A Cautionary Tale

Update at the bottom of the post.

Update 2 added at 9:50 pm CST — see below.

Yesterday probably had to be the worst day in my life as an indie author. Release days are always nerve-wracking. Will people buy your book? Will they like your book? Or will they say your baby is ugly and laugh like mean girls? All of that paled into nothingness when I woke to find an email from Amazon telling me they had pulled Honor from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 3) and it would not be on sale until I fixed the issue(s) reported by customers.

Gulp! The book had only been out for hours when the email had been sent. What was wrong?

I scoured the email for an explanation and the only thing it told me was “Metadata & cover image are of “Honor from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 3)”, but the ASIN contains “Duty from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 2).”

What?

So, at 0730 I was trying to figure out how in the hell I had managed to upload the wrong file — except nothing I found showed that I had. The only possible explanation I could find was that I had forgotten to do one thing when I copied the legal page from Duty from Ashes to the Honor from Ashes file was change the AISN. The rest of the text was correct — in my upload file but not in the file that was being sent to those kind folks who had pre-ordered my book.

So, I did what any reasonable author would do in that situation: I panicked. I cursed. I even cried a little. But then I pulled up the base file, changed the AISN and re-uploaded it to my account. I also sent an email to Amazon at 0806 to let them know I had done as they asked. Then I blogged over at Nocturnal Lives to let folks know what was going on.

And I waited.

And I waited.

And I waited some more.

And still Honor from Ashes was removed from sale. At one point, you could hit the buy or read for free buttons but you would get an error message. Then the dreaded “this item is under review” language hit the product page.

And the returns continued.

At 1022, I sent another email to KDP to find out what was going on. As with the earlier message, there was silence. Around noon, I went to my dashboard for KDP and sent a message to the help desk, asking for an update, noting that I was losing money and all I could do was tell those who were hitting my boards on Amazon that I had done what had been asked of me but was as much in the dark right now as were they.

I spent the day, gritting my teeth, unable to work, as I watched the returns continue. Fortunately, those who checked the boards, saw what was happening and they, in turn, took to the two one-star reviews to explain what was going on. But the damage has been done. There are now reviews for Honor from Ashes, claiming it is nothing more than a reprint of Duty from Ashes under a different title. Any new readers who might consider buying the book may be run off because of that.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I did finally hear from Amazon at 2238 hrs last night, almost 20 hours after their initial email to me. Again, they alleged I uploaded the wrong file — but did not include the file so I could check it myself. Okay, I can live with that. I don’t like it, but I can live with it. However, there was nothing said about how long it would be until the book was once more available for purchase. (Note, too, that after I uploaded the new file a little after 0800, I received an email from them saying it was “live” at 1242 hrs. It showed on my dashboard as being live. The preview of the book on the product page showed the new file almost instantly. And yet it was still not available for purchase.)

I asked again, how long. So far, I have had no response.

I kept busy on the Amazon boards that deal with the book, answering questions, assuring readers that I had done everything I could and it was in Amazon’s hands. Their frustration over the delay matched my own — and I will be in contact with them when I figure out how to thank them for their patience.

Sleep was fitful last night as a result. Would I wake up this morning to find the book still unavailable? Even if it was finally available, how deep would the damage be? Returns had been taking place all day. Negative reviews were coming in. How would all that impact the first “day”/week sales?

So, when I finally rolled out of bed this morning, I very hesitantly checked email. Sigh. Nothing from Amazon. So I went to the product page, fully expecting to find it still reflecting the fact it was “under review”. Fortunately, it is now “live”. You can buy it or borrow it under the Kindle Unlimited program. Unfortunately, there are now two 1-star reviews. The only saving grace is the 4-star review (leaving an average of 2-stars — GULP!) and comments from those who had been following the boards to the reviewers that they needed to wait until Amazon made the correct file available. I thank each and every one of those fans who responded to those reviews. I hope those reviewers go back and edit their reviews but I’m afraid the damage has been done.

This entire affair has shown the one real fault in the KDP program, whether you are in KDP or KDP select/Unlimited. There is no way to pick up the phone and call them when you first see a problem. You are limited to e-mail. Sure, if the emails go on long enough, they may call you but that doesn’t help in situations like the one I faced where time is of the essence. It has left a sour taste in my mouth, as well as in the mouths of my fans.

Does this mean I will look for an alternative to KDP? No. It is the big dog in the game and moving away from it would be more than counter-productive. It does mean I will be even more careful about my uploads. It means I will continue trying to find out exactly what happened and how to avoid it in the future. Most of all, it means I need to those who read the book and enjoyed it to post positive reviews to counter the negative ones.

