Apr 252018
 

There’s been some recent grumbling about Amazon’s new review policies. It seems that you can no longer leave book reviews on the mighty ‘Zon, unless you have purchased at least $50 worth of goods on the site.  Not books mind you, just $50 worth of goods.

It’s apparently their attempt to address the mass scamming of reviews that some writers have been putting up for the last few years.  Yeah, you know when you find that new release that has tons of five-star reviews and you think, “this must be a good one. I’ll just drop my hard-earned cash here and see what all the fuss is about.”  Then you find that the book is little more than a nasty pile of something that came out of the south end of a north-bound bull.

That’s because unscrupulous authors have been scamming Amazon’s system by hiring click farms that (for the right price) create tons of fake Amazon accounts to write reviews on items they’ve never laid eyes on.  The bad thing is that, in their attempt to rectify the situation, Amazon keeps coming up with new ways to “fix” the problem.  And it’s like they almost always either get it wrong (like when they tried to say that your social media “friends” couldn’t write reviews, and ended up deleting reviews written by reviewers who happened to follow authors they liked on Facebook), or the scammers just change their game to get ahead of the new rules.

For instance, when the Kindle Unlimited program began, Amazon authors got paid a percentage of a multi-million dollar “pot” based on how many people read their books past the 20% mark.  There were authors who immediately began publishing short stories and serialized fiction.  Each title read gained the author the same percentage of the pot, so a ten page short story earned the same amount as a five hundred page epic fantasy. 

Needless to say, there were suddenly TONS of short stories being published.

After a couple of years, Amazon figured it out, and changed the KU payment system to a percentage based on pages read.  Each page read gained a percentage of the pot.  Scammers later learned to put links in their books that jumped the reader to the back of the book.  For instance, you might open a book that has a raffle for a $100 gift card.  The link to the offer is in the very beginning of the book.  The reader clicks to enter the drawing, and the link automatically takes them to the last page of the book, where they fill out the form, never realizing that they just gave the author full credit for reading a book that might never be completed.

To make matters worse, some scammers began simply filling manuscripts with all sorts of garbage they copied willy-nilly from the internet, pumping the page count up to tens of thousands of pages, then front loading the “book” with links that took the reader to the back.  So the reader downloads the book, opens it up, sees the click bait at the front, and clicks to the back.  They might then try to read the book and find that it’s nothing more than thousands of pages of absolute drek, so they either return the download, or simply delete it, not realizing that they have just given the author credit for having read however many thousands of pages.

So Amazon put out new terms to authors, making such actions illegal, and threatening to remove author profiles when someone was caught violating the new terms.  Unfortunately, until then, it was common practice for many authors to put their tables of contents in the back of the book.  Think about it.  An e-book is basically a web site, full of links that tie one part of the book to another.  A table of contents is a list of links that go from one part of the “book” to another.  And many authors considered it good business to load that table of contents in the back.

Why?  Because it allowed them to get more of the manuscript in front of the reader when they viewed the sample on Amazon’s web site.  You know the “Look Inside” link that lets you see the first 10% of the book?  Well how do you feel when you click the link, and then have to scroll through the cover, and the copyright page, then author notes, table of contents, and other forward matter, before you actually get to read any of the sample?

I know some legitimate authors who lost money because books that had been out for years were suddenly found to be in violation of the new terms.

And now we have this problem of fake reviews.  It’s been a recognized issue for a few years now, and Amazon has been floundering about, trying to figure out how to fix the problem.  For a while, they tried a tattletale system where people could report books that were suspected of scamming reviews.  That quickly became a fustercluck when legitimate authors found their accounts suspended.  Amazon never would state what the author had done, only giving out a generic, “you have been found in violation of terms and conditions…” but never stating what specific violations.

It was often suspected that the scammers were reporting legitimate authors in order to muddy the waters, but there is apparently no way to know for sure.  So this is Amazon’s latest attempt to stop scammers.  The idea is that, if only legitimate customers can leave reviews, then that should stop the click farms from being able to “sell” reviews.

But there are already people complaining about it.  There are concerns that reviewers who buy in the US will no longer be able to load their reviews on Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com.au, or any other country where they don’t normally shop.  So even though a book is available in countries all over the world, reviewers will only be able to post their reviews in the country in which they bought the requisite “$50” worth of goods, or its equivalent in whatever nation.  There are also concerns that reviewers won’t be able to write reviews early in the years.  For instance, a reviewer who begins buying books in January, before they have purchased their $50 of good for the year, might not be able to leave reviews until they’ve done so.

