indies tagged posts

The Future of Indie Publishing – Selena Kitt’s Predictions for 2017

I remember in the old days, back in 2010 (*rocking like the old-timer I am, in a chair on the porch*) when the ebook market was the wild west of publishing…There was gold in them thar hills, I tell you! So. Much. Gold! Those of us who got in early? We made out like bandits. Now, I know this isn’t 2010 anymore, but the metaphor of the gold rush still applies. The avenues to “easy money” have mostly been closed off in indie publishing. As Amazon continues their attempt to dominate the ebook market, other income streams narrow down to a trickle. And Amazon themselves continue to squeeze indie authors, offering them less in profits, while their algorithms force them to spend more money in ads to make a larger sum.

Depressed? Dejected? Don’t worry. This isn’t the end of indie publishing. It’s just a shift in the market, and the best thing about indie authors is their ability to adapt. Yes, the market will continue to be flooded with new authors and more books. As the pond gets bigger, there will be a larger gap between the “big fish” and the “little fish,” and it will become even more difficult to gain visibility. But if you stick with it, and do all the right things, you can still make a career as an indie author.

2017 holds a lot of promise. It may not be the gold rush anymore, but there’s still a lot of gold in them thar hills—you just have to work a little harder to find it.

I think upping your marketing game this year will be key. Learn how to create effective ads with the biggest bang for your buck—or hire someone reputable who can do it for you. Amazon Ads will start giving Facebook ads a run for their money. Bookbub will continue to be effective (but less so than in previous years – we may have reached a saturation point there…) To be fair, most mailing list sites are less effective now than they’ve been in years previous. That said, many are still worth investing in to get the most eyes you can on your books.

Unfortunately, I do believe that Amazon’s market share will continue to grow. However, I think we are starting to see the giant just beginning to stumble, now that they have to turn a profit and actually pay shareholders (and this isn’t limited to selling books). Amazon has made several missteps this year, and they’re battling widespread fraud (again, not just in ebooks) and I see this trend causing mistrust, both in their customers and their vendors.

Amazon algorithms will continue to give boosts to KDP Select books, but given the issues that have recently come to light about “Kindle Unlimited” (not the least of which is Amazon’s inability to actually count the “pages read” they’re using to pay out to KDP Select author participants) authors may become more selective about their use of KDP Select as a marketing tool. Authors may put only certain books into the program, or put books in for just the first 90 days and then use sale prices coupled with a Bookbub ad (or a cluster of other smaller ads) to push the book wide. I believe authors will continue to use KDP Select, but many will begin to back off from the “all in” philosophy. Personally, I’ve never been a proponent of putting all your eggs in one basket.

Still, Amazon will remain the elephant in the room, and I believe their own imprints will continue to dominate the top book spots on the site. Because of this, we may see authors seeking to go hybrid this year, whether it’s looking to become an “Amazon author,” or submitting to traditional publishing houses.

I think growth in 2017 will be in foreign markets (where Kobo already has a foothold), as well as audio (where the market is still growing by leaps and bounds) and direct sales (which means sites like Gumroad and Patreon will gain even more popularity with authors). And while we’ve seen some small pubs down-size (like Samhain) and other smaller sites collapse (like All Romance Ebooks / Omnilit) others like Excitica and A1 Adult Ebooks (and their sister sites) will be around to pick up the slack. And as Amazon and other vendors crack down on more “adult” material, these sites will offer niche markets for subsequently disenfranchised readers and authors.

My best advice for 2017 is to work smarter, not harder. It may feel as if you’re on a writing treadmill, forced to release something new every thirty days or so, and the truth is there are plenty of authors doing just that. And some prolific authors have found success doing so. There is certainly something to the formula of “writing to market, writing fast and publishing often.” But don’t worry if you’re not the 5-10K-a-day sort of author. You can still be successful writing just a book or two a year. How?

Work smarter. Make sure you’re growing your own mailing list—and engaging with your readers on a regular basis. Don’t let them forget you exist (but don’t spam them—or annoy them—either). Readers like engaging with authors. And what they seem to enjoy most is authors with big personalities. So find your author persona and work it! I’ve seen authors do this in many different ways, from the inimitable Chuck Tingle to the sassy Jordan Silver. Take the best parts of you—the parts that others tend to be drawn to—and amplify them by ten. Turn up the volume. Be bold. Do and say the things that will make them remember you, in your newsletter and on social media. Just make sure you’re doing it from a genuine place. You’re just turning up the volume, not changing the channel!

Also, remember that no author is an island. Find other authors who write things similar to you and work out a way to cross-promote and cross-pollinate on a regular basis. Trust me, even if you’re the most prolific author in the world, you can’t turn out books fast enough to keep up with readers. Cross-promoting keeps readers on your side. They’ll start looking to you for recommendations and it will help keep their interest while you’re writing your next novel. And if you find you really click with another author, you can always consider an author partnership. After all, two authors can writer faster than one!

I don’t think 2016 was a great year for indies—but I do believe 2017 has the potential to be. No, 2017 won’t be anything like the gold rush year of 2010, but it’s still full of possibilities. I think the indie author community has grown together and become stronger over the years, and their future is still quite bright. Indies know how to adapt. They’re natural entrepreneurs, and even when the learning curve is steep, they’re willing to jump into the deep end to learn how to swim.

Looking forward to 2017, I think indie authors will continue to innovate, push the envelope, and transform the face of publishing itself.

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ScAmazon 2 – Mammoth Consequences: The Digital Sweatshop

About a month ago, I did a post about the scams that are rocking the self-publishing world on Amazon. I pointed to the scam Kindle internet marketing course that Dave Koziel was doing, and the 15-year-old German kid who made 130K using his methods.

