Indie Authors: Earn it, Don't cheat
Thanks to a writer by the name of David Gaughran, I now know that there is a new scam out there by unscrupulous indie authors who want to get their books into the Amazon lists by, well, cheating. There's no other way to call it what it is. It is not gaming the system. It is not finding something cool and running with it. If the people did not download, buy, or read your book in a legit way, then you're cheating.
This new abomination is known as a clickfarm. I had never heard of it and now that I have, I am truly pissed. To understand why, you need a little background.
When things started off with the Kindle, it was simple. People got them and then had to buy each book and download them to their devices. The authors got royalties based on the price of their books and how many were sold. Easy.
Of course, in the beginning, the cheating bastard indie authors hired people to create fake reviews. Suddenly books you had never seen from authors you had never heard of had 5-star reviews and Amazon's own algorithms started pushing them to people and they became bestsellers. This scam was eventually found out and everyone suffered. I have had people tell me they left very legit reviews, having downloaded and read the book, offering honest opinions, get ripped down by Amazon because their crawlers somehow determined I knew that person or was affiliated in some way.
Amazon had to go and mess things up by creating a platform where people could pay a monthly fee and download as many books as they wanted. How did you pay the authors for that? Amazon created a huge fund that was provided for by the fees that readers paid and the authors would be paid amounts from that fund. At first, it was based on how many were downloaded, and authors cheated by creating a flood of short stories, figuring they would get a payment out of this Kindle Author Fund Amazon created to pay authors who had their stories downloaded. Amazon had to change the way it was paid out then. Now it depends on the number of pages read. So, guys like me to tend to write rather long books, technically, should get paid more out of the fund by people who read them and page through all 800 pages over the guy who wrote a 20 page short story.
Of course, that never quite worked out. The number of authors increased and the fund grew larger and the percentage authors got paid shrank and shrank to the point where the amount I get paid is pennies a month.
Anyway - I am still writing the bug blogs and website pages to pay the bills, is what I'm saying.
Basically, Amazon has a bunch of robots that run all the time and see the books that get downloaded by those in the monthly-fee program and the number of pages that have been read and push the ones with the most to the top of their lists. Those lists of Hot Authors, Fastest Movers and other lists are key for authors. If we get on one of those lists, the potential number of increased purchases and increases in royalties is almost too hard to calculate. It is golden.
Of course, scammers have found a way to game it. Of course, unscrupulous, rat-bastard, cheating authors have been willing to pay to cheat.
Basically, you can go to some online places and buy "clicks" Amazon's algorithms look at how many books are downloaded, pages read and even how much the book is clicked on and how many people read through the free preview that all of the books have. The more people do that, the more they recommend the book, push it to people browsing and put it on those all-important lists. Now you can buy those clicks, downloads and flip-throughs.
David, the writer of that article, has been studying this phenomenon for 18 months now. He has noticed a bizarre trend where books that you would not expect to do well, suddenly ending up at the top of the lists, moving from a sales ranking of 9,876,876 to 300 overnight. There is simply no way to do that legit. It's a clickfarm. It's cheating.
I don't know if these authors are going on to get rich from this or quitting their jobs and becoming full time authors (still hoping for that!), the fact is, young authors out there, this is cheating. This is taking the steroids. This is copying the test paper of the person next to you. This is downloading a term paper off the internet and turning it in as your own.
Look, my dream is the same as any writer. I dream of a day when I can wake up, get my coffee, sit down at my office and write about my little fictional worlds (or not-so-fictional since I write non-fiction, too). I dream of that day. I dream of having the freedom to be accountable to publishers and editors and my agent and being able to live anywhere I want because my job is wherever I am. Setting my own hours. Doing my own thing. Doing what I love.
I love you guys out there. You. The guy who is reading this. You, the woman who has just downloaded or bought one of my books and you liked it and now you are checking out my website to see what else is there. Whether you have been there from the first book I published to the latest one that just rolled off the line. I don't care if you found me via Twitter, Facebook, Amazon or some other method. I am honored you are here. I am honored you have read one of my works. I am honored you have found me and decided to check out this blog, this site and my work. When a bunch of you take time out of your schedule and show up at a signing or reading or event, I am honored and shocked and love you for it.
However, the fact is I have fought for you. I have paid money for ads. I have focused on my social media. I have produced work after work, creating the entries on Amazon and focusing on keywords. I have tried some social media platforms and abandoned them. I have worked with multiple publishing platforms and worked exclusively with Amazon. I have formatted my work for print publishing. I have done blog tours and written guest posts. I have written press releases. I have, week after week, published to my Twitter account and earned the nearly 1,000 people who follow me there.
It has been exhausting. It has been going on for years. I am still not able to write my books fulltime. That's OK. I know I am kind of a cult following thing like some movies and TV shows that came and went or flew under the radar and garnered a hardcore fan base, but maybe never became a huge success. I have reached out to find you and you have worked to find me back and now that you are here, I love you for it.
I have done it as honestly as I can. I have never paid for reviews. I have not, nor will I, pay for clicks. Ever.
I recommend that you do that, too. You must succeed on the back of your work, on the quality of your work. It is much more rewarding. Yes, you may still have to wait tables, work in retail or that horrible office job in a windowless tomb, but you'll find the reward much deeper, richer.
I hope that if there are authors out there using this method, they stop. I hope that Amazon cracks down, but fear that all of us will suffer just like we all did when they cracked down on the fake reviews.
Be a writer. Be creative.
Don't be a scammer.