I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.  I don’t think there are any easy answers.  I almost feel sorry for Amazon at times.  After all, it’s not them who are trying to scam the system.  They’re just stuck trying to get ahead of the latest scam du’ jour.  Unfortunately, their fixes often create as many problems as the scams, and it seems that there are too many honest people caught in the “fix”.  I sincerely hope that isn’t the case this time.

 

My writing –

Payne and Suffering has been moving in spits and spurts.  On days when I have a distinct scene in my head, I can fly through the writing.  The problem comes when I finish those scenes and have to move into the transitions. And I think the problem stems from the way I write… the fact that I’m “pantsing” my way through a story that I haven’t been able to fully see.

This usually doesn’t bother me, and it took me a while to figure out what’s different with this book.  In just about every other story I’ve written, whether it be novel, novella, or short story, I’ve had one of two things firmly in mind.  I’ve either got a pretty good idea of what the ending is going to be, or I have a good feel for my antagonist and/or their motives.  With P&S, I’ve been floundering with little more than a few key scenes in my mind, and a general idea of what the antagonist is trying to do, but little of the motivation behind it.  So I’ve woven this vast and intricate mystery in my mind (at times so complex that I lose track of who’s doing what), and I’ve not taken the time to really understand the why of most of it.

Today I was writing a scene in which Amber and Richard are starting the third day of their case.  The two of them are sitting at their desks, and Richard asks Amber “…what’s on the agenda…?”

And I realized I didn’t know.  I’m the one writing the freaking story, and I didn’t know what needed to be done next!

It wasn’t really that I didn’t know what leads they needed to follow, but rather that I didn’t know which one needed to be followed at that moment.  Because there are several leads in my mind, but some of them are dependent on others, so some things have to happen before others can be discovered, and I was trying to jump too far ahead in my mind.

Yeah, they need to go here to find this… but wait, they can’t do that until they know about such and such, and they can’t know that until they decrypt the files from that computer.  And they don’t have the computer yet because they don’t know it exists! 

When I realized just how complex things were getting, I knew I was going to have to do something I almost NEVER do.  I was going to have to create a cheat sheet for myself just to track events, leads, and solutions.  I’ve only had to do this once before, and that was on Chucklers, where I had six different point of view characters, in four different locations around the country, and had to synchronize their stories so that they would all come together at the right point in the book.

But I did it.  I made my cheat sheet.  I spent time writing about three pages of notes, and I actually feel better about where the story is going now.  Let’s hope this clears some of the fog out of my brain.

For now though, P&S has passed the 40k word count, and is still moving, and I hope to have the first draft done late May or early June.  Wish me luck.

And that’s it for now.  Stay safe, everyone.  :bye:

 

Jun 242015
 

WW1A lot of us writer-type folks seem to be freaking out over Amazon’s changes in its payment policies on the relatively new Kindle Unlimited program. The panic attacks are instigated by misleading article headlines that (whether intentionally or out of ignorance) scream to the rafters that Amazon is once again trying to ruin self-publishing. These headlines scream that the ‘Zon is now only going to pay authors by the page read. According to several of the articles I’ve seen, the author will only be paid for the portion of the books that you (the reader) actually read. I’ve seen all sorts of analogies – from the cook only getting paid for the part of the meal you ate, to the musician only getting paid for the part of the CD you listen to. But that’s NOT what’s going on here folks.

All of us who publish through Amazon received the same email, and it says very plainly,

We’re always looking at ways to make our programs even better, and we’ve received lots of great feedback on how to improve the way we pay KDP authors for books in Kindle Unlimited. One particular piece of feedback we’ve heard consistently from authors is that paying the same for all books regardless of length may not provide a strong enough alignment between the interests of authors and readers. We agree. With this in mind, we’re pleased to announce that beginning on July 1, the KDP Select Global Fund will be paid out based on the number of pages KU and KOLL customers read.

(NOTE – the underscore and bold in the above quote were added by yours truly.)

When Amazon began Kindle Unlimited, they had a payment plan in which a KU customer could download a book, and as long as they read 20% of the book, the author got paid an equal part of the KU/KOLL (Kindle Owners Lending Library) pool. For those who aren’t familiar, KU and KOLL are programs that allow certain Amazon members to temporarily download e-books, similar to borrowing from a library, so they can read the books without purchasing them at full price. Amazon gets a membership fee as their compensation, and they put a portion of that into a pool to be split among the authors whose books are loaned out to entice more authors to enter programs that make their work available to those customers.

