Self-Publishing with Amazon KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) is recommended to all ALLi (Alliance of Independent Authors) members, in combination with other key, direct publishing services and, crucially, development of the author’s own website and platform.
No self-publishing service is larger, more innovative, more influential with readers, or more useful to writers than KDP. But of course no company is perfect and in this long post we bring you an interview with Darren Hardy, Amazon KDP’s UK Manager, about a number of issues—click-farming, review stripping, book stuffing and poor communications—which have been causing debate and confusion among our members, and the wider self-publishing community, in recent months.
ALLi and Amazon have been working closely to understand and fix these issues. We hope this video interview will provide clarity, dispel some of the many myths and misunderstandings that swirl around Amazon, and enable our members to work well with KDP without fear or confusion.
Self-Publishing Books With Amazon KDP: The Basics
First, for those who may be new to self-publishing here’s a quick primer. Amazon turned publishing upside down ten years ago with the invention of the Kindle e-reader because not only did it come with the largest retail store in the world attached, it brought along the stunning innovation that is KDP, allowing self-publishing to go mainstream.
Amazon Says: Self-publishing through KDP takes less than five minutes and your book appears on Kindle stores worldwide within 24-48 hours, reaching millions of readers on Amazon. Earn up to 70 percent royalty. Keep control of your rights, set your own list prices and make changes to your books at any time. Enroll in KDP Select to earn more money [from a specially allocated monthly KDP Select Global Fund] for pages read, through Kindle Unlimited (KU) and the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library (KOLL) and access a series of tools.
ALLi says: KDP was revolutionary for all authors and has changed many writers’ lives by giving them a decent income from writing. It has also expanded and democratized publishing, brought success to many who would have struggled to find a place in trade publishing, and remains an invaluable and innovative partner.
Publishing, however, is not just the moment you press the “Publish” button. Publishing is seven processes you must get right. If you want to be a good publisher as well as a good writer, you will need to learn various skills and hire help along the way.
For widest impact and to maximize independence, we encourage our members to publish through KDP in combination with other key services and, crucially, development of the author’s own sales platform (See Self-Publishing 3.0 campaign below), rather than working exclusively with any single service. Selective use of KDP Select for a single book, or for a period of time, can be a good strategic move for an author within this context.
Self-Publishing Books With Amazon KDP: Latest Developments
1: Self-Publishing Pbooks With KDP Print
CreateSpace (CS), based in Charleston, North Carolina, has been Amazon’s print facility since it acquired Booksurge in 2008 but in Spring 2017 it launched KDP print.
Amazon Says: KDP automatically suggests to people eBooks, but we’ve been working hard to add print services into KDP. You can now publish your books in print through Kindle Direct Publishing and just recently we’ve added some additional features for authors outside the US, whereby author copies to proof or sell directly ordered through KDP are shipped locally, which is quicker and cheaper.
ALLi Says: It’s very convenient for authors to be able to publish Amazon print and ebooks through one dashboard. We recommend that authors putting out new books use KDP print from now on and think about migrating your CS print backlist across to KDP.
2: Amazon Storyteller Award 2018
Amazon Storyteller is a writing competition that offers a £20,000 cash prize and a marketing and translation campaign to support the winning book. English language titles published through KDP and included in KDP Select between are eligible.
Amazon said readers will play a hand in selecting the shortlist, compiled using “a number of factors which measure customer interest in the titles” along with a panel of judges made of up Amazon executives and literary figures.
Amazon says: The Kindle Storyteller Award 2018 is a literary prize recognizing outstanding writing. It is open to writers publishing in English in any genre, who publish their work through Kindle Direct Publishing, this year before 31 August 2018. Readers will play a significant role in selecting the winner, helped by a panel of judges including TV celebrity Lorraine Kelly, Director of the Alliance of Independent Authors, Orna Ross, and various book industry experts.
ALLi says: Storyteller is one of the best competitions on our Book Award and Contest Ratings. This is an opportunity to get untold exposure on the Amazon platform for your book. Reader response is important but this contest is not just for genre books. Authors anywhere in the world
Authors anywhere in the world, writing books in any genre, who are publishing a new book in English can enter. We encourage all members to enter, you have nothing to lose.
3. Amazon Author Academy
We are delighted to be holding these events, enabling both aspiring and established writers to come together and hear from some local authors who have reached readers all around the world through KDP. Our next Author Academy is on the 11th of September. We’re going to be in Wales. It’s a free event, but we just need people to sign up so that we know who’s coming. There, you can hear about all sorts of author questions from the creative side of the writing journey through to the practicalities of marketing and publishing and so on.
