More Amazon outrage, but is it justified?

It’s a new month and you know what that means. Amazon is being hated all over again. No, I’m not talking about the technical glitches it had yesterday during the early hours of its Prime Day event. Yes, I’m one of those grumbling about it because I missed out on something because, when the item went live and I clicked on it, I got the “Oops, we are experiencing a problem right now”. I lost out on the item as a result. But that’s not the current outrage, at least not in the writing community. If you’re on social media or if you follow the Kindle Boards, you know there’s a new round of “Amazon is pulling author accounts without explaining why!”

I’ve seen some references to some author having his or her account yanked. Then others chime in and claim they know someone else it happened to. Now, all this might be true but when I see no supporting evidence, no names, not substance, I find myself wondering. When someone dares to comment that it looks like a dogpile or witch hunt, they’re slammed by others in the thread. After all, if someone said it happened, it did and Amazon is evil.

Now, I’m the first to admit Amazon isn’t perfect. It makes mistakes. Name one business — or one person — that doesn’t. As an author, it is often frustrating and difficult to find a real person to talk to when you have a problem. But it can be done. You just have to be persistent and you have to understand the rules of the game. First of all, you don’t try responding to the emails sent to you by the Amazon ‘bots. Instead, you find the help button and use it. Or you go to your Author Central page. If you don’t know what this is or haven’t been using it, please do. It offers not only sales information — including bookscan numbers — but ways to edit your product page with additional html markup capabilities. It lets you link author accounts if you have a pen name so all those books show up on your author page. Better yet, the help button on that page allows you to contact Amazon via email or via phone. Yes, phone. If all that fails, email Jeff Bezos. You won’t actually get him but you will get someone who will respond in a matter of hours instead of days and, the few times I’ve had to deal with an issue that way, they do everything they can to help you.

What you don’t do is go whining on social media and talking about how mean Amazon is to you. Sure, you can outline your problem and what you are doing to find a fix. But damn, folks, think about it. If you are out there badmouthing a company, what impetus do they have to actually hurry up and fix the problem for you, especially if you haven’t really given them the chance to correct the issue before taking to the attack on social media?

Believe me, I know it stings when something goes wrong and Amazon pulls a book or your entire account. It happened to me a couple of years ago when they pulled a book during launch week. It killed the book and damn near killed the series. For a week, I was frustrated and angry and working to do all I could to get things reinstated. Everything worked out in the end, primarily because I stuck to it, kept good records all along the way and didn’t just focus on bitching on social media about what happened. Instead, I could show Amazon screenshots of when I uploaded the final version of the book. I could show them the converted book after it had been uploaded (hint: after uploading a title to Amazon, always download the preview copy. Not only should you check to make sure nothing happened on their end but it gives you evidence that the book was successfully uploaded if there is a problem later.) I had all my email correspondence about the issue and then I had the email and phone conversations (which were documented) with the contact from Bezos’ team.

So what’s going on now?

I can speculate based on reading between the lines. Some authors are getting hit for any one of a variety of reasons. One reason might be because they are inadvertently violating the rules about how much additional material you can have at the end of your book. In taking steps to prevent “book stuffing”, Amazon instituted new guidelines about bonus content. this bonus content should not be more than about 10% of the book. Amazon further suggests that if you want to add more than that, you call your book a “collection”.

What this means is if you include a sample from another title — or titles — in your book, you need to make sure it doesn’t go beyond that 10% mark. The reason Amazon has this rule is because there were some unscrupulous authors putting up a story or a book and then adding multiple titles after it as “bonus material”. That impacted the number of “pages read” for Kindle Unlimited payouts — and impacted the bottom line for all the rest of us.

Amazon has also taken steps against authors using clickbait sites that promise to get you a certain number of clicks if you advertise or list through them.

Then there is this rather lengthy post from The Verge, discussing not only Cockygate but other issues as well, issues Amazon is or is going to have to deal with. Now, while I admit the article isn’t the best written article I’ve ever seen, to have an idea of how some authors knee-jerk react whenever Amazon or KU come up in conversation, just look at the comments at The Passive Voice. Instead of discussing the real issue — how some authors are making life more difficult not only for Amazon but for the rest of us — they attack the article because they don’t like the impression they got that the author has no respect for ALL KU authors. The point is missed and they focus on bruised egos.

