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Smash It Up

13 February 2016

From author Alexander McNabb:

For the first time in my book writing career, I have been censored. And it’s not by who you’d think it would be.

Birdkill is now available on all platforms, both ebook and paperback. That’s Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, iBooks and all major ebook retailers. From 1 March 2016 the paperback will be in stock at WH Smith in the United Arab Emirates and available on order from any bookshop in the world by quoting ISBN 978-1523986736.

I use a ‘multi-publishing platform’ called Smashwords to manage the distribution of the ePub book, which avoids having to deal directly with B&N, Apple, Kobo and all the others. Smashwords has always been core to my distribution, offering as it does an alternative to Amazon which, although I am broadly in favour, does tend towards the Evil Empire a tad too much to make one want to wholeheartedly endorse it as a sole platform.

Imagine, then, my horror when Smashwords came back and informed me last nightBirdkill had failed its review process. What was the book’s cardinal sin? That it makes mention of the Kindle and other publishing platforms. This makes Smashwords’ partners ‘uncomfortable’, apparently. So in order to pass Smashwords’ review process, I had to remove the text at the end that tells readers where they can buy my books.

The wicked words in question:

Please do not link or refer to any other digital download source other than Smashwords. Our retail partners don’t want to see links to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or mention of the Kindle or Nook.

But hang on a second. That’s the content of my book. It’s my right to publish what the hell I want, isn’t it? Surely that’s what all this free speech gobbledegook is about? Who cares what their partners are comfortable with or do or don’t ‘want to see’ or ‘mention’? It’s a fact the book’s available on Kindle and Nook. So you’re masking the truth here. It’s commercial censorship.

You’re insisting I don’t mention your rivals in my content. What if I want to have one of my characters enjoying reading a novel on their Kindle? Or having fun shopping on Amazon.com?

Amazon, for all its Dark Empire status, has never for any reason whatsoever asked me to amend the content of one of my books.

The UAE’s National Media Council (An ‘Islamic’ Middle Eastern Arab government ‘censoring’ my books before they can be printed here in the UAE) has never –despite the books containing plenty of content you’d think they’d find uncomfortable to say the least – asked me to amend the content of one of my books.

Link to the rest at Fake Plastic Souks

Here’s a link to Alexander McNabb’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.


49 Comments to “Smash It Up”

  1. Ah, you get to add the banner:

    So great it is banned by Smashwords! Read now to find out why!

    And people wonder why some writers go all in with Amazon …

  2. Actually, Amazon doesn’t want you linking to competitors either. Just because he hasn’t gotten a hand smacked for doing it there yet, doesn’t mean he won’t.

    • “What was the book’s cardinal sin? That it makes mention of the Kindle and other publishing platforms”

      Mentioning and linking are two different things. And it shows just how worried Smashwords is getting. And losing the ability to say there’s a kindle reader format might lose him more sales than not bothering to offer it to Smashwords in the first place.

      The game gets more interesting the more distractions you throw in the way.

      • He doesn’t present the offending text, just the response. So we don’t know how the mention was phrased or whether or not it included a link.

        I need more information before I get outraged.

        • More amusement than outrage here, though it will be interesting to see what the writer does or doesn’t do about it …

      • It’s not Smashwords, it’s Apple that objects — they won’t take books with links to Amazon in the back matter. Smashwords just passes that message along.

        • Yep, it’s just Apple who cares–Smashwords will still sell the books fine on their platform, and I distribute direct to B&N and Kobo and they don’t get upset that I link to both of them and Amazon at the end of my books.

  3. Links to other retailers are what blows the patooties of all of the retailers. Amazon links only on e-books sold at Amazon, B&N links only on e-books sold at B&N, etc. It means having multiple versions of your e-book for each retailer with the retailers own links, which isn’t that f***ing hard.

    Somebody obviously didn’t bother to read the T&C of any of the retailers. Since Smashwords (and D2D, XinXii and other distributors) have to read and comply with the T&C, they will kick back your books.

