Featured Post

The New Cover for Last Shot Revealed!

Happy New Year!  Today is the day! Last Shot at Justice has its new cover, and is now up for pre-order on Amazon. That's right, ALL th...

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Gaming the System

I recently learned something that has me disillusioned, so I’m going to rant about it a bit. Did you know some people will do anything for a buck? I always figured that was true, but I hadn’t realized that it could extend to books, and just how rampant the problem is.

I’ve been the target of scams. Phishing emails from the “prince in Nigeria”, people phoning to get my information, and oh Lord, the people on Craigslist offering to buy my $70k semi-truck and trailer sight unseen, via PayPal. I’ll admit I’ve fallen for some scams, but in general I’m too cheap and suspicious to fall for the big ones.

The number of ways people can game the system is just mind-boggling. How do crooks think these scams up? If only they were this industrious at working for the light instead of the dark side...

The game I recently learned about affects me as a writer, and those of you reading this post—as presumably you are someone who enjoys reading—a LOT, if you’re taking the time to read my humble little blog.

As a reader, have you noticed how hard it is to find good books on Amazon? They’re there, but how many books have you found that, despite good rankings and ratings, you wonder why you just wasted your time and money trying to wade through it? How many of you are enrolled in Amazon Prime and get your reading fix by way of Kindle Unlimited?

Well, here’s what I think I know about Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited product, thanks to many others who have shared what they have learned. Kindle Unlimited is great, in theory, for bibliophiles who have a voracious appetite and read dozens of books every month. What’s not to love about the ability to borrow as many books as you like for “free” without even having to leave the house to go to the library? It’s awesome! And the writers even get paid every time you borrow a book, so you’re supporting your habit, right? Sort of.

Here’s the thing. People started realizing, hey I can ‘write a book’ and get paid, too. They started writing any old thing that came to mind. They didn’t bother to have it professionally edited. They whipped up a cheap cover using some open source software, came up with a catchy blurb, and put it out there, uploading it with overall a minimal investment of time and money. 

And KU readers borrowed it, because hey, why not, it’s not costing me anything but time. And the newly hatched ‘author’ gets paid. Woot! That was easy. I’m going to do it again! They don't improve their craft; if anything, they get worse. And soon there are thousands of goofy stories about tater tots coming to life and turning virile Russian men gay. (This is a real offering on Amazon!)

Why is this a problem? There’s no harm, since KU members aren’t paying for it. It’s funny! Part of me agrees with that. Why not have a laugh? Legally there’s nothing “wrong” with it.

But it is problematic for people who don’t want to waste time (and money, if you happen to get suckered into buying it, even if it is “only 99¢”) wading through the junk to find the gems. And now that Kindle came up with the idea to pay writers by number of pages read, I understand there are more and more ways to game the system. (See this article by Selena Kitt, or this article from Germany for examples.)

I got caught out by someone who asked me to review their book, which WOW! came with more than 20 “bonus books” bringing the page count up to nearly 800 pages. There was a quick-link to the title story in the front, so it looks like the reader has read the whole book, when in reality they just skipped to the end. The title story read like a twelve-year-old wrote it. It was a real waste of my time, which is more valuable to me than the 99¢ I spent on the damn thing.

This is highly problematic for the writers who are genuinely trying to write good products, who are laying out money for editors and cover designers, and struggling to be seen by readers who appreciate quality fiction.

I’ve been a writer all my life. I’ve studied the art, taken classes and dedicated myself to learning the craft of writing a good story. I have put out four professional quality full length novels, and two novellas. And yet I can’t find my audience—or perhaps more accurately, my audience can’t find me.

I have resisted putting my books on Kindle Unlimited out of principle—not because of this issue, but because Amazon’s monopoly of the market bugs me and because in order to be in KU, you cannot have your book available on any other market. Amazon has become a monster-sized entity with, in my opinion, a very real potential of killing the love of reading in future generations by drowning them in bad fiction.

Self-publishing has been a mixed blessing from the start. It has opened up the dream of publishing to many aspiring writers like myself who, for whatever reason, were unable or unwilling to break into the big publishing houses. By the same token, it has opened up publishing to everyone who thinks they can write a book. And in my opinion, just because you can put words in a document and upload it, it doesn’t mean you should. That mixed blessing is not even accounting for the spammers who are just gaming the system. 

I’m happy for the opportunity to share my work. But I’m equally bummed about the spammers who are making it so challenging to be found.

Unfortunately, I’m afraid every fix KDP comes up with is likely to be circumvented in short order. Short of killing the KU program altogether, hiring enough readers to police all uploaded books, or developing a smart, discerning AI to scan every upload, I don’t see the problem going away. None of those solutions are going to happen any time soon. So I’m just going to sigh and go on writing the next book—because that’s not just what I do, it’s who I am—and hope for my big break.

I don’t expect authors or readers to drop out of KU to make a point with me. Lord knows I’m probably shooting myself in the foot (or head) by staying out of KU, but ask anyone who knows me: I’ll play chicken with a runaway train if I think I have a principle to stand on.

I’m not asking anyone else to die on this hill with me, but I hope folks will care enough to at least not be taken in by the scammers, and maybe be motivated to let Amazon know that our time is valuable too, and we don’t appreciate wasting it on scams.

To that end, I’d better go back through this post and shave it down, so I’m sure I didn’t just waste YOUR valuable time. Thanks for reading. 

(Bonus: if you want to support some 'genuine' authors who are struggling to be seen in this bent marketplace, click here to find links to their books on Amazon.)

Don't forget to sign up for my monthly newsletter!

No comments:

Post a Comment