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text 2018-06-10 21:53

Clearly brimming with confidence, her long legs strode into the room wearing a velvet knee-length gown while smoking a cigarette.

Scott, Catherine. The Westward Bride (Kindle Locations 1768-1769). Catherine Scott. Kindle Edition.


The book is no longer available on Amazon.  This is from one of the MANY stuffed stories added to the main title.


It was so bad, so glaringly bad, I just couldn't help snipping it out to share with all my BookLikes friends.

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text 2018-06-10 18:52
Romance is more than sex

To be perfectly honest with you, I have spent far too much time the past few days going through my Kindle library in search of "stuffed" books.  I've taken screen shots of Amazon listings of stuffed books.  I've reported them to Amazon for being in breach of the Terms of Service.


The worst side effect of this is the trauma of having to read even small portions of some of the stuffed material.  It's horrible.  It's horribly written.  It's horribly formatted.  The punctuation sucks.  The syntax is shattered.  The research is almost non-existent.


Almost nothing irritates me more than historical romance writers who can't be bothered to research the English peerage so they get the titles and forms of address correct.  (Dukes are not addressed as Lord First-name, and I think if I see that one more time I will scream until I break my vocal chords.)


But those are the little things, the details.  Then there's the big thing.


The sex.


Or should I say the fucking?


Because it's not even sex any more, it's just fucking.


So call it that.  "This is a book with a whole lotta fucking in it.  Big cocks go into wet pussies and there's lots of cum all over the place.  The end."


Story?  You want a story?  You want feelings and emotions and tenderness and desire and longing?  Fuggeddaboudit.


Plot?  Plot????  What's that?


Character arc?  Are you kidding?


If this is what passes for New Adult Romance, blech.

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text 2018-06-04 05:50
Kindle Unlimited Book Apparent Stuffers - a list in progress

These are authors whose books appear to be somewhat padded with material that may violate Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing guidelines for inclusion in the Kindle Unlimited and Kindle Owners Lending Library programs.  I have not  confirmed all of them.  Some may have already been removed as of 8 June 2018; some may have brought their books into compliance with current Amazon Terms of Service.


Most of the books in my personal collection are historical romance, with some of the stuffed books/stories being paranormal and/or contemporary.  Some of the most notorious "stuffers" appear to be writers* of contemporary "new adult" romances.  (*It's believed that many of the filler stories are written by ghost writers from fiverr and other sites.)






Alexis Angel (aka Lana Hartley)

Abby Ayles


RR Banks

JL Beck

Veronica Bird

Emily Bishop

Alexa/Annabel Blair

Candy Blake

Kira Blakely

Cassandra Bloom

LA Books (publisher? author? not sure)


Emily Brand

Rachel Brant


Joyce Carroll


Chance Carter (3 June 2018, some books may have been pulled from Amazon; 4 June 2018, appear to have been reinstated. 8 June 2018 appears to have been removed completely)


Nikki Chase

Eddie Cleveland


Elena Davinski

Cassandra Dee

Nicole Elliot


Fanny Finch

Aria Ford

Rye Hart

Rose Haven

Stephanie Hunt

Annabel Hunter (may also be Alexa/Annabel Blair)


Teagan Kade

Fiona Knightingale


Lisa Lace

RS Lively

Eva Luxe


Eve Madden

Cassandra Michaels


Catherine Scott

Tia Siren

Gary Starta

Christine M. Styles (aka North Andrews. Sarah Marquez)


Keith Taylor, aka Aya Fukunishi


Brittany White

Sky Winters




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text 2018-06-02 19:22
Book Scammers on Amazon Kindle Unlimited


I'm going to be writing and updating this post throughout the week-end.


*Sunday morning update at the end.


In a way, I'm writing this for myself, in an effort to understand exactly what happened, when, and how.  Maybe no one else will care, but I do, for very selfish reasons.  I want to be able to write and publish what I write and make enough money from it to continue.


