Why Should Amazon Clean Up This Giant Book Scamming Mess?

Because when you aren’t losing money, why should they give a rat’s ass, am I right?

It took the better part of 10 years before the rest of the indie community finally took notice, but I’ve been screaming FOUL! since 2008 on the shit going on over on the Zon. Ever since I hopped on board the KDP train back in 2008, about a year after it was unveiled, I’ve sat back and watched this entire industry dissolve into one huge cesspool of nothing but crappy books by even crappier people who are in this to do nothing but make money – by any means necessary.

Yes, I know I’m in this to make money. But when book stuffers and other scammers are literally bringing in more money each year by scamming the Amazon publishing system than authors who have been around for decades hitting the NYT Bestsellers list repeatedly, you would think this would clue Amazon in to the huge shit-storm going on with their site. But as I said, when it’s not technically costing them anything, why should they care? Even if they were to shut down the KDP platform to indies and just went back to allowing trad published books to be sold there, it wouldn’t hit them hard enough for them to do much more than blink. We’re only talking about $150 million compared to the 7 BILLION they grossed last year across the entire store worldwide.

The KU book stuffers are just one more piece of the scammer puzzle that has wrecked havoc on the indie community in recent months. Before it was KU, there were prolific authors who were publishing 5 page serial shorts each week, charging ridiculous amounts for each short, and using shady, unethical business practices to manipulate the rank so the “books” would eventually begin to get organic buys (purchasing reviews on Fiverr & using the earlier versions of “click farms” – basically taking one book, breaking it up into multiple parts, selling each part for $5 a pop and/or enrolling each part into the original KU 1.0 program which then netted each 5-10 page short upwards of $3 and using groups from Fiverr to purchase or borrow each section in mass groups to manipulate rank thus leading to more organic borrows and purchases)

And remember that high profile erotica writer who was sending “his” army of oblivious female readers to harass, bully, and 1 star his competition? That behavior wasn’t just isolated to this one moniker. Many, many authors have been known to engage in social media bullying and sending their hoards of fans and sock puppets to try to strong-arm their competition into quitting the industry or bow down to whatever ridiculous demand they had. Then there is the catfishing that was running rampant in the erotic romance genre. Men pretending to be women authors and women pretending to be male authors who sat around sweet-talking their female fans until they had these women completely convinced these swindlers actually cared about them. It’s the tried-and-true Casanova swindle except with romance authors and readers. It was designed to part these women from their money, pure and simple.

So will Amazon’s new TOS and recent “house cleaning” continue? Who knows. Everyone remember when Amazon finally cracked down on all the padded reviews? Did you notice they didn’t take down the reviews or ban the author accounts? No, because when you have high-profile authors burning up the ranks and bringing the Zon more money, you don’t bite the hand that feeds you. Instead, they decided it would be a good idea to go after Fiverr instead, although how on earth THAT was supposed to curb purchasing fake reviews is beyond me.

Even when they do finally decide to take action and ban these scammy authors, their accounts rarely stay deactivated. You all remember the whole debacle with boxed set guru Rebecca Hamilton? (If not, go take a gander at THIS kboards thread, it’s a real eye opener) After multiple complaints of her ill-gotten gains through boxed sets which hit the lists through mass gifting and author purchasing of literally HUNDREDS of the boxed sets, on top of the illegal lotteries she was running to tip the sales in favor of the large lists, Amazon finally banned her from publishing through them. But guess what? She’s back on Amazon and is even still putting together boxed sets for the hefty sum of $2000 per author, among other author services. And there are still dozens of authors who continue to sing her praises either out of sheer ignorance or the usual I-don’t-give-a-shit-so-long-as-I’m-making-money attitude which seems to run rampant among a lot of community members these days.

Then there is the prolific book stuffer Chance Carter who recently lost his publishing privileges through the Zon. This is at least the second incarnation of the same person so who knows how long it will be before he’s back up and running. He’s also the mastermind behind the BookClicker and BookBoyfriend apps. The BC apps has been used by hundreds of authors who have all unknowingly given this guy access to their MC and ML mailing lists which can then be skimmed for the subscriber information. I found all sorts of fun, incriminating information over on this Kboards thread. And if all this wasn’t enough to make your toenails curl, Chance Carter is also the mastermind behind a whole crew of authors using nefarious tactics to game the KU system. It’s really scary just how deep and convoluted this entire debacle goes, and just how many authors are all tied into this. I just don’t get why it took nearly a decade for other authors, and readers, to finally wise up to what’s been happening right under their noses. These authors are basically embezzling money and instead of the Zon firing them & having criminal charges brought against them, they are literally being slapped on the hand and allowed to carry on as if nothing happened. What the actual fuck Amazon?

