Amazon’s Hammer Strikes

crackdown

This is just one of many stories swirling around the indie publishing community today and for the past week about Amazon’s apparent crackdown on scammers.

In a blog post from yesterday, indie published author Adam Dreece tells his story which would strike a lot of fear in anyone, but particularly someone whose books are enrolled in Kindle Unlimited…

Last week (Thurs – Jan 12, 2017), I received an email from Amazon around 11pm. They were “reaching out to me” to inform me that they had detected something called “system generated accounts” and thus, were immediately deleting my account. I’ve recently learned that there were a number of us hit, and all of us had the same thing happen.

Dreece had his books widely available for a while, but had taken this one series off the other eBook retailers and put the books into KDP Select, hoping to gain some traction there for this one series. He did a couple of promotions through December, and this resulted in improved rankings and higher page reads. Although he noticed that there was something strange about those page reads, and he emailed KDP about it…

I’d noticed a weird spiky behaviour in KU reads, 25k, 0, 10k. It looked suspicious to me, so being the boy-scout that I am, I raised it. I even posted about it on FB, as it was really weird.

The KDP Support person’s response was clearly they thought me cute and naive, and they assured me there was no problem. I said I was scared that the Fiverr promo I’d used (which was new to me, but had over 650 reviews and was a top seller) could have been a scam or something, and they told me no. I even DOUBLE checked with them to please check everything, and I was told everything was fine.

Obviously, there was a problem, as far as Amazon was concerned; a few weeks later, they deleted his account and unpublished all his books from their Kindle store (He notes that his paperbacks were still available, as were his stories featured in anthologies). While Amazon “investigated the matter” and thankfully, ultimately restored his books (but not his ranking, which I noticed when I went over to his page to see if they were actually back), all he could do is freak out, then wait.

What are the things I’m taking away from this most recent tale?

  • Dreece also reported that he had issues with Amazon bothering about his copyrights on those books.  This is something I heard happened to another author whose story was highlighted on the Sell More Books Show Podcast last week. Is it a coincidence?
  • Amazon has had to delete a lot of books and a lot of fake Kindle Unlimited subscriptions in order to start dealing with the brazen scamming that has been going on with the program, especially once some work-arounds with inflating page reads were discovered and exploited. The click farms are striking back by now covering up their fake book page reads with real book page reads. This is why Dreece had the trouble with the “system generated accounts.” Apparently, Amazon realized that the bots are page-reading legit books in order to throw off Amazon and somehow fool them into thinking the click farm fake KU subscriber is a real account. As Dreece points out:

 I’ve since learned that scammers have been pointing their bots at other authors, often targeting the #1 in smaller categories, so to throw suspicion away from their fake books.

  • Fiverr seems to play into this in some way. I have used Fiverr in the past to promote The Inventor’s Son, in particular I’ve used BKnights gig a few times, both for free and paid book promotions. The effectiveness of the paid book promotions was diminishing, however, in 2016, and so I have stopped using them for this purpose. A lot of indie published authors, however, still use Fiverr gigs for promoting their Kindle books, and those books tend to be in KDP Select more often than not. They are hoping to get page reads, since that boosts their rankings just as much as if someone bought their book, just as much as they are hoping people buy the book for 99 cents. The books are legit, and possibly even the promoter is legit, but the click farms know those sites and seem to be preying on those books featured on them. I have heard they were even targeting books featured on BookBub, and that’s pretty brazen, IMO.
  • Amazon really, really wants you to use AMS ads  (I’ve got an epic post coming up about them, stay tuned)!  I think they got tired of Facebook and BookBub sending so many people to their site, so they decided to get into the PPC (Pay Per Click) game and upped the ante by allowing all authors to participate, not just those enrolled in KDP Select. Use of other book promo sites seems to be raising their blood pressure these days…
  • I think Kindle Unlimited may be seeing the final year of it’s existence. I had noticed that Amazon has been advertising HARD to get new subscribers into the program (possibly to make up for all the fake accounts they had to shut down) but at the same time seem to be trying in a very clumsy manner to plug the holes. Since some of the subscriptions they might have sold during Cyber Weekend were for a year or even a bit longer, Amazon might try to hold out and keep it running until those subscriptions run out. They may integrate it into Prime once again, or have an expanded KOLL program to take it’s place, to allow Prime members to borrow more than one book a month and allow even people without Kindle devices to take advantage of the program, but I don’t see Kindle Unlimited surviving as it is too much longer. Authors who might have been considering putting books into the program (and let’s face it, three months is a long time in the world of the indie author) can read tales like this and it makes them think long and hard about it!

