert to remove the CLICK HERE from the first page in Look Inside. That Click Here notice has been moved to text beyond the Look Inside. Readers are commenting how annoying for the notice to pop up in bold red during their reading experience. IMO, the situation is in meltdown. I cancelled $600 in Ad campaigns on four units. I will cancel my KU and Prime subscriptions. That is the only way I can protest. Weather’s great in my neck of the woods. I’m going fishing.

      Like

  71. Reblogged this on R. Harrison, Author and commented:
    publishing is already hard enough

    Like

  72. merewoman says:

    Reblogged this on Susie Kelly – Writer and commented:
    How scammers are cheating authors.

    Like

  73. Pingback: Amazon Takes Aim At Scammers But Hits Authors | Susie Kelly - Writer

  74. Pingback: Amazon pulls e-books over table of contents placement - TeleRead News: E-books, publishing, tech and beyond

  75. jahunter13 says:

    Reblogged this on JAMES A. HUNTER and commented:
    If you’re an author selling your work on Amazon, make sure to check out this great article about a new Amazon formatting policy, which could get your books pulled.

    Like

  76. Pingback: Cómo publicar un libro en Amazon - techleo

  77. Reblogged this on David VanDyke's Author Blog and commented:
    A bad situation all around.

    Like

  78. Pingback: Why Is Amazon Removing Thousands Of Kindle EBooks?

  79. Myra Çakan says:

    WJW is a very decent and well known SF-author. This is so wrong on so many levels. Amazon kept its eyes closed for many month. Writers were complaining over and over and nothing happened. And know, out of the blue, they go right into action – and hit the wrong target.
    German writers are really furious about the situation. We are losing money every month due to these scemmers. They’re all over amazon.de.

    Like

  80. cpbialois says:

    Reblogged this on The BiaLog and commented:
    A definite must read for all authors.

    Like

  81. Slight correction to the above after talking to Walter Jon Williams: his buy button was restored after a few days, rather than a week. The above is corrected (and the rest appears to be correct). It doesn’t make a huge difference, but I just wanted to note my error to keep the story accurate.

    Like

  82. tannerakane says:

    David, hynekp and Ruth Ann Nordin, why include a TOC? From what I’ve been told, Kindles are able to bookmark a point in a book. I’ve never included a TOC in my books, nor has Amazon contacted me over the fact. Please clarify.

    Like

    • Hynek Palatin says:

      I just quoted Amazon guidelines. I’m not advocating them. That said, how does the ability to create bookmarks replace the TOC functionality? Let’s say you’re reading Chapter 7 and want to revisit Chapter 4. With a logical TOC, you just tap Go to > Chapter 4 and then Go to > Chapter 7. What would you do if you didn’t have a bookmark for Chapter 4?

      Like

  83. And thanks all for the Herculean effort with sharing. 6,000 views on the post. Twitter has been great but the lion’s share came from Facebook this time – but thanks to all, wherever you shared.

    Like

  84. Hutch says:

    Amazon needs to hire a good technical product manager to just crackdown on various KDP/KU scams; one that understands how hamfisted simplistic crackdowns that punish normal indies are not the way to approach this issue.

    That said, it should be fairly simple to code protection against allowing jumps to the back of the book to count in the % of pages read. Doing a simple highest page displayed = highest page displayed that also had the previous 5-10 pages before it also displayed. Would defeat most simple links to the back. I am curious too about the effects of having Endnotes in a book, as essentially they have the same effect as a back of the book TOC link-wise…? Hope that the wisdom of the crowd in stamping out the cheaters is not lost on Amazon in the long run.

    Like

  85. Pingback: Tables of Contents in Ebooks: Yes! | QA Productions

  86. Maggie Dana says:

    David, it seems to me that David whatshisname from the NYT who’s always bashing Amazon could have a field day with this story and, for once, it might benefit indie authors on KDP/KU. If nothing else, it would alert readers who don’t know (or care about authors) about the scams going on. Thoughts, anyone?

    Like

    • Hell will freeze over, I tell thee, before that happens!

      Like

      • Maggie Dana says:

        Am not computing this. If David from the NYT loves to bash Amazon, why wouldn’t he bash them for this? It’s not exactly complimentary to Amazon.

        Like

      • Because I don’t trust David Streitfeld at all. I think he is intellectually dishonest and completely self-serving, and I strongly suspect he would seek to further his own agenda rather than actually attempt to help the situation. I’m interested in solving the problem whereas he would seek to throw rocks for the sake of giving Amazon a black eye.

        Like

      • Maggie Dana says:

        OK, now I get this. So is there anyone else in the mainstream media who’d take this on? That said, I imagine you’ve already thought of this. Who else can we give a heads-up to about this situation with Amazon and KU? It needs wider exposure, which I know you’re trying for and I support you 100%. But there are times when I feel that all of us are preaching to the choir. Nobody outside this circle is getting the message, and it needs to be sent to readers who are also Amazon customers. They are the only ones who could possibly influence Amazon in any way.

        Like

  87. Important Update: I heard that Amazon is aware of the issue, has read the reports, and is on the case. Don’t have much more to share than that.

