In March of 2018, I had the worst month, sales wise, of my entire career since it had become financially viable in 2015.
In April of 2018, I finally managed to get some new cover art out that I had been holding onto for awhile, and also finally managed to release my first ever feature-length novel, DEMONESS II. At the same time, I also decided to try something I'd been waffling about for awhile. I took down the old, episodic versions of my series HELLCATS and re-released it as a novel with brand new cover art.
This created a perfect storm.
I began selling. First some, then a lot. Then, as April was beginning to close out, a metric fuckton of books. I was selling like crazy. To this day, I don't know what precisely did it. I think that mostly it was luck. Right books at the right time. That and being in the Kindle Unlimited probably helped a lot.
As I pressed on into May, I was still kind of dazed, but also ecstatic. It felt like finally, FINALLY, after years of desperate struggle, writing my fucking ass off, (I average about one novel per MONTH for three solid years), I was finally receiving what I had fucking earned. And I planned on capitalizing on that.
I published WOMEN OF THE WILD, a novel I had written and edited in late 2017 but was saving for later, figuring that now was the perfect time. I busted ass and got HELLCATS 2 out the door as fast as I could and got to work on preparing Hellcats 3 and Demoness III as well.
And then it happened. In the afternoon of May 10th, at around 4PM, I went to check on my sales numbers and suddenly discovered that I couldn't log in. I also checked my e-mail and found this message waiting for me.
We are reaching out to you as a follow-up on our previous communication regarding reading or borrow activity originating from accounts attempting to manipulate Kindle services. We detected continued illegitimate activity after our communication and, as a result, we have suspended your account to protect our publishers and readers experience.
We need you to take the necessary actions to stop the activity. We encourage you to review any marketing services you may have used, since you are responsible for ensuring that the strategies used to promote your books comply with our Terms and Conditions. Once you have done so, please send a response to firstname.lastname@example.org which includes a statement that you reviewed all marketing services you may have used, and confirms the discontinued use of any that might be responsible for this activity.
Once we receive this affirmation, we will reactivate your account. Please be aware, any additional illegitimate activity may result in termination. If we don’t receive this affirmation, we will terminate your account after 14 days.
Naturally, this sent me into a fucking panic. I responded to the best my ability...and they responded by taking down every single eBook I had ever fucking published in my entire life. I got a message back from Amazon the next day stating that they had decided to reinstate my account, but when I asked them about all my missing books, it took them a whole day to respond that it was a glitch and they would need five motherfucking days to 'look into it.'
Well, while I was initially waiting for that message back, I freaked the fuck out and ended up emailing Jeff Bezos, since in an interview he gave out his personal email address and claimed that he would personally review any problems that anyone had with Amazon.
Although to this day I never received a response from Jeff, or from that Amazon associate who claimed they'd get back to me within five days, my eBooks were put back up within 24 hours. So...that was nice at least.
But now I had a problem. That 'previous communication' they mentioned was from a weird little situation that had happened back in February of 2018. I'd noticed that ALL of my KU reads for the month had vanished. At first I didn't think much of it, I thought it was a glitch, but then I received a message warning me about 'reading or borrow activity originating from accounts attempting to manipulate Kindle services.'
I didn't know what the fuck they were talking about, and while at first they admitted that my reads had been taken in error, they never gave them back. So that second message I got was my second strike, which resulted in a suspension.
I was terrified that a third false positive would result in a flat-out termination, which would basically cripple me as a writer, if not outright kill my career.
Now, I did some research and determined that what was most likely causing this was this situation:
1) Some worthless piece of fucking shit scam artist writes some 'books', throws them up in the Kindle Unlimited, then creates a fake bot account to 'read' all of their books, so that they earn money for page reads.
2) In order to hide the fact that this is a fake account, they have their bot read other author's books to completion.
3) Amazon discovers the fake account, and decides to punish EVERYONE who has had a book read by that account.
No one knows for sure if this is what's happening, this is all just guesswork, because Amazon flat out refuses to give anyone a straight answer as to why they are being arbitrarily fucked over.
(Side Note: Yes, I understand the logic behind Amazon's refusal to give out information on this subject, because then the scammers could take that information and find new workarounds. I understand that, but people's accounts should NOT be suspended/terminated without an actual human being getting involved and they should NOT be taking this 'guilty until proven innocent' approach. It. Is. Wrong.)
Obviously, I was terrified that if whatever tripped up this bot the first two times with false positives did so a third time, Amazon would summarily execute my account despite the fact that I have never done anything shady or against the TOC.
For the record, not only have I never attempted to manipulate Amazon, the Kindle Unlimited, or my readers, nor do I ever have any intention to do so, I don't even know how to. Seriously, I'm not that smart, I just write stories about people having adventures and fucking, and I'm not even great at that.
