An Author’s Horror Story

I woke up this morning with high hopes of coffee (it is International Coffee Day, after all) and a strong will to focus so I can reach my daily word count goal (a new donut shop opened nearby and that donut will be my reward for writing. #TGIF y’all). I started my day early, motivated and determined to swim with success in this author life I’m living.

After drinking my first cup of coffee, I check the usual business—chat with peers, schedule Facebook posts, check my Amazon page.

Gasp!

The nightmare I’ve had on repeat since I started publishing became true. The Phantom of Amazon assaulted with a vengeance. Five out of eight books lost a review.

Just one review? Don’t be a crybaby.

I’m sure many of you think that way. Those of you who publish and have never lost a review, those who aren’t in the business and don’t understand the value of reviews to authors and the work reviewers put into expressing how they feel about a book.

And yes, it could be worse. I could have lost more, but one is enough to stir uncertainty. It starts with one, but it never stops there. This week I’ve been talking with a couple of friends, one of them has lost multiple reviews for her new release.

We know, don’t include the words ARC, book gifted in exchange for a review, etc, etc. The thing is, the publishing business works this way. Authors send out ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) as part of their marketing. It creates buzz before the book releases. Traditional publishers do this as well.

Not too long ago, I was watching an interview with three interns for a publishing house. They were asked what they learned the most in their summer internship. One woman said how many books are given out for free to readers before a book releases. We’re talking hundreds of books. Us indies, aren’t doing anything different. We’re playing by the same rules, Amazon. It’s part of the business. And trust me, those free books cost us money.

We host giveaways, we purchase books from Createspace (an Amazon-run company) to sell signed copies on our website and book signings. We invest, work tirelessly, and lose quality time with loved ones to pursue a dream. I’ll be honest, days like this make me question what the hell I’m still doing publishing books. I’ll always write. It’s embedded deep in my soul and I can’t quit it—not cold turkey, not with therapy. Writing is my therapy. But publishing is a business. A business that continues to provide struggles and obstacles for indie authors because we get chastised for working hard and following the path that’s been paved. Maybe that’s the problem. Maybe we need to break away from that path and carve our own. Hell, I never get all the reviews for books I give away.

For the record, they can be five stars or one, I want honest. In me giving a book to bloggers for reviews doesn’t mean I expect them to give me four or five stars. Are you listening, Amazon? Because it’s funny how the one and two star reviews never get deleted.

I try not to get hung up on reviews. They’re for the reader, not the author, blablabla. I get that, but they are also for the author because they help with our exposure on Amazon. They either work for or against Amazon’s algorithm, so to that comment, I dare call bullshit. We use blurbs from reviews to use in our marketing material. There’s a purpose. If there was no purpose to reviews, and no benefit, they wouldn’t exist.

If I were getting hundreds of reviews per book, I may not even notice. Even then, it’s still unfair. Unfortunately, I’m not. I have loyal readers, whom I adore. They know this. I’m forever grateful to them for their unconditional support. However, readers who have no idea who I am don’t invest time in writing a review for me, or bother to buy my book if I have measly twenty reviews, because surely this author sucks if no one buys her book (reviews are not a reflection of sales, FYI). Every. Review. Counts when you’re an indie like me.

Do you want to know what I find humorous? (A dry humor) Every single book that lost a review today is enlisted in Kindle Unlimited. Do you also want to know a fact? Readers who read a book via Kindle Unlimited and review said book does not show as verified purchase despite them investing in the Netflix of books.

We’ve all seen posts like this, talking about the loss of reviews and frustrated authors venting. The thing is, nothing changes. We continue to pay for building an audience and selling books (or not selling depending who you ask because it’s a hard knock life out there, yo). We continue to bring up that same nagging topic because it affects us. We try to take a stand and get rebutted. How would you feel if you were given food from a stranger only to have someone come to you and take it away because it was “free”? Or if someone donated clothes for your child and a person comes into your house to collect it all because you didn’t pay for it?