    Like

    • Maggie Dana says:

      This is good news, and I know you will keep us informed. Thank you, again, David, for all the work you do on behalf of writers everywhere.

      Like

      • Jackie Weger says:

        Hi, Maggie: Like David, I know for a fact the Amazon’s Executive office is aware of the issue. But! Amazon is treating this as a Customer Relations situation. IMO, it is NOT the done thing to put the onus on the reader to resolve the problem between KDP authors and Kindle Unlimited payout and Quality Control. QC has to stop the scammers at point of publication. It appears KU/KENP software as written cannot do that.

        Like

  88. Sherrie says:

    Thanks for this article and for the update. That’s definitely good news. Hopefully, they’ll resolve it soon, and if we’re lucky, claw back some of those ill-gotten earnings and distribute them to those who have been cheated these past few months.

    Like

  89. Pingback: Amazin’ Amazon? Or Unlimited Fail? Part IV – SB James, Doing the Write Thing

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  93. Sara says:

    Since this mostly regards Kindle Unlimited / Kindle Lending Library setup, I’m inclined now to not put any books into the KLL section, simply because my own experience has shown that people want the free book but don’t want to take the time to read it.
    My understanding of KU was that the annual fee eliminated the delivery fee per copy for the reader and the KLL section of free books was simply checking the book out. Since the rules were changed and you get paid for only the first time pages are read, what is the use of putting any book in the KLL at all? With this issue, I have no interest in using the KLL section at all any more, and will avoid it. It’s annoying to work hard at something, try to do a good job, and then you get nothing in return because people just can’t be bothered.
    Thanks for the article, David. Please continue with these heads-up discussions.

    Like

    • Jackie Weger says:

      Hi, Sara. I’m trying to sort your comment. People are not obliged to read our books. Even if one buys an ebook and it lives on a Kindle or archived in our Amazon library, we get paid once for the purchase, not each time the book is read–or if even if it is never read. KU subscribers may rotate ten books at a time in and out of KU. I often download books only to discover a story does not hold my interest or perhaps I am not in the mood for a certain type of book and I will return it for another. My priviledge. And yours. I am not under any obligation to the author to read his or her book. I support my colleagues and I buy their books outright. But if my colleagues told me once I bought their books that I was obliged to stop my life and read them, I’d say: Dream on.

      Like

  94. Pingback: SCAMAZON – Amazon “Kindle Unlimited” Scammers Netting Millions

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  97. There seems to be a school of thought out there (and one I believe Amazon may subscribe to) that this problem is not as serious as it looks, that these books are largely invisible to the reading public, and that the remainder will be taken care of by the market, get no word of mouth, get dinged with one stars, etc. This theory argues that these scammers work on volume and don’t actually do well with individual titles.

    That’s true for the most part, but some of these scammers are slick and are getting much slicker too. One “author” I spotted has actually invested in (or stolen, perhaps) decent covers. Those books are riding high in the charts. They are #1 in Hot New Releases for its categories. (And they are not new releases either – another wheeze, one which was raised with Amazon in 2013 btw).

    Now, this particular “author” has tons of one-star reviews complaining that the book is filled with junk content, that the reader has to skip to 95% through the book to find the actual book, etc. etc.

    One of the one star reviewers even said that she CALLED Amazon to complain, and they said they would “investigate the author.”

    That was in January…

    Like

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  99. Reblogged this on 38 Caliber Reviews and commented:
    Third in a series of articles on cheating the system and reviewing scams. If you don’t follow David Gaughran you should.

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  101. AJ says:

    Great article. I’m very glad someone else has posted about this. I’m not a blogger but I was so incensed that I did a blog post about it a while ago and in there I named the main offender. I have no issue with naming him publicly, he should be called out. And yes, they are taking tens of thousands of dollars out of the pot and away from legitimate authors and Amazon aren’t doing a thing. Here is a link to my post about it: http://scribesunite.blogspot.co.uk/p/this-is-my-first-ever-blog.html (I also joined his FB group to have a nose around and believe me, I came away feeling very dirty indeed!)

    Like

  102. Pingback: Why is Amazon removing Thousands of Kindle eBooks? – Good E | kindle unlimited

  103. Ali Isaac says:

    Guess that affects me then… my TOCS are at the back of my books, always have been, so that potential readers get a better sample to read. Everything new they have implemented recently seems designed to work against the author. I know what I’ll be doing tomorrow, and it won’t be working on my latest WIP.

    Like

  104. gvkbj says:

    After reading David’s books, I was actually convinced to move the TOC to the end instead of the beginning. That is obviously a serious warning but also difficult to understand.

    Like

    • Jackie Weger says:

      David: I saw that announcement. And as you say, ambiguous. I got one of the QC notices to move my TOC to back of book. Before I did I asked was this a new firm and fast rule. The answer from KDP was a resounding YES. So, I paid to have the ToC moved to front of all of my units. I also shared the email from KDP that said TOC at Front of Book was a rule. I personally know 62 authors who moved the TOC based on that KDP email. Pffft. I’ll pay the formatter again to move the ToC to back of book matter–but NOT until my next scheduled Bookbub promo is well and done. Woot. I like Amazon and I am NOT moving my books out of Select. I said it to the Amazon executive office and I’ll say it again here: Those 3000 page units with the live Click Here message on the first page to activate KENP pages read need to be stopped at point of publication. It will be lovely when Amazon gets this situation under control.

