Publishing tagged posts

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.”

screenshotb

screenshota

screenshotc

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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OPEN CALL for Submissions: Excite Spice Boxed Sets (Round 2)

OPEN CALL!

Excite Spice has over 10,000 subscribers now and we continue to grow at a steady rate. We’ve found some of our best advertisement has been the availability of new boxed sets on Amazon for readers to discover.

To that end, we’re putting out an open call for stories to include in boxed sets that will be used to draw in more readers to see your books! Excite Spice is still just $5 for you to advertise in (and many of you have seen good to great results, depending on your promo) and will always be free for readers to join. I’d appreciate your help in making Excite Spice another great platform and option to profile your work.

I will be putting these boxed sets in KU at $0.99 for borrows.

If you are interested in being in any of the bundle/boxed sets, click the link, fill out the form, and attach your manuscript. At the moment, I don’t have any dates or deadlines. I’ll assess what kind of interest I get, collect stories/novellas until the boxed sets are full, and then determine a release schedule.

-LENGTH: stories should be 5K or longer

-HEAT: bring it! Anything that isn’t Amazon-blockable

-THEME: see below. Have an idea? Pitch it!

-EXCLUSIVITY: Can be already published, should only be available on Amazon (for KU purposes) during publication

-TERMS: 90 day publication with automatic re-up for 90 days (unless bundle is performing very poorly) – so a 6 month KU committment.

-PAYMENT: $50 in free Excite Spice advertising (via coupon) – this time you will be able to choose whether you want to allocate that to Excite Spice Daily OR the Excite Spice Featured list!

BDSM

Billionaire

Menage/Threesome

Rock Star

Sci-Fi/Aliens

Shifters

Suspense/Mystery/Thriller

Transgender

Vampire

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Erotica Authors Pull-Out on Amazon KU – Time to Come To The Dark Side!

releasetherateErotica authors were impatiently waiting for July 1, for a look at the new dashboard and the opportunity for a glimpse into the Bezos crystal ball at what they might be paid for the month of July, when the Kindle Unlimited changes took place.

Looks like the numbers are (kind of) in… and the outlook is rather dismal. Erotica shorts authors knew it was going to be bad. I just don’t think most of them thought it was going to be quite *this* bad. Because it looks as if authors will be making about $0.0057 per page. That’s slightly less than half a penny a page, folks.

This was every erotica shorts author’s face when they heard this news:

06

But we’re erotica authors. We are the most versatile, adaptive and scrappy bunch of people I have ever known. And if Amazon thought we were going to take this lying down?

Bwahahahahahahahahahaha. Then they don’t know us very well!


Introducing the #releasetherate campaign

The objective is twofold:

1. Get Amazon to tell us how many people are borrowing our books, without which our page counts are utterly useless

2. Get Amazon to tell us how much they mean to pay us – NOW. IN ADVANCE. No more of this, “Enroll your books, choose to go exclusively with Amazon, and we’ll tell you later how much you’ll make” crap!


FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS (FAQ)

1. We don’t want to make Amazon mad at us!

Look, if we don’t stop this ride now, we may never be able to get off. And this particular ride ends at welfare-ville. So let’s not go there. There are plenty of erotica authors who have made a nice living from writing. And we are satisfying a very voracious readership. Why shouldn’t they have books they want to read, too? And why shouldn’t we get paid for them?

2. We’ll just opt out of KU and distribute our books everywhere!

That’s part of the message we need to send. If you haven’t already sign up for an Excitica Publisher Account, do that now.

3. Aren’t you overreacting? You sound kinda mad…

Yeah, losing 50-70% of my erotica shorts income? I’m mad.

Erotica authors are awesome. They provide you with some great, fun, thrilling, and let’s face it, damned hot stories to get lost in – they deserve to be paid for their work. Don’t you think?

I really don’t think a short story’s worth should be judged by the time spent reading or writing it. O’Henry would be appalled by this new system. Plenty of people pay a hefty ticket price to ride a roller coaster. That only lasts minutes. The length of something should not determine its worth.

AUTHORS: WHAT YOU CAN DO

A. PULL YOUR EROTICA BOOKS FROM KU. If you want to keep your longer romances in, great. But if you have erotica get it OUT.

B. COMMENT, LIKE, SHARE THE FOLLOWING FACEBOOK POST & TWEET:

TWEET

FB POST

C. EMAIL jeff@amazon.com

Don’t yell. DON’T USE ALL CAPS (even though I am 🙂 ) Be nice. Concise. And clear!

Tell Jeff, hey look, this is simply a courtesy for business owners. We need to know these things to run our business.

-Show us the borrows. How many people are actually borrowing our books?

-Show us the money. How much are you actually going to pay us?

-Tell him you pulled out (heh). I understand not everyone will. But if you pulled out, yell it from the rooftops!

D. ASK EVERYONE YOU KNOW to email jeff@amazon.com We want him inundated with letters. We want him yelling, “Oh Em Gee, STAAAAHHHHP these self-published authors, Jane, get me off this crazy thing!”


