This article, written by Barbara Meyers, is from the May 2023 edition of Nink, the monthly newsletter of Novelists, Inc. (NINC). Nink, which is packed each month with informative articles for career novelists, is a benefit of NINC membership.
“We may also suspend your Program account at any time with or without notice to you, for any reason in our discretion.”
—from Amazon Terms and Conditions
Fenella Ashworth panicked after she discovered her Amazon account had been closed, and she got only 90 minutes of sleep over the next three days. “You might think it could only happen via a staged process after lengthy discussions, but that isn’t true. It felt like one tap of the button from their side, and my account was gone,” she said.
Ashworth believes what might have triggered the closing of her account was wording in one of her titles being too similar to other books on the site.
Although Ashworth did get her account reinstated, the nightmarish experience continues. She posted about it on Facebook’s 20BooksTo50K page and has written blogs about it beginning here.
As a result of the suspension, all 50 print versions of her books disappeared, forcing her to re-upload them.
When Ruby Dixon lost her Amazon account for two days, “Amazon said they were not able to tell me why it was closed, just that it was an internal error on their side and I had not done anything to cause it.”
Just as in Ashworth’s case, all her print versions had to be re-uploaded. Dixon didn’t know if this was standard practice but said it seems to happen a lot.
Dixon has both an Amazon rep and an agent, and she reached out to the assigned Amazon rep to help resolve the issue.
Adam Wilkins of dotcomreps, a consulting agency for Amazon sellers, explained: “Authors can be restricted simply because they have plagiarized works, and some don’t know it because they farmed out the content writing to a third party or a ghostwriter. They might be using a pen name already in use. They might be using a book title too close to another pre-existing book. Part of their copy could be lifted. They don’t know not to do these things. The (Amazon) system leans on trigger words that algorithms can find and sideline the book or author or brand or product or ASIN.”
- Reply to the termination email and continue to reply to each email from Amazon. Each email response keeps the ticket open and is considered an appeal.
- Shut down your ad account as soon as you are aware of the suspension.
- Have a financial backup in place. When Amazon closes an author’s account, they don’t just remove an author’s ability to sell their books on Amazon either temporarily or for the remainder of their life. They also withhold all unpaid royalties.
- If you lose the ability to contact Amazon via email, or if they stop responding to your emails, but an appeal option appears on your dashboard, use it.
- Think about whether being exclusive to Amazon is your best option. (Ashworth is gradually going wide with many of her books.) Although her ebooks are still exclusive to KU, Dixon said, “Being terminated made me realize not to have my eggs all in one basket, and I continue to take steps to ensure I have alternative avenues.”
- Loyal readers may be able to help. Ashworth said many of hers went above and beyond, even phoning Amazon directly and supporting her when she subsequently created a Patreon account. Dixon was told that Amazon monitors Twitter and that noise made there can help speed things along.
- Have copies of your book blurbs easily accessible. When your account is deleted, you lose sight of everything (both via KDP and the standard Amazon site). Make sure you can upload the blurbs and your books to alternative sites in an efficient way.
- Keep screenshots of your reviews. All reviews are deleted along with your book titles, and they may not reappear even if your account is reinstated. Your reviews are copyrighted, but they are still your reviews so take regular copies of them for your future purposes/general well-being.
- Stay calm. Have a plan of action and know what alternative ways exist to get your books out there if your account is terminated.
“…we may permanently disable or delete your account…”
—from Facebook/Meta Terms of Service
Hackers took over PJ Fiala’s account at around 3 a.m. Central Time on May 11, 2022, even though she had two-factor authentication on her account. Fiala called her ads manager (who’d insisted being an “editor” and not an “admin” on Fiala’s account, for this very reason).
Her manager told Fiala to call her banks and stop any charges going through on her credit cards. She also contacted FB through Messenger and told them of the hacking. She could see the email address associated with Fiala’s account changing throughout the day, but she couldn’t do anything to remove the hackers from the account.
“Despite knowing my account had been hacked and knowing my author page was being managed by hackers, FB refused to stop the posting. They told me it was against their policies,” Fiala said.
Fiala then took a picture of her trademark certificate (for PJ Fiala) and sent it to Facebook Support by responding to the email they sent her.
“I told them my PJ Fiala name was trademarked and if they didn’t stop the hackers from posting on my page, they were complicit in trademark infringement.” They immediately stopped the posting but refused to take down the banner or pictures the hackers had posted.
“I started sending my newsletter out weekly while I was off Facebook and I continue to do that today,” Fiala says. “I’m not working hard to build anyone else’s platform only for it to be jerked away. I’m focusing on my newsletter, selling direct from my site, and writing books.”
In June of 2022, BR Kingsolver’s account was hacked while she was overseas. Via email, Facebook informed her that her email address had been changed.
When she told them she had not made such a change, Facebook locked her out of her account. They did not, however, lock the hacker(s) out. Over the next three days, the imposters ran up more than $3,000 in ads for three different products, none of which were books.
What followed was a months-long back and forth of emails and telephone calls between Kingsolver and Facebook’s customer service. Kingsolver was never able to communicate directly with the fraud unit.
Eventually, and with no notice, Facebook refunded the money to Kingsolver’s PayPal account. Once she paid for ads which ran before the account was hacked, her account was restored. “I just ran the first campaign on Facebook since last spring, and it went well,” she said.
After Collette Cameron’s account was hacked, Facebook blocked her ads account and she received a notice that her profile had been suspended and would be disabled. She was completely blocked from the Facebook help desk for two days.
“I was finally able to appeal the suspension decision and my appeal was denied. I tried multiple methods to try to send the documentation of the hacking, but the standard appeal form wouldn’t permit it. Once Facebook processed the appeal and said my account would be disabled, I couldn’t even access the help desk. My author account that I had built for over a decade was gone. Facebook knew I had been hacked, yet they still disabled my account. I tried opening a new account twice and Facebook shut me down both times before I even finished the process.”
- Create an account on Facebook with your real/legal name not a pen name. This is the base for everything on Facebook. You can then create as many pages as you want. To prove you are a real human you will have to (a) upload a copy of your driver’s license; (b) have an affidavit notarized by a third party; (c) upload the notarized affidavit with a picture of yourself (possibly for comparison to your driver’s license picture). If you use a pen name for your profile, you have no ID to prove who you are.
- If you are hacked, immediately cancel whatever payment method is associated with your ad account.
- If you can provide proof of trademark infringement, do so.
- Even if your account is reinstated, Facebook may not be able to completely clean up the damage done to it by hackers. Opening a new account doesn’t guarantee transfer of all information and followers from your old account.
- Persistence is key. Regularly call and email and escalate the contact to a supervisor each time; keep sequential records of all activity.
- Have at least one admin and one editor on your account. If you are locked out, they are likely to still have (limited) access.
- If you are unable to open a new account, you may be able to use an old one.
Barbara Meyers writes a mix of contemporary romance and women’s fiction as well as the comedic fantasy series, Grinding Reality.