The grift isn’t really new

This morning, my FB feed kept showing me a link to an article about the “latest controversy” surrounding indie publishing on Amazon. I don’t usually follow such links but this morning was different. First, it wasn’t an ad. Never, ever click on FB ads unless you want your feed filled with similar ads. Second, I knew some of the folks who were sharing the link. So I decided to see what the uproar was all about. Honestly, I appreciate what the linked article is trying to do, but the so-called controversy isn’t anything really new. It’s been around, in one form or another, as long as the publishing industry has.

The article details how junk books have become a problem on Amazon (It’s funny how the author doesn’t look at the other platforms to see if there is a problem there. He doesn’t even mention if he checked those other platforms.) He specifically targets the Mikelson brothers and their abuse of the system to make money. Since much of what they’ve done in the past has been addressed by Amazon, they have moved to a new scheme that will entice some indies and wannabes into paying them four-figures or more to learn how to get on the fast track to money without actually putting in the effort. The reality is the only ones making money will be the brothers. But that isn’t the thing that struck me.

What did is how the author of the article, in my opinion, fell down in a couple of ways. The first is that he removed almost all responsibility from the reader in making sure they were getting the book they wanted. Yes, there are those out there who will try to con readers into buying the book by copying covers, titles, use of keywords, etc. That’s nothing new. But Amazon has this handy little “look inside” feature that is easy to use and lets you see what you are actually about to pay money for.

I used it just the other day because I was looking for something specific but the search I used to find the book returned several that could have been what I wanted. It took less than five minutes to determine which title of the half dozen or so that were first returned happened to be the one I wanted. So I ask the article’s author if there isn’t some responsibility on the reader to take at least some minimal steps to make sure they are getting what they want.

But what really struck me about the article is how the author, intentionally or not, made it seem like publishing scams hadn’t existed long before Amazon introduced the Kindle and opened up publishing to indie authors. I’m old enough to remember friends getting taken by vanity presses who promised to “publish” your book. The catch came about in that all they did was print the books–and any other service you paid for. Then you had to buy a certain amount of the books and hand sell them. Good luck with that.

And it isn’t as if Amazon isn’t trying to deal with the situation. It’s just like, with any business, it takes time to determine if there is a problem (for their customers), how great of a problem it happens to be, and the best way to respond. There is a reason they have limited the number of titles authors/small presses can publish in a single day. There is a reason why we now have to say if we’ve used AI during the creative process–as well as where in the process, how much of the process was done using AI, and what programs/apps we used. That is a good first step. My concern is that when Amazon, or any other storefront, does take action, it will be an initial over-reaction where some innocent authors will be caught up in the net and face losing their accounts until everything shakes out.

So what do we, as indie authors, need to do to protect ourselves? First, if something sounds too good to be true, it usually is. If someone is telling you they have the perfect program to teach you how to make mega bucks with minimal effort, don’t instantly hand over your credit card or Paypal information. Do your research. Google them and their program. Check the terms of service for not only Amazon but any other platform where you sell your titles (this is important to do on a regular basis anyway because those terms do change). Avoid like the plague anything that says you can “create” and publish books without actually writing them. This is the “let our tech and our methods write your books for you”.

Does this mean to absolutely avoid AI? Waggles hand.

Look, I have been known to use AI to help get an idea about how to describe the details of a room. I’ve used it to help figure out titles. I use it for creating inspiration images and even use it to create aspects of my covers. But, with each of those, they are only aids I use. I do not use AI to do the writing of my books. I do use AI-assisted programs like spell check, Autocrit, ProWritingAid to help make sure I haven’t done something stupid like changing names midway through a story or changing tenses, etc.

In other words, use common sense. This also applies to whether you are a reader or a writer or both. I’m not going to condemn the article. It’s important to know who some of the actors are, especially when their antics very possibly will wind up backlashing on the rest of us. But the responsibility still falls to each of us to make informed decisions about what to do and to be ready to take the consequences when we try to cut corners.


Just a quick reminder that Surtr’s Fury is now available in both e-book and print versions. Thanks to those of you who have already bought it. A quick request. Your reviews mean more than you know. They are the best promotion any author can receive. They don’t have to be long. So, if you’re so moved, I’d appreciate a review. Thanks again!


Featured image created using Midjourney AI.

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