      Like

  105. Update: I spoke to someone from Amazon yesterday evening.

    I had, as you can imagine, a long list of questions. They will have to come back to me on most of those, but this is what I can share for now:

    (a) Amazon didn’t confirm whether the TOC mess was related to its own efforts to stop scammers, but did admit that there were enforcement issues around TOCs and apologized for same. It will be reviewing those procedures to try and prevent a recurrance.

    (b) Amazon will be trying to make it right with authors like Walter Jon Williams. It can’t discuss particulars but will begin reaching out to affected authors shortly.

    (c) It sounds like the matter is being taken seriously and Amazon appreciates all the scammer reports (which you should continue making). It has its own processes for identifying this stuff, and has been investigating this stuff itself, but your reports also help. Amazon doesn’t publicize such efforts because it doesn’t want to broadcast scamming techniques before they can plug the holes, but they are attempting to deal with it.

    That doesn’t cover everything. Far from it. But there were plenty of issues I raised that Amazon said they will be coming back to me on. Questions like:

    1. When will Amazon have a system in place which can actually count which pages were read, rather than skipped?

    2. When removing a scammer’s book, why does Amazon not look at their other titles?

    3. Will Amazon be attempting to claw back bonuses paid to scammers, and will they be paying those bonuses to the authors which should have received them instead?

    4. These scammers tend to be breaking all sorts of other rules too – it’s one easy way to identify them. Will Amazon have a more rigorous process to police such behaviors – e.g. title keyword stuffing – in the future?

    5. Will Amazon be updating the Kindle Publishing Guidelines and other Help Pages with regard to TOCs? The statement yesterday said that people now don’t have to move their TOCs but there is conflicting (and ambiguous) information out there. Will this be clarified?

    6. It hasn’t yet been established if any of the filler content these scammers are using was plagiarized, but that wouldn’t be a huge surprise given how little of that stuff the plagiarism tool actually seems to catch. Are there plans to improve same?

    7. There are hundreds of millions of dollars which are going to be paid out by KU this year. Is it too much to ask that some resources go towards policing this stuff?

    And there was lots more too – we had quite a long talk. That’s all I can remember off the top of my head. I’ll update again with any responses.

    Like

    • Thanks for the update, David.

      I’d love to know exactly who you spoke to at Amazon. For once I’d like an actual name and job title to attach to a statement, so we can come back and follow up when the promises of change are predictably forgotten or subverted.

      It seems incredible to me that a company like Amazon chooses to channel so much of its communication through account reps in the form of Chinese whispers (it was a rep who assured Selena Kitt that Amazon knew if a reader actually read a page, and didn’t just skip over it). We know full well these people have zero credibility, and they seem to enjoy making things up on the spot to placate angry authors.

      Like

    • Thanks for this, David.

      The part that probably confuses me the most is why they’re not permanently shutting down the accounts and Social Security numbers of the people doing this. That would seem simple enough to me – you have 15 books in extreme violation of TOS, that should be enough to get you closed down permanently. Ditto to the people bragging on YouTube about their scams. They’re openly and publicly admitting to it and should lose their accounts as a result.

      I also don’t get why the Amazon IT team did this when it should be very easy to keep track of pages read. My husband’s a programmer and as soon as I asked him, he came up with a solution in under thirty seconds. Maybe Amazon needs new programmers.

      Like

  106. I’m really glad so many authors spoke up and confronted Amazon. I doubt anything would’ve been done without that! I’m seeing some of the more established scammers books disappearing for good. Maybe they’ve pulled and repubbed, who knows? One thing that’s important to understand whether you are in kU or not. These scam books really hurt visibility. Readers don’t want to wade through pages and pages of this junk, in order to find the “real books”. Thanks for speaking up Dave.

    Like

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  110. Áine says:

    I think I have found another problem with their page counter. I can send you a screen print off line if you provide your email address. I have a Wi-Fi kindle. I keep the Wi-Fi off most of the time. If I do not manually “re synchronize,” the page counter does not know I have read pages. My kindle software displays only 1% for the Bachelor Farmers (read the whole book and reviewed it). Same for MANY other books: shows only 75% for Butcher’s Broom; only 98% for Cannery Row; 0% for Everyone But Us; 0% for Song of the Sea and on. I would estimate that most of their percentages are completely wrong. These percentages appeared after Amazon demanded I update the software on my Kindle recently. I did not turn Wi-Fi on and synchronize before upgrading the software. So, I think many authors are being cheated because of what seems to be a requirement to update on the reader’s part.

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  111. Pingback: Amazon Comments on TOC Crackdown, Inadvertently Confirms Kindle Unlimited Page Count Scam | The Digital Reader

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  113. siobhandaiko says:

    Reblogged this on Siobhan Daiko and commented:
    Move your TOCs to the front of your books!

