I woke up this morning not having clue one about today’s post. I’ve been neck deep in rewrites as well as doing an editorial job for a new author who is totally AWESOME. Add in my own work hijacking me yesterday and the day before into a different project and, well, MGC fell down the proverbial rabbit hole. As I searched for a topic, I came across a thread where an author was talking about their new strategy for success and, well, al I could do was shake my head.
For anyone out there thinking about writing, the first rule you have to understand is that writing is a business. As with any business, you have to do your homework. You need to know what your various distribution paths are and the requirements for them. You need to know your audience. You need to be able to supply a product that is not just good enough but that is unique in its own way. You also have to be aware of the rules for your distribution outlets because, if you fail to follow those rules, you can find yourself tossed out of that distribution arm and figuratively, if not literally, standing out in the cold.
But there’s something else you have to do and this is where I see a lot of writers falling short — you have to not only understand that writing is a business but you have to treat it as one. That means, when there is a problem with a distribution arm, you deal with it in a business-like manner. You don’t deal with the low level drones and then stomp your feet and take to social media to whine. You keep going up the chain of command — even if that low level drone says you have no recourse. There is always a recourse. It may take time and it may be frustrating but there are steps to be taken.
Anyway, back to what started this all off.
Five or six years ago, there was a huge movement, mainly by traditionally published authors, to condemn Amazon. They laid all of publishing’s woes at the feet of the ‘Zon. Amazon was killing the local bookstores (let’s forget how the big box stores like Borders and Barnes & Noble had already basically done that long before Amazon came onto the scene). Amazon was hurting publishers by setting lower prices. Amazon was evil because it made it easy for readers to get books. These same authors cheered when the Big 5 — then the Big 6 — along with Apple and B&N got together to collude on price fixing. It was all the evil Amazon’s fault.
Today, we have a new form of Amazon Derangement Syndrome. This time, it comes from indie authors. No, not all indie authors and certainly not even the vast majority of them. This is a relatively small number of authors, many of whom have never read the terms of service or kept up with the changes in the ToS since their first signed up for their Amazon KDP account.
Amazon doesn’t have that many rules. Not really. As an author, you agree not to offer your books at a lower price elsewhere. Guess what, every other platform I’ve looked at has the exact same rule. If you are a member of KDP Select, you can’t offer your book elsewhere. But guess what? A little effort presented me with a caveat to that. You can’t offer that “same” book elsewhere but, if you have a book offered across other platforms, you can still enroll the book in the KDP Select program IF — and this is the key — the KDP Select book has new material (as in at least one new chapter or more), a different cover and the book and book description make it clear that this is a special edition with exclusive material.
So big, bad Amazon gives you a way to take advantage of all outlets if you want to take the time to do what’ required.
And all it took for me to find that out was a simple email. Amazon followed up with a phone call and then a confirmation email. Being a businesswoman, I documented it all and filed it away in case I needed it in the future.
Where some authors have found themselves getting into trouble with Amazon is that they also forget that we are covered by more than just the KDP ToS. If we post reviews, we are covered by the ToS for those as well. Amazon has worked hard to try to do away with sock puppet reviews. It has worked to get rid of paid reviews. Have their efforts been completely successful? No. Unfortunately, valid reviews have sometimes been dropped as well — until, in most cases, the reviewer contacts Amazon and clears up the misconception.
There is one thing authors are not allowed to do — and this is where a some authors get into trouble. We are not allowed to trade reviews. That means we aren’t allowed to offer freebies if someone promises to leave a review. We aren’t allowed to trade a review of someone else’s work if they also promise to review our work. Amazon runs ‘bots to check reviews to see if there is a pattern of reviewers.
I have seen author after author complaining about disappearing reviews. Most of those complaining are those I know have been trading reviews with other authors. They aren’t even subtle about it. There are threads on FB and other social media platforms where they make the offer or they talk about it — all under the guise of “helping one another out”. Guess what, when those ‘bots were were talking about start noting that you only review other authors, they are going to flag your reviews.
