A Lesson In Always Keeping Your Eyes Open

Like many of us, I entered the 2022 hoping it would be a better year than 2020 and 2021. I wish I could say the year is off to a good start for publishing, especially indie publishing, but I can’t. Oh, it’s not end of the world sort of trouble, but the last few days have offered up a number of reasons why it is so very important for writers to keep an eye on their social media accounts, their advertising lines and their Amazon (and other storefront) listings. To say the year has gotten off to a bumpy start is putting it mildly, at least for a lot of writers and readers.

Let’s start with the one story getting the most publicity. Yesterday morning, I saw a story about Facebook permanently locking the advertising account of Heroes of Liberty. HoL bills itself as a conservative publisher of books for children. It has put out books on Professor Thomas Sowell, President Ronald Reagan and other conservative icons. FB locked the advertising account for being against the company’s rules the company’s rules “against ‘Low Quality or Disruptive Content’.”

Now, I’ll admit the covers leave something to be desired, even for kids books. But I had to wonder if this was more of FB trying to silence conservative voices–even though they deny doing so–or a mistake or bots gone wild. What really had me wondering was the timing of it all. The original lock occurred mere days before Christmas. Hmmm, if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck. . . .

So imagine my surprise this morning when I got up and started looking for topics for this morning’s post to find an update to the story. Without letting the publisher know, FB unlocked the advertising account. In fact, HoL learned about the reversal when members of Congress let them know that FB had contacted them to tell them it had been a mistake and they were correcting it ASAP. Hmmm, do we think FB is worried Congress will start looking even more closely at its operations if it keeps going down the road it’s on?

Whatever the reasoning, the advertising account has been unlocked, at least for the moment. Keep an eye out to see what happens next.

But FB isn’t the only one having “technical” difficulties to start the New Year. Reports of issues with Amazon have been running rife across various social media platforms. Authors have been vocal about their sales dashboard not matching downloads. They–and this includes me–check the sales graph and the compare it to the sales numbers and they look nothing alike. If you’re one of the lucky ones when you contact Amazon, you get the “we know and we admit there is an issue and we’re working on it” response. Otherwise, you get a generic response of they’ll check and get back to it. As for this morning, the two still bear little resemblance to one another on my account.

But that’s not the only issue I’m seeing on the Amazon front. Several authors, all in romance genres, reported receiving messages from Amazon that their accounts had been locked and their books removed from sale due to one or more books being deemed to be “misleading”. There was no explanation on how the books were misleading. In one case, the book involved had been accused of that before and proven not to be. But those Amazon bots were working full force over the holiday and they zapped it again and then implemented the nuclear response of shutting it all down. Worse, in at least one case, that also included print books–something I’ve never seen happen before.

In the one case I followed fairly closely yesterday, author Ruby Dixon did everything right in my opinion. She let her readers know what was happening. She was open with them that she was devastated by it all and that she was working hard to try to find out what was going on and why. She didn’t go ballistic on social media. She didn’t demand her followers boycott Amazon, etc. She acted like a pro and worked hard to get it solved. By the end of day yesterday, her e-books were being reinstated. What I saw from the reader standpoint was a number of her fans not only took to social media to spread th word about what was happening, but they were contacting Amazon–on their own–to ask about it and they were screencapping the responses and posting them. It was grassroots and more in the way of concerned customers than “burn it all down” that we see so often when something happens.

Another author, Lola Glass, also found herself in much the same situation as Ms. Dixon. She, too, contacted Amazon and over the course of the day started seeing movement in getting her books back up for sale.

But that isn’t the end of Amazon’s bot issues. At least one other author had a pre-order supposed to go live today. As for the last time I checked the product page, the book was listed as being “unavailable”. The author has been in contact with Amazon and they are looking into it but it may be as long as 72 hours before things are straightened out. My concern–having been through this before myself–is she will have lost all her pre-orders. I hope not, but it is a possibility.

Then there’s me. As you know by now, I delayed the release of Fire Striker by two weeks. Life happens and I didn’t want to rush the final edits. I knew Amazon might hiccup on it because I’d delayed it once already. But, to my surprise, they accepted the new date without issue. Then. . . then I got a very generic and unspecific email from them saying they’d allowed the delay out of the goodness of their heart but I might still face penalties (namely, no new preorders allowed for a year). To avoid the penalty, I needed to contact them with the ASIN of “the preorder”.

Now, the reason this is problematical is they didn’t specific the ASIN of what preorder. Did they mean the one for Fire Striker or for a new preorder. If the former, they already have that ASIN but, considering the issues the platform seems to be having right now, maybe they don’t. But if they mean future preorders, are they talking about the five I already have scheduled–and that I have been obsessively checking since receiving the email–or a new one. If a new one, there is no ASIN I can give them because the preorder doesn’t exist.

Sooooo, I responded to the email and have yet to hear back. I’m still obsessively checking the other preorders and I will call Amazon later today if I haven’t heard back.

All this is a longwinded and roundabout way of saying two things. First, as much as I hate social media, it is important that we keep an eye on it. As indies, there are some excellent FB groups to join, groups that share their good news as well as news like the stories above. More than that, the members are there to help one another and that’s important.

Second, I get why so many indies are Amazon exclusive. I was as well for years. I made the very scary decision this past summer to go wide. It took time and I did so. Yes, I lost the page reads from KU loans because as a wide author I can’t be part of the KU program. But, to my surprise, my earnings haven’t gone down. My sales on Amazon have increased and I have picked up sales from the other storefronts. Yes, I need to start doing some advertising to brace up those other platform sales and that will come with this new year. But what I’ve seen confirmed what I suspected, KU was stripping me of sales on Amazon. More than that, what I’m seeing now, months after taking my books out of the KU program is that people borrow books and hold on to them for months and months before reading them. How do I know this? Because I am getting page reads for books that have been out of the program since June.

