Amazon

Some Of My Books Are Leaving Kindle Unlimited…

After trying (and largely failing) to gain a foothold on venues other than Amazon (VOTA), I went back into KDP Select a few months ago. Immediately, my book income almost doubled and my ranks improved, (which leads to more visibility and borrows/sales). It was a relief, but also sort of disappointing. Why? Because it simply confirmed that going all-in with Amazon was my own viable option and that meant I was going to have to toe their line and put all my eggs in their basket. The upside to that is that people could borrow my books in Kindle Unlimited.

Unfortunately, Amazon has been having some problems lately and there are casualties.

One of those casualties is related to the “exclusivity” clause. Basically, anything that is available in any other book or publication is not exclusive and therefore, cannot be in KU (meaning KDP Select). In my case, that means anything I’ve had published in The Future Chronicles series of anthologies would not be exclusive.

While Robot Evolution has only one story from the Chronicles, it has that one story. None of the other PePr novellas are outside my control, but one is enough. So, Robot Evolution and  possibly Hope/Less will have to come out of Select. This is bad because I get far more “reads” in KU than actual sales. It blows actually.

The other casualties are The Ways We End and And Then Begin Again. While each volume has half new material, the other half started as tales in the Chronicles and Beyond The Stars series. I’ve rewritten them (because hey, no word count limits!), but it’s still no-banana.

If you’re a Kindle Unlimited member and you’ve had those on your list, get them soon. Once their time for this Select period is up, they’ll be available for purchase only. On the upside, they will also be available on all other retailers too!

 

NOTE: Due to some other strangeness going on at Amazon (it’s complicated), I may wind up taking all of my books out of Select and going wide with them again. Yes, this will crash my income and visibility, but the stuff going on right now is super scary and it might be my only alternative if I want to feel safe.

Why That Follow Button Sucks…

I fell into the follow button trap and now I’m doing my best to reverse that. I wasn’t sure I should share, but I read a whole lot more than I write, so I figure other readers like me probably would like to know about this. While I’m not super price sensitive when it comes to books, I read so much that I try to economize where I can. That makes it worth sharing!

The Follow buttons seemed so awesome, so easy…a way to decrease my load of email and give me some of my mental bandwidth back. So, I clicked away and unsubscribed to all those newsletters, thinking I would get all the info without any need to…you know…read. I even shouted out to folks to jump on that follow button bandwagon with me.

Yeah, that totally didn’t work.

What am I going on about? I’m specifically talking about two forms of “Follow” buttons on two sites: Amazon and BookBub. Both of these forms of follow buttons purport to allow you to be updated on new releases by whichever authors you follow, plus sale prices.

Neither of them actually does that. After missing a couple of dozen new releases by must-read authors and even more sale prices by other must-read authors, I’m now trying to undo my hasty following urge and re-join their newsletters. I figured if it took me this long to figure out what I had missed out on, then maybe there are others in the same boat.

Here are the specifics:

Amazon Follow Button:

Of the two follow buttons, this one is the better of the two, but it is still woefully inadequate and unreliable. Supposedly, you’ll be notified of new releases. The problem is that you never know when you’ll be notified. A lot of the author newsletters I subscribed to, I did so because they always had new release pricing for a few days after publishing. I mean, if I know I’m going to read their work more often than not, why not get it for less?

Amazon’s announcements may or may not be sent, and if they are, they can come up to a month after release. More importantly, if other big things are going on at Amazon…they don’t come at all. Like Holiday shopping, or their Black Friday summer, or really anything that they want to focus on.

After getting notifications several weeks after release for several authors I followed, I decided to get back on their newsletters so I can save some money. There’s nothing more irritating than clicking BUY at full price when you know you could have saved 75% if you’d only been notified a day earlier than you were.

TIP: If you put Kindle books on your wishlist, sometimes (I repeat, sometimes), you’ll get a notification if there’s a price drop. It seems to happen more for traditionally published titles or those publishing by Amazon imprints, but once in a while it can happen for an Indie book.

Yes, I still follow all those authors on Amazon because it improves my recommendations, (since Amazon algos seem to consider all the things you like when recommending books). I still recommend using the Amazon follow button because it has some benefit in that regard, but I definitely wouldn’t count on it for getting news in a timely manner.

