How I got kicked out of Kindle Unlimited and (almost) lost $50,000 overnight

I just sent out (another) email with the wrong link – you might be looking for this:

How to write a blurb, back cover copy or sales description for your book that converts

If not, keep reading…

Update – I’m back in! I raised enough of a fuss that they changed their ruling – read to the bottom to find out what happened.

For the last year, I’ve been telling everyone they should be in KU, because it’s the best and easiest way for new authors to make money with their writing. When other publishing gurus warned against putting all my eggs in one basket, or the danger that Amazon could change something someday that would screw up my income, I smiled and counted my money.

Despite skepticism about the way I’ve been publishing and building my platform, my income grew quickly, and for the first time in years I started to feel relaxed, as I had passive income coming in with very little work that was enough to support my wife and I.

 

This month I probably would have broken my goal of $10k/month from Kindle sales. I’m about halfway there, on the 15th of May. 

Unfortunately… Amazon is a jealous, vindictive God.

I had one old book in my KDP account I thought wasn’t on any other platform, so I put it in KDP Select. 2 days later I got an email saying that book was found on Google Play (no idea how it got there, but might have done it years ago). I think it was still on my Smashwords dashboard, which I haven’t logged into for years – I’d unchecked all the other options but probably had no idea what Google Play was at the time.

So they are going to kick ALL my books out of Kindle Unlimited for one year – which means the $200+ in page reads I’ve gotten consistently for the past 3 months will disappear in a few days. For context, in the image above, all that blue will go away (pagereads), leaving me with just the red (books sold).

Without KU, my income will go from $300 a day to $100 a day (From $10K to $3K a month… so I’ll actually probably lose much more than $50K over the next year.)

IF I’m really being kicked out, and I can’t beg my way back in, I’ll need to spend the next few months taking my books wide and doing tons of promotion to build up non-amazon streams to try and replace the KU income I’m losing.

I’d rather NOT do that, because it’s a pain in the ass, and I’ve been a loud advocate of new authors going all in with KU. It sucks they’re booting me out for a mistake that lasted two days (the book on Google Play was taken down immediately, by the way – and they know it – so that’s not the issue).

But I also understand they’re a huge company dealing with tens of thousands of authors and employees probably all have to follow a strict rulebook. This is exactly why people say not to go all in with Amazon, and I get that (but I don’t think you should limit your earnings today based on what theoretically could happen tomorrow).

This isn’t a cautionary tale warning you against Amazon. I still seriously think new authors will see better results going all in with KU. Only a few authors make money wide, but it’s harder and you really need to know what you’re doing, have a big backlist, and have a platform of followers. Plus, this is only happening to me because this isn’t my first warning – I do lots of experiments with my books and screw up some times.

I’m still hoping to be forgiven, but if that doesn’t happen I’ll start moving all my books wide to recoup as much income as I can. Luckily this won’t be so difficult for me, because I have a big list of active fans, but it still sucks because I’d rather just be writing more book and publishing on KU for maximum income. 

Here’s the first letter I wrote to Jeff Bezos after KDP Support gave me a firm “no.”

 

Dear Amazon…

I’ve been a long time, active supporter of KU – I have an email list of 35K authors I routinely tell them KU is the best option for new writers. My KU income has grown to 8K a month and would have passed 10K this month… except I made a mistake with an old book and am getting kicked out. I put up a book I published years ago into KU, because I was sure it wasn’t being sold anywhere else, however Amazon found a version on Google Play I didn’t know was even there.

I got Google Play to delete it immediately. The crossover happened for only a couple days. Nevertheless, KDP support is refusing to forgive the mistake and insists ALL of my books will be pulled from KU for the next year (losing me 50K in income). I’ve spent all my time making videos about why KU is the best choice, and why the argument “not to put all your eggs in one basket” is invalid, and now I’m being proved wrong. If forced to leave, I’ll have to spend the next year teaching authors about going wide and building stable income on ibooks, kobo and other platforms instead of KU. My resources reach hundreds of thousands of authors and I have over 600,000 views on YouTube.

I’m hoping I can continue to be a loyal KU supporter, rather than being kicked out and singing a different tune that will impact thousands of authors. 

Please help! Derek Murphy

 

Dear Amazon #2

Here’s my last ditch attempt to change their minds…

Dear Amazon, I found out this week that all my books will be removed from KU, because I had a duplicate copy of an old book on Google Play. I understand the reasons, and even though it was an accident and the book was immediately removed from Google Play, I understand why you need to follow the rules in most cases.

