Former indie author Jamie McGuire penalized for self-publishing?

Earlier this evening, during a break between edits for AHW6, I saw something on a Facebook page “What To Read After Fifty(50) Shades Of Grey” regarding Jamie McGuire, author of the indie (and now traditional) bestseller Beautiful Disaster:

** SPECIAL NOTE: Please Read This!! **

From Author Jamie McGuire:

I have looked into this as best I can, but being a Saturday, Amazon isn’t responding.

It appears that Amazon has sent a mass email to everyone who’s ever purchased the self-published version of Beautiful Disaster. They are encouraging readers to request a refund. When asked why they are offering this refund, Amazon customer service has given several different reasons, the most common is problems with content. THERE IS NO PROBLEM WITH THE CONTENT OF BEAUTIFUL DISASTER, and it makes no sense for them to encourage a refund for a book that has already been read and enjoyed 6+ months later, but that is the only information I have for now.

Customer service admits that if you do NOT get the refund, your copy of BD will NOT be affected. If you get a refund, they are offering to reimburse the $4+ difference it costs to purchase the $7.99 version, but what they aren’t telling you is that **I** am paying for every refund.

Last week, I sent an email to Amazon asking why the self-published version of my book is still experiencing returns. Returns are only allowed for up to 7 days after purchase. 6 months after the self-published version of Beautiful Disaster went off-sale my account was still seeing negative amounts for returns. I’m not going to assume the reasons behind this mass email, but it appears that Amazon customer service is now encouraging these returns.

I was not notified of this. This email has nothing to do with my publisher Atria books. If you do not get a refund, your copy of BD will not be affected. If you do, the refund will show as a negative amount in my Amazon KDP author account. Because BD is no longer available, this money will be taken out of my Providence sales.

In other words, this is very bad, and I have no idea why this is happening. Please do not return your copy of BD, and please help me spread the word to not return your copy of BD.

I will let you know what else I find out from Amazon. In the meantime, your support has brought me to tears. I love you all. ♥

Well, you can imagine my shock at reading this. While I have yet to meet Ms. McGuire, she and I were fortunate enough to share similar career choices around the same time when our bestsellers were picked up by (separate) publishing companies. I won’t lie, I found this story difficult to believe; Amazon surely wouldn’t be this stupid, would it? I purchased BD as an indie book in 2011, long before the author signed a contract allowing the novel to receive a wider, worldwide distribution.

Yet, an hour ago, this is the email I received in my inbox:

Hello from Amazon.com,

We want to let you know that the edition of Beautiful Disaster that you purchased is no longer available. You can order a new version that is now available here:

You can also request a refund on your original purchase by responding to this email. After the refund is issued, you will no longer be able to access this item.

Thank you,

The Kindle Team

*~*~*~*

Alright, be prepared for a long post, because I’m going to deconstruct this email for you, then educate you a little on how self-publishing works. If I go off on a tangent I apologize in advance; I’m a little worked up about this, not only on Ms. McGuire’s account but also on account that many people, myself included, have moved from the self-publishing world into traditional publishing. The two worlds, in many ways, don’t mix perfectly, but this is the first time I’ve seen such a confusing and underhanded attack on an indie author.

First off, let’s start with this line:
“We want to let you know that the edition of Beautiful Disaster that you purchased is no longer available.”
No longer available where? On my Kindle, or in the Kindle store? Because if Amazon decided to erase a story I’d already BOUGHT AND PAID FOR almost two years ago, I’m gonna get a little pissy. Nobody steals books from me – that’s a grave sin where I come from!!

“You can order a new version that is now available here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B008JMKN4Y
Let me tell you something kids: the new version is no different than the old version. Oh, I’m sure a few lines have been cleaned up, maybe some new front matter detailing which publisher is offering the “new” version, etc. But, let’s be honest, THE STORY IS THE SAME. Even the cover is the same one the book was graced with when Ms. McGuire signed the traditional contract. So, why do we need a new version Amazon? Please, enlighten me.

