A Few Things? I Wish it was Just a “Few” Things Wrong with the Industry


Many years ago, a huge chunk of the people on my friends list were other authors. There was one who I looked up to and tried to copy her strategies when it came time to release new books. Her books were always pretty high up in the ranking, and she was consistently posting photos of herself at these big signings she was always attending. Her timeline was filled with stories of people “recognizing” her at airports and restaurants. And she was more than happy to tell everyone about how many days in a row she had worked around the clock so she could meet her “deadlines” and get her books to the editors.

She was able to make enough money at being a writer to actually write full-time.

Or so she wanted everyone to believe.

She played the part of “successful” writer really well. She didn’t bother to tell other writers the reason she was able to keep writing, attend signings, and funnel so much money into advertising was because her husband made more than enough money to allow her to stay at home and be an “author.” I, like so many other writers who had on beer goggles when it came to “successful” authors, thought she only had everyone’s best interests when it came to dishing out advice for authors. And let me tell you, she was more than happy to dish it out.

When the first KU rolled out, this particular author was very vocal about how it was “hurting” her sales. She kept doing this for weeks until other authors started to take notice. Before long, she was encouraging writers to quit KU because, as she put it, her “sales had gone way down but her borrows were through the roof.” We all took it at face value. I mean, she was one of us and had always been there to encourage us, to chat with us, etc. So I, like so many other authors, bailed on KU. We all encouraged each other to leave the program. And a huge chunk of us did. Several thousand of us, in fact.

You see, none of us had bothered to do any real research. We weren’t crunching numbers. We were just blinding following someone who appeared to be successful. After a few weeks I noticed this author’s books were all still enrolled in KU, which I thought was odd considering she had been rallying for months for us to all pull our books. So I got to researching on my own, I got to crunching the numbers, and what I realized was I could actually make more money on a smaller book in KU than I could a regular sale.

So I pointed this out to her, showed her the numbers, and she responded with something like “yeah, that sounds about right.”

I called her out on her bullshit, reminding her she had told everyone who would listen we needed to leave KU because we were getting screwed yet her books remained in KU while the rest of us bailed at her insistence. Her response? It’s a personal decision. Everyone will have to decide for themselves if they want to stay in the program. She basically laughed it off and blamed us for leaving the program.

That was not the first time I had an author basically shit on me, and it wouldn’t be the last time either.

The bookstuffers, #TiffanyGate, #CockyGate, these are all examples of authors who blatantly break the rules and rub everyone’s noses in it. But it’s not just these types of authors you have to watch out for. There are still hundreds of them who will undermine your courage, step on you, lie to you, bully you, stab you in the back, sabotage you, start rumors, start up drama, go on witch hunts, twist your words – basically do anything they can think of to keep you from taking away what marginal bit of success they are experiencing. Whether it’s giving out bad advice, purposely sabotaging your career, or just not bothering to help out when you need it after you have done so much to help them succeed, there will always be authors who are more than willing to stomp all over you as they try to claw their way to the top.

And this type of backstabbing and sabotage isn’t just in the book selling market place. It’s permeated every tiny little nook and cranny in the indie publishing industry like a foul stench.

About three years ago I was trying to get a book signing event together in my birth town. People were interested – until someone decided to tag the author who had just had a book signing in that same large metropolitan area. The end result? She told me, and I quote “…you are trying to recreate it because you weren’t there.” I was basically told I was just “jealous” because I had not been invited to her event and how dare I try to put together a signing in my own state, in my own birth town. Because obviously just because there was more than enough authors to go around, I apparently didn’t get the memo that she had the monopoly on book signings in my state.

And as soon as she came along voicing her opinion and calling people out, guess what? Suddenly no one was interested in attending my author event any more. No wanted to side with me because doing so meant they could suddenly find themselves on the wrong side of her temper, banned from attending her event, or worse – have her chatting with other event coordinators who would then ban them from even more events.