I tried to come to Amazon with my concerns, but they literally stonewalled me. I never got ONE response to a few emails I sent asking what kind of guarantee they could give me of any kind of protection against this happening again, or even just some advice or help against preventing these false positives.
The thing is, I understand the need to protect the readers, and other authors, and the KU itself. I would actually be perfectly fine with surrendering any ill-gotten reads I may have gotten. I'd have no problem with that.
But when my entire career, my ability to earn fucking money, can be ERASED by a company that apparently does not give a shit about authors for literally no other reason than one of their overzealous and clearly broken bots or AIs falsely targeted me, well...then naturally I want to disassociate myself with the thing that can make that happen.
I.e. the Kindle Unlimited.
Because that is literally the ONLY thing this is about.
Finally, I sent them an ultimatum: Either promise me protection from this broken fucking bot of theirs, or pull EVERY one of my titles out of the KU immediately.
Although they did not respond to ONE of my polite requests for some kind of help, to make some kind of sense of what was happening, they responded to that one almost fucking immediately. And took everything out of the KU.
So I spent the next few months trying to just get on with my life and figure out where to go from here. I was also living in mortal terror that it would happen again, because although my titles were no longer available through the KU, those that had been borrowed before everything was pulled out were still in the libraries of the users who had borrowed them, and would remain so until they naturally fell out of the KU themselves.
In short, when you enroll a title in the Kindle Unlimited, it is on a 90-day lifespan. At the end of that 90 days, you can either choose to keep it enrolled, or pull it out. As of right now, some of my titles still aren't out yet.
My thought was that my books might still be in the libraries of fake accounts, and get read, AND TRIP UP THE FUCKING BOT AGAIN.
So far, that hasn't happened. I think I'm in the clear now, but it's hard to be sure. I'm still getting page reads here and there.
Naturally, this has given me a shitload of depression, anxiety, rage, insomnia, all that stuff. Demoness III was supposed to be done by the end of June, maybe early July.
I AM STILL NOT DONE WITH IT YET.
And it actually gets way worse. Not for me, but for a lot of other people.
I am not the only one this has been happening to.
That's who I could find off the top of my head. Apparently, there's a lot of others. And I've read a LOT of comments of pissed off customers who said they canceled their KU subscription in response to this shit.
Now, I don't know who is guilty and who is innocent, but based on the fact that I didn't do anything even slightly shady and I got nailed to the fucking wall by Amazon, I'm willing to bet that most of them who got slammed by this are innocent. (I do know that there's a lot of controversy surrounding Michael-Scott Earle regarding some either shady or unintelligent trademark attempts, and he called most indies stupid, but I still have no idea if he actually did anything wrong with regards to publishing practices.)
So what's Amazon's response to dozens, if not more, of innocent authors getting screwed by false positives and who knows how many people pulling out of the Kindle Unlimited and even a petition with over 1,500 signatures for Amazon to change it's policies towards Authors and KENP reads and another petition with almost 2,500 supporters to reinstate Michael-Scott Earle and J. A. Cipriano?
Nothing, basically. They stonewalled us.
So what's the fallout from this fucking disaster for me?
Well, in May of 2018, I made MORE THAN I DID FOR THE ENTIRETY OF LAST YEAR. Let that sink for a minute, because it still hasn't for me. In July? I made 1/4 of that. Now while that is still a decent income...it's looking like it's still dropping.
So basically, here's what happened. After 3 and 1/2 years busting my fucking ass, playing their game by their fucking rules, and writing like crazy, I finally succeed. Not through illegitimate tactics. Not through shady means. No bullshit, no trickery, no unsavory schemes.
I did it the fucking RIGHT way.
And my reward was all this shit, and to have it literally ripped away from me for no reason.
And Amazon doesn't give a shit.
Now, does this mean I'm fucked forever? Probably not. I'm still going to work very hard, write a lot of new novels, and try to make my readers happy and make a living doing the one thing I actually am even remotely good at and brings me any kind of happiness. I might even manage to get lucky again and make some real money again doing this. But how often does lightning strike twice?
This brings me to the last part of my update/recap/rant.
I'm sure there are people asking "Well why are you putting all your eggs in one basket? Why aren't you just publishing elsewhere?"
Well, for one, I am. And for two: Because Amazon has a fucking 80% share of the eBook market. They're the only ones who are actually doing it right. Talk to most other authors who've gone wide, ask them where most of their sales come from. They'll say Amazon.
Amazon almost effectively has a monopoly on the eBook game.
There's a story I once heard that was about a gambling man who was playing a game of cards in a small town, and he was getting fucked over badly. Very badly. Everyone could see that he was getting cheated. And someone asked him, "Why are you doing this? Why are you playing this game if they're cheating you so bad?" And the man just shrugged and said, "It's the only game in town."
Why am I still relying so heavily on Amazon? Why am I playing their game?
If you're looking to make an actual career out of writing and you aren't willing to get fucked over even worse by Big Publishing, then Amazon's functionally the only game in town.