Amazon Academy is an opportunity to find out more about producing and selling books using KDP. It’s also a place to learn what’s new, ask questions, meet the people behind the programmes, and hear from other writers about what it takes to run a successful indie author business. Feedback from our members has been overwhelmingly positive.
ALLi Member Concerns
Purging of Reviews, Author or Page Rank Stripping
Purging of reviews regularly generates uproar by authors as a decent quantity and quality of reviews can be crucial to their ability to market their work. Authors are distressed when they wake up some morning and find a number of their reviews removed, affecting their books ranking, without explanation.
Other authors have found their page or book or even author rank stripped without explanation, and their account closed.
This poses problems for authors and for ALLi, as good communication is one of the core tenets in our Code of Standards, the code we use to evaluate partner members performance.
The ideal, from an author’s perspective, as summed up by ALLi member Chas Newport in our member forum, would be:
- No action without prior warning.
- No presumption of guilt.
- Evidence of the supposed offense.
- Proper right of appeal with a two-way dialogue.
- Prompt restoration of lost rank, momentum and earnings on successful appeal.
All this sounds eminently reasonable but KDP runs on artificial intelligence–bots and algorithms.
For large tech companies like KDP the policy is to use AI generated processes to implement services then human beings (in outsourced customer service desks) to solve any issues arising, as they are revealed through customer complaint.
This is frustrating if you’re one of the customers caught in a problem but it’s the price we pay for having a platform that can deliver millions of books, while trying to cope with the authors and other companies who also use bots or “clickfarms” to inflate page views, manipulate ranking and post fake reviews.
We don’t want to get drawn into a detailed conversation about guidelines and decisions because there are people who are looking to abuse those guidelines. Given the number of books that are published on the platform, it’s not scalable for us to reveal every instance of what we’ve spotted and what we’re trying to do about it.
We did have some specific technical problems earlier in the year. We sorted those out now and as far as we know those problems haven’t repeated. Like any business when you create something which is very successful, there’s a small percentage of people that look to distort the rules in some ways and cheat the system. We’ve been working very hard to make sure that legitimate authors are not penalized.
As long as authors are following the community guidelines (see Useful Link below), they have nothing to worry about.
Amazon’s policy and process means authors’ wish to have prior warning of “offences” against guidelines is not likely to happen. It also means that an author should not interpret the removal of reviews or page ranking as a sign that you, personally, have done something wrong.
If your book reviews have been removed in error, or if any other error has been made contact Amazon directly. We have had many many instances of reviews and rankings being restored. If you are an ALLi member and have not received satisfaction, follow the Appeal process below.
Also, if your book has been reviewed in violation of Amazon policies or in a way that is potentially harmful to authors generally, let us know.
Hardworking author-publishers understandably have strong feelings about cheating or scamming of KDP, and most especially about book stuffing, as it artificially inflates the payout that cheaters receive from Amazon — money coming from a communal pot.
Book stuffers slip entire old books into the back of their latest ebook, getting significantly more pages in front of their reader’s eyeballs and taking a larger chunk of the royalty fund that is paid per number of pages read andsplit between all of the self-publishing authors included in KU that month.
Ther are many other tricks used, eg. guiding readers to click forward to the end of the book and many of these are earning All Star bonuses and getting Top 100 promotion by Amazon while legitimate authors are squeezed out of ranking and payment.
There are now limits around the amount of bonus content that can go into a title, and there are very clear guidelines around how authors tell their readers about the content of the book or within a table of contents or within the metadata that they supply for the title.
The author community is currently watching this situation closely to see how it unfolds. There is also an issue with misuse of categories which is ongoing. e.g. the category “Anthologies and Literature” is flooded with erotica short stories.
Self-Publishing with Amazon KDP: Appeals and Communications Process
ALLi is pleased to enjoy good relations with KPD, to field speakers for Amazon Academy and a judge for the Storyteller Award, to receive sponsorship for some of our nonprofit activities, and to intervene for our members in a variety of ways when they have specific problems or concerns that cannot be worked out with Amazon’s customer service.
We also offer feedback to KDP on matters of policy or process that are raising concern in the indie author community. Member input is valuable to us since it helps us gather important information about authors’ issues.
Much work has gone into fixing the substantive issues, we now hope to address the issue of communcation.