BookBub Follow Buttons:

Yeah, they announced this with huge flair, urging all us Indies to share this with our readers. Like a bagillion others, I did that, but it turns out that it’s less than worthless. Why? Because it has more exclusions than inclusions!

I followed loads of authors on the Bub, thinking I was going to seriously save on books by getting announcements from the Bub. Then…crickets, except for TradPub authors and a very few Indie mega-sellers. The only notifications I got about interesting indies were when the Bub ran a rare ad for an author’s books (which of course, sends me to their site and gives them affiliate income.)

That in itself might not be so bad, but then I realized why this happens through my own book releases. Here’s a quick example of how this works. It took me a while to figure it out, but once I did, I was a little irritated because of all the books I missed out on.

I released the PePr, Inc. series of novellas as individual titles for a while. Each one of those doesn’t qualify for new book announcements because they are novellas. Okay, fine. That’s cool. I get that they have length limits. So then I collected them together into a big, fat book called Robot Evolution. Guess what? It doesn’t qualify because the individual titles were once published. So basically, all those people I pointed to the Bub as a way to get announcements for my new books if they were averse to newsletters never heard about any of them.

Same thing happened with The Ways We End and And Then Begin Again. Even though most of the material was new and all the stories were reworked that had been in anthologies, it didn’t qualify. Basically, the people who follow me don’t know of a single new release by me since Strikers: Eastlands. Not one.

Why did they do this if they didn’t intend to actually do it? It seems pretty obvious in retrospect. It was a way for them to get us to spread the word and get more people signed up to their newsletter…which they make money from. Duh. And we’re not talking a few either. When you take thousands of authors and tell them this, then ask them to share, that’s millions of eyeballs getting tempted. Talk about free advertising! After all, you can’t follow authors on Bub unless you join Bub. ::facepalm::

At least I could easily see which authors I followed on there and then decide which I needed to re-join the newsletters of in order to stop missing releases. Turns out I missed a total of 33 new releases….33! Now, some of those included box sets, but overall, I missed out on a whole lot of indie authors and their new release pricing, plus a whole lot of sale prices.

I don’t really recommend the Bub Follow button at all anymore as a reader. It’s useless. As an author, there’s the possibility that they use the number of followers an author has when deciding who get’s approved for an ad. Because of that, I still want people to follow me there, but that’s sort of selfish, so I feel bad for feeling that way.

I’ve spent the last two days correcting that mess up on my part and joined those newsletters again. Yes, there are a few that will send me too much mail and I’ll unsub them again, but for the most part, they are worth the email space.

TIP: Remember to add the email address of the author’s newsletter to your contacts. By doing that, you make sure that you’ll actually see it. Yahoo and Gmail have gone draconian and will mark them as spam or promotional, hiding them from view or sticking them in another tab. Finding out about an awesome sale or giveaway after it is long over sort of negates the purpose of getting the newsletter. 🙂 So far, out of my favorite 25 authors I’ve rejoined, 23 of them went to the hidden folder. The two that didn’t were already white-listed because I’ve exchanged emails with them before. So, yeah, white-listing is more important that ever apparently.

 

New Covers for Between Life and Death!

I’m a terrible updater, but here I am, updating you. First off, let me say that I loved my former covers for the Between Life and Death series. I actually made very sure that I had paperback copies of the series for my own collection before I changed a thing.

That said, they didn’t resonate with the correct market for some reason. Either because they had an Urban Fantasy vibe or because of something else I can’t figure out, the books weren’t doing what I thought they should. Of course, who is really objective about their own writing? They may just not be great books!

To try to reach the correct market and better reflect the series, the same cover artist that did the former covers embarked on a re-branding of the series with me. I have new covers for all the current books in the series plus one for Savannah Slays, which is intended for a 2017 release. That one tells the story of Savannah and Charlie from the beginning. As character favorites in the series, they deserved their own book. (And by the way, Savannah is a piece of work!)

So, here they are in all their glory! I think they capture the post-apocalyptic nature of the series well. What do you think? And yes, the first book is still free for right now, but it’s possible that I’ll be shifting it away from that in the near future. It’s undecided at this time and will greatly depend on performance. (Click image to embiggen!)

between-lifeand-deathnew-covers

Anatomy of KU Scams – Untangling the Knots

scamflowchart

Flowchart of scams I tracked. Not all are scams, some are merely unethical or questionable behavior.

