Wednesday, 6 October 2021

My attempts to get sense from KDP

 I have here an ongoing email exchange with Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) that I find mind-boggling.

Let me set the stage first.

KDP is what authors use to self-publish books and short stories. A self-published author will use just KDP. A traditionally published author may use KDP to publish additional material. I used it for Road Brothers, the Book of the Ancestor story Bound, and my short story During the Dance.

So, two months ago I hit 'publish' on a collection of three short stories, a Snorri story (Red Queen's War), a Jalan story (Red Queen's War), and a Nona story (Book of the Ancestor). When you publish something it needs to be cleared, and Amazon says that typically takes under 72 hours.

A week later I get this:

We have temporarily suspended your KDP account because you have published titles with intentionally misleading metadata. We don’t accept content that is meant to advertise, promote, or mislead, because such content may lead to inaccurate or overwhelming search results or impair our readers' ability to make good buying decisions.

You can see the violations reflected in the following title(s):

The Devil You Know: 3 short stories - One from The...
Mark Lawrence id XXXX

Before we can reinstate your account, we need you to do the following:

1. Reply to this message with the following declaration: “I confirm that I have read and will comply with the Content Guidelines https://kdp.amazon.com/help/topic/G200672390 and the Metadata Guidelines https://kdp.amazon.com/help/topic/G201097560, and that I will remove any previously published titles that do not meet these guidelines”; and

2. Review your catalog and remove any titles that do not comply with these guidelines

Until we receive a response from you regarding this issue, your account will remain blocked.

As a reminder, violations of our Content Guidelines may negatively impact your account status and you may also lose access to optional KDP services.

If you have questions or believe you've received this email in error, reply to this message.

Regards,
Amazon KDP

So ... immediately they are saying I have to "Review your catalog and remove any titles that do not comply with these guidelines" before they will unblock my account... but I would need access to my account to do that...

The 'crime' they're accusing me of concerns - if you follow the link - 'willfully misleading metadata'. More on that later. 

So I reply:

1. 

I confirm that I have read and will comply with the Content Guidelines https://kdp.amazon.com/help/topic/G200672390 and the Metadata Guidelines https://kdp.amazon.com/help/topic/G201097560, and that I will remove any previously published titles that do not meet these guidelines.

2.
I will remove any titles that do not comply with these guidelines. 

Currently I'm locked out of the account and cannot review or remove anything.


Without acknowledging the stupidity of their request they unblocked my account. But since the only item they had complained about was still 'in review' and you can't alter anything on a book in review, I had to email them again. I'm telling them that I think they're complaining about me referencing books I didn't write & I'm telling them that I did write those books:

Dear XXXX,
                          I’m writing regarding Case #XXX where you suspended my account because of “intentionally misleading metadata”. And cited 

The Devil You Know: 3 short stories - One from The...
Mark Lawrence id XXXX

as the offending item and said that before you reinstated my account you required me to remove any titles that didn’t comply with metadata guidelines.

I replied by email saying that I didn’t understand how I could remove any titles before you reinstated my account because I would need access to my account to remove them.

Since then you have reinstated my account.

However – the title you alerted me to “The Devil You Know: 3 short stories…” is still marked as “in review” after more than a month, and since it’s in review I’m unable (as far as I can tell) to remove it, edit any of its information, or even see what the metadata is.

Having looked at the guidelines and pondered the reason for being told that the metadata is “intentionally misleading” my best guess (while being unable to see the metadata) is that someone believes I have included
Unauthorized reference to other titles or authors

And I would guess that this is because the title references “The Book of The Ancestor” and “The Red Queen’s War”.
Looking at my KDP bookshelf you would see that neither of those series are there.

**However** I am the author of both those series and I don’t feel that my reference to series written by me, under the same name, is unauthorised just because they are not published through KDP.

If I am incorrect, and cannot authorise myself to make that reference then please tell me what form of authorisation you require and how to communicate it to you.

In any case – I believe the title in review will need to be taken out of review before I can do anything with it. If that could be done, or you could let me know how to edit it while it is in review, I would be very grateful. 


To which I got the following reply which confirms the block is over those book references and explains how I can prove I wrote them:

During our review, we found that the following book(s) may cause a misleading
customer experience because the title and/or author listed in the book details
closely matches another known work and/or author. The similarity between your
work and the other work/author could impair a customers' ability to make good
buying decisions.

The Devil You Know: 3 short stories - One from The Book of the Ancestor, two
from The Red Queen's War
Lawrence, Mark (AUTHOR) : XXXX

Items that can cause a misleading customer experience include:
• Similarity of the contributor name to another author
• Similarity of the title to a previously published book
• Similarity of the cover to a previously published book

To publish the book(s), review Amazon for works with similar title and/or
author information and follow one or both of the options below:

Option 1: Similar Book Title
If your book title is similar to another known work, then you will need to
confirm that your book is sufficiently differentiated from the known work.

