If A Publisher Offers You a Contract for Your Self-Published Book, Will You Be Forced (By Amazon) To Refund Past Customers Who Bought It?

The answer just might be yes because this is exactly what is happening to Jamie McGuire.  Jamie originally self-published her book Beautiful Disaster and the sales were so good that a publisher wanted the book.  So now the book is with a publisher.  Cool, right?  You’d think so except for this thorn that cropped up.  Amazon is sending out mass emails to people who bought Beautiful Disaster when it was self-published.  Amazon is offering a full refund for the $3.99 price it was when it was self-published PLUS the difference in price that the publisher is charging ($7.99).  And Jamie McGuire is the one paying the bill.  So Jamie is now paying every customer who wants a refund about $8.  Amazon’s not paying it.  She’s made it clear the publisher isn’t behind this.

Here’s Jamie McGuire’s blog post where she tells us what is going on.

My thoughts on this:

So what are we looking out here?

Is it now a liability to accept a contract with a publisher who wants your self-published book?  Your book took off and became such a big hit that you got the attention of a publisher.  So you unpublish the self-published edition and sign a contract with the publisher who then gets your rights and republishes the book.  Everything should be roses from there, but I guess it might not be.  Because Amazon might send out mass emails to your previous customers and offer to refund the book + the difference in what the publisher is asking.

At what point do we say, “This is ridiculous?”  It’s ridiculous as soon as it happens.  Is this a sign of things to come?  Will there be some other reason we’ll end up owing past customers money on books they bought months or years ago?  Where does this end?  At what other job would the person be required to pay back customers for services or goods they received far back to who knows when?  Can you imagine if your boss came to you and started taking money out of your current paycheck because your boss decided to refund some customers?  Like I said, the whole thing is ridiculous.  And yet, it’s happening.  So not only is it ridiculous but it’s also a nightmare.

What can we do to help?

1. I think we should spread Jamie McGuire’s story as much as possible.  I ask that you Tweet, Facebook, Google + (or do whatever you can to inform other authors about this).  Here’s the direct link to her post: http://www.jamiemcguire.com/amazon-beautiful-disaster-emails/.

2. If you bought Beautiful Disaster when it was self-published, please don’t ask for a refund.  She’s the one who pays the bill, not Amazon.  It’s not fair that they’re doing this.  I implore you to do what you can to lighten her burden.

*If I have misunderstood this situation at all, please correct me.  I tried to get my facts straight before posting this.

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91 thoughts on “If A Publisher Offers You a Contract for Your Self-Published Book, Will You Be Forced (By Amazon) To Refund Past Customers Who Bought It?

  1. Whoa this is crazy! Seems like Amazon is punishing authors for unpublishing with them, which is crazy because this will only scare authors away! Plus it sounds highly questionable from a legal standpoint.

    Just insane. As far as I knew publishing with Amazon (other than KDP select) it’s non exclusive, you retain the rights to your work and can publish with a third party publisher if you like.

    This is very nasty indeed and should be sent to newspapers and online zines!

    Thanks for sharing.

    Rohan.

    • That’s what I thought. I don’t get why going with a publisher would be an issue. I could understand there being a problem if she was with a publisher first and decided to self-publish the same book, but that’s not what happened here.

      It doesn’t sound right legally to me either. Ideally a simple call from an attorney would be all she needs to resolve this in her favor. Though it would be nice if this was never happening at all.

      I really hope things work out in her favor. I’m going to keep an eye on her blog and see what develops. *fingers crossed*

  2. Pingback: Amazon has hit a new low in punishing successful authors | Marcie Brock, Book Marketing Maven

  3. I posted this on my FB page, in the Author Blog Challenge FB group, and pitched it to Chris Matthews and Rachel Maddow at MSNBC. Hoping one of them will think it’s a story worth pursuing! Thanks for bringing it to my attention, Ruth Ann!

  4. Would it be possible for an author in this situation to present the publisher with a ‘revised’ or a renamed version, thus distancing the withdrawn or deleted copy from Amazon?

