Why all the current book world #gates should matter to everyone.

June 04, 2018  •  6 Comments

Depositphotos_31230449_originalDepositphotos_31230449_originalProud and very cocky red rooster is the kind of the barn yard.

 

I have been in the book world since 2012, and over those six years have found it to be a marvelous place where words conjure worlds to step into and away from the humdrum of everyday life. It’s a place filled to the brim with authors, bloggers, photographers, designers, cover models, and most importantly, readers. In short, it’s a large family, and like any family, there are instances where drama arises.  Most of the time the issues at hand are petty and fade like a guttered candle, but recently a few issues have burst onto the scene faster than a Hero at the climax of a sex scene. And just like that Hero, I can’t stay silent and intend to #GetLoud.

 

#CockyGate

This Twitter-led awareness campaign stemmed from one author, Faleena Hopkins, receiving a trademark for her series “The Cocker Brothers” in addition to two other word marks for “Cocky” – one in a stylized form and one without limitation on form, color, etc. It was brought to light by Bianca Sommerland, and gained traction when picked up by Jenny Trout, and most recently by Suzan Tisdale.

While the merit of “The Cocker Brothers” isn’t at debate, the stylized form of “Cocky” uses a licensed font that violates its terms of service (one cannot create a trademark using it), and the unhindered form of “Cocky” has since been used by the registrant turned apparent trademark troll to self-issue Cease & Desists and, in extreme cases, to have works removed from sale. There is even a lawsuit underway between her and another author, Tara Crescent, for the Defendant’s use of the word in her series and titles. Thankfully, Kevin Kneupper has filed a Petition to Cancel the trademark, and the Romance Writers of America/Author’s Guild has also stated they will pursue the same course of action.

The most apparent snag in this entire controversy? Registrant claims first use of the word yet there are multiple examples of the adjective in play beforehand.


Screen Shot 2018-06-04 at 8.40.22 AMScreen Shot 2018-06-04 at 8.40.22 AM

 

#TiffanyGate #StuffingGate

Recent news broke from David Gaughran and Heather Leigh of author Chance Carter doing a giveaway of Tiffany’s diamonds in return for verified (i.e. purchased) reviews. This was the only way to enter that giveaway (unlike a Rafflecopter), and that would have been a violation of not only Amazon Terms of Service, but subject the giveaway to regulations suitable for a lottery (since participants would have to have made a purchase to enter).

This contest has since been rescinded, so is no longer an issue in itself, however, the deeper impact of what #TiffanyGate led to spawned #StuffingGate, explained below.

Harassing threats aside, this same author, along with others that were identified were found to be book stuffing. This is the practice of taking a book on Kindle Unlimited (hereafter KU) and adding 3-11 “bonuses” to the back of the book with extreme formatting. However, those bonus books are also their own titles on the Kindle store.

 

Screen Shot 2018-06-04 at 8.46.46 AMScreen Shot 2018-06-04 at 8.46.46 AMThree bonus books plus one sneak peek Dew-SDIXkAAFhWUDew-SDIXkAAFhWU

 

This leads to high rankings like this. Screen Shot 2018-06-04 at 8.48.06 AMScreen Shot 2018-06-04 at 8.48.06 AM

 

How is this a bad thing? Isn’t it good for a reader to get freebies?

Yes and no. If the material in question was new and met the requirement not to exceed 10% of the book’s content (e.g. a bonus scene or prequel to the next book in the series) then yes. This is good juju that needs to be promoted and helped. Some "legitimate authors who page stuff" would disagree. I don't feel like it's a bad thing.

The flip side is a vile place. Let’s quantify how bad KU scamming is and its impact:

KU pays on average $0.005 per page read out of a shared community pool of money. There’s only so much in that pool for ALL authors to get paid from.

One of my books - Homeward Bound for example - would earn $1.24 if read in KU (it’s 248 pages), or $2.09 if it was purchased outright (at $2.99).

A scamming stuffer with 6 books added to the back (let’s assume 2000 pages total) would earn $10 for that very same book (and they’re often priced at only $0.99, and much shorter).

Extend that dollar value over the month and include likely All-Star bonuses (yes, Amazon will even give you MORE money if you have the highest number of page reads) and it easily comes out to 5-6 figures earned a month. That’s $100,000 a month folks, with those same 6 stories recycled at the back of multiple books. So Book 1 may have Books 2-7 added, Book 2 has Books 1 and 3-7 added, etc.) Add to that easily clickable links to "flip" to the back of the book immediately and net all those page reads in a few seconds. Some even instruct their readers on how to do this shameful action.

Because the page reads get so high, Amazon will automatically promote your book for you as a bestseller (oftentimes these stuffers place books in easily ranked categories too – like placing a contemporary with no sports into sports romance anyway). This leads to decreased visibility on the platform and is why KU Stuffing/Scamming is damaging to legitimate authors.

Amazon really needs to enforce their own Terms of Service in these cases and stop being biased. I know of several authors that have been forcibly removed from KU without having done anything untoward, but the stuffer’s books seem to remain online and their “also bought” similarly covered allies remain in the Top 100. Drawing out a supposition, it would appear Amazon likes the high level of revenue garnered by these authors, which also undermines the KU platform as a whole (how do I know if my page reads are accurate if you’re allowing this sort of thing to continue unchecked)?

 

#BullyGate

Another rising issue I’ll touch on but won’t go into too much detail on since it’s still developing is the issue of #BullyGate and one particular (former) male author who has taken it upon himself to prey on women who he believes are weaker than him. This comes in the form of setting up fake profiles and social media groups to badmouth authors, reporting their pen names/children’s accounts for violating Facebook Terms of Service (all while doing it from secondary or tertiary accounts), to spoofing email accounts then contacting event centers to try and cancel events, to – in my view the worst example – threatening physical violence at a place or to a person.  Such actions should not be tolerated by anyone, and so those who speak out against such behavior (with evidence) have my support.

