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(¸.·´ (¸.·’* Many thanks
I thought long and hard about whether to speak up about this. I’m doing so, not so much for me, but for my fellow struggling authors. So here goes: Generally, I’m not a fan of complainers, and that includes authors who complain about people not buying their books. No One is guaranteed a sale. We bravely go where not everyone has thrived before us, in order to bring you stories we love, and that we hope you’ll love as well. In the end, you want to believe it’s the talented among us who’ll keep readers coming back. But sometimes, bad guys do win, and lately, the winners have been the stuffers (thankfully, Amazon is now going after them), who’ll throw a poorly written and edited book up for .99 cents. And, of course, they end up getting much more than that because they’ve learned to game the KU system by double-spacing books (making it look like you have more pages to read than you do) and stuffing a download with 10-plus books, thereby earning themselves considerably more than the .99 cents price, as well as KU bonuses that used to be awarded to hardworking authors. These days, the bonuses seem to be going to “the fox who’s learned to raid the hen house without getting caught.” For real authors with integrity, this is a HUGE ouch—and not only where the money is concerned. It’s demoralizing for those who work hard and play by the rules. It’s no wonder some authors are furious. (more…)
Although I try hard not to post about politics these days (more often than not, it leaves me with heart palpitations), I think it’s important that folks with hearts and minds open them up, and speak. I’ve told this story before, but I’m going to tell it again.
If you recognize the title of this post, you know these poignant words aren’t mine; they belong to Nobel Peace Prize winner Martin Luther King Jr., one of my heroes. He also said, “In the end, we will remember, not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends”; and “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
Today, I thought hard about what to say. “Nothing” was on that list, since essentially, my one opinion isn’t worth all that much by itself. But I cannot be a silent friend, so here’s my story: When I was a little girl — about 6 — we lived in San Pedro California. While you’d think Southern California would be the last place you’d find racial tensions against Spanish speaking people, unfortunately, you’d be wrong.
For those of you who know me, you know I was born in Spain to a Spanish mother. I spoke Spanish only until I was 5 years old. That first year in San Pedro we spent in terror, with my father in Vietnam and my diminutive mother in charge of three children under the age of 6. Our neighbor, you see, had decided my mother was a “dirty Mexican” and this woman terrorized us mercilessly. She put non-disposable diapers down our drainpipes (disposables didn’t exist then), flooding our home and the homes of others. She called social services on my mom countless times (for what, I have no idea, but they stopped coming, because every time they came, our home was spotless and her children were happy). Her nearly adult son would stand outside our patio in the evenings, and you could see his black dirty boots beneath our curtains. He’d stand there for hours, making us afraid.
The list of perpetrations is extensive, and I went to bed every night with my mom rehearsing a list of things I should do if “someone broke in” during the night. My mother understood very little English, and I was the only one with any English words in my lexicon. So, I slept with mom in her bed, beneath a window that was barely big enough for a child to crawl through.
“If someone breaks in,” she’d say (I’m paraphrasing, because she spoke to me in Spanish), “go out the window, go to the neighbor’s house across the street. Tell her to call the police. Do you remember what I said? Tell me what you will do.”
I remember this, night after night. The fear of having my siblings and mother all depending on me — a little slip of nothing — and me not able to help them, gave me night terrors for years thereafter.
One day, out in our front yard, I watched this bruiser of a woman kick my mom in the back. Can you imagine what that felt like? The woman who is your protector against the world — your very world itself — lying on the ground at the mercy of a screaming, racist monster? At the age of six?
I know what that feels like, and 50 years later, the memory leaves me with a sick feeling in the pit of my gut.
Eventually, people began to see what was going on and my father called from overseas to threaten murder if the situation wasn’t rectified. My grandmother, who lived in Chicago, called the police.
The Navy shipped these people to the Philippines (fitting), but while they were packing, my mother quietly made a pot of coffee and took it next door to offer it to the neighbor. I went with her, because, of course, it was my instinct to protect her.
The woman asked, “After everything, you’re offering me coffee?” My mother answered, “You probably don’t have time to make any yourself.”
This is what I recall: the astonished look on that woman’s face. I don’t think she accepted my mom’s coffee, but I don’t remember, because that’s not what mattered most to me that day. I only remember that my tiny mother was a giant in my eyes. Even after all that woman had done to her, to us, it was her act of kindness that gave me my moral compass.
