quantum gateways

Open Letter to Jeff Bezos re Review Erasures

Another data point for the self-pubbed dealing with Amazon’s paranoid reviews policy. I uploaded the latest Nov. 25th, and by Dec. 1st had eight 5-star reviews from the 20 or so people I had emailed ARCs to. Amazon deleted the last three reviews, all posted on the same day, claiming they had found “associations” between the accounts. I suspect it is a dumb algorithm that assumes too many 5-star reviews too quickly must mean they are paid, and that Amazon is lying about it.

Here’s their boilerplate language:

We removed the Customer Reviews for your book because our data shows elements of your Amazon account match elements of the reviewers’ Amazon accounts. In these cases, we remove the reviews to maintain trust in our customer reviews and avoid any perception of bias.

Customer Reviews are meant to give customers unbiased product feedback from fellow shoppers. Because our goal is to provide Customer Reviews that help customers make informed purchase decisions, any reviews that could be viewed as advertising, promotional, or biased will not be posted.

Here’s my response:

I have read your guidelines thoroughly and note “family and *close* friends” is the standard you cite to disallow reviews. I share your desire that reviews be unbiased and fair across products. I question your commitment to achieving this goal when you will not remove obviously fake one-star reviews which have been posted by competitors or people who dislike the book’s author for political reasons.

First let me comment that I bring Amazon significant yearly revenue on my books, audiobooks, etc. My family also directly spends about $10K per year with you. You have set up an algorithm which uses poor guilt-by-association correlation data to intentionally wipe out the hard work of Amazon customers who take the time to review my works, which damages my perception of Amazon, and as we the authors make our stories known, will damage your other customers’ views of your company.

Self-pubbed authors must make more efforts to keep in touch with their fans to have any chance of succeeding in a marketplace dominated by legacy publishers who are allowed to promote their products by direct payments to Amazon. Your efforts to give small press and self-pubbed authors a way to advertise are complete failures. Amazon has allowed legacy publishers to overprice their ebooks, pay you for what appear to be endorsements, and game the reviews system with large numbers of paid reviews for their products.

Frankly I think you are lying. You have implemented a review-cancelling algorithm which in my case appears to have been triggered by “too many” 5-star reviews in a short time, since you cancelled the last three out of eight, and those three are fans of my writing, not family or *close* friends as you specify in your guidelines. I think it is just accidental that all eight of my first reviews were 5-star, though it’s possible it’s just that good a book.

You have damaged our relationship. I request a re-review and restoration of those three erased reviews.

The erased reviews, (all 5-star), and not a hyped or misleading one in the group:

1) Stephen Marino reviewed Shrivers: The Substrate Wars 3
I very much like the story – December 3, 2015

First let me start with the disclaimers.

1, I helped workshop part of this story at Taos Toolbox.
2. I was a beta reader of the completed work.
3. I very much like the story.

Because I am giving this story all five stars, let me state why you should not read it.
Do you like to think for yourself or do you want every little detail of what is happening spelled out for you? If you only like to read fluff, this is not your book. I am not saying, it is a hard read, just that it is many layered. Pay attention to the sub subtexts.

Do you only like to read books from authors who have no understanding of technology and the effects it can have on society? If so, there are lots of writers who don’t know what they are talking about.

Have you read the previous books in the series? If not, You will probably enjoy the book more, if you start with Red Queen and move on to Nemo’s World. The story stands alone nicely, but a bit of background can be a good thing. (You can’t unread book three before going back to read 1 and 2.)

What are the books about? Spoiler free, this universe is a big honking computer simulation and in about 20 years, a few university students begin learning to program it. The world is beginning to go in a very dystopian direction and war breaks out between the students and the world’s governments.

I know this has been said by everyone who has read this series, If you enjoyed Robert a. Heinlein, You will greatly enjoy this author.

2) Bookgirl reviewed Shrivers: The Substrate Wars 3
Engrossing addition to the Substrate Wars saga – November 30, 2015

Shrivers are coming.

Complex plotting, political intrigue, and a galaxy­spanning saga. Shrivers builds relentlessly to a climax filled with surprises. Kinnison weaves multiple plot lines, characters, and different planetary settings together adroitly, crafting a tale that will captivate and delight hard science fiction fans.