This issue is pretty complex, and I know I've written about it before but I don't have links handy to all my posts and comments.  (Will add links to my previous posts when I have time to find them.)  Apparently, however, Amazon is finally trying to do something about it. This seems like a good time, therefore, to examine the whole situation.  Maybe nothing can actually be done, maybe the scams will just continue, but at least we'll know what's going on.



My prior posts, related as well as sort-of related, added as I locate them:









Here's a link to David Gaughran's blog that has some of the other background information, too, on both the trademark issues going around Romancelandia and the Kindle stuffing.


If you are on Twitter, you should be able to find this thread, which gives a lot of information and has some links also.  I followed Tymber and am now getting more information from others.  There is also a lot of information being compiled under #GETLOUD.






Here is a sample of one apparent "stuffer."



Here are the stats on this book:



This is a screenshot of the "Look Inside" Table of Contents.




 The TOC occupies several pages of the Look Inside preview, ending with this:



What this apparently means is that "Elizabeth" is the first "story" in this collection.  The 15,000 word title story, "Sold," doesn't show up until the third or so page of the TOC, depending on your screen magnification.  Yes, it's linked on the first page of the TOC, but that means the link takes you further into the book, which equates to more pages "read" for the Kindle Unlimited author.


So let's go to the background information, some of which I've shared before.


Kindle Unlimited is an Amazon subscription program.  You pay a set fee each month and are allowed to read as many KU titles as you like.  When you stop paying the subscription fee, you lose any/all KU titles.  I think there's a limit to how many you can have out at a time, so when you've read one, you return it and can check out another, just like at the library.


KU books are enrolled by the authors/publishers.  One requirement is that they be exclusive to Amazon, so you won't find many traditionally published ebooks on KU. Mostly it's author-published material, like my novels.  As I've explained before, I never sold enough on the other platforms to bother with them; I'm happy to be just on Amazon.


When a KU book is downloaded to the subscriber's device, it shows up on the author's data as 1 page read.  As the reader progresses through the book, the pages mount up.  The author can keep track of her KU "sales" in almost real time.  As far as I know -- and according to the screenshot further down -- the author is only paid for the first KU read by that account; you can't have Aunt Sophie read it over and over and keep getting paid, any more than you can get paid for re-reads of other books, either physical or digital.


Amazon determined that the fair way to pay authors for KU reads was to calculate a standard "page" -- called the KENPC, or Kindle Edition Normalized Page Count.  They are currently on Version 3.0.  This is important.


My most recently published novel, The Looking-Glass Portrait, was listed on Amazon in July 2016.  It went directly to Kindle Unlimited and has never been listed anywhere else.  Other than fixing a handful of typos -- think we found five altogether -- LGP has not been edited or revised in any way since July 2016.



The data hasn't changed either.






It's listed at 366 print pages; the actual trade-size print-on-demand paperback edition is 364 pages. But the critical number is the KENPC pages, which according to the publication data provided to me as the author is 637.


Previously, whether under KENP v. 2.0 or before, it was 827.


To be perfectly honest with you, there's probably a notification in one of the Kindle Direct Publishing newsletters I've received over the past year that explains this, but I haven't read them.  At any rate, the current payment schedule is about $0.005 -- half a cent -- per KENPC actually read by the Kindle device.  The reader herself may be just flipping pages or even using a link to get to the end of the book, but it's all about what the device records and sends back to Amazon as the furthest page read.  That's how the author gets paid.


Again, to be honest with you, I earn about $2.00 for every Kindle edition of LGP sold.  I earn about $3.00 for every KU edition read.  As I posted on Twitter a couple of days ago, I keep the Kindle price low for those who aren't KU subscribers; I have no control over the KU price or payment.  (Anything below $2.99 only earns a 35% royalty; at $2.99 I earn 70%, minus a small fee based on file size.)  These numbers are set by Amazon, so they're the same for all self-publishing Kindle authors and Kindle Unlimited enrollees.


Please note the comparison:

LGP with a file size of 1985kb generates 366 print pages. Davinski's Sold is shown as 1850kb, but 1947 pages.  What I don't know, obviously, is the KENPC on Davinski's book.  As far as I know, that information is only available to the author/publisher.  Here's the information on LGP, which shows that the KU rate is paid "the first time" the subscriber reads it.