So, today, this is what I have to say: It is far braver, far more powerful to answer hate with love. If you remain silent, you are taking sides. If you cast a vote for hatred, misogyny, racism and bigotry, you are a hater, misogynist, racist and bigot. It’s that simple. This is no time for hate, my friends. This is a time for love, and Martin Luther King Jr. also reminds us this, “‘An eye for an eye’ leaves everybody blind. The time is always right to do the right thing.” Let’s all do the right thing now. Tip the scales with love. That’s the only way we’re going to win.
Essentially, I’m about to strip down and stand naked and vulnerable in the middle of the road. But I’m going to do it anyway, because after yesterday’s news, I have something to say:
I grew up in what I believed to be a normal American military household. My father achieved the highest rank available to noncommissioned officers in the Navy. He was a Master Chief Petty Officer, a veteran who served in Vietnam, and to say he was respected by his peers is an understatement. He loved his job and only retired because of an accident that left him in a wheelchair for 6 months, never again able to scale the decks of ships. He received an honorable discharge—a release from his duties that heralded a bad era for my family.
At one point, my father was my idol. He was tall, dark and handsome, and oh, so smart. The fact that he wasn’t really a fan of MINE didn’t bother me so much as it did later. Enough to say he was the man in charge, and he ran our household under many of the same principles he’d learned in the military.
Until the age of 12, I didn’t make many close friends. We traveled a lot, but that’s the year my family settled in Charleston, South Carolina, newly arrived after a 5-year stint at a communications base in Ponce, Puerto Rico. After my father retired, he took a job locally, but still worked for the military as a civilian. My Spanish mother learned to drive. We—me and my brothers and sister—came out of our shells and began to make friends. During these years, my father received top-secret clearance for his analytics work for the military. I remember “those men” who came knocking on all our neighbors’ doors, asking questions. And for a while, we were a “normal” American family… until one day… we weren’t.
I’ll spare you dirty details, but I will say I am a survivor. I survived what turned out to be the most complicated and harrowing years of my life—hard years that shaped my adult life and gave me the aptitude to bleed for my writing in a way I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. But, aside from telling you my father was a closet alcoholic, and extremely heavy handed, I won’t say much else, because much of our story isn’t only mine to tell. However, his fall from grace was one we ALL took with him—every member of my family. We became collateral damage in a war fought beneath our own roof.
I wasn’t always the mouthy, rebellious daughter I turned out to be. But with every smack of my father’s fist, I became that person, standing higher and stronger, fueled by righteous anger. One thing’s for sure, his military style of parenting didn’t work where I was concerned. The more he tried to beat me into submission (sometimes literally and sometimes verbally), the more I fought and railed against him.
But that part of my story isn’t unique, is it? Teenagers are defiant, infuriating beings. Whether I did, or whether I didn’t have a right to be as I was, isn’t the point I’m trying to make. The point is that life happens to us all.
One day, I was alone in my house with my dad—this man who’d achieved such high military honor. Silver haired and depressed, he sat on his bed with a gun in his hand… cleaning it. This wasn’t a gun he’d procured illegally. It was his gun. He pulled it apart, piece by piece and took his rag to every part until it shone.
I walked by his room, saw what he was doing and kept on walking, with prickles riding down my spine. I walked into my bedroom and sat on my bed, and felt so much turmoil. Why was his gun out? He certainly had all the right credentials to own one, but I hadn’t seen that gun in a while, and now, after a systemic failure of our family, I was terrified of the reason he was drawn to it. So there I sat, worrying about him, and after a while, I heard him begin to cry. All the while, he sat piecing his gun back together…
Should I leave the house? I wondered.
My relationship with him was by far the most tumultuous. As his eldest child, I bore the brunt of much of his fury. If my siblings didn’t tow the line, I was to blame. By the same token, I felt an underlying sense of respect from him, for me, although not perhaps evident in his everyday treatment of me. Responsibility kept me rooted to the spot.
That day, seated alone in his room, with his gun, he called my name, and I wanted not to answer… but I did. I stood in the door of his room, blinking away tears in my own eyes as my silver-haired father wept over his gun. Truthfully, I don’t remember what he said. His mouth was moving, but words were incomprehensible… until he lifted the gun, pointed it at me, and said, “Do you know how easy it would be for me to pull the trigger? Put an end to it all?”
