Hamfisted vs Hamming-it-up

You know when this #amazonfail phenomenon started on Sunday, I had no idea it would unfurl the way it did. Other than my conversations with Storm Grant in the very early part of Sunday morning, I made no comments on it through the afternoon, only starting to comment in the evening. I kept waiting for Amazon to announce … something. Anything. But mainly I ground my teeth at all the mis-information being tossed around, the number of people trolling and retweeting information that had long since been proven false.

It annoyed me that after 200,000 tweets, the countless articles and blogs have been posted, I realized how other than the affected authors and industry people, few of the public realized that behind the book that had been deranked there was a person. A person who sat down and slaved over each word. A person who was losing money, losing their livelihood because of this *cough*bullshit*cough glitch/code f*ckup? Quite a few of my friends and fellow authors had their books delisted, both in the GBLT realm and the erotic romance realm. But as I wrote this at midnight, I had to decide who to focus on. After re-reading that LA times post, it became clear. The lady who created the original #amazonfail hashtag. She wasn’t the only one twittering about the derankings that day, but she was the first to use the tag that was universally adopted.

So … meet Storm Grant. Author. I’ve totally filched this from her bio on her website:

Storm is a Board member of the Toronto chapter of the RWA and a member of the From the Heart online chapter as well. She holds a degree in business and has spent three decades working in marketing and administration. Her writing experience includes commercial copywriting, as well as fiction. She lives in Toronto, Canada, with her husband and a miscellany of rescued pets and a rather messy house.

(Oooh, messy house! I can so relate!)

Photo by Paul Schiratti
Although I’ve only met met Storm a few times at my Toronto Romance Writers meeting and honestly we’re little more than passing acquaintances, Storm is one of the most unassuming, soft-spoken people I’ve met. However, even from the few times I’ve met her, I sense that she has a backbone of steel. That when she sets her mind to something, she persists. And she certainly has needed to persist this week.

When she posted that first twitter message with its #amazonfail hashtag, Storm wasn’t looking for a boycott of Amazon. She hadn’t thought a petition would be needed. She wasn’t looking for anything more than for her book’s rankings to be restored. The same thing every other author who was affected wanted.

Unfortunately at the time of me writing this post, Storm’s book, Gym Dandy, still hadn’t been returned to its rightful place. I searched from Amazon.com’s main page yet still drew a blank with both her name and the book title. And when I did find Gym Dandy by searching the Book section, the rankings were still not listed.

**EDITED: Gym Dandy has now been restored to the rankings. But how much has Storm, and the other authors who have been delisted lost, both in time and money. Will they ever know? If your book isn’t delisted yet, add it to the list being compiled here or if you’re a Twitter member, tweet the information and add the #stilldelisted tag to your book information. Don’t forget to check the various country sites of Amazon too. Some books are being re-ranked in the US but not in the UK. And yes, the .ca site was also affected by this “glitch“.**

After this, I think authors and publishers will have to adopt Professor Moody’s mantra: “Constant vigilance.” I’m pretty sure Storm will be staying vigilant too. That backbone of hers is going to come in very handy.

So before all those twitters rant on about how the #amazonfail watchers need to “get a life”, remember that this is that person’s life. This is that person’s livelihood. And Storm’s one of the people being impacted by this … code malfunction.

***

I had written paragraphs about my take on Amazon, and what had happened, but you know, it’s been blogged about by people with a helluva lot more credentials than me. So I’m just going to post a few links of the ones I thought gave the best summations:

The best article looking at things from a PR point of view is by Kelley Eskridge over at “Humans at Work” called “The Lessons of Amazonfail“. Kelley’s post brings up all the relevant points of what did, and didn’t happen, as well as suggesting what Amazon could have/should have done to mitigate the PR disaster #amazonfail turned into. I found myself nodding my head and thinking “Exactly!”

Booklorn, Literary Escapism, the ladies at Smart Bitches Trashy Books and Dear Author all have excellent posts if you’ve been living in a cave this past week and haven’t been following what has been going on.

***

Now to lighten things up, I’ll show you how I distracted myself yesterday from some of the trolls and misinformation that had me grinding my teeth. Thanks to Victoria Dahl to this link of a video of various people (Seth Rogan, Paul Rudd, George Will, Cheryl Hines) reading from 60 years worth of Harlequins. I couldn’t help laughing out loud.

And this video Jane from Dear Author tweeted about last night …

Amazon Rank creates an #Amazonfail

Wow. Yesterday was … just … wow. For those of you who don’t Twitter, or for those who somehow haven’t heard about the #amazonfail debacle … For those of you who did follow it, you’re probably tired reading about it anymore, but I do want to set the record straight about when this whole #amazonfail thing started.

For the past couple days, Storm Grant, a fellow Toronto Romance Writer and Rainbow Romance writer member (Yes, I belong to a group promoting GBLT romances) has been twittering about how her book, Gym Dandy, had recently lost its rankings but she couldn’t figure out why. If you go to Ms. Grant’s twitter page, and scroll down through her posts for the last few days, you’ll see she started talking about it on April 10th.

