“(Amazon) has shown itself to be unreliable, unfair, and arbitrary for people who are serious about self-publishing.” – An author who spoke to Yahoo! Finance on condition of anonymity
Authors, consider this scenario…
You have a corporate job that you hate and, like the rest of us, you dream of becoming a famous author someday. You stay up late every night on your laptop, and spend your lunch hours writing great stuff! You decide to publish your first book exclusively through Amazon. And, you’re a hit! Not because of anything Amazon has done but because your writing is excellent, your characters are memorable and addictive, and you’re aggressively promoting your book and, at the same time, you’re promoting Amazon, because you’re sending all your readers there.
Naturally, you stay on that prolific writing wave, and you write and publish another book, and another, and another. Since the system seems to be working, you agree to give Amazon the exclusive right to sell ALL of your books. As a result of YOUR marketing savvy and great books, you start making so much money that you’re able to quit your job, and sit at home writing full-time.
And then, one day out of the blue, you are instantly out of business. POOF!
With the click of a button, Amazon has killed your entire, successful career as an author. Your books have all been removed from their site, your unpaid royalties may be frozen, and you can’t get any specific details from Amazon, other than a vague accusation that you were gaming their system.
Think this can’t happen to you? Think again!
The careers of some well-known and very profitable self-published authors are being destroyed. Who’s to blame? The authors? Amazon? Both? The entire scenario can be very difficult to understand so I’ve tried to simplify it below. Please excuse the excessive
use of #’s.
Amazon offers a Kindle Direct Publishing Select (KDP Select) program for ebooks. In a nutshell, when authors use Amazon’s KDP Select platform:
1. They agree to only sell their ebook on Amazon. (That’s their first mistake right there!)
2. Amazon collects a pool of money from their Kindle subscribers (readers).
3. Amazon distributes that pool of money to the authors in the KDP Select program based on the number of pages people “read” in each author’s book.
The problem is, some authors are cheating the KDP Select system by:
1. Creating ginormous books of several thousand pages (some with stolen works in them, and even gobbledygook – text that makes no sense at all).
2. Providing a link near the beginning of the book for a “bonus.” When readers click, it takes them instantly to the end of the book. Amazon’ system then thinks all of those pages were “read” and the author gets paid for all those pages. (Why Amazon, with its infinite resources, can’t make their algorithm count a page as “read” only after a customer spends a specific number of seconds on that page is beyond me…)
Of course, authors pulling these stunts are cheating authors of real books. It’s theft through fraud, pure and simple.
But, what about innocent authors who may get caught up in the accusations and false account terminations? Amazon stands by its decision to terminate authors they suspect of abusing the KDP Select system. However, several authors are steadfastly denying they ever cheated the system.
AMAZON’S SWIFT AND FINAL “JUSTICE”
When Amazon suspects abuse of the KDP Select system, they:
1. Terminate all of the author’s books
2. May even withhold unpaid royalties
3. Ban the author from ever selling books on Amazon again
Naturally, since Amazon is the #1 bookseller in the world, outselling all bookstore chains combined, that is the death of that author’s publishing career. Period.
Michael-Scott Earle, in an interview with Yahoo! Finance, said this happened to him. He then worked with a third-party publisher to quickly get his books back on Amazon under that publisher’s name. It didn’t work. Amazon zapped him again.
Another banned author, Jason Cipriano, who was also interviewed by Yahoo! Finance, says he was once approached by a “major publisher,” but decided to keep publishing exclusively through Amazon. Putting all of his eggs in Amazon’s basket means he’s now screwed. No publisher is going to want to touch him or his books. Amazon could terminate a publisher’s entire line of books if they chose to do so, especially if they suspected that publisher of working with banned authors.
Could banned authors publish under a pseudonym? Sure, but they have likely spent years building up their fan base. They would need to start all over – a new website, a new mailing list, an entire new line of books, etc. – and still run the risk of having Amazon find out, and banning them all over again.
HOW CAN YOU AVOID THIS SCENARIO?
- Do NOT give Amazon OR ANYONE exclusive rights to sell your ebook! Never, EVER give one company the power to put you out of business with the click of a button!
- Don’t publish under your own name. Use a publisher that has published thousands of books by other authors as well. Amazon is less likely to attack individual authors published by a reputable publisher. And, a publisher will have a real contact at the distributor and/or at Amazon (not an unknown customer service rep located in another country) who can get real answers if something goes awry.
- Don’t use a publisher that has been accused of cheating and/or theft in the past. You can bet Amazon is watching them.
- Do not, under any circumstances, put anything in your book that may make it appear you are attempting to game the system. Do not publish a book with thousands of pages, or ebooks containing several different books combined into one volume. Do not put links in your book that skip readers to the end of the book, nor even to the end of a chapter. If you do, you’re just asking to get banned by Amazon.
