Fantasy author Kayl was subject to internet outrage because his book made it to #1 in all of Amazon using promotion methods flagged against Amazon Guidelines. Kayl’s book Dragonsoul received many fake one-star reviews from other angry authors calling him a “scammer.”
Kayl agreed to a ‘transparency interview’ with Cate Baum at SPR, with never-before-revealed analytics, and his conclusions on the pitfalls with choosing book promotion services.
So Kayl, why don’t we start with why you decided to write? What were your motivations?
I was, and still am, a huge nerd. I grew up reading fiction, particularly fantasy and sci-fi, playing video games, and watching cartoons/anime. I was so inspired by all the fantastic worlds others were creating that I couldn’t stop myself from forming worlds, characters, and stories inside my head. It was around four years ago where I decided I wanted to transfer what was in my head to a medium. Initially, I thought of doing my own manga or comic, but my drawing skills were poor and insufficient for what I wanted. I’m no game designer nor do I work in the media industry, so I decided that writing was the way to go. When it comes down to it, my writing reflects who I am and my perspective on life, regardless of what setting my stories take place. My hope is that others read and find meaning out of what I say.
Aside from writing, I am a huge fitness enthusiast. During university I worked as a personal trainer at the school’s recreation and wellness center, but I recently graduated with a degree in Exercise Physiology and so far it has not led me to a proper job. In fact, I am still searching for one at the moment, and I’ve had to settle for a seasonal job at Target to get me through each month. I am also looking at building a business in personal training, but it is only in the early stages.
Despite the not-so-great start of a career, I am recently and happily married. At least I have that going for me. Catherine and I love being in nature, whether that’s the beach, a trail, or a park. We try to spend as much time in serenity as we can.
Tell us about your book, and how long it took you, efforts etc. Tell us about your sacrifices, how you formatted and designed your book, costs, and emotional costs.
I currently have four books out, all self-published, with a fifth coming this November. Three of them are part of my Tales of Ashkar series, a nine-book epic fantasy series that I’ve spent countless hours creating, from each race and culture to the magic system and lore. I also have Dragonsoul, the first in a YA trilogy. Lastly, I have a nonfiction memoir titled Remembering Avedik: The True Story of a Genocide Survivor that is about my great grandfather surviving the Armenian Genocide.
I started my first book, Broken Blades Don’t Sing, in December of 2013. When I was happy with its completed manuscript, I decided to pursue the traditional publishing route. I queried roughly 100 agents, full of joy and hope that at least one would see promise in it. Rejections across the board. I was devastated. I thought of myself and my story as a failure, where not even a single person saw the value in it that I saw. It took me a while to get over it. I thought it was the only path to becoming a prolific author (arguably it still is), but with no other recourse I decided to self-publish. I found a great artist who did the cover for me. I sat down and learned all the formatting and processes that went through preparing a file to upload. Everything I did was out of pocket, but I did it because there was no other way for me.
I published Broken Blades Don’t Sing in October of 2015. Soon after I started on the sequel, Halcyon’s Dream, but I also started on Dragonsoul around the same time. I ended up publishing Dragonsoul October 2016 and Halcyon’s Dream November 2016. Since then I wrote Remembering Avedik, while also pursuing different avenues to market my books. On top of that, I worked on Silent Requiem.
When did you start looking for marketing services for your book, and why? Had you tried anything previously?
I started just after publishing Dragonsoul. I scoured the internet for all sorts of promotion, even falling prey to Booksbutterfly and such. I tried Facebook ads, Amazon ads, and just about any website that promoted free ebooks. I tried to get into BookBub, which seems to be the standard now, but have yet to be chosen. No matter what I paid for, nothing seemed to work very well. I guess that’s why I decided to try the one that ultimately got me the wrong attention that I wanted.
I’m just a writer lost in the industry.
When you chose the fated service, why did you choose them? How did you find them? Did you go with them because they were recommended by other authors?
