Defending Copyright on “A Summer Fling”: Part 3

I’ve written and deleted the opening sentence to this post three times now.

summer_fling-200x300I’m not really sure how to proceed at this point. If you missed the beginning of this story, it starts here and is continued here. The short version, if you prefer, is this: someone sent Amazon a takedown notice for A Summer Fling. Amazon demanded proof that I was the copyright holder. I sent them everything they asked for and more. I sent the original file of the story with the date stamp. I sent the link to the story on Goodreads (if you’re a member of the GR M/M Romance Group, you too can read the original version there) and the free anthology created from the Don’t Read in the Closet fest.

I sent them the Smashwords URL showing the date I first uploaded A Summer Fling in its current form. I sent the registration number for the pending copyright registration I’d filed. Yes, filed belatedly. More on that later.

I expected this to be resolved. After all, I am the legal copyright holder. This is a self-published free story of little value. Why was this even up for debate?

Imagine my surprise when I got an email from Amazon saying that due to the third party dispute that had not been resolved, they would not be re-publishing my story. Surprise is putting it mildly. I was shocked and upset. I got on the phone with Author Central and KDP. I sought advice from authors who’d been in similar situations (though none quite like mine). I tried to get more answers from Amazon, but was stymied at every turn. The young man with KDP was very nice but he could not determine why the story was being blocked, despite my having provided so much information. He advised me to send a detailed email, outlining everything I shared with him and he would do the same from his end.

Later that evening, I got an email from KDP stating flatly that they would not release the third party’s name or what the basis of their complaint was. I was also advised to hire a copyright lawyer if I wanted to pursue the matter further.

My initial reaction to this situation was to suspect that the now-defunct All Romance Ebooks was behind this somehow. I’m still not convinced that they’re not. Their abrupt announcement of closure, along with offering authors only 10 cents on the dollar of owed 4th quarter royalties, as well as preventing authors from removing files from the ARe platform is suspect, to say the least.

But I have also discovered that copyright claim-jumping of self-published authors is apparently a thing, and that Amazon puts the burden of proof on the author, not the accuser. Self-published authors may be at greater risk.

It may be the case that it is a coincidence I happened to get targeted by a scammer the same day ARe acrimoniously closed their doors. But unless I hire a lawyer I will never know. The various articles I’ve linked discuss what you can do to protect yourself from these kinds of attacks, and the most common bit of advice is to register your copyright claims, even though technically the copyright is yours once you put your words to paper unless you sign them away. I haven’t signed mine away, and yet Amazon isn’t accepting my documentation. And frankly, if this IS an attempt by ARe to lay claim to titles that were simply hosted on their former website, then registering your copyright may have little effect on Amazon’s resolution to reinstate your book.

Kind of like how it happened here with me.

I will be registering all my stories from now on, however, as well as retroactively registering my existing ones. It’s an extra layer of insurance that may well protect you in the future from your run-of-the-mill scammer. The link for the US copyright office is here.

This morning I received a very nice email from Amazon stating that after a careful review of my documentation, they have decided to uphold their decision to block the sale of A Summer Fling, but that they look forward to publishing my future stories.

That’s very telling. They are no longer disputing the fact I wrote the story. They are saying someone is claiming I don’t have a right to distribute the story. A story that’s been freely available online for years. You can see why the list of suspects in this case is extremely short.

As for A Summer Fling, I have a couple of choices. I can file a counter-claim. I’m looking into that, but one of my concerns is making personal information available to this unknown third party. Another option is to contact Jeff Bezos directly and lay out my story. He probably gets thousands of emails a day, so I doubt it will get though, but it’s worth a shot. I emailed him this morning, forwarding all the information I’d given to KDP regarding my story. I stated in my email I wasn’t asking him to reverse Amazon’s decision not to publish my story, but I was requesting the name of the third party and the basis of their claims against me. We’ll see what happens.

Late last night, in a last-second cliffhanger twist, I was tagged on Facebook by someone involved with publishing the old DRiTC anthologies. She apologized profusely to me and said it was a possibility her statement to Amazon that no one else was allowed to publish the anthologies except her might have triggered this situation. She’s promised to speak to Amazon on my behalf, and for that, I am deeply grateful. However she did not realize I’d changed the title of my story. Unless she sent in a takedown notice for my story by name, then her blanket statement isn’t behind the complaint. That’s why I need to know who IS behind the complaint before I take further action.