Basically, the mighty Zon has changed their own TOS so much and are only half-ass enforcing them to the point that what they decide to do next, or if they will continue to enforce their own TOS, or if they will continue to catch innocent authors in their broad net while they try to clean up their own act, is anyone’s guess. If I’ve learned anything in the past ten years of being independently published through KDP it’s this – if you are making the Zon enough money they basically don’t care. Even if enough people throw a big enough fit to force the Zon’s hand, they are just going to allow these scammers to come back under a new name (or in Rebecca’s case, her own name) and keep right on with business as usual.

And about the only way a legitimate author is going to be able to compete with their black hat tactics is if they have a whole hell of a lot of cash to funnel into the marketing. After all, when everyone around you is using a bullhorn, about the only recourse you have is to break out the sky-writing.

 

Quick Links:

CASSANDRA DEE AND MOSAIC BOOK STUFFING

ONLINE RATINGS AND REVIEWS ARE FAKE

HAMTILTON LAWSUIT – MERGED THREAD

BOOKCLICKER

BAD ROMANCE

WHEN #COCKYGATE AND #TIFFANYGATE COLLIDE

WAIT, I’M ONE OF THE ADULTS?

BOXED SET SCAMS ON THE PASSIVE VOICE (please note the original article this thread links to on The Passive Voice has since been removed. While we are unsure why the original article was removed, it has been speculated it was due to the civil suits still going on between RH & some of the former participating authors of her boxed sets.)

 

Why I’m Probably Done with Being an Author

 

 

Guys, I just can’t. After 30 years of chasing this dream, I feel it may have come to the bitter end. I’m so thoroughly disgusted with what the publishing industry has become, specifically the “self-publish and get rich quick” scamming aspect of it, that I simply can’t any more. I’m tired, I’m frustrated, and it has become abundantly clear the only way I am going to make it in this industry is if I have tens of thousands of dollars to blow on marketing and promotion in an effort to try to keep up with all the scammers that are raking in 6+ figures off of KU every year.

The simple truth of the matter is – I don’t even have tens of thousands of dollars to spend on my regular bills, much less a stash sitting around to pour into what is quickly becoming a useless endeavor. I can’t continue to torture myself pouring my heart and soul, blood, sweat, and tears into great books when it is becoming ever-more painfully obvious that readers only want more 50 Shades of Shitty books. I’m sorry, but I just CANNOT compete with that.

These stories, this huge world I have created, and these characters mean everything to me. I have literally spent more than a decade of my life creating this world from scratch. These characters represent real people I have known in my life. These books are dedicated to my hero, my mentors, my family, my friends – people I love. They pay homage to some of my favorite bands. They have been my way of coping with the anxiety, the fear, the hardships which have cropped up in my adult life over the years. They were an escape for me, a way to deal with all the curve-balls life kept throwing at me. Despite all the shit I’ve been through in my life, from finally escaping the abusive home life I grew up in, to my family finally half-ass digging itself out of the debt-ridden hole we had collapsed into after Hurricane Katrina decimated our home – despite all that, I still managed to keep writing.

I kept writing, no matter what. Because it is who I am at my core. Because these aren’t just stories and books and characters. They are a part of who I am as a person. They represent trial and tribulation, not just years, but decades of my life, time spent away from my family, money I honestly didn’t have to spare invested into cover art and book signings and swag and paperbacks and stock photo subscriptions and photo design software. It’s more than just blood, sweat, tears, time, and money – these books are a part of my soul.

And to have my dreams slowly crushed by assholes who are constantly stuffing books, lying to readers, brainwashing readers into believing everything they do and say is on the up-and-up, stealing from legitimate authors, funneling huge amounts of cash into AMS ads and other marketing and basically crowding out all the other authors right off the market – to see them consistently racking up ungodly paychecks they managed to acquire by lying and stealing and manipulating their way right into the top of the charts with really, really godawful books.

Guys, I just. I Can’t.

I just can’t do this anymore. Unless readers report these books and start seeking out legitimate authors and buying their books, mine included, then I simply cannot keep doing this. I cannot justify spending so much time away from my family and investing money I do not have to push out yet another book that no one wants to read.

I’m going to be honest here. If what is currently sitting in the top 100 of the vast majority of the romance and paranormal genres is what readers really and truly want to read – then there is no need for me to keep going.

If really great books written by authors who have spent decades of their life honing their craft and who agonize over every single word put to paper, books that are properly edited and actually written by the author and not some underpaid ghostwriter is not what is selling, then that’s it. I’m done.

So if this is what readers really want, then count me out. I’ll leave you to it, because I can’t compete with any of it. And to be honest, I don’t want to. I care too much about what I write, about my characters, my worlds, and my stories to even attempt to write something so shoddy.