But to make sure you have all the relevant details, here are some additional reasons you should let me continue to use KU to promote my books. First, I’m one of a handful of self-publishing experts with a large following. I have over 600K YouTube views and 50K active followers on my email list. I’ve been featured on CNN and over a dozen publishing podcasts, and have a collective reach of over a million authors. For the past few years, I’ve been strongly recommending KU to every new author (most of my colleagues teach authors to go wide instead.) I don’t think it’s a stretch to say I’ve been personally responsible for thousands of new authors enrolling their books in KU.

My success in KU – getting up to 10K/month in income in less than 14 months – would have been a beacon for all writers and would have driven tons of authors into the program for years to come. Instead, I’m afraid my getting booted from KU will have the opposite affect and be used by naysayers as a cautionary tale of why authors should avoid KU.

Plus, once I’m kicked out, I’ll be forced to go wide and build up my income on iBooks, Kobo and Nook. I’ll spend the next year focusing on marketing books on those platforms, and I’ll build up my income elsewhere. That means all of the new visitors to my publishing related websites – over 50,000 a month – will be encouraged to go wide instead of putting their books into Kindle Unlimited.

The self-publishing community is small, and new authors often arrive on one of my sites very early in their journey. As I said, the majority of self-publishing experts already warn against KU. I was one of the few supporters – and it feels especially ironic to suffer the back hand of Amazon’s brutally impersonal policies after I’ve spent so much time convincing authors to trust Amazon with their writing.

*Not to mention my list of 35K young adult readers just becoming consumers who I was previously sending towards Amazon in droves, which will now be sent to other platforms.*

I made a mistake, which was immediately rectified, and I think having all my books pulled from KU for one year (losing over $50,000 in earnings) is an overly severe punishment. If Amazon decides to fine me $50K despite this apology, I’ll spend the next year helping authors publish elsewhere instead – and we both lose. I’d prefer that didn’t happen, as I am otherwise a very happy KU supporter and advocate.

Sincerely,
Derek Murphy

 Youtube Channel

My Website

 

Update 1

The original email said I’d be kicked out within 5 days.

It’s been about 5 days and my books are still in KU, even though I’ve had no positive responses from KDP or Amazon.

My page reads have dropped to under 30K/day – which is less than they’ve been for the last three weeks – so that could indicate my books are being delisted from the program, or it could be normal market fluctuations. Hard to tell at this point.

I’m operating under the assumption that my books will be kicked out and I’ll need to rebuild the lost income on other platforms – which is fine. It’s more work, but it might be better for me anyway. Here’s what my plan looks like:

  • Do some aggressive listbuilding and grow my fans list to 50K
  • Make all my books free on all platforms for a couple weeks
  • Ask list to post reviews on ALL platforms until I have 100+ reviews on each book, everywhere
  • Publish 5 more books by the end of this summer.
  • Build natural traffic to 500 visitors a day to fiction blog

Done well, I should be at least at 5K/month, and hopefully up to 10K a month in book sales (in which case, I’m not sure I’d really even want to go back into KU after my year banishment is over). It’s more work and harder to keep track of everything, but at least I would’t have to worry about angering a monotheistic deity of commerce; I know none of this is Amazon’s fault – I’m the one who broke the rules – but since I do a lot of experimentation with my books and platform, maybe I need to serve a less demanding and exacting publishing platform, who won’t enforce unilateral punishment for accidental rule infringements.

I’m incredibly grateful to be making ANY money with my fiction; and I’m almost incredulous that I have nearly 1000 positive reviews after only a year and a half of publishing fiction. So this isn’t exactly a travesty of justice. I’m very happy with where I am, KU or no, and it will be an exciting challenge to see how fast I can bounce back from this.

I was just starting to think I might be able to hit six-figures this year with writing, now it’s going to take a bit longer, but like I said – still grateful. This is good money. My plan is to publish 20 novels and hit 50K a month in the next three years.

PS) I’ve been watching Michael Beckwith videos; one idea I like is asking “What idea is the universe trying to express through me? What is seeking to emerge in my life? What is the universe up to?” … then listening for the answer. I used to be a listener, but I’ve mostly decided the Universe has no “goal” for my life – it just says “yes” to the goals I set for myself.

But it’s possible being in KU conflicted with the bigger goals I’d set for myself. Listening without deciding allows my mind to drift to what I REALLY want out of life – the big stuff.