Beyond that, I’m looking into my legal options. But honestly, I can’t afford to spend a lot of money on a free story. Perhaps that’s why it was targeted in the first place. In the meantime, it’s available on Smashwords for free, and it is my intention to send it out to other sites as well. Grab it while you can in its various forms, all linked in this post. Consider leaving me a review on Goodreads or Smashwords, as Amazon is no longer an option. It would be greatly appreciated.

Mostly, be aware. Amazon places the burden of proof on the accused and apparently *anyone* can waltz in and file a complaint. How can I address the complaint when I don’t know who made it or what the basis of their claim might be? Only by hiring a lawyer, and I’d be willing to bet most of us aren’t in a position to do that. My accuser could be someone with an axe to grind, a random scammer, or a former retailer looking to take advantage of the fact they are still holding my files. Amazon has blindfolded me and left me in the ring to duke it out against an unseen opponent who merely has to walk away to win this round.

If it is a certain retailer, then I am not the only person with stories at risk. I also have grounds for going to the people forming a class action lawsuit with additional information. But I can’t move forward without knowing the name of the third party.

If you know of anyone, or if you yourself have recently experienced something similar at the hands of Amazon, I would appreciate you letting me know. If this is not an isolated incident, it gives even more credence to my suspicions as to who the guilty party might be.

 

 

 

Defending Copyright on “A Summer Fling”, part 2

summer_fling-200x300A lot of people have asked for the details surrounding my current copyright dilemma with Amazon. Here they are to the best of my recollection:

As you can see from the book cover and the banner at the head of this website, there has been a longtime connection between myself and A Summer Fling. It was originally titled Surf’s Up and is part of the 2011 Don’t Read in the Closet fest with the M/M Romance Group on Goodreads. It was a light frothy story written to a photo prompt and included in the anthology produced by the group.

In 2013, I edited the story and bundled it with a short story I’d written for the Just One Bite contest, using the fictional character Mikhail Frost created by my fictional author, Ryan McFarland. I thought it would be fun to put the two stories together–kind of like Rick Castle writing the Nikki Heat stories. I created a cover based on my website’s banner and submitted the new combination to Smashwords on July 28th, 2013. A short while later (the actual date is unclear–I can’t access it any longer on the websites in question), I submitted the story to Amazon and ARe. The story has largely been a permanent freebie ever since.

Over the weekend, I modified my bio within the story to include a link for my website. When I went to upload the new version on Amazon, I could no longer set the price to zero. I didn’t worry too much about it–I’d pulled it from Smashwords and ARe had folded. It was my intention to place it in KU (though in retrospect, its previous incarnations would prevent that) so I left the price as 99 cents and went on with my day.

That evening I received an email from Amazon. At first, I thought it was just a glitch, a red flag triggered by something I did in the update. But here’s the crucial statement that belies that:

“Prior to your submission, we received a notice and takedown for a book that matches to yours, from a third party claiming that the distribution of the book above was not properly authorized due to copyright infringement.”

So someone out there is ACTIVELY claiming this work belongs to them, not me, and though I provided Amazon with all the information they requested, it’s not good enough. Moreover, this attempt to snag the book took place prior to my making changes, so it isn’t that I did something to trigger a red flag. Someone is trying to steal it, but Amazon is laying the burden of proof on me and refusing to publish something that’s been on their website under my name for years. At least they are no longer threatening to ban me for life. I’ve asked for more information, but I have not heard back from them yet.

Process of elimination and the unethical behavior of All Romance Ebooks makes them the most likely suspect in my mind. Not just because they closed their doors with little warning, offering 10 cents on the dollar in owed royalties, but only if we promise not to take legal action. Not just because of the timing–within 24 hours of ARe’s closure. But because whoever this third party is laying claim to my story, they have a strong enough stance that Amazon is taking them seriously–despite my sending them all the information they requested to prove my copyright.

dont-read-in-the-closetMy proof of copyright is sufficient enough that Amazon is no longer threatening to ban me from publishing on their site for life. But it is not sufficient enough to utterly disprove anyone else’s claim? The logical choice here is that someone with power and prestige–not some low level scammer who preys on indie titles–is behind this contested copyright. And since a takedown notice was given, this is either someone with a personal vendetta against me (not a fun thought) or someone with much bigger fish to fry. Because as I’ve said elsewhere, A Summer Fling is a lightweight FREE story. It was never meant to generate tons of sales. So why would anyone contest copyright on it? The Goodreads Group would not. The story has been freely available online in multiple formats for years. Why go after a free story now?

For me, the logical conclusion is that this is a test case on someone’s part. I only have a couple of self-published stories that would be open to such an attack. And since whoever it is has a strong enough stance that Amazon didn’t immediately dismiss their claim, I can only assume it is an entity with more online presence than your typical scammer. As in, someone who can claim they ‘published’ my story when they merely hosted it on their website. Incidentally, A Summer Fling is the first title that comes up on my self-published listings on ARe’s former site.

So, some words of advice here. If you aren’t in the habit of registering copyrights on your creative work, start doing so now. Factor it in as a cost of doing business. I never worried about A Summer Fling because it was never intended to be a big money maker for me. From now on, however, I will be registering copyright on ALL my works.

From the US copyright office:

1. Copyright, a form of intellectual property law, protects original works of authorship.
2. Your work is under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.
3. Registration is recommended for a number of reasons. Many choose to register their works because they wish to have the facts of their copyright on the public record and have a certificate of registration. Registered works may be eligible for statutory damages and attorney’s fees in successful litigation. Finally, if registration occurs within 5 years of publication, it is considered prima facie evidence in a court of law.
4. The United States has copyright relations with most countries throughout the world, and as a result of these agreements, we honor each other’s citizens’ copyrights. However, the United States does not have such copyright relationships with every country. For a listing of countries and the nature of their copyright relations with the United States, see Circular 38a, International Copyright Relations of the United States.

Here is the link for the US copyright office. Yes, it is an extra step and there is a fee, but that additional layer of protection just may prevent the kind of headache I’m experiencing right now.

In the meantime, I can’t but assume ARe is behind this grab until I have proof otherwise. In part because of the suspicious timing, and in part because Amazon is taking the claim seriously despite my proof of creation. But also because the wording of Amazon’s email and their current stance to the issue suggests that my creative copyright isn’t being questioned as much as my right to distribute the story. I’ve sent Amazon additional information, including this document provided by ARe when I uploaded my story to their site. Pay special attention to the passages 3c and 4b.

All Romance eBooks Publisher’s Agreement

 

This Agreement is entered into on this date (logged as registration date), between All Romance eBooks, LLC, a Florida limited liability company (hereinafter known as “All Romance”), which provides content and services to www.allromanceebooks.com and omnilit.com (hereinafter known as “site”), located at 303 Main Street #186, Safety Harbor FL 34695 with an email address of info@allromanceebooks.com and a fax number of  1-866-844-5457, and the registrant whose details have been accurately entered and attested to upon acceptance of this Agreement (hereinafter known as “Publisher”);

 

In consideration of the foregoing the parties agree as follows:

 

  1. Governing Law

 

This Agreement is legal and binding in all countries. The laws of the State of Florida USA shall apply to the interpretation and enforcement of this Agreement.

 

  1. Non-exclusivity

 

This Agreement is not exclusive and does not impose any obligation or restrictions on either party with respect to competing business relationships or opportunities.

 

  1. Warranties by Publisher

 

(a) Publisher has the full power, right and authority to enter into this Agreement;

 

(b) Publisher has not previously and will not grant any rights to any third party that are inconsistent with the rights granted herein;

 

(c) Each item provided to All Romance by Publisher and any other material including data and images (in each case, collectively the “Work”) are (i) either owned or licensed by Publisher with full right to publish in accordance with this Agreement, and (ii) do not and will not infringe any copyright, patent, trade secret, or other proprietary right held by any third party;

 

(d) Publisher warrants that product or associated marketing data supplied contains no libelous or unlawful statements and does not infringe upon the rights of others;

 

(e) The Publisher agrees that the regular list price of the Work on the All Romance site will not be higher than the regular listed price of this Work on any other site.

 

(f) The Publisher agrees that all data provided to All Romance, including a Work’s categories, heat rating, summary and sample excerpt will all be chosen to honestly and accurately reflect the Work’s content.

 

(g) All Works uploaded by Publisher to the All Romance site shall be subject to this Agreement and additionally eligible for participation in the All Romance “Buy ten, get one free program.”

 

(h) Publisher hereby grants All Romance the rights to reproduce, display, market, and store digital versions of Publisher’s Works on one or more computer facilities of or under the leased or similar control of All Romance on a worldwide basis, and to resell Publisher’s Works directly to consumers;

 

(i) To promote sales for Publisher’s Works, Publisher grants All Romance the right to distribute any and all content electronically including text, cover art, and metadata associated with Publisher’s Works.

 

  1. Warranties by All Romance

 

(a) All Romance warrants and represents, solely for Publisher’s benefit, that All Romance has the full power, right and authority to enter into this Agreement.

 

(b) Except as otherwise set forth in this Agreement, All Romance acknowledges that all rights, title and interest in and to all intellectual property comprising the Works, including copyrights and trademarks used in connection with the Works, are the property of Publisher or its licensor(s), and in no event, including upon the termination of this Agreement, shall All Romance obtain any rights, title or interest in such intellectual property, copyrights or trademarks.

 

(c) All Romance agrees that no changes, additions, deletions, abridgements, or condensations in the text of the Work or changes of title shall be made by All Romance, its agents, or employees, without the expressed, itemized, and specific written consent of Publisher.

 

  1. Warranty Disclaimers and Limitations of Liability

 

All Romance shall not be liable or obligated to Publisher with respect to any breach of this Agreement or otherwise under any contract, negligence, strict liability or other legal or equitable theory for any amounts in excess in the aggregate of the fees paid to All Romance by Publisher during the one year period prior to any such breach with respect to the applicable material. In no event shall All Romance be liable to Publisher for any incidental or consequential damages including, but not limited to, loss of anticipated profits, or benefits of use or loss of business, even if All Romance is apprised of the likelihood of such damages occurring.

 

All Romance shall not be liable for misuse or unlawful distribution of Works by any customer, consumer or other third party.

 

  1. Termination

 

Either party may terminate this Agreement without cause upon not less than ninety (90) days notice to the other party. Any termination of this Agreement or withdrawal by Publisher of specific Works or other materials will be prospective, with respect to future sales only. It is the responsibility of the withdrawing party to remove or de-activate from sale all Works covered under the terms of this Agreement.

 

  1. Restrictions

 

All Romance reserves the right not to accept any particular Work submitted by Publisher at All Romance’s sole discretion, and may remove any particular Work from sale at any time and for any or no reason. Pornographic and obscene Works are restricted and not allowable for upload on the All Romance site, including without limitation, Works depicting sexual acts involving persons under eighteen years of age (exceptions may be made for certain works of literary fiction involving time periods wherein the age of consent was less than 18 and the purpose of the depiction is not for sexual titillation), Works involving any exploitation of minors, sexual or otherwise, Works which contain incest or pseudo-incest themes for the purpose of titillation, Works that are written for or being marketed to the barely legal market, Works that contain rape  or scenes of non-consensual bondage or non-consensual sado-masochistic practices that are for the purposes of titillation, bestiality with naturally occurring animals, sex with non-animated corpses, snuff or scat play.

 

  1. Security and Buyer’s Terms of Use

 

All Romance does not encrypt the Works that it sells, apply DRM technology, or prevent printing or “Read Aloud” or “Text to Speech” functions. All Romance posts a message on its web site indicating the copyrighted nature of all material and the fact that making illicit copies is in violation of copyright law. The Publisher is encouraged to indicate the copyrighted nature of each Work.

 

  1. Reporting and Payment of Sales Commissions

 

(a) Publisher will have access to a Publisher’s Sales Report that details each of their work’s sales activity during the requested period.

 

(b) All Romance will pay Publisher commissions based upon the Sale Price (List Price or Discounted List Price as paid by the buyer, whichever is less) and as reported by All Romance’s Publisher’s Sales Report. This commission shall be sixty percent (60%) of the Sale Price. Payments for sales are made quarterly in US dollars, within 45 days of the close of each calendar quarter, and are net of bad debt and refunds.

 

(c) Once each calendar year, Publisher or their duly appointed representative shall have the right to examine at their own expense the accounts of All Romance pertaining to sales of Publisher’s Works for the twelve months prior to the date of the request for examination. Requests to assert this right must be made by the Publisher in writing and receipt must be acknowledged in writing by All Romance and such records shall be made available by All Romance to the Publisher within thirty (30) days. In the event that discrepancies are found between commissions paid and those owed in the Publisher’s favor, All Romance shall tender such monies due to Publisher within ten (10) days of acknowledgement by All Romance of the discrepancy. In the event that discrepancies are found between commissions paid and those owed in All Romance’s favor, All Romance shall deduct this difference from the next quarterly payment(s) due.

 

  1. Bankruptcy

 

If a petition in bankruptcy is filed by All Romance or against All Romance (and is not dismissed within 90 days), this Agreement shall terminate automatically without notice, effective as of date of All Romance’s filing of a voluntary petition (or the expiration of the 90 day period, as applicable) and all rights granted in this Agreement shall revert to Publisher.

 

  1. Benefit

 

Agreement shall be binding upon and inure to the benefit of the heirs, executors, administrators and assigns of Publisher, and upon and to the successors and assigns of All Romance.

 

  1. Survival

 

All provisions of this Agreement requiring performance after any termination or the breach of which is not discovered until after termination shall survive and apply to the parties with full force and effect notwithstanding any such termination.

 

  1. Force Majeure

 

All Romance is released from partial or complete non-performance of its obligations under this Agreement should force majeure circumstances occur, which prevent the fulfillment of such obligations, including without limitation, fire, flood, earthquake, strikes, labor disturbances, revolutions, embargoes, insurrection, governmental orders or regulations, electrical or computer failure, act of, delays or failure to act by any internet service provider or carrier or agent All Romance may use, systems, telecommunication companies and other entities of similar purpose, or any other conditions beyond the control of All Romance. The time stipulated for the performance and fulfillment of such obligations shall be extended for a period equal to that during which the circumstances of force majeure last.

 

  1. Entire Agreement; Venue.

 

This Agreement constitutes the entire agreement between All Romance and Publisher with respect to the subject matter hereof and supersedes all prior and contemporaneous communications. This Agreement may not be modified or amended except by an instrument accepted by both parties. All Romance and Publisher are and remain independent entities. This Agreement does not create any partnership, joint venture, agency, franchise, sales representative or employment relationship between All Romance and Publisher. Publisher and All Romance agree that any suit or proceeding in connection with this Agreement shall be brought exclusively in the state and federal courts presiding in Pinellas County, Florida USA and that service of process may be made by certified mail, return receipt requested, to the addresses of record for the parties under this Agreement.

 

  1. Electronic Signature

 

A check in the box below by Publisher shall constitute Publisher’s signature signifying acceptance of this Agreement with the intent that it be valid for all purposes and in compliance with the U.S. Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act of 2000 and the laws of any other applicable jurisdiction.

 

Updated: 03/14/12 12:00 Central U.S.

At the moment, my story is still blocked on Amazon and I have not received a response to my additional inquiries. I’ll let you know what happens.

Part Three Here.

All Romance EBooks Pulls a Fast One: What You Can Do To Fight Back

pirates-bill-davenportI was at work yesterday afternoon when I got the email from All Romance Ebooks announcing they were closing their doors effective 12/31 and offering a paltry ten cents on the dollar in royalty payments to authors in lieu of the expected fourth quarter payment.’

Because I was at work, I quickly scanned the email (not noticing a significant typo of a date that gives the company a loophole with regards to making even the minuscule payments offered) and cursed. I immediately pulled my self-published titles from their website, and hurried to my publisher to see what they intended to do, as all of my Dreamspinner titles were posted on ARe as well.

I then made a post spreading the word:

  1. Readers should no longer buy anything from ARe, as authors were not being paid for their works.
  2. I’ve pulled all my titles for sale on the All Romance website in advance of their 48 hour notice of closure. The good news is that currently you can get all my Dreamspinner titles on sale at their own website until 12/30–which includes my new release, Holiday House Swap. As for my non-Dreamspinner titles, Fool’s Gold and A Summer Fling are still available on Amazon. Fool’s Gold is back on Kindle Unlimited, and A Summer Fling is permanently free. I hope to place A Summer Fling into KU once I make sure it is not available in any other markets besides Amazon.

Dreamspinner made the following announcement on Facebook last evening: In response to All Romance eBooks closure notice: If readers pre-ordered Dreamspinner titles on ARe then you will not be able to download them upon release. If rumors are true, ARe will also not refund pre-orders. Therefore, Dreamspinner offers to fulfill readers’ pre-paid Dreamspinner pre-orders from ARe. You need to forward the ARe receipt to contactATdreamspinnerpressDOTcom and the customer service department will be sure you receive the eBook at no additional cost to you. Thank you.

Kudos to Dreamspinner! This is one of the reasons I love working with this press.

But the more I thought about it, the angrier I got. Though ARe called themselves a publisher, they provided no cover art, no editing, no formatting. They were a retailer only and their entire catalog was digital. Where did the money go? They were paying us out of a percentage of books already sold. How could they not pay us what was owed?

Then too was the shady practice of giving no advance warning of impending closure, of failing to notify anyone until the last day of revenue for the quarter had been wrung out of writers, publishers, and readers alike. Why then, were they offering ad space on their website just the week before–and saying it was almost sold out? You don’t just wake up one morning and decide your business is bust. I almost bought one of those pricey ads and I know other people who have. They aren’t being offered any means to get refunds.

Once the news spread, the website kept crashing as writers rushed to remove their titles and reader to download books already purchased before the ‘cloud’ vanished. People were left with ebucks that didn’t work and gift cards they didn’t know if they should spend or not, while the available titles dwindled sharply.

areMore questions have been raised, particularly in light of the extremely poor and insulting offer made to authors to accept a 10 cents on the dollar payout or NOTHING. Meanwhile, ARe posts a business-as-usual Tweet and nothing is said on their Facebook page, either. Most ironically, the banner on their Facebook page, which I saw when I went to leave a review about their shady practices, advertises “No Doors Closed.”

I can tell you, some of the author responses to this tone-deaf and out-of-place Tweet were priceless, even as the anger and worry came through loud and clear. I didn’t have a lot of independent sales on ARe at this time–I’d only recently moved Fool’s Gold off KU and over to wider distribution. But to be paid a handful of dollars when I’m owed hundreds is jaw-dropping. However ALL my Dreamspinner titles were on ARe as of last evening. Every story I’ve ever written. So I can only sit back and hold my breath to see what happens when DSP’s lawyers battle for what we’re owed. At least I have the power of an ethical and reputable publishing company behind me. I can only imagine how terrible it must be for authors who were counting on the fourth quarter royalties to make the mortgage payment or electric bill.

For the most complete summation of the extent of fraud perpetrated by the management of ARe–and more importantly, what you can do to prevent them from getting away with this scott-free, please check out this valuable post: Publisher All Romance: Closing Hits New Low in Stealing from Authors. The details in this post are jaw-dropping. If these allegations are true, then criminal charges need to be filed.

I’ve seen many readers ask what they can do to help. The first is don’t buy any more books from All Romance. Download the purchases you’ve already made. Seek out those real publishers, like Dreamspinner, who’ve offered via proof of receipt, to honor ARe’s fraudulent sales of pre-ordered books. But most importantly–leave book reviews. I don’t think readers have any idea just how much book reviews matter in visibility and discoverability in an increasingly discouraging and hard market. It doesn’t have to be much–but a short piece as to why you loved the story while you rate it is a big, big help.

Thank you.

Authors: Even if you decide to take no further legal action, please consider filing an internet crime report, copying and pasting your email from ARe and any pertinent information.

To KU or not to KU: That is the question…

Kindle_Paperwhite_3GTo KU or not KU, that is the question.

For those of you who might not be familiar with the dilemma, I’m referring to the decision most indie authors face when they go to upload a new book for sale: do I make it exclusive to Amazon, and if so, do I enroll it in the Kindle Unlimited program?

This is rarely an issue for me because I don’t usually self-publish. While I love the idea of publishing on my own schedule, the time constraints of my job mean that my efforts are better spent writing the next story than doing all the work of an author and a publisher. That may change in the future, however, and occasionally I self-publish a story just to keep my hand in. Especially with the recent wave of digital presses closing up shop, citing—you guessed it—an inability to compete with Amazon.

The first time I self-published a story, I made a lot of mistakes. I spent too much money in some areas, and not enough in others. It took me an entire day to format the story, which is not the kind of time I have to do this sort of thing, and then it turns out I formatted and uploaded the wrong version. The file I published was an older copy, riddled with errors, and it wasn’t until a friend commented on it to me that I’d even realized what I’d done. Even when I finally corrected most of my noobie self-publishing mistakes, I was never entirely satisfied. Which is a shame because I consider the story my best work to date.