    Like

  114. Alisha "Priti" Kirpalani says:

    Thank you for the information and your diligence. Another area that Amazon really needs to look into is wrong genre placement. My ebook “A Smattering of Darkness” has suffered because anybody who visits the Literature and Fiction section under Anthology and Short Story on Amazon India will be submerged in semi porn and frivolous titles which completely destroy the credibility of books like mine, which genuinely belong to that genre. This is really an uphill battle and it is of no use that a book has 4.5 + rating and over 30 reviews. No reader of Literature and Fiction wants to wade through that misleading cesspool.

    Like

  115. Eve Anderson says:

    Interesting, the headline of tge article appears at Google but when you want to read the page are erased?????

    Like

  116. Eve Anderson says:

    I sent without finish. I had to go directly to the Web so I can read it. Also, Amazon an her KU is a mess.

    I don’t support it. I buy, I choose how many books and many authors & genres I want.

    I loved to read…

    Like

  117. gipsika says:

    David, I’m trying to follow your blog and can’t find the button! Help please?

    Like

  118. gipsika says:

    Wow David, what a powerful post! I don’t have anything in KDP-s but I had no idea it was scammed so heavily. But of course, why should it not? It’s a huge opportunity for scammers, and the world is full of them. It’s bad news for the honest authors! I have an uneasy feeling about all ebook subscription programs anyway. What are your thoughts on them in general?

    Like

  119. I just wanted to thank you for being a warrior against Amazon for all us indie authors. When I first started self-publishing in 2011, I loved Amazon and the freedom to be my own publisher, but I do shake my head when they do (and continue to do) crazy things like this. Thank you for being a voice of reason! I will be sharing this post on my Facebook page with all my author buddies. Knowledge is (sometimes) power!

    Like

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  121. When there’s a table of contents, I find it’s VERY important for it to be in the free preview. Much more important than the Acknowledgements, or Author’s note, Dedication, Preface or whatever else is in the beginning of said book.

    It’s not important for fiction. For non-fiction, business, self-help, etc. it’s of VITAL importance.

    If they inadvertently cracked down on fiction titles, that’s a problem. But all non-fiction should have an accurate (not misleading) TOC at the beginning of the book.

    Like

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  125. Chad says:

    I have been a victim of this so called resolve. More than 10 titles have been removed as we speak. I wrote those titles painstakingly and cannot imagine i have been left without a source of income. I don’t know where to start and what to do. If only there was a way to reach out and clarify that i am a genuine author. Every day that passes is more stressful than the last.

    The other issue has been reviews. It is a fact that you are never going to please every customer. how does Amazon always take the side of the customer? what will happen when all authors decide to publish elsewhere because Amazon only sees one side. Aren’t there always two sides to a coin?

    There are many reasons why one would write a bad review:

    1) He/she is just a pessimist. He/she sees nothing good in everything.

    2) He/she buys a book without reading the description and ends up saying it wasn’t what he expected. Hellloooo!…..the book description lists all you need to know

    3) Competitors – there are malicious people out there. if you are in the same genre, it is likely that there are a bunch of other unscrupulous competitors who will do anything to sell. They cannot offer value so they capitalize on killing their competitors by writing bad reviews.

    It is beyond infuriating and i had no idea scammers were lengthening their books intentionally. I only hope Amazon can resolve this issue and return our titles.

    i understand there are many unscrupulous authors out there, but do the genuine ones have to suffer for it?

    This is quite disheartening. Amazon should make things right.

    Like

    • Anonymous says:

      You forgot another reason why people leave bad reviews.

      Because your book sucks.

      I don’t know why authors refuse to count that as a possibility, but not everyone is a fantastic author writing fantastic books that every single person in the world adores. In fact, if you’re any good at it and have a strong voice, there will be tons of people who hate your work and may leave a review accordingly.

      And it has nothing to do with them being a pessimist or not reading the description (which isn’t actually their responsibility – hellloooo – they are allowed to buy a book because they like the title and cover and didn’t read the description) or being your competition (?).

      You may not like the reviews you’re getting, but instead of assigning fallacious reasons as to why anyone would dare leave you a bad review, maybe you should just accept that for whatever reason, people don’t like your work and do your best to overcome the issues that readers are having.

      I don’t think Amazon needs to do anything with the review system. I’m very pleased with the reviews that I have. Even the negative ones, because people don’t find your reviews credible if you have nothing but positives.

      And how are you caught up in this removal? Are your TOC in the wrong spot? Or are you one of those people who break the Terms of Service by doing things like stuffing your titles full of twenty different keywords that aren’t on your cover?

      Like

      • Rachel Leigh Smith says:

        Amazon does NOTHING to stop the keyword stuffers, even though it’s a violation of KDP Terms of Service. It’s been going on for years. They’d rather target authors who’ve done nothing wrong than go after the ones breaking rules all over the place.

        And Chad, there is a way you can reach out to them. It’s called the Contact tab in your KDP dashboard.

        Like

      • Eve Anderson says:

        I almost agree, readers doesn’t had the responsibility to review, but educate the reader in that…. ME, I READ, REVISE & REVIEW.

        I hate bad grammar. I learn that Reviews are important the “Hard Way” I was following a book series from an author (well known & respected and a big seller) because of the difference of characters & premise of the story.

        I never read the reviews, just the description or blurb. Buy the last book (I was so excited), begin to read and my surprise was HUGE.