Since my post regarding KU Scammers hit, I’ve been been trying to answer the inevitable questions and peek at the various discussions. I’m seeing a lot of folks conflating the scams. By conflating the scam elements, people wind up…inevitably…either not seeing how they work or thinking it must be a small problem.

I’ve decided to open up the research I’ve done over the past months and show you what I’ve found. While I focused intently on “closed loop” scams, which are clearly against Amazon’s TOS, I did research all the others I could find that had any sort of traction on KDP.

Once again, this will be another wall of text (and pictures!) so will likely only interest those impacted significantly.

Here we go!

The Flowchart – The image above (click to embiggen) is my flowchart. That’s just the summary one, because I’ve been making them for each of the scam types I’ve researched, and included individual titles, authors, and a whole slew of information I can’t share here without getting sued. I’m listing those summary elements with some additional info.

  • – Actor: Real Author
  • – Target: Readers in KU
  • – Method: Engage Reader Sympathy or Call to Action
  • – Skeeze Level: Desperate Author to Embarrassed Cheater
  • – TOS Status: Questionable, but not specifically against TOS
  • – Primary Element: Links to the back of the books
  • – Enhancements: May use targeted advertising (which is legit)

1) Ask Method – Message readers inside the opening of the book asking them to click a link to the back because Amazon is only paying them by the page read.

2) Big Ask Method – Send out a newsletter to all fans asking them to check out each of the author’s books and click to the back, because Amazon has stripped them of earnings and pays by the page read.

3) Little Trick Method – Link in front that claims to have an important message that sends reader to the back of the book. Message may be real or simply standard end of book message.

  • – Actor: Real Author
  • – Target: Readers in KU
  • – Method: Trick Reader
  • – Skeeze Level: Cheater to Skeezeball
  • – TOS Status: Questionable to directly against TOS
  • – Primary Element: Links to the back of very inflated books, inducements to get them to click such as prizes or bonus content
  • – Enhancements: May use targeted advertising (which is legit) or click groups to all click each other and give payouts.
  • – Of interest: Seen frequently using short, slapped together shorts of erotica or erom that flooded KU 1.0 in order to get a flat payout, which was the same for a novel as a 10 page short.

1) Bundle Me Method – Author bundles together large numbers of shorts, which is legit and often done for serials. In this scenario, the click bait links are what make it sketchy. The links often promised entry for very desirable prizes or bonus content in order to get clicks to the back of the book. See images after this section for examples.

2) Bundle Me Again Method – Same as 1) except the author bundles the same groups of stories over and over in a different order. The purpose is to appeal to more readers (kink, fetish, BDSM, etc) by changing covers, titles, and blurb to cover a larger range of readers. The content is exactly the same in each bundle. Frequently the Table of Contents (TOC) is given a prominent link and the story advertised is actually in the back of the book in order to trigger a full read.

3) Babel Bundle – Author creates Google Translate or Babelfish versions of a single story for a large number of languages. Then author ensures that the language covered by that market is in the back (English in US, for example). Most likely alternate languages for a market are nearest the back (Spanish, for example). The reader then must click the TOC in the front (note that Amazon’s requirement for a TOC in the front actually helps this scam) to get to the English version, triggering a full read of a book filled with 25 or more bad translations.

4) Break Book or Bundle – Between each chapter or story, put in a link that says “click to keep reading” that takes the reader to the back of the book. Frequently found paired with large amounts of unrelated content between that link and the story at the back in order to pad the book size.

Pictures! Yay!

Here are some pictures of what the above tricks looks like inside a book. It’s pretty ugly and this particular book was reported extensively. It is still for sale…only now without all these inducements in the front.

BillionaireRomanceTrickPrize - Edited

Image #1: This one combines tricks and engagement, offering the chance for a prize, giving a message, and offering bonus content. All lead to the back of the book.

BillionaireRomanceMessage

Image #2: Screenshot of the inside at the end of one of the shorts. The links and inducements are between each story in order to try to get readers before they gave up and got bored with the book.

BillionRoyalsSetReviews

Image #3: Reviews for the above book illustrated displeasure of readers. The book is still available, but without spammy links.