    It’s not censorship. It’s called a contract.

    And you get around it by saying something like “My books are available at most e-book retailers” with a link to your website, which in turn, has links to all the retailers.

    *smh* Normally, I’m pretty laid back about noob behavior, but NcNabb’s business sense is seriously lacking.

    • Agreed. Unless Smashwords objected to a character in the story using a Kindle, this is a non-issue.

      I notice McNabb specifically mentions he didn’t do that, which is a very old trick. People misremember negative statements. Say, “My esteemed opponent is not a swindler,” and people will think “swindler” whenever they think of your esteemed opponent.

      • Actually, Gordon, I’m already running into problems with the tech references in my books, i.e. one I wrote in 2010 still had a character using a flip phone by a company that’s no longer in the phone biz.

        I’ve learned my lesson, and have been making reference as generic as possible. 🙂

        • Who banned your book for the brand name phone mention? 😉

          • Me, myself, and I! Only ’cause I was embarrassed. LOL

            But yeah, in another book, a character was using a Kindle (no links attached to the sentence in question), and naught a word was said by any retailer for the last five years.

        • @ Suzan

          You know, you can re-edit ebooks anytime and reload them. So it would be easy to um, update that obsolete, anachronistic cell phone reference.

          Or anything else you desire, for that matter. 🙂

    • Yep, it’s a contract. And if he’d bothered to drop Mark Coker a note, FIRST, it would be a whole different blog! Sorry, faux outrage alert.

    • And you get around it by saying something like “My books are available at most e-book retailers” with a link to your website, which in turn, has links to all the retailers.

      Yes. This guy is lame. Just lame. I’m wondering if it wouldn’t be fair game if Corker dropped McNabb’s books just for dragging Smashwords in the mud like that. “You want to be banned? OK, you’re banned.”

    • That’s why you want to link to your book’s page on your author/publisher website. There you can list all your links to as many retailers as you want.

    • The last time I tried linking to my website in my ebook, Smashwords rejected it and said I wasn’t allowed to do that! So I unlinked it and just put my web address in as plain text. Noob?

      • Did you contact Mark Coker? According to their own rules, you should be allowed to link to your own private author website, i.e. http://www.suzkorb.com. They won’t let you link to, say, your Amazon author page.

        • It was my website link they declined, not a link to my Amazon author page, or anything else. I’ll try it again and if it fails I’ll message them.

          • Suz, if they reject it again, e-mail Mark directly. He’s been very cool about helping writers if there’s a glitch.

            Out of curiosity, did you submit your own EPUB file or a WORD file for the Meatgrinder? I ask because the Meatgrinder has been known to do some weird stuff to people’s WORD files.

            If it’s an epub, have you tried using an EPUB validator? I’m always screwing up raw HTML. 😆

            For other folks, here’s the link:


  4. The objection is not to the words. You can have your character reading whatever. The objection is to the URLs added at the end of the manuscript because they take the buyer to a different distributor. This is a standard policy that some distributors don’t pursue and others, like Apple, are adamant about. Another one Apple won’t accept is mention of a discount in your description, such as “this half price sale ends March 1”

    • It doesn’t necessarily involve a link. I had my wrist slapped by Apple, via D2D for (inadvertently) mentioning Amazon Kindle in one of my books. No URL and I forget the wording, but it was the simple mention of the dreaded words Amazon and Kindle in the matter at the end of the book that they didn’t like. I’d meant to tailor it to the platform as a matter of course, but forgot. It didn’t bother me much – in fact it amused me a bit – but it definitely wasn’t a link!

  5. Every time I read about “banned” or “censorship” lately I think of Inigo Montoya. “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

  6. Long-time lurker who rarely ever comments, but there’s so much faulty thinking in this post I couldn’t help myself. This is a well-known Smashwords policy. It isn’t the content that’s banned, it’s the links in the back [edit to add: or references – I’m realizing he didn’t mention links, just words]. Why would Apple (or Kobo, B&N, etc.) want links or ads to Amazon in the back of a book they distribute? They’re not in the business of driving people to competing sites. As far as “It’s my right to publish whatever the hell I want….” Of course. And they can distribute whatever they want. Free speech “gobbledegook” doesn’t apply to privately-owned businesses. Now if the government bans your book, that’s a different story.