Depositphotos_12655839_originalDepositphotos_12655839_originalYoung exhausted businessman with his necktie like a sticked out tongue lying down heap of documents.

 

WHEW!
Now that was a lot to wade through, so what does all this mean and why should it matter to everyone in the industry? At the end of the day, #gates such as those above threaten more than just Jane Doe’s Facebook account, it affects publishing at large (by limiting the use of words and gaming established systems for illicit profit), and hits authors where it matters the most: their wallets. Fear and anxiety rightfully spread, people throw their hands up with a last, exhausted breath, and the words then diminish until they are gone forever. Authors spend a lot of time on their books, from the writing (which can take months and years in some cases), to editing, to getting the cover photo picked (either stock photos from a website or exclusive from a photographer), to having the cover designed, to scheduling release day promotions and advertising, to launching, to marketing, and the list goes on.

The trickle-down effect is designers have less work making covers, photographers have less work shooting exclusive stock photographs, and readers are affected the most by the loss of variety and diversity in storytelling.

I love this community, as a photographer/designer being able to capture the images that act as a gateway to your stories, and as an author being able to create stories and worlds of my own. None of us deserve to have that taken away from us. Those speaking out against these issues are not shit-stirrers, nor have ill intent. They’re not jealous. They’re not mean. They’re just trying to earn their keep and pay their bills without being shady.

We want our community back, our special place where words rule and smiles carry weigh more than gold.

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Thanks for reading,

Golden Czermak

Owner/Photographer – FuriousFotog (www.onefuriousfotog.com)

Facebook.com/FuriousFotog

Author (goldenczermak.com)

Facebook.com/authorgoldenczermak

 

 


Comments

FuriousFotog
Thank you for that insight Matt. I agree that there is certainly an element of thievery at work. Lacey, in addition to a smaller payout (the pot being shared, if someone is taking a larger amount the overall split per person is going to drop. If the pot were not shared, that wouldn't be an issue).

Sure, we are all likely not going to get All-Star bonuses, but stuffers take that option away from that author would have otherwise earned the right to receive it, versus the stuffer. That is a form of thievery as well. Couple that with the mega earnings, and you have a person with multiple pen names that can drop $20-30,000 on an ad for that book. Using money they grabbed from stuffing. This, in turn, means they can bid a higher cost per click (we normally go for 0.25-0.60 per click, they can shoot for $2-$3 per click and be okay because they will earn that back on several fronts). In turn, that makes my ad dollars useless in those targeted genres and for those keywords.

I do not mind ads in general, that's the name of the game with bidding and fighting for visibility. I do mind if those funds were procured out of the KU pot by means of stuffing a book. It might not have been illegal, but I think if we can't agree on anything else - the practice is unethical at best.
Matt(non-registered)
@Lacey: That's not how it works. Book stuffers ARE most definitely stealing from honest authors.

There's a set amount of money reserved for the payout each month (about 21 million currently I think, but the actual pot doesn't matter). All page reads in KU are awarded an equal share of that pot. So all these scammers that are stuffing their books are inflating their page reads, which means all other writers get less.

It's simple math, but lets make it even simpler with only 4 authors:

* first scenario with no stuffers:
- 4 normal authors all with novella of 100 pages -> read 10 times = 4 x 1000 page reads = 4000 page reads
- pot of 1.000.000 -> each author gets 250.000

* scenario where 1 author stuffs:
- 3 normal authors all with novella of 100 pages -> read 10 times = 3 x 1000 page reads = 3000 page reads
- 1 scammer with novalla of 100 pages stuffed to 2000 -> read 10 times = 20000 page reads
- 1 pot of 1.000.000
- normal author gets: 1000/23000 * 1.000.000 = 43.478
- stuffer gets: 20000/23000 * 1.000.000 = 869.565


Now tell me again stuffers don't steal from honest authors....
Lacey(non-registered)
I agree with most of your article except...

Book stuffers were never stealing from us other authors.

At the end of the month, Amazon checks how many pages were read. They then decide on how much they want to pay us (based on psychologists and gambler's theory). They take the page rate they wish to pay out, and times that by the # of pages read to determine how much the KU money pot/pie/pool will be. If there isn't enough money from the KU subscription income, then they top off the pot with a few mill to make sure the page rate is paid out.

Book stuffing coming to end doesn't mean Amazon is going to pay us more. They won't. They know how little we will accept as payment, and they have a fiduciary duty to their shareholders to make money... which means they aren't going to jack up the rate for us unless they have to in order to keep enough authors enrolling their books in KU.

I really, really, really wish that people would be more honest and transparent about this. If the book stuffers were doing anything, they were making it harder for top earning authors to earn KU All Star bonuses, which doesn't apply to the vast majority of authors enrolled in KU.
tory richards(non-registered)
I'm just learning about a lot of this and have been an author for 13 years. Now I understand why some KU books I've shown interest in have over 1,000 pages. Most of the time when I see an excess of pages I won't bother with the book but only because I don't have time to read an extra long book. I'm glad that I passed them by now if this is what some unscrupulous authors are doing. It's not fair to those who follow the rules.
Wendy(non-registered)
Yes that was a bit to read through but very well and concisely written. I hope the the "#gates" finally disappear and we can resume normal service. So looking forward to your future books and bookcovers and all the exciting words to be written by our amazing author community.
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