Tomorrow, my interview with The Book Designer goes live. Here’s the link to the article: Andrea Ring on Becoming a Bestselling Author (and Her Experience with Promoter Rebecca Hamilton)
Since I gave the interview, a great deal of controversy has come out about these box sets, how Rebecca conducts herself, and how she conducts business.
I first learned of the controversy on The Passive Voice. I read TPV daily, and on April 28, one of the headlines was “The Bestseller Box Set Gig.” The excerpt posted talked about the illegitimacy of 20 authors banding together to try to hit a bestseller list using black-hat marketing methods such as gifting thousands of copies. And PG (the Passive Guy), who I respect, commented that “when everybody is a bestselling author, the marketing benefits from such claims decline substantially in value.”
I happen to agree with PG. I didn’t join the set to make a list, but to push myself and learn about marketing. (But that’s irrelevant to the discussion.) I had just been through the grueling process of joining a box set effort and trying to market it and cooperating with 21 other authors, and I could personally attest that all of our marketing methods were above board. I could shrug off the commonly held notion that 20+ authors hitting a list is not the same thing as hitting a list on your own with a single title (it’s not, although it’s still legitimate), but many commenters were suggesting that I was unethical, that no one had ever benefited either monetarily nor career-wise from such participation, and that the whole thing is akin to vanity publishing and buying your way to success.
I was heartsick to learn that so many people felt this way. I wanted to comment, but by the time I had seen the article (I was out of town), comments had been closed. (I don’t think I ever recall PG closing comments, BTW.)
And my interview was still out there, processing.
So I sent an email to my contact at The Book Designer, alerting her to the post and saying that if they needed to pull the interview with all the controversy, I understood.
And in the mean time, I read the entire article referenced in The Passive Voice post. On one hand, I could refute a lot of the underhanded methods cited as occurring in every box set – they weren’t used in mine. We didn’t pay for reviews. We didn’t incentivize readers to buy books. We didn’t gift thousands of copies (although we did gift some – about 3% of our total sales, and many of those were not claimed – but Amazon’s Terms of Service allows for gifting).
On the other hand, some damning evidence was provided about these things going on in other sets or in other services offered by Rebecca’s business, GenreCrave. There was evidence of bullying authors into silence if they disagreed with Rebecca or asked for a refund.
I went from heartsick to feeling physically ill. I combed through every post online I could find about the situation. I re-read my contract and compared it to what people were saying. I admit, I became obsessed.
I consider myself an ethical person. I would never, ever bully someone nor condone the same from someone else. I’ve never paid for a review – I barely have any reviews on my books! Many of my books focus on ethics and philosophical debates, for crying out loud! How did I get mixed up in this? Especially when I’d truly had a positive experience and was proud of myself for doing something so against my nature?
So I took a deep breath. My career was not at stake. Not really. No one’s ever heard of me. 🙂
But my personal integrity IS at stake.
Our box set was scheduled to be taken down on May 2nd, and I could only sigh in relief. BUT…we got a message in our box set Facebook group that Amazon was offering to promote the set if we stayed in KDP Select for another 90 days.
And The Book Designer wanted to run my interview despite the controversy.
I agonized. I toiled. My husband and friends wanted to strangle me, I’m sure. I finally decided to pull my book from the set. And I agreed to let the interview run.
The other authors and I in our box set did nothing wrong. We worked hard, and that’s it. We don’t deserve to be painted as villains, as unethical, as black hatters. And that’s why I continued with the interview. While my career might not take a hit from the association with Rebecca, the careers of a lot of the other authors in my set might. I had an opportunity to set the record straight about the Dark Humanity box set, and I took it.
This interview is not an endorsement of every service Rebecca ever gave or will give – I only have this experience to relate. And it’s not meant to ignore or negate others’ experiences.
I will also say that the discussion online about the entire controversy has been continuing even up until this very moment, and I’ve been following as I’ve had the time. And to answer the questions I’m sure I will receive at some point…
Yes, my feelings have changed since I originally gave the interview.
Yes, I’m questioning everything that was done in our box set. The marketing methods were above board. Period. But other issues have been pointed out regarding Amazon’s ToS, and I’m considering those and if they apply to our set. At this point, I’m not sure what I could do about those things if I believe we were in violation, but I will absolutely own up to it.
To be continued…
A bit of advice for anyone buying in to a boxset. RESEARCH
I think sometimes the gifting was handled behind-the-scenes. I don’t think authors always knew what was done in their names.
It sounds like this was/is the case for Rebecca’s GenreCrave blast services (or whatever they’re called). I don’t have personal knowledge of this. As far as I know, Christina Garner has made this claim. I believe her, but I don’t know if we’ve seen hard evidence of “behind-the-scenes” gifting. We have, of course, seen evidence of gifting that wasn’t hidden at all – Rebecca encourages gifting, particularly if you have less than 500 sales at iBooks or Nook.
We had plenty of preorders on both of those platforms, but we had a snafu where our preorders and book listing disappeared a few days before release day on iBooks. It took a while to get to the bottom of it, and Rebecca encouraged us to gift via iBooks in case those preorders didn’t go through (turned out one of the others had left competitor links in, and our formatter didn’t catch it). That’s when we did the majority of our gifting. Before that, I think we’d only gifted 7 copies to Instagrammers who had helped with our marketing.
From my experience in the set, I don’t see this as a major problem. Sure, gifting a high percentage of books to make a list defeats the purpose of a bestselling title. But gifting in and of itself is not wrong. Our set gifted 3% of total sales, and not all those were claimed. I just don’t view this as wrong.
But if you are led to believe you’ve made actual sales and your book was in fact gifted instead by a promo service you paid for SALES…yes, this is a problem.
Going back over everything done in our set, Rebecca only handled a few things – the cover, deadlines, finances, uploading the book, and booking BookBub ads. The only opportunity for her to gift was possibly during two newsletter swaps, one in March and one at the end of April, both well after we made the list. I suppose it’s possible that she took funds and used them for gifting earlier, but it’s unlikely.
Amazon’s ToS says you can gift as many copies as you like. It also says you can’t do anything to manipulate rank of your book. These contradict each other. While some interpret it to mean you shouldn’t gift because it affects sales rank, I believe Amazon explicitly telling us we CAN gift means they view this as an exception.
Look, I don’t want any promoter doing something behind my back. If we’re paying someone, or trusting someone, they should be up front about their methods.
But there have been other issues raised about Rebecca’s conduct, and I think those are more serious and worth focusing on. I’d be happy to discuss them.