        The author just took parts of his previous books, mixed (same paragraphs) disappear the main character(painted at the wall), moved new characters ahead & the END was taken from another of his books (exactly) he doesn’t even change a word.

        I fall once not twice. I begin to research convince myself on the importance of Reviews & how to do it.

        Now, I was in different ARC’s, many authors recommend my name to others. I am TOTALLY HONEST, I don’t review if I don’t read the book & if the book needs work or is a bad, I say it; if is good or excellent too.

        I took my sweet time to research if the author use: dates, historical events or people, time where the book was placed (past, present, future) sci-fi, fantasy, dystopian, etc.

        I read all reviews, learn to put apart when is more “I choose the book but is not what I like to read, when is personal against the author or difficult but you may found it another author”.

        Amazon is weird on many things, authors & readers too. This week, I’m going to buy a book and the author book page had the warning about TOC.

        Also, the scammers are plenty around.

        Like

      • Chad says:

        I have no reason to assume my writing doesn’t suck. That i can take and improve. if at all it is positive criticism. I have had plenty of people who give some advice on what my last book would have included to make things better. However, if you are not new to Amazon, a lot of things do happen. Trust me. Some authors buy reviews and have the capability to improve ranking at any cost. Now you know.

        On TOC; I am aware of the rules and i don’t put TOC’s at the back. I learned this was happening from this article.

        Secondly, I have no reason to stuff keywords in my title. I trust my writing, I have received plenty. PLENTY of good feedback on not just my books but also my sites.

        Like

      • Chad says:

        Note: I am not saying they do away with the review system. I am just saying it should be refined.

        Like

    • Jackie Weger says:

      Chad: If Quality Control pulled ten units from sale, you have a problem either with composition, or you are stuffing the books. Amazon tells you. You may reply to the email, and also contact Amazon inside KDP. I’m on board with Anonymous about reviews. Book buyers are not obliged to do a dang thing with our books. Not read them, or write reviews. I’ve bought dozens of books since the first of the year. Gonna read ’em on vacation or when I find time.

      Like

      • Chad says:

        I don’t think it is either of the two because I have been on Amazon for quite a while. But you never know.

        Like

  126. For anyone else watching, are you seeing any improvement? I’m seeing the titles I mentioned slowly start to come down in piecemeal fashion – but often not all the titles by that author. Same with the books reported by KBoards and others. A marginal improvement on that front.

    But I’m not seeing Amazon have any real effect on the wider problem yet. A search for something like Victorian Romance will show a couple of worrying things. First, that a whole load of new scammer books were published this week alone. Second, that the covers are super slick – obviously leading to readers auto-buying.

    Now, it’s easy for me to find this stuff. Presumably it’s even easier for Amazon. I can see one of the main scammers still publishing new books under the same name – and still with all the click here scams, Spanish translation filler, keyword stuffing in the titles, etc. etc. Amazon doesn’t appear to be stopping these guys at source, and still appears to be taking a very softly softly approach with the obvious culprits.

    So… yeah. The jury is still out on whether Amazon is actually taking this seriously. I’m not 100% convinced yet.

    Like

    • S. J. Pajonas (spajonas) says:

      I’m not seeing any improvement. In fact, I think things are getting worse. I remember two years ago how some people thought self-publishing was leading to a glut of crappy books on Amazon. This new tsunami of scam books is even worse. I reported three connected “authors” to Amazon this past week and they are still selling a few books, though it looks like Amazon took down 80% of their works (which is good… I’ll give Amazon a slow clap for that). You would think, though, that Amazon would ban them completely. I would have. It’s a shame they aren’t taking the sledgehammer to these con artists, but instead are penalizing the legitimate authors.

      Like

    • Jackie Weger says:

      David: I’ve said this to you privately and now I’ll say it in public: I’ve been in contact with Amazon executive office and all of the replies come from Customer Relations, Public Relations and Press staff. Who is in charge of Quality Control? If anybody? The Clickbait books have to be stopped at point of publication. That is NOT happening. It is an automated system–not hands on. Software has to be written to trigger a live review of
      questionable books. That is not happening either. Moreover, subsequent replies from the PR folks are getting testy. Amazon does not like us getting in its face with this issue.
      Sadly, I do not have high hopes of the situation being resolved any time soon.

      Like

    • Jackie Weger says:

      OMG. David! You are correct. I just looked at the raft of new books in Victorian romances. The scammers have adjusted. 40,000 word units. The ToC is front book matter. The Clickbait message to back of book to Win a Kindle or GC is buried in text beyond the Look Inside feature. Holy smokes.

      Like

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  130. Eve Anderson says:

    I almost agree, readers doesn’t had the responsibility to review, but educate the reader in that…. ME, I READ, REVISE & REVIEW.

    I hate bad grammar. I learn that Reviews are important the “Hard Way” I was following a book series from an author (well known & respected and a big seller) because of the difference of characters & premise of the story.

    I never read the reviews, just the description or blurb. Buy the last book (I was so excited), begin to read and my surprise was HUGE.

    The author just took parts of his previous books, mixed (same paragraphs) disappear the main character(painted at the wall), moved new characters ahead & the END was taken from another of his books (exactly) he doesn’t even change a word.