So as I said, when KU came out, as long as the person downloading the book read 20% of it, the author received credit for an equal share of the pool. It didn’t take long for many authors to figure the basic math on that one. Why write a 200 page book that required a reader to read 40 pages before you got paid, when you could write a ten page “book” that required the reader to only read two pages for you to get the same payment? For many authors, the emphasis on writing quickly shifted from writing and publishing novels, to writing and publishing short stories and serialized fiction. I don’t really begrudge those who when that route. It was a basic business decision, and I think everyone involved knew that it was a way of exploiting a loophole in the system. And I think most realized that it was a loophole that was bound to be closed once Amazon figured out how to do it without screwing everyone over. It was pretty much inevitable.

So all the teeth gnashing, and chest beating about how Amazon is screwing the little guy is, once again, nothing more than a bunch of sensationalist BS. Let’s remember that it was just last year that Hachette was screaming to the rafters about how Amazon was using its “monopolistic” position to squeeze the traditional authors out of their pay? Never mind the fact that Amazon paid indies almost three times more per sale than Hachette, or any of the Big 5 paid their authors. Never mind the fact that Amazon’s “monopoly” (which it absolutely isn’t), exists only by virtue of the fact that there is no other place where a customer can go to shop for a book, look for it using all sorts of search parameters and/or keywords, and find it with a few simple clicks of a mouse. Never mind that Amazon’s customers are the ones who determine which books are the best sellers, not the literary critics at a newspaper who get paid to write the reviews.

Monopoly? How is it a monopoly if I can go to Barnes & Noble, or Google, Kobo, Smashwords, or any other online book distributor to buy most books?

“But Amazon requires indies to sell their books exclusively on Amazon!” No, they don’t. They simply make it more attractive and more profitable for those who do. I have experimented with selling exclusive on Kindle Select, and with selling on all the other online distributors. I have done this on several occasions, watching my sales over months to see where it makes more sense for me to place my books. And I have come to the conclusion that for me, it simply makes more financial sense to sell exclusively on Amazon through Kindle Select. The additional money I make via the KOLL “borrows” more than offsets the few paltry sales I get through the other online distributors.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I don’t have any naïve idea that Amazon is in business to promote indie publishers. They’re in business to make money, as most of us are. But I do admire the way they go about it. They recognize that the ones they have to please are not the authors. And it’s not the big traditional publishing houses. From what I see, nearly everything they have done up to this point is in an attempt to please the customer. Isn’t that a novel concept? A business whose primary concern is for the customer!

So look at it from the customer’s perspective. I (the customer me, not the author me) log onto Amazon, and they have a list of items I’ve searched for, items I’ve purchased, items I’ve put in my wish lists, and just about any other kind of item I’ve looked at on their site. They compare that to items purchased or looked at by other people with similar purchase histories, and they put the items in front of me that, based on comparative shopping, they think I might be interested in.

Looking for a fifty inch flat-screen television with smell-o-vision? Sorry, we don’t have that. But people who have searched for similar items have ended up purchasing this similar item for the low price of…. You get the point. Amazon makes it easy to shop on their site. They want to continue to make it easy to shop on their site. Because that’s what keeps us coming back for more.

I’m not going to change that, and the Big 5 aren’t going to change that.

And I find that refreshing.

And before anyone thinks I’m in favor of this because it doesn’t really affect me, since I don’t write much short fiction, let me point out that I will likely begin losing money on this, too. Not because of the KU issue, but because my books are in Kindle Select. This means that I currently get money for people who “borrow” my books via KOLL. And if you recall, KOLL will now also be thrown into the “pay per page” category. And let’s face it, a lot of people who borrow a book via KOLL probably never read it, or don’t read it all the way through. So yeah, I’ll likely see some money lost. That’s why they call it a business. If I see drastic losses, then it will obviously be time for me to re-evaluate whether or not I keep with the Select program. Right now, I make more through Amazon borrows than I did with Smashwords, B&N, Kobo, et al. If this changes things, then maybe I’ll have to go back to publishing in all the other sites again.

I hope not. That’s a lot of work.

All right. Time to get off my soap box. Time to get back to work on the WIP. Stay safe, everyone.   :bye: