Protection Racket

We are probably about to commit career suicide but seeing as it’s not exactly a successful glittering career, there won’t be many people at the funeral. We can always change our name. But for those who know us well, you’ll know that we would be prepared to sacrifice everything we’ve worked hard for for the sake of our principals and what is right. And we’re aiming big. We’re going after the giant that is Amazon. We know we’re never going to slay this giant and will probably lose our lives on the battlefield but we’re drawing our swords anyway and running in with battlecries. It’s how we roll.

Yesterday we released Bad Romance, the follow up to Gunning Down Romance. Or, at least, we tried. We uploaded the file to Amazon at midnight. At 6am they emailed us saying they wouldn’t publish it until we’d filled out the contributors section – we’d already put our author name in and it doesn’t say the contributors section is mandatory – so we did this and saved the file, thinking as they’d already processed it, it would be a matter of quickly amending the file and publishing it. How wrong we were. NINETEEN hours it took them to release the bloody book. So once again, we had a book launch without a book. Thank you Amazon for fucking up yet another launch. Last time they put Soul Asylum up on their site at 9am but wouldn’t let anyone buy it until 2pm. If they think ruining our launches will make us fall in line and become obedient, they clearly don’t know us. That behaviour will cause us to rebel even more.

We knew something was wrong when Ryan texted at 8:15am to tell us to stay calm if the book didn’t go live for a couple of hours. He’d experienced the rage from Soul Asylum’s first hand and doesn’t cope well with our rants. After 19 hours, even we can’t maintain our calm. But did we rant, swear and brutalise Amazon like we did at Soul Asylum’s launch? No. After 4 terrible book launches, where everything that could go wrong, did go wrong, we’ve now become resigned to the failure. So we spent the day incredibly despondent instead. It’s a good job we are seasoned in the art of depression! The Darkshines opened their painful, numbing arms to us and welcomed us back.

So we’d like to say this – Amazon, fuck you.

We are sick of Amazon treating Indie authors like shit and we are not going to sit back in silence. Most of you have probably read our ranty post about their tax system. While they now pay international authors electronically, did they let authors know about this change so they could change their settings and avoid a cheque charge? No. They put a tiny announcement in the Help section. Who visits the Help section once you’re set up? We only found out about it through a contact of someone on Twitter. See Amazon doesn’t seem to like authors very much and they appear to hate international authors even more. Smashwords on the other hand, pay by PayPal, like every other website. But Amazon don’t own PayPal so won’t use it. It’s not beneficial to them.

So after the 19 hour upload to Amazon, how long does it take to put the same file on Smashwords? Five minutes. We’re not kidding. In that time they convert it for sale across ALL e-readers. Five. Minutes. They also pay authors higher royalties on the cheap books. If you want to change your pricing, go right ahead, it’s your book. Hell, download your own book for free, after all, you own it. Amazon will not change your pricing. You also have to pay to download your own book. If you want to make your book free on Amazon and you’re NOT in KDP Select, forget it. If you’re not in the club, you’re not getting any benefits. Even if you tell Amazon the book is cheaper elsewhere. Even if you get all your friends to tell them it’s cheaper elsewhere, they won’t do it. They will not be dictated to by some nobody. But if THEY want to make your book cheaper, they will. Without telling you. Without ASKING you. It’s your book, why should you be involved in this decision?

Which brings us on to KDP Select. This is Amazon’s lending library. People can borrow your book for free. Except it’s not really borrowing because they never give it back. Basically they’re downloading it for free. And do you get paid each time this happens? LOL. Of course not. Amazon have a pot of money which they distribute between the authors in KDP Select after a period. Except when more authors join, does the pot increase? This is Amazon remember. They have increased it ONCE in the year we’ve been self publishing. Think how many authors have joined since then. We refused to sign up to KDP Select for one reason – Amazon demands once you’re in, you make your book exclusive to them for THREE MONTHS. If your book is already on another site, you have to take it down or they won’t let you in. We hate being forced into things so if anyone tries, they have  a fight on their hands. Getting us to do something we don’t agree with is the equivalent of stealing food from an angry badger. Can you imagine if libraries allowed you to stock your book with them providing you only sold through Waterstones? There would be outcry. But Amazon can get away with it. Why? Because they’re the online equivalent of a Mafia protection racket. And if Amazon want to sue us for libel on that statement, we have this to say – prove us wrong. What happens in protection rackets? You pay them money and they don’t trash your shop and destroy your livelihood. What happens with Amazon? Play by their rules and they won’t take your book off their site. We’re not joking. Why do authors put up with this? Because it’s Amazon. It’s the biggest bookseller. Everyone goes there. Smashwords is so much better for authors but hardly anyone knows of its existence. But sorry Amazon, we have swords, we can protect our own damn shop.

