Part 3: Confessions from the Scammy, Underground World of Kindle eBooks

“Your last article was like a fart in a church.” An angry author’s side of the story.

July 24, 2015

Last Monday we posted an article on how we submitted a plagiarized novel to Amazon and manipulated the reviews to make it a best seller… and it caused quite the shit storm.

Within a few hours of posting, we received hundreds of comments and had 1,500 shares. About half of the commentors loved the article because it exposed a mysterious world most readers didn’t know about and called out the shady tactics used by Kindle Gold Rushers. The other half was extremely upset because of our dismissive tone and for plagiarizing a popular author’s book. However, both sides were very passionate about the topic.

Admittedly, we did have an over-the-top douchey tone and used a few questionable phrases, but that was on purpose. Most articles on the web are soulless and forgettable. Our goal with that article (and most of our content) was to make this piece stick out, even if that meant upsetting some people.

Also, the book we used for this experiment wasn’t in the public domain, like we thought, but was actually owned by Harlequin Publishing, one of the largest publishers of women’s fiction. That was a mistake on our part. We found the book on a site that is apparently full of pirated novels. Unfortunately, we didn’t discover that until after publishing the post…using a copyrighted book wasn’t our intention.

One group of folks who were particularly upset were self-publishing authors, specifically those in the romance and erotic genre. And so, because The Hustle is all about exploring how different folks live and think, we’re publishing a guest post that’s a rebuttal to our original article.

The author of this post is Eden Connor, a real #1 bestselling and self-published romance novelist. Her response is unedited, minus a few comments added by me.

– Sam “Much Love” Parr


Shaking the Leaves on the Amazon Jungle

For openers, I get that the irreverent tone is part of The Hustle’s shtick.

Allow me to reply in kind.

The recent article by John Havel, purporting to expose Amazon’s failings in regard to plagiarism and the ease with which the system can be gamed by get-rich-quick entrepreneurs, landed inside the romance community with all the aplomb of a fart in church.

See fellas, you cannot say on one hand that you chose romance as a category because it was popular and stood to make your fake ebook the most money, while insulting those who legitimately write in the genre. I’ll leave it to Harlequin to take you to school on the issue of your plagiarism of one of their books. But, yeah, that’s me giving you the side-eye for not knowing the difference between stealing someone’s copyrighted work and what material might lie in the public domain. Two someones actually, writer and editor.

SP: We spoke with Harlequin and are on great terms with them.

I got another bone to pick.

You allowed your bias to taint an article that otherwise, I could wholeheartedly support.

See, I also believe that Amazon needs to clean their own house before they point fingers at mine. As an indie writer who self-publishes on Amazon, I’m stunned that no one has called the powers that be at Fiverr on the carpet for allowing postings for fake reviews, knowing that such reviews are against the terms of service at Amazon. I don’t feel that saying the suppliers of the demand would just move to Craigslist, for example, gives Fiverr a pass. I’m even more incensed that Amazon lets the gamers and get-rich-quick schemers fill up their virtual shelves, making discoverability almost impossible for the legitimate writers.

SP: Fivver is a marketplace for small tasks, but it riddled with blackhatters.

I see, almost daily, in the various author promotion groups I frequent, posts like this one, asking for ‘review exchanges’, also prohibited by Amazon’s TOS.

Or this one, which is a screen cap off the profile page of some random person who sent me a friend request. See the two Facebook groups where people join in order to trade reviews to bolster their book’s reviews?

So, yes, there is a problem at Amazon, one I’d love to see genuinely addressed. Amazon probably has ‘How-To’ books on it’s virtual shelves right now that detail the process of gathering fake reviews in the quest to be ‘an Amazon best-selling author’. Rather than going after those books–which might make them a buck–they’ve decided to go after legitimate reviews instead, turning many away on the grounds that the author and book blogger might be Goodreads ‘friends’.

But if, as I’ve been assured, the editorial intent here was to get Amazon’s attention, then I fail to comprehend why the author of the article was allowed to fart in church. Why include the dismissive language toward writers in the romance genre, as well as those who write in the interracial romance subcategory?

All you’ve done is given Jeff Bezos solid, unimpeachable grounds to overlook your project.

Oh, the slur toward honest authors who had Fabio on their covers was tongue in cheek? We should all get that? It was…gasp…sarcasm?

Okay, let’s talk about the use of ‘jungle fever’, which stirred up dust on a much deeper issue.