Today, I saw a video from Dave Koziel on YouTube. He apparently felt it necessary to explain to his viewers that his methods weren’t really “scammy” and why he, himself, is not really a scammer. Watch the video for yourself. (I don’t recommend eating anything beforehand, though, if you have a tendency to get queasy…)

You see, Koziel admits he’s not a writer but more of an internet marketer who hired ghostwriters to write his hundreds (literally, hundreds) of 8,000-10,000 word “books.” He would then publish those books under pen names on Amazon. In KU 1.0, those 8-10K books would yield $1.30-ish a borrow. After KU 2.0, Dave clearly found himself with an abundance of short books that paid about half-a-penny per-page-read. So about $0.40-$0.50. That’s quite a pay cut.

Then Dave realized, if he bundled all his books together (and, you know, published them under different titles, changing up that order with every new title) he’d get paid more and could maximize his “Kindle real estate” so to speak. In fact, he discovered, if he got his reader(s) to click to the end of that mass of titles, even if they didn’t read them, he’d get paid for a full read!

This is particularly interesting to me because, as I revealed in a previous post, a representative at Amazon had directly told me, at the very beginning of KU 2.0, that “skipping to the end of a book” would not result in a full read. Dave Koziel, on the other hand, says that Amazon directly told him that yes, skipping to the end of a book does result in a full read, and that they somehow planned this by design.

So, Amazon – which is it?

Clearly, the evidence shows us that skipping to the end of a book does, indeed, result in a full read. We now have conflicting reports about whether or not that was intentional, or even known, by Amazon.

Dave Koziel took it upon himself to put a call out to his readers at the beginning of his books, asking them to click to the end if they wanted him to get paid for all his hard work (or in his case, his ghostwriters’ hard work and his cash outlay…) He explained to them that Amazon had started paying authors by the page read, and in order to get fully paid, they had to skip to the end.

What reader, who picked up a book because they liked the cover/blurb enough to borrow it, wouldn’t click to the end after that plea?

Koziel claims he was just being honest with his readers. And his scam wasn’t a scam, or even a loophole – that Amazon told him they’d designed the system this way on purpose. I don’t know if that’s true or not. I do know that Koziel and the others he taught his “system” to clearly had some ethically questionable morals, but they weren’t technically doing anything against Amazon’s TOS. As with the short “scamphlets” (making books so short, just opening them would get a reader to 10% and count as a $1.30-ish borrow, no matter what content was inside) this “loophole” was built into Amazon’s system.

The shocking thing, to me, was that Amazon decided to pay authors by “pages read,” when in fact, they couldn’t actually count those pages. They threw out a communal pot of money to the authors and like some literary Hunger Games, we were forced to fight over it. And the thing is – the game was rigged. Not just Amazon’s algorithms that favor their own imprints (they do) or Amazon giving authors sweetheart deals in Kindle Unlimited.

No, this game was rigged by Amazon’s own design. In the first version of Kindle Unlimited, they created a perfect storm where erotica authors (who already wrote short) could get $1.30-ish per borrow for a 5000 word story. This made authors of 100,000 word novels mad–and allowed scammers internet marketers like Dave Koziel to create scamphlets–so Amazon closed that loophole. But it turns out, Amazon had “fixed” the loophole in Krap Unlimited 1.0 only to create an even bigger one in Krap Unlimited 2.0.

So the game’s still rigged.

David Gaughran and Phoenix Sullivan recently pointed out how many of these scammers have taken courses like Koziel’s and run amok with them, adding even scammier ideas along the way to the mix. These scammers are using giant click-farms to drive their books up in rank on the free charts (and Kindle Unlimited subscribers can still borrow books while they’re free).

They’re stuffing their titles full of keywords (a practice Amazon cracked down on years ago and have since let run rampant again) even going so far as to put keywords at the beginning of each title so they’ll appear high in the search rank. (This has made it nearly impossible to find anything on Amazon – they’ve effectively broken Amazon’s amazing search engine.)

While many authors have learned that adding a “bonus book” at the end of their titles can increase pages read (a bird book in the hand, and all that) and actually add value for readers – scammers have taken it upon themselves to add thousands and thousands of pages of “bonus” content. Sometimes they just put all their ghostwritten books in to increase that page count to 3000. Or they translate those books with Google Translate into twenty different languages and put those at the back. Some are even so bold as to just put gobbeldygook culled from the internet with a link at the front with an incentive (win a Kindle Fire!) to skip to the end.

They’re also putting their books into as many categories as possible (most of them unrelated to the actual content) and sometimes aping the looks of covers, titles and even author names, to appear high in searches for popular books.

So… why isn’t every author out there doing this? Well, the reality is, some of them are. They’ve found out about the loophole and have jumped on the bandwagon because… if you can’t beat them, join them? After all, the loophole is still open. Amazon has done nothing to close it. Skipping to the end of a book still results as a full read, right this very minute. Amazon recently capped the amount of pages read per book at 3000. They have also now disallowed (sort of… in certain cases… about what you’d expect?) putting the table of contents at the back of a book.

Of course, none of that has actually fixed the problem. And that is ALL the action they’ve taken. That’s it. They still have a loophole big enough to drive a $100,000 a month Mack truck through!

As Phoenix Sullivan pointed out: “How many ethical authors are feeling pressured into adopting black hat techniques seeing how many black hatters are making bank on them with seeming impunity? Some days even I’m tempted to grab a few EINs and a handful of throwaway email accounts, put on a black hat and go to town. I understand the system—all I need is one good month to game it…”

Authors learned very quickly that Amazon is where the real money is. Amazon allowed self-publishing stars like Joe Konrath, Amanda Hocking, and Hugh Howey to rise to the top after being rejected by the gatekeepers or legacy/traditional publishing, to make thousands, hundreds of thousands, from their work.

When self publishing first became a thing, everyone claimed that with no gatekeepers there was going to be a “ton of crap flooding the market!” Oh noez! Of course, what they meant was a “ton of crap writing” from authors who couldn’t write up to legacy standards.

I don’t think anyone thought, “from hundreds of ghostwriters paid by internet marketers!”