If you are an ALLi member who has an issue that cannot be resolved through Amazon’s own Customer Service desk, write to us in confidence through the contact form on the main ALLi member site, quoting your membership number.
Please also note the following two relevant ALLi campaigns:
Ethical Author Campaign
Our Code of Standards holds services to account, requiring approved services to operate with transparency and within an accepted code of business ethics, which means we, as authors, have a responsibility to do the same. Our Ethical Author Campaign offers authors a code of conduct and series of guidelines. Please take a look at our guiding principles of putting the reader first.
Self-Publishing 3.0 Campaign
Self-publishing 3.0 encourages writers to build sustainable author enterprises, including other publishing services, direct sales on their own websites, subscription models where readers pay more to and crowdsourced patronage. It includes badges for your own website and your readers (see left)
Producing quality creative assets and owning our own creative e-commerce platform is key to developing a sustainable business that gives freedom from the panic and fear that sweeps the author community, whenever KDP changes its terms and conditions.
The goal of our Self-publishing 3.0 Campaign is true independence for authors, establishing earning streams through our own author websites, side-by-side with also using other retailers, platforms and services effectively.
Mostly, it’s about the mindset shift needed to take control of your author business rather than entrusting all your creative assets and energies to others, be that an agent, publisher or single self-publishing service.
More information about the Self-Publishing 3.0 campaign here.
VIDEO: Watch Orna Ross Interview Amazon KDP’s Darren Hardy
AUDIO: Listen to ALLi Director Orna Ross’s Interview With Amazon’s Darren Hardy
TEXT: Read the Transcript of Orna Ross’s Interview with Darren Hardy of Amazon KDP
Orna Ross: Hello everybody and you are very welcome. I’m Orna Ross here today for the Alliance of Independent Authors connected by the magic of the Internet to Mr. Darren Hardy UK manager, Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). Hi Darren, welcome.
Darren Hardy: Hi Orna. It’s great to be here. Thanks for the invitation.
Orna Ross: It’s great to have you back and it’s always good to speak to KDP at any time, but I think at particularly this time there has been so much going on over on your side. Of course, there always is as I know you’re always in a process of constantly upgrading and bringing in new features for authors that has ripples right through the network and we have lots of questions from our members and followers for you today about various things that have been happening.
So, yeah, can we start there? Can you talk to me about the top three big things that have been happening at KDP that authors should be aware of since we spoke last time, which was 18 months ago or so?
Latest Developments at Amazon
Darren Hardy: Yeah, sure. So obviously, [here in the Northern hemisphere] it’s the summer where authors are thinking about summer reading and [authors are] thinking ahead to Q4 and Christmas and the opportunities that season brings.
One of the key things that we’ve been working on over recent months is print services within Kindle Direct Publishing. It automatically suggests to people eBooks, but we’ve been working very hard to add print services into KDP and so over the last few months you can now publish your books in print through Kindle Direct Publishing and just recently we’ve added some additional features. So for example, an author looking to print a proof copy or some of their own author copies to potentially sell themselves can do that through KDP and they are shipped locally.
Rather than in the past with other services like CreateSpace, having to wait and pay for them to come from the US, now they are printed and shipped locally so the author can receive them much more quickly and much more cheaply coming in from the local marketplace.
Orna Ross: Two questions about this. Firstly, it sounds like Amazon is migrating print services from CreateSpace to KDP?
Darren Hardy: Well, we’re certainly looking to get to a position where KDP offers all of the services that CreateSpace offered and I think we’re pretty much there now. Just recently you may have seen the announcement around expanded distribution, EDC. That is available for authors who were selling their books in the US marketplace to make those books available to other booksellers in the US marketplace. And that was recently added into KDP. So yes, were getting to that point now where I think for many authors, Kindle Direct Publishing, KDP is the one stop shop, you know, and it has all the benefits that that brings a consolidated reporting and being able to simplify the publishing process because you can go through it in a much more sort of streamlined process of producing an eBook and a print book through the same workflow.
So it has many of those benefits. And as you mentioned earlier, we’re always looking to make improvements and to hear what authors would like next. So, I’m sure there’ll be all sorts of new features down the line, but at this point we are getting to that stage, I think where KDP is the option of choice for many authors.
Orna Ross: Great! And the second question: those services that you mentioned in terms of delivery of proof books and so on, that is applying across all the various stores for our Australian members, New Zealand members, wherever they may be? Where are these local centers? How worldwide are they?