This is just yet another way some of these bad eggs operate, yet just another example of #AuthorsBehavingBadly. Fear, intimidation, lying, cheating, scamming, bullying, and let’s not forget playing the perpetual victim – they are willing to do whatever it takes to keep the money coming in for them. They have no moral compass but they certainly like to pretend they do. They like deflecting blame, putting up smoke screens, make it look like they are taking the high road, and pretend they are the ones being bullied. Many of them aren’t really that successful, they just like to pretend they are. And then there are the ones in the big leagues, the ones who operate on a completely different scale, who are literally scamming their way into six-plus figures a year.

Unfortunately, we are still in the “wild west” phase of this industry, and we can’t just sit around and wait for a sheriff to come along and fix the industry for us. Until Amazon decides to begin minding their store with real people and actually take our complaints seriously, it’s up to us – the readers and the authors – to continue to shed light on the sleazy underbelly of this industry and bring the scammers and the cheaters to their knees. This industry may not be perfect, but it’s my industry, and I’m not going to sit by and let people continue to take advantage of me, my work, or my fellow authors who continuously bust their asses trying to produce a quality product for their readers. I’m tired of being intimidated, I’m tired of people trying to shame me, blame me, and bully me into staying quiet. It ends here.

Amazon Continues to Strip Page Reads from KU Authors

Several months ago many indie authors who have their books enrolled in the KU program began noticing a disturbing trend – sometime around the 2nd week of the month Amazon began sending out the dreaded “we’ve noticed some fraudulent page read activity on your books” notices. What it boils down to is this – Amazon constantly monitors the number of page reads an author has on any book currently enrolled in the KU program. Anytime they see something which even remotely looks like it might be getting page reads from the “click farms”, they take notice. And with their scrutiny comes the dreaded letter which basically tells the author not only are they having their page reads stripped for that month i.e. the author will be stripped of any royalties regardless of whether or not the page reads actually are fraudulent,  but Amazon goes on to threaten to terminate the author’s KDP account. And in some instances, the mighty Zon has actually gone through with suspending and/or terminating some author accounts.

At first glance, they appear to be hitting honest authors who have done nothing wrong – authors who have paid for advertising either direct through Amazon itself, or through one of the standard promo companies such as BookBub, Robin Reads, ENT, etc.

Here’s the sucky part of this. Amazon is doing this despite the fact there are dozens of legitimate “scam” books dominating the Zon rankings and receiving potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars in KU payouts each year. Zon knows about these books and these scammers, but their idea of rectifying the situation isn’t to go after the scammers, but to hit real authors who are trying to make an actual career out of writing.

Authors, of course, have many theories on why the Zon does not seem to want to alleviate the problem or do anything which would actually help the situation. The top theory on that list? Money. Amazon is getting paid by anyone who purchases a monthly subscription to the KU program. Whether it is purchased by a legitimate reader getting their lit on or by a click farm, the Zon still gets that monthly payment.

Now, let’s hit the halls of the conspiracy theory, shall we? What if Zon is the one hiring these click farms? What if they are the ones putting out the scam books? This would enable them to not only keep a huge chunk of the KU payout each month by raking up tens of thousands of page reads on scam books, but they then get to strip honest authors of their page views and thus their KU payout by sending the click farms after their KU enrolled books. What better way to hide your own fraudulent activity than in plain sight? You deflect your own illegal activities by spreading that activity around to other authors who have real, legitimate books enrolled in the KU program.

Now, here’s some observations that I’m sure is going to piss off a lot of people, but I think it needs to be said. First, I’ve noticed the romance/erotica genre tends to be hit the hardest not only by the Zon when it comes to sending out these accusatory emails, but also the one which seems to be hit the hardest by the click farms. This specific genre has the most books, many of which are badly written porn novels created by ‘authors’ whose answer to ‘making it’ in the publishing industry is to churn out as many badly written pieces of word porn as they can as quickly as they can and then put them into the KU program where they hope to eventually find the serial reader who will buy and click-through every title in their catalog. These types of readers tend to not really care about quality of writing and specifically look for authors with dozens of titles to their names. (There’s an entire FB group dedicated to walking “authors” through this process.)

