Har! How to Deal with Book Piracy

I’ve been meaning to write a blog about how piracy could be a good thing for up and coming authors for a while now but Nicholas has beaten me to it. A really thoughtful and thought-provoking piece.

Nicholas C. Rossis

From the blog of Nicholas C. Rossis, author of science fiction, the Pearseus epic fantasy series and children's books image: ghostradio.wordpress.com

I saw the other day a post about book piracy in Anastacia Moore’s blog. She was rightly fuming, because, while checking out her video trailers, she noticed that someone was advertising on You Tube a link to receive free copies of said books.

A few days before that, my friend N.N. Light had kindly emailed me to let me know that she had found her book, “Princess of the Light” on a similar website, and that she had seen my work there as well.

Then came the news that Australia’s Copyright Agency has welcomed a decision by the British High Court requiring internet service providers (ISPs) to block access to websites hosting millions of pirated e-book titles. The decision means Britain’s five major ISPs – BT, Virgin Media, Sky, TalkTalk and EE – will be asked to block seven offshore-hosted websites within 10 working days.

The sites – AvaxHome…

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VOTING NOW OPEN – Annual Bloggers Bash Awards

Many of you may have already seen this but if you haven’t, there are some great *ahem* blogs that have been nominated *ahem* for the annual bloggers bash awards.
*gives long, knowing look before giving up disgusted at his shallow attempts at touting for votes*

Sacha Black


You nominated in your hundreds – literally! I had to enlist a committee of fabulous bloggers (Ali, Geoff and Hugh) to help organise all the nominations and sort them into this, the official voting post. To find out more about the #BloggersBash event have a look at this, this or this.

11733474_10207031963138573_162371955_nBefore we begin voting, there’s one more thing to add. The lovely Geoff decided we needed to stand out from the crowd so that y’all can find us at the British Library on the 1st August. So he has ordered some Annual Bloggers Bash t-shirts. The committee will be wearing them, but it was cheaper to bulk buy, so inevitably we have spares. SO, if you win one of the awards then a t shirt is yours! But if you would like a t-shirt anyway then they will be £6 on the day. Geoff is…

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KU pages read stats – a new obsession


image source: bookriot.com

When Amazon announced they were changing their Kindle Unlimited payment scheme from ‘flat rate per loan’ to a payment for each page read there was a lot of debate about its impact on publishing. One thing missed, however, was its impact on authors themselves, specifically being able to ‘see’ people read your work.

When Amazon KDP launched their new scheme they also launched a report allowing authors to see how many page reads were captured per day, and like KDP’s other reports, this one is updated on a regular (hourly?) basis. For many authors, especially those selling at reasonable volumes, the report will show the thousands or tens of thousands of pages read per day in a steady stream. For those of us with more modest sales, the experience is very different.

It took a couple of days before I received my first KU download under the new system. I’d seen the sales rank bump – because I monitor my sales more often than is healthy – and waited with excitement to see the pages read appear on the new report.

And waited.

And waited.

Nothing happened. Perhaps the report has a few teething problems, I thought, or the reader is finishing another book before starting on mine. I tried not to let the lack of activity bother me, but the lack of activity needled me more than I wished to admit. Then, on the second day, the graph had changed. It registered 51 pages read from the day before. Somebody was reading my book!

The most logical thing to do at this point would have been to close the report and get on with my life, but no, I had to know more. So I tried to work out the exact point they had read up to. The Kindle Edition Normalized Page Count (KENPC) for Second Chance is 524 pages. The print book has 305 pages so at roughly 1.72 KENPC per print page I deduced that the reader had stopped at page 30 or the start of chapter 5. I was thrilled, it’s the point where the multiple threads of the opening chapters start to pull together. They were clearly enjoying the story.

At the same time, another emotion surfaced, one I hadn’t expected. Most authors will recognise the emotional rollercoaster when somebody you know reads your book. On the one hand you’re desperate to find out if they like it but you know it’s bad form to ask – there’s nothing worse than a needy author badgering you for your thoughts on the mine of their book to put you off a story. So whenever you meet your friend you deliberately don’t mention the book but at the same time you hope they bring it up in conversation to satisfy your need for validation.