I found the service (boostebook.com) in one of the writers’ Facebook groups, where someone posted their own results from using the promotion and how they did pretty well.
What did the promotion promise you? Did it promise reads or sales? Did they say anything about Amazon Guidelines?
They promised to boost the rank of the book. When I went on their website, which has since been removed of course, they claimed to boost the Amazon ranking of my book within Amazon guidelines. There wasn’t really much else in terms of details.
Did you understand Amazon Guidelines when you purchased the package?
I thought I did, but before this incident occurred I had never heard of things like click farms that other authors were claiming I did. To be frank, I’m just a writer lost in the industry. I don’t really know how Amazon worked, and still don’t. I didn’t know writers could or do scam. I didn’t know much about anything.
How much did you spend as a result? What was your budget and why?
I spent around $600 for the service. It was all that I had saved up in terms of disposable income. I was in a bad place mentally when it came to my hopes and dreams. Nothing seemed to be working. I’d make maybe a sale or two every month with barely any KU reads. Again there didn’t seem to be a path forward. I was desperate to do something that worked.
Were you happy with the results? Were they as promised?
The results were far more than I expected. It ended up being #1 in the Kindle store, but I don’t quite understand how it all worked, and authors were claiming I had made millions or something, but after all was said and done I made only around $300 overall (see my screenshots).
When did you find out there was a campaign online about you being a “scammer”?
The night of. I had several authors message me on Facebook, Twitter, etc. It looked like they made assumptions right away.
How did it make you feel to be called a scammer?
Not good at all. I didn’t really know what to do. I tried talking with some, but I ended up just getting more negativity from them. I ended up stepping away from all social media for a while. I completely ignored my Twitter for about a month.
Did you ask the company why this had happened?
By the time all this happened their site was already gone and I just wanted to disassociate with them because I thought I had been scammed.
So there’s been talk you hit #1 on all of Amazon in an hour. You seem to have 74 sales recorded on Amazon. How many books did you sell definitively as a result of the promotion?
74 is correct.
I wish there was a way to have a proper dialogue without resorting to mass reporting, defamation, personal attacks, and mass 1 star reviews.
So the blogs are saying Amazon should have flagged your book up, because it went up #350,000 in rank. So it seems you were #1 overall with only 50 sales. Do you have any idea why this could have happened with only the sales you made?
I truly have no idea. Some people mentioned something about KU borrows but I have no idea how the borrows work.
The critics are saying you must have spent a load of money to get page reads through one of these click farms. How do you respond to that?
I’m a struggling author. I don’t have tons of disposable money lying around. I wish there was a way to have a proper dialogue without resorting to mass reporting, defamation, personal attacks, and mass 1-star reviews.
The amount of books needed to beat down Harry Potter to #2 that day was 18,000 books over 3 days (basically 6000 books a day), that means that you were meant to have got 4770000 KENP Page Reads to get to #1. Given that each page read in July 2017 was worth $0.005779, you would have made if the critics are right and you had 180,000 KU borrows that even counted towards ranking. Did you make $27565.83 from your promotion on KENP reads?!
In reply, Kayl shared his earnings sheet with me:
Kayl also provided the backend KDP dashboard:
On the charts you have provided, it seems you got about 21,000 KENP reads in one week, which seems a normal amount if you sold around 50 books that week and were charting high. But there are some figures quoted on these blogs saying that this click farm charges 1000 KENP reads at $209. So just wondering: did you spend $37620 on click farms to get to #1 on Amazon that day?!!
So there were blog posts that encouraged authors and readers to go on a witch hunt and call you out as a “scammer.” This resulted in fake one-star Amazon reviews, and suspicious activity on your account, didn’t it?
So basically, these people who say they have ‘integrity’ in the indie author community went ahead and fraudulently added product reviews on Amazon! That’s really ironic, right?