“You can also request a refund on your original purchase by responding to this email.”

Oh no they didn’t! Oh no, no no no. Amazon, didn’t you read your own rules and TOS? Don’t you understand how this stuff WORKS? Let me pull from the above statement by Ms. McGuire herself:

Customer service admits that if you do NOT get the refund, your copy of BD will NOT be affected. If you get a refund, they are offering to reimburse the $4+ difference it costs to purchase the $7.99 version, but what they aren’t telling you is that **I** am paying for every refund. Last week, I sent an email to Amazon asking why the self-published version of my book is still experiencing returns. Returns are only allowed for up to 7 days after purchase. 6 months after the self-published version of Beautiful Disaster went off-sale my account was still seeing negative amounts for returns. I’m not going to assume the reasons behind this mass email, but it appears that Amazon customer service is now encouraging these returns.

Alright, education time!! Sit around my chair kiddies and let Ms. Fawkes give you a little lesson on how self-publishing works. When an author and a book love each other very much, they… oh wait, wrong speech. *sheepish look around* Alright, other formats and ereaders not withstanding, when you purchase an ebook from Amazon, the sales is automatically (barring some lag from servers) calculated to the author’s KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) account. This, let me tell you, is an AWESOME service – a self publishing author gets to see in real time (!!!) how many sales they have.

There is a catch to this however, and while it’s in the reader/buyer’s best interest it has the potential to be abused by some people: when you purchase the ebook, you also have a 7-day window in which you are able to refund the book. If, say, there’s a formatting problem, or some other type of error with the file (or, in most cases, if the buyer just really dislikes the book), you have the option to return it for a refund. Most self-published authors learn to accept that they will have a certain number of returns. Such returns are par for the course, and normally not something we authors go around discussing because, as I guess you can imagine, wider knowledge can lead to wider abuse of this option. However, in this case, to understand why this is a problem, you need to know the root cause.

Like I said, this is a 7-day window, and once that window is closed the sale is final. Except, um, not in the case with Ms. McGuire. According to records, I purchased the original novel in spring of 2011, yet now, two years later, I’m being urged by Amazon to ask for a return so I can get the new version.

So, essentially, what’s going to happen is that Amazon will be logging returns via KDP in Ms. McGuire’s self-publishing account, giving her a negative number of sales. Negative sales numbers work against an author just like they would in any other business: instead of being paid for the sale, YOU ARE PAYING FOR THEM NOW. If Ms. McGuire has any other books for sale via KDP, whether under another pen name or this one, the negative sales from the unpublished, older copy of her book (WHICH IS NO LONGER FOR SALE!) will penalize positive sales for other stories. If not, and all the books she has available are no longer through KDP… That’s going to be one heck of a bill. Because the email I received went out to literally THOUSANDS of people who, in the last 2+ years, have purchased BD from Amazon. Before it was a bestseller through Atria Publishing, BD was a bestseller through Ms. McGuire’s own hard work.

*takes a deep breath*

I don’t know what Amazon’s goal is for this move. I don’t know how many returns Ms. McGuire has accumulated so far. I don’t know how Amazon will bill her for these negative sales. And I don’t know what this says about my own experience: I too sold my rights to another publisher, have left my previous stories unpublished, but had hundreds of thousands of sales before St. Martin’s Press took over my serials. What’s going to happen to people like me, or Amanda Hocking, or any of the other indie bestsellers who turned to traditional publishers so they could get wider audiences? The whole thing is pure and utter bullshit – Amazon should NOT have sent out that email, Amazon should NOT be putting their hands in our cookie jars previously purchased Kindle library. We indie authors had the rights to our stories at the time these sales took place; the fact that another entity holds those rights NOW doesn’t change THEN.