Or maybe that’s just me.

Anyway, watching somebody read my book remotely elicited similar emotions, but this time I had both more and less information to go on. I believed I knew exactly where they’d read up to but had no visual signals, no reassuring smile to comfort me. All I had was the data, so being a story-teller I built my own narrative. In my head they’d loved the book so far and couldn’t wait to read on.

The next day I registered a KENPC of four, the day after that eleven and then a big fat zero. I was mortified. What had gone wrong? My imagination went into overdrive. When I’d first published Second Chance, a number of friends mentioned that it took four or five chapters to get into the story and then boom, everything started to fit together and they were hooked. Yet this reader had got that far and stopped. Did that mean they hated what I’d written? Had they given up and moved onto another book? Had they found it – god forbid – boring? It was torture. What had started as a wonderful new experience to remotely bond with my audience had turned into ego death by a thousand cuts.

Before the new payment process was introduced, all I had to worry about was whether I sold (or rented out) a book or not. Clearly I wanted the reader to enjoy what they’d bought as I had another book for sale and a third on the way, but once a sale was registered, it was a sale. It was a small piece of success, a balm for my ego.

Not any more.

Now I had the agony of watching somebody dump my novel for something more interesting. It took me back to my youth, bringing back feelings of dating the most beautiful girl in high school only to lose them to the football team captain the very next day.*

I woke the next morning and immediately checked my report. I had a KENPC of 485. Woo hoo! The football team captain was clearly a jerk and she loved me all along. I knew it. I’d always had faith in the wonderful, anonymous reader. Doubts? Pah!

Since then my KENPC graph has taken along the look of the Himalayas, with high peaks of many hundreds of pages read to low troughs of none. And it makes sense. For a start, many people don’t read every day, and even if they do they may not necessarily connect their Kindle to the internet until they’re ready to download their next book, only then passing on the data of where they’ve read up to. At the same time I’ve picked up more KU downloads, so it’s become almost  impossible to build a narrative as I’ve no idea whether I’m seeing one person reading 300 pages or one hundred people reading 3 pages (actually, I know it’s not one hundred people at a time – I wish – but you get the point). The point is, my short-term obsession has waned, settling down to monitoring my KENPC score as often as I do my sales (which is still far too frequent than is healthy).

Although it’s early days, I’m finding the new KU payment scheme is much better for me than the old one. I’m only halfway through the month, have had similar downloads than previous months but have made over three times as much money (if the $o.oo6 per KENPC figure widely publicised is correct). I’ve no doubt things will change as the scheme settles down but for the moment I’m happy.

The best part, though, was seeing my first reader, having enjoyed Second Chance so much they’d read it in three days, move on to Absent Souls and do the same thing. At least, that’s the narrative I’ve built in my head and it’s one delusion I’m happy to maintain.

So what about you? Are any of your books in Kindle Unlimited and have you had similar experiences? What are your thoughts about authors being able to remotely look over your shoulder and see what you and other readers have read? I’d love to hear from you.

*This never actually happened in real life, but I’ve seen enough movies to empathise.


Do you like intelligent thrillers? If so, join my mailing list and get one of my 5-star rated near-future dystopian thrillers absolutely free. The mailing list is guaranteed spam free and I will only contact you if I have a new book launch or an exclusive short story to share. To sign up, please click here. 

Why Amazon deleting reviews is a price worth paying


Amazon is currently cracking down on what it sees as inaccurate or reciprocal reviews and it appears, at least from recent posts I’ve read, a number of authors have been affected. Amazon are using an algorithm to identify what they term as suspect reviewing patterns, as well as identify reviewers who they believe know each other, and blocking those reviews. Once blocked, because Amazon believe the reviews broke their reviewing terms and conditions, the reviewer can no longer leave any  future reviews. When challenged, Amazon have generally given automated responses along the lines of ‘we trust our algorithms and you have no right of appeal.’

