Depressed & Looking For Advice

Hey everyone. I’m making this kind of in a spur of the moment decision. Probably not the best idea, but I don’t have a lot of people to talk to, honestly.

I’m kind of depressed. I know some of it, maybe a lot of it, has to do with the fact that it’s winter and that tends to trash me. I’ve been tired and slow and irritable since winter really began to set in. But some of it just has to do with me wondering why?

Let me try to get my thoughts out, then ask for some advice.

I’ve slowed down a lot this year in terms of writing. I used to be able to bang out a novel a month. But now it’s taking me a few months to get anything written. Some of it is that I’m still getting used to writing whole novels, as opposed to episodes, and part of it is that 2018 has just been a mess for me, professionally and personally.

But I do research, looking into the ‘similar authors’ and ‘also bought’ sections, and I see a lot of stories similar to the type of stuff I write. Hand-drawn covers, fantastical type stories in a sci-fi or paranormal or fantasy setting, harem with lots of women, sometimes inhuman, lots of sex and action.

Only, all these other books have hundreds upon hundreds of reviews. These authors are regularly topping the charts. And not just Erotica, but other, more difficult to attain charts. People are obsessed with them, thousands upon thousands of people, they have hundreds, if not thousands of followers on Twitter or Facebook.

So I was hoping someone could help me. What am I doing wrong? What am I lacking? What am I missing in this equation?

I still haven’t stopped worrying about if I’m just a bad writer. I mean, obviously some people seem to like my work, but am I just not good enough to achieve that success? On the one hand, I actually did begin to achieve that insane level of success back in May, but then Amazon ripped it away from me. So was that a fluke? Was I just lucky and it would have died off no matter what? Can I do it again?

I guess the question I have that I don’t honestly think anyone can answer, because it’s all just opinion, is: do I suck at writing or not? I don’t know if I’ll ever actually answer the question for myself.

But again, advice? Thoughts? It would be appreciated.

Feel Good Stories

This is kind of just a rambling blog post.

I’ve been dealing with the notion that I’ve been, for the most part, writing what I guess could be called ‘feel good’ stories, or fluff, or whatever you want to call it, basically since the beginning. Its obvious to me that one of my weaknesses (I’m sure there are many more I’m not even aware of) as a writer is that a lot of my stories lack conflict.

I feel like I’m getting a little better about it with my latest works, primarily my Demoness series, but for someone who writes a LOT about romantic entanglements and harem situations, I don’t really put any relationship drama into my works.

The honest truth about why my stories, which are frequently part of a genre or archetype plot that is supposed to be full to bursting with drama, lack that quality, is that…I just don’t like it.

I’ve always been a pretty laid back person. Even in my youth, when I was a lot more emotionally unstable, I never liked conflict. For the most part, I don’t feed off of conflict and drama the way so many other people seem to.

I think the simple notion that reality TV exists and is popular speaks to the fact that there is apparently a vast demographic of people who basically get off on watching other people scream at each other, or scheme and connive behind each other’s backs, trying to figure out the best way to fuck each other over.

I’ve never seen the appeal in that. I don’t like my characters fighting, I don’t like the ‘will-they, won’t-they?’ drama that so many romance stories seem to be built on. I mean hell, most of my characters just start having sex within a few hours of meeting each other, if not sooner.

I suppose the primary reason, if I’m looking at it with a more critical writer’s eye, that I don’t do this is because it feels false. When I’m coming up with my plots, I never try to inject…well, anything, really. Everything that I put in my books, I want to feel natural, like it belongs there.

Drama feels really artificial to me. It’s like how a lot of people are uncomfortable with the more modern Avengers movies because some of them have some seriously unnecessary jokes written into them. I hate forced comedy. Not every scenes needs a fucking joke, and it really just robs a lot of scenes of any power they have when a character unnecessarily shoots off a one-liner.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind comedy in movies, and there are some comedy movies that I love. I hate forced comedy. I hate it when it felt like someone had to use a prybar to wedge a completely unnecessary joke into a scene. Thor 3 and Guardians of the Galaxy 2 were guilty of this. And yes, I do understand that Guardians is largely a sillier and more comedic, but that’s just it. Guardians 1, and most of the scenes with the Guardians in Infinity War, felt a lot more natural because the writing was better and it didn’t feel like the writers were trying to force comedy in there. They let the situation be as funny as it needed to be.

I’m sure this is being done because Disney is trying to appeal to not only as broad an audience as possible, but also to a younger demographic.

I frequently find myself just getting frustrated when drama arises because it so often seems unnecessary. Thus, my stories are largely bereft of relationship drama. Amazonian’s Love is a definite example of the opposite of this, where I actually tried to put a little bit of drama into it from the beginning, it was the mindset I had when I began planning it. I don’t know if I did a good job or not. I just hope people liked it.

But honestly, the more I think about it, the more time goes on, the less bad I feel about writing feel good stories. It’s never been any mystery to me that life fucking sucks. There’s a lot of bad shit out there, a lot of bad people. A lot of shit people, honestly. People that just hate. I think it’s why I write what I write. I’d rather write about love, and people getting along, and being happy, and dealing with problems in a more realistic way. (Emotional problems, I mean. Using magic or sci-fi tech isn’t the most realistic way to deal with your problems.)