Forget devaluing our work by offering it for $0.99 or free. Forget devaluing “literature” by allowing self-published authors to publish directly to readers. That wasn’t the “race to the bottom” everyone worried about. THIS is the true race to the bottom.

Dave Koziel claimed he wasn’t doing anything wrong. He says he’s not a scammer (even though he admits he’s not really a writer.) He’s a self-proclaimed “internet marketer,” just looking to make a buck on the internet. Nothing wrong with that, is there?

Actually, there is.

Koziel is just one example of his kind. (In fact, he teaches and sells internet courses to others who want to copy what he’s done.) And if Koziel alone has hundreds of ghostwritten books, and they’re not plagiarized or written like a third grader (two things he claims in his video…) then the reality is, he’s accumulated material at a rate that no reasonable writer could accomplish. Only a few outliers (Amanda Lee, I’m looking at you, girl! 😛 ) can reasonably write 10K a day without burning out. But Koziel can hire 10 ghostwriters a day. 100 a week, if he wanted to. He can mass-produce titles at will.

Granted, the system itself is the problem when everyone is vying for a piece of the same pie. The more scammy you get, the more money you make. Yay you! But as the system starts to erode, and more and more mercenary types get on board, the further things collapse. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with hiring a ghostwriter (Patterson does it all the time in the legacy world – and no one cares) there’s a problem when people start taking advantage of ghostwriters and working it all like a “system.”

If you pay a ghostwriter well, and that ghostwriter does a good job, that’s a legitimate business transaction. But most (if not all) of these odesk-type ghostwriters are undercharging (that hurts legitimate ghostwriters) because they’re overseas (there’s outsourcing again) and IMers can (and do) take advantage of that. There’s a difference between an author who has a story to tell who hires a ghostwriter (either because they don’t have time to write it, or because they don’t have the skills) and an IMer who gives an army of ghostwriters the trope-du-jour and says, “write me as many stories as possible.”

These guys may hire click farms, as Gaughran and Sullivan noted – but guys like this are also getting legitimate readers and building a following. (They talk a lot about building mailing lists so they can accumulate a way to sell all their scammy internet marketing things, not just books…) So what’s wrong with what he does? Clearly he doesn’t see anything wrong with it. But there is something wrong with it. I call it the Jurassic Park problem. Remember Jeff Goldblum’s speech to Hammond about cloning dinosaurs? When Hammond asked (like this guy Koziel) what’s wrong with what he’s done?

“I’ll tell you what’s wrong with it – it didn’t require any discipline to acquire it. You read what others had done and you took the next step. You didn’t earn the knowledge for yourselves, so you don’t take any responsibility for it. You stood on the shoulders of geniuses to accomplish something as fast as you could, and before you even knew what you had, you patented it, and packaged it, and slapped it on a plastic lunchbox, and now you’re selling it. Well… you were so preoccupied with whether or not you could, you didn’t stop to think if you should…”

Since Koziel likes YouTube videos so much – here’s one he and all of his minions should watch:

The problem is now we really are competing for readers with this guy. It’s like the outsourcing to other countries that corporations do to trim margins in any business – it’s a slippery slope. And now what do we have? A digital sweat shop environment. Writers terrified of falling off a 30-day cliff, utilizing voice software like Dragon to keep up and write as many words as possible as fast as they can, creating shared pen names to try to get a foothold in a flooded market.

It’s hard enough to gain visibility on Amazon these days, when there are plenty of excellent, legitimate writers out there putting out some great books. Because the reality of the gatekeepers was not that there was too much “garbage” out there to publish – the reality was always that there was never enough room at their table. There was plenty of stuff leftover that just went to waste – that’s the stuff that writers can now self-publish, now that the traditional gatekeepers are gone. And much of it is great stuff – books readers prove, with their buying dollars – they actually want to read.

Today, self-publishing authors don’t have to worry about getting past the gatekeepers. But they have to compete with internet marketers who see Kindle as a “business opportunity” and who are using it, solely, to make money. We’re competing with someone who can scam Amazon’s system (which, admittedly, is Amazon’s fault – they’ve made it “scammable”) and they’ve proven with hard numbers that they can take upwards of $100,000 or more a month out of the pot.

There are people in the world whose ethics are very fluid. Who think, “Why shouldn’t I take advantage of this giant money-making loophole?” And when those people don’t stop to think if they should, just because they can, and they decide to take advantage… there are plenty of people who come afterward who feel like they have to, as well – just to level the playing field.

How can a “real author” (as opposed to a scammer internet marketer) compete in a self-publishing world where scammers internet marketers can buy and publish hundreds of titles at a time? Where they can make enough money scamming publishing their deluge of titles to spend those ill-gotten gains on Amazon marketing (Dave Koziel says he was paying Amazon to market his “books”) and Facebook ads, outspending legitimate authors by thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands?

Who can compete with that? Unless an author is going to throw up their hands and decide (a temptation that Phoenix Sullivan so eloquently expressed above) “The hell with it, if I can’t beat them, I might as well join them!” how is that author going to have a chance?

In his video, Koziel says he can see why authors might be angry at him… but I don’t think he really does see. He feels he’s simply taking advantage of a legitimate business opportunity. Like most internet marketers, he’s looking at the short-term gain, and not paying attention to the long-term consequences. Or any consequences at all.

Granted, Amazon created this monster. All of these loopholes, from the scamphlets in KU 1.0 to today’s garbage-stuffed tomes in KU 2.0, could have been prevented with a little forethought on Amazon’s part. I told them this was a risk when they decided to change to paying by pages-read and they either a) lied to me, knowing readers could skip to the end for a full-read or b) they actually didn’t know that skipping to the end would result in a full-read. I’m not sure which is worse.

But if Amazon hadn’t started down this road to begin with, most of these scammers “internet marketers” wouldn’t have gained a foothold in the first place. Now they’re like sharks circling in bloody waters, and they’re not about to leave, unless someone cleans up this mess. And even if Amazon takes action, KDP and self-publishing is now a hunting ground they’re not likely to give up any time soon.

