Business Musings: Sometimes I Just React…

Business Musings: Sometimes I Just React…

I don’t get it. I really don’t.

You’d think they all started out wanting to tell their own stories. You’d think they identified themselves as writers first, not book stuffers or algorithm gamers.

But I have no idea, really, and I’ve been part of the indie movement almost from the beginning.

You see, at lunch today, I finally had a chance to read Sarah Jeong’s article in Verge titled “Bad Romance.”  She beautifully lays out the games that writers have played on Kindle Unlimited, from the dawn of Kindle Unlimited.

She finally put #cockygate into context for me. I had been out of it this spring, and missed how that entire debacle came about. That it sprang from one of those lists where writers who gamed the system gathered did not surprise me. What surprised me was that I had missed the beginning entirely.

If you haven’t read her piece, you should. It takes the entire Kindle Unlimited experience and codifies it. All of those changing algorithms, all of the ways to game the system, all of the scams and desperate schemes get mentioned here—and more importantly, get put into context.

When you live through them, context means very little.

Back when I started blogging on publishing in 2010 (after writing The Freelancer’s Survival Guide on this site in 2009), I had the lovely experience of being trashed repeatedly by the Kindle Unlimited folks. Only there wasn’t Unlimited—not yet. There was just the Kindle Boards, where writers gathered to talk.

And what they talked about was what professional writers everywhere talk about—how to make money. (We don’t dare discuss craft with each other for fear that we’ll insult our peers. We all have friends who have great writing careers, whom we believe {in our heart of hearts} can’t write their way out of a paper bag. And, we know, that some of our friends think the same thing about us. It’s better to discuss quantifiable things, like money, instead of qualitative things, like craft. {See my post on “Taste” from last week.})

That “how to make money” thing took on a life of its own on the Kindle Boards. It wasn’t about how to improve your storytelling to make money. It wasn’t about those old-fashioned systems like agents or traditional publishers or contracts, although there occasionally was talk like that.

Instead, it was about which subgenres sold, and how many books you had to write and publish each month to stay ahead of the algorithms. It was about writing short so that you had more books published (in the early days) or putting the table of contents at the end so that the algorithm would think someone who clicked there had read the whole book.

Then things got even crazier. Book stuffing—filling your book with random junk so that you could be credited with 3,000 pages read. Hiring ghost writers at $700 a pop (which is cheap, considering I live with one of the best ghost writers of the 1990s—and he never ghosted for less than 20K on a short project) so that the writer can maintain her weekly publication schedule.

Writer groups deciding which sub-sub-subgenre should ascend to the heights of the Amazon algorithms by writing a bunch of shapeshifter stories (erotica, mostly, and um, ick—I can’t help but think of bestiality) or writing about mountain men or whatever the current sub-sub-sub-genre is this week.

Lost in all of this is a love for writing. For storytelling. For being the best at your craft that you can possibly be.

And that’s what I don’t understand.

Once upon a time, these writers had to have a dream about being published. Or being known as a great writer. Or writing the great American novel.

What happened? Was it too hard? Did they get sucked into the vortex of sales and algorithms and games instead of doing the hard work of learning to improve with each story?

Some of you are going to write to me and say that these folks never were writers. And while I agree that there were a number of scammers who jumped on board when Amazon started its Kindle program, there were also a lot of wannabe writers who wanted to make a living at their fiction.

A lot of those writers—including many of you who have followed my blog for years—tried some of the early techniques and decided that those techniques destroyed all the great aspects about being an artist.

A number of the Kindle Board writers made a boatload of money every single month…for a while. Then Amazon changed the algorithms or the way it paid, and a lot of those writers vanished. Some of the writers changed with the algorithm, probably to continue the lifestyle they had cultivated when they were earning mid-five figures per month. (Note 7/27: See David Vandyke’s comment below about the changes in the Kindle Boards.)

At some point, though, that hamster wheel had to get really tiring. Writers jumped off and went to other things. New writers jumped on, though.

And I still don’t get why.

I guess I would rather be a writer first, and a business person second. I know how to make a lot more money at my writing; I refuse to make the compromises necessary to do so.

Full disclosure, though: when Dean and I were repaying the Pulphouse debt through the 1990s, we did so with writing. Which meant that we took on a lot of work-for-hire projects in TV and gaming and movie universes, but we still had a rule. Those universes had to be ones we liked (at worst) and loved (at best). Many of those books were fun, and had the added benefit of paying a lot of money for only a few weeks worth of work.