Dreece himself put it best in his own blog post:

In December, I’d decided to enter their KDP Select program. This was my reward.

Some authors I’ve already heard from are wondering about which Fiverr gig he’d used, and are wondering if there isn’t more to this story than we’ve heard. Although, since Amazon did actually republish his books, there must have been some evidence of this author’s innocence. What do you think of all this?

 

I’m Finally Almost Done With My Paperback Versions of The Inventor’s Son!

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Mock up provided by the super awesome Covervault! These will soon be a reality!

I may seem to have been missing lately, although some of my fellow indie authors might see me in groups or on the usual haunts. I’ve had a few setbacks with getting my projects going. I work full time at a day job, and this writing gig is now assuredly a part time job. I’d far rather be doing this than working part time at Starbucks or McDonald’s! But that doesn’t mean it’s easy.
Along with the day job being more taxing than it should have been during the summer, I also lost my last remaining greyhound last Monday. He was my pal, and I’m still having a hard time. Although now I have a cat. The last time I did serious writing with a cat around was years ago. I think it’s an adjustment.
As for the print books project I’d been putting off and putting off, I now am fully involved and made a deadline for November 1 to have The Inventor’s Son at least in the publishing stage. I started the project in CreateSpace, and those of you who frequent kboards or some of the other indie author hangouts online know that some of us have had the option to publish a print version of our books directly with Amazon through KDP. When the option magically appeared last week, I thought about it for about 5 minutes, and then decided to proceed with my original plan to use CreateSpace, at least in the short term. I figure I can always change the trim size and get a new ISBN in the future if I decide to go fully with Amazon, and who knows, maybe CreateSpace is getting melded into Amazon’s KDP service in the near future. For right now, I’m only concerned with getting the book ready for the holidays.
Initially, I will offer the first three full-size books in print. I don’t plan on making the prequel novella available in print unless there’s some kind of demand for it. I tend to use that book as a lead magnet anyway, so it’s really better as an eBook, in my opinion.
I’ve had a few issues that I ran into while making the print book files. It’s not as simple or as easy as some people would like you to believe. I tried using a file that I compiled using Scrivener, and I thought that would work, until I started getting “fancy.” I wanted to use Goudy Trajan Regular font for the chapter titles and for the headers and footers. That font just would not embed, which, if you want to create a pdf file, is essential to be able to do. And so I tried to remove it from everywhere, substituting with another font… Yeah, that wasn’t working. So I took the drastic step of “going nuclear” and making a fresh, unformatted file (no italics!) and started with the CreateSpace provided 5.25 X 8 inch template. I’m pretty sure this is going to work. Hopefully once I upload the new file the previewer on CreateSpace won’t spit out any issues. Once that’s all done, it’s time for the cover!

Speaking of the cover, I did something really dumb last year when making up my spiffy covers; I flattened all the layers before I saved the file, making the original cover files essentially useless. I can pretty quickly fix that problem, though, and make up my cover files once I know what size the spine needs to be. I’m much faster with Photoshop this year than I was with GIMP last year, and I can do a lot more with Ps than GIMP, so I’m optimistic that I’ll get that phase done quickly.

I want The Inventor’s Son finished in time for a cross-author promotion I’m planning to be part of a little later in November. The idea being “Buy the print book and get the Kindle version for free instantly (instant gratification)” and the author running it seems to do really well with the print books, so hey, I say let’s give it a shot. You’ll be hearing more about it soon.

Also, on an unrelated note, I will be taking the Author Social Media Deep Dive and moving it to this blog, so I’ll have just the two blogs (this one and the one on my website). The theme of SB James Doing the Write Thing has morphed into a more author-centric blog, and I find I have no need for the separate Social Media Deep Dive blog anymore. You’ll start seeing those posts and a new category here soon!