After listening, Michael asks, 

“What must I become, to manifest the vision that I am beginning to see?”

This resonates with me, because for the past month or two, I’ve been growing lazy and complacent. My fiction was earning good money with very little effort. I didn’t need to work harder or push myself. I’ve been eating junk food and watching TV all day because screw it, can’t I just take a couple months off? My goal was 10K a month with fiction and I was getting close.

However, my actual goals, what I really want in life, are bigger and still pretty far away. I want a huge cabin in the woods; a camp for writers; a castle. I want savings and investments and security, I want to protect my future and health from unforeseen changes. 

So I’m going to focus less on the specifics of my small, limited goals (finish a course, make X amount of money) and focus more on the lifestyle I want to experience in my life. I’m not a hustler, but I also won’t feel good about myself if I spend all day and do nothing to build value.

Another mantra I love is “Only Good Lies Before Me.”

So now I’ll start making it true, by working my ass off and increasing my book sales to make up for my loss in pagereads income from KU.

 

Update 2 (I’m back in!)

I got two letters from Amazon today. The first was this:

 

Hello,
 
Thank you for your message.
 
As stated in the KDP Select Terms and Conditions, you give us the exclusive right to sell and distribute the content of your digital book in digital format while your book is in KDP Select. During this period of exclusivity, you cannot sell or distribute, or give anyone else the right to sell or distribute, the content of your book (or a book that is substantially similar) in digital format.
 
Our records indicate that we previously informed you that submitting non-exclusive content to KDP Select is not acceptable and may result in loss of KDP Select benefits.
 
Due to repeated violations of the KDP Select exclusivity requirement, we have removed all of your books from KDP Select and have suspended the enrollment in KDP Select for a period of 12 months. Please note that all titles remain available in the Kindle Store.
 
We’ll be upholding our previous decision regarding the eligibility of your book(s) for KDP Select. I’m sorry, but we can’t offer any additional insight or action on this matter.
 
They’ve sent that canned response several times, and I thought it was the final word.
Then this evening, I got this one:
 
Hello,
Thank you for your message. 
 
As a one-time courtesy, we will reinstate your books in the KDP Select program. Please be aware that we will be unable to honor this request in the future.
 
To ensure KDP Select benefits are not revoked, please be sure that all of your KDP Select-enrolled books are exclusive to Amazon in digital format at the time of enrollment and remains exclusive throughout the entire KDP Select enrollment term. The next violation will result in your entire catalog being un-enrolled from KDPS and suspended from re-enrollment into the program.
 
If you have any further questions about KDP Select visit:
kdp.amazon.com/self-publishing/contact-us
 
Thanks for publishing with Amazon KDP
 

 

Final comments

I was able to get them to change their minds because I’ve built a large platform and got it in front of someone who could make a reverse decision. I don’t use my notoriety for much so it’s nice that it worked in this case. And I am glad they gave me another shot.

Yes, going wide would be more stable and I could probably build up the income – but it takes more work and managing, and it’s much harder without a large body of work (I still have only a handful of books, when I get to 20 I might start publishing differently). A friend sent me this link on the CreativePenn, about how Liliana Hart publishes wide and does well – but all I took from that article was that Hugh Howey stayed in KU, made a small fortune and disappeared over the horizon on his boat. I don’t want to be a full-time working author, I want to casually earn a good income while on vacation.

That said, in the letter above, they say if it happens again, I will be “suspended from re-enrollment into the program.”
So instead of just a year, it might be for good next time. I’m going to be as careful as I can, and I’ve definitely learned my lesson, but I also screw up a lot. Hopefully it doesn’t happen soon, which would be embarrassing.

Which is better? For me personally, KU is better and easier to see profit faster.
For established authors who have 20+ books and are depending on a stable income, going wide is probably smarter – and I may do that in the future, and I look forward to doing it and doing it well. It’s just not the right time for me. Right now I need to be writing my ass off to build up my backlist before I do something else to anger Amazon.

 

PS) Thanks for all the support! And thank you Amazon for listening and being flexible!

About Derek Murphy

Derek Murphy is a book designer with a Ph.D. in Literature. He's been featured on CNN and spoken at dozens of writing conferences around the world. These days he mostly writes young adult fantasy and science fiction, while helping authors build profitable publishing platforms. Find me
  • Ann Benjamin

    This happened to me in 2016 and I begged at all levels — only to have the ban remain. I was released from the ban in February of this year, but I can honestly tell you it really
    (really!) messed with my motivation. I was on a very positive track and I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to recover. Furthermore, I think the ban is a complete overreaction. I can understand having the book that was the problem being banned for a year, but not your entire catalogue (especially for what was — as with me — a very honest mistake). I sincerely hope the banned if overturned for you. Wishing you all the best!