    • I don’t know, but it’d certainly be worth looking into. Those are some interesting ideas. I’m guessing this wouldn’t be an issue if the publisher only did the paperback edition of the book, but even so, it strikes me as being out of line. It’s not like she’s still trying to sell the self-published version of the book.

    • I don’t think that it’s really necessary to change the book, since different publishers often reprint the same books. Even if you traditionally publish, you can sell the rights to your book later when you get them back–or whoever holds the rights can sell them–and you don’t have to go destroy all of the previously-published books to print a new one at a different press.

      • That’s true. I know a Harlequin author who is getting her rights back and republishing the books as they are. She’s not changing the content or title.

  5. Wow, never knew that could happen. :/

  6. Amazon should be ashamed. Really, really ashamed.

    • Part of me keeps hoping that the situation isn’t as it seems. Had this not come from the author herself, I wouldn’t even believe it. I feel so awful for her. I hope this works out in her favor.

  7. Pingback: A Dire Warning for Self-Publishers Hoping for a Contract

  8. Unless there’s some really firm language in the KDP terms of service, I don’t see how this works. If I buy a book published by one company, and then another company gets the rights and publishes another edition of the book, I doubt Amazon would force the first publisher to ante up refunds…

    • I completely agree. If a publisher had the book first and handed the rights to another publisher, I don’t even think this would be an issue right now. I hope an attorney (if one has to get involved) will settle matters quickly and with as little grief as possible so that things work out in her favor.

  9. I still see the kindle edition up at Amazon, as well as a paperback edition. It mentions on her website that the inside of the book was changed for the new publisher. I’m wondering if that’s why Amazon is beefing about it. More and more confusing.

    • I’ll have to take a look at her book on Amazon. It sounded like she unpublished the Kindle version in her dashboard. I could see why the inside of the book might be different since it came under the publisher, and the publisher would probably want to make a few changes. I wouldn’t think the changes would be so much so that the book would be different from the original.

      I just looked it up on Amazon, and I don’t see anything where I can purchase her self-published Kindle edition on their site. If I hadn’t known it was self-published, I would have assumed it came directly from the publisher in the beginning. She has a major publisher behind her on this book, too. I can’t understand why there’s even an issue. If she had a self-published edition still up, I could understand it. I did see other books with the same title, but those are from different authors so I don’t see why that would be a potential issue.

      I did see this thread on the book’s product page where customers are talking about the emails they got. From it, I gather that Amazon is making it sound as if the original version they bought is no longer available and if the customers want the new version, they will get a refund to compensate them for their troubles.

      I think Amazon has sent out a very poorly worded email. Here’s what the customer posted:
      ……

      Hello from Amazon.com,

      We want to let you know that the edition of Beautiful Disaster that you purchased is no longer available. You can order a new version that is now available here:

      Beautiful Disaster

      You can also request a refund on your original purchase by responding to this email. After the refund is issued, you will no longer be able to access this item.

      Thank you,

      The Kindle Team
      ……

      So they’re letting people know a new version is out, but by the way the email sounds, it seems as if people won’t have the old version of the book anymore (which isn’t the case when you scroll further down the comments and see they don’t have to get the new version).

      Here’s the thread if interested. It took a couple of times reading through it to get an idea of what is going on from the customers’ point of view, but it was very enlightening: http://www.amazon.com/Email-Amazon-What-you-make/forum/Fx3PYUSMGF5G4VE/TxMJMX7G6WWQRA/1/ref=cm_cd_pg_pg1?_encoding=UTF8&asin=B008JMKN4Y

      I’m going to make an updated post. I think I know what’s going on.

  10. If you’re doing so well self-pubbing, why would you give it all away to a publisher? Are we still stigmitizing self-publishing by desperately clutching at every little bone publishers throw our way?