Now on to the next category – the Non-Author versions.

  • – Actor: Non-Author Entrepeneur
  • – Target: Readers in KU
  • – Method: Trick Reader
  • – Skeeze Level: Skeezeball
  • – TOS Status: Questionable to directly against TOS
  • – Primary Element: Links to the back of very inflated books, inducements to get them to click such as prizes or bonus content
  • – Enhancements: May use click groups to all click each other and give payouts.  May utilize click farms.
  • – Of interest: This scam is having issues since it relies on readers and takes time without a click farm. Some have made All Star Bonuses, which was bad since it got them caught.

Same as Author versions above with the following exceptions:

  •  – Fiction: May hire ghostwriters (some overseas, others US via freelancer sites or Fiverr ) to create books. These can wind up being web translations of foreign works, out of print short porn books from a few decades ago, plagiarized works that have the words changed (ex: heave changed to surge). Most of them are simply egregiously bad.
  •  – Non-Fiction: May hire scrapers who cobble together stuff from the web, wikipedia, investopedia, or other freely available info.
  •  – Study Guides – May hire or cobble together web articles about a famous book, package it so that it looks like the famous book, then get a click farm to bring it up in the ranks. Readers mistake it for the actual book, see it’s cheaper (or in KU since many huge new hits aren’t), and get taken in.
  •  – Many will be listed as “award winning authors” but their awards might actually be simply an attendance award from third grade or something. None are award winning in the way that actually applies to the work in question.
  •  – More likely to use specious advertising (including Amazon advertising!), click farms, and click cooperatives in order to drive up the rank and be noticed by more readers who think it must be awesome if it’s ranked that high.
  •  – Will often price books higher than average (9.99 for example) in order to drive away buyers and lure KU readers in more. KU readers will feel like they got a huge bargain since they pay nothing and scammers know that the lure of a good deal will draw them.
  •  – Text Salad – Some will pad the book with an enormous word salad in between two halves of the story and put a link in that says to click to continue the story, triggering a huge payout. (This one is having more trouble lately since people are catching on and the books aren’t good enough to make them want to click).

The above scams rely on long periods being available for sale. For each day on sale, the chances of getting caught and the book taken down by Amazon increase. That would mean they might not get payment.

  • – Actor: Non-Author Scammer
  • – Target: Amazon KU Pot
  • – Method: Closed Loop Click Farming/Click Cooperative
  • – Skeeze Level: Skeezeball Extraordinaire (Don’t touch them without gloves!)
  • – TOS Status: Directly against TOS
  • – Primary Element: Text often makes no sense.  Short duration sales often driven at off-times for KDP Customer Support to avoid rapid response to consumer complaints.
  • – Enhancements: Uses multiple EINs to mitigate risk to funds. May immediately use free days as a way to avoid rising in rank on the paid lists, which would draw attention faster. Don’t bother with reviews because they don’t want KU readers to look at the books.
  • – Notes: The scammers have ZERO intention of engaging readers and want to avoid them at all costs. These scammers do *not* want to earn the All-Star bonus because it draws attention. Will usually make sure that there is a different author name on each book to ensure that. (Details in my previous post, no need to repeat).

1) Normal Sized Salad Method – The books may have a few pages of real (and really bad) text at the beginning, but will be filled with word salad after that. Because it would be simpler to flag books that approach 3000 pages, they create normal to large sized books that don’t go over 1K pages. Click farms or click cooperatives do the borrowing, flip to the back, immediately return. Book gets taken down immediately after all clicks bought to avoid getting caught. Account is left open only to collect payment. Example word salad images in previous post.

2) Extra Large Salad Method – My example in the original KU Scammer post is one such book. Word salad, click farms or click cooperatives. Again, take it down fast so readers don’t see and report it. Making it free will mean that book hoarders rather than KU readers will find it, if anyone does at all. Kindle stuffers don’t usually read the new downloads immediately.

3) What Did I Just Read Method – Example in Images 7 and 8. Very odd text. Sentences, but very strange ones. Same procedure as Salad for earning.

Here are some fresh off the Kindle Direct Platform (and approved for sale by Amazon with their oh-so-wonderful screening processes) examples.