Before I go any further, I want to make it clear I have every sympathy with the individuals concerned. Writing just one thoughtful book review takes time and effort, to do it over and over again is a considerable commitment. To be told, out of the blue, that everything you’ve written will be stripped from the site, would be one hell of a shock. Then there is the underlying accusation of cheating a system, one to which the reviewer has no right of reply, and the fact that once banned they can’t write any further reviews. It is being found guilty without trial and goes against everything we know as fair. Not only is it a personal affront, it means the authors of the books reviewed lose both the review and the rating as well. If (or possibly when) it happens to me, I would be furious too.

At the same time, Amazon has a problem. Customers no longer trust their review system and in some cases with justification. If you are selling a product on Amazon (any product, not just books) there are plenty of companies willing to give favourable reviews in return for a fee. The term for this type of behaviour is astroturfing and it happens on all the major sites where customer reviews play a part in the purchase decision making process. And it’s not just companies offering this service. I’ve been approached – both explicitly and implicitly – by authors asking to swap reviews. It hasn’t happened often, and I’ve always declined, but it does happen, and if a relatively obscure author such as myself has been approached then this is clearly something that some authors are happy to take part in. Astroturfing’s not a new process, it’s been happening since the first review sites were established and is employed by many companies large and small, but it has become so common in recent years it’s got to the point where customers have lost faith in product reviews.

The one thing you need to remember about Amazon is that their number one priority is to their customers. Everything they do is focussed on providing the best service to their customers. They are very good at this, and it’s the primary reason they have become so successful. Amazon regularly top the polls for best companies by as rated by consumers because they always put customers first, so it should come as no surprise that when their customers no longer trust the review system, Amazon decide to do something about it.

The problem for Amazon is how do they identify, out of the millions of products they sell and the tens or hundreds of millions of reviews on their system, which ones are the bad reviews. There are too many to analyse by person – I worked out that if you had one hundred million reviews and 1% were seen as problematic, it would take over one hundred man years to check them all – and it’s pure cost as far as Amazon are concerned. And it’s not easy. If you look at the books I’ve highlighted as Recommended Reads, each with a corresponding review on Amazon and Goodreads, almost all are by authors I don’t know personally, one or two are by authors I’d met previously through social media, and a number are by authors I’ve since got to know on social media, often because I’ve promoted their books. A handful have gone on to review my books. I’ve always been genuine with my praise and have never requested or expected a review in return – favourable or otherwise – but there are enough connections there for some people to question the validity of my reviews, adding to their mistrust of the system.

And customers regaining trust of the review system is at the heart of what Amazon are doing. So, rightly or wrongly, Amazon have decided to cut off the leg to save the body. They are doing this across all product areas, using an algorithm to identify suspect patterns and connections, and automatically removing reviews they believe could be false, banning those accounts highlighted from generating reviews. And this means some innocents will be caught up in the process. And while that’s bad news for those affected, Amazon see it as a small price to pay compared to their customer regaining trust in reviews.

But as an author, I want people to believe in the reviews of my books. I’m lucky enough to have received some great reviews, a number of them from other authors. I’d hate to lose these reviews but if it meant readers placed more trust in those that remain then so be it. We still have the opportunity of placing those reviews in the ‘Editorial Reviews’ section of the product page, it’s just they would no longer count as part of the overall star ratings and average.

Of course, I would prefer Amazon found a better way to clean up the review system, and as mentioned earlier, I have every sympathy for those wrongly caught up in this process, but if it provides a system readers trust, that can only be of benefit to all of us.

What do you think? Do you agree with me or do you think I’m completely wrong? What are your views on what Amazon is doing, or the review system in general? I’d love to hear from you.


Do you like intelligent thrillers? If so, join my mailing list and get one of my 5-star rated near-future dystopian thrillers absolutely free. The mailing list is guaranteed spam free and I will only contact you if I have a new book launch or an exclusive short story to share. To sign up, please click here.