Using Scrivener for Windows and Sigil to Create an EPUB: The 3 Main Ingredients

scrivandsigilI’ve been wanting to do a tutorial like this for a long time. Anyone who may have downloaded my most recently reformatted eBooks or Kindle books surely must have noticed the difference between how they used to look and how they look now. The difference was in what programs I used to write and format the books.
I used to do what a lot of authors who indie publish tend to do: I’d write my book in Word, then upload it to Amazon or Draft2Digital or Smashwords and let them convert (or “meatgrind”) the books to the appropriate type of file, and then publish this converted file. And while it wasn’t terrible, it wasn’t the experience I wanted my readers to have. I did not want my readers to think that they were missing out by not having the book in print, which are inevitable not as ugly as eBooks tend to be.
With this in mind, I sought out some guidance that didn’t require me to buy any more software other than Scrivener (the other two programs I use in this process are free, open source software programs). And I had to keep in mind that I was using a Windows computer, which makes Scrivener a little problematic.
I eventually found this tutorial on YouTube and, like a recipe I found for baking a cake, I followed the basic order, but changed a few things to really make things look better.
The first ingredient is, of course, Scrivener. Anyone who is familiar with Scrivener knows that you can compile your manuscript into a host of different formats. FYI, I’m using the latest version of Scrivener for Windows, Scrivener 1.9.
The second ingredient is a program called Sigil, which, contrary to popular belief, is still “supported” and available to download. Yes, it’s a scary program, I won’t lie to you. Some HTML and CSS knowledge is going to take you very far with this program, because that is basically what Sigil is: an HTML editor that works with eBooks. EBooks are actually .xhtml files. When you first open your compiled epub from Scrivener, you’re going to see that all your pages and chapters have the file extension .xhtml on them (and also won’t have their names on them either). But Sigil is where you get to tame the beast that Scrivener has unleashed.
Now, for uploading to D2D, Smashwords, and Google Play, these two programs are actually all you need. However, nobody I know of only publishes on all the other sales channels and not Amazon, so, there is one more software program all indie publishers using this method ought to have: the Kindle Previewer. More than merely previewing, Kindle Previewer will convert your .epub to a .mobi file for you, and this is the file you will then upload to KDP.
Some people use another program called Calibre to convert files from on format to another, but Kindle Previewer is Amazon’s very own program, and both are IMO equally uncomplicated. So, that’s up to you. I know I use Calibre to look over my finished EPUBs from Sigil, so it’s not like Calibre goes to waste if you have it. But it’s not essential. You can use the Nook app on Windows to look over EPUBs as well, or look it over after you’ve uploaded to D2D.
Once you have the Scrivener, Sigil, and Kindle Previewer or Calibre programs on your computer, it’s time to get started!
If you have written your book in another program like Word, then, very briefly, I will go over the most efficient way to import your book to Scrivener. FWIW, I don’t like direct imports because then there’s still plenty of work to be done after importing anyway. So what I did was copy and paste.
Start a new project in Scrivener, and select Fiction (whether it’s Fiction or Non Fiction) and then select Novel (or Novel with Parts, if needed). These settings will give you the tools needed to do a more efficient compile when the time comes to make up the EPUB.

scrivener1
Once you’ve got your new project started, then it’s time to look over what Scrivener has set up for you. Notice the “Novel Format” and the “Front Matter” sections in particular. In Novel format, you make up your chapters as folders and your chapter material as scenes. Every time in your manuscript that the POV changes from one character to another or there is a bit of a break, then this makes up a new scene, which is really important to get this right while importing.

scrivener2
Now, ignore the Front Matter areas for the time being. Just copy and paste your material into the scenes. Remember to create a new folder for every chapter, and a new scene for every scene in the chapter, so Scrivener can automatically put blank lines or asterisks or things like that in between your scenes automatically. In the end, it should look a bit like this:

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Note: When making up the chapter folders and scenes, I tend to number the scenes, but those numbers don’t transfer to the compile unless you want them to. I tend to label them as Done once I know I have all the interior formatted as I want them to be.

scrivener4
And also, I tend to check off the box in the Inspector (right side) that there should be a page break before the chapter folders, but not before the scenes. This is a guide for later, but these can be changed when compiling.
Okay, once you have your manuscript fully imported, it is going to be time to work on the front matter in Part 2 of this tutorial. SPOILER ALERT: I don’t use the “Front Matter” feature for making up the EPUB!