Darren Hardy: Yes, I mean for most authors. Certainly, if you are an English-speaking author and you’re looking to publish into the English-speaking market, then yes publishing through KDP gives you all of those options. The key thing from an author perspective using KDP is you have the control. You choose which territories you publish your books into. As an author sitting in a living room in London, you can be making your books available to customers in the US, in Australia and India, you know, in many, many places. So exciting times. You know, and I know for many authors that I speak to, actually the US is a huge marketplace for them, you know, even though they’re UK based. Hopefully these services will help that.
Orna Ross: That’s fantastic. I think I confused you there, though. I was talking about the proof delivery that you mentioned. It’s great that you mentioned that fact because I think sometimes, particularly when it comes to print…because traditionally in the trade printers been local, within a fixed territory, either the UK or the US or, or the commonwealth or whatever. So when it comes to print, we do tend to think perhaps a little bit too locally. So I’m glad you brought that up. But I was actually specifically referring to that proof print service: is that available just in the UK or is it everywhere?
Darren Hardy: Wherever we operate KDP, yes. You can order your proof copies where we have those print services. So yes, you may choose. We will send you some links so you can see some demonstrations of how this works but essentially you choose the Amazon website that you want to produce your print copy through. So you may be sat in France and you may want to order that book through amazon.fr. so you can do that and obviously benefit from that quicker turnaround. So yes, it is, it is broadly available.
Orna Ross: That’s fantastic. We will have a small booklet in association with this presentation, which is going to have direct links to all the different things that we’re going to be talking about. So rather than us calling loads of links through the presentation with which people would promptly just lose [laughs], we’ll have a downloadable PDF which people will be able to get hot links directly to whatever questions and concerns and issues they have because your help documentation—like yourselves—is expanding exponentially and it’s huge now.
So just on the specific issues that we’re talking about, it will be handy and thank you very much for providing that as well.
So yes, that’s KDP print, which is really exciting. What’s number two?
Darren Hardy: It is. Well, I guess one of the other big things that people have been really interested in is the Storyteller contest. So as you’re aware as a participating judge, we launched a Storyteller Award last year in the UK. This is an English language writing contest and so authors anywhere in the world who are publishing a new book in English can enter it into the Storyteller contest in the UK [and various other territories] and this year we’re now in the middle of the entry window. The window’s open until the 31st of August.
So, we’ve already had thousands of entries from all around the world. I think, you know, one of the things we hear from authors is that sort of challenge of, “I’ve got a book in me, I just need to sit down and write it.” Well, having some deadlines, like: here’s a contest that you could enter and you could win a prize of 20,000 pounds if you win. The contest serves to sort of focus people’s minds.
So hopefully over the summer months, many authors are thinking, okay, 31st of August is my deadline. I need to get my book published in that time. And we’re very excited to see what happens, see what entries that we get. Last year’s winner, David Leadbeater, has done fabulously since winning, he’s had his books published through Amazon Publishing and into translation. He’s been at some great events. So hopefully this year’s winner will have similar sort of success also.
Orna Ross: And of course David is not a new writer. This is open to those who’ve published multiple times before as well as beginners. And we had on the short list last year both of those, which was very gratifying. The other thing that we at ALLi are telling author is: this is not just a popularity contest. There can sense among people that perhaps it is just about that and they might be ruling themselves out because they don’t write in the most popular genre. But actually this is open to everybody and it’s a way of highlighting books in lots of different genres.
Darren Hardy: Yes. And that’s the great thing about Storyteller: it’s trying to be as open as possible. Obviously you need to create a contest which is manageable, but yes, you can be an established author with many books under your belt. Or this could be your first publication. You might be writing fiction, nonfiction, you may be writing a business book. There’s all sorts of different ways in which you can captivate readers’ attention and imagination. And that’s really the key thing. Sales are important obviously, but there other things that indicate commercial viability and real customer appeal and we’ll be looking at those to come up with a shortlist and then obviously selecting a winner to win this year.
Orna Ross: Fantastic. Okay. And one more of your big developments and then we’ll get onto some of the specific questions that our members have for you.
Darren Hardy: The final thing to really emphasize is just the growing opportunities for authors to be successful. The fact that it’s summer reading, the fact that Q4, Christmas is just around the corner and I think authors thinking about the various services that we offer through KDP Select like the Countdown Deals and Kindle Unlimited reaching a whole new group of readers through subscription really just emphasizes the opportunity.