    • I know how you feel, it is demotivating to have your efforts refused by the platform you’re sending traffic to. I’ll be posting lots of videos about how to go wide soon – and if you build your own platform/followers it gets easier to go wide and actually make money from it.

  • If Amazon is like YouTube support, you won’t get a response through email. Instead, you’ll need to track down a phone number and try to talk to a live person or you’ll either get an automated response, or no response.

    I know Createspace has a support line. If you can’t reach them through KU, perhaps their Createspace support can give you a contact number that isn’t posted online?

    I hope you get the ban removed or at least get confirmation that you are back in the program. Good Luck!

    • I did try calling them, and it’s possible they’re still percolating or haven’t gotten my emails yet.

      • Keep following up with them. I’ve had friends lose their YouTube advertising accounts and only a handful were successful in getting it back. Same thing though in that YouTube would fire off an email saying they were taking away advertising due to a “violation” and then wouldn’t respond when an issue is resolved or when YouTube had sent it by mistake.

        It is frustrating, upsetting and as was already said in the comments demotivating. Hopefully they have sent out an Amazon web crawl and have seen it is no longer on Google Play. You’d think that should be enough to get you back into their system.

  • That sucks! I hope this all works out for you!

  • Kim Cox

    Good luck. A similar thing happened with me on KDP but it was with the pre-order feature. I was 2 minutes late of my deadline for uploading the final book. I had a problem with the upload either from my computer or their system that caused the tardiness. I should’ve released earlier, started earlier. It was my fault. They wouldn’t let me put my book for pre-order for a year. I thought about begging for forgiveness but never did and the years is up or almost now. At the time, I thought it was pretty stiff punishment.

    • Yeah I’ve done that several times now. 🙂 Preorders are useful.

  • Lawrence Ambrose

    Well, Amazon has a history of issuing bizarrely draconian penalties and then rescinding them. I hope this happens with you, Derek. I think the odds are in your favor.

    • thanks – I thought I might as well put up a little fight. If it gets in front of a human it might work… if not I’ll build relationships with Kobo and Nook instead…

  • I initially read this article because I was quite curious about what had happened that caused you to fall out of favor with Kindle Unlimited. I was delightfully surprised to discover your comments about Michael Beckwith and your thoughts on manifesting your goals. I’m currently running a manifestation mastermind and what you’ve shared is great insight and food for thought. I think I’m going to have my group come to read it. Good stuff!

  • ruthannnordin

    I’ve never been in KU, but I was building a platform back in 2009 and then getting wide as Smashwords got more distribution channels. I know it is a different ballgame for new authors today, and I can see the value in KU. I understand why people benefit from being in it. I hope you’re able to stay in since it has been such a big boost for you. In the meantime, I’ll keep on passing along your videos and blog posts to authors I come across. Thank you for all you do to help authors!

  • Martine Lewis

    I love the way you finish this article. “Only Good Lies Before Me” is something authors who are struggling in any shape or form should always remember.
    And thank you again for sharing your writing journey with us. It is very helpful.

  • Argh! Thanks for sharing this Derek, AWE-SUM lessons learned.
    Damn, the big -Zon is really sensitive eh? Especially since this can happen to people who have been pirated and actually did -not- publish on the other platforms…

  • Elizabeth Kirke Author

    I got kicked out in August, but the page reads still trickle in. If anyone has already added your book and not read it, they’ll still be able to. It’s not much, but it helps.

    If nobody has said it yet, you miiiiight be able to try the plagurism angle. Smashwords doesn’t distribute to Google Play and I know several authors who have found their books on Google Play who know they did NOT put them there. It seems to be the #1 place for pirates to put books up and reap the benefits. If you don’t recall putting it there, it’s entirely possible someone else took your book and did it and has been taking your money.

    • Oh, that is interesting! I genuinely didn’t know how my book got there – I did tell them that in the beginning, that someone else had put it up without my knowledge, but they were completely unfazed.