Even if Amazon cleaned up the waters tomorrow, these scammers internet marketers would continue to work the system, looking for ways to game it. Like the raptors in Jurassic Park–they have no ethical dilemmas whatsoever–they’ll continue to test the fences for weaknesses.

As Koziel’s video goes to show. These internet marketers will say and do anything to make money in the system. They haven’t paid their dues. Goldblum’s argument applies categorically – no discipline was required to obtain it, so they take no responsibility for it. Because they’re not writers, because they don’t care about the craft, telling a story, supplying a reader with real value and creating a real relationship between author and reader (rather, they just want to collect mailing list subscribers so they can spam them…) They remove themselves from the “system” they are gaming, and see it as just that – a system to game.

To them, it is a game. And thanks to Amazon’s lackadaisical attitude, they’re winning.

It’s readers and real authors who are losing. Because of the crap (real crap – now we know what it looks like) flooding Amazon’s virtual shelves, because of the keyword-stuffed or deceptive titles muddying up the search waters, real authors and readers are the ones who lose in this game. Readers can’t find what they want to read (I know, as a reader, I can’t find anything on Amazon anymore in the Kindle store, because of the keyword stuffed crap) and authors can’t compete with scammers internet marketers who could care less who they hurt with their scams.

They do hurt people. Real people. Because KDP Select is paid out of a communal pot, there is a finite number that decreases when scammers internet marketers decide to make “books” their “business.” Except they’re not writers, and they don’t really care about books. Or readers. Or the self-publishing community. Their idea of “paying it forward” is to monetize their scams “knowledge of the system” and sell it to others so they, too, can be scammers internet marketers.

Not once do they talk about craft–about plots and voice and point of view. Those are pesky details they outsource to someone else. They’re not even providing outlines – just pointing to the best-selling trope of the hour (what is it this month? is it shifters? billionaires? navy seal shifter billionaires?) and letting the ghostwriters do all the heavy lifting. While they sit back, package and re-package the “work,” publish and republish titles (sometimes dozens of times – and Amazon doesn’t care) with new ASINs when they drop too far in rank (to gain those extra five free days in KDP Select) and find any possible way to scam internet market themselves as high of a paycheck as they can manage for the month.

Never once thinking about or caring about the authors who are writing real stories, for real readers, who can’t humanly produce on the mass level in the digital sweatshop environment these scammers internet marketers have created – where Amazon has allowed them to flourish. This is where we all work now, thanks to the scammers internet marketers.

Thanks to Amazon.

I hope Dave Koziel meant it when he said he could understand why authors were angry with him – perhaps his video is proof that maybe, just maybe, he’s growing the seed of a conscience. Maybe he’s finally thinking, albeit a little too late, whether or not he should do something, instead of focusing on whether or not he can. 

But I don’t live in a fantasy world. I know Dave Koziel and those like him are just doing what they do. They’ve found a lucrative hunting ground, and they’re going to continue doing what they do (while occasionally justifying or spinning it in a YouTube video) until they can’t do it anymore.

In the meantime, authors and readers continue to lose – and their trust in Amazon wanes.

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SCAMAZON – Amazon “Kindle Unlimited” Scammers Netting Millions

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How are scammers making millions off Amazon? (And off any author enrolled in Amazon’s KDP Select program?)

It’s easy. So say digital entrepreneurs scammers like Dave Koziel – who admits to outsourcing his material, he’s not an actual writer or anything. You see, all you have to do it just upload “books” stuffed to the gills with anything, even unrelated material (romance books, cookbooks, South Beach diet books, foreign language texts, any and everything you’ve got at your disposal) then use a click-bait link at the front of the book (something like “Click here to win a Kindle Fire!”) to take the reader directly to the very back. A German blog has detailed these tactics as well, although it seems the German Amazon store (much smaller than the U.S. one) is cracking down on this now.

Why does this method result in big bucks? Because of how Amazon has changed the way it pays authors enrolled in KDP Select. Authors know that when Kindle Unlimited was first launched (rather quickly and in direct response to other book subscription services that were just popping up like Scribd and Oyster) we were paid “by the borrow.” It was similar to a sale (on sales, we were paid 70% of list cost on books priced between $2.99 and $9.99) except now we were paid out of a general fund instead of a set percentage. (Like a “pot” or “kitty” – a communal pool of money – except in this case, Amazon was the only contributor and authors the recepients.)

But Amazon changed that payment method from “per borrow” to “pages read.” Not pages written, mind you – but how many pages a reader actually reads.

Except, the problem with this method that’s recently come, shockingly, to light, is that there’s a loophole in the system. Apparently, if you put a link at the beginning of your book to the very back and a reader clicks it – the author is paid for all those pages. A full read. Even though a reader just skipped over them.

Remember when Amazon capped the KENPC count at 3000? This is why.

Except Amazon didn’t want us to know one important thing – they lied to us.

They have no idea how many pages a reader actually reads.

Let me say that again, just so you don’t miss it:

AMAZON HAS NO IDEA HOW MANY PAGES A READER ACTUALLY READS.

Wow. A little bit of karma coming back at you with these scammers, Jeff Bezos?

Because Amazon has been scamming authors in the KDP Select program all along.

They decided to pay us by “pages” read, when in fact, they can’t count actual pages read, and they can’t time how long a reader actually takes to read those pages (last time I checked, no one could read 3000 pages in less than two minutes…)

Oh, they can email me and my publishing company that I’m missing a “page break” at the end of my novel, or threaten to take my book off sale or label it problematic for typos (that may or may not actually be typos), or actually take my book off sale (which they recently did – Bear Necessitiesjust after a great freebie run, too, while it was on sale for $0.99 – thanks, Amazon!) because I provided bonus content in the front of a book instead of at the back – but they can’t actually count how many pages a reader reads in a book.

Yet… this is how they have decided to pay authors. Per page read.

See anything wrong with this picture?