 Recently -- though I don't know exactly how recently -- Amazon decided to try to put a stop to this book "stuffing," which is the bundling together of various texts into a huge file, selling it at a low price but offering it on KU to get the payment for page reads.  (Screen shot doesn't capture it all, so I'm doing just a text cut and paste.)


Bonus Content

If you choose to include bonus content (e.g., other stories, or previews of other books that are not part of your book’s title), it should be relevant to the customer and should not disrupt the reading experience. To meet these guidelines, we require placing additional content at the end of the book, and listing the bonus content in your book's table of contents.

To provide an optimal customer experience, bonus content should make up no more than around 10% of your book. If you would like to include multiple stories within your book, consider creating a collection of works. When selecting your book’s title, always make sure to follow the Metadata Guidelines.

Primary and bonus content must meet all program guidelines (e.g., bonus content in KDP Select titles must be exclusive). Translated content must be high quality and not machine generated. Disruptive links and promises of gifts or rewards are never allowed.
In other words, If you have a 15,000 word novella titled "Sold," you can't have 250,000 other words in short stories, novellas, vignettes, poems, or recipes to pad out the rest of the book.  You could, I'm guessing, have a collection or anthology titled "Sold" and include a bunch of stories, novellas, poems, and even recipes, provided you made clear that it was in fact a collection.  Even so, all of the material -- with certain exceptions -- has to be Kindle Select eligible.  That means all of it has to be exclusive to Amazon, not published or available elsewhere.  ("Kindle Select" means it's exclusive to Amazon; "Kindle Unlimited" means it's available for the subscription lending.)
I opened this post with the reference to Tymber Dalton's Twitter thread, which is unrolled here. 
She encourages readers to "get loud" and complain to Amazon if they encounter "stuffed" KU titles.  There are several problems with this.
1.  Most KU subscribers don't know stuffing is against the rules.
2.  Most KU subscribers don't care that it's against the rules.  They pay $10/month for unlimited reading, so if they get a dud once in a while, who cares?
3.  Most KU subscribers don't care enough to take the time to collect the details necessary to report rule breakers.
4.  Most KU subscribers are not directly affected by the stuffing.
Authors, on the other hand, are directly affected.  As I posted above, my book has already been downgraded from 827 pages to 637, which cuts my KU royalty by almost $1.00 per book read.  But when a scammer/stuffer book earns $15.00 or more for bogus bonus content, that's $15.00 taken out of the "pool" that Amazon sets aside for distribution.
Each month, Amazon determines how much will go into the KU fund.  (This pool also includes funds for the Kindle Owners Lending Library, KOLL, which is part of the Prime package.)  That total fund is then divided amongst all the pages read in the KU and KOLL programs. If a scammer/stuffer book is recorded as 1947 KENP, but mine is only 637, that author takes three times as much out of the pool for bogus content than I get for legitimate content.
If all the scammers and stuffers were prevented from cashing in on their scams, maybe the legitimate KU authors could make a little more and thus write a little more.
As I documented in this particular post, it's very possible that some of the scammers could be earning $40.00, $50,00, or more per book when the author of a legitimate book earns $3.00 or $4.00.  However, as I've continued to research for this post, apparently there's basically a topping out point.  Amazon now limits an individual title to 3000 KENP, or approximately $15.00 per book.  From a very long Kboards discussion here in April, there is some support among writers to drop the limit to 1000 pages, thus hindering the stuffers.  Again, the more I research this, the more research I need to do.  As one author posted in that thread, 200,000 words equated to approximately 1,100 KENP in April. If those figures were accurate, then my LGP at 144,000 words would have come in at approximately 800 KENP, which is what it used to be (827).  So, has the rate changed?  I don't know.
More research needed.
Ultimately, we authors can't do much about any of it.  Most of the scamming/stuffing is in the romance and erotica categories, and authors can't provide negative reviews of other books in their own genre.  We risk having our Amazon privileges revoked, including the ability to publish via Kindle.  Even if we don't review but only report suspected scammers, we have no way of knowing if that does any good -- there is no feedback -- and we don't have any way of knowing if even reporting can get us in trouble.
Amazon has also started a program of blocking users who have too many returns, but no one seems to know how many is "too many" (or whether there are different standards for other merchandise versus Kindle books).  So a reader who returns a purchased -- rather than KU borrowed -- book that's been stuffed could be at risk of banning, and therefore hesitate to say anything.
As I said, it's a complex issue.  The writers are hurt, and they have the least capability to defend themselves.
Obviously, I've called out a few here on BookLikes, but this platform is far too small to make a difference.
Monetarily, how have the Amazon changes affected the authors?  This is crucial as well, because with the Kindle Select program, which is what permits an author even to enroll a book in KU, the author has no control over the pricing.  Amazon determines the monthly fund and the amount that will go to each KENP read.  (There are some who believe the fund amount is actually determined by the number of pages read and that the per page rate is what they play around with.)
As I did further research, I learned that the formula for determining the KENP of an individual book was recalculated in January 2016, to KENPC v2.0.  The Looking-Glass Portrait was published in July 2016, so would have fallen under that calculation.
The formula changed again in August 2017, to KENPC v3.0, supposedly to help reduce scamming/stuffing.  What little reporting I've had time to read so far doesn't show much of a decline in the number of KENP per book, so it's possible my own figures are incorrect.  I will continue to research.
*Sunday morning update
Readers are now chiming in at #getloud that the stuffers have chased off new writers thus depriving readers of new material.  Not that the scammers/stuffers care, since they are taking in big $$$.
I'm not sure how much research I can do today, and my own real work awaits as well.  (Rock tumblers need changing, and plants need watering.  Dusting?  Cleaning?  Are you kidding?)  But I will keep you all posted.
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review 2018-02-14 05:44
Not all things are lights
The Night’s Dark Shade: A Novel of the Cathars - Elena Maria Vidal