AttackPrinceSillyShit

Image #4: This lovely tome doesn’t even have a title on the cover! And look at that blurb…masterful!

 

AttackPrinceSizePages

Image #5: Newly published and a modest 788 pages. Don’t you wonder what’s inside?

UPDATE: I found where this book was plagiarized from! I even found the exact page from my screen capture. You can find the original unsynomized version here at http://fiction.homepageofthedead.com/forum.pl?readfiction=790H&rdp=25

AttackPrinceWordSalad

Image #6: And here is your prize. A word salad of random words. Epic, I tell ya…epic!

Here’s another beauty…with an interesting capture page.

AscentDauntlessPage

Image #7: This beauty actually has words that are sort of in sentences. So weird…but it’s a very short 288 pages to escape the Amazon flags. Also, no title or author on the cover.

AscentCrusaderInside

Image #8: The text is all like this. I’m not sure if it’s Google Translate or an incipient evil A.I. wrote it. Note the line, “towards the city of Hazard, (like the show The Dukes of Risk).” That spells machine translate to me!

So, I could go on all day, but don’t we all think this is just about enough wall of text? I hope this clears up some of the scam-fusion out there. It does show that it’s pervasive, varied, ongoing, nutso, and Amazon is just letting new word salads slide right into publication.

Shining a big light on this is the only way to urge a fix, but those fixes will need to be aggressive and ultimately change the way KDP processes books.

For fun, maybe those of you who find scam books can post them here in the comments? I’d like to see how many can be found (without me doing it). Cheers!

KU Scammers on Amazon – What’s Going On?

This is extremely long and probably only of interest to indie authors, but it does impact readers who shop Amazon, so I’m putting it here for anyone.

Not many readers (who aren’t also authors) know any details about this, though readers sure are noticing the impacts of the scams. I see threads or posts all over the place about the difficulty readers are having with simply browsing on Amazon to find their next good read.

Discoverability is an author’s word when it comes to books…it’s the holy grail of the indie. If you say it in the tones of a voice-over in a serious movie, you can almost hear the slight echo: What is the secret of the grail (discoverability)?

Now, it is also a reader problem. The scammers have made finding books too difficult. Readers are going back to older methods for finding books or even worse, simply writing off any new author out of hand unless the recommendation comes from an actual person on Goodreads or forum or the like.

For those who don’t know, to be in KU, a book can’t be available at any other vendor. Amazon exclusive. The bonus is that it gets slightly better visibility simply because it can be a “recommendation” to KU browsers. Books not in KU are often not shown to them unless they are bigger names.

On to the issue of the scammers and what’s really going on…

KU pays authors based on a communal pot. It is not based on the price of the book. The amount KU subscribers pay is then divided between all authors based on how many of their pages were read by users.

So, it’s a pie. Some get a bigger slice, some a smaller, but the pie is finite and must be shared. So, if scammers take out of that pie, it comes directly out of the pockets of the others. That’s important.

KU 2.0 (which is what we’re in now) pays by the page. Not pages in books, but pages reader reads.

So, let’s say a reader checks out a book from KU, reads to page 100, decides they don’t like the book and returns it. The author gets paid for the 100 pages read. If it’s a page turner that the reader reads through to the end, the authors get paid for all 500 pages of wonderful and quality prose.

The pay per page is a small number and varies by a few thousandths of a penny each month, but it seems to be settling in at around $00.0045 per page. That equates to about $1.575 for a 350 page book.

One thing we were all assured by Amazon…many times…in writing…was that Amazon knew how much a reader was reading in each book and they would pay us for those pages.

Scammers being scammers, they realized Amazon was lying very early on. Amazon couldn’t tell what pages were read. They only knew the last place you were at in the book. And that’s what they were paying authors, the last place that the reader synced in the book.

So, a KU borrow on a device that didn’t sync until after the book was read and the reader flipped back to the front to check out what else you’d written? Yeah, no pages read.

But likewise, a reader who clicked a link on Page 1 offering them the opportunity to win a Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 and a $100 Amazon Gift Card….which then sent them to the back of a 3000 page book? Yep, you guessed it. They got paid for 3000 unread pages. (And no, there was no winner for those contests that  anyone knows off.)

