If you have been hanging out on Twitter recently and follow the romance genre, you might have come across the #CopyPasteCris firestorm and its related fallout. Book publishing scams aren’t exactly a new phenomenon, but you always think of shady publishers scamming hopeful writers wanting to make a living doing what they love. Those are not the scams I am referring to. I’m referring to people exploiting the Amazon publishing system to make money. In the process, they’re hurting legitimate authors AND taking advantage of the readers purchasing ebooks.
They are using shady dealings to market their books, exploiting Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited program, and manipulating Amazon rankings to make a crazy amount of money. Most of the time, these people are not authors who never even write the book they’re selling. They’re scammers, plain and simple, even if what they are doing isn’t always illegal.
It hurts authors and readers and the only ones benefiting are these scammers.
The Story Behind #CopyPasteCris
I’m not going to hash out the entire sordid story in my blog. I will give you the post that started it all. Here, Courtney Milan calls out another author for the blatant plagiarism of her work in a blog post, appropriately titled, Cristiane Serruya is a copyright infringer, a plagiarist, and an idiot.
Last count, over 30 authors were affected, including the super star and traditionally published romance author, Nora Roberts. Read her response on her blog after she declares war in Not a Rant, But a Promise.
You can find a zillion more posts, articles and opinions if you do a quick search on Twitter for #CopyPasteCris.
I think we can all agree plagiarism is horrible. That’s the one thing about this whole mess that isn’t debated.
Readers, Writers, and Ghostwriters Up in Arms
The whole romance self publishing culture exploded overnight. The flaws in the system were brought into the light, shady strategies to make money off the ebook industry were exposed, and people are getting defensive. Blaming readers for demanding cheap or free books, blaming ghostwriters who allow people to exploit them, blaming the scammers who churn out books so rapidly by hiring multiple ghostwriters to write for you that honest authors can’t keep up, prolific authors feel defensive, readers getting defensive, blaming Amazon and the Kindle Unlimited program, and I even saw people blaming readers for 1 star reviews for books they couldn’t finish.
So let’s explore this crazy blame game by focusing on the shady publishing practices prevalent in the Kindle Store.
If you’re unaware, Kindle Unlimited is a subscription service. For $9.99 a month, you can read as many books as you want by borrowing them in the Kindle Store. The only restrictions are the book must be in the KU program and not available on any other platform.
So how are authors paid? By pages read. The $10 each subscriber pays is put into a communal pot, basically. Then the total amount of pages read by ALL subscribers are calculated, and the huge pot of money is divided up evenly for those total pages. Random example is say the Kindle Unlimited program earned $50,000 (not sure what Amazon’s cut is of the pot, I’m just dumbing down the process). Total pages read that month was 600,000 pages. They would take the $50k and divide it by 600k. That’s about $0.08 a page (this is NOT an accurate number, I believe its seriously small, half a cent maybe in the usual month).
Now if you only had 590 pages read that month, you’d earn $47.20 for the entire month. Now an author with a million pages read, they would earn $80,000 for that month.
Amazon keeps track of how many pages you read in your borrowed book, obviously. They have some seriously complicated way of doing all this while trying to prevent bots and scams doing fake page turns. I don’t know how, they just do.
So a person who is honest, publishes a book, let’s say with an average length of 300 pages, with maybe a small chapter enticing readers to read their next book. A DISHONEST person will do what’s called book stuffing. They will stick as many books in that one Kindle file for a total of thousands of pages. MOST of the content will be previously published, poor quality work they probably never wrote a word of.
Do readers actually read all that? No, but a fun Kindle link in the book that let’s readers get a ‘free’ book or whatever takes you to the end of the book but still counts as reading ALL of it.
So they tricked the system and Amazon and get paid big. It’s against the Terms of Service on Amazon and the book is pulled if they’re found out, but still, nothing stops them publishing the exact same books under a different name.
Who gets hurt? After all, us readers pay the same no matter what. Well, those legitimate, honest, and talented up and coming independently published author does. They don’t get paid nearly enough because the book stuffers get the majority of the pot.
Does that sound honest to you?
But wait, there’s more!
Twitter is blowing up with authors speaking up to proclaim they write all of their own books. Ghostwriters are taking offense at this as if they’re judging the whole group. Readers are outraged by the idea that their favorite author might not be one person at all, let alone the name on the cover, and who can blame them?
It is a straight up mess.
