Friday, May 11, 2018

55- My Kindle Nightmare

[Edit- by the time I had this episode ready to publish, I received a notice that my account has been reinstated. Now I just need to get the few books out of KDP Select before something else bad happens.]

Well, it happened. Like many other authors recently, my KDP account has been suspended and threatened with termination due to "illicit borrowing activity." All of my books, and all of those by the authors whom I publish (I run Gryphonwood/Adrenaline Press) have been removed from the Kindle store. Not just the ten books that were enrolled in Kindle Unlimited, but also the other 100+ titles that were not, nor have ever been in the KDP Select/Kindle Unlimited program.

A few things to know:
  • I've been publishing in KDP since fairly close to the day they opened their doors.
  • My Dane Maddock series has been licensed for Kindle Worlds.
  • I've always had a good relationship with Amazon and KDP.
  • The books and series that have allowed me to have a successful full-time career have always been "wide." I've never made use of KU, much less click farms or other scammy services, for income or rankings boosts. I hit the USAT list without buying my way into a boxed set. I'm not a scammer. Never have been.
  • Very few Gryphonwood titles (and no Adrenaline titles) are enrolled in KU. Only a handful, and of those, only a few were earning more than a few hundred page reads per month.
  • Kindle Unlimited represents a tiny fraction of our gross revenue- less than 1%. It's something we've done with a few authors and titles either as an experiment or because we thought it would be a good fit for the genre.
  • None of our books have ever been rank-stripped for alleged illicit activity.
  • We've had no suspicious spikes in page reads.
  • To promote our KU titles, I've used AMS ads, Bookbub sponsored CPC ads, and mentions on social media and websites.
  • The couple of titles had much in the way of page reads still have had only modest reads and rankings and the daily borrows have been fairly consistent. No cause for alarm that I can see.

What happened:

April 8, 2018- First warning from KDP.

I was horrified. I'd heard on and off for a long time about this happening to other authors, but we'd dropped a book into KU here and there with no problems. I immediately replied, expressed my desire to comply with terms of service, and asked for guidance. KDP refused to provide details. (I was not concerned about the loss in borrows. As noted above, our presence in and income from KU is small.)

Not a helpful reply. I especially like the "we cannot offer details" bit. Yes, you can. You choose not to. Not the same thing. 

If I had it to do over, I'd have pulled every book out of KU right then, but I heard through the grapevine that a large number of seemingly legitimate indies had received the exact same notice as I had, and had their page reads reduced. I figured some click farm had gotten wonky, hit a bunch of us, and that it would be okay. (Yes, I'm an idiot.)

May 10, 2018- Notice from KDP that my account had been suspended. The notice also required a tacit admission of guilt (requiring me to affirm that I have discontinued use of any marketing services that might have caused illicit activity.)

I replied as soon as I received the email (evening of 5/10.) The following morning, concerned that I might not have phrased my reply in a way that satisfied them, I replied again:

I received no reply. Within three hours of that email, all of our books had disappeared from the Kindle store.  
I followed up with Executive Customer Relations. The person on other end was friendly, confirmed that they had received my responses, and promised to have her team review the case. Fingers crossed.

What is going on?

  • I'm not the only one affected. Numerous legitimate authors have had the same thing happen to them. 
  • I've heard the story of one author who received the warning, sent back the requested reply, and still had her account terminated.
  • KDP is aware of this situation but isn't correcting the problem. I had a conversation with someone highly placed in the KDP chain at ThrillerFest a few years ago and discussed this very issue, which was only then getting some notice. He assured me that they had systems in place to deal with this and that the authors whose accounts were unfairly terminated would be reinstated.
  • The Alliance of Independent Authors has reached out to KDP about this same situation, and have received (thus far) only a vague assurance that KDP will "look into it." We'll see.

Why is this happening? 

  • The most plausible theory is that the click farms hired by KU scammers also hit other legitimate titles, so as to make it harder for their clients' books to be spotted.  This would, of course, be utterly beyond the control of legitimate authors. We have no idea who is clicking on our books and no way of stopping them.
  • Another theory is that the automated process by which KDP identifies "illegitimate" borrows is unreliable.
  • Some have speculated that scammy authors, or authors with an agenda, might intentionally target authors against whom they have a grudge, or who they see as rivals, in an attempt to harm their business. I'm skeptical about this one but in a world where someone trademarks a single adjective and tries to shut everyone else down, who knows?

