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text 2017-10-25 19:14
Follow-up to Over Priced at $0.00 -- How the scam worked
Promised to an Earl: Arranged Marriage Historical Romance (Victorian Historical Romance) - Joyce Carroll

Disclosure:  I obtained the Kindle edition of this book when it was offered free on 6 January 2016.  I do not know the author nor have I ever had any communication with her about this book or any other matter.  I am an author of adult fiction and general interest non-fiction.




Thanks to comments by Darth Pony and Alexandra's Adventures in Books to my original "Over Priced at $0.00,"  I did some further research on how the scammers have operated to screw over readers -- and writers! -- via the Kindle Unlimited program.  Because I already had this item purchased and downloaded, it provides perfect material for analysis.


As you can see from the above screen shot (taken today), this item is now listed at $0.99 and is not available for Kindle Unlimited reading.  The lone Amazon review is a one-star warning not to buy the book.


According to the product information, this "book" is now 37 pages long.



Here's how the scam worked.


When Kindle Unlimited began, authors were paid the full royalty on any KU book the reader turned 10% of the pages.  This quickly proved too easy to scam, so the process was changed.  Authors were then paid a set amount per page turned (whether actually read or not).  It was still easy to pad books by double or triple spacing, leaving blank pages between chapters, and so on.  At that point Amazon came up with Kindle Edition Normalized Pages ("KENP"), which basically amounts to counting pages by equivalent words.  The current approximation is ~187 words per page, and the current royalty payment is ~$0.005 (one half cent) per KENP.


What the scammers did was to bundle dozens (literally dozens) of these short books/stories into a single volume, slap a cover and title on it, and publish it via Kindle Direct Publishing and enroll it in the KU program.  One book, of course, wouldn't be enough to rake in lots of royalties, so they took the same dozens of stories, shuffled the order, and republished them in other collections.  With new covers and new titles, they looked like another whole product, even though they weren't.


(I have some more of these in my Kindle collection and I'll try to locate and post more screen shots later.)


Once the reader was enticed to download the book via KU, she encountered various enticements, such as this:



Yes, "at the very end of this Book."  But, look at the number at the very bottom of this page:  116459. 


By comparison, Marsha Canham's full-length historical romance Bound by the Heart only yields 6801 "locations."  (These are not actual pages; I'm not sure exactly what measurement is used.)



A single click to the end of 116,459 brought the scammers 17 times the KU royalty that a full-length novel by a real author would have brought.  If the reader found out the material was crappy, she didn't much care, because it came "free" with her monthly KU subscription.  There really wasn't much incentive to leave a negative review, and it would only have taken more of her time, which she may have already considered wasted.  Why waste more on a negative review?


Whether "Joyce Carroll" really is a New York Times bestselling author remains to be discovered.  She may have been one of those who sold a big bunch of books in a collection for $0.99 and ended up on some list.  Again, it's a scam.


Now, are readers hurt by this?  Well, they are if they spend good money on this crap.  I confess I haven't actually looked at the "Promised to an Earl" story yet, but the others I looked at were pretty poor fare.  Still, most KU readers probably only look at the time they spent on books they otherwise wouldn't have read, because there's no actual money involved for them.


Authors, however, are directly impacted.


The KU pool is determined by Amazon each month, and it is then divided amongst the participating books by those KENPs actually turned.  To give you an idea of how that works out, my book The Looking-Glass Portrait is listed at 391 pages on Kindle; Marsha Canham's book is listed at 406, so pretty darn close to equal.  LGP is calculated to have 827 KENPs.  So this scam book "Promised to an Earl" generated roughly $68.00 in royalties each time someone clicked on that link to take them to the end of the book for a freebie.


Sixty-eight dollars.


That $68.00 was pulled out of the pool of funds available to the authors who actually wrote books and lent them via Kindle Unlimited.


And we don't know how many of these scam books were actually listed.


Here's the review I did of one, however, along with one page from the text to show spacing and the location amount on the bottom.



Apparently Amazon has tried to rein in some of these scam books.  I don't know if The Second Sister has been trimmed down so it doesn't add up the KENPs; I'll check later.


But, friends and fellow readers, this is just another reason why negative reviews are important.  This is why we can't just shrug our shoulders and say "There's nothing I can do about it."  These tactics are wrong.  They hurt real authors, and they hurt real readers by depriving them of the well-written books real authors are putting out there.


Deal with it, Anne Rice. Deal with it.



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review 2017-10-14 01:20
Very, very sad -- no stars
The Sea Adventures of Robert Smalls (African American Civil War Heroes Book 1) - Kenneth Harris,Aaron Harris

Disclosure:  I obtained the Kindle edition of this book on 12 October 2017 when it was offered for free.  The author is a BookLikes member who engaged in unsolicited promotion (aka spamming) of his books and his newsletter to me via private message.  I am an (unverified) author of historical and contemporary romances and non-fiction.


Robert Smalls's remarkable story is well worth being made accessible to readers of all ages and all reading skill levels.


This book, unfortunately, isn't worth reading, for a variety of reasons. 


