KU Scammers Attack Amazon’s Free Ebook Charts

freescamLast month, Amazon was caught up in a crisis at least partly of its own making when bungled attempts to deal with a growing Kindle Unlimited scammer problem resulted in the sanctioning of innocent authors.

Amazon has since apologized, and has also pledged to beef up its response to the KU scamming mess – but questions very much remain about whether Amazon is taking the problem seriously enough. A quick check shows that some of the main scammers are still operating, under the very same author names and book titles that were reported to Amazon in late February and early March. Which is very disappointing.

A couple of weeks ago, I was chatting with Phoenix Sullivan about the problem and she told me about something else she was witnessing – scammers taking over the free charts in the Kindle Store. I could see what she was describing and invited her to share the story here. But first, Phoenix wanted to give KDP an opportunity to take action.

You can guess how that went.

If you unfamiliar with Phoenix, she wears multiple hats: author, self-publisher, and publisher, as well as a very smart marketer and someone with a peerless understanding of Amazon’s systems and the various algorithms that power its recommendation engine.

Here’s Phoenix Sullivan with more:

KU Scammers Attack Amazon’s Free Ebook Charts

Over the Easter weekend, I was watching a carefully orchestrated promotional campaign of Steel Magnolia Press titles. By design, we’re back down to just the original founders of the micropress—Jennifer Blake and myself, with a couple of pen names and about 75 titles between us. Our catalog is currently exclusive to Amazon, meaning we’re all-in in Select and KU. Our promotions are planned to optimize visibility via a mix of Free and Countdown Deals and keep our back and front list afloat for a few weeks, then rinse and repeat.

For our Easter weekend promotion, we had 12 books sharing an ad budget of about $1300. Of that, $365 was allocated to our anchor ad—a BookBub placement for a free box of 3 of Jennifer’s backlist romances. Things were trundling along as expected on Saturday, and the anchor title hit #2 on the freebie list late afternoon. So far, so good.

But a curious thing was happening further up the Top 100 Free list. Two other free books of ours seemed to be garnering enough downloads for ranks that would put them in the Top 100, but they were sitting just outside that visibility. In fact, during the early evening, one of those titles lost a rank. Yes, a single rank, but at #107 with a good history of increasing downloads behind it, that was very telling movement.

Additionally, we had another book in the Top 100 that seemed stalled in the #70s despite increasing downloads that day. Continue reading

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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. Continue reading

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The One Where An Author Steals Text From My Book To Sell Pirated Software

IWSParadonIn today’s episode we are going to out a two-bit huckster who tried to put one over on yours truly, take a quick detour through the verdant fields of copyright law (and the slightly plainer meadows of moral rights), and then end with an example of how to handle a scammer.

Sound fun? Strap yourselves in!

A helpful reader – who will remain nameless for reasons that will become obvious – emailed me yesterday morning. I was just about to start work but the subject line caught my attention: Did You Give Permission For This?

Uh oh. I started reading the message he had forwarded.

It had originated from a domain called IndieWriterSupport.com (you can cut-and-paste that address or Google it, but I’m not linking directly and giving them an SEO boost). And it appeared to be a straight cog from my book Let’s Get Visible.

Emailexcerpt1What was going on here? I kept reading.

At the end of this considerable (2,411 word!) chunk from Let’s Get Visible some text had been added promoting a product called KDSPY – which is the new name for what was previously known as Kindle Spy.

There was then a bit.ly link to purchase KDSPY, which suspiciously went direct to a PayPal purchase page rather than the site of KDSPY, followed by another call-to-action asking people to visit IndieWriterSupport.com – the same domain as the one which had sent the email.

To be clear: I have never used Kindle Spy, let alone endorsed it, and I certainly didn’t write about it in Let’s Get Visible – I think the product wasn’t even launched until a year after I published that book – and I hadn’t written about it anywhere else for that matter. I’d also never heard of the website sending the email, nor given them permission to use my work.

Someone had taken a Emailexcerpt2chunk of text from Visible, without permission, and replaced the end of the chapter as I had written it with extra text endorsing Kindle Spy, as well as purchase links, making it look like I was making the endorsement.

You can make these images larger by clicking, but the green line on the left-hand side indicates text lifted from Visible (that’s the very end of over two thousand words nicked from my book), and the red line indicates text added by someone else to promote Kindle Spy.

Needless to say, I was quite unhappy about this. Continue reading

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Nothing Any Motherf*cker Said Was Going To Get Me To Quit – Guest Post by CD Reiss

Shuttergirl4CMYK-pinkA new year is the traditional time for making all sorts of promises that we probably won’t keep. But there is something noble in the effort alone, right? And in that vein, I have a great motivational guest post from an author who is killing it at the moment: CD Reiss.

I’ve been friends with Christine for a while, probably since around the time I started self-publishing back in 2011. Then, she was a writer of mysteries.

They did okay, but she couldn’t seem to take things to the next level. So she reinvented herself in 2013 as an erotic romance author and started kicking all kinds of ass.

But as with any “overnight success” story, there is a lot more to it.

I think one of the hardest things for newbies to nail down is the right mentality. It’s part of the weird dichotomy that is our lot. We have to have incredible self-belief to write something and show it to other people in the first place, but we also have to have enough overarching self-doubt to hone our craft and polish our stories until they are ready for prime time.