Disclosure:  I downloaded only the free sample preview of the Kindle edition of this book.  I do not know the author nor have I had any personal direct communication with her about this book or any other matter, but I am aware of her through discussions here on BookLikes.  I have also read reviews of her books and her comments regarding those reviews.  I am an author of contemporary and historical romance novels.


The Amazon preview feature is an option afforded to self-publishing authors so that they can give potential readers the opportunity to look at the opening of the book the way they would if they were browsing the shelves in a brick and mortar book store or a library. If the reader likes the beginning, they can buy or borrow the book and take it home to read the rest.  If the beginning isn't quite so intriguing, the reader puts the book back on the shelf and moves on.


Elena Maria Vidal's book is, in my opinion, outrageously over-priced at $9.99 for a Kindle edition of approximately 228 pages.  A writer with no professional credentials or writing track record would be well advised to lower the price and hope to get some readership.  At the current price, however, it had to be one hell of a fine book to tempt me.  In truth, if not for the fracas surrounding Ms. Vidal, I would never even have considered this book.


I've been interested in the Cathar "heresy" at least since my first reading of Frank Yerby's The Saracen Blade when I was in high school in the 1960s.  This was about the same time as the popular song "Dominique" was topping the charts, sung by a Belgian Dominican nun.  The song chronicles the life of Saint Dominic.  Although the English lyrics


At a time when Johnny Lackland
Over England was the King
Dominique was in the backland
Fighting sin like anything


seem innocuous enough, the original French words reflect more of Dominic's history:


A l'e poque ou Jean-sans-Terre de' Angleterre etait Roi
Dominique, notre Pere, combattit les Albigeois


"Combattit les Albigeois" does not mean "fighting sin like anything."  It means "fought the Albigensian(s)."''


I already knew what that meant.  I knew who the Albigensians were -- the Cathars -- and I knew why the Catholic Church was determined to exterminate them.


Years later, I read Holy Blood, Holy Grail, the allegedly non-fiction account of Knights Templars and Cathars and the hilltop village of Rennes-le-Chateau in the south of France.  I also picked up Robert Shea's novel, All Things Are Lights, about the Cathars.  Right now it's on the top shelf of the big bookcase or I'd get it down and add a photo.