The original artwork is terrific, but it can't save the text.  The non-original illustrations, including maps and historic photos, are included with no citations, which prevents the reader from researching them.  Even though they may in fact be in the public domain and not subject to copyright restrictions, the sources should still be identified.  While the book may be targeted at young readers who won't be doing further research right away, their parents and teachers should have that information.


Especially their teachers, since author Harris claims to be an educator.


The text is fairly bland, but it also contains strong echoes of previously published works.  Strong enough echoes to suggest copyright infringement?  It's my personal opinion that the Harris book comes very, very close to infringement, but may not be a clear case.  And I am not an intellectual property lawyer. 


However, there are passages in Harris's book that are eerily similar to passages in Robert F.Kennedy Jr.'s book about Robert Smalls.  Are the passages verbatim, identical word for word?  Um, no, not quite.  But verbatim copying isn't the only way works can be infringed. Often the issue with the Harris book is that the text follows the same sequence or pattern as Kennedy's.


But it isn't just Kennedy's text that is borrowed.  One of the sources for a Wikipedia article on Smalls is an article by Gerald Henig.  Again, the text isn't verbatim, but it's very, very similar.  Neither Kennedy nor Henig -- nor Wikipedia -- is cited in Harris's limited bibliography.


There's nothing intrinsically wrong with lifting information from various sources and recombining it into a new text.  This isn't an academic research paper that needs formal citations of sources, but there doesn't appear to be anything particularly original about the text.  And an adult reader has to wonder:  If Harris lifted passages from Wikipedia, Henig, and Kennedy, who else did he borrow from?  Is there anything truly original, truly Harris's, in the book at all?


As I mentioned, the artwork by Aaron Harris is very good, but even that compliment has to be tempered:  Author Kenneth Harris includes a link to the artist's other work with a warning about adult content.


Amiable Entertainment was instrumental in creating the fabulous artwork in this book. For more of this artwork work check out the following websites at http://amiablecomics.wixsite.com/entertainment and at http://aarongharris.deviantart.com Parental discretion is advised for some content.

Harris, Kenneth. The Sea Adventures of Robert Smalls (African American Civil War Heroes Book 1) . Seed Educational Supplements. Kindle Edition.


That kind of warning really shouldn't be in a book aimed at much younger readers.


Furthermore, Harris solicits readers for another work of his that is totally unrelated to the subject of this book and appears to target an entirely different audience.


One Last Thing

Thank you for purchasing my book. Your contribution will help me scatter the seeds of knowledge upon the bright minds of tomorrow. Please be sure to check out my monthly newsletter on the stories of comic strips, comic book superheroes and their creators at http://kforpartnership.wixsite.com/educ

Harris, Kenneth. The Sea Adventures of Robert Smalls (African American Civil War Heroes Book 1) (p. 34). Seed Educational Supplements. Kindle Edition.


If The Sea Adventures of Robert Smalls is intended for young readers (no age is specified) then advertisements for adult materials really have no place on these pages.  This indicates, to me at least, a lack of writing professional judgment on the author's part.  Though he claims to be an educator -- substitute teacher, teacher's aide -- he seems not to understand that it's just not a good idea to promote adult publications in books intended for children.  So, what other professional judgments might he lack?


There is a lot of dialogue in the book.  How much of it is documented, and how much is the product of Harris's imagination?  Some, to be sure, is sourced in historical records, but lacking citations or even any kind of disclosure on the author's part, there's no way to know what is the re-creation of history and what is fictionalization.


Harris clearly lacks familiarity with certain writing conventions, such as the italicization of ships' names.  In the following passage, the Planter is the ship on which Robert Smalls effected the escape of himself, his family, the slave crew, and their families.  Neither it nor the USS Onward or any other ships are written in italics.


Lieutenant John Nickels was present on one of the Union warships called the USS Onward. He saw the Planter speeding toward his ship. To him and his startled crew, it looked like an enemy boat. They didn’t see the white flag.

Harris, Kenneth. The Sea Adventures of Robert Smalls (African American Civil War Heroes Book 1) (p. 8). Seed Educational Supplements. Kindle Edition.

As the following screen shot from the "Look Inside" preview of the Kennedy book on Amazon shows, that convention was clearly followed.



The snip from the Harris book above, however, illustrates another of Harris's weaknesses:  He doesn't proofread carefully.


“Hold your fire!” Nickels ordered his gunmen.


When the Planter was at the audible range, Nichols leaned over the railing of his

Harris, Kenneth. The Sea Adventures of Robert Smalls (African American Civil War Heroes Book 1) (p. 9). Seed Educational Supplements. Kindle Edition.

This isn't the only shift between "Nickels" and "Nichols."  Harris makes the same mistake again later.


His capitalization is sometimes creative, to the point that I didn't even pay any attention to his punctuation.  The book -- and its author -- already had enough points piled up against them.


I'm not being paid to be Kenneth Harris's editor.  I'm not going to invest either the time or the money to check his text against all the potential sources that might have been infringed or plagiarized.  I could only access a small portion of Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.'s book via the Amazon "Look Inside" feature.  That was enough to make me so uncomfortable about the Harris book that I decided to write this no-star, critical review.