  7. It’s a popular modus operandi these days.

    Blog about your book being rejected by a traditional publisher or about not meeting the terms of service required by a retailer and then…

    Headline it as BANNED or CENSORED to get more clicks and generate extra buzz.

    Feh! The more I see of this ploy, the more disingenuous and wearisome I find it.

  8. Entitled and hysterical because OMG! The HORROR! And having free speech doesn’t mean anyone is obligated to publish what you have to say. (Imagine what that would mean to NY publishing if it did.)

  9. I think he’s doing this deliberately as a marketing ploy directed at people in the Middle East, which is where he lives, going by his Google+ profile. At the end of his blog post he even makes a point of saying that an Islamic censoring agency has never censored his books, yet the US, the alleged home of free speech, has censored him. I think he’s trying to say, “Islam good, United States bad” to appeal to his Middle Eastern market.

    • I think he’s doing this deliberately as a marketing ploy…

      Yep. Interesting geographic details. Thanks for digging, Scott.

      • Agreed. Marketing ploy.

        No different than going to the Coke website to trumpet “Buy Pepsi” and then complaining when Coke astutely points out that “you can say ‘Buy Pepsi’ all you want on your own dime and webspace, but not on our site.”

  10. As a n00b who hasn’t used any distribution channels yet, I’m grateful to the author and the commenters for highlighting something I certainly didn’t know.

    We Indies are supposed to be generalists who can turn their hand to anything, but reading and understanding the fine print often requires more expertise than many of us have.

    • One thing to be careful of with Smashwords:

      We offer two ISBN options: 1. You can attach your own ISBN number to your book; or 2. You can obtain a free ISBN from Smashwords that registers Smashwords as your publisher. Although it registers Smashwords as the "publisher" in the Bowker record, Smashwords is not your publisher. YOU are the publisher. You control all the rights associated with this and all versions of your book.

      A free ISBN is tempting, some retailers require ISBNs, but having Smashwords listed as your publisher can mess with your image even if Smashwords isn’t actually your publisher. You get your own ISBNs from your national ISBN agency.

    • I don’t think anyone should be calling anyone a noob. A newb, maybe, because yes at some point we are all newbie’s at self-publishing.

  11. I poke fun at Jeff Bezos in my novel and I wondered if Amazon would ban it. They didn’t.

  12. I dont understand this ‘failure’ to pass a word test? You’re not supposed to mention a reality in your book? Are we truly having a Ministry of Truth in certain publishing/ers?

    If so: Yick.

  13. The back matter in question, as in my past five books (none of which had this problem) was:

    Available from Amazon on Kindle and in paperback from Amazon, Book Depository or from your local bookstore on order quoting the book’s ISBN.

    Also available as an ebook from iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and other fine online retailers.

    Note: no links.

    The whole point is, the book is available across all platforms. And I’m not looking for your outrage, people. I just think asking for the removal of the words ‘Kindle’ and ‘Nook’ from a book’s back matter is a tiny step too far in the direction of commercial censorship…

    • It’s not just about your links, Alexander. It’s your wording.

      You have your own website, which is a commercial place for your books. Why aren’t you advertising my books on your website? The same reason I don’t advertise yours. We have rival economic interests.

      When was the last time you saw W.H. Smith say you can buy the same products they carry at Waterstones or vice versa? They don’t because of their rival economic interest.

      Your bit about where your books are sold is an advertisement. It is not part of the text body of your work of art. Therefore, it is not censorship when a distributor says it cannot be in the file you are submitting.

      By using Smashwords, you agreed via their T&C (which is a contract) to follow their rules. The fact that you were not caught the first five times means you were lucky, not that Smashwords their contractual rights.