    • Traditional publishing still offers the advantage of wider distribution which could potentially earn you a larger fanbase. Depending on the author’s personality type, a publisher might be the best avenue to go. I think it depends on what the author’s goals are. Some authors don’t want to take on the responsibility of handling the full business and creative side of writing. I believe self-publishing is best suited for authors with an entrepreneurial personality. I can’t ever see myself going with a publisher. I’ve considered it a few times because then my critics couldn’t say my work is “self-published drivel”. But in the end, I realized that I love the business side of self-publishing as much as I love the creative side of it. I think self-publishing offers the best of both worlds. I get content control, and I get to decide what my covers look like, when books are published, in what order books are published, the pricing, any special sales if I want to run them, etc. Some authors don’t like making those decisions and would rather have the publisher do it.

  11. This is highly suspect. I really hope that this is an error on Amazon’s part, because if not, this story is going to make its way around the internet, and there’s going to be some serious trouble on their end.

    • I think (and it’s just my opinion) that Amazon worded the email poorly. They made it sound as if the self-published version had been deleted off of people’s Kindles when this wasn’t the case. They have sent out another email to the people who got the first one apologizing for the confusion. However, I don’t think it’s fair if Amazon is charging the author for refunds. It’s still the same book.

  12. Reblogged this on Michelle Proulx – The Blog and commented:
    Amazon is apparently making authors pay refunds to customers who bought their books because they’ve gone from self-published to traditionally published. Worrisome. Very worrisome.

  13. This has shocked me so much that i really don’t know what to say! It feels like i’ve been traumatized and have now got writer’s block with regard to this story!
    I hope that Jamie McGuire and any other published author seek out the advice of an attorney with the relevant experience in copyright, etc.
    Fingers crossed that a satisfactory and just outcome is reached.

    • I hope an attorney can settle things for her, too, if it has to come to that. My guess is it probably will. The whole thing makes me sick. I see how much she’s sold and wonder how much of that is going straight back to Amazon instead of her. :(

  14. Beautiful Disaster is available on Amazon.co.uk for £4.99 though this is the version that is now published by Simon & Schuster UK.

    • I hadn’t even thought of what they’d do internationally to her. I wonder if the conversion rate would equal out to about $7 in the US. Considering how much she’s selling, I’d hate to think of how much Amazon is taking from her right now with the refunds people are requesting.

  15. Reblogged this on retiredruth – Life in the 50's and beyond and commented:
    This hardly seems fair…am I missing something?

    • I think the email Amazon originally sent out was poorly worded. They have sent out a second email apologizing for the confusion. I haven’t seen an update from Jamie McGuire, so I don’t know if this means she doesn’t have to pay for the refunds or not now that Amazon has addressed the issue.

  16. Wow! That seems very wrong on many levels. Sorry for your roller coater ride to success. :(

    • I hope Jamie McGuire really won’t have to keep refunding the books. Amazon sent out a second email and said they made a mistake. I’m hoping this means she won’t have to pay for the refunds on the old books.

  17. Papizilla

    Reblogged this on The Ranting Papizilla.

  18. Reblogged this on On Writing and commented:
    I am doing my part in reblogging this to spread the word around. I hope the author gets this all worked out and it is just the result of some sort of miscommunication somewhere along the line. Otherwise, this is very, very bad news.

    • I hope it gets worked out, too. Even if this is about a song she quoted in her book (this was discussed in the comments section under the next post I wrote), I would think the issue would have been resolved before the publisher got the new version out. It doesn’t make sense that a publisher would knowingly take a book if it risked some backlash from the original version.

  19. Never heard anything like it! Did Amanda Hocking have to refund all her original customers. I don’t think so. So why is this particular author being penalized?

    • Some people are telling me that her original version had a full song by the Rolling Stones in it and that might be why Amazon is doing this. It’s a possibility. My thought was that they did it because she handed over her ebook rights to the publisher. Did Amanda hand over her ebook rights or just the paperback ones? I don’t remember. But even so, there does seem to be something unusual about this case. I doubt there haven’t been any other author who didn’t give their ebook rights to a publish before now.

  20. scbooksnsuch

    It doesn’t feel like we have all the information here. I’m not a huge fan of the KDP Select program, but it would be strange business for Amazon to appear so openly punitive in this type of situation. Leaving themselves so open legally? A couple of thoughts …

    1) Returns and individual publishing contracts can be complex and sometimes changes made can have unintended consequences.