Second, this type of environment makes it a prime target for click farms. I’ll reiterate – what better way to hide your own illegal activity than to go after authors who have dozens of titles to their names, all of which are enrolled in KU. And since the romance and erotica genre seem to be the one genre where you have serial writers churning out the most books hitting the market each month, it makes it the perfect target to hit. Because whether these authors want to admit it or not, a lot of the page reads they get every month probably are from fake click bots and not actual readers. It’s one of the reasons why they notice such a huge spike and dip in sales from month to month. And these click farms are not biased – they are not looking to see if the author in question has published one book a year for the past twenty years or if they shoved all twenty of those books into the market in under six months. They are basically targeting authors who have a relatively large catalog of books with a huge chunk of them in the KU program. And while it certainly is a good idea to strip out fake page reads from any author, it sucks that while the Zon can supposedly tell when page read are fraudulent, they can’t seem to tell which page reads are fake and which ones are real, thus stripping authors of their legitimate page reads for the month right along with the fake ones.

So where does this leave authors? The only real answer right now is to pull their books from the KU program, or at least a good portion of them. Some of these authors will argue if they do that then they won’t be making any money, which begs the question – if you were making money before you pulled out of KU program but not after, then you really have to ask yourself – why are you no longer making money? The obvious answer is that those page reads you were racking up each month weren’t coming from real, legit readers who are following your work. Because real readers who are genuine fans will continue to purchase your books even if they are not in the KU program.

Recent polls conducted by not only by several PR and prom companies, but also by independent authors, are showing a trend of readers who are no longer opting to keep their KU subscription because the program has become a gluten of badly written books. With an influx of self-published authors growing each year, it’s making it increasingly harder for readers to find the types of books they want to read. What they are reporting is the vast majority of the better quality books aren’t actually in the KU program, or the author has one or two titles in the program and the rest are wide. It’s even been theorized the KU program will either eventually disappear completely, or the indie authors who choose to enter the program will no longer receive any royalties from the Zon. As with anything related to Amazon, only time will tell.

For now, the only recourse an author seems to have to keep their account in good standing and not risk the wrath of the mighty Zon is to pull the majority of their catalog from the KU program with hopes they have a large enough dedicated fan base to continue to purchase their work. For those authors who still intend to keep their work inside the KU program – be careful. Even if you are not doing any type of marketing which could potentially be using click farms, chances are you will be hit by them at some point, increasing your chances that you, too, will receive the dreaded “we’ve noticed some fraudulent page reads on your account” email from the almighty Zon.

Take care out there, peeps. It’s still the Wild West, even if the gold veins are drying up even as we speak.


From Rags to Riches: Is the Traditional Publishing Model Broken, and is Self Pubbing Making it Worse?

If the traditional publishing industry is broken, has the self pub wave helped to alleviate some of the heartbreak that comes with trying to get published through traditional routes, or has it only made it that much harder for talented writers to finally have their voices heard?

For some authors, just seeing their works in print and available for sale on such platforms as Amazon and Barns & Noble has been enough to recognize their life-long dream when it comes to writing. For others, they are not just looking for the self-satisfaction of seeing their works up for sale online, but long for all the fame and fortune that landing a big book deal could mean for them. Enter onto the scene the self pub industry and many, many indie publishing houses, agents, editors, cover artists, and scam artists who are offering desperate and inexperienced authors the chance to “break into” and “make it big” in the self pubbing industry. It’s a problem compounded by the fact that with so many new “writers” entering into the industry, the chances of making a name for yourself, much less being able to make enough money off of sales to write full-time, has went from astronomical to nearly impossible. That’s not to say that there are not any famous indies/self-published authors out there, any more than you could say that there are not any famous and well to do traditionally published authors out there. But those success stories are the exception, not the norm, and it is this little, and often unknown fact that has the entire self pubbing industry in a tizzy.