Sufficient differentiation may include one or more of the following:
• Your work is in a different category/genre than the known work
• The book cover design of your book is significantly different than the known work
• The main title is a short phrase or common term
• The book subtitle and/or description is significantly different than the known work

Reply to this message with confirmation of how your book(s) is sufficiently differentiated or how you plan to differentiate your work from the other known work.

Option 2: Similar Author Name
If you are the known author or authorized to publish their work(s), reply to this email and provide us with further documentation and/or verification.

Acceptable documentation/verification may include:
• A signed copy of the agreement between the author and the previous publisher
• A successful claim of the Amazon Author Central page for the known author using the same KDP account where the book(s) is being published

If you are not the known author, then you will need to confirm that your book is sufficiently differentiated from the known author.

Reply to this message to verify that you are the known author or to confirm how your author name is sufficiently differentiated or how you plan to differentiate your work from the other known author.

For more details about KDPs eBook metadata guidelines, visit Help:
https://kdp.amazon.com/help/topic/G201097560


OK, so we've taken a step forward. They're telling me the problem definitely is that the metadata (which I can't change because the book's in review) mentions Red Queen's War & Book of the Ancestor, and that's the problem, because they don't think I wrote those. 

I reply to say that I've already taken the action they're asking me to do - claim the Author Central page for those books - and I did it years ago:

Dear XXXX - as I've said in a number of previous emails, I am the same Mark Lawrence who wrote the books that your review is objecting to me referencing.


Looking at your "Option 2" I choose: "A successful claim of the Amazon Author Central page for the known author

using the same KDP account where the book(s) is being published"


And I do that knowing that I *already own* the Mark Lawrence Amazon.com Author Central account that has those books that your review objects to listed against it.


Moreover, my KDP account *takes me to* that Author Central account where I am fully logged on and able to access all features.


So I am at a complete loss as to how you want me to 'successfully claim' an Author Central account that I successfully claimed many years ago under the same Amazon account as my KDP account and using the same email address...


My only guess as to the source of your confusion is that the Author Central account is on Amazon.com and the KDP account was set up whilst I was living in the UK and may be associated with Amazon.co.uk.  But one leads to the other through the KDP account, both use the same email address, and I'm not sure what more you want from me.

So, now things start to get FRUSTRATING. They reply with basically a cut & paste to say they are UPHOLDING their decision and if I want to change their mind I can ... claim my Author Central page :

Thanks for your message regarding the following book(s):

The Devil You Know: 3 short stories - One from The Book of the Ancestor, two from The Red Queen's War
Lawrence, Mark (AUTHOR) : XXXX

We've reviewed your book(s) and are upholding our previous decision. The book(s) impairs customers' ability to make good buying decisions because of the following:

• Similarity of the contributor name to another author

To have your book(s) reconsidered for publication, reply to this message with
confirmation of how your book(s) is sufficiently differentiated or how you plan
to differentiate your work from the other known work.

If you are the known author or authorized to publish their work(s), provide documentation and/or verification.

Acceptable documentation/verification may include:
• A signed copy of the agreement between the author and the previous publisher
• A successful claim of the Amazon Author Central page for the known author using the same KDP account where the book(s) is being published

If you are not the known author, then you will need to confirm that your book is sufficiently differentiated from the known author.

Sufficient differentiation may include one or more of the following:
• Your work is in a different category/genre than the known author
• You are using your real/legal name and including a middle name or initial
• The book description clearly indicates that the work is from an author other than the known author
• The cover design of your book is significantly different than the work(s) of the known author


I reply (& bear in mind - they take up to 5 working days to consider each of my emails):


Dear XXX,                 

 I am bewildered by your reply and feel that you have missed vital components of the email you are replying to.


You tell me I need to "A successful claim of the Amazon Author Central page for the known author using the same KDP account where the book(s) is being published"


I have already told you that I have a successful claim on the Author Central page - it's mine, I claimed it years ago, I have used it, it is registered using the same email / Amazon account as my KDP account.


You reply telling me exactly the same thing you told me in the first place, i.e that I need to make "A successful claim of the Amazon Author Central page for the known author using the same KDP account where the book(s) is being published".

You don't deny that I have already done that (though by repeating yourself you imply such a denial). You don't suggest a method to prove my already established ownership, or resolve this apparent difference of opinion over something that should be easily verifiable fact.