But that gun was pointed at ME. My heart slammed into my ribs. I was 15.
I stood, looking into the small barrel of my father’s gun, realizing he could do exactly as he said. He wasn’t the type for idle threats. If he said something, he followed through, and he never minced words.
With that gun pointed at me across a shrinking room, I thought about what to do. Exactly where I got the strength to say or do what I did, I don’t know, except, that in many ways I am my father’s daughter. I looked at him straight in the eyes and said, “You’re not the kind of man who shoots an innocent person in the back—your own daughter. So, I’m going to walk away, and if you shoot me, you’ll have to live with that.” And that’s what I did. I turned my back on his gun and returned to my room. I sat on my bed and cried—and worried, because I half expected my father to put his gun to his head.
If you read The Girl Who Stayed, yes, I borrowed this scene for that book, and 40 years later, I sobbed as I wrote it, because that’s how deeply affected I was.
But wait? What’s this got to do with yesterday’s news? Well, we’ve had yet another shooting, but that’s not really “yesterday’s news” anymore, is it, because this is happening more and more, and becoming firmly entrenched in our daily lives. We can’t even feel comfortable going to church, a movie, school, or a concert, without fear of some crazy person pulling out his gun.
So, let me, once again, be like my father, and not mince words:
I’ll end this by saying I do not advocate taking away people’s guns. All we’re—me and people like me—are asking for is gun control, stricter qualifications and periodic testing to be sure mentally ill people to not have access to them, and to disallow the use of automatic weapons (why are these needed anyway? The mass extinction of human life is the only purpose these weapons have).
Eventually, I made friends with my father, but he was a sad, broken man, who, although once might have qualified to own a gun, in the end, should not have had access to one. The fact that he did not use it that day is not the bar by which this truth should be judged. By grace alone, I am not a statistic, but how many others walk in my shoes? I don’t know. But I do know this. Those who were not spared by grace are now a growing list… one I’d like to end. Come on people, let’s vote for gun control. Please.
I’m so excited for you to read the final book of the Guardians series. MAIDEN FROM THE MIST, will be a July 27 release and will include additional scenes not available in the abridged version published in THE SUMMER STAR. For only a short while longer you can get still MAIDEN FROM THE MIST for $2.99 (normally $4.99) for the ebook, $7.99 for the paperback (normally $13.99) Get it here
Even more Maiden news! I’ve sold the audiobook version of this title to Audible Studios and James Gillies has signed on to narrate.
Finally, if you haven’t heard: Celebrating the publication of Maiden from the Mist, you can now download Book 1, HIGHLAND FIRE FREE for a limited time! Download it here
If you haven’t spotted them yet, it’s probably because you don’t shop on Amazon, where KU seems to allow scammers to thrive. It’s an unfortunate side-effect of Amazon’s proprietary subscription service. But before I move on to how to spot these scammers and their books, let me say what this article isn’t. It isn’t an opportunity to bash Amazon, because I appreciate Amazon as a marketplace, as I appreciate all vendors. The problem may be far more prevalent on Amazon, but exists anywhere scammers find an open door. It works like this: Scam authors, who most often appear to operate in Russia, or Eastern European and Asian countries are throwing poorly written, poorly edited (and sometimes stolen) books into KU, where, readers may download content free of charge, only it’s not actually free, because Amazon pays them for your download. More and more, authors are speaking up and reporting these books, but the key to removing them is for readers to begin standing up and complaining as well.
Personally, I have very few books in KU, but to say I don’t have a horse in this race is not entirely true. Honest authors, who work hard on a daily basis to write books from the heart are finding it harder and harder to survive amidst a sea of badly written and plagiarized books. So how does this affect you? Well, it’s pretty straightforward. As true authors find it harder and harder to devote time to a career that doesn’t allow them to make a living wage, you will lose access to better books and to your favorite authors. You might argue this will correct itself eventually–and it will–but at what cost in the interim?
I’m fortunate enough to have a very loyal readership and I love you all immensely, so, currently, I’m in no danger of going anywhere, but already I have witnessed the exodus of some of my own favorite authors from the industry, simply because they can’t make ends meet and can no longer focus on writing. It breaks my heart so much that I must speak up. But I’m not going to name names because that’s not the goal of this article. The goal is to simply make you aware of what’s going on and what you might do to help.