But what is pissing off most Indies is the reviews. Indie authors’ sales depend on reviews. If Amazon suspect that you are an author or in any way connected to a book, they will pull your review off other authors’ books. We’ve had reviews pulled off our books. Our writer friends have had their reviews taken down. Writers are readers. The two are conjoined. If you COMPLAIN that they’ve taken your review down, they tell you they suspect you have a financial connection to the book and they warn you that if continue to complain, they will remove the book from their site. Bear in mind, this isn’t your book, it’s someone else’s. They are basically saying ‘shut up or we’ll punish this innocent person.’ Protection. Racket. We read other peoples’ books, we know a lot of writers and read their books and if we want to leave a review, they will take it down. Because of ONE traditionally published author. RJ Ellory. He wrote glowing reviews on his own books and  terrible reviews on other writers’ books under a fake name. So now Amazon is punishing EVERY writer.

If Amazon read this, they will probably remove our books and ban us for life. But we’re not going to hide. In fact, we’ll tag Amazon in this post so they can find it. We’ll fight them alone if we have to. Most people will probably say ‘then leave Amazon, if you don’t like their terms.’ But this is where the protection racket side kicks in. It’s so hard to make a living as a writer. Without your books being on Amazon, you can kiss goodbye to your career. Which we’re probably doing now. Unsuccessful career, we’ve enjoyed you. So we’ll give you a kiss to remember and hope there isn’t a bounty on our heads.

Amazon, this is for you. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SO9Lj0T93Xk

To be Free or not to be Free

Last week (12th -18th November) was National Short Story Week so to celebrate, we decided to make our short horror collection, Gunning Down Romance, free. There are certain advantages to making your book free, the most important one being finding new readers, who don’t want to risk 77p/99c on an unknown author. All those people download your book and it catapults you up Amazon’s rankings, usually to the top spot, if not number one then certainly in the top 10. It doesn’t matter if your book isn’t very good, the point is, it’s FREE. Whilst your book is rubbing shoulders with Stephen King and E L James, other people who are browsing, sees your book and thinks ‘wow, that unknown author is number one? They must be great!’ So they also download your book. It’s all psychological, see. You don’t need to be Derren Brown to use mind control on people. All you have to do is make your book free.

We’d been thinking of making GDR free for a while but wanted to tie it to something. National Short Story Week seemed like a great tie-in. So we made it free on Smashwords with little effort. The problem was Amazon. Amazon is basically like a sulky mafia member who as long as you’re paying up, they will keep those  pesky vandals off your property. The problem comes when you don’t want to play their game. The game being KDP Select.

KDP Select is basically Amazon’s library. You put your book in there and people can borrow it. There’s a pot of money $600,000 that is shared out between the authors. Except as more authors join, the money DOESN’T go up. So your share of the pot goes down. Whilst in Select, your book is made free across Amazon at certain times. You can choose when. Correct us if we’re wrong on this. However, when we published GDR, we opted out of Select. We’d read up on it and a lot of authors who had enrolled their cheap books, didn’t find any benefit to being in Select – people didn’t think they were getting much of a bargain. But our biggest reason for not joining, was that Amazon demand you make your book exclusive to them for 3 months.

We don’t think so.

To us, this is like that kid at school who ‘allowed’ you to be their friend, only if you ditched your less cool friends. It feels a lot like peer pressure – ‘join us! All the cool authors are in Select. You don’t want to be the only ones NOT in it, do you?’ Sorry Amazon, but one thing we’ve always excelled at, is resisting peer pressure. We don’t WANT to join the masses. And we are the most stubbornest people ever. So your offer of money won’t work on us. We don’t like being told to do, especially by a faceless corporation. At the time GDR was published, the only way a UK author could get their book onto Barnes and Noble, iTunes and Kobo, was through Smashwords. This has changed slightly now the Nook and Kobo have arrived in the UK. So giving up Smashwords for 3 months and missing out on their vast distribution, seemed stupid. Plus the royalties on Smashwords for a 99c book, was higher than Amazon’s ‘generous’ 35%

So this was the downfall of our plan. Because we wouldn’t play Amazon’s game, they refused to play ours. You can’t make your book free unless you’re in Select. The only thing you can do, is tell them your book is free elsewhere and hope they price match. But this is Amazon. They’re not going to let a couple of nobodies tell them when to put the price down. THEY decide if and when they lower the price and THEY decide when they put it back up. So they refused. And our plan to shoot up the rankings failed. We didn’t receive thousands of downloads, we didn’t get to number one and we didn’t knock Stephen King off his podium and take a screen shot of the glorious moment.