I sure do – and it smells like fraud and class-action lawsuits to me.

How do I know Amazon can’t count how many pages a reader reads?

Because, if Amazon had a way to count how many pages a reader actually reads, a link at the front of the book that took the reader to the very back would result in two pages read.

Just two, not every single page in the book.

But as Dave Koziel and company have proven, that’s not what’s happening. There’s a little loophole in Amazon’s system. When a reader clicks a link at the front of a book that takes them to the end of a 3000 page “book” – it gives that author 3000 “pages read.” Not just two.

If Amazon had a way to count how many pages a reader actually reads, placement of the TOC (table of contents) at the front or back of the document would be irrelevant.

But as this post proves (and man, do I feel awful for author Walter Jon Williams – he’s out a hella lot of money because of Amazon’s knee-jerk reactions and lack of planning and forethought) Amazon has suddenly begun removing books from sale that have a TOC at the back of the book. As usual, they decided to shoot first and ask questions later, and damaged legitimate authors in the process, as David Gaughran first pointed out.

If Amazon had a way to count how many pages a reader actually reads, placement of “bonus material” (an extra story or book along with the original source material, which many authors have started to do, including myself, in the Kindle Unlimited program) would be irrelevant. You could put it at the front or back of the book, and it wouldn’t matter, because the table of contents tells the reader what’s where, right?

Except the truth is, Amazon is showing us through their actions – their cap on KENPC, their insistence that the TOC needs to be at the front of a book, and their recent email to me about “bonus” content not being allowed at the front of a book – that they have no idea how many pages are being read in any given book.

All they know is where a reader STOPS reading.

That’s all they can actually calculate.

That’s why a TOC needs to be at the front (because TOC defaults as the “start” point of a book, and if it’s at the back and a reader goes to the TOC, an author has just been given credit for a full read even if the reader didn’t read the book) and why they are no longer allowing “bonus” content at the front of a book.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, there are legitimate, non-scammy reasons to put a TOC at the back or bonus material at the front. The TOC (especially if a book is long or a boxed set) takes up valuable real estate in the “Look Inside” feature or “Sample” on Amazon. Placing it at the back avoids that issue.

And the logic behind putting “bonus” material at the front?

Well, this is how I explained it to Amazon in my letter to them:


I had a very legitimate reason for putting the bonus book/content at the front of this title.

The last time I put a bonus book at the end of the book, I had reviews complaining that the original title ended at “50%” – and they thought it was much longer, because the bonus book was taking up real estate at the back of the original text.

In this case, I put the bonus book up front (and labeled it clearly on the title page and in the table of contents) so that when the reader finished the main book, it would be near 100% and they would understand they’d reached the end, and wouldn’t feel “cheated” or “ripped off.”

It’s easy to look at a Table of Contents (TOC) and navigate to the book they purchased.

You see, I was under the assumption that, since Amazon is paying us by PAGES READ, that you, at Amazon, actually had a way of knowing HOW MANY PAGES A READER ACTUALLY READ.

I assumed, since it would be fraudulent otherwise, per our contract in publishing with you, that since you were paying us by pages read, if a reader skipped over a book in the table of contents, we wouldn’t actually be paid for those pages. So that putting bonus content at the beginning of a book would be no big deal, no harm, no foul.

Apparently, that isn’t the case. And you never told us that. As a matter of fact, you, personally, (rep’s name redacted), lied to me and said that skipping to the end of a book would NOT result in a full-read. We emailed about this and talked about it on the phone when KU 1.0 was originally rolled out, and you assured me that yes, Amazon had a way of tracking the pages a reader actually read, with time spent on each page.

Turns out, Amazon hasn’t been able to correctly count pages read since the very beginning, even though that’s exactly how you’re paying us. 

If you think this isn’t fraud, and that there aren’t authors out there already talking about a class action lawsuit, you’d be very, very wrong. There are a lot of wealthy authors out there who are beyond furious about this new information. 

I suggest you plug this leak as fast as you can and make some apologies and remuneration for it. 

And restore my book to published status immediately – and its rank as well, since you took it off-sale for a reason that shouldn’t have been a problem or caused an issue if you hadn’t lied to authors about your ability to actually count the pages you were oh-so-generously paying us less than half-a-penny for. 


On my part, it was completely unintentional. I was directly told that skipping over content in a book would not result in pages read. But that was clearly a lie.

I thought I was creating a better customer experience (kind of like Walter Jon Williams and his TOC placement) when in fact I was unknowingly using a tactic commonly utilized by scammers.

Unfortunately, it’s not the only scammer tactic I unwittingly adopted.

You see, I have a link at the front of my books in my table of contents (I happen to place my TOC up front, so I dodged that particular bullet) that leads to the back and a link to sign up to my mailing list. I incentivize signing up to the list by offering readers five free reads. I’ve been doing this for years.

The thing is, I had no idea that doing this resulted in a full read in Kindle Unlimited. Because Amazon specifically told me directly that “skipping pages” wouldn’t work – that they could count pages read – and linking to the back page would not result in a full read!

I’ve been “cheating” and didn’t even know it was cheating. I wasn’t complicit in a scam but I’ll sure be blamed for it if Amazon shoots first and asks questions later. (And as we know, they usually do…) Especially since I write erotica and my name is mud Selena Kitt. I’m guilty already by default. 😛

The problem is, Amazon has been throwing the baby out with the bath water by taking books off sale for having a TOC at the back of the book or bonus content in the front. As David Gaughran first pointed out, real authors are being hurt by Amazon’s attempts to plug up a leak that shouldn’t have existed in the first place.

And I’m afraid it isn’t going to end there, folks. 

Are links from the front of the book to the very back going to be next in Amazon’s line of fire? Could be.

The irony is, many people do what I do – put a link in the TOC to a mailing list with a free read to sign up. Many of those originally had their TOC at the back of their books – but now Amazon is forcing them to put their TOC at the front. In effect, forcing them to have a link now at the front of their book to their mailing list… which leads to the back of their book, and would result in a “full read” if a reader clicks that link.