Let’s get real for a moment. Being a writer is not easy. Even when you go the traditional route, writing is only part of the job you will have to undertake as a writer.  First there is the taxing duty of finding an agent who is willing to take you on as a client. This means a never-ending stream of query letters and chapter submissions. If you are lucky enough to finally find an agent, there will then be the endless rounds of submitting the work to an editor and rewrites upon rewrites. Then there are the submissions to publishing houses and even more trips to the editor and rewrites. And if luck is on your side and one day you get the call from your agent that a publisher is interested, the waiting game begins again as final edits are made, cover art is decided upon (not by the author, mind you), and a release date of upwards to eighteen months is set. And if you are not an “A-list” author, your job still is not over as you spend the next year of your life trying to market and publicize the upcoming release.

Vanity presses sought to change all that by making it easier for a writer to just buy their way into instant publication. But writers have day jobs and drive beat up cars for a reason – writing gigs simply do not pay. So while people who had the financial means to accommodate their vanity and pay to have their books published, it was not an option for your standard, run-of-the-mill starving artist. So you had instant self-publication services such as LuLu and Createspace pop up to fill the gap, allowing authors to instantly publish print and ebook copies of their work as a print-on-demand service, allowing authors to pay a percentage of each work sold as payment for the companies printing and distributing their work. It was a great idea, and with the boom of the eReader, it looked like authors might have a cheap alternative to buying their way into the publication business and a quicker way to get their works into the hands of readers by side-stepping the publishing houses and agents altogether. Gone were the days of having to wait a year or longer after your book was finished before it finally hit readers.

It did not take long for Amazon to realize they could do this very same thing for their popular Kindle reader, adding fuel to the already exploding self-publishing industry. So now everyone who has ever thought about being a writer has all the convenient tools at their disposal to become an instantly published author, usually in a matter of minutes. And therein lies one of the many problems with the publishing industry as a whole.

Anyone who does much reading knows that they have come across more than their fair share of really bad books. There have been so many cringe-worthy books published by traditional publishing houses that it’s laughable. How many times have you read a book and wondered how on earth the author ever managed to get such a badly written piece of crap into publication? Being traditionally published did not automatically mean that you were a good writer. Even being on any Best Seller list doesn’t mean much in this day and age as anyone with enough money and pull can buy their way onto those lists. But it did make readers feel better about their choices in authors, at least giving them the “appearance” of being good because, after all, publishers had to sift through thousands of writers and tens of thousands of manuscripts to pick the ones that eventually became published pieces. If this was the scum that rose to the top of the pile, what must all the rejects be like, right? Well, not exactly, but it did at least give the façade that the publishing houses were only after the best of the best, or the best of what they thought they could make a buck off of.

Now imagine that all those boundaries have come crashing down. You no longer have anyone looking through manuscripts trying to find the next big thing. There are no longer gate keepers to the publishing world keeping out the no talent hacks. These days, anyone who has ever had the thought of writing a novel or short story pop into their minds can now be a published author. And all of those wannabes are coming out of the woodworks by the thousands. Whereas the industry used to see a few new books added to the shelves each month, thanks to DIY publishing, the market is being positively flooded with novels and stories each and every hour. The argument was that making self-publishing an easy-access tool would make it easier for great writers who had only known rejection from traditional publishers to now be able to quickly publish their works without any upfront costs (unless they opted for add-on packages such as editors, cover artists, promotional packages, etc). Only that is not what has happened. It is not easier for great writers to get their works in the hands of eager readers, but has made it harder for those authors to get their names out there because it has become easier for no talent hacks to publish their junk on Amazon and then force unsuspecting readers to swim through all that crap just to find a decent book. The ease of self-publishing has been counter-productive by flooding the market with far too many books and authors. It’s a simple economic fact of supply and demand. When you have way more supply than demand, it makes it even harder for an author to make any type of sales when they now have to compete with not only the traditionally published authors, but the thousands upon thousands of ghetto writers who have slapped their works up for sale on DIY pubbing sites. In simple terms, Amazon has now become the dumping ground for any all writers to toss out their creations, be they good or bad. And according to the hundreds of unsatisfied readers who are taking their voices to the internet, it would appear that the bad writers are outweighing the good ones ten to one.