Here’s a form email you can give to your readers:


Hello, Mr. Bezos

I am an avid reader, and I am contacting you today on behalf of my favorite authors who participate in your Kindle Unlimited book subscription program.

Under the new reporting system, authors have no idea how many individual people are borrowing their books through KU. This is vital information and authors NEED to have it. Please amend the KDP reporting system to share this information, which you are already collecting anyway and shared up until July 1, with authors.

Also, authors have no idea how much to expect to be paid. The email they received today suggests the payout could be as low as $.0057 per page. As a reader, I want as many authors to keep as many books in the KU program as possible, and it would help if Amazon would tell authors how much they’re going to be paid. It’s not  fair that they have to guess and hope for the best when they sign up for KU and give up the fixed royalty rates they receive outside the program.


TEXT YOU CAN USE TO SHARE WITH YOUR READERS

(and feel free to right-click and use the graphic at the top of this page).

Thanks go to Natalie Deschain and Cassandra Zara for spearheading this campaign!


Help Authors Spread the Word – PLEASE SHARE!

Many of you know that I’ve been a HUGE proponent of the Kindle Unlimited program. It’s allowed me to gain a broader readership and new fans who would have never discovered me without being able to borrow my books and take a chance on them through KU.

That said, you may not be aware that Amazon made massive, sweeping changes to the KU program starting today. Beginning today, they will only be paying based on pages read, rather than books borrowed.

This change has left authors in the dark regarding royalties since Amazon isn’t telling us how many readers are borrowing our books or how much we’ll earn for each page read.

How can authors make good business decisions without knowing how much money they are earning? The short answer is, we can’t. And that makes many of us question whether we should remain part of the Kindle Unlimited program at all.

That’s why I’ve joined #releasetherate, an author-led initiative with a simple goal: getting Amazon to release more information to authors. We’re not asking for much. We’re asking for two small pieces of data that Amazon can easily produce that will help self-published authors make informed business decisions.

1.) Number of units borrowed per book — Amazon has this data; they have been providing it to us since the Select program began. Why withhold that number now? The only reason is to confuse authors. Give us the total number of customers who have clicked the “Read for Free” button on our book’s sales page. Or, at the very least, give us the total number of customers who have read a minimum of one page of our book.

2.) #releasetherate – Authors are aware that Amazon has a ballpark rate-per-page-read that they are expecting to pay for Select and KU pages read in July 2015. We hope it’s not the .0057 cents per page based on the June 2015 Select Fund and pages read, a rate that would decimate the income of many authors and make it impossible for us to remain part of the Kindle Unlimited program.

If you’re an author or reader who feels that Amazon should #releasetherate, please help us spread the word by sharing this post.

And if you’re as angry and frustrated about the lack of information being provided to authors, as I am, please let Amazon know by sending an email to jeff@amazon.com and letting him know that withholding basic business information from authors is making many of your favorite authors wonder if Kindle Unlimited is really the right program for them after all.

Selena Kitt
Erotic Fiction You Won’t Forget
www.selenakitt.com
LATEST RELEASE: Highland Wolf Pact: Blood Reign

highlandwolfpactbloodreignMED

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NEW INFORMATION: The New Kindle Unlimited – What It Means For Authors and Readers

I’m writing this as an ADDENDUM to clarify information in my blog post: The New Kindle Unlimited – What It Means For Authors and Readers!

After getting such conflicting information about whether or not we were going to get just the metric, “borrowed pages read” replacing the number currently in the “borrows” column, or whether or not we were going to get “borrowed pages read” AND “number of borrows,” I asked Amazon to clarify.

I was told that they have been getting an overwhelming amount of feedback (you go guys! 😉 ) about not getting BOTH the number of borrows AND the number of borrowed pages read.

In light of that, they are CONSIDERING this as an option. They cannot say that it will be out by the time the program is implemented in July, nor can they say that they will ever give both numbers (number of borrows AND number of pages read).

But they have heard the outcry from authors, which has been far bigger and more vehement than they expected, and they may introduce both numbers in the future.

For now, we’re going to have to deal with “borrowed pages read” replacing the number currently in the “borrow” column.

P.S. EROM and EROTICA AUTHORS: www.excitica.com

When KU stops paying you, come to the dark side. We have cookies! 😀

ETA: This is hilarious!

Selena Kitt
Erotic Fiction You Won’t Forget
www.selenakitt.com
LATEST RELEASE: Highland Wolf Pact: Compromising Positions

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Amazon’s Midnight Booty Call to KDP Authors – Are You Amazon’s Bitch?

Jeff Bezos' O-Face?

Jeff Bezos’ O-Face?