Doh.

I don’t know how Amazon will close this particular loophole, but I know what I’m doing this week. *sigh* Time to reformat my Kindle Unlimited books and take out the link to free content at the back and put that content somewhere up front. It’s not “WIN A KINDLE FIRE” click-bait – it’s a legitimate offer – but I’m sure Amazon will see what they want to see. Their logic is “about what you’d expect.”

It’s better to get out of the way of a potential nuclear explosion if you know it’s coming than sit around and wait for it to happen – at least that’s my philosophy. And the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. So if Amazon’s reaction to this KU 2.0 problem so far is any indication, I’d suggest you follow my lead and clean up those “links to the back of the book” now before they nuke your stuff.

The thing is, all of this cleanup was preventable. There was no reason to implement such a flawed program like Kindle Unlimited in the first place. Amazon certainly could have predicted the original “loophole” in KU 1.0 that they attempted to close with KU 2.0.

Remember when short books were all the rage in KU 1.0? That was because every borrow that was read to 10% paid out around $1.30 each (well, at last count, the amount kept going down every month…) Erotica writers were hit hard when Amazon switched to the “paid per page read” scenario, because erotica authors have always written in short-form. What we were once being paid $2.09 (70% of $2.99) per sale for (before Kindle Unlimited came along) became $1.30 per borrow in KU 1.0. When KU 2.0 was implemented, we were then being paid about $0.15 per read-through.

Ouch.

But the real scammers in KU 1.0 weren’t erotica authors (who simply benefited from the per-borrow payout by doing what we’d always done –   writing short stories) the real scammers put gibberish inside a book and made them so short that by simply opening the book on your Kindle, that first page would count as 10% of the book and result in a paid borrow.

Cha-ching!

Are you telling me Amazon couldn’t have foreseen that?

If so, I have some swamp land in Florida to sell you.

Then KU 2.0 came along to “fix” the issues/loopholes/leaks of the “scamphlets” in KU 1.0. Amazon went to a “pay per pages read” scenario. It’s ironic that their solution to stem the money they were bleeding in the first Kindle Unlimited version was increased exponentially in the next one.

In KU 2.0, they weren’t paying out $1.30 a borrow to scammers who created their little “scamplets” and borrowed them in their little circles anymore. (Or to those nasty erotica writers who’ve always written short stories for readers who want to buy them… they clearly deserved to be punished for their dirty minds and “selling sex” in the first place, right? /end sarcasm)

That’s great, but… before the KENPC cap was very recently instituted, the pages you could get paid for per-read were unlimited. Which meant that anyone could release a “book” of unlimited length in KDP Select (these scammers are putting garbage in their books – foreign translations, articles from Wikipedia, just words for words’ sake) then put a link at the front of that book that jumped to the back –  and voila. A $100 download in one click. I’m not kidding. I know authors who have told me they’ve seen these scammers bragging about getting that much per-read before the KENPC cap.

Even when they put the KENPC cap of 3000 on it, with the payout last month at $0.0041 per page read, that meant the maximum payout was $12.30 per download. Still not too shabby. Especially if you have lots of scammer friends to borrow your book and just click a link to read to the end – and push up your rank in the process.

KU 2.0 is far worse, in terms of scamming and money lost, than KU 1.0 ever was.

Guess you should have just continued paying out for those dirty erotica shorts, Amazon… 😛

Amazon’s continued “fix” to these problems are like putting a Band-Aid on a bleeding artery. Because guys like Dave Koziel aren’t just making money off Amazon. He’s making money off selling this method to other scammers and telling them how to make money scamming, too. And the more they scam, the more money they take out of the “pot.”

Check this link out. Apparently a 15-year-old mentee of Dave Koziel made $64,000 in a month. That’s not a typo.

Do I think this kid wrote all those words? Not if he’s following Dave’s advice, he’s not.

I’m posting the screen shots here, just in case the link gets removed. (You never know…)

Quoted on those images, Dave Koziel says: “A screen shot I got earlier from my mentee and coaching student @justin8600 For those of you who don’t know what this is it’s a report from Amazon that shows you your actual royalty payments from the Kindle store. Take a close look at these numbers and you’ll see how much money he is actually getting paid this month from Amazon. Did I mention he’s only 15? A lot of you may look at this and think it’s fake. How can a 15 year old possibly make $70,000+ in a month online from selling ebooks on Amazon? The world is changing and fast. Opportunities are out there to make money and a lot of it! It doesn’t matter how old you are, where you came from, what your circumstances are etc.”

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Authors and readers –  does this make you angry? It should. You’ve been lied to and cheated, not just by the scammers, but by Amazon. Primarily Amazon, really. Scammers suck, but they’re like cockroaches. They do what they do. They go where the food is, right?

They’re on Amazon because that’s where the money is.  Whose fault is that? Scammers are exploiting a loophole that was created by Amazon’s short-sightedness and could have been prevented by Amazon in the first place.

The scammers are scammers – and they’re providing a poor customer experience to be sure – but Amazon bears the brunt of the blame here, let’s not lose sight of that.

If Amazon’s focus is “customer-centric” then their Kindle Unlimited program is a giant fail. KU 1.0 was called “Kink Unlimited” because authors (many who hadn’t started out writing erotica) jumped on the erotica shorts bandwagon and the market was flooded with them.

But KU 2.0 is now being called “Krap Unlimited” because of all of these crappy scam-books that claim to have great content, but really only contain a bunch of garbage and a click-bait link up front to take readers to the end, so the “author” of the book can get paid for all of those pages.

And when readers find these word-salad books, do they think, “Oh geez, a scammer, what a jerk?” No. They think, “Welp, everything they say about self-publishing and indies is true – their books suck!”