      The opposite of your “commercial censorship” is that ALL writers would be required to give equal time to each other on their websites, social media, and other advertising venues. Do you really want that undue hardship?

  14. Mr. McNabb has updated his blog since this morning.

    Footnote: Just for clarity, we’re not talking links here. The offending text in the book was:

    “Available from Amazon on Kindle and in paperback from Amazon, Book Depository or from your local bookstore on order quoting the book’s ISBN.

    Also available as an ebook from iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and other fine online retailers.”

    He then says he can’t find anything regarding mentioning other retailers in the Smashwords T&C. Since he’s released six other books, it sounds like this is the first time they called him on it. He’s asking commenters on his blog, who’ve said many of the same things folks have said here, to point out the particular passage.

    I’m sorry, but I got tired of doing other people’s homework in junior high.

    • “I’m sorry, but I got tired of doing other people’s homework in junior high.”

      with you on that Suzan

    • He’s looked. I’ve looked. Few others have looked too. Unless there’s some lawerly weasel-wording (And yes, I realized I repeated myself there) nothing in Smashwords current TOS last updated October 16th 2015 says he cannot have the passage in question in his books. The most relevant section would be 9b of the TOS, but there is nothing explicit in there about what Mr. McQueen has done.

      And if there was something in the Smashwords TOS, he would have found out about it the previous six books he published through them, all of which have the same passage apparently.

      Does this mean a new Smashwords TOS is coming out soon that may include such a passage? Maybe. If there is, it just reinforces my opinion on using Draft to Digital instead…

  15. Somehow, in regards to all this “fun”, I have a particular scene from Goodfellas going through head, where Pesci’s character starts going off the deep end at Liotta’s character for laughing at something funny he had said.

    To me, this is much ado about nothing. A Terms of Service is a contract. It is your responsibility to go over it with a fine tooth comb and make sure that whatever it is you want to do, falls under the guidelines.

    Speaking from personal experience in dealing with public sector government labor contracts, ignorance does not make a wrong acceptable.

  16. So if you are in Walmart at the checkout and telling people to shop at Target next time, do you think Walmart will let you stay?

    The solution I used when I wasn’t on KDP Select was to put the appropriate links in. Publishing direct to B & N, you put links to your books in their store. If you go through Smashwirds or D2D, no links except to your website.

  17. Links to Ebook Retailers – Smashwords will distribute your book to multiple retailers. Out of courtesy to the retailers, your book cannot contain hyperlinks pointing to Amazon or other retailers. Such links confuse customers. Imagine, for example, someone purchases your book from the Barnes & Noble store on their Nook, and at the end of the book you point them to Amazon for your other books. Such a customer can’t purchase or read Amazon books on their Nook. It’s also unfair to the retailer. The Style Guide has guidelines on how to provide acceptable hyperlinks to your other books. It’s okay to link to your Smashwords author page or book page (since we’re your publishing platform and distributor) or link to your personal web site or blog. It’s also not a bad idea to add a generic statement at the end of your book such as, “Enjoy these other [Author Name] titles at fine ebook retailers everywhere.”

    From this page: https://www.smashwords.com/distribution

    It specifically says no links, but note the last line.

    • Precisely. We’re not talking about links here, but mentions. The TOS makes no mention of this, the Style Guide gives the ‘fluffy’ advice quoted above. The reality is I was asked to remove mention of Amazon, Kindle, Nook or Barnes & Noble (for the first time in six books). That practice is not formalised, one would doubt its legality, depending on the governing jurisdiction. PG might have a view on that.

  18. It’s my right to publish what the hell I want, isn’t it? Surely that’s what all this free speech gobbledegook is about?

    You can publish whatever you want. But nobody else has to publish what you want, or help you do it.

  19. This is the dumbest post I’ve seen in a long time. Censorship? Please. Not linking or mentioning competitors is a long-standing policy at all the ebook stores. All this blog post does is point out what an amateur this guy is.

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