See, ghostwriting definitely has its place. Autobiographies and self-help gurus who might not be the best authors, but have all the ideas. Or an author like V.C. Andrews who sadly passed years ago but is still being published to this day.
Does it seem ethical to purchase a book from someone and then publish it under your name? You’re good at marketing and figure out the more often you publish, the better your exposure on Amazon. So you buy more ghostwritten content to be sure you’re able to publish every single month.
First, that is completely deceptive. Readers assume, rightly so, that the author name on the book is the actual writer. Ghostwriters don’t receive credit for their work, hence the name ‘ghostwriter’. Second, how do you think that affects actual writers who can only put out three books a year IF they’re prolific and write full time?
I should mention this is completely legal.
I don’t know how you all read, but once I read a book I really love, I start reading every single book, novella, or short story that author has available. I basically read because of the author. So I would feel seriously betrayed to find out it was all a sham. Lots of readers have been proclaiming the same.
Again, there’s more!
Ebook Prices Now Unable to Support the Authors
These ‘actors’ as the author community has been calling them are also able to drive down ebook prices. How? Because it takes minimal effort on their part to ‘write’ a book, and have such exposure with constantly putting out a new release, they can afford to mark their ebooks at seriously low prices. Lots of freebies, or $0.99 deals, to increase their sales, which in turn increases exposure.
Legitimate authors are forced to compensate by lowering their prices. I don’t mean an occasional deal on the ebook or the beginning of a series being free to attract readers. I mean reduce the price from the nice, workable $4.99 or $5.99 to $2.99, because readers now demand it. More and more readers are refusing to pay full value for their books anymore. I’ve heard stories of readers actually emailing and messaging authors for free books or reviewing books they don’t read as 1 star simply because of the price of the ebook.
Traditionally published new releases are now about $12-$14 for the ebook at the time of the hard back release. After the mass market paperback is available, the ebook price drops to around $7.99-8.99 to match the paperback price. Self published ebooks are usually around the $4.99-5.99 range to enable the author to make a decent income. The self published paper books are usually trade paperbacks, and are printed when ordered, so often cost more than the mass market ones. Novellas are usually $2.99. Short stories around $0.99.
Now do I pay the full price for a traditionally published ebook? No, but I DO buy the paperback. I am willing to buy my authors at full price for paper books if the ebook price is around the same price. I don’t spend more than $5.99 on the ebook. I’m a voracious reader who can’t just borrow books, so I have limits I stick to because I would go broke otherwise. I do get dang good ebook sales though and will buy up the Kindle ebook if its on sale or even if I already own the paper book.
This doesn’t mean I don’t buy it or demand lower prices, though. The culture we live in now, with the internet and instant gratification, seems to have completed dumbed so many readers down or they’re entitled, selfish idiots. We are ALL on a budget. Authors need their books to make enough they can do it full time or they will no longer be publishing books, right? Readers need new books. Authors don’t owe us free books just because we read a book a day. Libraries are wonderful things that still allow the author to be paid.
Being a published author, even a famous one, does not equal riches. 99% of published authors make crap money. If you’ve got talent, ambition and some luck getting noticed, you might become as successful as the top 0.1% and live the rest of your life in luxury after a great run in a fabulous series. Harry Potter, anyone? Twilight Series by Stephenie Meyer. The Divergent Series by Veronica Roth.
The other 0.9% of successful authors publish for years, hit national best-seller lists, sell the rights to a few books for a movie or two, and live a dang good life. Nora Roberts has published more than a hundred books and every romance reader has heard of her. Terry Goodkind is a name for epic fantasy fans. Kristen Ashley has over 50 books and writes full time and she’s a seriously popular romance author. I’m going to guess that Sherrilyn Kenyon falls into this group as her famous Dark-Hunter series hasn’t gotten the same fame outside of paranormal romance fans. I could name a lot more.
Writing a novel is work and even famous authors don’t get paid like famous actors do. How dare ANY reader demand an author’s hard work for free?
Buying Reviews or Reviewing for Support or Review Bullying
You definitely read that right. Many, many reviews are NOT honest opinions. Shocking, I know. Some crazy author offered actual diamonds in a giveaway to people who wrote reviews on his book. Nope, not joking about this. I believe he’s since been removed from Amazon.
Some authors encourage readers to leave honest reviews, of course. Some encourage reviews by using giveaways. Some authors have street teams to help support their releases and might give out a few ebooks for reviews. All of this is okay as long as they’re honest reviews.