I guess making those things as successful as we can has been one of the other things that we focused on over recent months. So you’ll have seen some changes or clarifications around things like Kindle Unlimited and subscription content guidelines. All of those. Yeah.
We’ve been spending a lot of time listening to authors and the Alliance of Independent Authors have been great at giving us feedback from the author community that we can then take away and listen to, and see how we can improve our services.
I think that will continue and that’s almost sort of everyday, but it’s also not to be underestimated just how important those things are. Certainly for many authors that I speak to having access to those regions through subscription has been a great opportunity over the last year or so in particular.
I think at the events we’ve been running, things like the Amazon Academy events, you know, many authors have been talking to me about just how important it is for them.
And speaking of the academies, we have another one scheduled for later in this year on the 11th of September, we’re going to be in Wales. And I know the Alliance and another author organizations are spreading the word again and in our list of links that we will circulate the link to the ticketing page for that. It’s a free event, but we just need people to sign up so that we know who’s coming. There, you can hear about all sorts of author questions from the creative side of, of the writing journey through to the practicalities of marketing and publishing and so on. So now we’ve done a number of these over the course of the last year or so, and they’ve always been hugely successful. So, we’re looking forward to Wales as well.
Changes at Kindle Unlimited
Orna Ross: Great. Okay. So, you mentioned KU so let’s talk a little bit more about KU because there have been some problems over the last while. There’s been an escalation I think in terms of issues arising from various aspects of KU. We should also say that KU is a KDP Select program, so available only to those who are signed up for KDP Select. So just before we get into looking at some of those things have happening there, can you explain, just for those who may not be familiar with it, what KDP Select is.
Darren Hardy: How it works? Sure. So KDP Select is an opt-in program. As an author publishing through KDP, it’s your choice whether you decide to go into KDP select. You opt in for a period of 90 days and in return for making your book exclusive on Amazon for that 90 day period, KDP Select offers a whole sort of series of tools. And an option. So for example, to run a Kindle Countdown deal, whereby an author can choose to run a price promotion for a period of time and on the website it calls out to customers: ‘this book is available at this special deal price for a specific period of time’ and so it sort of encourages people to make that purchase decision.
As we mentioned, your book is also added into Kindle Unlimited, which is a subscription program for readers. The reader pays £7.99 a month and has access to a whole range of titles as part of the subscription. Every book that is added into KDP Select is added into KU. So for many authors it’s definitely something that is worth thinking about and experimenting with.
We hear from authors that will test it by maybe putting in the first book in the series. Maybe they put in the last book in a series or they put in one or two books they make. Maybe older books. The great thing about it is the author has the control and decides what they want to do and every 90 days you have the option of reflecting on how it’s working for you, choosing either “I’m going to continue with that” or “I’m not putting my book back into KDP Select” and trying something else. Many many authors I speak to have said what a tremendous sort of benefit it’s been, how it’s opened the door to a whole new income stream for them.
And fortunately for those authors there’s an auto-renew option on the page, so you can just have your books are constantly rolling over its 90-day periods and staying in the program. And that seems to have been the way for many authors to go.
I should point out that when books that are added into Kindle Unlimited through KDP Select we pay for the pages read, what the readers are actually reading of that book.
And so, every month the author will see how many pages they’ve had read and how much are they getting paid for those pages read. So it’s a real reflection of genuine reader engagement. And yet we are literally paying for each page that a customer has read. So really, hugely successful for many authors and designed to reward those authors who are literally writing page turners and the more pages you have read in your book, the more you will make.
Rank and Page Stripping
Orna Ross: Yes. It’s fair to say, I think, that many indies are doing very, very well in this program. It’s not for everybody, like every program, but there are a number of our members who make the majority of their income or their income in total from this program. So which is an extremely important program for a lot of indies.
And there have been some hiccups over the past while that you and I have been discussing, and maybe we could talk a little bit about that now. Some authors were quite disturbed—and this goes back I think mainly to some months ago now—to find that their page rank had been removed or they had been completely rank stripped and their account closed. There were errors and most, I believe now, have been reinstated. Can you talk to me a little bit about how that happened and what’s been happening to improve the situation?
Darren Hardy: But yeah, I don’t think that was a specifically tied to KU, I think that was a general issue we had. We did have some specific technical problems earlier in the year where some books behaved in a way that I don’t think many authors were expecting and then we issued a community post at that point saying yes, there have been some technical issues. We sorted those out now and as far as I know—and again, it’s always good to get feedback from you and your membership—those problems haven’t repeated.