As an erotica author, every time I get a letter from Amazon’s KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) in my inbox, I have a brief moment of panic. If you’re a self-published erotica writer, I’m sure you know the feeling. When erotica authors get notices from KDP, it’s usually the Amazon Book Team writing to tell you to bend over, because they’re about to screw you in one fashion or another. Today, however, I received a very strange email from KDP – although I suppose it’s no surprise, they’re still asking me to bend over and be their bitch.

By now you’ve all read Amazon’s latest PR move in the Hachette feud. I’ve kept my opinion to myself in this matter, for the most part – at least in terms of my blog – because I don’t have a dog in this fight, a pony in this race, a chicken in this… well, you get the  idea, let’s not beat a dead metaphor. I’m not a Hachette author and I’ve never been legacy published, nor will I ever likely be, nor am I (technically) published by Amazon or any of their imprints. Taking sides in this fight, to me, is like being the grass rooting for one of two elephants fighting overhead. Either way, I’m about to be trampled. But I’m an erotica writer in the self-publishing world, so I’m used to it by now.

Apparently, Amazon wants me to take up arms and protest against the horrible injustice being carried out by legacy publisher, Hachette. Amazon (seriously MIS)quotes George Orwell, they claim Hachette hasn’t played fair, and essentially come across as a whiny girlfriend who thinks we should all get together and beat up some guy she doesn’t like – a guy she’s actually been cheating on us with all along behind our backs.

So Amazon is asking me to take sides – to specifically choose their side. Why should I do that?

Most self-published authors would jump if Amazon said how-high – and many of them will, in this case. I won’t. I’ve heard the arguments of the Zonists. Yes, Amazon has given self-published authors a platform they never had before. Yes, Amazon has offered up their store/traffic to self-published authors, which is far greater than we could have generated on our own. Yes, Amazon markets self-published books, their algorithms/also-boughts drive more sales, and they process secure payments and hand us money every month. But they haven’t done so out of the goodness of their hearts. They haven’t done so because they truly value authors as content creators and want to invest in our collective futures.

I know, because I’ve been spending my own time actually helping authors, for years, before Kindle even came to the forefront – I started Excessica to help not only myself but other authors like me, who wanted a chance to run with the big(ger) boys. (At the time, it was a little outfit called Fictionwise – but they were the biggest dog in town!) I spent a lot of my own time and effort and money (when I could have selfishly been creating more of my own content, mind you, which would have made me far more cash in the long run) editing, doing cover art, formatting, uploading, marketing for other authors. I did it because I DO value authors as content creators and I DO want them to make as much as they possibly can from their own work (which is why Excessica only takes 10% – and we didn’t take anything at all in the beginning.)

Does Amazon put its money where its mouth is when it comes to truly valuing authors as content creators?

No, I’m afraid they don’t.

Amazon likes to say they support self-published authors, but what they support is their own bottom line. They use us when it’s in their best interest (like when Amazon came knocking on my door, desperate to increase their numbers, asking Excessica’s 100+ authors and 500+ titles to go all-in with Amazon KDP Select before it was first announced) and discard or discount us when it’s not (who found out about Kindle Unlimited before it was unveiled? Anyone? Were you asked if your KDP Select book could be included? Of course not–they already had you by the balls under contract in KDP Select for at least 90 days…)

Of course, that doesn’t let Hachette off the hook. They don’t support authors either (and, to be fair, treat them even more poorly than Amazon currently treats self-published authors). These are two giant corporations in the middle of a feud, and like all “feudalists,” (ha) they believe we peasants/authors are around for their profit and amusement, to be used at will and tossed aside when we’re no longer of interest. Ask any midlister whose contract has been cancelled how sympathetic Hachette is. Ask any erotica author whose account has been cancelled by Amazon how sympathetic they are to “their” authors.

Hachette has already pulled out their big guns, asking their authors to name-drop and get involved in this fight, and like trained monkeys, they’ve danced to Hachette’s tune. Now Amazon is attempting the same trick–see, Hachette, we have trained monkeys too, says Bezos! In fact, our trained monkeys are even better than your trained monkeys – look how many of them we got to sign a petition! (And we didn’t even have to take out a full page NYTimes ad to do it!) Amazon asked authors to CC them in their emails, I’m sure in part so they could tally up the number of responses and rub it in Hachette’s face.

The fact is, Amazon is using me again. They want something from me that will pad their bottom line–and they’re taking money out of the pockets of the very authors they’re asking to support them! They tell self-published authors to ask Hachette to “stop using their authors as leverage” – while Amazon decides to use “their” KDP authors to try to leverage their own position in their little feud! This is Amazon-logic. It’s the logic of elitists, of a 1% who think the 99% consists of stupid sheeple who simply do whatever they’re told. Because if you follow this action to its logical conclusion, self-published authors are being asked to slit their own throats. I’m being asked by Amazon to tell a legacy publisher to capitulate, stop colluding, and lower ebook prices to reasonable levels. Why would I do that? If legacy publishing keeps their prices high, self-publishers benefit. We can easily, consistently undercut agency pricing, every time. That’s a huge advantage. Amazon wants me to tell Hachette to lower prices so they can sell more books – so that Amazon can sell more books – and in the end, decrease my own piece of the pie?