    2) It’s being reported that copies of the self-pubbed version of Beautiful Disaster have been pulled because (some versions of?) the book include lyrics to the Rolling Stones “Satisfaction” — a huge copyright violation.

    Have there been other instances of this? Plenty of self-pub books have transitioned to traditional publishing lately so I would want to hear if there are other instances.

    Definitely worth keeping an eye on this one.

    • I did wonder if there was a stipulation somewhere in the publishing contract. There could have been something slipped in there.

      I just heard about the Rolling Stones song today, and it could very well be that the books sold with the full song in it are the versions being targeted. I wonder if there were self-published versions without the full song in there are the ones that Amazon is telling the customers they can keep. Are some books being deleted from the Kindle and others not? I couldn’t tell based off a thread I read earlier today. It almost sounded like one person lost her book but the others didn’t.

      I honestly don’t know if there are other self-published authors who’ve handed over their book to a traditional publisher who are going through anything like this. I’ll have to keep my eyes and ears open to see what else goes on. I’ll say that’s one of the benefits of going to the Kindleboards. Those authors are great at passing along information.

  21. Re-blogged on Carte Blanche by Amelia Curzon

  22. My first thought is shouldn’t all the books Amanda Hocking sold at at $.99 before she signed a deal with St. Martins should be part of this umbrella? Why haven’t they gone after her?

    • I thought that, too. It’d stand to reason that if it happened to one author, why wouldn’t it happen to all authors who signed contracts with publishers who would republish their self-published books? Something’s off.

  23. dianalayne

    It’s being announced on twitter land that amazon has sent out a second email saying the first one was a mistake. Much ado about nothing or are they backtracking fast?

    • Really? If that’s the case, then I’m hoping this means Jamie can breathe a sigh of relief. I can only imagine the amount of stress and heartache this has caused her. I suspect it would be backtracking.

      • The first email was a mistake? Then I want to know if Amazon is going to refund all that money they were deducting from Jamie’s account. Was that a “mistake” too? I think they are backtracking because of all the bad publicity.

        • I’d like to know if they’re deducting Jamie’s account. The slate should be wiped clean and the new version should be the start of a new “day” (so to speak). The old version should be left alone to never deal with again. I don’t even know why this was an issue to begin with.

  24. Reblogged this on hollyawolfe and commented:
    Okay, I don’t usually reblog posts, but this needs to be brought to everyone’s attention.

  25. Surely there must be something in the Amazon SP contract saying that you own copyright and can send it be traditionally published if you want?! Think it’s time we all went through Amazon’s Ts&Cs – tax dodging, selling t-shirts that promote domestic violence and now trying to rip off writers… they are going further down in my estimations every day.

    • Good point. If we didn’t maintain copyright, then we couldn’t publish our books on other sites. We’d have to do what Amazon wanted us to do with the books, and last time I checked, KDP Select was voluntary. I worry about the kind of things Amazon might do. I mean, I’ve seen them do a lot of good, but some things have raised some red flags. Caution never hurts.

  26. Reblogged this on Charlotte Howard and commented:
    Be warned all who SP through Amazon! Think I’ll be going over the Ts&Cs for Murder at Meadowview and Untamed…

  27. Good for you for putting the word out!

    • Thanks. If Amazon sent out a mass email encouraging my past customers to get a refund, I’d hope that someone would help me by letting people know what’s happening.

  28. Pingback: The Top Ten Reasons to Self-Publish Your Book | Self Publishing

  29. Wasn’t is just cos in the self pubbed version she has a song text from Rolling Stones, which is wrong. In the new version it’s gone. Nothing against elf pubbed authors

    • That one is something I’m not 100% about. I think this is about a poorly worded email from Amazon that created a lot of customers to get upset because it sounded like they lost their old versions on the Kindle. If this was about the song, I would think Barnes and Noble and every other place that had sold the original version would be doing the same thing. And I think her publisher would make sure there weren’t any loose ends when they republished the book. The copyright thing just doesn’t seem to quite fit what is going on.