Keep in mind, Amazon clearly knew this was happening, because the page limit for books in KU changed very recently (and abruptly) DOWN to 3000. There were 10,000 page books in KU doing this before that change. Even at $00.0041 per page (which is our lowest payout yet), that’s a big payout.

One of the scammers has YouTube tutorials on how to pull the scam. He showed a screen shot of a 15 year old kid’s KDP Dashboard who made over $70,000 in one month pulling this scam. And there are HUNDREDS of them.

Here’s the Scam:

1) Scammer acquires via advertisement (or sometimes actually writes) a bad book or part of it. Enough so that they can get past a quick look at the first few pages.

2) Scammer then puts 3000 pages of synonmizer garbage after that first portion.

3) Scammer creates 25 versions of that book with different nonsense after the first few pages to get past the automated checks.

4) Scammer creates a new KDP Account using a fresh EIN.

5) Scammer uploads each of the 25 versions under 25 author names, enters them into KDP Select and as soon as the books go live, they immediately use their 5 Days “free promo” allowed by being in select. This puts the book into KU and also makes it free to buy.

6) Scammer then either lets the KU Click-Farm or their Click Cooperative know that they’re books are live and gives the links.

7a) If Click-Farm (which might actually just be one guy sitting around in his underwear with 25 KU accounts), then the farmer clicks on every one of those newly published books, borrows each one, clicks to the *back* of the book. Rinse and repeat for every KU account the farmer has.

7b) If Click Cooperative, then the Scammer loads all his day’s book links into the cooperative’s page, and each person in the cooperative does what the Farmer did, but usually only with 2 or 3 KU accounts. (Each person in the cooperative does it for everyone else, possibly on a schedule).

8) Scammer has now made several thousand dollars.

Note: If Scammer is smart…and they are getting smarter…they will parse out those clicks over a three day period so that there is no possibility of an alert. Since the book is on the Free list, those savvy customers who report scam books aren’t likely to look. They look at the paid lists.

9) Scammer will often then hire a “free click farm” for a few bucks in some foreign country to have their farmers click the Buy For Free button to push up the rank of the book in the free ranks. This will get visibility for the book, enticing real KU browsers to click the scam book. (This works because with steady KU downloads and lots of free downloads, Amazon’s algorithms put the book into the recommendation engine.)

10) Scammer is now getting nervous. This is pinch time. If enough people report the book and it gets yanked by Amazon, then he or she won’t get their money for this EIN and will have to use one of their 100 other EINs of the month. Some scammers will yank the book now, unpublishing it before Amazon can and ensuring their payout. Others will let the Free period end and let it go to paid. This will put the book high in the paid ranks because of all the KU borrows (which count as sales) and they will get more sales from real people that Amazon recommends the book to. Before they can read it, Scammer yanks the book from sale.

11) Scammer then unpublishes everything and keeps the KDP account open only to collect the payday.

12) Scammer enjoys some champagne, then takes a day off, then does it again with the exact same books (maybe with new covers for $5 each from Fiverr), under a new KDP account with a new EIN and new author names.

The profit?

With a 25 member Click Coop that requires 2 KU accounts per member, a minimal scammer will make 600 bucks for each book. With an easily managed 25 books, that total is now $15,000. For a few days time and minimal work. Outlay can be as low as $20 for their two KU accounts plus $125 for new covers.

Doing this once a week (since Click Coops likely work on a schedule or max), the scammer has earned $60,000 in that month.

Some scammers are in the business in a much bigger way and they earn a great deal more.

That’s it in a nutshell. If you want some visual aids and some breakdown in more detail, keep reading. Otherwise, you’re now in the know!

EDIT: For those who want details of all the scams I tracked and their various methods, see my follow on post here.

Here’s a LIVE example from Amazon:

I typed “scifi romance” into the search box on Amazon. Before you try this yourself, make sure no child who might be scarred for life is in eye-shot of the screen. You’ll get such beauties as this title,ROMANCE: BWWM: Between Love & Friendship (BWWM Paranormal Scifi Romance Collection) (Interracial Alpha Male Pregnancy Short Stories).” 

