The Trouble With Cutting Corners

software frustrations

Unless you’ve been living in a dark cave or under a rock recently, you’ve seen the latest round of complaints because Amazon is once again terminating author accounts. I’m not making light of how serious this is for an author. Waking to find an email from them saying your account has been suspended or terminated is enough to send someone into a tailspin. But here’s the thing: if you haven’t violated their Terms of Service, there are ways to get your account reinstated. There’s something else. Many times, those complaining the loudest are the ones who knowingly violated the ToS and banked on not getting caught.

If you find yourself in the situation where you received an email from Amazon warning that you are in danger of having your account terminated, don’t sit on it. Don’t panic either. Yes, it’s frustrating because these letters are almost always vague and you won’t get much more information if you call customer support. It’s up to you to figure out what the issue might be.

For a quick primer on some of the possible explanations, check out this article from Kindlepreneur. There are also some suggestions for what to do if your account is terminated. It is all common sense, especially the one about being polite as you go about finding out why your account was suspended/terminated and while you work with Amazon to get it restored.

Right now, a lot of folks are assuming this latest round of terminations is because the author used AI. In some cases, they’re right. Amazon’s Content Guidelines include the following language:

Artificial intelligence (AI) content (text, images, or translations)

We require you to inform us of AI-generated content (text, images, or translations) when you publish a new book or make edits to and republish an existing book through KDP. AI-generated images include cover and interior images and artwork. You are not required to disclose AI-assisted content. We distinguish betweenAI-generatedandAI-assistedcontent as follows:

  • AI-generated: We define AI-generated content as text, images, or translations created by an AI-based tool. If you used an AI-based tool to create the actual content (whether text, images, or translations), it is considered “AI-generated,” even if you applied substantial edits afterwards.
  • AI-assisted: If you created the content yourself, and used AI-based tools to edit, refine, error-check, or otherwise improve that content (whether text or images), then it is considered “AI-assisted” and not “AI-generated.” Similarly, if you used an AI-based tool to brainstorm and generate ideas, but ultimately created the text or images yourself, this is also considered “AI-assisted” and not “AI-generated.” It is not necessary to inform us of the use of such tools or processes.

You are responsible for verifying that all AI-generated and/or AI-assisted content adheres to all content guidelines, including by complying with all applicable intellectual property rights.

What it basically comes down to is don’t try to publish a book you “wrote” using AI as the main source. This is especially true if you are publishing non-fiction. Don’t ignore the AI questions on the first page you fill out when you are preparing to publish a new title. It will come back to bite you sooner or later.

And be honest with yourself and others when you get one of the letters. I’ve been following some of the complaints about accounts being terminated and those writers crying foul. Except—and you knew there had to be one, right?—they brought it on themselves. Amazon requires an author name to be, well, a legal name (or legal pseudonym). Writing a PiggyFlies57 (okay, I haven’t had enough coffee yet) won’t work. Sooner or later, their ‘bots will find you and action will be initiated.

Meta tags are something else the ‘bots are taking a hard look at. Please, do yourself a favor and go back and review the rules about meta tags and their use on the KDP platform.

Something else that is easy to forget about is that if you enter a title and subtitle (and even a series title) on your product page, it has to be on your book cover. If it isn’t, you may get caught by the ‘bots. This is something I discovered when I was preparing to put Warbound Legacy up for presale.

There’s more and you can find plenty of examples by searching the KDP boards or just doing an internet search.

Now for the important part. All is not necessarily lost if you get one of those emails or if your account is terminated. The first thing is not to give in to temptation and go to your social media accounts and raise hell because Amazon did you wrong. Respond to the e-mail. Contact customer service. Be persistent and, again, be honest with yourself and with them. If you screwed up, own it and present a plan for correcting the problem.

Here’s an example of what one author did after their account was terminated. While she still isn’t sure what actually caused the termination, she did admit she didn’t answer the AI questions because she thought it was a survey only. I get it. The communication between KDP and authors about the new questions and the importance of answering them wasn’t great. Nor is the explanation on the page. It’s possible that’s what triggered the ‘bots because she used AI to create her cover. But, whether that’s the only explanation or even part of it, we may never know because, again, Amazon’s communication on such things is vague.

But she persevered and went through all the steps she needed to get her account reinstated. It took time. The wheels at Amazon don’t turn quickly.

Is this post a way of saying we have to live with the wrongful notices and terminations and just accept them? No. Just as it isn’t my way of saying Amazon can do no wrong. Far from it. But we, as authors using the platform, have a responsibility to be aware of what the rules are and of complying with them. That’s why it’s important to check the ToS periodically to make sure you’re aware of any changes. Watching the Kindle boards is another way of keeping up to date on what’s going on.

Most of all, keep your head and don’t panic if you get an email from them. Take a deep breath and follow-up. Mistakes happen, even by the almighty Zon. Because of the way they use ‘bots and AI, it takes time to get actual human eyes on the issue—and a lot of patience and determination.

(This post appeared earlier on my Substack. The header image created using Midjourney AI.)

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