5 Things to Remember When Doing Pre-Orders of Your Book

IO

There is a difference between uploading a book for immediate publication as opposed to doing a pre-order. Some people feel that doing pre-orders is inadvisable, since on the day of actual publication, you don’t get the “spike” on Amazon if readers had already placed the orders for the book. However, the advantage I feel I’m gaining from doing a pre-order for the “big deal book” of this series outweighs the possible drawbacks.

So, here are some things to remember when doing a pre-order. FYI, I distribute The Inventor’s Son series wide beyond Amazon, using a wonderful distributing service called Draft2Digital for all retailers besides Amazon and Google Play.

  1. The amount of “assets” you need to do a pre-order varies by retailer. Amazon requires at least the rough draft of the book and I believe they need a cover, though I may be incorrect about that part. Their ToS was not especially clear on this important point. I personally feel having a cover that is pretty much the final version is important compared to the final draft. For Draft2Digital, one does not need anything except a title, depending on the circumstances.
  2. Amazon will accept a pre-order for up to 90 days before your release date. Draft2Digital can accept them for far longer in advance, even six months.
  3. Amazon needs the final draft of the book 10 days before your scheduled release date. When setting up your book in KDP’s Dashboard, after selecting the option to do a pre-order as opposed to publishing immediately, you can select the option of uploading a final version or a rough version that’s not ready to publish yet. That’s letting Amazon know that they can’t release the book the way it is, but it’s also letting Amazon know that they need to get a final version 10 days before publication. They set a clock for you, and I also set my calendar to make sure I have the final spiffy formatted version of The Explorer’s Son uploaded to them 2 days before their “do or die” date. If that gets screwed up for any reason, Amazon will not let you do another pre-order for an entire year.
  4. One of the major advantages of a pre-order is getting that all-important sales page link. With Amazon, it took less than the 12 usual hours to get that page up, and I already have a link to the sales page here. Now that link can be put in the other books in the series, and when I start my mega-super-social-media-marketing-blitz soon, I’ve got all my links ready to go! With Draft2Digital, it was even easier. One of the super-great services they provide is the ability to add an “Also By” page. The magic people at D2D then go and put links to all your books, in all your retailers they distribute to, in all the correct versions of each book. This morning, when I uploaded The Explorer’s Son at their site, a page popped up asking me if I wanted them up automatically update all my other books’ “Also By” pages with the link for the new book. Yes, please!
  5. It’s been a while since I published anything on Amazon where I have to worry about VAT on European digital sales. For the time being, I opted not to add extra to the prices to cover the VAT, but that’s also on account of me being lazy. Drat2Digital (and Google Play, I think) do all that VAT stuff for you. On Google Play (if you are able to publish on there) you can adjust pricing up to the release date, and if a customer pre-ordered the book and the price had been changed, they charge the customer the lower price, just FYI.

I’m excited, but I’ve also got a lot of work ahead of my. As a result, my NaNoWriMo is suffering for it. I’ll have to get to Pulp Speed if I want to win it this year. I’m glad it’s not December yet!

Have you had good experiences with pre-orders? How well does a pre-order work if you are putting your book into KDP Select?

What I Did This Summer

 

Well, I figure it’s about time for a wrap-up of summer, even though in some places school is not officially back in session yet. Around here in Florida, most of the kids have either started the new school year or will start it this week. And even though I don’t go to school anymore, that does not mean I haven’t had to keep learning new things.

Some of my regular blog readers may know that I moved to a new house back in May. The saga of the house buying process and the drama of the real estate market around here were two contributing factors for a lot of agita for me from late January until I was moved in. I’m just thankful that I did not have to handle the selling of the place I was living in along with the house buying! Once I was all settled in, it was June. And this year, I decided to take advantage of the slower pace here to step up my writing career.

The first thing I decided to do is try and use the Sigil program to help me re-format my existing series of eBooks. I posted a few segments documenting my progress. Along the way, I’ve also needed to learn more CSS coding, and this is not only useful for eBook creation, but also for website design and building as well. So I did not feel as though I wasted my time with this “brush-up course.”

