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Amazon has apparently removed the email addresses from the reviewer profiles of Amazon customers. This happened sometime in the past few weeks. I heard about it from a service provider, and blogged up my own analysis here.

Having access to the email addresses was one way to connect with potential reviewers (permitted by Amazon, as long as its rules were followed). But people also reported being hit up for five-star reviews, or being added to newsletters they didn't sign up for.

Aside from reducing bogus reviews and irritated customers, Amazon may have had other reasons for the change, including driving more publishers, brands, and manufacturers to paid marketing programs, such as AMS and Vine.

Writers' Cafe / Novel tactic to get "verified" reviews on Amazon
« on: February 07, 2018, 04:46:52 AM »
Boston Globe report on a weird situation involving cheap consumer junk sold on Amazon, but it's not hard to see how this could work for any product, including books:

They've contacted Amazon, only to be told that the merchandise was paid for with a gift card. No sender's name, no address. While they've never been charged for anything, they fear they are being used in a scam. Experts, including two who formerly worked for Amazon, suspect they are unwitting accomplices in a ruse to manipulate the all-important buyer reviews posted by Amazon.

This Acton couple keeps getting mystery packages from Amazon they didn't order

Writers' Cafe / Amazon Merchants Continue to Find Ways to Cheat
« on: November 24, 2017, 03:37:43 PM »

A reminder that it's not just authors and publishers getting jerked around. Lots of innocent sellers get burned, and there's little recourse. One of the people quoted in the article claims he could lose $1 million in sales this season.

The article also contains some information on the source of suspect reviews:

The lawsuits and crackdowns are proving to be little more than speed bumps to those looking to game the system, who keep finding new tactics. Fake product reviews are now offered on the classified website Craigslist, with posters offering $10 through PayPal for each 5-star review. Finding a freelancer in Bangladesh to write fake reviews or up vote the negative reviews on a competitors page is as simple as visiting the online marketplace Upwork and searching "Amazon up vote."

Writers' Cafe / Amazon's fake book problem
« on: June 14, 2017, 11:50:48 AM »
I might have missed this if it was on KBoards earlier, but I think it's worth posting here as some of us have seen some of the tactics described in the article:

Amazon Has A Fake Book Problem


For over fifteen months now, scammers have been raiding the Kindle Unlimited pot using a well-worn trick. They usually pilfer the content first of all – often by stealing an author’s original work and running it through a synonymizer – and then upload it to Amazon, thus avoiding the automatic plagiarism detectors. They make sure the “book” is as long as possible, but as they are enrolling the title in Kindle Unlimited, they keep it under the program’s limit of 3,000 pages.

These thieves make the book free for a few days, and then use a variety of banned methods to generate a huge and immediate surge in downloads – generally suspected to be bots or clickfarms or dummy accounts, or some combination thereof. These fake books then suddenly jump into the Top 20 of the free charts, displacing authors who have gone to considerable effort to put together an advertising campaign for their work.

As the Amazon staff tasked with dealing with reports of suspicious activity don’t seem to work weekends, when authors and readers report these fake books to Amazon, no action usually gets taken until the following Monday. By then it’s often too late, and these titles have returned to the paid listings, and the subsequent boost in page reads (which normally follows a free run), enables them to grab a huge chunk of the Kindle Unlimited pot – the same shared pot that all authors get paid from.

(there is a lot more at the source post, including how this trend affects certain BookBub campaigns)

I assumed ... perhaps wrongly ... that Amazon support does have staff working weekends. But maybe not for this type of issue. 

Many thanks to everyone who gave feedback on earlier rounds of my Lean Media book design process (including the subtitle and the first round of design comps). I really enjoyed reading through your comments, which helped me see the proposed designs in a new light and take away some ideas for the next round.