      (This is what I think. I could be wrong.)

  30. Pingback: P U B L I S H I N G » Blog Archive » Customers Who Bought It?

  31. This is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard of! There is no difference between the two versions, so it makes no sense to offer refunds. For what? A new cover??

    If I ever self-publish, I’ll be sure to watch my back!

    • Early on, I heard it was about the fonts in the new version. Then it evolved to the Rolling Stones’ song. Then Amazon sent out a second email apologizing for the poorly worded first email they sent out. So I’m not sure what it all boils down to. I think it’s a simple matter of Amazon notifying customers a new version of the book came out. In the way their first email was worded, it sounded like they deleted the self-publisehd version from people’s Kindles and those people would have to get the new version. Then the author was on the hook for paying for the refund plus the difference in new price. Since Amazon has issued the second email clearing up the first one, I assume the problem was in the way the email was worded. Even so, I’d hate to think the author has to pay for refunds at all.

  32. People are speculating that the reason for this mass email from Amazon are spelled out in this article… http://dearauthor.com/news/monday-news-amazon-v-indies-round-500-u-of-mississippi-cures-baby-of-hiv-trusted-friend-best-source-of-book-recommendations/

    I honestly don’t know, but I thought I’d share.

  33. I was one of the people who received an email yesterday asking me to contact Amazon for a refund, but I did nothing because it seemed so bizarre I honestly thought it might be spam. However, today in my mailbox I got this:
    Hello,

    You may have received an e-mail from us yesterday stating that the edition of “A Beautiful Disaster” you purchased is no longer available. This e-mail was incorrect, and there is no action required to continue enjoying the book.

    If you are having any problems with the book, please feel free to contact us by replying to this message, and we will be happy to help you.

    We apologize for any misunderstanding our e-mail caused.

    Sincerely,

    The Kindle Team

    Therefore, I wonder if they are backpedaling and not going through with that. It seems wrong on every level, and certainly the author should not have to foot that bill. I have not heard of this happening anywhere else, and I have bought other self-pub books that have subsequently been picked up by major publishers where I have not received any communications of this sort from Amazon.

    If this is true, my heart goes out to the author beyond words, and think that this is a policy that needs to be addressed with Amazon through the public response of its customer base in support of these authors. One can never know if they will be so fortunate to have their book picked up by a major publisher, and in the meantime, Amazon is making money, so what could they possibly complain about? Further, if the book sells for more because it’s not with a major publisher, they stand to continue making money and even more of it. So what is the problem??

    • Thank you so much for commenting! I had wondered if this had happened to other authors who found a publisher. It’s good to know it hasn’t. I wonder what makes this situation different. I don’t think it should be. I wish I had the answers, but it’s nice to get a better understanding of what’s going on (and thanks to you, I think I do).

  34. Ridiculous! Thanks for the heads up!

  35. Reblogged this on Kaye Munroe Writes, Too and commented:
    If anyone has more information on this alleged situation, please let us know!

    • Amazon sent out a second email saying they made a mistake and the old version is still available for those who bought it. I think it boils down to a poorly worded email from Amazon. I don’t think any harm was intended.

  36. Reblogged this on Seumas Gallacher and commented:
    weird ??? self pubs and indies..wanna reblog this ?

    • If this was happening to you, wouldn’t you like people supporting you by spreading the word? I know I would.

  37. Tweeted. This is very worrying. An author has achieved success and is now being punished? Bad news indeed. The danger of self-publishing is you don’t have an agent to fight your corner. Legally, this sounds very iffy.

    • You’re right. There are dangers self-published authors face, and this has been a good wake up call to remember how vulnerable they (myself included) are.

  38. This makes me want to buy the book on Nook just to stick it to Amazon. Then the author still gets the money, and Amazon doesn’t.

    • I think it’s turned into a matter of a poorly worded email. Amazon sent out a second email to clear things up, so that’s good. I haven’t heard anything from the author to know if she still has to pay for refunds. I hope not.

