Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Dark Side of Self-publishing...Amazon rejects book blogger's review

How am I supposed to market my book?

One should think that after almost 4 years of self-publishing I would know the answer to that particular question. However, I do not. Things change so fast - what was done last year, doesn't work today. What works for US authors, isn't always available for me living on another continent (for example making my book available as an audiobook through Amazon's ACX).
In my opinion the best way to spread the word that your book is out there in the big sea among lots of other fish, are book bloggers. Tours, reviews, giveaways...that always seemed to do the trick. Not that I could lavishly live off my books, no, not at all, but at least I managed to earn enough to spurr me on, to show me that I'm on the right track.

Now, things have changed. So much so that I'm currently at a loss as what to do to get the word out about my new book.
For my last two publications, I worked with a trusted group of book bloggers. They know my writing and I know I can rely on their professionalism. Be it a release day giveaway or other sort of promotional spotlight, things always ran smoothly. It seemed I was off to a good start.

I thought wrong. 

Amazon now rejects reviews from bloggers that have been reading my work for the last years, claiming we have more than just a working relationship. Seriously? We live on different continets for crying out loud. Just because they read all my books, doesn't mean that I paid them do so or that we are friends.
I know, and support, the fact that Amazon's fighting fake and purchased reviews. However, mine do not fall under this category.
Over the years, I've been approached - especially on Twitter - by people who tried to dangle the promise of a five star review like a carrot in front of my eyes. It didn't work. I want my reviews to be fair and square. I want them to be honest. There are even book blogs out there that ask an author not only for a free copy of their work, but also for money in exchange for a good review. I don't even look twice at those.
And yet...Amazon rejects my book's reviews. How ironic.

Even contacting Amazon didn't help. My first email was apparently not even read properly, seeing as their response had nothing to do with what I had said and all I got was the usual 'We can't say...' mumbo jumbo. And my follow up email was outright ignored.

Since this seems to be an increasing occurence, I would now go so far as to advise other authors to forget about Amazon, and especially about their KDP Select programm.
Why should I give exclusive rights to Amazon when I get nothing in return? 
The "Free Kindle Book" campaign lost its appeal long ago. Amazon customers may want free books, but the time when that resulted in a review as a sort of Thank You to the author is gone. As for Kindle Countdown Deals, it seems they serve more to promote Amazon's KDP than my own books. KU (Kindle Unlimited) and KOLL (Kinlde Owners' Lending Library) used to work, but since Amazon switched to paying authors according to how many pages an individual customer reads in the book (only counts for first time reading) my sales have dropped. Which means customers can lend my book, but I only get paid once they actually read it. 
If a person finds my book interesting enough to go and buy it, I get paid. If a person finds my book interesting enough to go and lend it, I have to wait until the book is actually opened and read before I see a cent. I find that odd - especially given the huge to-read piles most avid readers tend to have.
So why limit myself to Amazon? Why not go to Barnes & Nobles, Kobo, Smashwords etc.? My changes might be higher for my book to land in the right reader's hands. 

While pondering that option, I also decided to approach more book bloggers. There are a LOT of them. It takes time and research to find the ones that will read the genre I write in, but I don't mind. I have no choice about it actually. 
30 review requests have been sent out as a first wave. More will come.
So far I got 2 replies. One accepting the request, another one saying that they are not open for reviews.
That's it.
To be honest, I'm a bit pissed off. Because of the responses I did NOT receive. A lot of bloggers emphasize - some even quite rudely - that they want authors to be understanding and polite towards them. You know what, that should go both ways. I understand reviewers are busy, but a simple "No, try again next year 'cause I'm swamped at the moment" would go a long way. 

I know that being an indie author means there is more to my books than just writing them. There is editing, cover design, marketing and promoting. Which I have to take care of myself mostly, depending on my budget. That's the self-publishing way. I knew that from the start, but by now I feel that despite all the time and effort I push into my books and the work surrounding it, there is no reward whatsoever. Two years ago I was in three of Amazon's Top 100 list in the US and could technically call myself an internationally bestselling author (which I won't do until The NY Times says so), but now Amazon rejects my book's reviews instead.

Is Amazon cutting off its own nose to spite the face?
Well, maybe not.