Like any design-oriented Lean Media project, the feedback is not intended to be a winner-takes-all vote, but rather to inform the creative team (myself and TLC Book Design). Before I shared the designs, I was leaning toward #2, #4, or #6 and was on the fence about #3 (see the first round designs here) but after seeing comments on KBoards, Twitter, and Facebook I decided to push #3 and #6 forward. (FWIW, the most popular designs were #2, #3, #6, and #9 with #1 close behind).

So here is round 2, with four designs based on each of the two finalists. What do you think? Which one strikes your fancy? Any comments are appreciated.

You can also see larger versions, along with more commentary on how feedback influenced the next round, on this blog post: Lean Media book covers: How we used feedback to choose 2 finalists 

I am gathering feedback on the following designs for my forthcoming book on Lean Media. (working title, which Kboarders helped me choose, is "Lean Media: How to focus creativity, streamline production, and create media that audiences love"). To see larger versions of the cover designs as well as some context, please see this blog post, "Lean Media in action  gathering feedback for the book design". Besides your preference, please feel free to share any other thoughts that come to mind as you look as these designs. Many thanks!

Hi everyone,

I am writing a business book for people who create informational or entertainment media such as film, music, news, videogames, live performances, and books. It's based on the Lean Media framework, a project that I have been working on for more than five years. As authors/designers/editors, which of the following titles is most appealing or intriguing?

1   Lean Media: How to focus creativity, streamline operations, and create media that audiences love
2   Lean Media: A framework for creators and innovators in the new media landscape
3   Lean Media: A model for successful media ventures in an age of digital disruption
4   Lean Media: How to focus creativity, connect with audiences, and create media that matters
5   Lean Media: A playbook for innovative media teams
6   Lean Media: A new approach to media innovation
7   Lean Media: A framework for media innovation

Many thanks for your feedback!

I spotted this discussion forum thread and Twitter post by the founder of No Starch Press. He says the counterfeiters somehow managed to use Createspace to publish copies of a programming book for kids and apparently control the "buy box" for the official Amazon product page. It's the second time it's happened, apparently. He is understandably very upset.

It would have to be the same ISBN to be associated with the official listing. My question is: doesn't Createspace do some sort of rudimentary check against the ISBN to make sure it's A) a working ISBN and B) associated with the publisher of record on Bowker or other national ISBN authority? 

I know Ingram POD does check the ISBN because if you select "expanded distribution" on Createspace the Ingram interface will reject the book.

Writers' Cafe / What marketing methods do you no longer use, and why?
« on: January 15, 2017, 06:18:19 PM »
Thinking back to years past, what types of marketing did you try that did not work out? Or, did a once-reliable marketing tool fall by the wayside for whatever reason?

Another thread about Goodreads reminded me that I haven't used the review service in about 18 months. The last few times I tried it with paperback copies, barely any recipients bothered posting reviews, or would just rate them instead of writing about them. But at one time Goodreads was a reliable source of reviews.

We have a new guide coming out in a few months: Crowdfunding Basics In 30 Minutes. Which one of the following designs works for you? Comments on designs you like (or don't like) are welcome!

Thanks for your feedback!

Writers' Cafe / Lightning Source gets a facelift
« on: August 01, 2016, 03:11:13 PM »
I just visited Lightning Source and saw that Ingram redesigned the website. There are also some changes under the hood, including more metadata fields and streamlined title submission. It looks great (the old interface was painful) but I haven't tested out the new/improved features yet. I'll report back after I poke around ...


- It's easier to change metadata, such as categories and descriptions.
- New metadata fields include contributor bios and reviews. It appears existing titles can be updated to include this info.
- It's now possible to purchase advertising in Advance at any time (before the option was only made available during title setup) 
I was hoping for improvements in the reporting, but it appears it's the same interface.

Any Kboarders out there have a recommendation for US-based printers who do short runs? I need to print 100-200 copies of a book before the official publication date, but can't do it through Createspace or Ingram/LSI. I got one quote from a local printer but it was >3x the cost of POD ... hoping I can find something better further afield.