I guess the way I look at it is if they do not have faith in Amazon then perhaps they shouldn’t associate with Amazon. I understand reporting me to Amazon if you feel like something is wrong, but it wasn’t right what they did. What they did was break community guidelines. If they feel so strongly, maybe they should take their books off and look for another partner to sell their books.
I stopped after the first blog post. If I had read it during the incident, I might have quit writing outright or done something much worse.
So how did you resolve this issue with Amazon?
Amazon suspended my account and asked me for any evidence regarding the issue. I gave them all I had, and that I was doing everything with integrity. They reinstated my account based on my evidence.
Some blog posts have gone really far into vilifying you (Not work-safe link), treating you like some kind of terrible criminal (some have added affiliate links when laying into you too, which is pretty low.) How have you dealt with that?
About two months after the incident I decided to take a look, and I stopped after the first blog post. If I had read it during the incident, I might have quit writing outright or done something much worse. I’ve decided not to read what others have said and move on.
You have been cyberbullied. Let’s face it, the worst you did was use an unprofessional book promotion service that you did not fully understand. Nobody died! It seems also that this attack has lost you potential earnings, and in many cases is actually defamatory libel. Are you planning on taking legal action against these blogs?
I considered it, but I’m not sure what I want to do. I really just want to put all of this behind me. I’ve got so much more I’m doing. I have bills to pay, and I’m holding onto my dream. I was just at a couple of conventions as an exhibitor, and when it comes down to it I’m not sure if I want to give this whole thing any more attention.
How has the bullying affected you personally, and your home life?
Initially I considered quitting outright. I wasn’t feeling very well. I had lost my appetite for a couple weeks. I thought my dreams, everything that I’ve worked for so far was gone, and I didn’t know what to do anymore. Seeing all those hurtful words, especially the reviews which had nothing to do with the book, made me so sad. They didn’t even read it and they were saying how horrible it was and how I was a scammer.
I’d never do that to a fellow writer.
You said you thought about giving up writing because of what happened. Tell us what sort of existential crisis you went through with that.
I thought I’d never be able to continue. I thought that every time I showed someone my work the only thing they would think of me is a scammer and not who I am. Some people told me to unpublish everything, wait a while, and republish with completely new everything if I wanted to continue. One thing is for sure, I’m staying away from the online community. These aren’t the kinds of people I want to associate with, and for that matter, going on KU or anywhere where lots of authors congregate has never helped me anyway. I thought these places were about sharing and helping each other. I don’t think so anymore.
Why do you think these authors attacked you rather than pointing out to you that you may have chosen a service that was not as transparent as it seemed?
When it comes down to it I think we’re all in the same boat. We’re all struggling, desperate artists who don’t know how to proceed. The lucky few get chosen by the big five while the rest of us have to manage in our own ways. It’s what led me to do this kind of thing in the first place. Everything I did was with integrity. I would never try to cheat my way to the top or scam my way to earn millions or whatever else was said about me.
What have you learned from your horrible experience in indie publishing?
Quite a few things. I know we’re all gunning to be the next Rowling or King or Martin, but in the end, it’s about artistic expression. It’s about saying what you feel inside. It’s about sharing with other creative minds. Indie publishing is hard to navigate, and I’m still learning. But one thing will always stay the same: I will always write what I love, and I will never stop. I have fans who love my stuff, I have people who hate it. I’m going to keep trying and learning.
If you could get in a room face to face with the ringleaders of this circle of hate, what would you like to say to them?
I don’t know if I would say anything. If anything I would say how much I pity them, because to have this kind of time to run campaigns against other artists must take quite the time and effort. I don’t know who has that kind of time, because I don’t. I don’t have much free time. Between my wife, my job, and my writing, I couldn’t imagine spending that kind of time and effort on the web.
I do feel sorry for them, because I couldn’t imagine that kind of life to be very fulfilling or joyful.
If you want find out the truth about why Kayl’s book made it to #1 on Amazon without sales, and how these scams work, read Cate’s research at Mythbusting The Amazon Algorithm Part IV.