Thanks, Amazon, for perpetuating that myth. :/

And while the readers have to wade through crap (and boy, do they – I thought keyword stuffed titles weren’t allowed, Amazon?) authors are getting hit the hardest under KU 2.0. Not only are we getting paid less than half a cent per-page-read, these junk-books are forcing legitimate authors to split the “global fund”/pot with the scammers. The rate we’re being paid per page just keeps dropping.

Gee, I wonder why?

Let’s take a look, shall we:

  • -6.32% = December rate decrease
  • -10.72% = January rate decrease

We can thank the scammers – and Amazon – for that.

And here are some more numbers for you.

Amazon claimed recently that pages read were up by 25%. But I know that didn’t see a pages-read increase of 25%. Did you? I bet you didn’t. Want to know why?

Because those pages read were click-bait scammer reads, that’s why.

I can’t prove it – but other authors have speculated as much, and I believe they’re right.

Take a look at this graph. (Courtesy of my author friend, Michelle Keep – she’s awesome BTW, smart as a whip, and writes great books – and provides amazing services to authors – check her out!)

graph

Before November 2015, the pages-read increased steadily for months by about 100 million-ish a month.

Then, in November 2015, there was a 350 million pages-read increase from the previous month. A pretty sharp increase but we’d seen increases similar to it, from December to January the year before in 2014.

Then, between December 2015 and January 2016, look at the huge rise. There were 700 million more pages read in that month. How do we explain that? Christmas rush? Hm. Maybe.

Historically speaking, though, the program increases pretty steadily on that graph – but it started spiking in November 2015 and continued to climb drastically—far more than it ever had before—in December 2015 and January 2016.

Let’s look at the actual numbers.

  • From November 2015 to December 2015, the pages-read increased by 347,751,042. (about 350 million)
  • From December 2015 to January 2016, the pages read increased by 716,220,032. (about 700 million)

Can Kindlemas account for this gigantic rise? Can we just chalk it up to Christmas growth?

Well, let’s look at the year before:

  • December 2014 shows 1,154,321,678 pages read. (1.1 billion)
  • January 2015 shows 1,402,376,812 pages read. (1.4 billion)
  • Between December 2014 and January 2015, that’s an increase of only 248,055,134. (about 250 million)

That’s 1/3 of the increase we saw between December 2015 and January of 2016 (which was an increase of 716,220,032 – about 700 million)

Historically speaking, this giant increase is suspect.

So let’s go back and look at this year’s dramatic jump.

  • December 2015: 2,929,051,855 pages read (2.9 billion)
  • January 2016: 3,645,271,887 pages read (3.6 billion)
  • If we add those two numbers we get: 6,574,323,742 (6.5 billion)

Now, just for chucks and giggles, let’s subtract the “average” historical Christmas/Kindlemas jump in pages read (which last year we saw was about 250 million…) Or, hell, let’s go a little further, let’s add to that historical average and say we should have historically seen about a 300 million pages-read increase from Dec 2015-Jan 2016…

If we do that, we’re left with a 763,971,074 difference.

That’s a shocking, inexplicable 750 million pages-read increase.

For speculation’s sake, let’s say that huge page-read increase is actually the result of scammers. Just for argument’s sake, let’s say they’re the ones who have caused this dramatic rise in pages read.

If you translate those pages-read into dollars (multiplying it by the last known pages-read amount Amazon paid out, which was $0.0041 per page)… that comes to…

About 3.1 million dollars.

That’s a lot of money. 😮

Okay, I get it, I hear you – maybe it’s an exaggeration. Maybe Amazon did have a big jump in program growth this year, because they were pushing Kindle Unlimited around Christmas time and offering discounts. Okay, that’s possible.

So let’s account for that.

Even if natural growth increased enormously this year – what if scammers accounted for just 1/3 of that 750 million increase in pages-read?

That’s still a million dollars out of the pot.

But that’s not all, folks.

No, because not only are these scammers stealing money out of my pocket and every author’s pocket who participates in the KDP Select program, they are getting “All-Star” bonuses on top of it. Just to add a little insult to injury and rub some salt in those wounds.

Amazon awards All -Star Bonuses to its top-sellers in the KDP Select program. Some of those are $25,000. Scammers most definitely got bonuses last month – and legitimate authors who have gotten them all along for being top-sellers discovered that their usual pages-read didn’t qualify. The bar had suddenly been set higher, and not by real authors, but by scammers.

And there’s no denying the fact that Amazon could have prevented all of this. They could have anticipated all of these issues – just as they could have anticipated the problem of erotica surfacing on children’s Kindles and done something proactive and preemptive about that.

But Amazon works like the pharmaceutical companies. They make a lot more money ignoring root causes and treating symptoms.

The question now is – what are they going to do about it? And is it going to hurt?

I’m afraid the answer to the latter question is “yes.” As to the former one? Well, they’ll treat the symptoms again, I’m sure. They’ve already screwed over legitimate authors claiming they now have TOC and bonus content issues in their books, whether Amazon was aiming at the scammers or not. We’re collateral damage, as usual.

And frankly, I’m beyond angry. I’m appalled. I’ve become an unwitting participant in this “scam,” because Amazon lied to me. Amazon informed me in no uncertain terms that skipping over content in a book would not result in pages-read.

How can I ever trust them again?

How can you?

Whatever trust I did have (ha) has been completely decimated. I don’t even trust their royalty reports at this point.

And you know what really sucks? Thanks to Amazon’s deception, I’ve been cheating other authors without realizing it. I suppose, if I were in the Hunger Games (which is exactly what this whole thing feels like) I’d just end up dead. I don’t have the stomach for this sort of zero-sum competition they’ve set up in KDP Select between authors. But like Katniss, I don’t have a lot of choice, if I want to feed my family.

In the end, the worst thing of all, at least for me, is Amazon’s stranglehold on the market. They’ve forced me into this horrible, socialist program of theirs where it is a zero-sum game – and I have to fight or die.

If you want to make a living at this, Amazon has created an environment where we’re all getting in the same bread line and fighting each other for crumbs. We’re all hungry. And getting skinnier every day.

