401. Course Set

As I get a few bits written on Hammer and Magic each week, even if they are very small, inevitably I get to think about the future – and what my ambitions are and should be here?

I published some Shade of the Morning Sun-novellas on Amazon in 2012. You can read them online now, including my ‘flagship’ novella: “That Which Cannot Be Broken”. I had big dreams about digging into the self publishing ‘gold rush’ that started in 2009 or so (author Kristine Kathryn Rush explains what it is and why it went away in a great way on her blog). I gave up on those dreams, though, because … well, life. And I simply did not have the discipline, it turned out to write as much fiction as I felt was necessary to hone my skill and have something out there in a large enough quantity to get discovered.

I have thought about trying again, though, but especially author David Gaughran’s ongoing coverage of how the big self-publishing eco-system (among many other things) – Amazon.com – is treating indie authors have made me think twice about it. I am still thinking…

Just one example here from Dave’s blog:

Fake books – powered by clickfarms – are gatecrashing Amazon’s charts. And despite being aware of the issue for well over a year, Amazon has failed to resolve it.

For over fifteen months now, scammers have been raiding the Kindle Unlimited pot using a well-worn trick. They usually pilfer the content first of all – often by stealing an author’s original work and running it through a synonymizer – and then upload it to Amazon, thus avoiding the automatic plagiarism detectors. They make sure the “book” is as long as possible, but as they are enrolling the title in Kindle Unlimited, they keep it under the program’s limit of 3,000 pages.

These thieves make the book free for a few days, and then use a variety of banned methods to generate a huge and immediate surge in downloads – generally suspected to be bots or clickfarms or dummy accounts, or some combination thereof. These fake books then suddenly jump into the Top 20 of the free charts, displacing authors who have gone to considerable effort to put together an advertising campaign for their work.

As the Amazon staff tasked with dealing with reports of suspicious activity don’t seem to work weekends, when authors and readers report these fake books to Amazon, no action usually gets taken until the following Monday. By then it’s often too late, and these titles have returned to the paid listings, and the subsequent boost in page reads (which normally follows a free run), enables them to grab a huge chunk of the Kindle Unlimited pot – the same shared pot that all authors get paid from.

Sometimes Amazon zaps these fake books when staff return to work on Monday, and presumably then withhold KU payments (one hopes). But often Amazon takes no action and just leaves these titles up. And Amazon has had little effect in fixing the overall problem a full fifteen months after it was first made aware of the issue.

And a slew of other problems, including the shut-down-your-author-account-without warning-because-of-some-problem-our-robot-reported.

I’m afraid that if one wants a company as big as Amazon to change its actions on this issue they have to have real leverage – real power to affect their bottom line. Reality appears to have proven for some time now that nothing else is going to work, and that has been thoroughly documented by Dave and others. Right now it honestly feels a bit too much like deja vu to the bad old days with a pre-Amazon-ecosystem (and other indie publishig systems) when it was authors getting screwed by legacy publishers. Back then there was no really good alternative to legacy publishing, hence: bow down and take it …

I foresee, though, that for some time things will go on as they are – maybe even get worse. (The majority of authors, indie or otherwise, (probably) don’t suffer from these problems. Many do, yes, but the number is likely small compared to the number of people who actually benefit, without too much hassle, from Kindle Publishing. Some who gets hurt may hope the problem will not return and don’t really have time or energy for collective action anyway. And do the rest of us have time and energy?

I was thinking … most authors probably put up with Amazon, despite the problems, because that’s where THE majority of their income comes from. But couldn’t fiction authors make a significant amount of income (not necessarily a full livelihood, whatever that is in your region), from self-publishing fiction independently of Amazon? Or at least with the majority of their income coming from other sources than Amazon? That may also include spin off income sources such as merchandise, courses, ads, etc.

I mean I know a lot of non-fiction authors with huge blogs and communities who are able to make nice money by selling directly to their list and the random million visitors to their sites.

Is this possible for fiction authors as well, I wonder … and if so, how? And would it be worth it?

I don’t know, but I think Hammer and Magic should  be the vanguard – pun intended – to prove this.

That, however, still doesn’t change my resolution not to do this art project for the money. I am still only doing Hammer and Magic – art and illustration bits – in my spare-time when I need to relax. I am going to be deliberately and hopelessly “unprofessional” about how I work on this project, because I know from experience that … nothing else works, if I want to stay motivated under the circumstances of my life.

If I can make a buck from some income stream or other attached to the site where the story and other things reside – then fine. If not the project will have served its purpose anyway, namely to give me energy when I need it. And give me the opportunity to express that desire to do epic storytelling (and illustrate it a little) that apparently I cannot escape (nor do I want to).

I won’t rule out ever publishing on Amazon again, but my desire just for control alone seems a far cry away from the raw deals The Company is offering authors these days. And I don’t think it will help to just sit down and hope they will treat authors better in the years to come.

So it’s my course and it is set.