Writers' Cafe / Which cover works for you? (Round 2)
« on: May 16, 2016, 11:59:17 AM »
Thanks so much to the people who gave some feedback concerning the proposed book covers for Genealogy Basics In 30 Minutes. I also polled my Twitter and LinkedIn followers. It came down to two choices (the tree and the pedigree chart) but the tree won out after a few people pointed out some negative connotations for the pedigree chart.

I have another request: Which of the following colors do you prefer? Note that the red and the blue are not the same shades used in the first round: 

Thanks for your feedback!

Writers' Cafe / Which of the following six covers works for you?
« on: May 10, 2016, 01:13:44 PM »
We have a new In 30 Minutes guide coming out in a few months - Genealogy Basics In 30 Minutes. I picked a few icons which looked relevant and chose two color schemes. Which one works for you? (any other comments are welcome!)

If so, and if you have samples handy, could you compare the trim sizes of paperbacks printed at the two companies?

I know they use different paper stock (which is why LSI/Ingram spines are thinner) but I just noticed that the width/height dimensions are different, depending on which POD service did the printing (at least for my books). I was curious if this was the case for others who use both services.


Writers' Cafe / Mark Coker warns of Amazon monopoly and "nuclear winter"
« on: January 28, 2016, 12:07:46 PM »
I spotted Mark's comment on a Publishers Weekly article about a panel titled "Amazon's Book Monopoly--A Threat to Freedom of Expression?" Judging by the title of the panel, the participants had already concluded that Amazon is a monopoly (which a few commenters took issue with in the thread below the article). The topic is so sensitive, apparently, that "... some authors and editors refused to take part in the event because they worried about professional recriminations."

There was also this observation by a professor of antitrust law taking part in the discussion:

"Why aren't [government agencies] enforcing these laws?"

Perhaps the case is not so clear-cut.

As CEO of Smashwords, Mark is an active participant here and a great blogger to boot. Maybe he can elaborate here (the article was short).

Here are the options:

Background: I am updating the covers for "In 30 Minutes" guides. The original covers (in my sig) are now three years old, and the retro feel doesn't work so well for technology-related topics. The readership for the guides skews middle aged to older.

Feel free to leave other feedback about colors, fonts, icons, etc. in the comments.

Thanks for your input!

Vook has been around for 6 six years, at one point doing high-end, high-quality ebooks (along the lines of iBooks Author) but later getting involved in back-end publishing services. They've pivoted again and renamed themselves to Pronoun. From the PW article:
After a year of acquisitions that included the online literary boutique Byliner and the e-book data analysis engine Booklr, e-book creator Vook has relaunched itself as Pronoun. The new company is a soup-to-nuts self-publishing platform comprising the combined technological tools of Byliner, Booklr and Vook. Declaring itself “a new model for authors,” Pronoun offers its services free of charge and gives authors a 100% royalty rate.
Pronoun also published a manifesto. It's short on details, but big on stirring pronouncements:
We believe that books are important, and that the authors who create them deserve the highest respect.

We believe that technology should be used to empower authors, not to exploit them.

We believe that publishing should be open and completely free.
I'm intrigued enough to sign up on Pronoun's website to be notified once the product launches, but also a little skeptical as the revenue model and distribution are not explained. I've also been skeptical of questionable thinking around other startup publishing models such as Scribd and Oyster. Other indie platforms such as txtr have struggled to gain traction in a moderately crowded marketplace.

But, maybe there's something here. 100% royalties certainly sounds interesting.

Writers' Cafe / Refreshing exchange rates in Google Play
« on: March 30, 2015, 02:45:34 PM »
I assumed that Google automatically updated exchange rates for ebook prices listed in Google Play. I was wrong.

Log into Google Play Books Partner Center > Payment Center and scroll down to Foreign Exchange rates. You'll see a list of rates, a date, and this message:
Refreshing foreign exchange rates will update all the converted prices in your catalog to use the most up-to-date foreign exchange rates.
I hadn't updated the rates since September 2013, so the foreign prices for my titles were way off. For example, the USD:CAD rate used to be 1:1.03, now it's 1:1.27.