Gee, Mr. Bezos, if you wanted me to bend over and take it, you could have at least offered me some flowers and candy! Maybe if Amazon had started by offering me a higher royalty, it might have softened me up a little? I mean, there are a lot of things, and I mean A LOT, that Amazon could do to sweeten things up for self-published authors. They could do them out of the goodness of their hearts. Of course, they won’t. They could do them because they value self-published authors as content creators and believe they should receive a fair wage for fair work. Of course, they won’t. They could do them because they want us to say “how high” when they say “jump.” But, apparently, they feel they don’t have to. Apparently they think they can yank up our skirts and give it to us whenever they feel like it. Amazon = alphahole? Not a bad analogy…

If you want me to put out, Amazon, perhaps you could, oh, I don’t know…

1. Give self-published authors an Amazon representative. Every self-published author should have one – that’s only fair.

2. Give self-published authors back the pre-order button. You took it away when you deactivated Mobi as a publishing platform and never gave it back. Now you dole it out to authors you feel are “worthy” of the pre-order button.

3. Allow self-published authors to join Kindle Unlimited WITHOUT exclusivity.

4. Give self-published authors something reasonable – say 60% of list price for borrows – in Kindle Unlimited.

5. Hachette got to pay for coop on Amazon to get their books out in front of the reader – offer the same thing to self-published authors. Why can’t we pay to get our books out in front of readers too?

6. Hachette gets full control over their books – including choosing more that two measley categories for each book. (Or, in the case of erotica, just one!) Give self-published authors the same treatment.

7. Stop serial book returns. You give readers carte blanche, let them return dozens of books, and take money out of self-published authors’ pockets.

8. Define your terms of service more clearly and make your policies and guidelines transparent.

9. Actually TELL us when you’re going to start a program like Kindle Unlimited and ASK if we’d like to be included, rather than opting us in and telling us we can opt-out if we like.

10. Let us make books free at will. Let us price at whatever level we like. In fact, let HACHETTE price their books whatever way they like too. Let the free market be… you know, FREE.

Those are just ten easy things Amazon could do to sweeten up their relationship with self-published authors, to show us that they take us seriously as content creators. Just as seriously as they take Hachette and the other legacy publishers. Will they do them? Oh, maybe. Eventually. In their own time. But not because they value self-published authors. That, I’m afraid, is a delusion. Self-published authors talk about being afraid of biting the hand that feeds them, but what they really need to be worried about is being trampled underfoot of the giants fighting over their heads.

To me, Amazon’s letter smacks of desperation. This is a midnight booty call, folks. Do we answer midnight booty calls? No – we have more self-respect than that. Don’t we? I sure hope so.

Amazon’s calling self-published authors to unite and that’s all well and good, but in the end, we have to have a reason. Indies are independent. It’s right in the name. Simply providing a platform for us to sell on doesn’t cut it, I’m afraid. That’s not enough incentive for self-published authors to rally around a retail giant asking us to cut our own throats in order to keep ebook prices down for consumers, while they pay their own warehouse workers minimum wage, cut off affiliates in states where they might have to pay sales tax, and have an overall 6% effective tax rate.

Not that I think self-published authors shouldn’t unite. I believe they should. And some day, there may actually be a good enough reason to compel most of them to do so. I doubt that reason lies in supporting Amazon’s fight with Hachette. But if I were Amazon, I’d pay closer attention to the self-publishing community, because we’re not playing peasant to their feudal lord and we only look like sheep. We’re really wolves in sheep’s clothing, every one of us, and we have quite a bit of bite, especially as a group. Amazon knows this to some degree – they’re trying to activate that rabid capability to their own defense.

What Amazon doesn’t want you to know, what they don’t want self-published authors to wake up and realize, is that we have far more in common with Hachette and legacy publishers in this matter than we do with Amazon. I know this because I’ve been a small co-op publisher since 2008, and have been using Amazon as a distributor since then. In fact, through Excessica, I have more power than most self-published authors in fighting against Amazon’s strong-arm tactics. Most self-published authors, even though they are, essentially, publishers in their own right (they simply have an author stable of one), have little to no power in negotiations with Amazon. Right now Amazon is dictating terms to Hachette. They can choose to play ball, or they can take their bat and mitt and go home. What are you going to do, when Amazon decides to change your publishing terms? When they want to tell you that you can no longer sell your book at $0.99? When they tell you your royalty rate is now 50% instead of 70%? Or 35%?

I know some self-published authors will rally around Amazon, afraid of biting the hand that feeds them, but I also know that many will not. Many authors will find Amazon’s midnight booty call just as offensive and appalling as I did. And in the end, if we don’t unite for Amazon, we may still combine our forces and use our powers for good. Amazon should watch their backs, because self-published authors may unite all on our own – some of us have already begun. The numbers Amazon is trying to leverage surely do exist – but I’m afraid they may not always come down on the side Amazon wants them to. Marie Antoinette threw bread to the peasants and told them to eat cake – before those peasants all grabbed their torches and pitchforks and decided to storm the castle. She ended up headless. In the end, I’m pretty sure the full force of united self-published authors is not an opposition Amazon ultimately wants to deal with.