Aside from lost authors, these are the things that bother me most about this unfortunate trend:
a) The reader is being disrespected by author mills, who churn out the same revised and altered content over and over. Eventually, readers will grow bored, and that’s the biggest sin of all–that the joy found in reading may be lost.
b) Scam books take up valuable space on Amazon’s “bestseller” lists, because KU downloads are weighted more heavily than non KU books. Unfortunately, if you want to see real bestseller lists that reflect an entire world of books that might be obscured on Amazon, you’ll have to go look at the lists on competing vendors, like iBooks, Kobo, B&N and, of course, USA Today and New York Times. (And then dig down to the genre lists.)
c) Many scammers are not following the rules that real authors are forced to comply with, and they are benefiting nonetheless. For example, it’s against Amazon’s Terms of Service to buy reviews or pay for downloads, but that’s not stopping these hackers. One way they do this is through unsuspecting readers, who might not realize they are following a scam author and want to do their best to support them, especially when they have been offered a free review copy. The other way is through Click farms (Click this link here to see what I mean).
Now, let me say a few words about review copies, because all authors provide these, and all publishers do as well. 1) you should not be given a “gift card” to download books from the vendor. That is unethical because it manipulates lists. It’s against TOS and legit authors won’t put you or themselves in this position. If you are found out, it jeopardizes all your reviews and your ability to leave reviews in the future. 2) Review copies must be given without any stipulation or guarantee that you will ever post a review, or that it will be 4 and 5 stars. Although we sincerely hope you’ll love our books, you must be allowed not to like it if you choose.
So back to the scam book problem; how can you spot them and why should you bother? The most important reason is that it is potentially damaging to the entire industry, largely because Amazon holds such a large portion of market sales for traditional and not traditional authors. I’m a huge fan of choice and the No. 1 way to support choice is to support Amazon’s competitors. While I do also buy from Amazon, I try to spread the love, buying titles from iBooks, B&N and Kobo as well. (This is also why I don’t use, or any longer give away, vendor specific ereaders that are not universal, meaning, that they won’t allow books to be loaded from any vendor.)
Fellow author Patricia McLinn has a great list of ways you can spot scam authors and scam books, and you’ll want to check out her entire list here:
Some of the easiest ways to tell are:
a) The author profile seems “off.” If it looks like a stock photo, it probably is one. While some might argue that people should be allowed to hide behind a fake photo, I am not a fan of pretense, and these “fake authors” seem fond of using stock photos, probably because many of them are the same person and/or company, merely posing as an author.
b) The book cover is bad. They aren’t in it for the longterm. They are going to take the money and run, so many of the scammers don’t bother to put up great covers, although there are a few of them now that are making so much money they have begun to cover these books well, so this is not a fail proof way to tell. However, if the cover “looks” derivative, or reminds you of another author’s style, chances are they have copied it, and it’s a red flag.
c) They either have REALLY high page counts, or REALLY low page counts, or, if you look inside, the text is double-spaced to make it seem it’s a bigger book. (There are also a lot of other clues, so be sure to check Patricia’s page for more.) David Gaughran also has a helpful article.
d) Weirdly worded author bios that give you a sense that maybe English is not their first language. It seems to be more evident in the profile than in the book themselves, which are sometimes plagiarized.
e) Check to see when they released their books. Did they dump a bunch of titles onto Amazon over a short time, or even on the same day? HUGE red flag. It takes me months and months to write a book. While I have author friends who put out books every 6 weeks, I know they work hard to do this–so hard that some find it hard to have a life outside of writing. I love writing, and love the connection with my readers, but I also adore time with my husband and children and time in the garden. I want to be my best when I’m at my keyboards, and for me that means taking time to recharge, which means it takes me even longer.
f) They often have no website, and their facebook pages are very new.
There are many, many more ways to tell, and as I said, you can find some here and here. Ultimately, there’s only one way this is going to change, and that’s if the reader complains. Again, I won’t give you specific titles, because I mean to leave that up to your best judgment. Really, you’re responsible for your own reading material. However, I respect you enough to at least want you to be aware of this issue, because in the long run, it affects you. If there’s one thing I know about Amazon it’s that they care about their customers, so it’s only for you that they are going to make this a more even playing field.
So that’s all. May you find only pearls.