  • Eva van Loon

    S.B. “support my wife and me”. You wouldn’t say “support I”, would you?
    If in doubt, try the same sentence or phrase with just the pronoun referring to yourself. That usually tells you what to do.
    By the way, not that you’re guilty of this one, but “him and I” and “her and I” are NEVER correct. They cannot go together. Ever. Trust me.
    Your friendly neighborhood grammar nerd.

    • I use English functionally, like something to prop up an unbalanced table. Good enough to communicate with. Between learning four languages and communicating with my wife in a mix of Chinese-grammar inspired phrases, my grammar has gone to shit. Also, in my writing, I sometimes prefer aesthetically pleasing misuses of the language over correct but unnaturally prim ones.

  • Kari De St Germain

    That’s great, I’m glad you’re back in! But I’ll admit that I really looked forward to seeing you implement the alternative plan you came up with.
    And….deep down, weren’t you feeling a little juiced up, a bit of an adrenaline rush while coming up with a way to meet the challenge? A little more engaged, once you got past the fear? That’s where the rubber meets the road, lol

    • Yes, and I would’ve made it work, but I’d rather spend the next few months finishing more books than taking everything wide. I’ll probably still go wide in a couple years, after I have 20+ books and a more stable income. I might still test the waters with a few new series – and there’s a good chance I’ll get kicked out again for the same reason, it’s hard to keep track of everything. I tend to make decisions at 4am when I’m barely conscious.

  • Rick Carufel

    So basically they made you think in the end they are doing you a favor making money from you. Disgusting treatment. If you were published by the big 6 they’d never try that shit. They have a double standard for traditionally published and indy published authors.

  • TariAkpodiete

    very lucky. best not screw up again.

  • Patrick McLaughlin

    Hi Derek. Been following this on your videos (which I enjoy). I’m so happy to see they’re giving you another chance. Thank’s for keeping us posted and reminding us important it is to worship the Amazon god the way the Amazon god wants to be worshipped 😀

  • The SAME thing happened to me a month ago!! Except, they sent me a nice email telling me they found one of my books somewhere (I didn’t know) and they told me to read the Select rules, yada yada. I IMMEDIATELY found the book, removed it and then sent them a reply to let them know it had been removed. They never removed any of my books, but they did suspend my pre-order privileges for a year.
    The difference is, you make like ten thousand times more than I do, so that would be a bigger amount (but just as important, as I have a horse to feed and use every penny).
    I’d LOVE to know how much you spend in advertising and what your NET income is after ads and promos.

  • Lawrence Ambrose

    I suspect it wasn’t your notoriety, Derek. This kind of behavior is pro forma for Amazon. It informs someone of a death-penalty decision and then when the person begs or argues strenuously enough Amazon, in its godlike mercy, rescinds the draconian penalty. I’ve seen this happen over and over with various authors and readers, so I was optimistic about your case. I’m very happy the Amazonian gods spared you. 🙂

  • NaturalWays

    When I heard about your problem with Amazon, I felt it should be a cautionary tale about putting all your eggs in one basket.

    It is hard to get someone at Amazon to listen to you. I have some books I am trying to sell on my store. The book has been pulled from the market and I am the only one who has a supply of them. I put my price at $40. Another seller has one listed for $200. The book price that shows up in the “buy box” is the $200 book, not mine.

    I contacted Amazon several times. They said that the “buy box” is awarded to those who fit certain criteria such as how long they have been in business, and how many reviews they have. Wow! I thought that box was for the best deal! The buy box should be the lowest price. Period. Now I have a supply of these books and they are not selling, because most people do not see anything other than the “buy box”. This book should be selling about 40 copies per month.

    I think over time that Amazon will start to lose business. They are not listening to their customers. There is no way to reach them. If I bought a book at $200 and found out later I could have had it for $40, I would be mad.

    Amazon regularly makes me lose money in a variety of ways. If you are a customer, they usually listen, if you are in Create Space, they are phenomenal. But if you have a Kindle book, or have a seller account, they will not talk to you or help you.

    • That’s really interesting, because some authors right now are complaining that they’ve changed the “add to cart” button to favor 3rd party sellers.

      • NaturalWays

        I am a third party seller. I wrote the book with someone and I had to pull it down. I bought a supply of the books and am trying to sell them until we can re-do the book and put it back up. I have been very surprised by how much Amazon takes on third party purchases. They get 15% plus $3 in fees.

  • Congrats that you are back in. But O how robotic and unfeeling their acquiescence is! I don’t think I want to be beholden to such people, money or no. I’ll make it without, thanks.

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