It is a hamster wheel, though. At some point, you have to leave that kind of writing or you will burn out. The writing ceases to be something you enjoy, and it becomes sheer drudgery.

Which brings me back to those writers, the ones in the “Bad Romance” article, the ones who still hang on, chasing trends, even after years of unsatisfying work. I don’t get it.

Don’t they value writing? Book stuffing tells me that they don’t. Or that some of them don’t.

I feel for these writers, though. Because I think that, buried beneath the numbers and the terror about Amazon changing its system yet again and the constant scramble, there’s a disappointed artist. A writer who wanted to tell great stories, and is instead writing in sub-sub-subgenres they don’t even like.

But I could be wrong.

Because, as I said, I don’t get this.

And I’m not sure I want to.

***

I like writing these nonfiction blog posts about the publishing industry, or I wouldn’t work so hard to hit my deadline.

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“Business Musings: Sometimes I Just React…,” copyright © 2018 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Image at the top of the blog © Can Stock Photo / kit8.




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27 responses to “Business Musings: Sometimes I Just React…”

  1. acflory says:

    Ugh. This is like turning over a rock and finding nothing but maggots.

    The only reason I use KDP Select is for the 5 free days. Once the promotion is over, I take the book out. KU has never interested me, either as a reader or a writer. I’ve tried enough smorgasbords to know that all you can eat rarely equates to delicious food. Plus…I’ve never believed that Amazon actually has the technology to ‘track’ how many pages are read. Given the TOC-at-back scams, that now seems pretty obvious, so the core premise on which KU is based is…a scam. If readers did have to read each page for writers to be paid, I doubt that many scammers would bother to game the system.

    Can you image factories of book farmers sitting there, thumbing the Kindle page turn for hours on end?

    I’m sure some desperate people would do it, but it simply would not be as cost effective /for the scammer/.

    Some future version of the Kindle may well provide genuine page-read technology, but until it does, the scams will continue and some writers will take a gamble on the money. The thing I can’t understand is why readers continue to stay subscribed. Why do they put up with it?

    If I picked up a book that was full of gibberish, I don’t think I’d be terribly happy, even if it didn’t actually cost me anything. -shrug-

    I suspect KU is going to limp along until things get so bad that subscribers leave in droves. Then, Amazon will probably pull the plug with a sigh of relief. Nudge-nudge-wink-wink tech always fails in the end.

  2. […] KRIS RUSCH: SOMETIMES I JUST REACT […]

  3. Kim Iverson says:

    These are things I had no idea about. My editor is the one who pointed out to me that so many romance books are coming across mostly as cookie cutter and explaining that was why she appreciated the way I wrote. Reading this, it makes more sense. I have read (in my early days) a lot of things based on how to specifically categorize books to sit in the most popular areas to get the sales. That much I was aware of, but this just seems like a lot of work. I can understand why some individuals would want to go that route (easy money they’re figuring) but at the same time, I truly feel things are going to change. Readers are smart (hey, we are them) so they’re going to be discerning and not so quick to grab. Because that really is who holds the pull in this world. The people (us included) who grab those books and choose whether to spend on them or not. My entire practice has changed and now I’m focused more on my readers because of things like this too. Not as much noise for them, more value for them, doing things for THEM. Not the scammers, not the people who just want those freebies to stack up and will never read the book. But the true readers who value a good story (like myself) so KU doesn’t bother me. Every time someone complains, I ask them straight out, “why are you exclusive to Amazon?” That shuts it down, fast. That tide is changing. Self-publishing is no longer new and I feel we’re in the changing tide. Readers always have the final word and the scam way isn’t going to work anymore. Readers want a good story.

  4. Please edit your post to make it clear that KBoards, which used to be KindleBoards, hasn’t allowed promulgation of black-hat or even questionable KU tactics in years, if it ever did.

    The groups that share and promote such despicable practices have all gone underground into secret FB pages and forums, away from the light of day. In fact, KBoards has always, in my experience of posting there for several years, led the fight against these practices.

    Feel free to visit us and see.

  5. While The Verge article is good, it barely scratches the surface of what’s going on. As a paranormal romance writer, I watch it all develop and watch my visibility disappear on a weekly basis. Sometimes daily.