In the meantime, I will edit the product description to note that the previous download problems have been corrected. Hopefully, after a week, that will stem the damage that has already occurred. I don’t know.

All I can say is “damn it” and censor myself from saying anything else.

In the meantime, here is the link to the NOW live product page:

Honor from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 3)

War isn’t civilized and never will be, not when there are those willing to do whatever is necessary to win. That is a lesson Col. Ashlyn Shaw learned the hard way. Now she and those under her command fight an enemy determined to destroy their home world. Worse, an enemy lurks in the shadows, manipulating friend and foe alike.

Can Ashlyn hold true to herself and the values of her beloved Corps in the face of betrayal and loss? Will honor rise from the ashes of false promises and broken faith? Ashlyn and the Devil Dogs are determined to see that it does, no matter what the cost.

UPDATE: If you downloaded the book as a result of pre-ordering it, please confirm that you have the corrected version. It appears that some people have not automatically received it. Check your settings (Manage My Devices and Content/Settings) to see if you have automatic updates turned on. If not, you may need to delete the file from your device — NOT your account — and re-download. If that doesn’t work, contact Amazon and let me know. Amazon should respond quickly and get you the correct file. If not, I need to know. Thanks!

Update 2: Since the last update, I have been on the phone three times with Amazon, as well as having exchanged several emails with them. Problems still persist. Here is what I can tell you. If you pre-ordered the book and have not received the correct version, you need to contact Amazon (calling is the best) and ask them to push the update through. I have requested they push it through to everyone but it doesn’t appear they have done so. Also, for whatever reason, the ability to buy the book comes and goes. There is a notice on the page that they have the book under review and have contacted me about it. Wrong. The one and only time they did so was yesterday morning and that file has been replaced, approved and checked by them. I can do nothing else until business hours tomorrow because KDP tech support doesn’t work nights. Bear with me and I will keep you informed. Thanks for the understanding and support.

61 Comments

Filed under AMANDA, WRITING: PUBLISHING

61 responses to “A Cautionary Tale

  1. Free advice (so you know what it’s worth, right?); when you get one of those nastygrams from Amazon, google the issue. Count on it, you’re not the first to ever have a problem. I got one, went to google, and figured out what the complaint was about in five minutes. The Table of Contents was interactive in Word, but not after the manuscript had gone through Calibre and Amazon’s reformatting processes. I pulled the old TOC, replaced it with a hotlinked version, resubmitted and informed Amazon, issue solved.
    As for those 1-star reviews, sometimes there’s nothing you can do but suck it up and drive on. A quality book will win out in the end. Yeah, they smart when you get them, especially when it’s obvious the reviewer never understood what you were trying to do. But that’s the way it happens, if it’s so simplistic that there’s no possibility of being misunderstood the book is boring. So far as I’ve been able to tell, the negative reviews have had no effect on sales. The only concern is that one day I might want to promote that book, and most email promoters want at least a four-star average to drive click-throughs.
    But the solution to disappointing reviews/sales is similar to the cure when your pet dies; adopt another pet, and if the ‘pet’ was months of work, write another book.
    What, you expected fairness? Tsk. Suck it up, don’t mean nothin’, drive on.

    • I did google and didn’t find anything quite matching what they said the issue was. Nor have they bothered explaining more than the one line I posted and a confirmation in the email they finally sent late last night. Unfortunately, what they say doesn’t match what my files say. Shrug.

      As for the reviews, yeah. I normally don’t worry about bad reviews. You can’t please everyone. But having them state the book isn’t what it is, can be troublesome. I don’t want to lose sales because folks think they already own the book or, worse, think I am trying to pull a fast one on them. I added a short update to the end of the product description which I will remove end of the week. Hopefully, it will blunt the problem of the reviews.

      • I now make it a policy to respond to every review. I don’t argue, I simply post a thank you (for good reviews) or a short explanation for other-than-good. One lady said part of the book was missing. I told her I’d checked, and the published version was what I’d written. I’m sure I didn’t change her mind; she wanted blood and gore, I left that offscreen and let the characters figure out what had happened as the book progressed.
        But I think that’s the real motive behind reviews; your book either lived up to what the reader expected, or it didn’t. It’s not your book, it’s their expectations that caused them to review your work.

    • One thing all your readers can do is go to the one star reviews and click the ‘NO’ it was not helpful. I have been told that enough ‘not helpful’ will reduce the weighting that review is given.