I also think, as you say, there are specific concerns or questions around Kindle Unlimited because it has become such a big part of author income and the way that readers engage with books these days. As you know, subscription programs are a part of digital media the world over, be it music or video, and I think one of the key things I think we really worked on over recent months is just trying to be a little bit clearer in terms of what it is that we’re trying to do.
Like any business when you create something which is very successful, there’s a small percentage of people that look to, shall we say, distort the rules in some ways and find ways of trying to cheat the system. And we’ve been working very hard to make sure that legitimate authors are not penalized from that behavior. And so we’ve been making some changes.
We’ve been putting out some guidelines around things like bonus content and incentivizing people to read. And some of the other things that I think, as you say, you’ve mentioned before, and again we can share some of the links to some of the content guidelines, some of the rules and terms and conditions that apply to programs like this.
Because for any legitimate author, there’s nothing to be worried about. You know, as you say, KU is not necessarily for everybody but for the vast majority of authors I speak to. It is something that you can really get involved with and as long as you’re abiding by the rules, then there’s nothing to worry about.
Any communication that we send out to authors where we’ve seen something may not necessarily be something that the author has done. We’ll just have noticed there’s something on their account. They will receive an email, a very transparent email with a very clear opportunity to discuss the situation, and then the appropriate decisions are made down the line.
So, certainly for authors that I’m hearing from there were some teething issues but that has certainly settled down a lot more over recent weeks and months.
Anthologies and Rights
Orna Ross: The reason I was thinking of it as being KU issue because I think they are two kind of separate kind of areas where issues are arising, and one is in around box sets, anthology bonus content, what you’re talking about. So as you say, there are people who are always trying to game the system. We call them scammers, so let’s call them scammers, who work out ways in which to play a system. And they’re not writers, their life passion is not putting words out there, it’s really about making money for them and their behavior has led legitimate authors who are just concerned about reaching their readers to be targeted. They receive communications and it’s part of the concern that we hear about and you know, recently for example, we had a member who is putting together anthologies and they got an email looking for the rights information for each author in the anthology. Obviously this is honest.
I’m trying to ensure that those who own the copyright are the only people who are pulling that together from the office perspective. They got a letter out of the blue, they’ve been doing something for, you know, x number of years. Suddenly they’re asked for certain information very quickly. The communication is kind of fraught. They’re feeling almost like they’ve done something wrong.
So I think some of the problems that are arising is because authors don’t necessarily understand what you guys are trying to do.
But some of it is also happening around communication and how things are put across and also, perhaps, how it’s being approached. In this example, if rights information is required, why not put it on the dashboard? So, it has to be input as part of the process, when they’re uploading the book rather than them having to prove it afterwards, which gives them a huge headache with a book launch going on.
Darren Hardy: As you say, and as we talked about earlier, we’re constantly listening for that kind of feedback and I’m sure, you know, whilst the vast majority of our messages from our customer service team and things like that, are very clear, are very straightforward, there will be situations where authors are concerned, yeah.
And I think the vast majority of authors are acting legitimately and have no intention of doing anything untoward. Just the fact that you’ve received an email asking for certain information isn’t an accusation, you know, it isn’t that we’re saying you’ve done something wrong and please stop. It’s often the question where we just checking, where we are just asking for that information and in some instances it may be a very sort of straightforward query that, that can get sort of wrapped up very, very quickly.
But I think with any of those communications it is, it is a dialogue with every email that we send. There should be a link, you know: here’s how you contact us, here’s how you get more information or query what we’re asking for and should therefore be an opportunity to have a discussion around those kinds of things.
And because, you know, in that instance that you mentioned of an author putting together an anthology of short stories or whatever it might be, there could be all sorts of questions that come out of that, the editing author as it were, is acting in the best way possible, but maybe received a query from one of the participating authors. You know, maybe there’s something that has come up in one of our systems that we need to clarify. And I think reaching out to the, the owner of that book as it is a much better way of going about trying to establish what is the situation and then just moving on quickly.
So yeah, I would hope that the messaging that we’re giving out is clear and is giving the authors the opportunity to respond in good time and resolve the situation and as you say, you know, if there are better ways of getting that information such as including something in a dashboard, or in the publishing process, that’s really great feedback and we can have a look at whether that is practical and where we could put that in. So yeah, I think that that’s a really useful insight.