A great first step would be for you to acknowledge that I am telling you I own the author central page for the Mark Lawrence who wrote the books referenced in the short story I'm attempting to publish on KDP. You don't have to admit this is true (it is) but please at least indicate that you have seen me say this.

Then check if it is true and come back with either "it looks as if someone else
controls it" (they don't) or "oh, yes, so you do".

I feel that if I could actually talk to someone, this matter could be resolved very quickly. I've asked repeatedly to be called about it but just get these emails.

I've been told that attempts were made to call me but I have no missed calls and
my phone works.

Could you, or someone else, please call me on (UK) XXXX

In the mean time I finally got in contact with KDP by phone. When you click the "call us" button, this pops up


BUT, despite asking you for the number to call you on ... they do not call you on that number ... they call the number listed on your account. So ... why the FUCK ask for a number? In my case the account phone number was out of date. When I finally figured this out, I updated it.

Now ... it turns out that the people dealing this issues like mine are not contactable by phone in any way. And the people who are contactable by phone don't know anything about it. However, by persisting I was put through to a tier 2 staff member who was able to at least see that I owned the Author Central page as well, to put a message through to the team I've been dealing with, and to say he saw no problem and that the book/stories should be published very soon.

Hooray.

And then the reply to my email arrived - the one above where I encourage the person to read the text of my email and if they only did one thing let it be to acknowledge that I am saying I own the author central page that they say will serve as the proof required:

Thanks for your message regarding the following book(s):

The Devil You Know: 3 short stories - One from The Book of the Ancestor, two from The Red Queen's War
Lawrence, Mark (AUTHOR) : XXXX

We've reviewed your book(s) and are upholding our previous decision. The book(s) impairs customers' ability to make good buying decisions because of the following:

• Similarity of the contributor name to another author


To have your book(s) reconsidered for publication, reply to this message with confirmation of how your book(s) is sufficiently differentiated or how you plan to differentiate your work from the other known work.


If you are the known author or authorized to publish their work(s), provide documentation and/or verification.

Acceptable documentation/verification may include:
• A signed copy of the agreement between the author and the previous publisher
• A successful claim of the Amazon Author Central page for the known author using the same KDP account where the book(s) is being published

If you are not the known author, then you will need to confirm that your book is sufficiently differentiated from the known author.

Sufficient differentiation may include one or more of the following:
• Your work is in a different category/genre than the known author
• You are using your real/legal name and including a middle name or initial
• The book description clearly indicates that the work is from an author other than the known author
• The cover design of your book is significantly different than the work(s) of the known author


By this point I feel that either the guy is actively trolling me or I am talking to a bot...

I replied with the following, and that was today:

Dear XXXX – I continue to feel that you are not reading my emails.

I have spoken to the tier 2 KDP team who agree that I do own the Mark Lawrence author central page that lists the books referenced in the story in review on my KDP page. They can see it. They were confused by your objection and very confused that you continue to uphold it. They told me to expect my story to be published within 48 hours.

The only way forwards that I can see is for you to read the points I am making and to respond to them. Let’s start with one simple question:

Do you deny that I own the Mark Lawrence author central page?

Please note that I will be pursuing this matter through multiple other routes and including the record of our transactions in those other communications.

I would also be very grateful if you could pass this matter on to a colleague as we are not making progress.

Many thanks,

                           Mark






]



Friday, 24 September 2021

Patreon

In other news, I've decided to give this Patreon thing a go.

If you ever felt I deserved more than 12 pence in my pocket from the sale of that discounted Prince of Thorns UK paperback you just bought ... well ... I decided to stop saying no to you. 

Check it out, could be fun!  https://www.patreon.com/marklawrenceauthor

We open with a honest view of my desk 😀









 

Tuesday, 14 September 2021

Deep down he's a nice guy.

This expands on a tweet I made which says:

I saw a reader looking for: "a protagonist who has issues and violent tendencies but deep down is a swell guy"

For me it raises an interesting philosophical point though - what bad things can you be whilst still "being a swell guy deep down", and which bad things preclude that?

Does it even mean anything to be a "swell guy deep down"?



It feels like a question that needs more room than Twitter can easily give it. In some sense it's a question that Prince of Thorns set out to ask, leaving the answer (or more accurately: the spectrum of answers) to the reader.

Let's make no mistake about it, Jorg is not a swell guy deep down. My experiment was to immediately heap him with unforgivable crimes and then see what happened when I made him charming, somewhat funny, very young, and the victim of his own tragic circumstances. I hoped that most readers would find him interesting and enjoy reading about his adventures. Whether they would like him or excuse his behaviour in their minds was far less clear cut. That was the question - and it could be taken as a version of 'how deep do you have to dig to find the swell guy?' The book wonders if that answer is: "forever".