  2. Damn, now I have something new to worry about when my next book launches in early May. I can only imagine how you felt though all of this–and that’s more than enough for me.

    • My one word of warning would be this: if you are like me and tend to copy the common elements from book to book (like the legal page), changing only the pertinent bits, make sure you change the AISN. Somehow I had skipped doing that and I have a feeling that is what caused all this. My suspicion is that KDP somehow grabbed that from the legal description and that caused all the crossed wires. No proof, however, just suspicion.

  3. I can soo sympathize with that story.
    At the end of last year, I uploaded my last novel and managed to screw up the freaking title. Lack of sleep, the combination of nerves and euphoria when a book is being released and possibly early-onset senile dementia all contributed: next thing I know, a book with the wrong title (one that doesn’t match what’s on the cover) is out. I knew from experience that manually changing the title would take at least 24 to 72 hours, and contacting Amazon would, if anything take longer. And to make things worse, I had a hundred bucks worth of promotional ads paid for and ready to go for the next few days – all relying on the correct title.
    What I did instead of changing the title was unpublish the book and republish it with the correct title. The incorrectly-titled book sold a handful of copies on the first day, but the new book came out in less than eight hours, and I waited until then to announce the release on my mailing list and social media, so there was no harm done (luckily all the ads were timed to come out after the second day, spread out over a week). But those few hours were downright nerve-wracking.
    So yeah, triple-checking everything before hitting the ‘Save and Publish’ button is the way to go.

    • If it hadn’t been a pre-order, I would have done just that but by the time I realized what happened, I worried unpublishing it would cancel all the pre-orders. It is fixed now but Amazon’s current software means not all those who downloaded the pre-order version are getting the updated one. Some are able to get it, others are being forced to go to Amazon and ask them to push it through. I am not a happy writer right now.

  4. Yipes! Thank you for sharing. I’ve added this to my “before You Hit Publish Button” checklist.

  5. I preordered. How do I get the correct book now? There doesn’t seem to be an ‘update book’ button on Amazon.

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

      Don’t know Scot, I tried deleting the wrong book from my PC but I’m still getting the wrong book when I download it.

      I’ve managed to send an annoyed email to Amazon.

      Oh Amanda, this problem isn’t “your fault” now, it’s Amazon’s fault now.

      • Thanks, Paul. I’m not sure how you do it with the PC version. You might check your settings for you kindle account and see if you have it set to automatically update books.

        • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

          Well, Amanda I believe that I had set the Auto-Update on (but will check again).

          Fortunately, Amazon gave a very quick response to my email and I have the correct version now.

          • I’m glad they were quick getting back to you. If you don’t mind, what did they say? or did they simply push through the new version?

            • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

              Basically just pushed through the new version.

                • Neither checking the automatic update box nor deleting the file from one’s kindle and then downloading it again from the cloud generally work for a reader who gets an early copy of a book that then is later updated by the author to fix an error.

                  I know this because the TOC was not working in a novel I published last year. I purchased the book myself (before announcing its release) to check that everything was okay. I quickly realized that the TOC was problematic. I found the issue, fixed it, and uploaded the corrected file.

                  Once the new version was live, I purged my kindle and downloaded the ebook again from the cloud. But I did not receive the new and corrected file. I called customer service. They asked me if the auto update box was checked. It was and it had been. They had me go through the purge-from-kindle-and-download-again-from-cloud procedure that I had already tried myself. I did it again, and it failed to get the corrected file, just as it had failed the first time. Finally the rep said she could do something at her end to “push” the newer file to my account. She did that, and it did work. This time, the TOC was working properly. Thank goodness!

                  Lesson learned. Always purchase and check the ebook myself BEFORE anyone buys it. If there is something wrong, the chances of a purchasing reader jumping through all those hoops to get the corrected file are very slim. Luckily, in this instance, I had completed that quality assurance check first. Bottom line: the file simply has to be right before it goes on sale.

                  You have my sympathy, Amanda. It sounds like a nightmare.

                  • The problem is, I looked at the uploaded file and it was all right — except for the wrong aisn on the copyright page. So the only thing I can conclude is they have a crawler programmed into their system that grabbed it and decided that meant the file for Duty from Ashes should be associated with the product page. I still have not gotten an explanation other than “you must have uploaded the wrong file”.

                    However, I now know how to contact them via phone — score one for our side. I know to tell my readers to contact Amazon to push through the updates since auto-update may or may not do it for them — remove one score from Amazon’s side of the board. Now all I have to do is round up enough positive reviews and down votes for the negative ones to keep those negative ones from costing me more sales on top of those sales I lost due to yesterday’s fiasco.