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The Long-Term Erotica Game

dreamstimefree_8571973As a erotica writer, are you in the short-term game or the long-term game? Did you know there was even a difference? There is–an important one.

Even before the Fifty Shades phenomenon, writers were discovering that erotica was a gravy train when it came to writing. The fact that the erotica market supports selling shorter works for more money made it very appealing to writers looking to make a decent living. It also seemed “easy,” at least on the surface. You pump out (excuse the pun) 20-30 short titles in a few months, and you’re suddenly in the money, paying your mortgage with your royalties!

Since Fifty Shades, the erotica market has been literally flooded (excuse the pun again) with stories about billionaires doing naughty, wicked things to their secretaries. Mark Lefebvre from Kobo says “enhanced Romance” (which is code for erotica) sells the most on their ereader and when Mark Coker from Smashwords says “Romance is our bestselling genre,” what he means is erotic romance. When Mills and Boon starts holding erotic writing seminars, you know the genre has arrived.

I know several very mainstream writers–names you would easily recognize if I printed them–who have decided to get their hands dirty and supplement their “real” writing in their preferred genre (be it sci-fi, mystery, “regular” romance, horror or whatever…) with some erotica writing. I find it amusing that many of them, back when Paypal wouldn’t pay for that “smutty stuff,” self-righteously deemed it “too bad, so sad.” Some of them went so far as to say, “Serves them right for writing that nasty stuff!” Of course, their livelihood wasn’t at stake then. Now they have a dog in this fight. Now they’re writing erotica right along with everyone else, discovering that Amazon filters “certain” covers and “certain” content from their main search, that Apple bans “certain” titles altogether, that some smaller vendors deem “certain” subjects unacceptable.

Now these writers are discovering how erotica writers really get treated. Everyone reads it but no one wants to admit it. Erotica writers are excluded from certain blogs and groups because of their “content.” Erotica writers are the subject of snide remarks and disdain–yet lo and behold, they’re some of the biggest sellers out there. And now these writers know what it takes to write a good sex scene. Hey, wow, there is really more to it than inserting Tab A into Slot B! At least, there is if you want to sell well, build a brand, and actually make a living at it.

Which brings us back to the long vs. short term erotica game. Many of the people jumping on the erotica bandwagon are in it for the short term. They didn’t start writing it for the love of the genre—they started writing it for the same reason people set out to California in the 1850’s to pan for gold. Short-term erotica writers are looking to cash in, pay off some credit card debt or buy a few new toys, and ride it out until the wave crests and fades away.

Short term erotic writers are watching and following trends. Daddies? I can write about Daddies! Billionaires? I can write about billionaires! Werewolves? I can write werewolves! In fact, I can write about Daddy Billionaire Werewolves! Short-term erotica writers want to make short-term money.

Not that there’s anything wrong with short-term money!

But there are erotica writers who have been doing this for years, who do it because it happens to be the genre they fell in love with (like some writers fall for horror, or thrillers, or romance—it’s just where they “fit”) and it’s the genre they want to write in. These are the writers in the long-term erotica game. We’ve watched the market trend and change. Fifty Shades opened a few more doors for erotica writers, but the basic landscape hasn’t really changed.

The basics are still the same and will always be the same.

**Write a good story.
**Make it hot.
**Write what you love, what turns you on.
**If a certain trend is popular and it appeals to you, then go for it! But if you’re faking it, your readers will know.
**Your characters are real people, and if they don’t act like it, your readers will know.
**If you’re not that into it, your readers will know.

Erotica writers in the long-term game can take advantage of the short-term market, but please, don’t forget to look down the road. This is where you could really hurt yourself if you want to be in this long-term. Those who aren’t in this for the long-haul are near-sighted. Yes, you should pay attention to what they’re doing, but don’t necessarily model yourself after them. They aren’t thinking five, ten, fifteen years ahead.

Remember, if you want to be around and have readers in the future erotica market, you have to build a readership now. If you become some flash-in-the pan writer, spreading yourself thin with a hundred pen names and short, trendy titles with lots of cotton candy fluff but no real meat, your readers will go away dazed with the sugar-rush but ultimately unsatisfied. No one can live on cotton candy forever.

Writing what you love in any genre is important. Erotica is no different. Readers aren’t stupid, and they’re not reading erotica and erotic romance for any other reason than they read mystery or horror. They want something specific, and they want a writer to give that to them. They develop a relationship with the authors they love. Short-term erotica writers aren’t going to build that kind of reader base.

Long-term erotica writers will still be here, still writing, after Fifty Shades has trended and gone. And their readers will remember them and continue to seek them out. Those in the short-term game will have either moved back into their own “real” genres, or they will have found that writing erotica isn’t bringing them the cash it once did, and decide to do something else.

