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  • Kristina Elyse Butke

I’m Afraid of Amazon: When Books and Authors Disappear


Lego figure looking afraid on white background
Photo by Hello I'm Nik on Unsplash

So, before I lost my original website, I had made several posts going back and forth on whether or not I should publish traditionally or self-publish. My initial decision was to go traditional; then I did a 180 and decided to self-pub; then I ran out of money for self-pubbing and realized one of the biggest benefits to traditional publishing is not having to foot the bill for things yourself, and a slew of other things like making audiobooks, distributing wide, etc. Traditional publishing won out, and I am back to the drawing board with querying and pursuing agents.


I don’t think I have it in me to have my book rejected for years, so I did tell myself that if my rejections piled up and things took too long, I’d self-publish anyway.


But…


Recently there have been some things happening on Amazon that make me nervous should I ever publish there, and it has to do with how quickly Amazon boots and suppresses authors, usually with little to no chance for authors to defend themselves.


First of all, Amazon holds a big piece of the pie in terms of how consumers buy their books, so there’s no way to avoid them if you want to be a published author. But self-pubbing, or independent publishing…things seem to work a little differently on the site.


I have seen authors post on Facebook about Amazon messaging them to let them know that their works were being offered elsewhere online for free, and that their works were in danger of being removed. Well, this is because of piracy.


A more famous example is with Ruby Dixon, whose catalog of books were recently completely removed without warning (they have since been reinstated). Dan Holloway writes,


[…] what seems to have happened is that Dixon’s works were identified as being available elsewhere on the internet and therefore flagged as possibly pirated. The irony of course, is that they would have been flagged because they were in fact pirated. And that is why they appeared elsewhere […]

An even more egregious example of work being obliterated from Amazon is what happened to Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki. He received a message from Amazon that his account was terminated because he had “multiple accounts” and one of them was supposedly a previously terminated account due to content guideline violations. Ekpeki contacted them and tried to investigate but essentially was shut out. His books, gone. His royalties, gone. Everything, gone, just like that. (They have since been reinstated but as is frequently the case, it seems like nothing happens unless there is sufficient outcry on social media about it). What happened to Ekpeki is disturbing and frustrating, because it really seems like Amazon does as it sees fit and gives authors little recourse when it comes to addressing or solving the problem.


The last most recent example are authors on Twitter talking about romance and erotica titles being removed from Amazon (and sometimes other sites like B&N) due to the FOSTA-SESTA laws, leading to censorship and the blocking of sales of erotic novels or novels with sex scenes in them. Book Riot did an article on this explaining the laws and what’s happening to authors, and I’ve seen tweets like this one of authors talking about losing their listings.


I hear about this coming from Amazon more than any other bookseller, and I feel like I hear about this happening to self-published authors the most.


This has me scared to ever self-publish, knowing that Amazon can remove books and close accounts as they see fit. It feels like a Big Five publisher would have far more power in dealing with Amazon and other booksellers should things like this happen, whereas authors who go it alone just don't seem to have the clout needed to get things handled. It’s just another reason why I’ve decided to go traditional—it just feels safer.