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Keep the rabbit….I want the mouse!

Hey Y’all,

 

Imagine yourself going to New York City to meet with several of your industry’s biggest movers and shakers. In your briefcase is your latest creations that will herald a new and inventive way of creation. It is the difference between starting a fire with two sticks and using a butane lighter. It is a big deal and you are the driving force behind the project.  Your spouse kisses you on the cheek for good luck and you head towards the elevator.

You walk semi-confidently down the streets of the biggest city in the world. Past the ever-growing lines of workers who are out of work. The bustling city that you first visited five years earlier is different. Today, it is cold. It is distant. It is in despair. No longer is the feeling of hopelessness isolated to the immigrants. Now it is a dread that is felt within the established citizens too. Five years ago, there were lines of bakeries on every street. Now there are lines of people begging for a handful of bread.

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New York City, 1928. Photo from yahoo.

You look different from the masses. You have a dark tan from the Californian sun. A clean, pressed suit, a colorful tie, polished shoes, and a pocket full of smokes. A sense of dead churns deep in your stomach but you brush it off as nerves. You have big plans after the contract is signed. You envision this new creation blossoming into motion pictures and ushering in a new age. A golden age of entertainment that will help these unfortunate souls forget their misery, pain, hunger and sicknesses. Your creations will bring joy back to the children. You have been gifted, you see happiness and hope. Now it is your time to give that gift back to humanity.

The project is only one that you have worked on for several years. It is your child formed from your own DNA. Your fingerprints, thoughts, tears, personality, hopes, fears, and soul are infused into this project. Already a commercial success, you are known as the next big thing but you know differently because the people who form your team are the secret to your success. They did their own part to breathe their life into the project just as much you did. They have earned this meeting as much as you. You can’t wait to return home as the conquering hero with the booty of a brand-new contract as their well-deserved tribute.

Each step towards the meeting of a lifetime brings with it a sense of terror. Every time your shoe hits the concrete, it leaves a small crumb of confidence and picks up a nibble of doubt. What if you fail in the presentation? What if you don’t impress the money men? What if they don’t believe in the project? What will you do? How will you tell your wife that you failed? You console yourself, you go into self-talk mode. You can do this. You are worthy.

You enter the boardroom. Ornate in every manner, the teak walls and mahogany table contrast perfectly. The windows overlook the Hudson River and the ant sized people below. You hang your hat on the hanger and move to your chair. Serious long faced men stand to greet you. The final man to shake your hand is your business partner. He smiles but you know something is wrong. Always a little different, you always dismissed it to him being from New York. But in the boardroom. He isn’t a friend. He is Judas.

Image result for old publishing board room

Photo from yahoo.

Your business partner skips the small talk and gets straight to the topic of the meeting. Your creation, the thing you worked on for so long isn’t really yours. A man to your left, slides you several legal documents. He tells you that the creation that your business partner assured you was a joint project was actually solely owned by him. You never were a part owner because he filed the copywrite claim and never put your name on the paperwork. Furthermore, the partner is threatening to take you to court to sue you for infringement of that copyright because of the newest idea in your briefcase. He tells you that your talented support staff can no longer work with you on this project because you have been removed from the decision-making process.

Just before you start your rebuttal, the man on the right offers you the deal of the century. You can continue to work just as you always have. You can still have creative control over the creation and life will continue just as it has for the last three years. All you have to do is say yea and accept a twenty percent pay cut. Forget the stock options and never a potential for ownership.

You slowly stand, your legs quivering underneath your pressed tan slacks. In disbelief you ask for a moment to review the copyright paperwork. You go into another room and sit in silence. You mind considers the options. Could you work for a thief but keep your dearest friends, a steady income and your stature within your world? Do you dare to start all over again with no safety net? You think of your wife and two daughters. They have a comfortable life in a comfortable city but it is all at risk. Your brother is back home. He entrusted you to make the best decisions possible. All alone, sixty-three stories above the world in a gilded cage, your assassins wait on the other side of the wall.