Those who love it, who are in for the long game, will still be doing it. They will be the writers of erotica’s future–as long as they remember not to fall into short-term traps.



Selena Kitt

Erotic Fiction You Won’t Forget

www.selenakitt.com

LATEST RELEASE: Becca (Daddy’s Favorites)

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Ch-Ch-Ch Changes!

I met another writer today. It’s funny how many people reveal that they are would-be authors, once I tell them that I write for a living!

This particular writer is a financial planner by day (which was the service we were seeking from her) but a young-adult fiction writer by night. When she heard my tale of publishing success and I talked to her more about self-publishing as opposed to the query-go-round of legacy publishing, she began to really understand the advantages. And of course, the idea that she might be able to publish her already-finished first book in her trilogy RIGHT NOW was thrilling. I sent her over to the Newbie’s Guide (which I always do with aspiring writers who are thinking about self-publishing – why try to reinvent the wheel?) and we moved on from talking ebooks to discussing finances. Apparently, my husband and I have official labels in the finance world. We’re called “young accumulators.” I was thrilled we got to be “young.” My husband was much happier with the “accumulator” part of the equation!

After we left her office, I got to thinking about my initial experiences with ebooks and ebook publishing and ereaders. When my first ebook was published in 2006, I wasn’t thinking of epublishing. I didn’t consider ebooks “real books.” And small ebook publishers were barely a step up from vanity presses, as far as I was concerned. I just saw that a small epublisher was having a contest for entries. Winners would recieve $100 and a publishing contract. Three runners-up would receive a publishing contract, but no cash. Me, I was looking to win the cash. I didn’t. But I did win a contract.

I was reluctant. But finally, I decided – why not? What could it hurt? These were the days before online ebook self-publishing was really viable. There was no Kindle Publishing Direct. There was no Barnes and Noble PubIt. So I signed a contract with the now-defunct StarDust Press to publish my story, Christmas Stalking. They gave me 35% profit and kept 75%. And that was pretty good, considering a legacy publishing deal would only give you about 17%, and they wouldn’t publish anything as short as 17,000 words anyway, except in an anthology.

I learned a lot at that little publisher. I dealt with editors (she was great, and I was insufferable) and cover artists (not so great – vector drawing covers, ugh!) I learned about marketing on blogs and in chat rooms and on Yahoo groups. I learned that there was already a large network of romance and erotic romance readers who had been reading on ereaders for years. Really, years! They liked to read their fiction anonymously and electronically. Especially the erotic romance, because no one could see the covers or ask what they were reading! It was like a whole little underground network that I’d never known existed.

Maybe I’d misjudged this ebook thing? Maybe ereaders really were going to be the wave of the future?

Little did I know!

It’s funny to me to look back now at my judgments and attitudes. I accepted the publishing contract, but I didn’t tell anyone. I mean, I wasn’t really published. Ebooks weren’t real books! Then Kindle came along, and even though my books were now all over the place, including on Amazon through their Mobi site (back then, Amazon only offered publishers 35% profit, not the 70% they give to authors now, believe it or not) I still didn’t consider ebooks as real books.

It cracks me up that Fictionwise (before Amazon opened their self-publishing department) actually cancelled our account and deleted all of Excessica’s books because they’d found out that, as an author co-op, we had done all our own editing and cover art! *gasp* They were simply horrified by this fact. Horrified enough to actually just delete us! I had to go to bat and convince them that we were a business, an LLC, just like they were, and that I didn’t publish “just anything” and that we did have editors and cover artists on staff (never mind that they happened to be co-op volunteers… shhhh!) They finally reinstated our account.

I can laugh about that now. But back then, it was a big deal. Fictionwise was the largest ebook retailer at the time, and here they were saying “NO!” to self-publishing. Of course, that was before Amazon got into the game and blew them out of the water.

It was all so new, so strange, such uncharted territory. The rules in ebook publishing seemed to change every few months. I just continued to plug along, writing and (self) publishing under the umbrella of our little co-op at Excessica. But I still didn’t own an ereader. That’s right. I was making $10,000 a month via ebooks, but I’d never actually read one!

Then my husband decided we had to have a Kindle. I was reluctant. I liked paper books. I liked my hardcover collectibles. Here I was, an ebook author making my primary living as an ebook author–and I was still hesitant to actually own an ereader! How crazy is that?

But once I got my hands on my Kindle, I never looked back. I’ve now officially been assimilated. I write ebooks, and use print-on-demand services to provide them as paperbacks. I consider ebooks as “real” books now. I even primarily read ebooks as opposed to dead-tree books. In fact, I haven’t purchased a paper book in over a year, unless it was something out-of-print I couldn’t get on my Kindle. (And I get really, really cranky when that happens!)

