A Cautionary Tale, Part 2
Last week, I wrote “A Cautionary Tale” about what initially appeared to be a bump in the road in the release of Honor from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 3). What I didn’t know was that the problem would continue to exist not just for that day but for days and days. In fact, it isn’t completely dealt with as I type this. Things are better, for certain definitions of better, but I’m still seeing the negative impact of what happened.
A quick reminder of what happened. A week ago yesterday, I woke to an email from Kindle Quality Control saying there was a problem with the file for Honor from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 3). It had the right cover but the wrong ASIN and interior file. Within half an hour I updated the file. Approximately six hours later, I received notice that the file had gone live. Except it hadn’t. For most of the next five days, the purchase and KU read for free buttons would not be active. Some of the time, it would say the book was unavailable. Or the buttons would be there but the disclaimer that the book was under review and therefore not available for purchase would be present. Those few times you could buy the book, you might have gotten the correct book or you might not have.
Making matters worse, for whatever reason, the emails that should have been sent out to those who had pre-ordered or purchased before the file was pulled were not. Nor did Kindle Customer Support have a clear idea of what was going on. Some of those who tried helping those with the wrong file did what they were supposed to do — the pushed through the updated file. Others said to return the book and try to buy it later. Still others said to wait and see if the update came through later.
The result, as I’m sure you can imagine, was a number of returns (the most I have ever had for any book) and negative reviews. Both of which brought up other issues.
Finally, last Wednesday, I had had enough and I e-mailed Jeff Bezos. I knew he wouldn’t actually see the email but it made me feel better. It was a business-like letter, detailing everything I had been through to that point. Much to my surprise, I received a phone call late in the day from someone who had gotten the job of trying to find out what was going on and making sure things got cleared up.
Long story short, she talked to different departments and made sure the web page was made stable and my book could be purchased. She talked to the folks in charge of reviews. She listened as I explained how this fiasco had impacted the book’s release and prevented me from doing any true marketing because I couldn’t guarantee those interested would be able to buy the book — or that they would receive the right one when they did.
She admitted that the problem pointed out some shortfalls in their process when a book is under review after the quality of it is called into question by Amazon customers. There is no clear procedure for letting Kindle Support know what is going on or what phase of the review they are at. Nor is there a clear procedure for letting the author know what is going on. All authors get is an email saying the book is under review and they will be contacted when it is approved. Well, you get a note from KDP saying the file has been approved but that isn’t the same as QA saying it is approved. So my contact at Amazon is recommending that this process be improved so others don’t have to go through what I have.
As for the 1-star reviews based on getting the wrong file, well, I’m stuck with them. The Review Department — I think you are starting to get the picture. This quickly became a situation where one hand didn’t know what the other was doing and didn’t care once it did — won’t remove the negative reviews. It doesn’t matter that they have nothing to do with the book. The fact that they deal with customer experience is enough to make the “valid” reviews. It doesn’t matter that these reviews are coming in now because Amazon didn’t act quickly enough doesn’t matter either. All I can do is grin and bear it — and as you to down vote them.
Actually, there is more I can do but I need your help to do it. If you received the wrong book after Thursday of this past week, especially if you have yet to receive the correct one, let me know. When I contacted Amazon yesterday about the continuing problem, I was asked to provide specifics.
Amazon is very understanding about my concern and understands this has cost me money and some good will with my readers. Their recompense for it is to allow me a couple of extra days of promotion through Kindle Unlimited. This is more than a little counter-productive, although I accepted it. First, I rarely run promos for a new book. Second, that promo (if I run it) won’t make up for the money I’ve lost. Nor will it replace the good will that has been soured. In fact, it might cause more ill-will. After all, I would be doing a giveaway or countdown deal for a book my readers have just paid full price on.
What am I taking away from all this? Good question and one I’m still asking myself since this is still an on-going situation. I’ll try to sort it out here.
- I have to be even more careful than ever before to make sure there is no issue with my work when I get ready to upload a file.
- I am going to think long and hard about doing pre-orders in the future. Not only because of the impact they have on publication day numbers (As Dorothy pointed out, pre-orders don’t count toward release date rankings but count on the day of the pre-order) but because of the length of time it has taken to deal with the current situation.
- While I am still frustrated and disappointed in Amazon and the way it has handled this situation, especially the negative reviews, I will continue working with them. They have tried to do what they can to assist me and they are still the big dog when it comes to indie publishing. They are also the easiest of the outlets to access and use, both as a reader and as a writer.
- I will pay closer attention to what is happening re: foreign sales if I do another pre-order because I might have spotted the issue a few hours before Amazon notified me if I had this time.
- If I should get another such notice form Amazon, I will download the preview file (again) before uploading a new file. This serves two purposes. It will let me see if I did upload the wrong file (which I still deny because I checked my copy of not only what was uploaded but the preview file I downloaded) but it gives proof to Amazon that the problem is on their end. What happens when you upload a file to Amazon, that new file overwrites the old file so they will not admit any problem being their fault because they can’t check it on their own servers once that new file is uploaded.
- It is still the only real game in town so I will continue working with them.
- Amazon needs to improve the communication between departments within the KDP process.
- Amazon needs to reconsider its policy about reviews and make it easier for authors to challenge reviews. I have no problem getting a negative review because someone doesn’t like my work. But when, as in this case, I have jumped through every hoop to correct a technical problem and yet Amazon drags its feet, those reviews are on them and not on me. I should not continue to be punished as a result. No author should.
- Amazon needs to make it easier — as in possible — to contact the Kindle KDP QA people after a book has been removed for review. As it stands right now, the only thing you can do is contact Kindle KDP support (which can be fun in and of itself) and then ask them to contact QA. You may or may not be successful.
The biggest decision I have to make now is about what my next step should be. I will continue letting my contact at Amazon know of any problems with the book’s download that are brought to my attention. I am planning on a new title in the series, an extra title that will take place before the events of Vengeance from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 1). I’ll figure out a way to make it available to those of you who have stuck with me through all this before it goes up for sale on Amazon. (It may be that I will announce it here and on my blog and put it up for a very limited time for free there before it goes up on Amazon. I’m still working on that.) But do I start writing Victory from Ashes now, putting it out ASAP, or do I keep with my current publication schedule and not write it until later this year, early next year? What are your thoughts?
What this all shows is that writing is like any other business. Not every release goes as smoothly as you want it to. There can be breaks in the supply or delivery chain. It would be easy to throw my hands up and say I’m never working with Amazon again. But that would be a perfect example of cutting off my nose to spite my face. Mistakes happen — and did, on both our parts. Now I have to work my butt off to make up for the problems and rebuild from it. Fortunately, Amazon has done what it can. Not as much as I would have liked but more than many companies would have. So I move forward. All I have to decide is which path to take — or, more specifically, which book to write now.
In the meantime, I’d appreciate knowing if you are still having trouble getting the right file downloaded. I’d also appreciate it if you would leave a review once you’ve read Honor from Ashes. Those reviews will go a long way to counter the negative ones.