Gaming the System

Recently, one of my social media feeds spit out this article, which details how certain members of the indie author community are gaming the Amazon Kindle Unlimited system and other Amazon ranking systems to their unfair advantage.

It’s no surprise that people try to work the system. Traditional publishers have been doing that literally forever with the NYT and USA Today Best Sellers Lists. It’s not surprising, but it’s also not helpful to the reading community.

Given the name “best sellers list,” you would expect to find a lists of books readers are actually purchasing. But you’d be wrong!

In reality, these lists are editorial in nature. They are opinions, tools used to influence readers to purchase certain titles. They’re essentially ads for what some editor thinks the world should be reading. How insulting. In fact the NYT says that

“the list did not purport to be an objective compilation of information but instead was an editorial product.”

The list isn’t actually an accurate tally of sales. It’s what they wish the sales would be.

Sorry. That was a digression from the original point. Now indies are working the system too, and many of the tactics are just plain wrong.

  • book stuffing to take advantage of Kindle Unlimited’s per-page payment plan
  • selling email lists
  • inflating rank by purchasing bulk advance review copies
  • inflating rank by asking readers to buy an ebook and borrow it from Kindle Unlimited
  • click farming
  • mislabeling a book’s genre to gain more visibility on Amazon’s less competitive lists

Here’s something else that shocked me:

One of the few things known for certain is that there is a 30-day cliff—a book older than 30 days is likely to drop precipitously in the charts and be less likely to come up in recommendations. Genre writing has long been mocked for prolific, look-alike output, but the 30-day cliff sets a breakneck speed in which the top earners are hustling to put out new titles every 30 days. Read more.

This time limit puts a load of pressure on writers who want to keep their momentum. Can writers put out a quality, well-written, well-edited, compelling book every 30 days? No way. #skeptical

They’re more likely to be

  • reusing old content
  • buying content from ghostwriters
  • writing absolute and total crap

My Riding Fear Free writing partner and I have been victims of genre mislabeling. Riding Fear Free, a nonfiction book, is a solid seller and was almost always in the Top 25 Best sellers in the  Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Nonfiction > Sports > Individual Sports > Horses > Equestrian.

Now, that list is full of fiction titles. Amazon’s position seems to be to acknowledge that it’s unfair to force nonfiction books to compete with fiction on a nonfiction list, but there’s nothing they’re willing to do to fix it. If a fiction book has horses as a subject, it’s not against their terms of service to list it as nonfiction. Really? Not only is that unfair to nonfiction writers, but it’s also a pain in the neck for readers who are looking for nonfiction books about horses.

I’m not upset just because I’m a writer and this influences my income. (But it does.) I am also a reader and Amazon shopper. I don’t appreciate the fact that corporate policy makes it so that I have to weed through tremendous amounts of garbage that rises to the top thanks solely to disreputable practices.

If dubious practices are what it takes to be seen on Amazon these days, I’m so not into it.

I’m not going to pump out crap every 30 days or stuff my books with utter rubbish to bulk up the page count.

I’m not going to badger those of you who read my books into reviewing. (Apparently, reviews are not as helpful in terms of algorithms and rank as some writers may think anyway.) I would never ask you to do anything shady like purchase and borrow copies to boost my rank.

I will continue to write the best books I can and make sure they are edited as well as possible.

I will express my gratitude to every reader who purchases my books.

Thank you to everyone who reads my books. I appreciate every single one of you. I will do my best to continue to provide quality books for you to enjoy.