                    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

                      I’ve posted an “Important Message” as a review which includes the link to Kindle Support you gave.

                    • Alan

                      Just adding to your record of customer experiences:
                      I pre-ordered, got it, didn’t start reading immediately as I was finishing another book, got a notification email from Amazon that told me to go to ‘Manage my [Kindle stuff]”, the book had an update button next to it, which worked just fine. Reading and enjoying it now!
                      I did add a Comment to one of the 1-star reviews telling about this, shorter – maybe it’ll help.
                      Probably just me, but I never pay a lot of attention to either 1-start or 5-star reviews, because they’re usually from people who reacted so strongly that their reviews are neither balanced nor particularly informative. Certainly, a 1 star review on the latest book of a 5 star series wouldn’t be taken very seriously by me!!

    • Go to your “manage my kindle” page or whatever they are calling it now. If I remember correctly, unless you have it set for Amazon to automatically update books, you have to do it manually. If that doesn’t work, delete it from your device — but not your account — and then reload. If that doesn’t do it, let me know. Let Amazon know as well.

    • Okay, I just looked it up. Under “Manage Your Content and Devices”, click on the Settings tab. Scroll down to “Automatic book update”. If that is off, they won’t push through a new version of a book. You will have to manually update. If it is set to yes, you should have the latest version in your account.

      I vaguely remember, before setting to auto update, having a notation/email that a new version of a book was available. If you don’t see that, again try deleting it from your device and redownloading from your dashboard.

      • Auto update is on. I deleted it from my device (twice). Tried using ‘deliver’ from the content tab on “Manage Your Content and Devices” . When I down load it from the library I still am getting the old book.

        I guess I’ll have to email Amazon.

    • Scot, I just got off the phone from the KDP support folks. If you are still having trouble, they said to call them or use this link,
      http://www.amazon.com/kindlesupport, to reach them. They will then push the new file through for you.

      • Thanks, Amanda

        After two phone calls I finally got the correct book. After my first call, when I was still getting the book that starts with the sim, I downloaded Duty from Ashes again to make sure I wasn’t going crazy.

        On the second call the person was able to push out the correct book.

        • Glad you finally got it worked out. I was as nice as I could be with the Amazon folks but my temper was showing through, I’m afraid.

  6. Christopher M. Chupik

    Sorry to hear about your woes. On the other hand, I’m glad I have MGC so I can know about these things for when I have to deal with them.

  7. Ouch! Sorry about the visit from Murphy. Two questions, though. What is the advantage of including the ASIN in the legals, and how do you generate an ASIN before publication?

    • I use the AISN to track it, just like you would an ISBN. If you have a book up for pre-order, you are assigned the aisn when you first upload the pre-order information. Otherwise, just update your file once it is assigned. Also, as with having the isbn listed, it gives not only the look of legitimacy but it gives you something to help point to if you find the book being pirated or plagiarized.

  8. mrsizer

    I just bought it as a sympathy gift. (Shh – I was going to buy it, anyway, but “today” can be the gift part.) After I read it, I’ll leave a review.

  9. NOTE: After clicking on the http://www.amazon.com/kindlesupport link, you have to click on ‘Contact Us,’ which gives you the options of email, phone, and chat. I got my problem fixed through the chat window in about one minute.

  10. carlton mckenney

    I have attempted to purchase both yesterday and today. Amazon still has their “Bad dog, no biscuit” switch turned on. Any idea when Ashes will be available for purchase again?

    • I just found out they have screwed something again. I am about to get back on the phone with them. Will update when I know something.

    • Okay, I just got off the phone from Amazon — by the time I was transferred to someone who could help me, everything was fixed. So try again. I did manage to download both as a KU download and then, after returning it, as a purchase.

  11. I just went there to buy t, and at 8:43 west coast time, it was saying that the title is unavailable, and giving the ‘quality’ message as well.

    • I just checked and saw it as well. Unfortunately, I can’t do anything until tech support opens in the morning. Grrrrr.

      • The longer this rocks on, the worse Amazon looks. For one thing, your fans know what is going on. For another, this is tailor made for the publishers who want to badmouth Amazon KDP. It’ll be a larger PR problem for Amazon if they pick up on it.

        This isn’t an oblige suggestion, but what if this happens to another author and they decide to sue Amazon for lost sales and damages?

