Well, today was supposed to be release day for Risen from Ashes. It had been on pre-order for two months. It had gone to alpha and beta readers as well as my editor. Everything looked to be in place. But, like the best laid plans, things fell apart Friday of last week. So listen, my friends, to a tale of warning, if not of woe.
Before certain folks jump in and condemn me because I release only on Amazon and remind me how evil Amazon is, a couple of things. One, I know Amazon is not perfect. However, it is more author-friendly than the other outlets. It has been the leader in giving us a place in the publishing world. And, whether certain folks want to believe it or not, Amazon is responsive–if you deal with them like you would any other business associate and conduct yourself professionally. At least that’s been my experience.
So, back to my story.
Friday, I sat down and started the final steps to uploading the final version of the manuscript for Risen from Ashes. Amazon is nice and provides a handy timer on the upload page. So I knew I was still well within the timeframe. I converted the file using Vellum, as I always do. Checked to make sure everything looked right and then checked it on my Oasis, just to be sure.
Another check of the timer. Still good and no need to panic. I started the upload and then the gods of publishing decided to kick me in the teeth. First, my internet went down. Okay. Don’t panic. I still have time. If it isn’t back up in a few minutes, I can always tether my laptop to the cellphone and go online that way.
Whew. The internet came back up. I checked the clock at the top of the page. Still within the time limit for uploading the final file. So I refreshed the page and once again started the upload.
Now, as pretty much anyone who has ever uploaded a manuscript to KDP knows, it is rarely instant. You have to wait for it to “convert” the file, even if you uploaded a MOBI file. I wasn’t worried when the wait began. I still had time. But, I’ll admit, I was getting a little edgy. The clock was ticking. But, I’d gotten the upload started. Everything should work out just fine. Right?
Wrong. As I was soon to learn.
I waited and waited and waited.
And still had the “please wait while we convert your manuscript” message. The clock at the top of the page mocked me as it continued counting down to zero hour.
Finally, I got the “Done!” message and I breathed easy.
Except I discovered I couldn’t dismiss the message which now overlay the rest of the page. I couldn’t tell Amazon to save my changes (which included the newly uploaded file). When I finally gave up and refreshed the page, I discovered I was now locked out of that particular part of my dashboard. Oh, I could access every other book but that one.
Shit, damn and fuck!
(Sorry, but that is clean compared to what I was saying Friday.)
After several attempts, I hit the help button and had KDP tech support call me (and let me tell you, this is a vast improvement. There was once a time when there was no KDP help button you could use and you had to find someone on the Amazon side of things who knew how to get you to the KDP side). The call came right away and I found myself praying they could help me figure out what was going on.
Here is where I have an issue with Amazon. The KDP process is automated to the point that if something happens–if you wind up in the queue for hours waiting for your title to “convert” or something else glitches– your SOL. Worse, the first level of tech support really can’t do much of anything but commiserate with you.
Now, being me, I thanked the young woman helping me. I’ll admit I was a bit strident a couple of times with her but I kept my language in check and tried to stay professional. Finally, when she could do nothing else, I asked to speak with a supervisor. I explained the situation to him and hoped he could help me.
Unfortunately, he couldn’t. Once the magical timer goes off–which it had by this point–they have no way of reversing the consequences. It doesn’t matter who was at fault. And, he informed me, not only did I lose my pre-orders, but the product page would disappear and I would lose my pre-order privileges for a year.
This is when I brought up the ToS ( which I will go into shortly). His response was he couldn’t speak to the ToS. The system was set up this way and he could do nothing to help me. We ended the call with me frustrated and trying to figure out what my next step should be.
Perhaps it is my professional background that sent me looking once again at the Terms of Service or perhaps it is the way I was brought up. Either way, I pulled up the Terms of Service and started checking them for what they say about pre-orders.
Lesson #1: Check the Terms of Service on a regular basis.
Amazon has updated the Terms of Service and did so on Feb. 20, 2020. How many of you have read them since then to see if there are any changes you need to be aware of? I hadn’t–at that point. I guarantee you I have since then.
Lesson #2: Know what the Terms of Service says about any aspect of the KDP program you are using.
With regard to pre-orders, the pertinent language for my situation is as follows:
1 Enrollment. You may make your eligible Digital Book available for pre-order by choosing “pre-order” as your book release option during title set-up. We have established important deadlines for pre-order enrollment to ensure a positive customer experience. If you miss these deadlines, we may suspend your access to pre-order and customer pre-orders may be cancelled.
Note that the language is that they “may” suspend a writer’s ability to offer pre-orders and that pre-orders already placed “may” be cancelled. Not that they will, but that they may. Hmm. That means, at least to me, Amazon must have some way to override the automated process.
But, then there’s the following sentence at the end of the paragraph:
For additional details on pre-order enrollment and requirements, please see the KDP pre-orders page.
I followed the link to the FAQ page and found this information:
If you don’t upload your manuscript file on time, your pre-order will be canceled, and you won’t be able to set up a pre-order for any eBook for one year. The same applies if you cancel the release of your pre-order book.
Oops. That doesn’t look so good, does it. This is much more definite about losing privileges.
But–and this is a big but–when we join KDP, we agree to follow the Terms of Service. The FAQs may be looked at to clarify, but the ToS rules.
So, for the second time as an author, I sat down and drafted an e-mail to Jeff Bezos. Oh, I knew he wouldn’t see it. But I have learned he has people who deal with such emails and they have been good, in my experience, in doing all they can to help resolve issues. I hoped things hadn’t changed.
I won’t lie. It took time. By the time I sent the email off, it was probably close to 7 pm Friday night, two hours after the dreaded timer ended its countdown. The pre-orders had been canceled. By Saturday mid-morning, the product page was gone. My ulcer was in full rebellion and I was cursing the gods of the internet and publishing.
Sunday came and I still hadn’t heard anything. I was trying to figure out what to write yesterday or today to let my fans know what happened. Then, mid-afternoon Sunday, I heard back from Amazon. Holding my breath, not quite sure I wanted to see what they had to say, I opened the email.
I’ll be upfront and say i didn’t get everything I wanted. I knew the pre-orders were gone and I was right. So was the product page–but that is easy enough to reproduce. But the important part was the ability to offer titles for pre-order. I know there are some who don’t agree with me that pre-orders are important but they are. Many of the promotion sites require a store page before they will let you list your book for promo. It helps promoting the book on FB or on a blog, Twitter, whatever, to have a product page.
Heart pounding, I continued reading.
And breathed a sigh of relief. The restriction on pre-orders has been removed.
Lesson #3: Be Professional and Back Your Demands Up By Showing You Followed The Rules
Or at least made a good faith effort to do so.
And know the ToS.
In some ways, this book has seemed cursed from the beginning. But I really like the book and know that’s not the case. Life has just been, well, “interesting”. Normally, I don’t wait until the last day to upload the final manuscript. This time, circumstances didn’t let me do it any earlier. That will not happen again, no matter what.
The Next Step:
I stepped away from the book for the weekend and today. Instead of worrying about it–okay, I worried like hell, but there was not much I could do until I heard back from Amazon–I worked on world-building for a new series. Starting tomorrow, I’m going to do one last check of the manuscript for Rising from Ashes and it will go live later this week. Probably on Friday.
In the meantime, I have set a recurring alarm on my phone’s calendar to remind me to check the ToS every month. Yes, I’m being obsessive about it. But I am convinced the fact I knew what the ToS said and could prove it was at odds with the FAQs helped me plead my case and get my pre-order privileges restored. (As did being professional in my dealings with Amazon).
This writer will not be the unhappy writer on what should be release day ever again.