Liza Shulyayeva

Amazon's author banpocalypse



Let’s talk about self-publishing.

Amazon

Amazon dominates the self-publishig world. Amazon has a program called Kindle Direct Publishing, in which you can upload your ebooks and paperbacks for publication on the Amazon marketplace.

Amazon has a program called Kindle Unlimited. If an author chooses to enroll their ebook in this program, Amazon users with a Kindle Unlimited subscription will be able to read their book for free instead of purchasing it outright. The author will get royalties for every page read. Many authors make more money from Kindle Unlimited page reads than actual orders.

To be in Kindle Unlimited, authors must not have their ebook available anywhere else. It has to be exclusive to Amazon. Authors may still distribute their book in other formats, like paperbacks or audiobooks, but not ebooks.

Plenty of authors make a very good living being exclusive to Amazon and publishing via Kindle Unlimited. Some genres are especially well suited for this: such as Romance.

Wide

Some authors don’t like to be locked into Amazon regardless of the riches Kindle Unlimited promises (and sometimes delivers on).

They publish their books on other, less popular marketplaces. These can include Google Play, Kobo, Apple Books, Smashwords, and more. None of these channels usually bring in more income than Amazon in their own. When authors go wide, they often end up making less money than if they had just stayed with Amazon. Not always, but going wide can be a pay cut - especially in some genres, like the aforementioned Romance.

Amazon doesn’t care about authors

It is well known in the self-publishing community that Amazon doesn’t really care about authors. Kindle Unlimited often suffers from tracking bugs that result in lower compensation/page reads, which is not retroactively corrected. Support is difficult to get a hold of. Amazon can ban your books. Content rules seem to be hugely nebulous. And worse: Amazon can ban you without any warning. It does this regularly.

When Amazon bans you, they usually keep all of your unpaid royalties. Sometimes, they even keep selling your books despite you being banned - and you see none of that income.

It doesn’t matter if you’re low or high profile (though if you’re high profile your fans can kick up enough of a fuss to make a difference in some cases). Recently, USA Today bestselling author Lexi Ostrow was banned, for very vague reasons which made no sense to her regardless of what channels she tried to go through. You can read about her experience in trying to get reinstated here.

This morning, I woke up to news that another bestselling author, Ruby Dixon, was banned over the holiday weekend with seemingly no recourse. This is not some small fry author who made no income for Amazon: Ruby Dixon is huge in the Romance genre. Huge. She is the beloved author of many of people’s favorite science fiction romance novels, specifically the Ice Planet Barbarians series.

From what I understand, Ruby Dixon has no idea why she was banned.

The news spread through the writing and reading community quickly. Writers are freaking out because if Ruby Dixon can get banned for no reason (not just a book - her entire Kindle Direct Publishing account), any of us could. Let’s face it: we kind of already knew that, but it’s just another example driving the point home. Readers are confused about why they can’t find her titles in the store anymore.

Romance readers ended up contacting Amazon customer support repeatedly when the news came out to ask what is happening. Last I heard, the influx of protesting fans resulted in reinstatement (or the promise of reinstatement?)

Readers are asking Amazon what is going on on Twitter under the #givememydixon hashtag. Luckily, this is also drawing attention to other authors impacted by the ban spree.

@AmazonPub @AmazonKDP The indie author community would like an explanation for why Amazon appears to be on a ban spree. Ruby Dixon and several others were just banned for “misleading content” with ZERO warning and ZERO communication. Unacceptable. #givememydixon

— Alexis B. Osborne (@abo_romance) January 3, 2022

This is of course wonderful for Ruby Dixon and hopefully it can help smaller authors as well to some extent. But most of us don’t have any army of fans to petition for us or to try to figure out what’s going on. If Amazon decides to drop the ban hammer on one of us, we will have no recourse. Once your KDP account is terminated, you have no proper way of contacting KDP support to try to figure out what’s going on or how to fix it.

Spams and scams coming through the portal

Amazon has a spam and plagiarism problem.

There have been cases of books being stolen, run through an auto-translator like Google Translate, and republished in another language by the thief. This is a big issue. And it seems like in some cases, the original author is the one that gets punished by Amazon. Once they do, there is almost no recourse.

There have also been cases of free stories being ripped from public websites and put into massive plagiarised, low quality bundles, then pushed into Kindle Unlimited by the thief.

There are strong suspicions that Amazon has an automated system that flags (and maybe even bans) authors with no human input to combat this kind of spam, as well as punish authors who they think are breaking KU exclusivity deals. They take their Kindle Unlimited exclusivity seriously, and I have heard of authors getting in trouble when Amazon auto-detected pirated copies of their books on other websites. Note: these are not authors who purposefully republished their work despite being in KU. These are authors who have had their work stolen and republished on pirate sites by third parties. Still, Amazon often flags their books and punishes the author.

Going wide

Stories of confusing bans and KU glitches have been becoming more and more frequent. As a very new self-published author, I am worried that my KDP account will get banned in one of these bot sweeps before I even get a chance to build a proper readership. I have already found my books on pirate sites, and I’m a nobody. If one day Amazon decides that someone else putting up a torrent of my book online is a ban-worthy offence on my part, I’m screwed.

This is why I decided to get away from KU and Amazon exclusivity as quickly as possible. As a writer in the science fiction romance genre, these books make most of their money in KU. But there have now been plenty of examples of why depending on Amazon for your entire income is a bad idea. I always intended to eventually go wide for this reason, but I was going to take it slow and get my feet wet in KU, first. The income will likely be lower because KU really is the main money-maker, but it is better than finding all of your writing and publishing efforts demolished overnight because Amazon decided to ban you with no explanation.

Now, the plan is to go for a hybrid approach ASAP: publish a whole series into KU. Once the full series has been up for 3-6 months, start moving books out of KU and onto wide platforms one by one. Eventually, stop going into KU completely. I know a few other authors take this approach, and am hearing of more who plan to do the same. It allows them to milk whatever they can out of KU while the series is fresh and then release the book on other platforms once the spike of initial KU income done.

Amazon doesn’t have to care about authors - they’re too big, and most of their income comes from elsewhere. I have a feeling it’s only when their whole KU program is a barren shell that nobody wants to touch with a ten foot pole that they might wake up.

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