    I fall once not twice. I begin to research convince myself on the importance of Reviews & how to do it.

    Now, I was in different ARC’s, many authors recommend my name to others. I am TOTALLY HONEST, I don’t review if I don’t read the book & if the book needs work or is a bad, I say it; if is good or excellent too.

    I took my sweet time to research if the author use: dates, historical events or people, time where the book was placed (past, present, future) sci-fi, fantasy, dystopian, etc.

    I read all reviews, learn to put apart when is more “I choose the book but is not what I like to read, when is personal against the author or difficult but you may found it another author”.

    Amazon is weird on many things, authors & readers too. This week, I’m going to buy a book and the author book page had the warning about TOC.

    Also, the scammers are plenty around, but Amazon isn’t exactly “interested” until the pressure is heavy…

    Like

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  133. Sozie says:

    [COMMENT REMOVED]

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    • FYI: I had to remove your comment. It’s not appropriate to post personal information etc. of suspected scammers for all sorts of reasons – not least that you’re putting me in a potential position regarding libel.

      I’ve emailed you your own comment so that you can report that information to Amazon or whomever you wish (and they do encourage such reports).

      — David Gaughran

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  137. Update March 31:

    I spoke with Amazon again at the beginning of last week. Sorry I couldn’t update this post sooner, but (a) I was busy and (b) I wanted to give Amazon some time to try make good on its pledges, and also not make any overly hasty conclusions about its response.

    Amazon opened by saying that it was taking the matter very seriously, that it was a priority, and that it was devoting significant resources to the issue. But Amazon also said that the amount of scamming going on is actually relatively small.

    I found the latter statement a little curious, but, before I get into that, here are responses to the questions posed above (and my thanks to Amazon for answering same):

    1. When will Amazon have a system in place which can actually count which pages were read, rather than skipped?

    Amazon can’t disclose details for obvious reasons, but it is working on a more robust page counting system.

    2. When removing a scammer’s book, why does Amazon not look at their other titles?

    Amazon does look at a scammer’s other titles when removing books and acts accordingly.

    3. Will Amazon be attempting to claw back bonuses paid to scammers, and will they be paying those bonuses to the authors which should have received them instead?

    Amazon clearly stated that it will be clawing back All Star bonuses where scamming has been determined and it will also be awarding those bonuses to the authors who should have received them instead.

    4. These scammers tend to be breaking all sorts of other rules too – it’s one easy way to identify them. Will Amazon have a more rigorous process to police such behaviors – e.g. title keyword stuffing – in the future?

    Amazon already has rigorous systems in place to check for abuses like this.

    5. Will Amazon be updating the Kindle Publishing Guidelines and other Help Pages with regard to TOCs? The statement yesterday said that people now don’t have to move their TOCs but there is conflicting (and ambiguous) information out there. Will this be clarified?

    This should all be updated now and any ambiguity removed.

    6. It hasn’t yet been established if any of the filler content these scammers are using was plagiarized, but that wouldn’t be a huge surprise given how little of that stuff the plagiarism tool actually seems to catch. Are there plans to improve same?

    Amazon is always making improvements to its tools and systems.

    7. There are hundreds of millions of dollars which are going to be paid out by KU this year. Is it too much to ask that some resources go towards policing this stuff?

    Amazon is taking this matter seriously and significant resources are being devoted to this issue.

    I wasn’t hugely satisfied with these responses, as you can imagine. Obviously, something doesn’t quite jive there. If the amount of scamming is small and Amazon is making this matter a priority and devoting significant resources to it, why are we seeing little improvement in the last three weeks?

    Amazon has actually improved its response to direct reports of scamming – I think that’s fair to say. However, it also seems that it’s only titles which are directly reported to Amazon which are being taken down. Amazon doesn’t seem to be making a proactive attempt, independent of those reports, to identify scammers and remove those titles.

    It’s not the job of readers/authors to police the Kindle Store. And if Amazon is paying us all collectively from a fixed pot than it has a duty to prevent fraudulent publishers from engaging in what can only be described as stealing from that pot. But Amazon isn’t just sleeping on the job, it’s leaving the doors unlocked and the windows open underneath a giant neon sign saying FREE MONEY.

    Let’s be very clear about something: we aren’t taking about genuine authors here who are engaging in some extra-curricular shadiness. These scammers are not authors. They are internet marketers who outsource the “writing” of these books (or simply plagiarize and/or rework genuine books in many cases, I suspect). It would be a much trickier problem if we were talking about genuine authors engaging in shady behavior, but that’s not the case. No authors will complain if Amazon takes a hard line with this crowd.

    The second and fourth answers are laughable, quite frankly – demonstrably false PR blandishments which show that Amazon is still hasn’t grasped the seriousness of this issue. But I wanted to wait and see if Amazon actually stepped up its response.

    Even when Amazon does identify a title which has breached its guidelines, it still seems to be taking a kid glove approach with actual scammers. Often the titles are only down temporarily, and then re-uploaded with the same cover/title/author name and only one of the rule breaches addressed. For example, the scammer will often remove the more obnoxious CLICK HERE messaging, but keep the keyword stuffing aimed at flooding search results, and keep the filler content aimed at bloating their page count and payout, and then swap in more subtle inducements to click to the end. I’d have a little more sympathy for Amazon on this front if I didn’t predict exactly this in my original post.