Yesterday morning, she twittered about a blog post made by Mark R. Probst, author of “The Filly“. Mr. Probst had noticed a few days before that his book had been deranked. (more explanation on rankings a bit later) Mr. Probst finally got an answer from Amazon as to what they’d done. At 2 a.m. April 12th, he posted a screenshot of Amazon’s reply:

In consideration of our entire customer base, we exclude “adult” material from appearing in some searches and best seller lists. Since these lists are generated using sales ranks, adult materials must also be excluded from that feature.

(By the way, Mr. Probst’s book is a Young Adult book. There’s nothing graphic about it. It’s not an adult book at all.) Notice in the first screen capture, Storm also names a couple other authors who are affected – Erastes and Alex Beecroft, along with a big name one – Anne Rice’s alter-ego Anne Rampling. (Do make sure you read both Storm’s and Mr. Probst’s blogs, along with the Smart Bitches and Dear Author’s blogs – it’s fascinating reading.)

It first came to MY attention around eight a.m. Sunday morning when Storm Grant twittered about Mark’s post, and we chatted about that a few times. Now, I’d seen people on an author loop talking about their ranking disappearing over at Amazon over the past week or more, so it wasn’t a “wow, look what’s just happened” type of conversation.

A couple minutes later, Angela James twittered about needing ideas for a blog post. I recommended how books – both erotic and GBLT – were being deranked as a possible topic; Storm provided Angela the links. By that time, Storm had added the hashtag #amazonfail to her tweets about it. (For those unfamiliar with Twitter, a hash tag is a way to search posts.) When I checked on the hashtag during that discussion, the #amazonfail page was just that. A single page. And Storm’s post was the very first to twitter about the deranking of books using the #Amazonfail hashtag. I wish I’d got a screenshot of that page, but I didn’t think it would be relevant back then.

A few minutes later, Smart Bitches tweeted the addy to Mr. Probst’s post, the same one Storm had sent to Angela. (I have no idea if Smart Bitches picked up on Storm’s post to Angela or not, I’m just saying it happened at the same time.) Then the whole Twitterverse exploded. By the end of the day, there had been over 63,000+ posts and it was still going strong when I put this up. Publishers, editors, agents, the ladies over at Smart Bitches, and Dear Author, Neil Gaiman, even Demi Moore got into the discussion. Smart Bitches even managed to set up a Google bomb.

Later on Sunday evening, the LA Times posted about it, and I was very interested to read that they seem to want to take credit for starting the trend. That one of their people twittered about it and an hour later everything exploded at about 3 p.m. Um, I don’t think so. See the post to Alex Draven below? That’s the VERY first time the #amazonfail tag was used to discuss the deranking. Who knew that would be the spark that kindled the firestorm. *Snort, I just realized the irony of that term.*


Besides, the topic had been going on for a while amongst GBLT writers, it wasn’t something that just ‘suddenly appeared’ yesterday. That fact seemed to get lost in those thousands of posts. Mr. Probst’s blogpost along with Ms. Grant’s twittering brought it to the fore, Smart Bitches (who have a big following that Storm and most of the other authors involved don’t have) picked it up and it went viral.

Another thing that was lost in the wildfire posting — it wasn’t only GBLT books that were being deranked. Erotic romances are also affected. So authors like Lauren Dane, Jaci Burton, Maya Banks, Shelli Stevens and Kate Pearce, and all the Kensington Aphrodisia authors amongst a myriad of others, have been shunted aside even though they are being equally affected. How were they affected? Well, for one thing, if you searched from the main “All Categories” search engine on Amazon’s front page, their books weren’t showing up. Jaci Burton’s Riding on Instinct which was released this week. Didn’t show up. But wait a minute, you say, you’ve just provided a link to Amazon proving that it IS there. (By the way, did you notice it’s Amazon.CA – so even the Canadian Amazon is being affected?) Thing is, when I did a search from the front page using the “All Categories” search box – yeah, it didn’t show up. I had to actually type in “Jaci Burton’s Riding On Instinct” If I hadn’t known that she had that book released this week, I’d have never found it.

Same as one of Lauren’s doesn’t show up. Same as any Kensington Aphrodisia book. See that screen shot below? I searched for Kensington Aphrodisia on Amazon.com– and lookee here, only 2 books showed up. That’s it. And neither are Kensington Aphrodisias, are they? Starting to see how it might affect an author’s sales? If a reader can’t find the book when they’re searching, they’re not going to be able to buy it.


Now, for a proper explanation of what deranking means and how it affects a book’s visibility and sales, I’m going to bow to the expertise of the ladies over at Dear Author. Go here. (What I really like about that post? It tells you that Amazon’s lame explanation that it was all the result of a glitch, just doesn’t cut it.)

Amazon finally responded late Sunday evening saying that it was a “glitch”. (Personally I can’t say I buy that excuse given that response Mr. Probst was given.) But then again, I’ve seen a lot of posts over the past year about how Amazon’s processes are an absolute mystery even to the publishers. So … it doesn’t excuse them, but it’s no surprise either.

Maybe I’m getting cautious as I’m getting older, but I don’t think all the information is out yet, not enough for me to make an informed judgement. Frankly, it may never be. Nor do I have the contacts that people like the Smart Bitches and Dear Author ladies have. So I’ll let them continue to update us. But in the meantime, it’s been an exceedingly interesting thread to watch this past 24 hours. And an incredibly powerful reminder just how much power the internet has.