So if you receive any emails like this for a book you loved, from an author you care about, please disregard them. Do NOT return an indie book because you think the traditional publishing book might be “better”. I love my SMP editor, but even though she went over my previously-released serials we didn’t change much, if anything, about them except the copyright and legal script. Jamie McGuire deserves the same – don’t take money from her pocket, ESPECIALLY if you loved the book!! I couldn’t believe it when I saw the initial Facebook post about this, and REALLY couldn’t believe when I saw the above email in my inbox. Shame on you Amazon, this is totally beyond the pale!

ETA: Indie hangout Kindleboards’ Writer’s Cafe has a post already started about this with more logical information than my emotional response. Included is one person’s confusing response from Amazon when they DID return the book, as well as TOS guidelines quoted for posterity’s sake. It gets more and more confusing…

ETA2: Early this morning, I received another email from Amazon regarding Beautiful Disaster:

You may have received an e-mail from us yesterday stating that the edition of “A Beautiful Disaster” you purchased is no longer available. This e-mail was incorrect, and there is no action required to continue enjoying the book.

If you are having any problems with the book, please feel free to contact us by replying to this message, and we will be happy to help you.

We apologize for any misunderstanding our e-mail caused.

Sincerely,
The Kindle Team

From Ms. McGuire’s Facebook and blog posts, it seems all she’s interested in is moving past this and focusing on the release of her next novel. Amazon has a history of silence over controversial decisions, so we may never know what prompted the mass emails. Given the magnitude and how many people were emailed the original memo, this doesn’t seem like an over zealous employee but a combined, higher-level tactic, and it sucks that we may never know why or how this mystery started…

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34 thoughts on “Former indie author Jamie McGuire penalized for self-publishing?

  1. Dear Sara, thank you for sharing this info. I purchased this book many many many months ago. I have not received an e-mail from amazon urging me to return this book. I enjoyed it and I’m keeping it. Dirty trick by amazon. Even if I would have seen the email before this post, I still would not bothered to return it. Hopefully the situation gets fixed!!!

  2. It sounds like somebody is having a pissy fit about the sale of the book to a bigger publisher and somehow Amazon gets cut out of the deal. I really want to self-publish and am so afraid of the big guys having legal jargon, tiny print and larger $ pockets to make my life hell IF I find a bigger venue at some point – which, btw, in agreeance is total BS on Amazon’s part!

  3. Amazon is working really hard to turn off indie authors, huh?

    I thought ToS worked both ways. If Amazon’s seven-day policy already passed, they got to keep their percentage of the sale, regardless of whether the author was picked up by a publisher. Even now, don’t they still get a cut?

  4. I don’t know much about all of this but I can say that the book beautiful disaster’was literally the best book I have ever read… and l can’t wait until April for the next book ‘walking disaster’ Anyone that returns the book is low an should feel bad if they did enjoy the book…that would b a nasty thing to do and totally disrespectful to Jamie and her hard work.

    Sara… I love your books too :) and can’t wait for book six!!

  5. I’m hearing now (see: @jane_l) that it may be because of the use of copyrighted lyrics (Rolling Stones – Satisfaction)… Assuming the lyrics have been removed from the S&S version, that seems like a pretty good bet. Maybe Amazon received a copyright notice or is just being extra cautious suddenly? Using anything more than a tiny bit of a song requires buying the rights to use it to avoid infringing on the copyright. (Some of the crazy prices for quoting even one line of a popular song is in this article: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/may/01/blake-morrison-lyrics-copyright — Whoa, expensive!)

  6. Just went over to B&N and put my money where my mouth is, I’ll be doing a ‘bit’ of reading over the next few days.
    I do hope this is resolved in Jamie’s favor.
    *
    Loved, LOVED, Loved AHW. I will be reading it again. Soon.

  7. I bought “beautiful disaster” over X-Mas break. I loved this book! I cant wait for April for Travis’s version! I got my son’s girlfriend hooked on this story also. That would be awful if people would send it Back! Disrespectful. Jamie did a awesome story!