Orna Ross: Great. And the other area of course where there is sort of thing happens as well is reviews. The author wakes up one morning and finds suddenly they’ve lost 10 percent, 20 percent, 50 percent or more depending on how many reviews they have. And they don’t know why. They write and ask why. They don’t feel that they get an explanation that fully makes sense to them. Can you talk a bit about what’s going on there?
Darren Hardy: Well I think reviews generally—as with all Kindle Direct Publishing terms and conditions—reviews have very clear community guidelines that every review, has to follow.
And, you know, like any business trying to deal with those kind of guidelines, we have to be very careful around the content that gets put onto our website. But equally we don’t want to get drawn into a very detailed conversation about every single instance because, you know, there are, again, a small number of people who are looking to abuse those guidelines, or not meet those guidelines, and it wouldn’t really be scalable to start revealing every single instance of what we’ve spotted and what we’re trying to do about it.
Again, when it comes to reviews, as long as the author is following the community guidelines that are out there, —and again, we can make sure that that link goes out there—they have nothing to worry about.
Also, the fact that a review has come down isn’t necessarily a reflection of anything that they’ve done. And it shouldn’t be seen as any kind of criticism of what they’re doing. It’s simply us managing our community in the way that our terms and conditions allows.
I know. for example, there are all sorts of concerns, especially within the books world about reviews and review copies and proof copies that are sent out to the community for reviews. And we have very clear guidelines on that. It is perfectly all right as long as the person receiving the book is not forced to submit a review, and as long as the author sending out the review copy isn’t trying to influence that review in any way.
I know there’ve been certain instances where authors have been very worried about what they can say to their reviewers or book bloggers or whatever it might be about their reviews on Amazon or on any Amazon website. As long as the author is sending out a review copy with a note that says, hey, here’s my book, if you’d like to review it that’s entirely up to you, and that’s it, then they have nothing to worry about.
The concern is where they’re saying please review my book, please leave a positive review. That is starting to get into a risk that that review will come down because you are trying to incentivize the reviewer and that’s something the author shouldn’t be doing. But I think that, you know, the review guidelines are very clear and any authors following those should have no concerns.
Orna Ross: So, I think sometimes it’s about authors getting mixed up. If a review goes they assume it’s because Amazon thinks they’d been doing something wrong and we hear stories circulating where people say things like you know they’re listening into our conversations on Facebook, they know who my Facebook friends are and they’re taking down reviews accordingly. From Amazon’s perspective, it’s as likely, perhaps even more likely, that it’s the person writing the review who has given rise to the concern as the authors themselves. Correct?
Darren Hardy: Yeah. There’s all sorts of reasons. I mean, you can see from the community guidelines, the sort of rules that we set out for reviews and yes, there are some there that are directed towards the content creator, the manufacturer or whatever it might be. Equally, there are many rules and guidelines for the people submitting the review and as you say, it may be that the review has been removed for something that has nothing to do with the author at all.
We can’t really get into the detail of that because there may be all sorts of investigations going on our end, but they also shouldn’t treat it as a criticism of them.
And of course, if you find that a review has come down that you felt was entirely legitimate, you have the opportunity to drop us a note and say, please check, I’m sure this review is fine, I can’t see what the issue is. and when we will take a look at it.
Obviously, it’s always disappointing to lose a five-star review if you have no idea why.
Orna Ross: You have no idea, Darren. [laughs]
Darren Hardy: We absolutely see the value of reviews on the website. We know customers really value being able to read a sort of wide variety of opinions about particular books and reviews are very important. And that’s why we’re very serious about how we treat the community on our website. Each one of these is carefully calibrated decision. It’s not a random choice. The author should be reassured on that fact. Yeah, there’s lots of checking going on and it isn’t necessarily a reflection of them personally.
Perceived Threat of Book Stuffers
Orna Ross: Just back to KU again. And what has been become known in the community as book stuffing. In this case, they’re not scammers in that they are staying within the guidelines. They’re not looking to, to circumvent the system, but they are certainly looking to max out on it and they are pulling together content that has been used in many other anthologies.
Say they’re offering bonus content, which isn’t new, you know, and it’s all about kind of arranging and rearranging material and pulling in as much material as possible, stuffing the book full of stuff and so on, there is concern in the author community that people who are good at this, because of the way in which KU is paid. This is really, I think, connected to a payment issue because the payout is an amount of money that is divided among the pages read.