So, bottom line. If you have anything listed on Amazon right now, check it and keep a close eye on it. Not just on your sales numbers but your product page. That includes your product description because I saw an example yesterday where a self-help book has the description of a book about a dog. The bots are drunk right now and need to be sent home. Don’t be afraid to let them know and please, call them a cab. They shouldn’t be navigating the internet highway on their own.

12 comments

  1. If it was the start of 2020, I’d be thinking it was some kind of a programming oops that was wide spread… beyond that, no idea.

    Maybe someone got a bot army going and the other bots are exhausted fighting it?

    Facebook is probably in CYA mode from obvious abuse of system, be interesting to see if lawsuits come of it….

    1. This is my issue. Trying to keep up with what’s happening in the industry, trying to do the business side of writing, trying to do the promo side of writing. . . when am I supposed to write?

  2. It has been said before but is worth the reminder, don’t let social media be your only line of contact with your fans. A simple blog, hosted somewhere that isn’t known for sudden attacks on wrong-think is an easy solution. Even if you never do more than post a copy of your newsletter or new book releases it will be searchable on the less censored engines and can be your lifeline as you scramble to recover from a ban elsewhere.

    While I have my own website I find it much less effort to post things to Live Journal than there. I keep my domain so I own my domain, web site, e-mail server and have a space to post things I don’t want to be public.

    1. Even if you never do more than post a copy of your newsletter or new book releases it will be searchable on the less censored engines and can be your lifeline as you scramble to recover from a ban elsewhere.

      This is a very good idea– a writer’s blog I follow (as in, belonging to a writer) up and vanished after someone posted a (completely relevant and legal) long quote from a Russian website into a fan discussion.

      She now has a Tumblr (I think I left the correct letters out there….) as a second route of communication. Ended up getting a lot of comments on her fanfic page to the effect of “Oh, no! Your blog is gone!” when folks couldn’t find another route to make sure she’d heard of it.

  3. FB locked the advertising account for being against the company’s rules the company’s rules “against ‘Low Quality or Disruptive Content’.”

    Wait, Facebook has a rule against “Low Quality Content”? I thought Facebook was more or less nothing BUT low quality content.

    Yes, I lost the page reads from KU loans because as a wide author I can’t be part of the KU program. But, to my surprise, my earnings haven’t gone down.

    I can believe that, but at this point in my career, eyeballs are more valuable than dollars. I’m still trying to get everyone I can to start reading, in hopes that I’ll eventually develop the sort of fans who would follow me to other platforms and buy the books that aren’t on KU, but I don’t think I’m anywhere close to there yet. Right now, I feel I MUST stick with Amazon.

    Nonetheless, this is alarming. Amazon has basically been what makes indie possible. If they go, things get bad. I don’t know if the genie gets put back in the bottle, but it definitely grows a lot slower (yes, I know that’s a horrible mixed metaphor, but I don’t have time to come up with a better one!)

    1. One thing to look at–and I am about to do some research into it–is the Kobo Plus program. (I think that’s what it’s called). Unlike KU, you don’t have to be exclusive to Kobo. What little I have seen about it, it is similar to KU in how you get paid, although I’ve heard some rumblings that there is a timeframe where you basically give your page reads away for free. (I haven’t confirmed that)

  4. A corollary to this for the readers (including writers as readers) is to consider Amazon the place to buy books you can’t get anywhere else.

  5. Amazon customer service leaves a lot to be desired even on the customer end. They locked our account at the beginning of December after we reported fraud to our credit card company. It took three weeks for them to unlock it. It was almost as if they were punishing us for having been the victim

  6. Hmm. Weird and not wonderful things going on up there. I’m putting these reports together with a couple of things that happened to me.

    First – I purchased Barbarella #1 soon after it came out. The charge came into my account, I downloaded the book, all normal. Two days later, I open up my Kindle, and I have very strange “book” show up as a new download. It was a notice from Amazon that they couldn’t complete the purchase. No email, nothing in my Amazon account notices, just that “book.”

    Second – about two weeks after that, my KU account was locked out. Somehow, they had not initiated the autopayment for December. Chat with a couple of their (obviously Indian) Customer Support agents, who admitted that their side was at fault, but kept wanting me to cancel the account and start a new one. (I did not want to do that – KU is mostly for series, and what I do is just find the last one and return it to get the new one. Those rentals would have disappeared, and I was not willing to write all of them down and reload for their mistake.) No followup from Customer Support after I essentially gave them an ultimatum of “fix it, or lose it.” But the next day, lo and behold, it was fixed.

    This does not appear to be some issue going on in just whatever subgroup of IT handles books, though my Prime account has had no problems whatsoever, and orders of things other than books have been just fine. I’m out of the development biz, but I do still keep an eye on it, and AWS had multiple major issues in December – and even today, DownDetector shows a much higher level of outage reports than is normal.

    1. Yeah, I’d followed the AWS outage some, and paid some attention to third party websites for outages.

      I originally planned to comment directly on the post, and speculate about AWS issues screwing up back end things on Amazon.

      AWS outage stuff /could/ be infowar. I don’t feel paranoid enough to want to expand on that.

      I was paying close attention to outages in relation to timing on kindle purchases.

      1. I dunno, Bob. Reportedly, at least one of those outages took down their logistics system along with it.
        If someone inside did that deliberately – well, there is probably an exsanguinated body somewhere in a Seattle basement.

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