UNAUTHORIZED SALES OF YOUR BOOK: What to do?
A Featured Article by Brian Dingle
So, what is the downside of eBook publishing, as an independent author? Sometimes, I guess, your books get sold on a site that you have not authorized.
Take this example.
I was checking out my visibility on Google (part of my on-going marketing strategy) and I decided to Google my name and my book title.
I was thrilled to see my book up on Amazon, for about thirty seconds, until I realized that I had a contract with Smashwords--not Amazon.
Smashwords told me they didn't give it to Amazon.
I didn't think I gave it to Amazon, though with computers, I wasn't immediately sure ... but I called Amazon, and they kindly told me it was not me, and it was not Smashwords.
Stop here: both companies, Amazon and Smashwords, behaved very professionally! As soon as I informed them, they were very helpful. Amazon had to do due diligence ... after all, I might have been the sneaky-dog here, but within 24 hours they had gathered enough evidence to believe me, and within seventy-two hours the problem was gone.
So what happened? Well, now I know for sure. Someone, some nefarious character, took a free sample ( 20% ) of my book off Smashwords, in this case the first eight chapters that I give out to anybody who will take it, and they set up a contract (I presume) with Amazon, and uploaded the 'book' for sale, the first eight chapters, and set the price at around USD $1.99. This money was set to go to someone else, and I had no part in this arrangement; I would get nothing from these sales.
The embarrassing part is that no copies sold during the time this was up. When I learned this I didn't ask how long it had been selling; my ego couldn't take it.
I managed to get the book taken down BEFORE any copies were sold, but I didn't know that until a few days later.
The book looked just like mine: same cover, same title page, even saying it was a Smashwords Edition. I believe it was mine! At the end of the eight chapters, there was a statement that if you wanted to buy the whole book, go to Smashwords to purchase it. Again, of course, because at this point the customer would have already paid $2.00 ($2.64 in Canada, by the way).
Smashwords does sometimes distribute its books to Amazon, once sales exceed a couple of thousand dollars I think ... sadly, mine are at about $20, so I was pretty sure I didn't fall into that category.
What did I do?
1. I freaked out, wondering if during some idle moment I had set up an account with Amazon, but pretty sure I had not, because I was still doing paper work to get an ITIN, as a Canadian citizen, with the USA IRS.
2. I contacted Smashwords. They responded very quickly, basically within hours. In fact, at one point I left a message for Mark Coker, the CEO of Smashwords, on his Facebook page (I'm his 'friend,' among a small select group of about 3,000+), asking for his help. He wrote back within a few hours. I was blown away.
3. I contacted Amazon. I persisted and asked them, on their webpage, to CALL ME. They did! Within five minutes! Really. I was blown away, again. They sent me a form, which I thought would be the dead end, but I filled it out anyway. And the nice guy on the phone gave me a free copy of my 'book' so I could look at it (remember, at this point I didn't know it was the Smashwords sampler I was dealing with). Call me a miser; I just didn't like paying $2.00 for my own book.
4. The most important move I made, I think, was to put a 'review' on the Amazon site, stating that the 'book' in question was only the first eight chapters, and that if any patron had been 'ripped off,' I would give them the whole book for free. Now, I really think this is something that Amazon should have done, but given that there had been no sales, they didn't actually get the chance, so I don't know what they would really do if faced with this problem. But the most important thing from my point of view was not to have customers associate my name, my book, with a bad experience. After all, what would it cost me?
Once the book was taken down, the 'review' came down too. This was particularly important because Amazon does not accept reviews without a rating. And, of course, in order to post my 'review' telling people to write to me if they got ripped off, I had to put up a rating.
What rating would you give your book?
So it is equally important to tell them that the rating is specious, biased, because it comes from the author. I did that. Right there in the review.
I know, I know. It's the only five star rating I'll ever get and it was up for two days, three max, and now its gone! But I could not give myself a zero rating on Amazon (you can that on Goodreads, by the way, give yourself a zero rating, but Amazon goes from 1 to 5) and I would have done that, given myself a zero, if I could. But I couldn't. So I will feel forever guilty over my three day five star rating. Anything in between felt like a real rating, and that's not fair.
5. I wrote a couple of posts on Goodreads, in various spots, to let people know this was a risk, that your book as a free sample could be stolen and put up on another site. That spawned this report.
6. I registered with Amazon, and published my books there. I got a lot of support from Goodreads authors about signing up with Amazon. In the future, I will upload my books to Smashwords and Amazon at the same time, and this will never happen again.
7. I asked Smashwords to develop a database of sites to which they do not distribute, reasoning that Indie Authors could help police these other sites. They said this was too much work. I still think this is a good idea. A database of ALL ebook distributers, with their URLs for complaints or copyright infringement reporting, would be a great step forward. When you had nothing better to do, you could cruise through these sites and check if your books are being published without your knowledge. Properly done, you could cross-reference sites your aggregator does distribute to with this database, and check out the BIG ones that should NOT have your book!
8. I did not take free samples down. The only time I would do that is if I thought my writing was so bad, 20% of the book would turn buyers off. And even then I wouldn't do it.
At the end of the day, the most point is to do what you can to make sure that the customer does not suffer from this. After all, we really want to keep them happy.