If somebody is good at doing all of that, they are taking money away, it’s felt within the community, from the legitimate author who is actually trying to make a living from their writing and you know, a sense that maybe that’s not okay. Maybe it shouldn’t be that that doesn’t matter as long as it’s within the rules.
Darren Hardy: Well and certainly, there’s been a lot of concern, as you say, around what’s been going on with stuffing and any type of content that doesn’t, you know, the authors don’t think is legitimate as it were.
Now, over the last few weeks we’ve put out some updated guidelines around exactly those kinds of things and I’m sure you’ve seen them—again, we can provide some links for those—where there are now limits around the amount of bonus content that can go into a title, and there are very clear guidelines around how authors tell their readers about the content of the book or within a table of contents or within the metadata that they supply for the title.
So a lot of those things have been done in very clear response to community feedback we’re getting. From our perspective, KU needs to work for authors and it needs to work for readers, and anything that is getting in the way of that, or where there’s a perception that’s it’s getting in the way of that, we take a very, very close look at.
And so, you know, this is something which has changed a lot recently. And I think there’s a lot of coverage out there about some of those recent developments. And I think a lot of positive reaction to the steps that we’re taking.
So as ever, we will continue to monitor situations and continue to monitor the type of content that’s getting in there and how readers and consuming that product. I think one of the things we have to bear in mind is an author may not like a book that’s doing particularly well in kindle unlimited, but if it meets the guidelines and readers love it, then it’s not for us to determine what is a quality book and whether readers should or shouldn’t like it.
We have very clear content guidelines. And any title meeting those guidelines stands just as much chance as any other of succeeding in a program like kindle unlimited. And we will constantly keep that sort of under observation and an update and change our guidelines as we need to according to how the situation develops. But yeah, I think now there’s some very clear content guidelines in place for kindle unlimited and bonus content stuffing, that should definitely help with that situation.
Self-Publishing with Amazon KDP: Appeals Process
Orna Ross: Okay. So if an author is feeling unhappy, about anything that’s happening in their KDP world? What’s the way to handle that?
Darren Hardy: Well I guess it depends on the nature of the question because I mean inevitably that could be a multitude of different challenges for an author. Different questions. I mean we have a huge database of content on the KDP page now and a lot of that has changed recently actually had been updated.
And there’s various sort of academies and university information and jumpstart content which gives you a really quick and digestible sort of way of sort of understanding more about the processes.
So I would say that’s a good starting point.
The “help” content should help resolve many different questions. There’s a very vibrant community, and I know ALLi as well has this very vibrant author community. You are helping each other out where you can get advice or feedback about particular situations that you find.
And then there are plenty of sort of Contact Us options as well in terms of getting directly in touch with the team of people who helped run the KDP business. And there are a number of escalation points.
Again, we can give you some, make sure it’s really clear you email addresses to use to sort of flag maybe, concerns around some content that an author is finding, Kindle Unlimited and to bring that to our attention and relationships like ours with ALLi are hugely important as ways for us to hear more about what authors are thinking and what’s working well, you know, sort out authors concerns, and also heard whenever we’ve done something which is really positive and see more of it. Channeling of your membership feedback through you in particular to us that has been hugely useful.
So I think there’s a number of different ways in which authors can use those routes to find out more, you know, to, to resolve concerns and then to flag things to our attention.
Orna Ross: Great. So business to business, having that conversation. And if you’re unhappy, the place to start is with “Contact Us”.
Darren Hardy: Yeah. I think if an author wants to engage with us, connect directly, I think that’s definitely the key way to go, but to be honest, I’ve been working in KDP a number of years now and I’ve always been amazed, and it’s been so great to see just how helpful the community is within itself. And I know ALLi members in particular, you know, are great at helping each other and even though writing can feel like a very solitary profession, you know, reaching out to the community is often a very quick and easy way of reassuring yourself on a particular point and I think that’s not to be underestimated either.
Orna Ross: Absolutely. I always say writing went from being the most lonely job in the world, to being the most social job in the world. So thank you very much Darren, always a pleasure to connect and I think that’s a very clarifying conversation and I hope that will be very helpful to our members and followers.
We will put together a PDF which shouldn’t be down below now by the time people are listening to this. So thank you for your time today and good luck with the next developments.
Darren Hardy: Thank you very much. It’s great to speak to you Orna.
Orna Ross: Take care. Bye bye.