CAVEAT! HUGE CAVEAT! I don’t want to get sued, so I’m going to make it clear from here on out that this book example is chosen at random from search results (first result). All that I say is my opinion and my assessment based on what I can see, evaluate, and judge as a human person who is allowed to make evaluations and judgments based on my common sense. If this is a real author and this is a real book and not a scam, then they have made a HUGE boo-boo in…uh…formatting?…and it needs to be corrected.

Here’s a little sneaky peek inside the above book. It is thousands of pages long and has about a hundred pages of actual content at the start to fool any casual browser. What’s pictured below then starts and to get to the rest of the story, you have to click the table of contents and trigger a full 3000 page read to get past all the pages of this. (Click to embiggen.)

ScambookInside - Edited

Now, this is supposed to be a book full of sexy romance shorts by “award winning” authors. Does that look anything like that to you?

The first part of the book is actually a story, so you can get a hundred pages or so into it and read actual words. Badly written, poorly formatted, and not very good…but it’s a book. Then that mess starts.

So, this is a prime example of the scams book. There’s a reason they do this on the free lists. They don’t want customers to see it right away.

Now for the Amazon page. Click to embiggen.

Screenshot 2016-04-15 at 2.16.39 PM - Edited

What you see there is the cover, the title (what a title!) and that it is free right now. It’s also in Kindle Unlimited. So far, despite a really bad blurb, it looks like a bad…but semi-real book.

Now check the ranks of this badly blurbed, terribly titled, and generally unattractive book.

Screenshot 2016-04-15 at 2.18.14 PM - Edited

What is that? That is the rank (#2,974 in the entire Kindle Free Store).  In terms of free, that means a whole boatload of copies moved.

You also see the size of the file: 2837 KB, which is huge and for a non-illustrated book, means a whole lot of pages. And also you’ll see the publishing date of April 10th, so less than a week ago.

 

The rank is the product of a click farm to have thousands more “buy” the book for free, raising it in the ranks and creating visibility for the book so real readers will see and maybe accidentally click, thinking it’s an actual book. Those kinds of click farms are far cheaper that KU Farms. You can buy thousands of clicks for very little. They are openly advertised out there. (If you’re an author, don’t even think about it. Once Amazon does do something, they will likely take down all who participated.)

And what’s more, when the “free days” allowed by KDP end, the book will appear very high on the Paid ranks because of all the KU borrows, which means REAL consumers will see the book, think it’s a popular book and click it, creating some extra cash flow.

 

 

My Thoughts:

Remember how I said the authors share the KU funds from a communal pot? That means for each $100,000 bucks these scammers get (and since they are getting KU All Star Bonuses for being the biggest sellers of the month, they are doing very well indeed), that is $100,000 that isn’t being shared by actual authors. Amazon doesn’t pay that, it comes out of the Author pot so *we* pay it.

For Strikers, I earn about $2 per borrow if the reader actually finishes the book. For some of the others, less. For the PePr novellas? About 40 cents.

Why? Because the per-page pot is diluted to lower and lower amounts with the millions and millions of pages the scammers get paid for, but no one reads.

In essence, this is an unbeatable system of scam-age that KU fosters simply by it’s nature. And Amazon’s automated systems are so automated that there’s not a darn thing they can do to stop it *under their current system.*

Ah, their current system! What can they do? Scammers gonna’ scam, right? Well, up till now that’s been their attitude. Only us little guys are really harmed since we’re barely visible anyway. But the scammers have now started stepping on much more dainty and well-paid toes and hopefully, things will get action.

David Gaughran is a well known voice in the book world, and he’s been posting some amazing and insightful pieces that help to make sense of the current KU problem. His latest is depressingly on point and in a way, I’m actually glad the scam has risen to this level.

Why would I be glad? That’s awful!

Simple. Because up till now the scam was primarily impacting the mid-lister or tiny prawn in the self-publishing world. It stripped us of whatever small visibility we could get and pushed us into oblivion, where no reader would find us. The big names were still safe.

So, it wasn’t their problem. They were still banking 5 or 6 figures a month, so why should they care?

Now, it’s their problem too. Not only have KU scammers taken some of their All Star bonuses from the big names, prominent authors are now being pushed right off the main pages of the Top 100.

That’s serious. But again, why would I be happy because that’s happening to them? Am I bitter?

