Never do this: How self-published erotica authors harm their sales

A while ago, I wrote about a new project I’ve launched, an uncensored erotica search tool for Amazon. Briefly, a couple years back Amazon started removing listings for some self-published erotica from the search results on their Web site, especially for non-traditional erotica that deals with subjects like BDSM. I discovered they do not, however, censor search results made using their API, so I built a tool that uses the Amazon API to do searches.

The site I built also keeps a database of Amazon erotica, all neatly arranged by category, so that visitors can either search Amazon directly or browse erotica by category.

That’s when I discovered a problem.

A lot of books listed in the database, probably about 15% of them, go to 404 pages on Amazon when you try to follow the link.

“Huh,” I thought, “that’s weird.” The books are still there, but the links don’t work.

I looked further and discovered the ASIN—the Amazon Standard Identification Number that Amazon assigns to all Kindle books—had changed in the links that were broken. An Amazon link goes to a specific ASIN, so if a book’s ASIN changes, the old link breaks and the book lives at a new link on Amazon.

Needless to say, this is bad. If you are an author and your book’s ASIN changes, every link that anyone has ever posted to your book on Amazon breaks.

This happened to Thorntree Press books when we moved to a new distributor. Our new distributor removed all the old listings for our books from Amazon and re-listed them, causing them to live at new ASINs and breaking the old links.

I looked closer at one of the broken links and discovered something interesting. The book was still on Amazon, but with a new listing date. The new listing date was after the date the book had been added to Red Lit Search:

If you have self-published a book on Amazon and you wish to make changes to the book, you can upload a new file in your KDP Dashboard and you will not change your ASIN.

It is very important to make changes to your self-published book this way.

It seems that a lot of self-published authors will make changes to their books by deleting the old listing and re-creating a new listing with the changed file. Do not do this. You will break every existing link to your book, which will hurt your sales.

Instead, you can use the KDP Dashboard to edit your book and upload a new content file without breaking existing links. To do this:

1. Log on to your KDP Select Dashboard.

2. Find your book. There is a button labeled “…” to the right of your book’s listing. Click it and choose Edit Details from the popup menu. It looks like this:

3. In the book’s Details page, scroll down to the Upload Your Book File section. Click the Browse button and upload the new contents for your book.

Your ASIN is how the world locates your book. On Amazon’s site, your book’s listing is attached to the ASIN. If your ASIN changes, this will break any links to your book; and if your book is self-published erotica, there is a chance that it will not turn up in searches on Amazon’s Web site, now or in the future. That means that links to your book are the only way people will find it.

If you self-publish on Amazon, it is very important to do everything in your power to keep your book’s ASIN from changing. I can not stress this enough! Do not make changes to your book by de-listing and re-listing it. This will make your book harder to find.

An Amazon Product Advertising API SimpleStore PHP script that works!

I’ve been working on a project lately that I’m excited about, but not quiiiiite ready to talk about just yet.

Unfortunately, this project has involved working with the Amazon API. I say “unfortunately” because the Amazon API is truly the Mos Eisley of the computer world: you will never find a more wretched hive of bugs and poor documentation.

Nearly all of the sample code in the Amazon developer index dealing with the Product Advertising API does not work, and has not worked since 2009, when Amazon made a change requiring cryptographic signing of all API requests. I am a PHP programmer, and the PHP sample code for dealing with the API does not work and has not worked for a very long time.

For example, the sample SimpleStore PHP script called “Amazon Associates Web Service Simple Store in PHP” in their code library was written in 2006 (ten years ago!), broke in 2009, but is still on their developer site.

You can imagine how rage-inducing this is. In science, we are all standing on the shoulders of giants. In computer science, we are all standing on each other’s feet.

So I’ve spent the last few days eyebrow-deep in Amazon’s technical documentation, trying to make decade-old sample code work so that I could do something–anything–with the API.

I’ve finally made the SampleStore PHP script work with the modern Amazon API, and fixed some bugs and closed some security holes along the way. I’ve decided to make the fixed script freely available to anyone who wants it. I’ve commented it extensively in the code.

If you’re working with the Amazon API in PHP and you’re tearing your hair out because nothing works and there is no sample code to show how to build cryptographically signed API requests, fear not! This code works. The interface is simple and ugly, but the PHP will get you up and running.

Please feel free to use, remix, copy, redistribute, or do whatever else you want. I sincerely hope that this code will help someone somewhere not have to tear their hair out the way I did.

Google bombing for Fun and Social Justice

So apparently, has recently shot themselves in the foot.

Specifically, they’ve taken to removing sales rank from books that are deemed to have a gay or lesbian theme. This means, among other things, that books with a gay or lesbian theme won’t come up in certain kinds of searches and don’t appear in lists or pages of popular books regardless of their popularity.

Amazon’s given a number of explanations for this behavior, each of which has been contradictory. Their explanations have been all over the map; at first they claimed that “adult” books aren’t ranked or listed by popularity (which is, as any user of Amazon knows, manifestly untrue); more recently, theyre calling it an unintentional “software glitch”. They’ve sent emails to some of the authors of the books that have had their rankings removed, which have likewise been all over the map.

Since the street finds its own uses for things, one of the ways that annoyed Net users have retaliated is with a good old-fashioned Google bomb. A Google bomb raises the Google keyword result for a specific keyword (in this case, “Amazon rank”) by placing links using those keywords all over the place.

So, in the spirit of using Google as a blunt instrument for social change (as former Google engineer Christophe Bisciglia said of MapReduce, “When you have a really big hammer, everything becomes a nail”), I present to you:

Amazon Rank

Function: verb
Inflected Form(s): amazon ranked
1. To censor and exclude on the basis of adult content in literature (except for Playboy, Penthouse, dogfighting and graphic novels depicting incest orgies).
2. To make changes based on inconsistent applications of standards, logic and common sense.