Stepping away from any particular character or book though, the question remains interesting. There's certainly an enduring concept of the antihero / thug / villain with a heart of gold that's difficult to reach, but scratch deep enough and you'll see its colour. At the very last, when the crunch comes, they'll do the right thing.

But doing the right thing at the end of a long string of wrong things is certainly not the same as being a good guy deep down ... or maybe it is ... in which case being a good guy deep down is just making a good/kind/just decision in extremis.

To be honest, I have difficulty with the whole concept of being a good guy deep down. Does it perhaps just mean that there's the potential for you to be a good guy given the right circumstances? That a redemption arc beckons but might not be taken if the conditions don't arise?

Because surely you're either a good guy or something else on the spectrum between the shifting sands of good and bad. A good guy deep down? You could be a terrible person who does a few nice things. A murderer who is genuinely kind and helpful to a disabled child maybe. That's just an example of people being complex things. Bad things tend to disproportionately poison the well. Someone who has devoted their life to good causes and has only once ever tortured a child to death ... they're still not someone you're going to feel relaxed leaving your kids with. Even someone who donated a kidney and has spent their whole life working for charity is still pretty tainted if you discover they kick a particular dog on the way to work every day.

The "deep down" suggests that for this person the bad acts are in the majority. I'd say that person is not a good guy, and even if they are guaranteed to do the right, or even heroic, thing when it comes to the crunch, I'm not comfortable calling them a good guy.







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Thursday, 12 August 2021

Finalists for the 7th SPFBO

 300 contestants are being narrowed to 10 finalists.

Finalists (so far) for SPFBO 7








The Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off finalists are listed and scored on this page



The process of selection is in progress, and is documented here.




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Sunday, 1 August 2021

Prince of Thorns is TEN today!

 Prince of Thorns has been on the shelves for a decade!

The UK paperback is in its 25th printing.



I'll take the chance to say thanks - thank you to my readers (and my publishers) for letting me spend the past ten years writing stories, and more than that - living in them. It's been an unexpected privilege.



Check out the 9th8th7th6th5th4th3rd2nd, and 1st birthday round-ups. 



I now have 15 books on the shelves!


The most recent addition was The Girl And The Mountain, in April.


Being a numbers guy as well as a words guy I like to keep track of things and record them for when I'm doddery and old, looking back at my 'glory' days.

On Goodreads Prince of Thorns has passed 100,000 ratings!



I have been very neglectful of the blog of late, and it's shown in plateauing traffic, but still ~30,000 hits a month isn't too shabby and this year it cruised past 3.5 million hits in total.



And my quest to conquer Twitter crawls on...



Well, that's my annual stock-take. Over & out, until next year.












Sunday, 18 July 2021

Goodreads Statistics

Since I've been given shit before for info-graphics based entirely on the opinions voiced in the Fantasy-Faction facebook group, here are some explanations and disclaimers.

I asked this question to the group's 28,100 members. This blog post is for them.

"The most famous/significant fantasy author you've yet to read?"

At the time of writing there are 177 answers. It stuck me how differently the members viewed significance and fame - this of course through the filter that these are authors they have not yet read. 

It's possible that those giving the most obscure answers were spectacularly well-read and really had read all the famous/significant fantasy authors. Moreover fame and significance are not the same thing. Many fantasy authors and hardcore readers consider Gene Wolfe highly significant, his recognition among the wider readership (i.e fame) however is much lower.

Not a single one of these authors is here because I chose them. Not a single author is absent because I chose to ignore them. They're simply the ones featured in the answers to the above question on that group. I have no input regarding the demographics of the authors featured.

+++

The area of the circles are proportional to the number of Goodreads rating that author has. The height on the diagram is roughly correlated to that size. 

An author's number of Goodreads ratings is correlated in some degree to the number of sales they've made, and thus in some degree to their fame, and has some more tenuous association to their significance - at the least it's hard to be significant if nobody has read your work. 

The relation between Goodreads ratings and sales is time dependent - you can compare books from a similar period and published during Goodreads' existence quite well. The older the book the larger the number you would need to multiply the ratings by to get the sales. Thus two fantasy books published in the early 2010s could have their sales compared with some confidence via ratings numbers.

It is NOT the case that much older books can be compared to newer ones in this manner. Stephen Donaldson (for example) has certainly sold 10x my numbers, but did so largely in the late 70s. His relatively low number of ratings is more an indication of how many people are reading those books today, combined with how many people remember them etc. The fact that Tolkein can still sit near the top is testimony to the spectacular and enduring success of his work.

So, with all that said - here's the data: