August 1st, 2012
A Note of Warning to Those Who Self-Publish

Cross-posted to Between Fire and Ice

In an increasingly tight and tumultuous traditional publishing industry, self-publishing has become a viable and profitable option for writers. It’s a bright spot in an otherwise murky publishing future for many of us. And everyone knows who the heavy hitter is in the self-pub market—the Kindle.

I began self-publishing my backlist about a year ago and am writing a few original novellas as well. I’ve been surprised and pleased at the income I’ve been making from my self-pubbed works and wish to continue self-pubbing in the future. About 80% of my self-pub royalties come from, you guessed it, Amazon.

In my opinion, without the ability to publish works for the Kindle, self-publishing is a no-go. Not worth it.

Bottom line is, no matter what you may think of Amazon and their business practices, if you want to self-pub you must play ball with them.

So I was pretty upset when I logged into my Amazon KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) account last week to find it terminated. After some investigating, I found a warning email in an account I hadn’t checked in over a week (I’d been out of town). It appeared that the Amazon bot had located a copy of one of my novellas online and had decided that perhaps I’d plagiarized someone else’s work. It was asking for proof I hadn’t.

Since I hadn’t received the email and hadn’t responded within five days (which was totally my fault, I know), they’d terminated my account.

As I looked into the matter further I became alarmed that I would never be able to publish anything for the Kindle again. If your KDP account is terminated, I was told, they almost never reinstate you. I also knew from their TOS that if my account was terminated I would never be allowed to have another. In short, if your account is terminated with Amazon, you’re prevented from ever again publishing anything for the Kindle. That’s it. Out of business. Black balled. Some 80% of your self-publishing income is gone, just like that.

I understand Amazon is trying to prevent plagiarism and I applaud them for it. However, the bots can’t reason out what they’re finding the way a human can and mistakes are made.

I KNEW I hadn’t violated anyone’s copyright. I’ve never plagiarized in my life, never “scraped” content from the internet. All my works are 100% mine. I own all the rights to them. So I knew the Amazon bot, which is just a computer program after all, had messed up. It had found something innocuous and confused it. Or, I thought, it had likely found a PIRATED copy of my work somewhere, perhaps on Scribed.

I spent an extremely frustrating day attempting to contact someone HUMAN who could help me. There is no customer service for KDP, no number to call, no human being to talk with. There are only the bots and email. So I sent off my email explaining what I thought had happened and felt sick for the rest of the day, thinking I’d never publish for the Kindle again….and therefore never self-publish again.

Luckily, once I reached an actual, live, human being, they could see the truth. Yes, indeed the bot had found pirated copies of the novella on Scribed and one other site like Scribed (that I didn’t even know existed).

Number 123,000 why pirates suck. I hadn’t violated anyone’s copyright—it was my copyright that had been violated.

My account was reinstated, but I lost at least a week and half of sales and I’m still having trouble getting everything re-listed in the Amazon search engine. To top it off, that one novella is STILL blocked because the bot (again) found something pirated, so I’m still not done dealing with this.

I didn’t write this blog to vent. I wrote it to illustrate something self-pub authors need to understand: Amazon has A LOT of power over us. The agreement we sign gives all the power to them. I was appalled at how quickly my self-publishing career had been eliminated—80% of my self-pub income gone, just like that.

Keep this in mind and be careful about relying purely on self-publishing income because it could be taken away very easily and very quickly…all by a bot that can’t properly interpret what it’s finding on the internet.

2 comments to “A Note of Warning to Those Who Self-Publish”

  1. You know what really gets me about this? All it would have taken is a “real” person from Amazon to take a look at the links the bots found. I guarantee they’d have been able to quickly distinguish a pirate site from a legitimate author such as yourself… and realize the “plagiarist” in this scenario is whoever violated your copyright by stealing your book and uploading it to the pirate site. Surely, before taking such drastic action as to terminate an author’s account, that’s not too much to expect? I’m hearing more and more similar stories from authors. It’s worrying in the extreme. I do hope you get it sorted, Anya. And I’m so sorry you’ve been put through this–such a waste of your time when we’d rather have you writing more fabulous stories for us to read!

  2. Thanks Anya
    I had some emails similar to this from Amazon because I made some of my stories free on Wattpad minus the sexy bits. Fortunately I replied straight away. Didn’t realise how dire the warnings were until I read your blog.
    Thanks again.