See, I’m from South Carolina. You might have seen us in the news recently. How did you miss the underlying message from mass murderer Dylann Roof, that his irrational fear that black men were ‘raping white women’ was his justification for trying to start a race war?

Let me deconstruct that phrase for you, since I think your gender and/or social status might have protected you from the bitter realities of the world. ‘Jungle fever’ is code for something altogether unpalatable. The phrase encapsulates the very real fear among otherwise sane white men, that led to the foundation and rise of the KKK. It’s the phrase that contains every drop of the hatred that led to teenager Emmett Till being tied to the back of a pickup truck and dragged until his own mother didn’t recognize him. His crime? Why, he might’ve looked at a white women with lust in his heart.

What? That’s not what you meant? Well, it’s by God what you insinuated. That white women everywhere just can’t wait to jump on some big, black schlong, (wink, wink), so let’s just change the ethnicity of this character we’re stealing, for bonus points.

Grow up. You sound like my last trip into a frat house,which would’ve been… let me think…. 1982? I see nothing much has changed.

Except…. the world. Thanks to a thing called the internet, we can now run you to ground and call you out for what you are. Turning off comments and switching Twitter links won’t save you, either. The first thing any entrepreneur learns is to not insult people as a matter of course.

SP: The comments were turned off until we got the OK from Harlequin.

Make your shouts of “PC police” if you must. But you do not get a pass for talking out of school and calling it humor, or crying that it’s your ‘angle’, while at the same time asking to be taken seriously on the issue of Amazon’s shoddy plagiarism policies.

Pick one, because causal racial slurs thrown out in the name of laughs, and integrity on any matter, cannot exist side by side.

There are any number of romance writers who’d have given you permission to use their book. Five minutes’ of internet research would’ve led you to Rachel Ann Nunes’ Go Fund Me campaign, for example, where she has tried for nearly a year to raise the funds to fight the plagiarism of her work in court. I guarantee, she’d have loved to provide a quote. And a ton of her research, all legit.

But rather than seek any sort of assistance, you let pass an article that demeaned every woman who ever wrote an interracial romance. And doubly insulted the women of color who write them. And who read them. Oh, we aren’t your target audience? Whoops.

See, putting it out there in the blogosphere means you get feedback from everybody. And turning off comments, and letting the author hide behind a Twitter link that cuts to the publication and not directly to his Twitter profile, is farting in church a second time, gents.

SP: The author doesn’t use Twitter, which is why we couldn’t link to his account.

So, you got your giggle from the frat boy types who dislike the way the world is changing. And a much larger lesson on what it means to be a responsible journalist, I hope.

But at least you did learn that hitting #1 in the Interracial Romance category on Amazon ain’t a walk in the park. I’ve only managed that feat once, out of several tries.

But allow me to acknowledge what you did not. That there are women of color who regularly hit the #1 slot on Interracial Romance on Amazon, whose work still wouldn’t get a second look from one of the Big Five publishers–and her complaint is far more legitimate than mine.

See, I, like Mr. Havel, am white. And unlike him, I accept that the world will offer me breaks that some do not get. And I will not trade on that misery in order to get a laugh.

SP: Mr. Havel isn’t white.

In summation, I’ll defer to the words of a woman of color. To Kaia Bennett, an outstanding indie writer, who commented on my Facebook profile. (Which is public, so y’all come right on over to express your outrage that someone dared piss in your frat boy cess pool of ‘humor.’)

SP: For the record, the term is commonly used in titles and descriptions on Amazon. It was introduced to us by our insider to describe the genre so we decided to go with it rather than the alternative, BMWW (Black Male White Woman).

Writing is a profession in which we all must acknowledge that words have weight. Those who engage in comedy and satire don’t get a pass because ‘it was funny’ when people are dying every damn day.

Clean up Amazon? I daresay you have a more immediate task.

So, what was really accomplished here? You stole a book from someone, and in doing so, opened yourself and your publication to a lawsuit. You insulted every romance writer I know, and slung an extra measure of dung on the writer of color, writing in the interracial romance category, who checks her Amazon account and knows damn good and well that if she’d made both her characters Caucasian–or made up a profile purporting to be a white, middle aged woman–her books would reach a wider audience.

But she, and I, continue to write the legitimate interracial romance, because we believe that everyone deserves to be the heroine.

But some of you got a good laugh.

~E


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