It works the same. Or similar. You get the gist. I’m still working through coffee número dos. The bottom line is, for the most part, we do this honestly. I don’t tell reviewers, you better give me five stars or you’ll never review for me again. No. That is wrong. Paying readers to review your books is wrong. Marketing your book to gain exposure by having reviewers read is not. We see vloggers do it for everything—makeup, skin care, hair products.

Now, I have a few questions that need some clarification, and I’m not a well-known author so I may not even get responses, but contacting Amazon in the past has been pointless.

  1. What happens with Kindle Unlimited reviews that show as non-verified? If you can keep track of the pages read to pay authors, then surely you can track if that reader reviewed from a “purchase.”
  2. Authors purchase books from Createspace (paying a price) in order to have paperbacks to sell as signed copies on their websites or at book signings. Readers who read those books and review will not show a verified purchase. YET, (and yes, I’m using shouty caps because I totally shouted that word in my head) Amazon is receiving payment for those books from the author. How would Amazon know where the book came from? They have no idea that it was indeed, a purchase. Maybe add that as an option in your review, Amazon. You can see the author’s purchase history from Createspace.
  3. Why are we getting punished for running a business? Many other businesses provide services and products in exchange for reviews. I don’t know most of the reviewers who receive my books. I hire a company that runs that service for me. The reviewer and I have no relationship.
  4. What does Amazon gain in removing reviews? I understand it’s a way on controlling and keeping things fair and honest, but I’m not cheating the system. The people I know, who are also losing reviews, aren’t scamming. I don’t have time to even think that. YET, there have been “authors” who have cheated the system to make sales and become bestsellers. Amazon cracked down on those when readers united (in an very impressive force) to express the unfairness in it.

So, Amazon, instead of picking on authors that are working hard on paving a way to build a name for themselves, why don’t you look into what’s true fraud.

Authors providing books to be reviewed is not a scam. It’s part of the publishing business. Like I mentioned, I never even get reviews for all of the books sent out.

What do they gain in removing reviews? Those reviews help us reach a level within their algorithm. They help our books not get lost in the sea of millions. Publishing isn’t full of flowers, sunshine, and good coffee. It’s full of tears, heartache, frustration, and disappointment.

So, why do it? Because it takes one reader to send a message expressing how much your book helped their personal life to chuck the bad stuff and focus on that. It takes one kind word about your story to help you realize there’s no way you can stop sharing your words once you start doing so, but it’s expensive to get a book published. You’ve heard the stories.

This is a business based on art, so it’s trickier than say, selling clothes. We pour passion and soul into our words. We create books based on our experiences, our hurt, our truths. That alone is scary. Then, we have to tie in business, a price tag, to it. Imagine coming up with a price for a child. Because to us, our books are our babies. I, for one, bleed onto my laptop, writing things I’d never express if they were in the form of non-fiction. It’s not all fairy tales, guys.

But we want to share it with the world, and we choose to make it a business. It’s a delicate line. It’s doubly disappointing to receive news like this. To see all the hard work you’ve poured, slowly be deleted as if you’re just a number. To Amazon, I am just a number. But for my peers and me, those reviews mean more than just that.

I’ve had my own issues with Amazon in the past due to other reasons. To the point I’ve had to consider removing some of my books from their platform. Most of my readers, if not all, read on Kindle, so in a way Amazon will always have the upper hand unless I say, fuck it, and take a risk.

Today, I’m over it. Today, I want to say a big F U and call it quits. Instead, I have words to write because I’m eating that damn donut.

Tomorrow is a new day, and for the love of God, I pray that Amazon leaves us alone. If not, it’s time we unite and pave a new way. There can be a lot of division in this community, but we’re strong when we come together.

 

*Edit: In the time I wrote this post and published it, I reached my word count and got my donut. How ‘bout dat?

 

 

 

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