And as my own attitudes changed, I watched the culture shift. Writers like JA Konrath, who had once denounced epublishing, were jumping on that wagon with both feet and huge backlists, speeding toward a six-or-seven figure income. I started seeing people reading Kindles in coffee shops and at the gym. When I got my first ereader, I got asked about it all the time when I was reading in public. “Is that one of those new Kindle things?” People were interested, curious.

Now, people glance at my ereader and then go on with their business. It’s commonplace. They know what it is. They probably own one or know someone who does.

And all of this has happened in a very short span of time. When I published my first ebook five years ago, they were less than 1% of the market. (Although the market did exist!) Now, the ebook market is about 25% of total book sales. Granted, the idea of self-publishing and ebooks hasn’t fully entered the collective consciousness… not quite yet. As my conversation with my financial-planner/would-be author can attest.

But it’s coming. Ch-ch-changes!

Back in 2006, I couldn’t have predicted where the epublishing market would be today. I never thought I would e-publish. I didn’t really believe that ebooks would become popular. And there was no way I was going to switch to an ereader over paperbacks! Yet here I am, making a (very, very comfortable) living writing ebooks. Self-publishing them. And I read almost exclusively on an ereader myself.

The prejudice against self-publishing is going to fade. Trust me – my own prejudices were quite strong, and they have all but disappeared. The world of publishing is going to look very different five, ten years from now. I feel as if I got into the game at a strange time, like being caught between the years of Betamax and VHS. Or MySpace and FaceBook. There are bigger things coming, I think. Bigger, even, than Amazon. I don’t know what they’ll be.

But hang on – it’s going to be one hell of a ride, folks!

Selena Kitt

Erotic Fiction You Won’t Forget

www.selenakitt.com

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Amazon in the Book Banning Business

On December 9, 2010, I was contacted by CreateSpace (Amazon’s Print on Demand service) who publishes my print books. They informed me that my title, Back to the Garden, had been removed for violating their “content guidelines.” When I consulted their guidelines I found them so vague as to be useless—were they saying my content was illegal? Public domain? Stolen? Offensive? (All of these were on the list). When I inquired as to the specifics of the violation, they were not forthcoming, and sent a form letter response stating that Amazon “may, in its sole discretion, at any time, refuse to list or distribute any content that it deems inappropriate.”

On Sunday, December 12, the print title that had been removed had now disappeared from the Kindle store, as well as two of my other titles, Naughty Bits and Under Mr. Nolan’s Bed. I have over fifty titles selling on Amazon, all of them in erotic fiction categories. The only thing these three singled-out titles had in common, besides being written by me—they were all erotic incest fantasy fiction.

About this time, I heard that two other authors, Jess C. Scott and Esmerelda Green, both had erotic incest-related titles removed from Amazon’s site. After some research, I discovered one of Frances Gaines Bennett’s incest-related books had also been removed. As the night wore on, and public outcry about censorship and banned books began on Twitter at #amazonfail and #amazoncensors and on their own Kindle Boards, more and more incest-related erotica titles began to disappear from the Amazon site, so that the “Kindle Incest” search page began to look like swiss cheese. Teleread covered the story soon after.

When some of my readers began checking their Kindle archives for books of mine they’d purchased on Amazon, they found them missing from their archives. When one reader called to get a refund for the book she no longer had access to, she was chastised by the Amazon customer service representative about the “severity” of the book she’d chosen to purchase.

As of this writing, Amazon has refused to respond to my emails or phone calls in regards to this matter and has refused to further clarify what, if any, content guidelines the books in question violate. If Amazon had clear guidelines that were applied to all publishers across every platform and enforced them consistently, this would be a moot issue. By not clearly stating their position and choosing books either arbitrarily or based on searches of top-rated titles which are the most visible titles in the genre, they seem to be deliberately hiding a clear case of discrimination and what amounts to censorship (albeit ipso facto) because of their lack of transparency.


I want to be clear that while the subject of incest may not appeal to some, there is no underage contact in any of my work, and I make that either explicitly clear in all my stories or I state it up front in the book’s disclaimer. I don’t condone or support actual incest, just as someone who writes mysteries about serial killers wouldn’t condone killing. What I write is fiction. It’s fantasy, not reality. And I’m not saying what I write isn’t controversial, but it’s not illegal (at least in some states) or a threat to national security, and seems as undeserving of censorship as… well…


As fellow author, Will Belegon, noted, if Amazon is going to start pulling books with incest in them: “I just re-read Genesis 19: 30-38 and realized that Lot’s daughters got him drunk, had sex with him and bore sons. I demand you follow your clear precedent and remove The Bible from Kindle.”


Or perhaps Amazon should create a new television ad after they follow their clear precedent and ban the book the woman is reading in the advertisement on her Kindle (“Sleepwalking” by Amy Bloom) which tells the story of a 19-year-old boy who has a sexual encounter with his stepmother, which, in some states, is legally incest.