It has nothing to do with what your politics are. Liberal authors have been hit as have conservative. There is no huge conspiracy about it. It is a crawler going through Amazon’s database to see what’s happening. The other outlets do the same thing — they just don’t get the press about removing reviews because they don’t have the customer base Amazon does.
Does this mean I think Amazon is doing all it can to prevent the erroneous removal of reviews? Hell no. At some point, the human element needs to review the action BEFORE the removal occurs. There needs to be a better appeals process than there is right now. But — and this is a big BUT — reviewers and authors need to stop acting like whining kids on a playground and actually act like business owners in dealing with the situation. Don’t just contact customer service. If you haven’t figured it out yet, most of those on the lower level have a script and have clue zero what to do if you go off-script with them. (Exactly the same sort of situation you find with most other major companies these days.) That manager you asked for — not much better. Ask for a resolution specialist or — duh — send an email to Jeff Bezos. he won’t see it but it will get seen and it will be reviewed. Just the other day, I read an article about how CSRs at Amazon dread getting emails form Bezos that have a simple “?” on it. You see, those emails are in response to emails sent to him and that is his way of basically saying, “What the hell is going on?”
But, first and foremost, don’t put yourself in that position. If you are going to promote your work, do it through legitimate means. If someone or some company offers you promotional opportunities that seem too good to be true, they probably are. No one can guarantee to get you x-number of reviews for a price unless they are writing the reviews themselves — remember the ban on sock puppet reviews.
Remember you can review your friends work but you need to reveal if you got the book for free as a review copy. It’s also a smart move to add that you know the author. Why? Because, the last time I looked at the review ToS, there was wording about friends and family. So be open and you run less of a chance of running afoul of the ‘Zon.
Be as professional in your dealings with Amazon — or any other outlet — as you would want them to be with you. But don’t give up after a few steps and stomp off to social media in a snit. Keep working at it and document everything. That way, when you do finally email Bezos or whoever is in charge of the outlet in question, you have your ammunition.
Be professional. Treat it as a business and quit acting like precious little prima donnas who aren’t required nofollow the rules. You don’t help yourselves and you certainly don’t help the rest of us. Most of all, read the rules. When you get an email saying the ToS has been updated, follow the link and read how. You will save yourself, and the rest of us, a lot of heartache if you do.
And now for some promo of my own:
Fire from Ashes, (Honor & Duty Book 4) is now available for pre-order.
At war with an old enemy, betrayed by a supposed ally, Fuercon is a system on the brink of disaster. All that stands between it and defeat are its Space Navy and Marines – and the fact the betrayer does not yet know its secret plans have been discovered. But will that be enough to turn the tide of war?
Honor and duty.
Honor and duty have guided Colonel Ashlyn Shaw’s life for as long as she can remember. Honor kept her sane when she was betrayed by those she had fought beside. Duty gave her reason to trust again once the betrayal came to light and her name, as well as the names of her fellow Devil Dogs, was cleared. Now she and the Marines under her command are once again asked to risk their lives to protect Fuercon from its enemies.
Family and the Corps.
They are why she fights. She knows what will happen to them should Fuercon fall to the Callusians. Their lives are worth any sacrifice she must make to help keep their homeworld safe.
The not-so-secret driving force of Ashlyn’s life. Four years ago, someone betrayed her and her command. That person now works to betray Fuercon. Ashlyn is determined to discover who – and why – and bring them to justice.
The storm clouds of war gather and time is running out. Will Ashlyn and the Devil Dogs be able to turn back the enemy and unmask the betrayer before all is lost?