Compounding the problem is all the writers who are coercing their family and friends to write dozens upon dozens of 5 star reviews and all the bloggers wanting to ride the self pubbing authors’ coattails in an attempt to cash in on their “fame” by writing glowing reviews on their blogs. It makes it twice as hard for readers to be able to tell if a book is legitimately well written and appealing because the reviews are no longer unbiased helpers in their quest for the next great story. So then the question arises, has the self-pubbing wave really helped the dire situation of really great authors sinking to the bottom of the pile while publicity stunts, false reviews, and paid ratings from hack writers are rising to the top of the Amazon best-selling list?

As if the overwhelming task of trying to be your own PR person, publishing house, literary agent, and marketing manager was not enough, seeing the overwhelming odds of making it even in the self-pubbing industry is enough to make any writer want to toss in the towel before they even get started. And where do you start on this journey anyway? Sure, writers can write, but for those inexperienced in formatting, graphic artwork, and editing, trying to do all of that work themselves just seems like it might be a bit more difficult than trying to get published the traditional way. Many of them are turning to the hundreds of agents, indie publishing houses, cover artists, and editing service providers that have sprung up since the whole self-pubbing movement began. This, of course, leads to many authors being taken for hundreds and even thousands of dollars for services they have either not received, services that were less than satisfactory, broken promises of publicity and recognition, and instances of their copyrighted works being stolen and sold. It’s a breeding ground for corruption and scams since there is no one holding the ‘companies’ accountable. It is fanning the flames of an already out of control problem that is causing many writers countless dollars and sleepless nights.

On the opposite end of this spectrum are those writers who are hitting the best-selling list on such self-pubbing sites as Amazon and Barns & Noble. And while thousands of great writers can only dream of being a best seller on any list, it would appear that hitting this list is not all it is cracked up to be. With these sites taking as much as 70% of the royalties off of each sale, just being on the best sellers list does not translate into cash in the pockets of writers. Many writers are reporting that while they are selling thousands of copies, the take home pay is pennies on the dollar. When subtracting all the overhead that comes with paying for professional editing services, cover artists, paid advertising, cost of website upkeep and all the time invested, the actual profit on these sales are down right minuscule. And again the sheer number of writers hitting the market and the volume of new material available is causing writers to have to mark their creations at ridiculously low costs. Some are even being forced to go so far as to give copies of their ebooks away in a desperate attempt to drum up readers and interest. And that, of course, presents a whole new set of problems on its own that goes back to there being too many writers and novels and not nearly enough interest, readers, and buying customers to economically support everyone. Then you have to take into consideration the return policy of Kindle books. With Amazon allowing returns, many authors are seeing their already drastically under-priced works being returned by readers by the dozens.

Let’s take into consideration how much profit an author can actually make from a single copy of an ebook. While self-publishing companies like Amazon allow a writer to control how much their product is sold for, they are taking as much as 70% of the profits. Breaking down the math, a $.99 book only garnishes a writer $.29. A writer would have to sell 4 copies to make $1 profit. That means that a writer would need to sell 100,000 copies every year just to make the medial income of $25K per year. And if the writer had overhead costs of graphic artists for covers and book trailers, editors, and paid advertising, it is possible for nearly every penny of that profit to go back into the process of getting the book out to the masses. And while some authors are reporting such sales, again, those are the exceptions to the rule. 99% of writers are not going to see more than a few thousand copies sold each year.

So this leaves authors with the question of whether or not it is worth it to their careers to try the self-pubbing route or to just stick with traditional publishing routes. As with any decision, it ultimately comes down to each individual author having to decide if they have the creativity and/or financial means to handle self-pubbing. It is simply not a yes or no question. There are pros and cons for each route, and what may be a pro for one author will most certainly be a con for another. Making the decision should be based off of well researched data and what each author is willing to invest, both financially and time, and not make a decision based off of what other authors are claiming or reporting. If you are willing to put forth the time, energy, and effort into any publishing route, then make sure you are choosing correctly for yourself, and never be afraid to change your mind.