Needless to say, I’m not looking forward to the process again, though I’m not going to make the mistake of trying to do the bulk of it myself. I’m going to have to farm out the things I don’t do as well to experts for assistance, and that means making a bigger financial investment at the beginning in the hopes of recouping it in sales.

Part of the decision-making process is determining whether or not to enroll in Kindle Unlimited. I confess, I have problems with the notion of Amazon exclusivity. Yes, most of my sales come from Amazon, but I like making my stories available across a wide number of outlets. When I last self-published a story, the exclusivity clause alone stopped me cold. Nope, nada, not doing it.

Then there were all the authors who posted about their tanking sales with the advent of KU, and how a reliable income had suddenly dried up as more and more people chose to pay a flat fee each month in order to read as many stories as they liked—as long as those stories were enrolled in KU. Most of the authors who posted about this reluctantly joined the KU boat, preferring to get some kind of payout to none at all.

I can’t help but think if authors had just held out a little longer, KU might have been unable to provide the diversity of stories that readers craved, and readers would have gone back to seeking their favorite authors elsewhere. Enrolling in KU feels a little to me like making a virgin sacrifice to the dragon in hopes of saving the village, ignoring the fact that eventually you are going to run out of virgins and the dragon is going to own you.

But now I keep hearing independent authors saying KU is the only way to go, the only way to get your story noticed in a sea of new arrivals every day (Amazon promotes KU stories and KDP Select stories more than others), the best way to reach new readers, the only way to make it to Amazon’s bestseller lists. I polled fellow authors on Facebook, and have heard strong cases for both sides of the argument from people I highly respect. I keep waffling.

Sacrifice the virgin one more year, or make a long-term plan to hold the dragon at bay?

Because that’s what it comes down to.

One of the things that bothers me the most is Amazon’s constantly changing TOS. It’s meant to stop the scammers from gaming the system but it worries me when I read posts like this one by author Selena Kitt. If KU pays by the page read, and Amazon can’t really tell how many pages are being read, AND that payout keeps dropping over time, there’s a problem. Not to mention this New York Times post as well, which indicates that a disturbing number of readers never finish stories in the first place. Or this disheartening post from The Guardian, which indicates that average author incomes in the U.S. have dropped below the poverty level.

Oh, Rick Castle, you’d better cut back on your lavish lifestyle, or else write more Nikki Heat novels. Fast.

My Facebook friends were equally divided on whether or not to enroll a new story in KU. Some were able to point to increased sales and readership overall, significant enough that they were very happy with KU and highly recommended it. Others not so much. Many people seem to feel that new or mid-list authors must enroll in KU if they hope for their stories to get noticed.

One of my friends, Anna Butler, pointed out that Amazon is not a bookstore. It makes it money on selling consumables—the real money in the book market for Amazon is selling Kindles. Cornering the book market in mobi format allows them to sell more Kindles. Authors and publishers are just another commodity to be exploited for the benefit of the consumer. She makes a strong point there.

Kindle reader in lapAnother friend reminded me that most book sales occur in the first couple of months. Making my next story exclusive to KU means I will have lost the best window for sales if it turns out that KU wasn’t a good choice for me.

Margarita Gakis remarked that KU is just another tool to be used, but to be sure that I was using the tool and not the tool using me. Enrolling in KU isn’t forever. I can choose to withdraw it after one cycle (90 days) and go across more outlets if desired. She’s made conscious decisions about her market and which stories to put in which venues, and I think that’s smart.

Several people messaged me privately to share their experiences—and concerns—regarding KU. Though they weren’t comfortable sharing their experiences publicly, they were happy to let me know what they were, both good and bad.

Author Josh Lanyon weighed on Facebook discussion. I admire Josh’s work greatly (Josh is the kind of author I’d sign a deal with the devil if I could get a tenth of the ability and talent). I asked if I could get a quote for this post. This was Josh’s response in a nutshell: “Authors who resort to KU are not evil. They should not be demonized. But they *are* short sighted. And they will pay the price.”

I’ll be honest. I’m still waffling about what I will do when I finish this current project. Most of us can turn a blind eye to the need for the sacrificial virgin if it will keep the dragon at bay another year or two.

Everyone except the virgins.

Dragons

Eventually, they’ll wise up. They’ll either leave town or have some smokin’ hot sex to take them out of the pool, but either way, the fresh-out-of-virgins dragon will eventually come to call.

 

And we all will be asked to pay the price.