Has Amazon made us see the error of our ways and convinced us to join the cool authors in Select? Yeah, right. What they’ve shown us is that Smashwords is more author friendly. We’ve never given in to society’s pressure to conform and we’re not about to start now. In future, all our promotions will be on Smashwords. So we’ll never shoot up the rankings, see our books at the number one spot and be able to showboat at Stephen King.

But we’re cool with that.

You see, Amazon is like this big puppet master, dangling authors off its fingertips because it knows we all need it. However, that doesn’t mean we’re going to play by its rules. So sorry, Amazon – you can pull our strings but you’ll never make us dance.

Failure to Launch

*Cue creepy astronaut’s voice* “Smashwords, we have a problem.” Yesterday Smashwords was down. All day. So we couldn’t publish Gunning Down Romance. Amazon released it a day early, Smashwords a day late. So our big Valentine’s launch did not happen on Valentine’s Day.

Here’s the link https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/132849

New users to the site will have an adult filter automatically on so go to the bottom of the page and switch it off or you won’t be able to find our book without the direct link *pointing above* it’s pending approval for the premium catalogue so expect a ranting blog if it doesn’t get in 😉

Cheque please!

We are now so close to being indie authors we can feel it tingling on our tongues, like the first sweet taste of a new Red Bull. We are so excited we can barely keep still. After nothing but rejections since June, we’ll finally be able to see our work in print again. And we’ve done it all ourselves. We’ve learned how to format, how to do cover designs, make book trailers, how to upload to Amazon and Smashwords, how to confuse bank staff with international dealings.

We decided to test things out by uploading our book to Amazon and Smashwords to make sure the formatting was good. We’ve heard from other indie authors that Smashwords can be a nightmare so we wanted to be prepared. On Amazon, the answer was no. It had done weird things to some of the lines. After a brief strop and rant, we figured out what the problem was – we hadn’t uploaded it in HTML. Future note – upload to Amazon in HTML, to Smashwords in .doc. Problem solved. For Amazon you must put the account in your real name then once you’ve uploaded it, you click on Contributors and that’s where you put your pen name. That all caused a headache. We didn’t realise it went live on Smashwords immediately and before we’d had a chance to download and check it, two people had already downloaded the free sample. Panicking, we unpublished it and downloaded it in epub format to Adobe Digital Editions and to our Kindle app. Both look great 🙂 We’ve now shrunk the font and it’s all looking good. Seeing it in our Kindle app makes it so real, so exciting. Our mum is very impressed with what we’ve done. So are we. We can just about figure out Word!

But we knew it wouldn’t be that easy. The problem lies with Amazon’s royalty payments. As soon as our brains see numbers, they melt into a big pile of goo. Amazon give you the option of cheque or electronic transfer. We chose electronic transfer for Britain, spent ages hunting out our international bank account number and Bank Identifier Code then clicked on EFT for America. It asked for a routing number. We stared at the screen blankly before asking Google what it was. We spent ALL AFTERNOON Googling routing numbers. Apparently they’re something American banks have. We managed to find the routing numbers for almost every American branch of HSBC but none for the UK. So the next day we headed to HSBC. And utterly confused 3 members of staff, including the manager. They’d never heard of a routing number. To think they were probably having a nice easy day before we showed up in our Gothic clothes mumbling about international payments like we were rogue pirates trying to stash our booty in off-shore accounts. We were taken aside while the nice man in a suit searched the database. We helpfully told him he’d learned something new today. He said he’d be going home with a headache. We were there for half an hour. Cat’s phone text kept going off, blasting Alice Cooper’s Poison into the proceedings. In the end the manager gave the man a directory of numbers. From 2007. Our branch wasn’t listed. How we laughed. We left him confused and probably needing a good lie down then changed our Amazon option to ‘cheque.’ One problem – they only pay by cheque once your royalties reach $100. What if they never reach it? Do they withhold our money? Are we going to have to don our pirate dresses, grab our swords and steal back our booty? After scouring the KDP forums, we were none the wiser. No-one knows what happens. This seems totally unfair to those publishing outside America, who have no choice but to choose cheque payments.

Pirate dresses it is.