I want to appeal to you, to the readers, because only you can bring this to an end. If you come across a really great, legitimate author you love, tell someone. Follow them on social media, share their posts, buy their books, leave them reviews. It really is that simple. The only way to get the really great books to rise to the top again is if readers demand more books from these authors and stay away from the shoddy ones. Because without you buying our books and helping us spread the word, then we literally have no recourse but to stop writing completely. It’s really up to you – swim in the sea of what’s currently taking up all the top ranking on amazon, or seek out the great unknown authors and shout their names from the rooftops.

And Mr. Bezos, there’s something you should really think about. One day, there won’t be anything left sitting in KU but the stuffers and the scammers and the really crappy books that no one wants to read, because all the good authors will have either stopped writing completely, or will have bailed on Amazon in favor of another retailer. And when that day comes, just remember all of the authors who begged you for years to do something, and yet you chose to let this continue to fester until no legitimate author wanted to have anything to do with you or your bad business decisions. And when that day comes, and it will come, you’ll find yourself up shit-creek without a paddle, and without a single decent author who is willing to help you bail the shit-water out of your sinking boat.

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.

#BookStuffers #BookScammers – #GetLoud

Sit back, this could take awhile. #BookStuffers #GetLoud

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(Graphic credit to Anteria Hawbaker)

For the past four or so years I’ve been utterly miserable and disheartened with the publishing industry. You see, I’ve seen this shit storm building for years now. I saw what was happening. I knew there was bookstuffing going on, I knew there were authors who were purposely using black hat tactics to not only manipulate rank on Amazon, but who were also managing to get some of their books to hit the big lists. I’ve seen the illegal lotteries happening with the boxed sets and the big players who were teaching and instructing authors to buy up huge quantities of their own books and the boxed sets they were involved in and gift their way right onto the USA Today Bestseller list. I knew there were groups dedicated to teaching authors how to scam the system, how to skirt Amazon’s TOS, how to lie and steal their way into making KU All Stars bonuses. And let’s not forget about the droves of people who were, and still are, buying reviews, using click farms, or those who were bullying others and sending their “readers” to blast their competition with bad reviews and harass them to the point where many of them finally gave up and left the writing community completely.

This shit is NOT something that just cropped up in the past few days, or weeks, or even months. This shit has been happening for YEARS. And no matter how much I told other authors and readers about what was going on, no matter how much I blogged about it, no matter how much I tried to call attention to the blatant SCAMMING going on with all these top, “bestselling authors,” no one wanted to believe me. I was told I was “just jealous” of their success. I mean, who wanted to believe that an author who had hit the big lists multiple times did so by scamming their way onto those lists?

Needless to say, with everything that has been happening, I’ve slowly lost my desire to even be a PART of the indie community, not to mention I’ve lost my love of writing. Over the past four years I’ve slowed down tremendously, only pushing out two, maybe three full length novels a year if I am lucky. I stopped doing take overs, I stopped doing cover reveals, I stopped doing launch parties, I basically stopped doing any of it because the cold, hard truth of the matter is – no matter how many books I write, no matter how good I am, no matter how hard I work, I simply can NOT compete with the scammers. I can’t compete with someone who spends $30K, $40K, $80K a year on advertising and various scams that push their stuffed, shitty books to the top of the categories.

Y’all have no idea how happy I am to see other authors finally saying ENOUGH IS ENOUGH with all the shit that has been happening in this industry. I’m glad to see others who are finally standing up for themselves and their work and telling the scammers they are sick of being shit on by them and the industry.

But us just getting angry over the whole thing isn’t going to change it. Us just talking among ourselves in author-based groups isn’t going to change anything.We must UNITE, we must EDUCATE readers on what is happening and how to spot these scams, the stuffed books, the ones who are buying up fake reviews or using excessive ARC teams to manipulate reviews and ranking.

We have to continue to #GETLOUD and report this shit to Amazon, report the books, report the so-called authors. Because let me tell you, YOU may not think you deserve better, but by God I KNOW **I** deserve better. I know my work DESERVES better than to be forced to compete with such shit and the so-called authors who want to screw over and manipulate the system. I. DESERVE. BETTER.

Authors, stop letting these scammers shit on you and all the hard work, the YEARS of sacrifice you’ve made to get to this point. STAND UP, #GETLOUD, and FIGHT for a better system, for equal footing in the system, and for a equal share of the playing field. To loosely quote a fellow author, life may not be fair, but the publishing industry should damn well at least allow everyone to be on an equal playing field.

But it won’t happen if we don’t stand up for ourselves, our work, and each other. Let’s continue to #GETLOUD until the cream has finally risen to the top, and the shitty, scammy books are nothing but a bad, distance memory.