- Avoid being a member of a discussion list whose members are discussing ways to cheat Amazon’s system. You can bet that either someone at Amazon is monitoring it, or that an ethical author on the list is reporting the cheating authors to Amazon.
- Practice ethical publishing. It may be tempting to game the system after reading about other authors doing the same. Guilty ones may have been able to pocket some money in the meantime but now their reputations are ruined and their publishing careers are OVER.
For those authors who claim they are completely innocent, we sympathize. When you’re dealing with a behemoth like Amazon, it’s difficult to communicate and negotiate with an individual who is willing to investigate your individual case, to give you specific information about why you were banned, and who has the authority to reinstate your books.
If you think you can just sue Amazon, think again. When you sign their contract, you agree to arbitration only. That can be very expensive for you in the end and there’s no guarantee you’ll win. Even if you do, it’s doubtful you’ll collect much in damages, if any at all.
Publish your book(s) with a reputable publisher who knows how to avoid inserting anything into ebooks that might raise Amazon’s ire. And, publish your book with a publisher who sells books in FAR more places than just Amazon.com!
Next week, I’ll show you how NOT TO rely solely on Amazon for book sales.
This isn’t the first time Amazon has put someone out of business. See: Don’t Give Amazon (or anyone else) the Power to Put You Out of Business!
Author Admits Manipulating Amazon’s Ranking/Review System
Are You at Risk? When Publishers Go Out of Business
25 Sure-fire Signs Your Publisher May Be Going Out of Business (and what you can do NOW to save your book!)
Is Amazon REALLY Giving Authors Accurate Sales Numbers?? Read This!
Got questions about Print On Demand and Self-publishing? Ask Angela Hoy.
About The Author
Angela Hoy is the publisher of WritersWeekly.com, the author of 19 books, and the co-owner of BookLocker.com (one of the original POD publishers that still gets books to market in less than a month), PubPreppers.com (print and ebook design for authors who truly want to self-publish), and Abuzz Press (the publishing co-op that charges no setup fees).
Angela has lived and traveled across the U.S. with her kids in an RV, settled in a river-side home in Bradenton, FL, and lived on a 52 ft Irwin sailboat. Angela now resides on a mountaintop in Northwest Georgia, where she plans to spend the rest of her days bird watching, gardening, hiking, and taking in all of the amazing sunrises.
WritersWeekly.com - the free marketing ezine for writers, which features new paying markets and freelance job listings every Wednesday.
BookLocker.com - According to attorney Mark Levine, author of The Fine Print, BookLocker is: "As close to perfection as you're going to find in the world of ebook and POD publishing. The ebook royalties are the highest I've ever seen, and the print royalties are better than average. BookLocker understands what new authors experience, and have put together a package that is the best in the business. You can't go wrong here. Plus, they're selective and won't publish any manuscript just because it's accompanied by a check. Also, the web site is well trafficked. If you can find a POD or epublisher with as much integrity and dedication to selling authors' books, but with lower POD publishing fees, please let me know."
Abuzz Press offers FAST and FREE book publication, but only accepts a small percentage of submissions, and only works with U.S. authors.
PubPreppers.com - "We Prep, You Publish!" Print and ebook design for authors who truly want to self-publish. Offers formatting and design services only, and then provides simple instructions for authors on where to sign up to have the print and ebook editions printed/listed/sold. Cut out the middle man. Keep 100% of what bookstores pay for your book!
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“Practice ethical publishing. It may be tempting to game the system…but now their reputations are ruined and their publishing careers are OVER.”….commonly known as “Honestly is the best policy.”
In life, this is hard to do. It doesn’t hurt to memorize examples like this to remember when in the throes of temptation. Cynthia Nixon (and I’m only commenting on this as a mistake, not on her as a candidate) recently said that “if Republicans are going to call us socialists, we might as well be socialists”. This is a rookie mistake, and forgetting that honesty is the best policy: You give them your honest self. Playing games is dangerous and counterproductive to your reputation.
Perhaps Cynthia Nixon was being honest!
In my view we are better served by looking into ourselves, than by memorizing examples of harsh outcomes caused by dishonesty.
There is a moral compass in us all.
This was an especially good article. It is clear the author put in the time needed to do some fact-checking.
Amazon — its stock once on the verge of collapse — now rules the online market. It is no longer ‘the 900-pound gorilla’ in the room, it is more like the 2000-pound gorilla and getting fatter as the years go by.
Thank you for reaffirming my decision to publish with BookLocker.
Thank you for keeping us abreast, Angela.
Difficult to believe in this day and age… Or maybe not. Awesome article and much appreciated!
Beware the Faustian bargain.