  8. I received that same email yesterday about it no longer being available and that I could reply back to the email to ask for a refund. I just deleted the email. Now, I just went and checked my emails again and received another email from Amazon stating that the email was a mistake and that the book was still available and that you only needed to respond to their email if you were having any problems viewing the book. It was a mis-understood email. It was sent tonight at 8:45pm.

    I think this was only sent out because they have received so much back lash about the email that they sent and now are trying to retract their previous email. Best of luck to Jamie!

    **Can’t wait for the next AHW installments, then for the next book to read them all together. I just went back and re-read the series and then purchased the completed book. Hope the story doesn’t end anytime soon as I love them!! I am waiting on the edge of my seat. **

  9. I am speechless. I AM an indie author and my series is starting to get noticed. I’m definitely worried about this. I did get an email from Amazon a short time ago regarding one of Amanda Hocking’s titles I purchased. But due to the fact I loved the book, I trashed the email.
    OMG- I am freaking out!!!

  10. Pingback: Buzz Worthy News: 4th March 2013 | Cuddlebuggery Book Blog

  11. I’m so sad to see this happening. I fear Amazon will continue with their indie witch hunts/ comment deleting until someone sues them. Surely there’s an ambitious indie author out there who has their law degree…

  12. Pingback: Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Amazon? | Elizabeth Barone

  13. I also think it should be noted that with Amazon’s 7-day book return policy, people can read the book in under 7 days, and then request a refund. :(

  14. Pingback: Reblog: Former indie author Jamie McGuire penalized for self-publishing? | The Road to Nowhere...

  15. I personally see this as Amazon’s way to make more money. If the price of the book is higher with the publisher, then Amazon likely gets more money for each sale than they did when it was self-pubbed. If they can get bunches of people to return the self-pubbed copies and reorder the one with the traditional pub, then Amazon can make more money.

    This is just my opinion, but it seems like money is the driving factor more often than not.

  16. I’ve heard that the problem is that McGuire quoted a Rolling Stones song in the SP version, which is why it was pulled. In that case, it’s beneficial for her if the version is removed before she gets sued for copyright violation.

  17. Thank you for the post. I didn’t quite understand Jamie’s own post but combined with your explanation of indie publishing it’s all a lot clearer.

    I can’t believe how disgusting amazon is being. Especially their lack of communication! Indie writers need to unite and work out a solution to show amazon they’re not to be pushed around!

  18. I did get the email saying my version wasn’t available any longer and to ask for a refund. I was so confused so I said refund or let me download the new version. They send me an email saying that it was an error and there isn’t any new version and there isn’t anything wrong with the original one. So it sounded like they were trying to correct their error.

  19. thats absolutly awful! i bought BD last year and i wouldn’t trade it for any reason. makes me glad i get my books from kobo :)

  20. Pingback: Amazon’s payment policy stinks! | Zombie Night in Canada

  21. Pingback: Amazon Shafts Former Indie Author (via @sarafawkes) | Literarium – The Blog

  22. Thats insane Beautiful Disaster is a great book looking forward to Jamie’s next book shame on Amazon for not notifying her

  23. This may not be the case but do you think amazon get a larger percentage of sales made through the publishing house as opposed to self publishing? Strange that jamie says her publishing house deny involvement…

  24. This is really interesting, You’re a very skilled blogger. I’ve joined your rss feed and look forward to seeking more of your magnificent post.
    Also, I’ve shared your site in my social networks!

  25. I received that same email. I read it and deleted it all within a minute. Thank you for spreading the word on this. I’m no author, but I love my books and I love supporting authors. Whether they’re your mainstream authors or indie, I support them. That was a low blow Amazon!!

  26. Thank you for this post, I am preparing to publish an e-book and very nervous about missing something on the legal side

  27. Thanks for the warning I have 5 romantic thrillers enrolled on KDP I will seek advice should I ever attain my dream of joining a traditional publishers to become paperback!!! It had worried me a little that’s for sure

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