Perhaps, Amazon has just become more selective when it comes to its indie authors. Whereas standards equalling that of traditionally published books - professional cover design, hooking blurb and fully edited work - could make you stand out not so long ago, it seems that now quantity wins over quality. And with quantity I mean money!
Another option KDP Select (exclusive book rights to Amazon) offers is for authors to run an ad campaign. The author sets a budget to spend and the maximum amount willing to pay when a customer clicks the ad. Customers who click an ad will go to the book's detail page. Sounds simple and interesting so far.
However...there IS a catch.
Before any campaign starts the book's ads automatically compete in an online auction, and this is where the author's actual cost-per-click is determined. In that auction all authors who can't afford more than let's say 1 cent per click are kicked out of the boat.

Long story short: the authors who can afford it can advertise their book in ads that will be delivered to customers who previously browsed the Kindle Store for a particular genre or specific products on Amazon. 
However, it seems that quality authors who do not have the money...will inevitably fall behind.

Funny enough, this will only make me fight harder. 
I will try out other ebook platforms and I'm open to go the traditional way. I love what I do, and no one will keep me from writing. One day, the hard work will bear fruit.


  1. Thank you, Natalie, for the honesty and information. I'll be interested to see how pursuing other venues works out for you. I remember going to a lecture where the Indie author who was speaking said, "If Amazon gets the monopoly on self publishing, do you think they'll continue with the 70/30 split?" Now it seems they've found other ways to increase their revenue. I just wish it didn't have to be at the expense of authors like yourself.
    I wish you the best and admire your fighting spirit!

    1. Thanks so much for your encouraging words!
      I will definitely keep you posted here on my blog regarding my experience with other platforms. I'm looking forward to the change. We'll see how it goes.

  2. What a thoughtful and enlightening post for everyone! I never understood what an author went through. I do know, however, how important reviews are to authors. For Indies it IS difficult to get reviews and ANY honest review should NEVER be removed. Best of luck!

    1. Thank you, Dii. I totally agree with you. Honest reviews should stay were they belong.
      But this struggle is not an easy one...Only yesterday did I stumble upon an author who freely admitted on Twitter to just having purchased a review. So, like I said in my post, I can understand Amazon's effort to get rid of these. But it seems whatever new policies they have is targeting the honest reviews and not the fake ones. Anyway, I think luck is something that a lot of indie authors out there can really use. ;)

  3. I don't know anything about Koll, but when you say 'if a person goes out and lends it' do you mean if they go and borrow it? I found that confusing.

    However, putting that aside, I really don't understand the argument I have read from authors who say it's fairer that they are paid by the pages read rather than by the fact the book has been borrowed. I'm pretty sure that wouldn't be the case if you went to a library (anyone remember those things?). I think you should keep on at Amazon about the reviews until it's sorted. Don't take no for an answer!

    1. Here is a link for more information about KOLL (Kindle Owners' Lending Library):

      As for Amazon rejecting/deleting professional reviews...seeing as no communication has been possible and shut down with a 'we can't give any information about this', I think the best way to proceed is to unsubscribe from Amazon's KDP Select Program (which I have done) and be open towards other ebook platforms like Barnes & Noble, Smashwords etc.

  4. Natalie, I'm really sorry to hear how Amazon is jerking you around like that. As a first time indie author who will be looking to self-publish either late this year or early next year the more I keep hearing from other authors about Amazon the worse it's been getting. I've already purchased your latest book, Ebony Fight, and while I'm not a blogger or a regular book reviewer I'm more than happy to offer my review to you, for whatever it may be worth, no strings attached.

    I've actually been waiting for both this book and your next Patroness novel to come out since I came across them just after you released them and I'm a huge fan of both series. If this book was anything like the last then I can already promise you a glowing review.

    I do have one question and that would be if you have ant eta on the next Patroness novel as I am eagerly awaiting that one as well? Please keep up the great writing.

    -John J. Marko III

    1. Hello John,
      Thanks for your comment. Regarding self-publishing...don't be afraid to use Amazon, they are the largest internet-based retailer in the US after all. However, don't limit yourself to Amazon's KDP Select Program (giving Amazon exclusive rights). Try Barnes & Nobles, Kobo and Smashwords as well. As an indie author you need as much exposure as possible. My problem/experience is that KDP just doesn't offer that anymore.

      As for my books...thank you very much. I'm always happy to get feedback, so go ahead with a review if you want to. :)
      I hope you will be glad to hear that I'm currently working on The Patroness series. Even though I can't offer an exact date yet, I can promise that book 3 will be out this year.

      Good luck with your own writing!