Writers' Cafe / Txtr declares bankruptcy
« on: January 29, 2015, 08:58:12 AM »
Via PW:

"Txtr, a Berlin-based e-book device and retail platform, has declared bankruptcy with plans to restructure operations and offer its assets for acquisition. During this process, Txtr will continue to operate its online e-book store and e-reading platform.

In a prepared statement, a spokesperson for Txtr said the company will work with Olswang Restructuring Solutions to find a possible buyer for Txtr assets. Cofounder Thomas Leliveld said that a deal to sell the company fell apart at the end of 2014. The objective now, he said, "is to speed up the acquisition process." He hopes to get a deal done before the end of the first quarter."

I went through the process of setting up a txtr publisher account last spring, as I was interested in connecting with readers in Germany and other parts of Europe. The software was really rough, but recently I noticed that txtr is served through Smashwords which seemed like it could be an easier option to deal with.

Here's my take on the txtr news: I believe app-based companies will always struggle to compete with the apps and services that are baked in to Apple, Amazon, and Google/Android hardware. One of the funded subscription apps (maybe Oyster) last year claimed that a superior reading experience was a competitive advantage, but I'm doubtful. I think many readers don't care that much, and further it's not difficult for any serious competitor to redesign the app interface.

Related reading: A thread about the state of the competition.

Writers' Cafe / Kindle Textbook Creator vs. iBooks Author: Not even close
« on: January 22, 2015, 08:19:35 AM »
I saw the news from Amazon this morning about the new Kindle Text Book Creator. There have been comparisons with iBooks Author, but from a preliminary examination of the tool and the support materials, I think it's fair to say they are not even close.

I've used iBooks Author in the past, and was impressed with its support for rich media elements, such as video, polls, widgets, and high-quality photographs. From the description of Kindle Text Book Creator, it's clear that the focus is on converting existing print PDFs:

"You can add pages to your book from any PDF file. The Kindle Textbook Creator accepts single-page or multi-page source files in .pdf."

I gave it a spin, importing a print layout of Excel Basics In 30 Minutes. The tool took the PDF and converted it to a .kpf file which I cannot preview on a device. However, in the preview function of Kindle Textbook Creator it looked quite slick. That's about it, though. There is no capability to edit the text, insert video, use different templates, or perform any of the other functions that iBooks Author allows.

It would be great if Amazon created a tool that does allow for rich media -- for the types of books that I produce, it would be really helpful to be able to include videos or short quizzes. I can do this for iBooks, but the Apple's relatively small ebook userbase doesn't justify a heavy investment in this area.

The Book Bazaar / Excel Basics In 30 Minutes, 2nd Edition
« on: January 07, 2015, 09:22:25 AM »

Do you want to learn how to use Microsoft Excel, for a career boost or for school, or to better handle numbers, lists, and other data? The revised and expanded edition of this popular Excel user guide will quickly get your Excel skills up to speed with basic spreadsheet concepts, tips, and tricks! Excel Basics In 30 Minutes, 2nd Edition is written in plain English, with lots of step-by-step instructions, screenshots, and examples that demonstrate exactly what to do.

This Excel book can be used with recent versions of Excel, including Excel 2013, Excel for Office 365, and Excel Online, as well as older Excel versions. For users who don't own Excel, the guide explains how to use a free online spreadsheets program called Google Sheets (part of the Google Drive online office suite).

Topics include:
* Screen layout, cells, and terminology
* Formatting cells and text
* AutoFill
* Excel formulas and functions
* How to make charts
* Sorting and filtering
* Printing
* Importing and exporting PDFs, .CSV files, and other formats

This is not a comprehensive Excel bible, but rather a quick guide that answers the core questions that most new Excel users will have:

* What is a spreadsheet?
* What are cells?
* What is the button with the Greek letter for?
* How can spreadsheets create basic financial projections?
* How can certain data in a worksheet be highlighted?
* How can data be alphabetized or ranked?
* How to edit a chart in Excel
* How to print an Excel spreadsheet without cutting off columns

Excel Basics In 30 Minutes, 2nd Edition is authored by Ian Lamont, an award-winning technology writer and author of Google Drive & Docs In 30 Minutes, Twitter In 30 Minutes, and Dropbox In 30 Minutes.