So I'm not totally ignorant of the history of the Languedoc and the Cathar heresy.


Oh, and one other thing.  In early February 1969, I hitchhiked from Paris to the Spanish border.  My journey took me through Cahors, Limoges, Montauban, and Toulouse before heading into the Pyrenees via Pamiers, Foix, and Col de Puymorens.



With this personal background, I downloaded the sample of The Night's Dark Shades.


For one thing, it's very short, hardly enough to get much of a taste of the story.  But, as I've noted often enough before, it's not difficult to determine a writer's skill at writing in just a few pages.


Elena Maria Vidal is not the greatest writer in the world.  Millions of murex snails would have to be sacrificed to produce so much purple prose.  It's not just the extravagance of adjectives and speech tags that make my eyes roll while reading, however.  It's also the fact that the text is boring. 


Lady Rafaelle is heading to her uncle's chateau where she will probably wed his son, her cousin, after the deaths of her father and her betrothed in . . . some war.  There's a lot of info dumping, but not much else.  Well, there are questions raised that should be answered right away.  They aren't.


Lady Rafaelle seems to be the heir to the estate of Miramande, in the somewhat distant region of Auvergne.  Her father is dead and there's no mention of any brothers or other siblings who would have inherited the estate and its chateau.  So, why is Rafaelle leaving her estate to go to her uncle's? Why did she initially consider entering a convent? Who is minding Miramande in her absence?


We get more information about Jehanette, the peasant who serves as Lady Rafaelle's handmaiden, than about why Rafaelle has seemingly abandoned her chateau.


That bothered me.  It seemed like that should have been an important plot point.


What also bothered me was that there's no description of the "rabble" of pilgrims who are accompanying Rafaelle and her troupe on the journey.  Well, no, that's not quite right.  There is some description, but it's not adequate.  How many are there?  I thought at first it must be a hundred or more, but apparently it's less than 20.  I would have liked to know that sooner.


Who else is in this train?  Two attending women, a couple of knights, and . . . . that's it?


This is important because one of the knights, in a tedious little info dump, informs Rafaelle that there are bandits in the mountains, murderous renegades of the religious war, I guess.  Because of the bandits, the knights advise against stopping for a brief rest.


Wait a minute.  What difference would stopping for a rest make?  I mean, if bandits are going to attack, couldn't they attack while the company from Miramande are on the move?  After all, they aren't moving very fast, because some of the pilgrims and men-at-arms are on foot.


If I as a reader think this, why didn't Rafaelle?  Why didn't she ask about this?  Well, of course she didn't because that wouldn't be good for the story, I suppose.  And also of course, Rafaelle prevails in demanding a brief rest and the bandits attack.


That's when I quit reading.


Purple prose for the sake of purple prose turns me off.  The opening paragraph that describes the pass in the Pyrenees would almost have been enough to make me put this book back on the figurative shelf.  But further reading didn't really improve my opinion.


There's no real sense of the historical period established.  Oh, the history is given: one king is dead, the new king is a minor, France is under the rule of the king's mother Queen Blanche, blah, blah, blah.  But it takes more than a few data points to make the reader feel as if she is in the scene.  Author Vidal wasn't able to bring me into that mountain pass.  She didn't give me a full sense of Rafaelle as a character, someone I could identify with as the story progressed.  I didn't know what she looked like, or even how old she was. 


Writers are free to write their stories any way they want.  Once they put their stories into the public marketplace, however, they must also accept the judgment of the readers who choose to look at those stories.  And readers are free to form and express their opinions on the writing, the stories, and yes, even the authors themselves.


As a reader, I'm not inclined to read any further into The Night's Dark Shade.  I'm more inclined to climb on a stepstool and pull All Things Are Lights down for a re-read.  Vidal's writing is insufficiently professional to command the price she's put on the book, but more importantly, it's insufficiently professional to command my attention.


One-half star and a Do Not Want to Read.




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