However, I started doing something even more important than learning Sigil. I finally started running Scrivener, which I had downloaded the trial version of during one of the NaNoWriMos. At first, I truly disliked the program. I felt there were about a thousand features that I would NEVER use. I was a die hard Word user. I even hated trying to use Libre Office because I was so hung up on Word, so imagine my resistance to Scrivener, a program I’d have to pay money for and not know how to use!

What made me change? Two things happened. One was my epiphany that I was wasting $9.99 a month for my Office 365 subscription (which is mainly useful for the 1TB of cloud storage I would get on One Drive with the subscription, since nowadays people can actually use the Office suite of programs online for free). And if I wasn’t going to pay for the Word subscription, then I could afford to buy Scrivener if I found it really was everything everyone who started using it with regularity seemed to say it was.

The second was that there was a nice discount code for Scrivener among my April CampNaNo winner goodies, so I took the plunge for $20. I had started tinkering around with it, using it to import some of my existing draft of The Explorer’s Son into it. And while I was doing that, The Self-Publishing Summit hosted by Chandler Bolt had started.

One of the featured speakers doing a webinar was Joseph Michael, the instructor for the “Learn Scrivener Fast” course. In that one hour, he showed a BUNCH of crazy hacks and just blew my mind with the potential for Scrivener as a useful tool for my writing and publishing. Well, I’m now taking the course, and I don’t usually do courses like this, but it is AMAZING! I’m learning a huge amount about how to do things in Scrivener!

Another speaker Chandler Bolt had was Brian Tracy. And while I didn’t get a whole heck of a lot out of the actual webinar that night, I did hear a recommendation from an artist I know that he listened to the audio version of “Eat That Frog: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time” and that it was helpful to him. What I liked about this book was that I didn’t feel like I was getting the typical “Tony Robbins” type spiel and instead it got straight to the point. This type of thinking helps not just with business but with art as well.

At the same time, I picked up a copy of Chris Fox’s Kindle book, “5000 Words Per Hour.” I knew that my real biggest project was getting The Explorer’s Son finished. As a result of reading this short but fabulous book, I started waking up earlier in the morning and using that time to get some words in. I’m happy to report that The Explorer’s Son is now back on track and I expect to set up a pre-order for the book very soon.

Another thing I started doing, again inspired by a book I read called “Steal Like An Artist,” was start drawing again. Some more intrepid blog followers might have noticed my galleries. If not, check them out on this page and go to my Instagram page. I’ve been doing a lot of digital as well as pencil and watercolor pencils.

For the digital work, I’ve used all open source programs like GIMP, Inkscape, Blender, and the newly downloaded MakeHuman. It’s amazing what I have been doing which I had always thought would be impossible due to not enough computer power and not enough money for the Adobe Creative Suite! I even downloaded Krita last night, and I’m eager to try this out. I’d love to be able to do art for my books and my website, and learning to use these programs is an ongoing venture. I typically do these things in the evenings, since I think they are a great way to wind down at the end of a hectic day-job day.

Upcoming for me is learning how to compile finished documents in Scrivener. If this is successful, this would bypass the need to make the eBooks in Sigil, or use Scribus to make the PDF for the long-delayed print versions of my books.

Also upcoming is a few test designs for new book covers. Sorry, I’m tired of the old ones, and I think with the ideas and skills I now have, I can do better. I even can work with a cover designer for a final cover design, but I can work on the concepts way better now that I have a clearer idea of what I want.

Editing The Explorer’s Son however will be top priority. 5000 Words Per Hour even has a method for sprinting with editing, which is a new concept for me…

Whew! How has Summer 2015 been for you?

Geeking Out With Sigil And EPUB Creation, Part 5

Sigil logo

Don’t miss the series of posts about EPUB creation with Sigil:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

Here’s a reallllllly quick update on my progress with this EPUB formatting endeavor I’ve embarked on. It just goes to show, it’s really important to test your files!
Not sure what went wrong, but I uploaded The Inventor’s Son: The Beginning so I could look at it on my Android phone using Google Play Books App.

The Results:

Screenshot_2015-07-15-07-10-06

Apparently, Google Play Books didn’t like my centering!

And, as it turns out, Overdrive might like my centering, but not my dropcaps as much…

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Those are the only 2 apps I have on my Android phone besides Kindle (which I will explore in depth next time!). On my tablet I also have Nook and Kobo, but at the present time, I’m not terribly worried about how my EPUBs will look on those apps. My main concerns are Google Play, Apple and Amazon, as these are, by far, my best sales channels overall.

Over at Draft2Digital, the distributor I use for my books to Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Apple, and the subscription services Oyster and Scribd, I found out that I would really need to upload to them a Word document if I wanted them to make up an “Also By” page, which I happen to think is pretty important. They cannot alter my EPUB if I upload it to them, and if I use an EPUB for them, then I have to make sure it’s EPUB 2.0 and not 3.0, as it’s not supported by a lot of the sales channels yet. I’m wondering if the EPUB 3.0 could be the issue with Google Play Books? Sounds a bit unbelievable, right?

As a side note, over on kboards, there’s a discussion brewing about whether an author who has poorly written and poorly edited books that are selling really well, but get a bunch of 1 star reviews ought to just leave things alone or they should take the books down and start all over again and republish under new pen-names or… whatever. I think it’s about to get toxic, as many discussions over there lately do. But the discourse there made me think about what I’m doing with this EPUB creation project. I’m wondering why an author trying to make cosmetic improvements to her books would be put in the same category as an author who obviously has poor writing skills but has decided to make a “new and improved” version of the book… Maybe I’m misinterpreting it, but that also often happens at kboards.

At any rate, it appears as though each book, from here on out, will need 4 versions made up as I’m publishing: Amazon’s MOBI (with the relevant links to other books), Google Play EPUB with links, a Word Doc for Draft2Digital so they can do my links for me, and a PDF for the print versions.

Speaking of PDF versions of books, I’ve noticed that many times, authors simply give PDF versions of books for the mailing list goody, but I’d rather give an EPUB or MOBI to mailing list sign ups. I’m sure it’s less trouble to just let people download PDFs but they are SO hard to read on phones! This is just another future topic I’ll be tackling!

Geeking Out With Sigil And EPUB Creation, Part 4

Sigil logo

Wow, I’m already on part 4! I suggest you start at the start if you are an adventurous indie author who thinks they might like to tackle formatting their own eBooks:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

(By the way, now I typically even write my blog posts using the HTML view. It’s not so scary once you get to know it!)

Last week, I finally got to create some nice drop caps, and I mentioned that I wanted to try to get some good block quotes in my books as well, since in the story, my main character gets letters from his father that he has to use to glean clues as to where his father might be headed next. And I had another reason for block quotes; in my upcoming, tricked-out, cleaned up, edited, super-duper version of The World of The Inventor’s Son, I needed a good system for citing my own books!

So, without further ado, let me show you the screen shots:

A screenshot of how I had to format an excerpt from Wattpad
A screenshot of how I had to format an excerpt from Wattpad

As you can see, when originally published on Wattpad, they have next to no formatting options, so this is pretty much how it came out. I always worried it was confusing to readers.

Well, I’m not going to worry about possible confusion when I offer the EPUB version to my readers:

This is straight from Sigil, since I have not completed the project, and didn't put it through Calibre yet
This is straight from Sigil, since I have not completed the project, and didn’t put it through Calibre yet.

Now, the nice big quotes, the narrower margins, and the italics, along with a classy citation at the end of it, all make it look like the nicer block quotes we’ve been getting used to seeing. By applying CSS rules to the “blockquote” and the “cite” tags, I was able to get a satisfactory result that I wouldn’t have been able to do with mere HTML.

When I use the block quote rules in The Inventor’s Son, I’m going to omit the quotation marks and the citation, but I might be able to apply a rule to the end signature when Ethan’s father actually signs the letters. As it turned out, I started formatting The World of The Inventor’s Son before finishing off the formatting of Book 1, and I’m glad I did that in a way, since now I figured out the block quote puzzle.

How it will translate to MOBI is still a mystery, but Amazon is rather keen on getting nicer formatting in their Kindle books, so I have faith it may turn out very well.

Until next week!