3) M. Cunningham reviewed Shrivers: The Substrate Wars 3
Captivating read – November 30, 2015

I was provided an advanced reader’s copy for review and found it to be a captivating and entertaining read. Mr. Kinnison has channeled his inner Heinlein to create a fitting wrap­up to the Substrate Wars trilogy. I was especially impressed by the creative use of Kat’s training in the virtual reality world of the substrate to create stories of how other aliens lived and reached the substrate. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who appreciates the golden age of science fiction.

1) Properly discloses the relationship with the author. But it is a competitive relationship, and he is not my friend, much less my close friend.

2) No idea who “book girl” is, probably one of the 8-10 book bloggers I sent an ARC to for review. Arm’s-length.

3) Fan who has reviewed previous books and so was willing to read the ARC. Gave the previous books 4-stars, so not a pushover.

So stop lying about supposed “elements matching” — no such elements exist, though in the case of #3 I sent him a paper copy so that might appear in your search. The others have NO CONNECTION WHATEVER in account records.

Stop lying. Restore the reviews. Or authors and readers will turn on you. Why should customers make an effort to review books when you may arbitrarily erase their work?

A comment on Facebook:

I’m guessing they don’t want to admit that one of their computer guys has run a correlation study and suggested a simple “too-many-five-stars-too-quickly” screen. That might cut fake reviews down, but also cuts legitimate ones. And it’s embarrassing to admit they can’t come up with something more sophisticated. People are worried about them tracing Facebook and email list connections, but I’m pretty sure they have no access to that data… and apparently authors signed up with Amazon press labels are immune (hi, Robert Bidinotto!)

copied from createspace groups:

10. Aug 5, 2015 11:32 PM in response to: lipmag
Re: Amazon reviews – petition

The issue I have with Amazon’s review policy is that it does not accurately apply across the board. Yes I understand the need to ensure authors are not padding reviews otherwise the reviews will hold no value to the potential customers however, with my latest release Amazon Amazon randomly decided to remove 2 reviews generated through ARC releases. The only response given when queried as to why was that the reviews violated policy because they believed the reviewers knew the author. They knew of the author, obviously, but these were not friends and family. Additionally, upon review of the posted Reviewer Policies the only sections that could apply (though they do not) are

• Sentiments by or on behalf of a person or company with a financial interest in the product or a directly competing product (including reviews by publishers, manufacturers, or third-party merchants selling the product)
• Reviews written for any form of compensation other than a free copy of the product. This includes reviews that are a part of a paid publicity package

The reviewers were not compensated nor do they have a financial interest. This brings me to my original point. They do not apply the guidelines across the board. I have never heard complaint from a large publisher that an ARC review was subsequently removed. In fact, many large publisher purchase reviews as part of their marketing plan (a direct violation of the above guidelines) and those reviews are rarely, if ever, pulled.

The entire process seems to a) not follow the published restrictions and b) be enforced in a discriminatory fashion. In my experience questioning Amazons decision or pointing out that the guidelines were not broken has no effect. In the end the do as they please.

— R. C. Butler – Bulldog Press

Other stories on the topic:

Amazon Review Policy Under Fire: Indie Authors Call For Change In ‘Big Brother’ Policing

Amazon’s Review Policy is Creepy and Bad for Authors

Amazon… A virtual marketplace, or Big Brother?

Petition on Change.org – Change the “You Know This Author” Policy

IndieReader Best of 2015: “Nemo’s World: The Substrate Wars 2”

Nemo's World: The Substrate Wars 2

Nemo’s World: The Substrate Wars 2

Of the indie books they reviewed (thousands?), IndieReader selected Nemo’s World as one of the 56 best of the year 2015:

A group of idealistic scientists use gateway technology to save the United States in NEMO’S WORLD By Jeb Kinnison
The second installment in Jeb Kinnison’s The Substrate Wars series takes place in the near future where the US has become a one-party oligarchy opposed by a group of rebel scientists and humanity is poised to destroy itself in the name of “security.”

Here’s their review:

5 STARS
IR Verdict: Good science fiction is usually about humanity rather than deep space or death rays. NEMO’S WORLD is well-written science fiction that harkens back to the golden age of Heinlein and Asimov.

If you haven’t read the first in the series, it’s free until Friday: Red Queen: The Substrate Wars 1.

“Shrivers” First Reviews

Shrivers: The Substrate Wars 3

Shrivers: The Substrate Wars 3

So far the reviews are mostly from people who read the less-polished advance reader copy I sent out. Here they are as of today — all five-star, which is a little offputting. The sample is skewed because these are readers who really liked the first two, so I expect new readers will be less kind!

Engrossing addition to the Substrate Wars saga
By Bookgirl on November 30, 2015

Shrivers are coming.

Complex plotting, political intrigue, and a galaxy-spanning saga–Shrivers builds relentlessly to a climax filled with surprises. Kinnison weaves multiple plot lines, characters, and different planetary settings together adroitly, crafting a tale that will captivate and delight hard science fiction fans.

Captivating read
By M. Cunningham on November 30, 2015

I was provided an advanced reader’s copy for review and found it to be a captivating and entertaining read. Mr. Kinnison has channeled his inner Heinlein to create a fitting wrap-up to the Substrate Wars trilogy. I was especially impressed by the creative use of Kat’s training in the virtual reality world of the substrate to create stories of how other aliens lived and reached the substrate. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who appreciates the golden age of science fiction.

Be careful what you wish for
By Rich on November 29, 2015

The third book catches up with what we’ve been wondering from the start– where is everybody else? The riddle of the Fermi Paradox is resolved, but the answer makes them wish they’d never asked the question. The limits of the seemingly unlimited new technology are revealed, with multiple major plots lines racing to meet where not only is humanity’s future at stake, but the soul of the universe. Kinnison handles the tasks with a tight focus and new characters, a thoroughly enjoyable conclusion to the series. (Note this review is for an advanced reader’s copy provided by the author.)

Just Survive Somehow
By Stan on November 28, 2015

(The review title is an Easter egg for TWD fans.)

The Substrate Wars continue with the third book in the series, and now the stakes are raised even higher: the potential destruction of all earth-based life! While looking for other civilizations, our heroes find nothing but devastation, utter and complete destruction. Planets nuked so thoroughly that the survival of anything but low-level deepsea-dwelling organisms is rendered impossible. Formerly advanced civilizations: gone, utterly wasted, from millions of years earlier to only a few hundred. This is a mystery to them until they unwittingly make themselves known to the Shrivers, a force reminiscent of Saberhagen’s Berserkers. Even though earthmen are now distributed in colonies dispersed about the galaxy, nevertheless they are all at risk, not only from the Shrivers, but from an unexpected early personal enemy. To find out if and how they survive this latest menace, read Shrivers! The action which some felt lagged a bit in the second book is back with a vengeance in the third book and now we have to await a fourth (and more?) book to find out what happens next.

An Excellent Ending to an Great Series!
By Joseph F. on November 27, 2015

When Jeb offered me the chance to take a look at the third book in his trilogy before it was released, I was thrilled to take him up on it.

I loved the first book, had a few minor quibbles with the second one but was absolutely astounded by the third book. I know, I reread it two times trying to knock holes in it knowing that if I found anything, Jeb would immediately address the issues, making it that much better.

Even after going back and rereading the whole series, I was not able to find anything at all that did not ring right. I looked hard and didn’t find a darn thing that I could jump on.

By far, this is the best book of the series–not that the other books aren’t excellent and I am one of those many readers who can really hardly wait to see what Jeb has in store for us in the future.

Hard science, and good action
By Donald W. on November 27, 2015

This review is based on a pre-release beta, some things may change in the final edition, I’ll let you know after Tuesday Dec 1, when the book is delivered 🙂 As Volume 3, most of you interested have read the first two, but if you are new to Jeb’s writing, I think you can jump in with this one cold. With the 10 year ‘hiatus’, since the first two, the plot will flow, but you will miss all the incredible speculative hard science of the first 2 books.

With that said, there is a lot of incredible speculative hard science in this one, not predicated on the originals, but supplement and extending it. Oh, and the plot just sings along, an interwoven tapestry of people, places and events that come together for the exciting conclusion (until Vol 4, which you should, along with me demand Jeb write soonest).
Without spoilers, the Shrivers kill civilizations, but the ancient civilizations do indeed exist. A fascinating speculation into the Fermi Paradox, it is entertaining as well an interesting take to an old problem we have been kicking around for a hundred years.

The galactic saga continues….annihilation or redemption
By Michael Z on November 27, 2015

I have read the previous two books in this series and really enjoyed reading them. This is the third, and it is a real page turner as well. These are my favorite type of scifi stories, non-stop action, twisting plot, space travel, technology and grand social implications. Every time one crisis is resolved another bigger one takes its place.

Jeb has grown the story to be galactic in scope. Finally, aliens have started to get involved. And they are taking sides. The stakes have gotten really big, total annihilation or redemption.

FREE until Friday: “Red Queen.” Holiday sale on Substrate Wars

Shrivers Kindle Cover

Shrivers Kindle Cover

The Kindle versions of Substrate Wars books are on sale until Friday — FREE for Red Queen, $0.99 for Nemo’s World, and $2.99 for the just-released Shrivers. Similar bargains are available in some non-US Amazon sites.

Too bad I can’t offer a similar discount on the trade paperbacks, but the bundle of three makes a good gift for your STEM graduate friends or relatives who like thrillers with heroic scientists — c. 1000 pages of fun reading.

30% off today: “Shrivers” Trade Paperback

Shrivers: The Substrate Wars 3

Shrivers: The Substrate Wars 3

I’m avoiding holiday shopping craziness by mostly buying from Amazon. Note the Black Friday special there — 30% off any printed book: “To use this promotion, you must enter HOLIDAY30 at checkout under the ‘Gift cards & promotional codes’ section to receive 30% off any ONE (1) book, with a maximum discount of $10.”

Gift idea: my latest, Shrivers: The Substrate Wars 3, just came out.

First review: “…a real page turner… These are my favorite type of scifi stories, non stop action, twisting plot, space travel, technology and grand social implications. Every time one crisis is resolved another bigger one takes its place.”

The discount only applies to the trade paperback link. The Kindle version is here.

Tangent Online on: “Nemo’s World: The Substrate Wars 2”

Nemo's World: The Substrate Wars 2

Nemo’s World: The Substrate Wars 2

New review in Tangent Online.

Running through all of the machinations and maneuverings, personal stories of love and loss, sacrifice and heroism—and of course treachery—is the ages-old story of a band of rebels fighting for freedom against almost insurmountable odds. Kinnison handles all of this with aplomb and a sure hand, making for an engaging, page-turning read.

Nemo’s World is the second book in the Substrate Wars series, which starts with Red Queen: The Substrate Wars 1.

“Shrivers: The Substrate Wars 3”: First Look

PrintCover6x9v1_975x698

Based on feedback from workshopping it at Taos, I’ve rewritten the opening of Shrivers: The Substrate Wars 3. The book won’t be done for months, but if you want a preview, here it is in PDF format: Shrivers First Look. Now if I could only find an agent or publisher!

Sunday Pimping

Red Queen: The Substrate Wars 1

Red Queen: The Substrate Wars 1

Ah, “pimp Sunday.” Another fine tradition that starts today!

I got back from Taos Toolbox three weeks ago. It was interesting meeting people mostly going the tradpub route, working hard to get short fiction into publications. It was suggested I need to write some short stories to get my name known, so I wrote one, which has so far survived the winnowing process at a new ‘zine, Mothership Zeta, which looks like it’s going to be a fun read.

Also interesting to learn that even what I would consider to be proven great writers — Walter Jon Williams and Nancy Kress, who ran the Toolbox — have trouble getting and keeping good agents and publishers. Walter is now doing well self-publishing his backlist, but even he has difficulty getting major projects off the ground. Meanwhile, Nancy (a self-described pantser, meaning she doesn’t plot out a book in advance) has written one good novel she can’t get published, and despite winning a Nebula for her latest novella and being one of the better-liked writers around, has a spotty record in getting publisher support.

The takeaway lesson is that changes in the publishing business are pushing writers into self-publishing, where at least they have a chance at making a living if they work hard and develop a deep backlist. The total revenues in conventional SF&F publishing are stagnant or falling, and new markets like media tie-ins, flash fiction, and new venues like phones for reading are where many of the readers have gone. There’s a great hunger for SF&F works in developing countries, and anyone looking ahead has to consider getting their work out in Simplified Chinese and publishing with some of the phone media platforms out there. Which all ties in to the Hugo controversy, where a tiny US-centric group has defended their award as “the best of SF&F” but retreat to “what Worldcon-going fans (less than two thousand voting each year before 2014) think is best” when questioned closely.

