From the personal update section of the 04-Oct-2022 episode of The Indy Author Podcast:
I’m back from two weeks in Maine, during which I had planned to focus mainly on finishing a draft of Ann Kinnear 6 that I could share with beta readers. However, I got derailed right away when I discovered, almost by accident, that Amazon had taken down the first book in the Lizzy Ballard Thriller Trilogy, ROCK PAPER SCISSORS. This was especially alarming because having Book 1 of the trilogy unavailable was obviously going to impact the sales of Books 2 and 3.
I ended up spending a good part of a couple of days trying to get that resolved. I contacted KDP Support via chat and at first, they told me that the issue was that I had submitted the book as a pre-order, but that it contained already published content. Acknowledging that, if the KDP UI allowed it, it was possible that I had accidentally and erroneously hit a “pre-order” button and asked how I could resolve it. They told me that the only way to resolve it was to delist the current book and create a new book, including a new ISBN.
I pointed out that that would mean I would lose 151 reviews with a 4.4-star average, and they assured me that once the new book was up, they would transfer the reviews to it. Even assuming they did that, I further pointed out all the other problems that would cause, such as breaking every online link to the original version. I also pointed out that if the issue was copied content, I couldn’t see how spinning up an identical version would solve the problem. I asked to have the issue escalated, which they did, but I could only be able to talk to the escalation team via phone or email. I didn’t want to use the phone, because I wanted a record of my conversation (warning: even using chat with KDP support was not a guarantee of an electronic record—at least one I had access to—because they can’t send a transcript of the conversation until it’s complete, and then they have to remember to do it, so always copy the transcript before you end the chat). I was afraid of waiting through turnaround time for email, but that seemed to be my only option.
Fortunately, turnaround on the escalated emails was very prompt—within 24 hours. Unfortunately, this was their response:
We've reviewed your book(s) and are upholding our previous decision. The book(s) impairs customers' ability to make good buying decisions because of the following:
• Similarity of the title to a previously published book
I finally realized what the issue was and replied with this:
I'm suspecting that you're referring to the fact that Alice Feeney's , published in 2021--four years after I published the Lizzy Ballard Thriller Rock Paper Scissors--shares the same title. On the basis of that logic, you should be taking down Ms. Feeney's book, not mine, but I assume you know that book titles are not copyrightable, and I certainly bear Ms. Feeney no ill will for "taking" the title I had already used.
Within another 24 hours, I got an email that they had re-reviewed the case and had reinstated the book, which indeed showed up again within another 24 hours, all reviews and other metadata intact.
This was not how I had wanted to spend the first few days of my vacation BUT I was relieved that it was resolved as quickly as it was. I sometimes feel like a lone apologist for Amazon in the indy world—and I acknowledge that there are many, many ways that Amazon makes the life of an indy author difficult, not to mention indy bookstores—but it’s also important to remember that most indy authors wouldn’t be where we are without access to the world’s biggest bookstore, not to mention Amazon-blazed technologies like e-readers and print on demand books.
I also recognize that when a retailer is managing a bookstore as huge as Amazon’s, it’s going to have to rely on automated sweeps and not human curation to monitor the content they make it so easy to make available for sale. Since I’m sure there are many unethical people who will try to take advantage of a popular title by putting up content with the same title, it makes sense that Amazon would have automated tools on the look-out for such content, and if I accidentally flagged my 2017 title as a new release, then I’m not surprised that it got caught in that sweep.
I was impressed that the KDP escalation team responded so quickly to not one but two follow-ups, and were willing to reconsider their position when they and I were in sync on what the actual issue was.
So my learnings from this are ...
... don’t give up on trying to get an issue resolved after one or two unsuccessful attempts. (I recognize that for every satisfactory resolution to and issue, where is at least one unsatisfactory result, but don’t assume that there is no recourse.
... remember that when you’re dealing with KDP support, you’re not dealing with technology, you’re dealing with a person, AND that you’re not going to improve your chances of a successful resolution by being unpleasant. You want to be pleasantly, or at least professionally, persistent. Even when I was dealing with the first-line support via chat, and even though they were giving me erroneous information (for which I can easily imagine their systems could be blamed), I was impressed with how long the rep was willing to stay on chat with me as I thought through all the various issues and considerations.
... keep a record of all your contacts with KDP support, and even if the chat rep says they will send you a transcript after the chat is ended, copy out the chat before you close it. (I never received the transcript that the chat rep promised to send.)
Finally, while I may be an apologist for Amazon in some situation, I’m still working continuously to reduce my reliance on Amazon, because if my appeal of the take-down of ROCK PAPER SCISSORS had gone differently, I would have been in a world of hurt.
Matty Dalrymple is the author of the Ann Kinnear Suspense Novels and is the principal at William Kingsfield Publishers.