    The scammers have only focused on certain niches to date (mostly certain specific sub-categories of romance and self-help), so you may not be fully aware of how flooded the Kindle Store is with this crap.

    Try searching the Kindle Store for “cowboy romance” or “victorian romance” or “seal romance” or “historical romance” or “regency romance” or “mail order romance” or “amish romance” or “shifter romance” and you will see exactly what I mean. The scammer books are usually immediately obvious from the title-keyword stuffing like “Romance: Regency Romance: [ACTUAL BOOK TITLE]” – in fact most of the scammer books take this exact form, right down to the position of the semi-colons in the title.

    Which makes this stuff incredibly easy to find. If you want to.

    A lot of these books are hovering around the 20,000 mark so maybe Amazon doesn’t think it’s important – but those borrows are taking money from the collective pool and the scammers are doing what scammers always do: they are working on volume. But even at rankings of 20,000 you can grab some decent visibility and squeeze genuine authors out of the sub-category charts. Some scammers are doing much better than that too – I’ve seen scammer titles hovering around the Top 500. And I’m sure there are many, many more titles at worse ranks, but I’m not digging particularly deeply here. Obviously Amazon has infinitely better tools for identifying this stuff. If it wants to.

    Right now, it’s hard to avoid the impression that, PR considerations aside, Amazon simply doesn’t care. I honestly don’t know how anyone could conclude otherwise.

    Like

    • Kat says:

      If a software update is required, three weeks isn’t slow. The code fix itself might be quick, but they’d have to test thoroughly and make sure the fix hasn’t broken anything that was already working.

      The rest… what you said.

      Like

      • Right. No one is expecting all these problems to be solved overnight. It could well be the case that Amazon is putting new systems in place at the same time as trying to deal with a firehose of this crap.

        But I’m not feeling particularly confident that Amazon is taking this issue with the requisite level of seriousness. Saying that Amazon already has good systems in place to deal with things we have seen going on for *years* like title keyword stuffing and publishing date manipulation is a joke. Amazon has done nothing about those issues. If that’s the level of response we are going to get to the newer issues of page count bloating and click here scamming then we really are screwed.

        Like

      • S. J. Pajonas (spajonas) says:

        Their responses are laughable and sad. I thought only *I* (little ol’ me) and people like me got those kinds of answers and the fact that they give them to YOU too makes me shaky with rage. Such BS.

        Like

      • I should note here that I’m summarizing Amazon’s responses (and hopefully I’m doing so fairly, I will amend/update if I hear otherwise). We actually had a lengthy conversation about everything, and we’ve also talked previously by email and phone too. I certainly felt that Amazon was willing to listen to everything I had to say, asked for further details, and was generally curious rather than dismissive or anything like that. I can reassure you on that front.

        But I think Amazon’s analysis of the situation is off and I don’t understand its response to the issue in general.

        Like

      • S. J. Pajonas (spajonas) says:

        Okay, I feel better knowing that they actually talked to you. And I agree that they don’t seem concerned enough. 5000 ranking or better on these scam books is A LOT of books or pages-read as far as I’m concerned (I’m generally in the 200,000+) so I really, really hope they fix this sometime soon. I just got out of Select after this mess started and I don’t plan on trying it again until they make some real headway on this issue. Thanks for going to bat on this, David!

        Like

      • T.A. Grey says:

        Thank you so much for your constant diligence. I actually just complained to Amazon (in their KDP survey) about the ROMANCE: REGENCY ROMANCE (alpha shifter male insta love BBW) DAMIEN’S CHOICE type of title. I use KU and as a romance writer I just so happen to enjoy reading books in the genre I write. I couldn’t believe the number of these titles, often without any apparent following/reviews, that flooded the top search pages. I could easily picture a small sea of “authors” schlepping these books together without any care and then publishing them.

        As a reader it’s annoying, as an author it’s unfair.

        Thanks for staying on top of Amazon’s PR shenanigans.

        Like

      • Gray Cat says:

        Let me say that I support authors, specially Indies. That problem with the SCAMMERS IS HUGE. Amazon is trying to sit on the basket where the cat where ???, but the cat is out & doing more damage to certified hardworkers AUTHORS. I had many authors friends & when I saw problems at Amazon KU, I cancel the subscription faster than Superman. I don’t believe in KU. Look at the problems with TOC & Scammers. Taking the credit of what they didn’t do an affecting authors. Shame on Amazon to be so slow with this.

        Sent from Yahoo Mail on Android

        Like

      • Eve Anderson says:

        Let me say that I support authors, specially Indies. That problem with the SCAMMERS IS HUGE.

        Amazon is trying to sit on the basket where the cat where ???, but the cat is out & doing more damage to certified hardworkers AUTHORS.

        I had many authors friends & when I saw problems at Amazon KU, I cancel the subscription faster than Superman.

        I don’t believe in KU. Look at the problems with TOC & Scammers. Taking the credit of what they didn’t do an affecting authors.

        Shame on Amazon to be so slow with this. I don’t will care to whom doesn’t care for my Favorite Authors & others well.

