—by Guest Contributor, Nate Hoffelder—
After years of playing a game of whack-a-mole with book stuffing cheaters in Kindle Unlimited (KU), Amazon has finally brought down the hammer.
Yesterday Amazon suspended the KDP accounts belonging to about a half-dozen of the more notorious KU scam artists.
Tia Siren, Cassandra Dee, Rye Hart, Alexis Angel, Juliana Conners, Eva Luxe are just a few of the names that are well-known in the author community for playing fast and loose with Amazon's rules and getting away with it. But, as of yesterday afternoon these "authors" have joined Chance Carter in getting banned from KDP. All of their books have been removed from the Kindle Store.
If you are thinking the Kindle Store looks a little less scummy today, you're not wrong. Some major stuffers - including some of the very biggest - are GONE: Cassandra Dee, Tia Siren, Rye Hart, Juliana Conners, Eva Luxe, and Alexis Angel. Let's hope it's permanent. #getloud pic.twitter.com/MRZArHWDLQ
— David Gaughran (@DavidGaughran) June 26, 2018
A quick check of the Kindle Store revealed that other authors including Sierra Sparks, Julianna Conners, and Katie Ford appear to have also swept up in yesterday's action. I do not have evidence or even an accusation that they were cheaters, so I will merely note that they are gone. (Amazon makes mistakes—lots of them— so I won't conclude anyone is guilty without evidence.)
We do not know the specific reason that each of these authors have been removed from the Kindle Store, but at least some of them were cheating in Kindle Unlimited.Cassandra Dee, for example, is a book stuffing pro who was going to be the guest of honor in a post I had planned to publish next week. Dee was so successful that they had a book in the top 20 in the Kindle Store best-seller list. (But now Dee is gone, and that post is history.)
Dee had been using various tricks to take advantage of loopholes in KU rules for years. Their latest trick was to stuff multiple novels into a single Kindle eBook, and then convince their followers to click through the ebook one page at a time until the end.
Amazon recently tried to put the kibosh on that book stuffing trick by changing the rules to limit "bonus" content to 10% of an eBook's length, but cheaters like Dee got around that by labeling their existing stuffed eBooks as "compilations".
Any single novel might be included in as many as five or six other eBooks, often bumping the page count to the payout limit of 3,000 pages. With KU royalties hovering around a half cent per page, this gives the cheaters a potential payday of close to $15 should they get a reader to click through to the end of the book.*
False Identities and Outsourced Writing
This might seem like it is too tedious for most readers to bother, but many of the con artists are men who have an almost cult-like ability to attract and motivate fans. And yes, in some cases they are actually men who don female pseudonyms as part of their con, while others pretend to be gay authors.
It is quite common for the cheaters to be well-organized operations where the actual writing is done by ghost writers. According to a source who will remain nameless, the cheats contract out the writing through freelance sites like Upwork.
"It took some time to get some proof together by going through Upwork where I would contract and interview for jobs but not take them," I was told by my source in an email. "I would interview for m/m or urban fiction jobs and figure out that they were content farms where the real entity putting them out was trying to create a brand based on a false persona of a gay author or an author of color without letting people know." **
I will not be naming that source because they have already been the target of harassment, including doxxing, by the cultish fans of these pseudo authors (or possibly the authors themselves). Some trolls have even gone so far as to create sockpuppet Twitter accounts solely for the purpose of harassing women who speak up against the cheating in the Kindle Store.
In case .@bsh8ters tells you different about bullying---threatening to slap my girlfriend, "the bitch" #getloud #stayloud #cockygate #fightlikearomanceauthor #misogyny #ImNotASockPuppet pic.twitter.com/k8FUiFFvzy
— Ivy Quinn (@ivyquinnauthor) June 17, 2018
I myself have not been bothered at all; in keeping with standard internet misogyny, only women are being targeted. (David Gaughran has caught flack from the sockpuppets, but I do not recall ever seeing threats of violence directed at him.)
Book Stuffing Not the End of Cheating on KU
One might hope the book stuffing scammers getting booted from the Kindle Store would mean the end of the story, but that isn't going to happen. The cheaters will regroup, examine the current rules in Kindle Unlimited, and then find new loopholes they can exploit.
For example, due to defects in Amazon's algorithms, there are ways to manipulate an eBook's formatting so that you can maximize the page count. If there is a way to systematize that manipulation, the cheaters will find it.
After all, they have a financial incentive to do so.
* Some authors believe that removing the cheaters from Kindle Unlimited will result in increased royalty payments to the remaining authors. Given that Amazon arbitrarily sets the funding pool each month and kept the per-page rate near half a cent, it is much more likely that Amazon will reduce the amount of money in the funding pool, and keep the difference.
** I have trouble condemning the practice of ghost-written books in and of itself; it is a long-established industry practice that has been around for as long as the Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys series have been in print.
Nate Hoffelder has been building and running WordPress sites since 2010. He blogs about indie publishing, and helps authors connect with readers by customizing websites to suit each author’s voice. In his spare time, he fosters dogs for A Forever Home, a local rescue group. You can find him over at The Digital Reader, or on Twitter.
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