I’m amazed—but no longer the least bit surprised—when people who attempt to work around a system or safeguards complain so vehemently when they are penalized for violating said system or safeguards. I suspect some of these mutual reviewers are the book version of why cans of insect killer say “Caution! This bug spray contains poison”
I know. The other aspect that continues to surprise me — and shouldn’t — is then, when they get caught up in the net going after violators and they start their whinging and whining, all their friends jump on the conspiracy wagon. As I wrote, I’ve seen it from the liberal leaning writers, claiming they were being targeted, as well as from conservatives. The truth is, they got caught up because the ‘bots saw something that triggered their programming. Yes, mistakes happen but crying “conspiracy” and stamping their feet and threatening to hold their breath until they turn blue does nothing to solve the underlying problems (separating the fake reviews from the that aren’t and dealing with those who try to subvert or sidestep the rules and those who make honest mistakes).
It’s hard not to be paranoid when people really are out to get you. I have a “sort-of” (her words) Jewish co-worker who tends to perceive anti-semitism a lot. And she isn’t wrong to think it’s out there, because it is.
Depending on who you are, in different times and places, you can be targeted unfairly. You get a free pass on a rules violation, while a set of “not as worthy as you” gets a pass. I can even sort of look sideways and imagine situation where that might be justified (Do women not having to face the Draft in an era of armed forces integrated by sex count?)
What’s the wisest thing to say to such people? Mrs. Green’s advice works when the system is reasonably fair. And, you know, quite a lot of times when it isn’t. It’s definitely what you should do. But… it seems incomplete.
Maybe the question I’m considering is “how do keep your focus on being a good small business owner when the game is rigged against your business? I bet the Italians (and Brasilians, now that I think of it) have some experience to share. I’ll have to remember to ask.
OMG, overgrownhobbit. How is the system rigged against you within the context of the blog post? Amazon — or any of the other outlets for indie authors — is not out to get us. If they were, they’d be offering royalties along the same line as trad publishers do. If they were, there would be NO way to work with them to get a problem fixed.
No one is saying there isn’t prejudice of all sorts out there. That isn’t the point of the post and, if you had taken time to really read it, you’d know that. The problem with assuming every action taken is based on some conspiratorial reason is that it overlooks the simple fact that mistakes happen — on both sides. Or are you saying we should simply assume conspiracies and go ahead trying to avoid the rules?
OMG right back at you. I wasn’t writing about myself at all.
I was writing about the same people you were writing about: conservative writers who were losing reviews and immediately assuming it was a targeted attack, rather than a general rules crack down on everyone. Because that is in fact what happens on a Twitter, Facebook, on YouTube… and five minutes ago to Mrs. Barr, the actress. One rule for thee and one rule for me.
I was musing about how a justified paranoia intersects with your good advice about staying focussed on the business practice. Especially as platform after platform falls to corruption.
It was a good post you wrote, and it got me thinking on this tangent.
Can we cry peace and start over?
Why not, they’ve been getting away with it for ages– break the rules, throw a fit when caught, get to do it anyways.
Don’t get me started on the folks who then want rules to be applied where they AREN’T actually written for, so other people get in trouble too. (Mostly because that’s usually what gets me!)
“Nobody really knows these many rules that are erratically and sometimes draconianly applied” is really really bad for business. Even completely unfair, but known rules are better.
I can avoid canyons; sinkholes, on the other hand, even if they’re not nearly as deep or even as common– those are a problem.
Ooh. Good image.
These people are the reason Planter’s Peanuts cans say “Caution, contains peanuts.”
In my readings on writing I keep coming across the expression of treating it like a business. Good advice in all the things. I have heard a few things about reviews going missing and such. The good people are those saying, “Hang on there, going through the process of getting them returned.”
Other than that, don’t do anything shady.
Yep. If you are a plumber and your supplier messes up your order, you don’t stomp your feet and go immediately onto social media to piss and moan about how the supplier is evil and against you. You pick up the phone and try to work it out and get the order corrected. If the city, while making repairs to a water line, cuts your sprinkler system line, you call them and tell them it is their responsibility to fix the problem. You don’t instantly go into the attack on social media because you haven’t exhausted your resources yet. Even when I do bitch about something going on, I do it in private groups, not out in the open — at least not until I have exhausted every possible option. That means, with Amazon, contacted Bezos. It means with Apple, working up their executive chain as well. And so on and so on.
If there’s a glitch, treat it like a business treats a glitch, and it’ll get fixed. Peter was checking the performance of the latest release, and on a Thursday night, noted that all 12 or so reviews were suddenly gone. He contacted KDP Help, noting the problem, then Author Central, also noting the problem, and then contacted me. (I was at Day Job, Swing Shift edition.)
I noted that this is a known issue, and to contact Author Central help. He asked if he should start asking on the blog for readers to resubmit their reviews. I advised against it, noting that if you want something fixed in 12-24 hours, asking people to reduplicate their efforts will… create a bigger issue than the initial problem. Treat it like a vendor display glitch, and it’ll be solved like a vendor display glitch.
Sure enough, within 16 hours, the reviews were all back – along with a couple more that had been submitted in the meantime. Sales took a slight hit while there were no reviews, but not much of one – and compared to trying to motivate bookstore employees to actually unpack and stock your books on the shelves (a not-unknown motivation behind drive-by author signings pre-indie), Amazon is really responsive.
Exactly, Dot. A couple of years ago, I uploaded a file to Amazon and, as per my habit, immediately downloaded the “converted” file. Somewhere along the way, Amazon wound up attaching the wrong file to the buy button and folks wound up buying a different book in the series. Amazon suspended sales of the book when they started getting complaints. I worked through the process, with much gnashing of teeth along the way. Initially, the lower level folks I dealt with simply kept saying their system couldn’t have made a mistake. It didn’t matter that I had a timestamped file showing I had uploaded and then downloaded the appropriate file.
So I did a 30 second google search and found Bezos’ email address. I sent a detailed email, listing everything I had done, attaching the relevant emails, etc. That evening, I had a call from one of Amazon’s resolution specialists. It took another couple of days — all together almost a week — but the problem was worked out and the book was put back on sale without problem. My only issue was they wouldn’t take down the negative reviews talking about the wrong file being attached. But that was small beans, thanks to good fans who took time to respond to those reviews and thanks to the fact that we, as authors, can update the product information and I was able to note the correct file was now attached to the buy button.
As an addendum to the post, I have spent the last hour plus on either live chat or on the phone with Amazon this morning. Yes, it was for a product I’d ordered and not related to KDP. However, the process was the same. In late March, I ordered a bundle of two Fire Sticks for my mother. They arrived and it took a bit for me to set them up. Neither worked. So I contacted Amazon and reported the problem. I was instructed to send them in for repair. It took a week or so for me to do so because life but I did. This morning, I checked the repair status and discovered a possible problem.
Looking at the status update, it appeared that they were only sending back one Stick and it wasn’t the same model as the two I’d sent in. So, I began the follow-up process. I started with a live chat. There I was told not only that it was single stick but the wrong model. I was offered a credit that would not cover the price of replacing even one of them with the correct model. I declined and let the CSR know I would be calling in and, if that didn’t work, would be going further up the chain of command.
First call was instantly placed, with the chat window still open so I could refer back to it. That call ended in a disconnect and I called back immediately. The first CSR confirmed what the chat CSR said. But he pushed me through to another CSR, one who works with the Fire department. I have been assured the Stick sent back is the correct model and I have made sure my concerns about that are known. As for the second stick — and, yes, I did remind him I had paid for two and I expected to have two since I had sent them back — I was given credit to buy a new one.
I could have gone to FB and Twitter, etc., and pitched a fit, whining and moaning about the fact Amazon was screwing me. Instead, I took an hour or so to do some basic footwork. I’m not saying the problem is completely solved but it looks like it might be. More than that, I have established a paper trail that can be referenced should I have to contact anyone further up the corporate chain. It is what I would do with any other vendor, so why not follow the same process with Amazon?