While it can be said that, for an author or celebrity, any press (including bad press) is good press, for a bookseller and publisher, that does not necessarily hold true. Can Amazon afford the bad press about book removal which may spark outcries from many corners, including self-publishing authors, the fastest-growing segment of their Kindle ebook distribution?

In speculating on the motivations of Amazon’s actions, as they have not been forthcoming with any statement or explanation, I am concerned that they may be acting out of reactionary fear. This may be based on pressure from a small number of vocal and complaining conservative and/or religious right extremists who object to and are afraid of sexual fantasies and erotic printed material (including incest fantasies). It may also be based on threatening governmental pressure related to the recently removed WikiLeaks. More speculation may point to overzealous lawyering as Amazon moves from just-distributor and bookseller to publisher.

While I am not a lawyer, constitutional scholar or legal expert on free speech and intellectual freedom, I am an author and publisher and know that, regardless of the technical legalities of Amazon’s actions, buckling to this pressure and the removal of books will hurt their bottom line. It will damage relationships with readers, authors, publishers and organizations such as the American Library Association and the ACLU, among others, who are interested in supporting free speech. I should also note that I am a professional psychologist and, while no longer licensed or working in the field, it’s clear that when individuals and organizations fail to recognize the difference between fantasy and reality, problems such as this result.

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2009 Eppie Finalists

Thought I’d brag a little (again) about the fact that two of eXcessica’s books have been judged as 2009 EPPIE FINALISTS!

I’m so proud I could bust-a-button. 🙂

This is the 8th year of the Eppies, and it has become a rather prestigious award in the e-publishing world.

From the EPIC (Electronically Published Internet Connection) site:

“The EPPIE Awards have been given annually since the first EPIC conference to recognize outstanding achievement in e-publishing.

EPPIEs entries are judged by volunteers, with the largest percentage of EPPIE Judges being active EPIC Members. Guest judges, all of whom are either published authors or publishing professionals, may be used as alternate judges at the EPPIE Committee’s/Chair’s discretion. After the first round of judging the works of the finalists are sent to second panel of judges and winners are selected. The winners are announced at the EPIC conference’s gala award ceremony at the annual EPICon Convention.

The 2009 EPICon will take place in Las Vegas, Nevada.”

I doubt I’ll make EPICon, but I’ll be waiting on pins and needles until March to see who wins! 🙂

A Good Student by Elliott Mabeuse

Category: romance/bdsm

Length: Super-Novel

Heat Level: eXcess 3

Price: $5.99

Warnings: This title contains graphic language, sex and bdsm elements.

— —————————

When passionate Professor Conner Devlin meets oversexed student Emma Fiore, the sparks ignite: he’ll train her to be his classroom sex slave, carrying out his every desire, while she gets to experience the forbidden pleasure of submissive love before her marriage to a dull and unfeeling man. But Emma’s sizzling and insatiable desires soon overwhelm Conner and he finds himself hopelessly in love with his young submissive. Emma accepts him as her sexual Master, but will she have him as her real-life lover?

Through the means of BDSM and the demands of extreme sex, Conner tries to break down the barriers between them and make Emma acknowledge her feelings, until one night things become too real and the games are forgotten. Conner takes Emma prisoner for real and their passions erupt in a cataclysm of raw emotion that rocks them both and fuses them in a transcendent love.

Told with intense honesty from the dominant’s point of view, A Good Student gives a rare and searing look inside a man’s heart as he’s caught in the throes of a compelling and overwhelming love and passion, all his thoughts and feelings exposed. Listening to Conner’s confessions is like having your own personal Master tell you everything he feels, with a poet’s skill and a therapist’s insight. You’ll never look at the dynamics of D/s and a man’s sexuality the same way again.

Romance at Heart Review by Rose

“Sensual, sexy, totally erotic…his characters are always punchy, up front, and delightfully real. I got wrapped up in the affaire d’coeur Elliott tells between the covers. Here we learn from a man whose life has been lacking something he was not aware of, true love and caring. (I)t is one romance on the edgy side you won’t want to miss!”

A GOOD STUDENT IS ALSO AVAILABLE IN PRINT!

EcoErotica by Selena Kitt

Category: anthology

Length: Novel

Heat Level: eXcess 2

Price: $4.99

Warning: This title contains graphic language and sex.

—————————–

Mother Earth is one hot, sexy Mama, and in this tribute to nature and the environment, Selena Kitt pays homage to her beauty, her grandeur – and her conservation. Who else could tackle topics like global warming, strip mining, animal endangerment and environmental toxicity, all while making it hot, hot, hot?

This anthology includes six sexy and environmentally provocative stories that will rock your world-and arouse and raise more than your environmental awareness.

STORIES INCLUDED (click a link to read an excerpt!):

The Break

Cry Wolf

Genesis

Law of Conservation

Lightning Doesn’t Strike Twice

Paved Paradise

ECOEROTICA IS ALSO AVAILABLE IN PRINT!

***USE COUPON CODE CTUEM7FY FOR 10% OFF PRINT***


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