But wait, I’m supposed to pimp my work here. My current series, The Substrate Wars, is about a group of libertarian-ish students who discover that the universe runs on a computational substrate, and by hacking the substrate with quantum computers, they can create not only quantum gateways to anywhere, but weapons of unimaginable power and replicators that can end material shortages for everyone. They are pursued by Homeland security and the intelligence agents of many nations before they escape to a New Earth, then work from there to free Earth’s people from their security and surveillance states. Working out how you would actually do that while doing minimal damage was a lot of fun.

My Taos readers found the going a bit rough on the start of the third book, tentatively called “Shrivers.” So I’m reworking the beginning to provide a stronger narrative line. OTOH, several spontaneously commented they thought the series would make great movies (based on the synopses I had prepared.) So I’m working on that now, heading to the Calliope Workshop, a new weekend seminar at UCLA meant to introduce new writers to agents and publishers interested getting liberty-oriented stories into pop culture outlets like movies.

The “logline” started out as a single-sentence description encapsulating the setting, protagonist, story problem, antagonist, and goal, which would be hand-written on the spine of a script or in the reading log as an executive summary. The idea is to demonstrate the basic appeal of the story so that a decisionmaker can quickly reject it if it doesn’t work for their purposes, or ask for more if it does. Time is short and no one in the industry has time to do more than reject 99% of what’s presented to them as quickly as possible. So remember the lesson of Powerpoint’s dominance: you only have a few seconds to get someone interested enough to stop for your work.

Loglines for the Substrate Wars books:

RED QUEEN

In a near-future US surveillance state, California college students invent quantum gateways and have to fight Homeland Security to gain their freedom on a new planet.

http://amzn.to/1Idwmx1

NEMO’S WORLD

From their base on a new planet, freedom-fighting techno-rebels use their discovery of quantum gateways to steal all the world’s nuclear weapons and bring down Earth’s oppressive governments.

http://amzn.to/1IibqTw

SHRIVERS

As humanity expands to new colony planets and enjoys a Golden Age of peace and prosperity, the new government has to fight a fleet of robotic destroyer ships to save humanity from extinction.

[In progress: release date around November 2015]

One of my earlier books on applying attachment theory to relationships and mate-seeking is still free today: http://amzn.to/1IibPVO

Review: “Nemo’s World: The Substrate Wars 2”

Nemo's World: The Substrate Wars 2

Nemo’s World: The Substrate Wars 2

I missed this review of Nemo’s World when it came out on Goodreads, which I don’t pay a lot of attention to:

Kjirstin’s review Apr 08, 15
5 of 5 stars

After having escaped the immediate dangers of the last novel, the intrepid explorers and students turn their minds to how to use their new discovery — instantaneous travel to anywhere in the universe — to benefit the rest of mankind. But in order to make this possible, they need to defang the governments and ruling classes of the nations of Earth. So most of this story is about how they manage to maneuver politicians into realizing that their time is over. It was actually quite enjoyable having the recalcitrant US government being one of the last holdouts, absolutely SURE that they could somehow avoid the consequences and do things that would bring back the status quo ante.

I loved the idea of setting up colony planets and the gates to allow people to head there. (I have a soft spot for colonization and pioneering in my sci-fi in general.) It was such a hopeful vision — a way to move past the stagnant and ossified way of doing things and into something new with all sorts of potential. (As well as some musing over how to avoid the mistakes of the past, which we see as the first group of explorers have to set up a government for themselves.)

Great fun and a good addition to the series. I’m definitely looking forward to reading the next one when it comes out!

If you haven’t read the first in the series, Red Queen: The Substrate Wars 1, it’s best to start there.

New Reviews: “Red Queen: The Substrate Wars 1”

Red Queen: The Substrate Wars

Red Queen: The Substrate Wars

the first review is from Canada, the second from the US Amazon site.

5.0 out of 5 stars
Science Fiction in Heinlein’s Tradition, March 19 2015
By Eric A Weder – See all my reviews
Verified Purchase
Good to see a modern writer taking on the SJW types. Reading the author’s end notes confirms that he has the same sci-fi upbringing that I had. Really couldn’t ask for much more. I’ll be buying more from Kinnison.

4.0 out of 5 stars
A good work of science fiction and I enjoyed the read
By Kimball O’Hara April 28, 2015
Verified Purchase

Unfortunately, the political system described in Red Queen rings far too true and far too close for comfort…but apart from the dystopian future that is really a part of the dystopian present in a few years, the novel is a good work of science fiction and I enjoyed the read. I’m looking forward to reading the sequel.

Red Queen: The Substrate Wars 1.