Some of my frustrations with the way KDP handles these situations:

  • The automated elements of the system, combined with KDP Content Review employees operating from what appears to be a set of scripted steps, and using copy/pasted, boilerplate responses, removes any judicious evaluation from the situation. Anyone could review my (lengthy) account history and see that we’re not really a KU publisher and that KU is not a meaningful part of our revenue stream.
  • ·         My livelihood is being threatened while obvious scammers, boxed set stuffers, and keyword stuffers are overlooked, even after indie watchdogs call them to KDP’s attention.
  • Authors have no control over what a click farm might do. What is to stop them from targeting a few legitimate books in order to mask the borrows of scam authors?
  • KDP’s refusal to disclose any information about the source of alleged “illicit” borrows.
  • KDP’s insistence that the account holder provide what amounts to a confession of wrongdoing in order to have one’s account reinstated.
  • Is KDP’s system for identifying illicit borrows reliable? How can we know?

Should authors remain in KDP Select/Kindle Unlimited?
  • If my account is restored, I'm getting the hell out of KU. No question about that. I can't risk my livelihood due to flawed and inconsistent enforcement of terms of service. 
  • On the other hand, I know LOTS of authors who are all-in or partially in with KU, are doing great, and have never had a single problem. Hopefully they'll keep on kicking ass and never have to deal with that.
  • In some genres, KU is king. It will be difficult to succeed without it.
  • If you do choose to go with Kindle Unlimited, and do get a warning like the one I received, I'd advise getting out like a naked Jon Lovitz on viagra was chasing you.

That's it for now. I'll provide updates as the situation progresses. Please send good vibes my way!


  1. Ugh! Terrible. All the best - hope KDP is able to sort out this mess and that you get your account back - - - before you cut and run!

  2. I ran into a similar situation last year. I had a title that consistently was #1 in its genre. It had been in print, the publisher made a reversion of rights to me, and I put it up on Kindle. The old print publisher sold to a different company. Unknown to me, that company listed my book as their own. I had the US copyright filing and the reversion of rights and shared them with Amazon, but they insisted that was not enough. They blocked the book, canceled my account for a while, reinstated my account but kept the book blocked, all without explanation. Then the new company listed a coauthor I'd never heard of for my book. I realized the source of the problem, contacted the company, and they contacted Amazon in less that 24 hours. VoilĂ , my book is reinstated. What did I lose? Well, this book was earning about $2000 a month in royalties. It's taking a while to climb back up through the rankings. Maybe it will again. But what a lousy way to treat authors.

  3. Wow thanks for the heads up. I am so sorry you had to go through this. I won't be putting my indie books into KU.
    I had similar experiences after running two bookbub ads. It was scary because no one really responds to your questions at KDP...had to get Romance Writers of America involved. They fixed the issue using a "contact".
    Hugs and best wishes on continued success with your writing career. :-)

  4. I was thinking of using KU for my next WIP, and now I'm scared. I'm too naive to even understand some of the illicit activity. What is Box Set Stuffing or Keyword Stuffing? How would someone "read" pages on KU if they were not enrolled and paying Amazon? As long as they're paying for KU, who'd care if they dragged eyeballs across the words or just popped them up on a screen for some many seconds per page. Yikes yikes yikes I say.

  5. I understand the confusion. With box set stuffing, the issue isn't about reader behavior. It's about trying to make sure authors are compensated fairly. In KU, authors are paid a percentage (according to #of page reads) out of a finite pool of money. Suppose you publish a 200-page book and 50 people borrow and read it all the way through. Meanwhile, I write a 5-page short story that my readers can't get anywhere else, and I put it at the very end of a book bundle that's "stuffed" with a bunch of my very old books that have been in KU forever, so the the entire bundle is now 1,000 pages. 50 of my readers borrow the bundle and swipe through to the end so they can read the short story. I'm getting paid five times as much as you per bundle and I only wrote five new pages. Also, all of those pages my readers are swiping through are taking money out of the pool that all authors share in. Hope that makes sense.

  6. I can understand you. My account also suspended like I got fake reviews. I even didn't have anyone related to my account. I think Amazon just doesn't know how to deal with books of authors who cannot write good books. And that's why we have a deal with such unfair things.

    I wish you all the best and really hope that account will be restored. God bless!

  7. I was one of the authors who got my account suspended for "fraudulent page reads." I don't use marketing services. After they stripped what they deemed were illegitimate page reads, the numbers I had left on my KU titles didn't make sense. Within the first month of publishing a new title, some days had, like, two page reads, some had low teens. None had over 100, and a full book read is +/-300 pages. If I'm getting over five sales a day, logic dictates that I should be getting +1,000 page reads on the daily.

    I've since had my account restored, and I called the KDP Select folks to have my titles pulled from KU effective immediately. I'm a bit terrified about what this means for my writing career going forward because Amazon owns 80% of the ebook business. I'm also worried they're going to close my account next month regardless.