Your decision is easy, your actions are chosen and your path is sure. You walk into the room with a nightmare but leaving with a dream. Your dream. You open your briefcase and leave your world changing ideas on the table because a piece of paper says it belongs to them. You grab your hat and wish them well and leave quietly.

Three days later you and your wife arrive back home in California. Your tears are dried up. Your fears are gone and your strength is renewed. They can keep their rabbit because you have a mouse.

That is a slightly embellished dramatization of a day in Walt Disney’s life in 1928. The creation in question was a character called Oswald The Lucky Rabbit who was owned by Universal Studios. After Disney left the franchise, Oswald went on to star in one hundred forty-nine cartoons, several comic books and a life overseas in print before being secured by the Disney company in 2006. The mouse Disney created was first called Mortimer, and changed later to Mickey on a suggestion from Disney’s wife.

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Mickey in his first successful animated comic strip, Steamboat Willie. It was the third animated movie staring Mickey. photo from yahoo

There are so many lessons from this story.

The first is to never trust the suits. The suits are in it for the money but they have no creative talent. If they did, they would make stuff not steal it.

We are the talent. We actually create stuff and while most of it might not be great, that doesn’t mean it isn’t worthy. Protect your stuff because without those protections, it can be stolen and as we all have learned from television police shows, possession is 90% of the law.

It is okay to start over from scratch. If Mr. Disney quit or decided to serve as a defeated man, then we would never have Mickey Mouse.

I will leave you with the words of Mr. Disney.

“I only hope that we never lose sight of one thing – that it was all started by a mouse.”

— Walt Disney, Disneyland; October 27, 1954

Image result for Walt Disney 1925

Photo from yahoo.

Until next time, keep on rockin!

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Amazon, book promotion, Uncategorized

Amazon bots, clickfarms, and trolls – oh, my!

Over the past couple of weeks, my feeds have been flooded with the same sorry tale: a book or box set has been stripped of its rank on Amazon. As Anne R. Allen notes, authors “who have NOT been doing anything wrong are getting hammered” with the following notice:

We are reaching out to you because we detected purchases or borrows of your book(s) originating from accounts attempting to manipulate sales rank. As a result, the sales rank on the following book(s) will not be visible until we determine this activity has ceased.

Please be aware that you are responsible for ensuring that the strategies used to promote your book(s) comply with our Terms and Conditions. We encourage you to thoroughly review any marketing services employed for promotional purposes.

Any additional activity attempting to manipulate the Kindle services may result in account level [sic] action.

guilty-until-proven-innocentWhen a book’s sales rank spikes, it “apparently triggers punishment” and so far “Amazon is stonewalling anyone who tries to appeal.” Derek Murphy cites the only correct response: “Yes, I promise never to do it again.” There is no way to appeal it. Additionally, this is happening to new and seasoned authors alike, including some NYT bestselling authors.

David Gaughran suspects this issue stems from the following:

  1. Amazon has instituted a new fraud detection system, one which isn’t working very well, and is generating lots of false positives.
  2. Scammers are deliberately targeting innocent authors, pointing clickfarms/bots at their books or using some form of incentivized gifting, which is triggering Amazon’s fraud detection system.

Both theories have their merits – it could even be a combination of the two. Unfortunately, Amazon doesn’t seem to be taking him seriously on this matter.

Collateral Damage

scam-alert-1024x788More importantly, and as Derek Murphy rightly points out, “there are definitely scammers out there who continue to successfully hack Amazon’s system to their advantage using black hat tactics, and Amazon needs to fix its system without penalizing legitimate authors.” For authors who have run legimate, ethical promotions to lose both their sales rank and earnings negates the entire purpose of running a promotion. And even after the situation is resolved, the damage has already been done. There is no way to undo the damage unless someone has a time machine.

Amazon is, of course, in a precarious position – they are attempting to eliminate scammers to foster a better customer experience – and accounts that use bots and/or clickfarms to artificially inflate page reads and so on thereby steal earnings from hard-working authors and deter readers from Amazon in one fell swoop.  It’s a difficult situation for everyone involved. Authors, Amazon, and readers are losing time and money because of these scams. For the time being, slow, organic growth is probably a safer bet than large promotions (e.g., BookBubs and other email list promotions). However, I wonder if there are ways that authors and Amazon could work together to improve this situation.

Collaboration

collaboration-definitionThe realtionship between Amazon and authors is problematic – we are neither customers nor employees. However, perhaps we could work together, regardless of the source of the problem. And, no. I’m not a programmer, so I don’t understand the logistics that would go into the system I’m about to propose, but I figured I’d put it into the bloggosphere anyway.

What if Amazon implemented an author ranking system that’s similar to its reviewer ranking system? More specifically, what if Amazon ranked author accounts then extended an optional author reviewer membership to established authors who have a history of ethical conduct – that is, Amazon ranks author accounts over time. I propose this because long-term accounts are unlikely to be scam accounts, and most authors that I know are helpful, generous people – see present company.

Authors who opt to review other accounts could take a spin through newer accounts that were flagged for suspicious activity or possible rank manipulation to ensure that new authors or books aren’t being unfairly stripped of their sales rank and that scammers aren’t screwing people out of their earnings and readers out of their time. I’m sure many of us wouldn’t mind chipping in a couple of hours a month to foster a better environment for ourselves, Amazon, and our readers (Amazon’s customers).

Marketing-for-Increasing-Exposure-Tip-5-Amazon-Author-CentralAdditionally, perhaps Amazon could add a widget inside Author Central so that authors can tell Amazon when they’re going to run a promotion — e.g., a form where the author can tell Amazon what promotion they’re running and for how long. Perhaps as Amazon gathers data about promotions through this widget, they’ll be able to fine-tune their detection methods.

No Solution is Without Its Problems

Sure, this solution is inherently problematic. As David Gaughran notes in “Amazon’s Hall of Spinning Knives”, even when authors manage to get their rank restored, they continue to be “accused of rank manipulation and … [are] on warning … [for] future conduct.” As such, some authors may end up excluded from the program because of false flags on their accounts.

DontFeedTheTrolls2Likewise, and as Anne R. Allen discusses in her article, trolls could be a potential problem – while trolls are discussed in the context of Amazon book reviews in Anne’s article, I think the same priniciple would apply to this system. There may be people who deliberately sabotage other authors because they’re jealous of their performance, bored, or whatever – I’d really like to believe that most of us are not like that, but it is conceivable that a couple trolls might squeak through. Those of us who have been here at the Writers Co-op likely remember our repeated encounter with a troll. As with most things, we tend to police ourselves, so perhaps there ought to be several reviews of an account to ensure that trolls don’t run wild.

What do you think?

Sources and Further Reading

Allen, Anne R. “Amazon’s Latest Crackdowns: Do They Include Amazon Review Trolls?” Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris. AnneRAllen.com, 22 Oct. 2017. http://annerallen.com/2017/10/amazon-crackdowns-amazon-review-trolls/ 28 Oct. 2017.

Baum, Cate. “What Book Promotions Are OK and Not OK on Amazon Now.” Self-Publishing Review. 6 Oct. 2017. http://www.selfpublishingreview.com/2017/10/what-book-promotions-are-ok-and-not-ok-on-amazon-now/ Accessed: 28 Oct. 2017.

Gaughran, David. “Amazon’s Hall of Spinning Knives.” Let’s Get Digital. WordPress.com, 20 Oct. 2017. https://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/2017/10/20/amazons-hall-of-spinning-knives/ Accessed: 28 Oct. 2017.

Murphy, Derek. “The Death of Book Promotion.” Creative Indie. Creativindie.com, 27 Oct. 2017. http://www.creativindie.com/the-death-of-book-promotion/ Accessed: 28 Oct. 2017.

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