Hating on Amazon: Can we just stop?

There are so many things that irritated me last week, and a lot of it boiled down to hating Amazon and its practices and the way they treat indies. I haven’t been immune to how frustrating it can be when I had my own go around with them over Large Print. I never did get it resolved and gave up. That’s the price of doing business with a large corporation who doesn’t have the time or the manpower to deal with everything on a case-by-case basis. You win some (being able to publish without an agent or the Big Five) and you lose some (having to deal with bots and issues lost in translation with employees who have English as a second language).

What is irritating to me is why indie authors think they are special enough not to have to deal with this. They act like Amazon is a big bully, pushing them around, but let’s remember that Amazon gave us the ability to self-publish and who knows how long that would have taken without them. For as many people who wish indies didn’t exist, it could have taken a long time.

I understand it’s scary when Amazon decides to take your books down because they found them on a pirate site, or they take your books down because they claim you don’t have proper licensing to use your stock photos on your covers. It’s frustrating when their return policy allows readers to return books, but the thing is, indie authors don’t want to behave like selling books is a business, and that’s exactly what it is. You are a business dealing with a business. That means doing what you need to do to keep your business running smoothly. Here are some tips to doing that:

Network. This might be surprising, but when adult authors who handle issues with professionalism have a situation with Amazon, they’ll not only post the problem, but how they resolved it. That’s important because maybe you haven’t had an issue with Amazon yet, but that doesn’t mean you won’t in the future. Knowing how another author handled the potentially same situation you may one day face is a great resource to getting your books back up with little hassle. The 20booksto50k group on FB is a wealth of information when it comes to this kind of thing.

Realize that indie authors can be doing it wrong and deserve Amazon’s slap on the wrist. There will always be an indie who doesn’t know they can’t use whatever they want on a cover. While it’s a pain in the butt to have to deal with something like that if it happens to you, all Amazon is insuring is that they aren’t helping you sell something illegal. You could be doing everything 100% correctly, but I’ll never blame Amazon for double-checking. It’s annoying when your boss is looking over your shoulder to see that you’re doing the work the way you’re supposed to, but for every 10 authors who follow the rules, there will be one who doesn’t know the rules or blatantly disregards them and will rip off a cover or use any picture they want from Pinterest.

Join an organization. Businesses have attorneys on retainer or have them as part of their staff. Businesses are also members of organizations in their field. It gives them credibility and resources to turn to if they need. Being an indie author isn’t any different. You are a business so you should invest in your books. Join Alli or the IBPA, or the RWA if you’re a romance author, or if you write Sci-Fi and Fantasy, join SFWA. All those organizations will give you to access to legal advice and have contacts at Amazon. They’ll reach out on your behalf and get your situation handled for you. A yearly membership isn’t that much–broken down it’s about 10 dollars a month) and it’s worth the peace of mind. Memberships can also include other benefits like IngramSpark uploads and revisions codes and discounts on editing and formatting. When I changed the insides for All of Nothing and Wherever He Goes, the revisions codes saved me almost half of what the membership cost. New uploads later this year will cover the rest of the fee. It doesn’t take long for the membership to pay for itself.

What really bothers me is the entitlement I see from indies. There was one woman who was accusing Amazon of ripping her off because they discounted her paperback book. Thank goodness people corrected her and said she still earns full royalties when they do that. I’m really just flummoxed by the attitudes lately, and I don’t know what’s causing it. Another author was in a rage because someone bought and returned her trilogy. Amazon has updated their returns policy and according to it, readers can’t return books that have been read or partially read up to a point. You’re a business–you should expect returns every now and then. (If you’re getting a lot then it’s a problem with your product, not someone’s return guidelines, and I don’t care who you publish with.) I think complaining about something like that is tacky. You don’t know what kind of financial situation your readers are in. Maybe she had an expense pop up and had no choice. It’s none of your business why they had to return, and griping about it on a public forum is trashy and tasteless. I hope her reader saw that tweet and never buys her books again. I could start a long list of people who behave badly and never buy their books. I don’t need to fuel such bitterness.

I think a lot of indies forget that Amazon has been the target of their share of indie scammers. Authors who used click farms to fuel KU borrows and reads, authors who would book stuff for the KU page reads, authors who would publish individual books wide and then put a boxed set in KU hoping to cash in, authors who would host giveaways like Chance Carter who tried to give away Tiffany jewelry . . . There was even a black market scam where authors sold their manuscripts so other authors could publish the same story under a different title, cover, and author name. It’s not like in all the years we’ve been able to publish we’ve been completely innocent. I would be shocked if Amazon didn’t learn from that.

I’ve been called naïve and privileged for sharing this simple solution: Don’t like Amazon? Don’t publish there. I was called privileged because Amazon is the biggest ebook retailer in the world, I think, but it most definitely is in the US and people say they can’t sell books without it. I don’t see why not. I’ve seen indies say their sales are bigger on Apple Books, Nook, and Google Play. It all depends on where you push your readers. At the very least, publish there and push your readers to Kobo. And if you’re not willing to do that, at LEAST shut up on a public forum about how you hate how Amazon treats indie authors. Not all of us have a big chip on our shoulder.

I understand publishing is hard, but there are ways you can make it easier on yourself. Join an organization who can go up to bat for you. Buy your images for your covers that will provide you with the licensing Amazon wants when they approach you. In the group I was scrolling, the author said Amazon didn’t accept the Shutterstock license. I was surprised, but it’s good to know. They accepted the DepositPhoto license when she changed her cover. I know Amazon will under no circumstances accept the licensing Canva gives you if you use photos under your Pro Plan. So far I haven’t heard an issue with fonts, but buy the ones you want to use. Creative Fabrica will give you the licensing agreement when you purchase fonts off that site.

And last, if not least, if you have an issue, approach it like an adult, not just assume Amazon is “out to get you.” They aren’t. Dealing with their red tape is the same as dealing with medical insurance, car insurance when you get into an accident, dealing with the IRS when you can’t afford to pay in. Dealing with Amazon is an adult thing you have to do because you’re an adult running an adult business.

The scammy stuff is really interesting, and I haven’t heard of what was going on years ago popping up again. Maybe being heavy-handed, Amazon took care of a lot of that and shady authors don’t want to risk it. I heard Chance Carter had surfaced under a different name and then once Amazon caught on, we never heard from him again. I think it’s funny we’re still friends on FB and I’m still following his Author Page that has a post-apocalyptic feel these days. He had such a great following and he had to ruin it. It’s amazing as it is mystifying.

If you want to read more about scammers, you can visit these links, and even my own old blog post about it:

I must have been having a bad day…..I’m very ranty LOL https://vaniamargene.com/2020/05/04/scammers-gonna-scam/

Bad romance: To cash in on Kindle Unlimited, a cabal of authors gamed Amazon’s algorithm By SARAH JEONG linked above)

Chance Carter And #Cockygate Collide by David Gaughran

#BOOKSTUFFING AND WHY IT MATTERS by Cait

Book Stuffing, Bribery and Bullying: The Self-Publishing Problem Plaguing Amazon

Amazon Scammers — An Unregulated Group Pushing out Women, LGBT+, and African American Authors in Romance Fiction

People need to calm down. It’s gonna be okay. Buy a promo, buy an ad. Pour a glass of wine and breathe. After a week of this, I know I will.

Have a great week!