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text 2017-10-13 20:52
Sick to my stomach
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.'s American Heroes: Robert Smalls, the Boat Thief - Robert F. Kennedy Jr.,Patrick Faricy

In 1851, when Robert was 12 years old, his master sent him to Charleston to work. He was rented out to different employers. All the money Robert earned went into Henry McKee’s pocket.


Robert first found work as a waiter in a hotel. He later became a lamplighter for the city. Afterward, he toiled on the Charleston Harbor docks. There, he moved materials on and off boats.


He was a fast learner and a hard worker. He progressed in many types of jobs. His employers liked him because he always did good work.


What Robert liked most was working on transport ships. He received training as a ship pilot. But slave pilots were not honored with that title. Instead, they were called wheelmen.

Harris, Kenneth. The Sea Adventures of Robert Smalls (African American Civil War Heroes Book 1) . Seed Educational Supplements. Kindle Edition.







When he was 12, Smalls' master sent him to Charleston to hire out as a laborer, with the money paid to his master. The youth first worked in a hotel, then became a lamplighter on Charleston's streets. In his teen years, his love of the sea led him to find work on Charleston's docks and wharves. Smalls was a stevedore (dockworker), a rigger, a sail maker—and eventually worked his way up to become a wheelman, more or less a pilot, though slaves were not honored by that title. As a result, he was very knowledgeable about Charleston harbor.[3]



[3]  Henig, Gerald, "The Unbeatable Mr. Smalls", America's Civil War, March 2007.



Neither Wikipedia, Henig, nor Kennedy is cited in Harris's work.

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text 2017-10-13 19:35
Posted with very little comment

I seriously considered not posting this and just letting the issue drop.  I'm quite certain I'll get in trouble for it, and maybe even get booted from BL, which would actually bother me quite a bit.  But I think I owe an obligation to my friends here to let the truth be known so that they can make their own informed decisions.


These are screen shots of messages I received on my BookLikes account over the past week or so.  Each screen shot, of course, reads from bottom up, but I've posted them in a kind of chronological order.


The first exchange, in response to a post of mine about writing.



A day or so after receiving this PM, I received the following via PM.



My response was brief and to the point, but apparently it didn't go over well.  This person claims to be a teacher as well as a former police officer, so supposedly old enough to know better.



The final exchange:



I had no intention of identifying this person, but posted some brief thoughts due to my concerns that refugees from the Amazon forums would end up here to promote their books.


This morning, however, I discovered that Kate @ Book Likes  is promoting this author and his books.  Perhaps I should have spoken up sooner.


Kenneth Harris, aka Jet Set Jeff, aka Robert Smalls, has no books shelved on BL, no reviews.  His few blog posts, all of which were self-promotional, appear to have been removed.



Anyone who doesn't know the difference between "defected" and "defective" should not be promoting himself as a literacy expert.

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text 2017-10-12 15:16
"Also, its not spamming if the site allows authors to promote stuff."
The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers - Christopher Vogler

The meeting I attended yesterday afternoon did not go particularly well.  I won't bore you with the details beyond saying that certain issues of socio-economic class distinctions drive me up the freakin' wall.  (Like the implication that if you're not rich, you must be stupid.)


The last thing I expected to find when I finally got back to BookLikes was a hint of renewed BBA wars. It did not improve my mood.


The closure of the Amazon discussion forums set off little alarm bells in my brain, but I hoped the worst of the denizens would migrate to GR and leave us alone here on BL.  Whether the one who decided to plague me is in fact an Amazon refugee, I don't know for sure.  However, I am now a bit gun shy.


He joined BL a few weeks ago.  He contacted me via message in response to one of my blog posts about writing, and I responded by welcoming him to BL. His subsequent message to me was a solicitation to subscribe to his newsletter, which covers a subject I have no interest in whatsoever.  I told him so, and I warned him not to spam.  He replied by telling me I was too emotional.


He has no books on his BL shelves.  He has only a few blog posts, and several seem to be promoting his own books.  He appears not to be engaging with other BookLikers in terms of comments.  He is down to two followers -- I suspect he blocked me even before I could block him.


His writing is not very good.  There are some rather unsettling errors in both his blog posts and his book descriptions.  I looked at the samples of his books on Amazon and cringed.  I won't name him or his books, and I'm not going to put them on my shelves at all.  I just hope this isn't a hint of what is to come.


As I have said often enough before, if there is a single book every aspiring novelist needs to read and reread and study, it's Christopher Vogler's The Writer's Journey.  I had to dig back into my own copy to help resolve a plot issue with the book I'm working on right now.  Understanding how story works allowed me to provide my plot with the necessary underpinnings to strengthen it and make the characters' journey plausible.


Story construction is one part of the writer's journey.  The other is technique and style.  It's a sad fact of the reading life in this 21st century that too many people are publishing written works that fail on either one or the other or both counts.  Great stories must still be told well.  Fantastic writing will only cover up so many plot holes. 


First impressions in the writing business can make or break a writer's career.  A single blog post with usage and grammar errors, especially if that blog post touts the writer's great skill and knowledge, can do irreparable harm.  Oh, wait, it already has.


I'm going out to my studio to sort rocks.

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