I’d rather write about people feeling good than people suffering. I guess I feel like there’s enough suffering out there. Of course that doesn’t necessarily stop me from writing about different kinds of conflict, and stories can’t be all happy all the time, even feel good harem stories where everyone gets along and fucks. Conflict is part of the storytelling process.

So yeah, kind of a rambling rant on why there’s no relationship drama in most of my works. Hopefully it was an entertaining read. I guess I should get back to writing Parasexual 2 and Demoness IV!

Post-Crisis Update or How Amazon Quartered My Income For No Reason

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.


Hello,

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 content-review@amazon.com 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.

Regards,

Amazon KDP


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.

Jan Stryvant was fucked over for no reason.

J. A. Cipriano's Amazon account was unceremoniously executed.

Michael-Scott Earle was ripped out of Amazon abruptly.

David Gaughran has been writing about this stuff for awhile now.

Here's a good article from Deanna's World talking more about this whole thing.

The same thing happened to A. D. McCammon.

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.

Popular Erotica?

I don't really know how to approach this, because I'm not a particularly subtle or nuanced person. I certainly can't approach it from the point of view of anything resembling social justice, because this thing I'm going to talk about is at least somewhat motivated by my own personal frustrations at getting left behind and overlooked in the erotica market.

Right now, I'm in the middle of updating my entire backlist with new cover art and formatting, in the hopes of appearing a bit more put-together and possibly drawing in additional readers. For the most part, I try not to just fire and forget my stories. Unfortunately, I have over 200 titles, (almost all of them short or collections), so it's taking, like, fucking forever.

But sometimes I peruse the best sellers, or even just check out titles I see in the also bought section of my own works.

I shouldn't. It's a bad idea because it's just depressing. It seems like pretty much everyone else is doing better than me.

What's starting to really get to me though is that it seems like erotica that goes out of its way to intentionally objectify women is selling off the shelves. It's always hitting the top charts. Now...I don't really want to swerve into 'moral high ground' territory, partially because I do write erotica where one guy fucks a lot of women and it pretty much always turns into a harem situation, and partially because I understand the difference between fantasy and reality, and I think pretty much everyone has fucked up fantasies, and that's fine.

So I'm not here to shame people or advocate tearing these stories down or anything. I actually just want to co-exist.

It's just that...when I check out the 1 and 2 star reviews, they almost always say the same things: The women are flat, one-dimensional, useless characters who exist only to be fucked and satisfy the male lead. I mean, that's a pretty common complaint.

To be clear, I don't think I'm an amazing writer, or that I have great characters, but I do at least intentionally try to inject certain things into my writing. Namely, I try to give the female characters some depth, with their own motivations and problems that don't revolve around getting fucked by the main character. Nor do the women rely entirely on him. I try to mix it up, but I frequently feature strong female protagonists and side characters. I try not to make it overt, because I know how easily that gets subverted into other things. I also try to work in themes like consent and respect and trust and communication. Again, I try not to make it overbearing, more just work it into the narrative.

As the author, I don't know how well I do, but no one's really complained so far, so that's something at least.

But I guess what got me really thinking on this was this title called Alpha Online. I don't want to link to it because clearly it has enough exposure and maybe that's just being petty but I'm honestly in a shit mood right now because it's been a really fucking stressful year so far.

Anyway, it's got all the sort of cliched, annoying things I've spent a long time trying to avoid in the description, with the bold-faced words about SEXY, SUBMISSIVE WOMEN just waiting to be DOMINATED BY A TRUE ALPHA. Like, come on, am I the only one who finds that just laughably lame? And I'm not even ripping on the author. I mean, I find this shit in like lots of top-selling erotica. Who are all these people that don't find this blatant, in-your-fucking-face marketing a total turn off?

I guess what I'm really digging at here is...where are all these people who lament how blatantly stupid and pandering erotica writing and marketing has gotten? I mean, I get it, I know that erotica is mainly here as fantasy fulfillment and to get you off. And that's fine. But this is just getting ridiculous.

Where are these people who apparently hate shallow, one-dimension characters and pandering wish-fulfillment fantasies? They apparently have bought a lot of this stuff that they hate, because they're frequently leaving reviews complaining about how much they hate them. So what's preventing them from following that thought train through to the end and seeking out erotica that has more positive views on strong female characters and consent and happy, trusting relationships? Those don't seem to be hitting any of the bestseller rankings.

Like I said, I'm not completely sure how to go about this, and I'm not really trying to tear down anyone else. I just wish me and authors like me would stop getting passed over when we are apparently trying to service an aspect of the market that is being sorely asked for, and yet the askers are just ignoring us.

It's almost like there's an abusive relationship theme in there.

Should I just give up? I don't just 'write whatever sells'. I try to find a happy balance between writing what I want to (and can) write and what people want to read. There's some stuff I won't write because I suck at it and some stuff I'm not so sure about writing because I feel like it would clash with the themes I've been cultivating for over three years now with my works.

But should I just compromise on that? I need to pay my bills, I'm not even asking to be rich or mega successful. I guess I'm just wondering if I should start writing about A HAREM OF HOT SLUTS just begging for TOTAL DOMINATION by a REAL MAN.

Shit, I don't know.