  39. I received this email. It said that you can reply directly to the email if you wanted the refund, so I did. The very next day I was sent an email stating the original email was sent in error and that my copy (from which it was self published) was still good and active.
    Although this article is good for if by chance amazon really did pull the book, but for this particular instance, for this book, it’s not something that Actually happened to fruition.
    I do agree that if this is something that were put into practice it would be a complete mess and Amazon would soon see a loss in consumers buying ebooks from them, for sure

    • Thanks for letting me know what happened with the email and trying to get the refund. My concern was what if a self-published author who signed with a publisher would be responsible for refunds after the book is republished. It wasn’t to go after Amazon.

      My first thought was that the publisher stipulated that she has to issue refunds on her dime in the contract. But since she made it clear the publisher isn’t part of this, then I’m not going to look at the publisher in this case. However, in another case, it is possible that a publisher could put something in their contract that requires the author to reimburse past customers a refund for the old version of the book. Either way, the author has to be careful in what they do.

      I take this post as a wake up call in hopes that self-publisehd authors are aware that we do have a certain level of vulnerability.

    • I forgot to address your mention of the refund not coming to fruition. This is a very good point. Thank you for letting us know. The way I see it, then, is that Amazon truly meant no harm to the author.

  40. Could I have permission to re-post this on my writing blog at http://www.tumblemoose.com ? I’ll of course give the proper attributes.

    Thanks!

    George

  41. If, and I say If this was true with Amazon, I would think her new Publisher would do any fighting for her, just to keep her happy. This is so wrong. Amazon seriously needs to clean-up their image.

    • I really think this is a result of a poorly worded email from Amazon. I think their intent was to let people know a new version was out, but they didn’t make it clear that the old version was still on their Kindles. Hopefully, though, the author won’t be punished for this.

  42. Reblogged this on Of a Writerly Sort.

  43. Pingback: If A Publisher Offers You a Contract for Your Self-Published Book, Will You Be Forced (By Amazon) To Refund Past Customers Who Bought It? | Self-Published Authors Helping Other Authors | Books, Writing, and Movie Stuff

  44. Maybe the refund only applied if you purchased the new edition and turned in your old edition? In this case it would make sense that the refund would come from the Author as an offset to the sale of the new edition. I think this would be fair especially if the original edition had some copyright issues.

    • In this case, the author said she had to offer the refund and the difference in the price between the self-published version and the publisher’s version. I can see that offering a refund to replace a book with copyright issues if that is what the concern is. I would hope that such an issue would be resolved well before it got picked up by a publisher, though. (I hope the issue would be resolved by the author. I’d think someone who read the book would be kind enough to warn her of what’s happening so she can correct it right away.) I don’t think it’s Amazon’s job to sort through all the books for copyright issues. It should be the author’s. This is a good lesson to brush up on the copyright laws. That’s what I’ve been doing because of this.

  45. To everyone,

    I want to thank everyone who commented. I understand some people don’t think I should have said anything. I wasn’t trying to poke at Amazon as the bad guy. It just happened to be that Amazon sent the email. If Barnes and Noble or some other place had done it, I would have been equally concerned.

    I think this post can address some important issues.

    1. If you sign a contract, know what it says.

    Are you responsible for reimbursing past customers who bought your self-published version who want the new version? (Granted, in this case, Jamie McGuire made it clear her publisher didn’t have anything to do with this.) However, what if a publisher did offer you a contract that required you to pay for refunds of the self-published version of your book? It’s possible. So let’s read our contracts or go to a copyright lawyer, to be on the safe side.

    2. Brush up on copyright laws.

    Some things are tricky. When in doubt, check it out.

    3. Self-published authors are vulnerable.

    We represent ourselves. We have no real buffer. I like to think that supporting each other is important. I remember when some of my books were stolen and put on Amazon. Some great authors helped me through that time, and I appreciate it. It’s hard to travel the road alone.

    *************

    I spent the past two days replying to blog comments. It’s been about three hours for me yesterday and today. I can’t keep up with this pace. LOL I have to close comments. I do appreciate everyone who took the time to comment. I’ve learned a lot. :D

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