No! Not at all. It’s because Amazon has been ignoring all us mid-listers and prawns because, after all, we’re mid-listers and prawns. Our purpose is to make sure we put our books in so they can boast they have fourteen bagillion books in KU and then be happy with what we get. Now that it’s bigger names (the kind that have actual contacts in KDP Customer service), Amazon just might listen.

So, that’s me, breathing a big sigh of relief.

If you’re interested in the problem and finding out more about the latest iteration (along with a great example by Phoenix Sullivan, a smart, successful, and savvy publisher who has now felt that scammer burn), David’s wonderful post is here:  https://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/2016/04/15/ku-scammers-attack-amazons-free-ebook-charts

And if you’re not really interested in that, how about I just show you my comment to that article. It’s fairly aggressive in terms of a solution, but at this point, the problem is so pervasive, I have doubts whether anything less will be effective.

There are lots of people offering all kinds of solutions and mine may be no better, but I think it’s likely to be more effective than doing nothing. It will also be incredibly difficult for Amazon to actually get started and not spend money. They got lucky for a long time by just having us run amok out there, but the china shop is a wreck and there are bulls crapping in all the yards, so they really have to just do it.

Here it is:

I spent my first career dealing with complex problems on a very large scale. That part of me is shaking her head and knows what needs to be done. The author part of me that gets most of her writing income from Amazon dreads what needs to be done (though thankfully I don’t depend on it or I’d be freaking even more than I am).

 

The best solution is one that Amazon most surely dreads taking too. They have to take the Google Play Nuclear Option here and simply suspend creation of new author accounts.

 

But wait…there’s more!

 

Because KDP isn’t Google, it will have to be a tiered attack and it can’t be defensive in nature. It has to be aggressive and sustained. Because the black hat cheaters are aggressive and their work is all too sustained and creative. And they’re winning.

 

Aside from immediate suspension of new accounts within KDP for new authors (which will seriously suck for many legit authors) they will need to go back through everyone on there and weed out the cheaters, ban for life the egregious ones (I know the black hats get new EINs like candy, which is where new accounts comes in), ban for life all KU users who have circled these wagons (should be a fairly straightforward program there), stop expanding KU into countries where click-farms are so easily created, and create an actual customer service center with actual English speaking people who have more than 20 seconds on the timer to service calls.

 

On top of that, they have to have probationary periods for new authors when they open it back up. Those get looked at by humans. Duplicated material (which will be a pain for anthology and box set authors) will get flagged for human attention.

 

Will cheaters still get through? Absolutely! There will no doubt be black hats with new EINs that are “clean” and past the probationary period who will sell those EINs for major bank to cheaters who will then load up 100 cheat books in one day and click farm them to death.

 

But by then, the ranks will have cleared and reports can then be dealt with in a far more timely manner. Right now, they’re holding very tiny fingers in giant holes popping up all over their dam and the water is running right over them. The only way to do anything at this point is to go nuclear.

 

There will be those that say Amazon would never do that (and they may be right). But consider that even though KDP and Amazon book sales consist of a high percentage of indie titles, that doesn’t mean they don’t have enough to keep readers busy already. They do. There are enough legit titles on Zon for them to stop new authors from joining for a while. There are enough legit authors already on Zon that they can fill up the new releases lists and jump for joy while no one new joins.

 

So yes, Amazon could feasibly do this and not suffer one single missed dollar due to millions of titles already in hand.

 

But will they? Or will they wait too long and doom KU for themselves, for readers, and for authors.

 

That said, I’ve unchecked yet another series from KDP Select. Like many others, I’ve gotten to the point where I’d rather get a little less now than be slammed later when things totally fall apart. So, I’m taking that series wide.

Work In Progress

Savannah Slays (working title)

5000/ 100000 words. 5% done!

Portals - Portal Invasion #1

78000/ 78000 words. First Draft Done!

Mercy - PePr Inc novella

3000/ 20000 words. 15% done!

The Ways We End

66000/ 66000 words. 100% Done! Publishing Dec 8th! (Dark Collections 2, "And Then Begin Again" goes live on the Dec 8th too!

Strikers: Outlands

40000/ 10000 words. 40% Done!

Good News Gone Bad #1
Series of Shorts

4000 / 20000 words. Back Burner for now.

Lulu 394

60020 / 80000 words. 75% done! Back Burner for now!

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Books by Ann Christy