That sounds tricky to balance, and it is! But Christine posted something great to her Facebook page a few days ago that I was dying to share. Something that should help you attack the year with the right attitude. And she kindly permitted me to reprint it here: Continue reading

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FYI: Penguin Random House Is Still In The Vanity Business

asandfriendsnewPenguin Random House announced the sale of Author Solutions on Tuesday, leading to headlines stating it has exited the self-publishing business and various commentators congratulating it for cleaning house. Unfortunately, neither of those things are true.

Four Penguin Random House-owned vanity presses will remain in operation – Partridge India, Partridge Singapore, Partridge Africa, and MeGustaEscribir – and will be run as Partner Imprints. You can read more about how Partner Imprints work here, but the short version is that Author Solutions will operate these four vanity presses on behalf of Penguin Random House, and PRH’s job will be to provide leads (aka newbie writers), lend its name and brand to the effort, and then sit back and collect its commissions.

This is precisely how Author Solutions operates Archway Publishing on behalf of Simon & Schuster, Westbow for HarperCollins, and Balboa Press for Hay House, among others. In short, Penguin Random House is still in the vanity business, it’s just flying under the radar – along with many more famous names in the industry.

Smart, Selling Smarter

These troublesome little details were overlooked by the press who were keen to trumpet Penguin Random House’s move. Indeed, it has been quite revealing watching the reaction unfold.

When Penguin purchased Author Solutions in 2012 for $116m, virtually all the press had the same angle: Penguin was making a smart move into the fast-growing world of self-publishing. No mention was made of the controversial business practices of Author Solutions, or that the giant vanity press resembled a viable self-publishing platform much in the way a glass of hydrochloric acid is a recommended way to cleanse after the holidays. Continue reading

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Pay What You Want For Ten Great Historical Novels

All Covers Large

Hello! Sorry for the long silence. I’ve been taking my own advice for once and focusing on writing. But don’t worry, I’ll be back blogging very soon – once I’ve finish moving them commas around.

If you’re looking for something to read in the meantime, I highly recommend this historical fiction deal from Story Bundle. Although I should note I’m somewhat biased given that I have a book in it.

This is a little different to your standard box set. Story Bundle is a site which allows you to decide how much you want to pay. Fun!

Here’s how it works:

  1. Gaze longingly upon said books (details below).
  2. Pick a dollar amount OF YOUR CHOICE and receive novels from Libbie Hawker, M. Louisa Locke, Helen Hollick, Travis Heerman. (Note: $3 minimum.)
  3. If the amount you choose is above $12, you get FOUR extra books. One more each from Libbie Hawker and Helen Hollick, as well as books from both me and Sarah Woodbury.
  4. You want more? Sign up for Story Bundle’s newsletter and you will get a BONUS book from M. Louisa Locke.

This crazy empowerment of you, the reader, doesn’t stop there either. You also get to divvy up that money between the authors & Story Bundle and you get to decide whether 10% of your total goes to Girls Write Now – a writing and mentoring non-profit organization which serves at-risk girls from public high schools in New York.

NB: Please don’t get drunk with power and then attempt to operate any heavy machinery, such as the Krupp Bagger 288.

So, those books:

First up is House of Rejoicing by Libbie Hawker – an author I’ve raved about here before. You also get the San Francisco-based Victorian mystery Uneasy Spirits from M. Louisa Locke, Sea Witch by Helen Hollick – an author endorsed by giant of the genre Bernard Cornwell, no less. You also get a Regency-era historical fantasy entitled Miss Landon & Aubranel by Charlotte E. English, who curated this bundle, and then also Travis Heerman’s Sword of the Ronin, set in magic-infused medieval Japan.

At the bonus level, you get my turn-of-the-20th century historical adventure Mercenary, the second book in Helen Hollick’s pirate series as well as the second in Libbie Hawker’s AND Footsteps in Time from a hugely popular author I’ve featured here a few times: Sarah Woodbury. Finally, if you have room on your virtual shelves for one more, you can also get your hands on M. Louisa Locke’s Maids of Misfortune through the simple ruse of subscribing to Story Bundle’s mailing list.

As a reminder, this deal isn’t available anywhere else, only on Story Bundle.

After your purchase you’ll get download links for the files (compatible with all apps/devices), and if you own a Kindle or use the Kindle app, you can opt to use the Send to Kindle feature to have the books sent directly to your device.

That’s it. I’ll be back on the blog-horse soon. Happy Friday!

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Movie Deal for Mercenary

mercenaryOPTI’m delighted to announce that the movie rights to Mercenary have been optioned.

And So It Begins… Entertainment is a relatively new Hollywood production company founded earlier this year by industry veterans Toby Midgen and Stacey Stanley. Everyone at ASIB has a serious pedigree, having worked for companies like Lakeshore, Anchor Bay, DreamWorks, Fox 21, Ridley Scott & Associates, Starz and BBC Worldwide.

ASIB represents one of the biggest studios in the Dominican Republic and identified Mercenary as a perfect fit for their client, Lantica Media (formerly known as Indomina Media) – which develops projects with an eye on both the English- and Spanish-language markets at their incredible new facilities.

You are probably curious how these guys stumbled across my book. Three months ago, Matt Carpenter (Head of Production & Development for ASIB) attended a NASA memorial at the Johnson Space Center in Houston for his father, Scott Carpenter – one of the original Mercury 7 astronauts and the fourth American to go into space – who had passed away in 2013. Matt met one of his father’s old friends at the memorial, a deep-sea diver who recommended a book he’d just finished called Mercenary.

Matt was then called up for jury duty on his return to LA. Impaneled as an alternate but not actually selected, Matt was stuck in a room all day with little to do… and desperate for something to read. Talk about a captive audience. Continue reading

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