You Can Win Without Cheating FFS

Most self-publishers will agree: it’s getting tougher out there.

If you are in KU, then you’re pretty much dependent on one income stream and if Amazon sales dip or you run afoul of the Hall of Spinning Knives for whatever reason then you are totally boned. And it’s getting so competitive in KU that it seems to take more titles and quicker releases, along with multi-pronged marketing campaigns – which can be complex and/or expensive – to get any real traction or stickiness.

If you”re not in KU, hitting the charts on Amazon is increasingly difficult and holding on to position is near-impossible – especially when your book is being leapfrogged every hour by thousands of borrow-boosted KU salmon running all that mad marketing. And you can’t even advertise to the same level because they are getting reads on top of those sales to make ROI easier.

Getting visible at all is much trickier now too. The days are long gone when putting your book at 99c was enough to hit the genre charts, and when one small, cheap reader-site ad could put you in the overall Top 100.

But that’s only half the picture.

The rewards are much, much greater now also. The amount of money to be made at the top of the charts, and the upper end of KU, is incredible. I know authors who are regularly banking $10,000 to $50,000 a month from KU page reads alone. And they aren’t even close to what the top tier guys are making.

So, yes, it”s harder. But the prizes are bigger. You might even say it”s getting harder *because* the prizes are bigger. If the money was declining I”m sure many people would find another line of work.

Certainly, the scammers and cheaters would move on to an easier mark, just as most of them have done every few years since they started with their bullshit internet marketing scams and MLM pyramid schemes back in the 90s. WarriorForum is always ready to sell them the next “turnkey solution” and “passive income stream” – whether that”s real estate ads or importing pool noodles from China or selling bad boy romance by the ton.

But that doesn’t mean you must cheat.

Whenever an argument erupts in indieworld about some new skeavy tactic, there are always a bunch of writers ready to justify it, whether that’s review purchasing, bonus-stuffing, title-keyword-stuffing, click here inducements, or even clickfarming/botting – there’s always a group of vocal defenders. (Often anonymous.)

The defenses always involve the same fallacies. One being that all is fair in love and war – it’s all one big sales game, and whoever gets people to click on the buy buttons wins. These charming amoralists usually undercut that argument quite severely by whining how unfair it is on the rare occasions that Amazon takes action and strips rank from their books or boots them from Select.

The most popular defense is the old dopers’ one: everyone else is doing it, why shouldn’t we? Obviously, these cheap justifications are really for the cheaters and scammers themselves, so they can sleep at night.

Some of these guys have openly claimed that it’s “impossible” to succeed without engaging in things like bonus stuffing. In case you don’t know what that is, this is the practice of taking four or five other books you have written, and stuffing them in the back of your books – and then doing that across your whole catalog.

Book A might have Books B, C, D and E in the back. Book B will have Books A, C, D and E in the back… and so on.

This artificially inflates the book’s page count, so that when it is borrowed the author will get paid for 2,000 pages instead of 400. Historically, this practice has been accompanied with a Click Here inducement, often by adding a bonus or exclusive short story to the very end of the book, and encouraging readers to click same. Recently, these bonus stuffers have been getting more artful – no doubt trying to avoid Amazon’s radar – by working these Click Here inducements directly into the text of the novel.

And when readers skipped to the end, these authors got a full payout for all 2,000 pages, no matter how little was actually read.

Obviously, this practice has a number of awful effects. These cheaters are taking four or five times the KU payout that they should from the pool. That’s money directly taken from more deserving authors who are all paid from a communal pot, an amount fixed by Amazon. In addition, as these skipped pages don’t represent actual reading by readers, this must be exerting downward pressure on KU payout rates. Meaning that we all suffer further. And it’s also a terrible experience for readers – which is why there are explicit KDP rules banning this practice, despite the continual denials of the practitioners.

For those authors engaging in review purchasing or various “street team” shenanigans, they are undermining the credibility of the whole review system, leading readers to question whether any reviews are real – including those that hard-working authors organically received from happy readers.

And of course those clickfarmers and botters and mass-gifters undermine the trust readers have in the charts, diminishing its value as a crucial discovery tool for authors and readers, while they simultaneously deny crucial visibility oxygen to books that should be there on merit.

But that doesn’t mean you have to cheat.

The idea that you can only get ahead by cheating is especially pernicious because it creates more cheaters. It’s like that old cliché about the underworld where you can only join the inner circle after your first kill. You have skin in the game now, and it’s attached to your own ass.

However, it’s a lie.

While competition is greater now, the tools we have to reach readers have improved immeasurably: Kindle Countdown Deals, reader magnets, BookBub CPM ads, permafree, Facebook Carousel ads, cross-promo, RobinReads, free runs (now gold again in KU btw), Kobo promos, BookFunnel, iBooks First Free in a Series, BookBarbarian, merchandizing opportunities, mailing list automation – this is just a tiny sample of the powerful options we have at our disposal today.

When you put them together, it”s a heady mix. Incredible marketing campaigns that catapult books into the charts, bringing in thousands of dollars a month, or even tens of thousands of dollars a month. And all cleanly.

If all that sounds too hard, you’re just going to have to pull on your big boy pants and get stuck in. No one owes you a chart position, a readership, or a living. You have to build it yourself. Okay, sometimes you do work hard and don’t get the reward you deserve. That sucks, but that’s life. You must persevere.

Don’t be fooled by the scammers and the cheaters. They just want everyone pissing in the pool to cover their tracks.

David Gaughran

David Gaughran

Born in Ireland, he now lives in a little fishing village in Portugal, although this hasn’t increased the time spent outside. He writes novels under another name, has helped thousands of authors build a readership with his books, blogs, workshops, and courses, and has created marketing campaigns for some of the biggest self-publishers on the planet. Friend to all dogs.