The basic idea behind reviewing books, or any product, is to encourage other customers to buy or to not buy. That’s what the review system is for on any retail site. Potential buyers check out other people’s experience with the product to decide if they want to buy it. That’s the REAL reason for reviews.
Of course, the better reviews a product gets, the more sales and exposure that product received. So of course authors and businesses want good reviews. And companies like Amazon purposely state ‘purchasing or encouraging’ positive or rather dishonest reviews are against their site policy. As it should be.
So it becomes part of the release marketing strategy to give out a few copies of the book before release day to encourage honest reviews on the release date because they’re so effective when influencing potential buyers.
This is where the problems arise. Most people just can’t get the actual reason for reviews, authors OR readers. Y’all, reviews are not for the author. They’re for the customer. If your product is good, it is supposed to get better reviews than a badly written book, right? Right.
Some readers don’t want to hurt an author’s feelings so never reviews books they dislike. Some lazily review everything as 5 stars with “Loved It!”. Some people want to support their friends and family and will review for them on release day, when they haven’t even read the book. Someone will dislike the price and review a book at one star without reading the book. Street teams feel loyalty and misguidedly rate their author’s books as 5 stars even if they don’t like the new book. Or people feel grateful for a free book. Whatever.
All those examples are reviews that Amazon tries to discourage. But most aren’t completely unethical. Just misguided.
Some authors though encourage positive reviews by offering compensation or getting bots or dishonest people with multiple accounts, etc. Just to increase sales.
Or they encourage their fans or friends to rate competition lower, or straight out bully them. It’s cracked.
Then there are authors who do try, can’t get sales no matter what they do, are getting a few reviews, most not really positive, and just don’t understand or blame readers who do review negativity when it’s their book. It’s just not a good book. People are so blind to that fact, amid all this controversy. It’s not always a dishonest review. In fact, most people I believe do review honestly, when they bother to review.
Unfortunately, a lot of us book lovers are kind of tired of buying a book with great reviews to find out it’s complete trash. We can’t even say it’s an opinion when it’s poorly edited, poorly written garbage with 70 five star reviews.
Are Readers to Blame as Some are Suggesting? Or Authors?
I’ve seen a lot of blame thrown around here. I’ve seen rants blaming readers who give one star reviews for a DNF (did not finish) when they meant readers who one star books they didn’t READ because of the price. I’ve seen people throwing around hints that prolific writers all use ghostwriters. This is completely false. I’ve heard nasty comments directed at readers for supporting cheap and free books, which is unfair. What they mean is readers who are demanding cheap and free and being a serious bully when they have to pay.
So who’s really at fault?
The people who use these unethical practices are, of course! Readers just like to read. Authors want to make a living doing something they love. The people only looking to make money, no matter who they hurt or deceive started this. Readers and authors are just trying to navigate the system.
There are readers AND authors who contribute to the problem, definitely. Piracy, demanding cheap or free ebooks because of a budget. Authors publishing sub par work with no editing or real effort. Readers who ACCEPT sub par books because they’re free or cheap. Readers who don’t review honestly, especially if they come across terrible books and can’t finish.
Instead of fighting those people who are using unethical or illegal or deceptive practices, everyone is attacking everyone else.
How Can Us Readers Help?
Review every book you read, even if its a few words and a star rating. Especially start to review books so bad you can’t finish. Don’t get nasty, but mention the poor editing or dialogue or spelling. Don’t just praise the best books. You should be looking out for your fellow bibliophile and give them warnings about low quality novels.
Pay attention to the underhanded tactics like book stuffing or other suspected violations and report the book or author to Amazon. If you suspect plagiarism, message the author plagiarized and report to Amazon. Amazon and it’s policies are great in theory, if people were all intelligent, honest and ethical. Unfortunately, the human race will always have its bad apples who abuse the system.
Use libraries instead of pirating ebooks or asking authors for free copies. Your favorite author is probably more broke than you are. Respect their hard work, don’t be an entitled cow. Choose more carefully which books you do buy, so you’re choosing quality over quantity and pay for one good ebook at $5 instead of 5 crap ones at $0.99. Subscribe to Kindle Unlimited if you read too much for your budget. Download samples before buying so you can avoid the bad books or scammy books.
I will mention it again. REVIEW honestly every time. Your opinion matters, especially to help the broken Amazon publishing culture. Seriously. Review honestly.
Have an experience with the Amazon publishing mess? Please share with me by commenting below!