(And OMG if one person in the comments says, “You’re not ‘forced’ into the program! You have a ‘choice!'” I will delete you so fast it will make your head spin like Linda Blair. We’ll talk about Amazon’s algorithms and how they weigh the visibility of KDP Select and the decreasing ability to make a living on any other vendor some other time, okay?)

Authors – when we were selling books, did we feel we were “cheating” each other out of dollars? Nope. Because we knew there was (arguably) an unlimited amount of dollars to be had. Competition in the marketplace is great – that’s good for the ecosystem. But competition for a “pot” of something?

That way lies… this madness.

And that’s all on Amazon.

They created this KDP Select monster. And remember that their whole company is run at a loss. In effect, Amazon is being subsidized by their shareholders. Authors keep complaining about Nook and Apple and Kobo and Google and want to know – why is no other retailer challenging Amazon for marketshare?

Because they can’t afford to – THEY aren’t being subsidized.

And we, as a culture, have created the monster that is Amazon.

That, unfortunately, is on us.

selenasigsmalltrans

 

 

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Corporate Fail

badboyclubThere’s been a lot posted about the corporations behind book selling lately, and to me, it just smells like a whole lot of “fail.”

This is what happens when corporations gain so much power that people forget that corporations aren’t really “people.” Corporations are FOR people. They serve people. They consist OF people – the people who work at them, from the lowest paid to the highest. But when corporations forget that, when people forget that, suddenly we all become slaves. Corporations becomes slaves to their stockholders (and the stockholders to the almighty dollar). People become slaves to the corporations, relying on them for everything.

Sometimes I think people forget about the *people* involved, all the way around.

I had a conversation with Amazon last week about the Adult book filtering going on. It was a reasonable conversation with a real person. She understood my point of view, said she appreciated my feedback, and really wanted to help as much as she could. Because of my feedback, they made changes in the ways they now handle appeals to the ADULT filter. If your book has been filtered and you attempt to get it unfiltered, Amazon will now tell you whether the problem is on your COVER, in your TITLE or in your DESCRIPTION. While they still refuse to tell us exactly *what* the problem might be on the cover, or in the title and description, at least they’re now pointing us in a direction! At least it’s something…

Now if only everyone who worked for her company would get with the program and treat people the same way… *sigh*

When we are faced with the people behind the corporations, or when corporations are faced with the people (the actual customers they serve or the vendors who supply their products) the whole dynamic changes. Suddenly things become personal – and real. The decisions corporations make have huge implications for REAL PEOPLE. What Amazon is doing with adult books is hurting a lot of authors right now who have quit their day jobs in order to do what they love — write — full-time. It’s hurting readers who can’t find the books they’re looking for. It’s hurting customers and it’s hurting parents who STILL have no work-around or real solution to the plethora of adult books on Amazon’s store.

A simple switch, Amazon. That’s all it takes.

I wish we could all sit down and have a reasonable conversation. I’m tired of dealing with a faceless corporation who doesn’t care about me or even the customers who are complaining to them about the books showing up in their also-bought feeds.

Amazon FAIL

  • Putting ADULT filters on books arbitrarily, with no rhyme or reason.
  • No transparency – not telling publishers and authors when a book gets an ADULT filter. Not telling authors or publishers what got the book flagged in the first place.
  • Not creating an “adult” on-off parental control function for their site instead of using the clunky and unfair ADULT filter.

Barnes and Noble FAIL

  • Misrepresenting their “bestseller” list by keeping certain adult books out of the top 100. They are tagging certain books in their system somehow, which weighs them down in the ranks, like an anchor. Once a book is flagged, it won’t go past the “anchor.” This happened to my box sets, which sold more than enough to get me into the top 100, but my books wouldn’t go past 126, 127 and 128 respectively. So instead of dropping the ranks by 1000 (which they were doing for a long time to erotica books) now they’re doing something a *little* more subtle. But still as damaging to sales. We caught you, Barnes and Noble!
  • Pushing Erotica and Adult titles to the back of their search engine function, so that those titles appear behind those which are ranked below them.
  • Not creating an “adult” on-off parental control function for their site instead of manipulating their bestseller lists.

Kobo FAIL

  • While Kobo hasn’t (yet) started filtering or suppressing adult titles, they have erotica categories that simply do not function if you put your books in them.
  • Kobo’s search engine is very poor, so those missing categories make a difference. And they refuse to allow you to put key words where they would be useful.

Apple FAIL

Apple’s uber-prudishness is known far and wide.

  • Apple has manipulated its bestseller lists – it’s removed books they found “offensive” right from the list!
  • Apple has removed erotica books from their store – they have wiped out ENTIRE publisher accounts that contain erotica (even when they also contain a great deal of sweet and inspirational and Christian romance!)
  • They have no erotica category and no way to see erotica bestsellers at all.
  • They reject adult and erotic books outright. Even when a title is sent back censored (someone put apples over the offending floppy bits) Apple STILL rejected it.

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If I had the people from Amazon and Barnes and Noble and Kobo and Apple in front of me, maybe we could have a real conversation, person to person. Maybe they would realize that, as a parent, I don’t want kids to find these books either. I want their business model to succeed – and I’d like to be part of that. I’m sure there’s a way to do it. I have lots of great ideas.

If they called, I’d have a lot to say. But I won’t hold my breath or spend my time sitting here waiting for the phone to ring like some girl waiting for her bad boyfriend to call. None of them are worth it, in the end. It’s like dating a pit viper. You never know when they’re going to strike (again).

Enough with the bad boys and their little club. I’m tired of being a member and paying their dues (and being used at their convenience, like when KDP first started and they called us all eager for us to put our books exclusively with them!) and not reaping any of the benefits.

I think it’s time I started implementing some of those good ideas I have all on my own.

Stay tuned…

Selena Kitt

Erotic Fiction You Won’t Forget

www.selenakitt.com

LATEST RELEASE: The Dirty Show

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