    Most of the current crop of KU scammers aren’t writers at all. They don’t understand even the most basic things about being a reader either. See #cockygate as Exhibit A. I watched that unfold hour by hour and was elated when RWA stepped in. That’s exactly how I want my dues money spent.

    There’s a writer on Medium who’s done quite a bit of expose on all this stuff. And then she had to stop because the scammers targeted her with vicious bullying and threats to her physical safety. This one is particularly sobering and it set off the bullying, https://medium.com/legendary-women/amazon-scammers-an-unregulated-group-pushing-out-women-lgbt-and-african-american-authors-in-4c96b156a14d

    I write in two romance genres that are extremely popular in KU. And I refuse to go into KU because of all of this. I’m not playing that game. I’m not going to allow scammers to use my books to cover up their illegal and TOS shattering tactics. They do that, use real books to cover up their tactics. If you’re vocal about how they need to be shut down and you’re in KU, you’re an instant target to have your account closed. They’ve done it to dozens of authors who had the guts to say something on Facebook or Twitter.

    They’ll also take KU books and put them up in iBooks so the real author of the books gets nastygrams from Amazon. Apple is known to be difficult about it and authors have had their accounts shut down on Amazon due to Apple’s refusal to respond in a timely manner. RWA’s had to get involved in that multiple times over the last year.

    The romance community, where the scamming is most prevalent, has been screaming at Amazon since month two of KU’s existence to do something about this. It’s only been since RWA and Author’s Guild threatened legal action against them in May that they’ve finally done something.

    There’s also money laundering going on in Createspace, and identify theft. I’m hoping a credit card company goes after them for their refusal to address that.

  6. RLB Hartmann says:

    While, like everyone else, I wanted to make a living and have epic movies made of my work, it was the writing that I LOVED; I HATED even querying in those first hopeful years — thankful now that nothing came of those wasted hours and SASEs — so “gaming” when it came along held NO appeal. I’ve never done Free online promotions (gave out a handful of Create space discount codes when those were redeemable; donated a very few free copies to blogger/WWofA/or author signing events), and that was IT. I watched friends brag about 3,000 free downloads and wondered anew at how doing such a thing could boost sales, when the reader base was being eroded at such a rate.

  7. Anthea Sharp says:

    Basically, they aren’t authors. They are internet marketers scamming a highly exploitable system using ghosted material, packaged and re-packaged, and using all kinds of questionable tactics. Many of them score the All Star Bonuses in KU ($25k a month bonus isn’t anything to sneeze at).

    Some legitimate authors felt like they “had” to cheat too, in order to compete. That’s not working out all that well for them, now that Amazon is cleaning house~

  8. Anthea Sharp says:

    It’s not writers who are part of these Mastermind groups. It’s internet marketers/get rich quick schemers who saw that Kindle Unlimited could be exploited for large amounts of money (as “S” says above).

    Of course, there’s a bit of chicken/egg, because some authors DID see that the system was gameable early on and made money – which drew the absolute black-hatters to come play. The book stuffers are not authors, for the most part. They pay ghostwriters, and they recycle the same books in their own collections as well as re-selling the content to other stuffers to change the details and put into their own packages. They are content packagers scamming the system for all it’s worth.

    Did legit authors get caught up in it? To a certain extent, I think that some authors bought into the “everyone cheats the line a little – I have to do this in order to compete.” That’s coming back to bite them, and hard.

    There’s shock and outrage about some of the authors getting their accounts banned at Amazon. Like you, Kris, I’ve been indie from the early days (2011) and I’ve seen some things. I CAN tell you that the people who are being banned and having their accounts frozen have acted outside the Amazon TOS – probably in more ways than one. They are not innocent authors trying to make a living. They have stepped over the line and got caught in some shady dealings. I know of NO legitimate author banned who did not end up getting their account reinstated. The people who are not getting reinstated? Well, I’m pretty sure there are solid reasons behind that.

  9. Craig Reed says:

    I write the type of stories I like to read. Shapeshifter romance don’t interest me, so I won’t write that. I have nothing against that sort of novel, but it doesn’t interest me. I have to write stories I would read, or else I can’t write it. I fully believe that unless you enjoy writing that story, it becomes a chore to slog through instead of something you want to do.

    The people using the techniques above are not authors: they are scam artists masquerading as authors. If they stoop to these techniques, they have no confidence in their writing and need to be blacklisted ASAP. I have three co-authored books up on Amazon Kindle Select and a fourth on the way. They are honest works, with none of the crap noted above. But the fact we are competing with fraud and deception angers me, and I hope these lazy SOBs are driven out of the arena and let honest writers compete for reader’s attention.

  10. […] (1) GOOD THOUGHTS ON BAD PRACTICES. Kristine Kathryn Rusch comments on historic efforts to game Amazon’s algorithms. “Business Musings: Sometimes I Just React…” […]

  11. LindaB says:

    By all accounts, the book stuffers make, or made, a lot of money. And I do mean reams and reams of money. For a certain kind of person, that’s what they want. It doesn’t matter if the books are junk, or if they’re doing something shady or downright illegal. They’re making tons of money! Very heady, especially in today’s climate where scum in the highest places don’t suffer for their wrongdoings.

    Enter the ethical writer who would also like to make reams of money (wouldn’t we all), but won’t do what the scammers do. The ethical writer learns his craft and writes a lot. And maybe makes only a little money. Doing the right thing isn’t paying, and she gets discouraged and stops. Sad, but human nature.

    And what makes it worse, is that the scum defends what they do to high heaven. I belong to a writers’ group on Facebook that contains one of the writers who was part of Chance Carter’s group of scammers. And she defended him, stridently and continuously. By following his lead, she made tons of money with her writing and wouldn’t hear anything against him. She sounded like a cult follower.

    Discouraging, very discouraging, especially for a new writer or a burned-out one.

  12. Thomas E says:

    I think the one single (IMHO) most valuable piece of advice Dean gives is often overlooked:

    Have fun.

  13. sabrinachase says:

    Some of those writers may have thought “my stories are so much better than the ones put up by the rule exploiters, so if I do it too I will achieve Lasting Success!” Their lack of experience both makes them unable to correctly evaluate the sales gimmick, and creates feelings of insecurity. With experience comes confidence and internal standards of what a writer will and will not do for (temporary) sales. Yes, you have warned them repeatedly but they can’t distinguish between your advice and the advice of the gimmick riders because (again) lack of experience…

  14. alicesabo says:

    Perhaps some of them were like me – looking for the “rules” and didn’t realized it was a scam. We all knew the Trad Pub rules that started with researching agents and had steps to achieve to get published. Indie doesn’t have any rules, as it is often proudly touted. But I like rules. So when someone, who seems to be knowledgeable, offers me a system of do this, then that, then that, I happily jumped on it.

    I was saved from falling into a really bad scam only because I didn’t have the money at the time. I didn’t realize until much later (when the law suits started) how lucky I was. But it was billed as the logical next step in marketing. And many people seemed to be doing it.

    Everyone says you have to find your own way, but some of those ways are wolves in sheep’s clothing. You have to already know about something that you haven’t encountered yet. And as a new industry, it keeps changing and the scams along with it. We’re all looking for solutions to book discovery, but now I am much more leery of each “something new” that comes down the pike.

    I’m a storyteller first, but I also want to be a competent business person. Researching and gleaning nuggets from success stories can make you think you found the right path. Until it is unveiled as dodgy. There’s too much loose information and advice on things that change too quickly. It’s confusing and frustrating to get a handle on best practices for a realistic business. So I might be “leaving money on the table” but for right now, I just write, publish and do a little simple marketing. Those are my “rules”.

  15. Good morning Kris. I may be able to help you a bit with the understanding.

    I’m a War Gamer. Been one since the Sixties if you count chess and checkers as war games. I know I do.

    There’s a term in war gaming — playing the rules, not playing the game. By playing the rules some early Star Fleet Battles players had a Federation-Klingon war where neither side left their starbases. The developer had missed one tiny error in the phaser damage rule… It was possible to damage a ship at infinite range if you rolled a 1 on a six sided die.

    That’s what these folks are doing. I know a guy who does this with websites. Or did it. He counted on people missspelling thing — typing in Googke.Com would take you to an advertising website. At the bottom it had a link to Google.com.

    They think like the warehouse workers in that Dire Straights song, Money for Nothing. They want money, without the effort. I’ve met a variety of them over the years. Some go nuts over Multi-level Marketing. Others try hacking the Kindle Unlimited algorithms. Others try working the Google algorithms. Some give marketing seminars with the perfect advice on how to make millions in real estate or the stock market.

    Some of them are driven by fear. Fear of poverty. Some are driven by greed. Some are driven by the challenge.

    All tend to be extremely toxic people to know. All they want to talk about is their current scam. They have a lot in common with the more extreme sects of most world religions. The Fundamentalist Evangelicals in the USA being a good (or is that bad) example.

    They know best, and everyone else better get with it their way or else. Normal writers are a bunch of idiots who rely on luck to their way of thinking.

    Dealing with people like this is a waste of time and effort.

    Regards

    Wayne

  16. Teri Babcock says:

    Amazon is a mess. I only buy books there if I know the title/author I want already. Search specificity is non-existant. Despite the highly granular nature of their search function. Every small niche is full of books that don’t belong, put there by authors trying to game the algorithm for visibility. And I’ve given up searching ‘historical fiction’ entirely because the category is jammed with lairds and their wenches. There’s no way to eliminate romance books from the selections.
    At one point I was going to invest in the subscription so I could read KU books, but I doubt a lot of the books I was interested in are still in KU, with how writers are pulling legitimate books in droves. KDP has always had big gaps that could be easily exploited and Amazon has been extremely slow to address those gaps, which works against anyone trying to provide actual entertainment, instead of pamphlets or stuffed books.

    As for the people chasing trends and writing books they don’t particularly like or wouldn’t read, I feel sick at the thought of doing that myself. I was always afraid that if I made my writing into work I would stop loving it, and that would be the worst thing I could possibly do.
    There are other ways to make money — even lot of money. So many times I’d read someone’s post about how hard they’d been working evenings and weekends for so many years and how many books published and no time off and they were burning out. And I’d think, if they’d spent that time and commitment learning financial markets, stock market analysis etc., they would be making money trading now. If you want $$$, there’s better ways.
    If you have to write, you have to write whether or not you get paid. If you get paid well, you have time to write as much as you want.

  17. Natalie K. says:

    Kris, I read that article too and I thought of you! I was going to send it to you but forgot (but obviously you saw it anyway!). I completely agree with everything you said. Just reading that article made me feel miserable! I can’t imagine spending that much time trying to game the algorithms. Not only would that suck the joy out of writing—it would suck the joy out of my entire LIFE. I just don’t get it.

  18. Some folks are happy with the logic, “If the rules let you, then why not do it?” They exist in every aspect of life, to the misery of the rest of us.

  19. Kessie says:

    Yeah, the KU abusers have really ruined it for everybody else. Certain genres still have a huge readership there, like paranormal cozy mysteries. I keep those in KU, but my other books I take wide.

    Kboards has had an interesting tidal shift in the last year. It’s not as easy to make money as it was, so people are doing what you talk about here–they’re trying to get back to writing what gives them joy. Not everybody, because there’s still people trying to game the system, but more and more, there’s a shift happening. Lots of people who wrote erotica are burning out and going back to writing fantasy or whatever. (Apparently writing erotica becomes this soul-sucking monster after a while. Who knew?) A ton of people have disappeared. I still drop by there every so often to learn about the latest promo strategies, but it’s not the fairy wonderland it once was. :-p

  20. There was a time (and it may still be true, I havent checked) when the bestseller list for SciFi on Amazon was full of vampire romance or similar books. I stopped looking at the best seller list on Amazon since then.

    On Amazon UK, there is a sub-category called British Horror. I used to find good books there, until recently the top sellers have all been American / Romance / Erotica with a hint of horror (oh look, a werewolf! Also, half naked!) They didnt even pretend to be British.

    I liked these sub-genres, as they often gave me books I liked, but which weren’t popular with the mainstream, like science fiction detective stories. But now I’ve just given up.

    And don’t even get me started on Amazon ads. I know some writers find them useful. But as a reader, Im looking for books on business growth, and seeing ads for erotica. Looking for books on meditation, seeing ads for urban fantasy. And I’m like, Come on, people, are you even trying?

    The first time someone makes an ad blocker for Amazon ads, I’m buying it.

    Sigh. Enough ranting.