Just as happens whenever Amazon starts enforcing the rules and someone gets caught up who might not have actually violated the rules.

It hurts, as I said. But mistakes happen. What we, as authors, have to remember is that this is our business and we have to deal with it as such. If we were merchants and our account with some client or supplier was mistakenly terminated, would we go to social media to bitch and moan? Not if we wanted that account reinstated and not unless it was the last option open to us. We would work with the client or supplier to try to figure out what the problem was and how to fix it. Then we would do everything we could to be in compliance with their rules. If we were smart, after the fact, we’d post something thanking the client or supplier for their understanding and pointing out to our own employees, etc., what happened and how to make sure it never happened again in the future.

Let me repeat myself: Our writing is our BUSINESS and we need to treat it as such. That means we need to act in a businesslike manner and be professional. That means we have to routinely check the terms or service for whatever platforms we are publishing on. We need to make sure we check out associated e-mail accounts. In other words, we have to be proactive instead of reactive.

Yeah, I’m on my soapbox this morning. Stepping off now.

Until later.

14 thoughts on “More Amazon outrage, but is it justified?

  1. If I sold something – let’s say jam – through a local retail chain, went in, and found that someone had removed my jam from the shelves without telling me, would I throw a hissy fit in the story, scream at the clerks, and then go post on FaceSpace that the store had done me wrong? No, I’d as to speak to the manager to find out what the problem was. Had a major brand purchased the shelf space? Had the stocker misunderstood a health recall and grabbed my brand instead of something with a similar name? Was there a problem with the product? I as a businesswoman need to know so I can check with all my distributers if there is a real problem. And ticking off the distributer over a minor problem….

    It’s a small world. I watched people learn that the very hard way in aviation. Pick your battles and your temper-fits wisely, especially if you are in the wrong with malice aforethought.

    1. Yep. And don’t go to Faceplant and the rest of it condemning the retailer — especially if the retailer is one you use to sell your goods — without knowing the full story. What I’m hearing this afternoon is the authors (and it is a very small number when you consider how many of us use KDP) were in violation of Amazon’s ToS for either paying for reviews or book stuffing or both.

  2. Amazon runs its “purges” the way cops run a sobriety checkpoint on New Year’s Eve–stop everyone, and then let the innocent go. I’ve seen a dozen of these panics in the years I’ve been on Amazon, and every time the authors who are playing by the rules are back in business quickly.

    1. Yep, but it is sooo much more fun (I guess. Why else would they do it) to go around screaming and shouting to the heavens than acting like a professional and dealing with the problem.

  3. Congratulations, MadGeniusClub!
    Not exactly on topic, except that the above shows why you deserved to win:

    Votes having been received and counted, the 2018 National Fantasy Fan Federation Speculative Fiction Award winners are:

    Best Blog — MadGeniusClub

    Best novel — Holy Princess Aura by Ryk Spoor

    Best Shorter Work —And Then There Were (N-One) by Sarah Pinsker

    Best Book Editor — Toni Weisskopf

    Best Film — Thor Ragnarok

    Best Fanzine — Tightbeam

    Best TV Show — Supergirl

    Best Anime — The Ancient Magus Bride

    Best Graphic Art Publication — Jean Grey

    We congratulate the winners! By custom, we do not announce vote totals or indicate who finished second.

    1. I’m pleased to see that Spoor’s Princess Holy Aura won. I would have thought that some of the apparent distribution issues would have weakened its chances.

  4. It’s worth mentioning that one of the benefits of belonging to the SFWA (Science Fiction Writers of America) is that they have a liaison with Amazon they can use to speed up this sort of conflict resolution. From my own time at Amazon, I can attest that it makes a huge difference to have someone inside the company presenting your case for you. (“This person has been on the platform a long time, sold a number of books–nothing stellar, but solid–and she can’t figure out what she did to cause this.” Of course, that can work both ways, “This guy is one of our problem children. He games the system right up to the limit of the rules and then whines when he gets taken down for stepping over them.”) But the advantage of someone involved in the process who has sat and listened and understands your situation cannot be overstated.

    That said, I would recommend taking all the steps Amanda described above, even if you’re with SFWA and they’ve contacted their liaison. I’d never advocate sitting back and hoping someone else will solve your problem.

    1. Thanks, Greg. Good info there. I also happen to agree with the advice not to rely on someone else to solve your problem.

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