Many thanks to Harvey for enabling social sharing buttons on the top of each thread, on the right side of the title bar below the "Print" button. The Twitter and Facebook buttons provide an easy way to share interesting KBoards discussions with your Twitter followers, Facebook friends, and Facebook pages. If you don't see the buttons, try widening the browser view (long titles sometimes push them off of the title bar).

You'll need to be logged into Twitter or Facebook to share using the buttons. Clicking on the buttons generates a popup with the prefilled thread title and link. On Twitter I also like to append a credit to @kboards1 as well as appropriate hashtags -- #selfpub, #amwriting, etc. Or maybe we should start promoting the #kboards hashtag?

Thanks again Harvey -- you rock!

Hello fellow Kboarders,

I am seeking advice on how to handle the release of my first sci-fi/fantasy novel and some associated short stories. Many of you have experience and insights, and I would be grateful for any advice you are willing to share.

While I have a lot of experience publishing how-to/nonfiction titles, and have written some short stories in the past, this is my first stab at long-form fiction.

The novel is the spawn of my Nanowrimo effort last month. It is the first book in a planned trilogy. I am currently revising the first draft, and some chapters are in a pretty good state — as in ready to read (but not ready to publish). Prior to Nanowrimo, I wrote 4 associated short stories between 3000 and 7000 words to “limber up” and develop the fantasy world in which the novel takes place. These are also ready to read, and with a little polishing can be released. The novel needs an editor, but I think the short stories only need to be proofread.

Here is the Nanowrimo summary of the novel

The Celestial Ark: In the sternward realms
Author: ilamont
Genre: Science Fiction

A Chinese generation ship launched hundreds of years ago has descended into feudalism and war. The scientists, engineers, and crew are no more, killed off or banished by waves of rebellion and civil war. Their artifacts are mostly destroyed, and the purpose of their interstellar journey is forgotten.

Society has fallen back to old ways, based on traditional beliefs from Earth. As the Qiang Dynasty battles barbarians on its northern borders, a secret mission is dispatched from the capitol to the sternward realms to seek out a forgotten figure who holds the key to the survival of the empire.   

The short stories can stand alone, but also take place in the same world.

I’m very interested in getting early feedback about this concept from readers, and also building interest in the world and its characters before the novel is in a publishable state (with the help of an editor). I am aware of the Leanpub movement and sites like, but that particular site seems more oriented toward technical books than scifi/fantasy (there are only 2 scifi titles I could find, and both have few readers and no feedback.

Some other possibilities:
  • Release chapters by themselves on my own blog
  • Release the short stories on KDP by themselves or as part of a collection (total length: 15,000 words) (note I have no cover art for the short stories or the novels)
  • Submit the short stories to sci-fi specific forums
  • Submit the short stories to collections or anthologies
Finally, I can always take a more traditional self-publishing approach — i.e., get the novel in a publishable state, release it through the usual channels, and then use the short stories on the book website to keep readers engaged (or reward them?) while I work on book 2 of the trilogy.

If you were in my shoes, what would you do? Are there any examples or sites that I should look at? If you have personal experience releasing sci-fi or fantasy in recent years, I would be interested in hearing your advice.

Thanks in advance!


A freelance designer I am working with has offered the option to export to a fixed width ePub. On the face of it, this is an interesting option which allows for more complex layouts, but doing some research I found some drawbacks (discussed here).

My questions for fellow KBers who have used fixed-width ePubs or KF8 files:

* How did readers react?
* Was there a significant problem with device compatibility?
* Was it worth it?




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