        Like

  138. Pingback: My Mistake and Amazon: A KDP Lesson for Everyone. | annbenjamin

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  141. Brent Tharp says:

    Although I’m completely on board with crushing the scammers, I’ve got four issues with your post. The first is that Amazon isn’t going to resolve issues like this in a matter or hours or days, but over weeks and months. The second is that over that longer period, you can expect Amazon to take legal and clawback actions to deal with this. It’s not just an ethical issue, but also a marketing issue for Amazon, as the more “authentic” Amazon’s catalog is, the more legitimate it will be to customers. This brings me to three: Amazon is doing a helluva lot more about this problem than Barnes & Noble’s website, which as far as I can tell is doing absolutely nothing. And finally (and not wanting to blame the victim—too much), but seriously—a table of contents in the back of a book? Uh, OK.

    Like

    • 1. That exact point was made here, either in the post itself or the updates, and in the comments. Everyone is aware of this. You haven’t stumbled across new information. What we are looking for is a sign that Amazon is taking this matter seriously – otherwise you will be waiting weeks and months for nothing. And Amazon’s statements and interactions on this matter don’t beget a huge amount of confidence here.

      2. Again, that point was made above.

      3. If you want to make comparisons, the big barrel of fail that is the Barnes & Noble website probably isn’t the best one. Apple is able to do a much better job at combating this scammy crap because they actually have some kind of review system before books go live. They claim everything is human-reviewed, but I suspect there is more than a little automation involved in the process. And they seem to be able to do it without breaking the bank (and Apple has hardly been disposed to torching money on behalf of the iBookstore up to now). So it is possible to do this better, which makes your point redundant.

      4. The reasons why an author or publisher would place a TOC in the back are listed above. Authors and publishers (like Baen) have been doing this for years. Your personal tastes are pretty much irrelevant, except where they demonstrate your inability to look past the end of your nose.

      Liked by 1 person

  142. Pingback: KU Scammers Attack Amazon’s Free Ebook Charts | David Gaughran

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  145. Leah says:

    I have noticed a trend on Facebook lately of websites offering to buy titles from low-levels authors. It has been brought up in a few of my author groups. I wonder in the scammers are going to think ahead and pay a few hundred bucks for low-selling novels to use for these scams to avoid Amazon figuring out their system?

    Like

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  148. Table of Contents debacle question. Were there any updates after March 31 of this year about the TOC being in front or back?

    Following your advice, in July 2015 I published my first non-fiction book with the TOC in the back. It’s a fitness memoir rather than a technical guide so the TOC isn’t really needed. Since then I’ve had several thousand free downloads and several hundred paid sales. Last week, I tweaked a few typos along with adding links to my new author site and second book. Somehow that triggered Amazon’s inspectors and now they’re demanding I move the TOC to the front.

    I can’t tell if the Guidelines file has been updated since your last post. Reading what the info they gave you sounds like it’s a non-issue but wanted to check if this was still an ongoing debate with them.

    Like

    • Hi Chad, I actually got a similar message from Amazon warning about my rear-TOC so this is suddenly a live issue again. I don’t know why or how, I’m trying to get clarification.

      In my case, it’s especially dumb. The title in question is a box set. The TOC is pages and pages long – totally extraneous information. It’s better at the back – for everyone. Indeed, the dumbest part is that I ALSO have a TOC in the front – a truncated one with just the titles of the books. The full chapter-by-chapter TOC is what is in the back. And yet I still got one of these warning emails.

      It’s crazy. I’m trying to find out more. In the meantime, feel free to ask them for clarification. Point them to this post where Amazon said they wouldn’t be enforcing this rule (which is actually a guideline – i.e. a suggestion – not a rule).

      Liked by 1 person

      • Jackie Weger says:

        November 10, 2016: Hi, David. I get the same QC notice every time I change a price or a cover on a unit. I reply that the TOC is in the back of the unit and that I have clarification from the home office [which I do] stating that front TOC is a guideline–not a hard and fast rule. QC replies, ‘Thank you’ and moves on. Mayhap the bots are just checking for the TOC in front matter–not the back and that engenders the QC notice. It is all automated. Best, Jackie Weger .

        Like

      • I finally got this resolved, just in time for a free promo so I’m happy that didn’t get messed up. It took a few emails before I finally got the rep to say explicitly that it’s okay to have the TOC in the back.

        The first reply was vague:

        “Because content published through Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) is held to the same high standards customers have come to expect from Amazon, we don’t allow unnecessary or confusing hyperlinks or misplaced Tables of Contents (TOCs).

        To avoid reader confusion, we recommend placing TOCs at the beginning of your book. TOCs placed at the end won’t elicit penalties on their own, unless we find other related quality issues.

        We don’t allow disruptive bonus content either, since it can take readers away from the main content of your book and result in a poor customer experience.”

        I wrote back to make sure they were giving me the green light and they came back with:

        “You may place the “Table of Content” as the end of the book. However, I would personally recommend you to include it in the front of the book as that is the ideal position for including Table of Content. This will also provide better navigational and reading experience to our readers.”

        Hope this helps others in a similar situation.

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  149. Pingback: TOC must be in the beginning for Kindle - Gilbert Van Kerckhove, author

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