  12. mk

    After reading this on top of the experience I had dealing with their customer service last month, I’ll put it out there that sometime in the last year or so, Amazon has crossed the line from “customer oriented company” to “too big to worry about the little guy” a la Comcast.

    I sent them an iPhone for trade-in, worth approximately $300. Apparently I sent it too late for the time window they set up when you initiate a trade-in process. Normally the phone is simply returned in this situation. Mine disappeared. Three separate contacts with customer service via chat and email led to three separate customer service reps promising follow up actions that didn’t happen and no further information about my phone. Switched up to a phone call finally and started a new incident which I described as “Amazon stole my phone, and your customer service procedures have totally failed to deal with it for four weeks”… then I saw some immediate results and was credited same-day for the trade-in value of the phone.

    Conclusions to be drawn: 1) They’ve gotten so big that it is no longer possible for them to avoid major mistakes in their core business processes. 2) Some combination of “inadequate training/inadequate supervision/inadequate resources/the wrong people and philosophy in charge of their customer service division” is beginning to really harm their image. They don’t yet project Comcast levels of uncaring, but they are certainly displaying Comcast levels of ineffectiveness and incompetence. 3) Start with the phone call next time. The people handling the live chat and email can’t actually get anything done.

    • Robin Munn

      Another example of “so big they’re getting disconnected from their customers”: the Amazon Music Player. It can play your local files, which is nice. And if you have Amazon Prime, it can play all that “free”* music from Amazon’s cloud. But can you create a playlist that plays some local music, and some music from Amazon’s cloud? I’ll save you the trouble of checking: no. No, you can not. And even though there are many discussion threads in which Amazon customers have been asking for this feature for YEARS, and Amazon is probably losing money as a result of not having it (if I could mix my local and cloud playlists, I’d listen to a lot more cloud music, which could result in discovering new bands I like and buying more of their albums)… they’ve done nothing to add that feature, and some customers are (apparently) starting to walk away from the Amazon music store. They’re leaving money on the table, which is contrary to Jeff Bezos’s business principles. And why? Because, as far as I can tell, nobody in the Cloud Player development team has read the Cloud Player support discussions where customers have asked for that feature. And if any *other* Amazon support personnel have read those discussions, they haven’t communicated with the development team about them.

      So big they’re getting disconnected from their customers.

      * Not actually free, as you’re paying $100 per year for the privilege. But if you’re paying that $100 per year for the ease of mind of knowing that two-day shipping will always be available for no extra charge, and you consider the access to Prime Music a nice bonus that you could take or leave? Well, in that scenario it’s essentially “free” for all practical purposes.

  13. Ugh. I hope everything gets fixed for you. This is actually why I didn’t announce that my short story that I released a few days ago was up on Amazon until the day after I got it up (my first KDP experience; was nervous). I was worried about something weird happening. I actually did have to fix something, so good thing I waited. Probably can’t wait with pre-order, huh?

  14. The latest update is that today wasn’t much better than yesterday, at least not until after 6 CST this evening. The returns continued. Another negative review was posted because they received the wrong file. The book was unavailable more than it was available for purchase. This has been, without a doubt, the most screwed up release I’ve ever had.

    All that said, I finally had enough and emailed Jeff Bezos and gave him a detailed description of everything that happened. The evening, I received a call from one of the folks working in KDP Executive Customer Relations. I will give more on that tomorrow on my blog as more information comes in. However, it was clear my email to Bezos had been forwarded to her and she was trying to make sure the problems were dealt wit. As of now, the book is available. She is going to talk with the review end of KDP about what to do about the negative reviews. She assured me notice has gone out to all pre-order customers that a new version of the book is available. Everything else is still up in the air.

    I guess I have to look at it this way. I was lucky I didn’t spend any money to do a release promotion. I’ll figure out something else to do in a week or so to have a “post release release party”. In the meantime, I guess my trials and tribulations have been a learning tool for everyone else. I just hope the problems have finally been dealt with.

  15. The Nash

    Hi Amanda. I did preorder your book and have the autodownload feature enabled on my kindle. I received an update notice from Amazon today to select the update button on the “manage my content and devices” page. I clicked the update button and it sent the update to my device. I just checked and my kindle downloaded the updated file and it was the right book. Hope it works for all the rest of your readers. Looking forward to a good read!

  16. I was able to update to the correct version thanks for the heads up I was just getting ready to delete it and rebuy it

  17. I had preordered and got the wrong file first. Then I got an email from Amazon and followed their instructions and I now have the right file. Can’t give you a timeline as I’m in Australia.

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