  21. I saw some form of this in Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea fandom. This was internet, but prior to indie. I was on a mailing list then and one of the fan fiction fans was lamenting that she wanted to be professionally published. Thinking that she was like me and wanted to write all the time eventually because she enjoyed it, I suggested a couple of things. I got flame-throwed. That writer thought that you had to game the system by paying an editor, not improving her writing skills. There’s another writer on Facebook who’s been asking all her writer friends for a referral to a Hollywood agent because “she writes scripts in all genres.” My former co-writer thought that if he made the right networking contact with an agent, we’d get our foot in the door and magic would happen.

    Somehow, somewhere along the line, these people who want to be writers are being taught that the only way you can be a successful writer, you have to have to game the system or make the right contact or choose the right genre. Even Amazon teaches the writers that, with getting the right page count read in Unlimited–not that you have to write good books. So the writers are peddling as fast as they can to keep up with Amazon, and Amazon keeps changing the rules.

    And for something on how craft does make a difference. From 2014 on, I spent a lot of time focusing on specific craft skills that I needed help on. I worked really hard on them (much pain and suffering in the beginning because I learned bad habits). I ended writing a SF series by accident. I decided earlier this year to finally go to another level and signed up for a writing workshop I’d been putting off. It put me in the position where I ran across a call for a bundle. It was for military SF. I had a book that had a lot of military in it, was SF, but military SF…well… Then I decided I’d let the curator make the decision, so I posted the link. Figured he wouldn’t be interested. Next thing I know, I’m contacted by Kevin J. Anderson asking if it was available. And I ended up in StoryBundle! But if I hadn’t spent all my time focusing on craft like I had, there is absolutely no doubt I would not have gotten into that bundle. If I hadn’t been focusing on pushing my skills, I would have never ended up in the workshop where I came into contact with that call for the bundle.

    Yet, in hindsight, most of what I see on writing is not really on craft. It’s on checking boxes to get to the next stage.

  22. Kate Pavelle says:

    Sigh… yep, it’s easy to get sucked into the algorithms and the data crunching, and have the business brain take over the writing brain. In my case, all it took was getting two best-seller books under a group name, and suddenly I felt like the pressure was on. Suddenly making money turned from a happy surprise to an expectation and even though I had really enjoyed writing those two books, trying to recreate the experience resulted in a painful writing experience and a mediocre payout.
    I switched genres and stuck to my own pen just to stop the vicious cycle.
    You ask what feeds this: the focus on branding, I think, is to blame. The marketplace rewards easily recognizable author names and series brands, or even a “feel” of a book. Once something works, one becomes scared to “change the formula,” which I believe is the beginning of the decay of the creative process. Fear is the mind-killer. If one is scared to change, one is scared to write something entirely new and fresh and surprising, too – and the pressure to keep publishing to keep that brand afloat is immense. It’s almost as though the very awareness of a commercial success endangers the creative process. Poor people take risks because they have nothing to lose. Rich people start trademarking keywords to maintain their car payments and pedicures (she just lost that copyright, btw.)
    I was dangerously close to a real burnout because of this level of self-imposed pressure. What saved me was Deans story-a-day challenge last summer. Writing short form rekindled my imagination and helped me reset 🙂

  23. S says:

    From what I can tell, many of the people “successful” in KU in its multiple iterations are packagers and promoters, scrumming for a slice of a guaranteed payout via bookstuffing, paid reviews, clickfarming, ghosted content (at apparently $200 or less for a novel in some places I’ve read), pagethrus, and obviously, a lot of them are non-writers looking for exposure or deals in Hollywood via being notable (or notorious) in the book pub industry (see Lani Sarem and more recently Faleena Hopkins).

    As someone else recently put it, writers tend to be supportive because writing and publishing are to a large extent non-zero sum fields for the creators, and in economic terms, an expanding frontier sort of system: one author’s books sold doesn’t necessarily mean another’s won’t sell, and as the recent Meyers/Rowling/YA trends and others sales surges tend to do, the rising tide floats many writer boats, and expanding the reader/bookbuyer pool helps everyone.

    Kindle Unlimited has and continues to be a very gameable closed system with zero-sum outcomes. Given a closed and set amount of KU payout/pie for the month, the more viable entries in the payout line, the more percent or piece of the guaranteed payout is paid out. You have a ceiling on earnings, but also a guaranteed floor if, as some do, scam and scheme to “make” page reads happen, with varying levels of ick to illegal. Writing seems entirely beside the point, and several fiction factory/syndicates have shown increases in their output from say sub-10 novels per year previously to KU and 30+ books per year.

    Not saying it can’t be done, and done by one person, but merely noting that it doesn’t have to be done by writers in it for fun if you hired it out, as well as those that hire it out and apply marketing scams, etc. Others writers in KU right now seem to be gunning for a certain number or nut to make and then they’re done, so it’s like a job to them (write and release so many books/titles, aim for this amount, and repeat until goal) and they’re working and putting money away for houses and retirement and then they stop the grind and then go retire and do whatever.

    BTW, I’m surprised at who linked to the Verge article, given it quoted so extensively (and uncritically) from Faleena Hopkins, who had both an epic meltdown on video claiming to be a victim of bullies–after starting the conflicts by trademarking what she did and then using it to get Amazon and others as a mega-takedown bat, even of people who weren’t necessarily violating the trademark (such as it is). Many romance and erotica writers were hard stung by the FH TM-slapping debacle until the RWA and Authors Guild stepped in and got Amazon to hold the remove on FH-challenged books until the case was resolved.

    Until Courtney Milan/Heidi Bond dialed back from #cockygate in lieu of some writer/ex-lawyer I’ve never heard of and recently posting RWA annual meeting stuff, she had a good running update* on the #cockygate-trademark trolling issues with other writers and lawyers chiming in the Twitter threads (including that the trademark troll in question, as I understand it, failed to have standing on either the first-use or business-confusion issue and given a challenge was likely to lose: to wit, the TM app was for “cocky” in a series that she was neither the first to use nor did FH start out her current series using that mark with said series tag and design. (It also seems that she also claims to have done everything about her books herself: the writing, covers/photos, etc and was only going after copycats, when all of the above is apparently dubious given that apparently a) she hired ghosters, b) her cover designers (!) excoriated her on Twitter for the trademark trolling using their designs, c) she was copying others’ designs and layouts and cover concepts in the genre/subgenre…AND she filed trademark for the script/cursive type “cocky” using a font designer whose license forbids the use of the font (ie it’s not owned or created by FH) in…a trademark application or for trademarking.

    (and d) possibly was a previous bookstuffer and shared a pub team member with one of the shadier (and possible FTC violating) bookstuffer/ghoster KU scammer and changed tactics before being caught out.

    Again, surprised at the mostly favorable take on FH in the article given the genesis of the sh*t-stirring, and the absence of a critical look at the trademark troll problem (also starting in SFF/RPG fields, I take it)…again, starring FH.

    *Courtney Milan also paid for and shared the PACER transcripts (or something like that) of the prelim hearing of the FH suits/countersuits and may still have some of it on her website.

    That’s my take on it so far, anyway.

  24. eden5695 says:

    I followed #Cockygate–the attempt to trademark a common word. The writer who attempted the first trademark has been vilified across many boards, but other get-rich-quick writers are now trying to trademark additional words. I heard this week that Amazon was taking down the book stuffers. And I have followed rants for years about those who put out quick novellas with cliff hangers and the click farms and multiple other scams.

    And I think about the poor readers who are buying into the book stuffers (who apparently have many fans, which is beyond my comprehension).

    What happened to the love of writing? What happened to the need to tell a story? Greed.

    I see newbies at the small local writing conferences who think they can put out a single book and they’ll be rich. Wouldn’t that be nice? They want a quick answer and easy story-telling. I want to say to them, “There ain’t no quick and easy, bud,” but I just keep my mouth shut.

    It’s like the writers who want an agent and a traditional publishing contract because the agent and the publisher will handle everything for them. They can go to the local coffee shop, buy their mocha peppermint latte, and tell everyone they’re a writer.

    The Kindle Unlimited scammers, though, anger me. The program was supposed to be a help to readers and writers both. The bots aren’t doing their job to spot and stop the scamming.

    Is there an easy answer? Will all the “real” writers stand up and boycott KU? What makes a “real” writer? And in the America of “I’m gonna do what I want, and d**ned be the rest of you”, would any KU boycott work?

    I don’t know. Wish I did. Wish I lived in a perfect world. If wishes were horses ….

    • Karen Myers says:

      Those readers for the scammers are not necessarily fans. To get the KU payout, many scammers hire farms of people to page thru the book, buy it again under another pseudonym, page thru it again, etc.

  25. Thank you, Kris, for reminding me again why I write – to feed my soul.

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