Amazon Employees Caught Red-Handed Yet Again Using Fake Negative Reviews to Spam Rivals

Rivals have targeted author William Robert Stanek on Amazon.com for two decades while Amazon staff were paid to assist. Not only has William Robert been blogging about this extensive criminal operation for years, Justice Department investigations indicate these fraudulent tactics are potentially widespread, bringing indictments in Washington against six who bribed at least 10 Amazon staff. In exchange for bribes, corrupted Amazon staff facilitated attacks against competitors using their inside access to Amazon's network to suspend competitors' accounts and product listings, flood competitor product listings with fictitious negative product reviews designed to hurt sales, more. These self-styled "takedowns" against victim sellers used hateful commentary and other tactics to intimidate victims and drive away customers.

Author William Robert Stanek recognizes all of these tactics as they have been used to harm and destroy sales of his books. Regarding this, he stated, "I've been on the receiving end for 20 years..... flooded with fake reviews, getting my books delisted, flagged, etcetera so competitors who were paying off Amazon could get ahead. Two of the names in the charging document are the same people who wrote me back if I dared to complain." 

A grand jury in Washington has indicted six of those involved, more indictments expected. The trial gets underway October 15, 2020, and should result in criminal convictions against those indicted and the 10 or more corrupted Amazon employees involved, unless Amazon once again pays off the justice system to keep insider corruption out of the courts, as it did when more than 50 employees were caught setting up fake seller accounts on Ebay to lure buyers to Amazon--after years and years of doing so illegally and fraudulently.

The group of fraudsters, which includes former Amazon employees, paid current Amazon employees to obtain confidential performance data on rivals that included revenue, customer bases and ongoing ad campaigns. Revenue information allowed the fraudsters to determine the most popular items of rivals and then specifically target those items with fake negative reviews, upvote negative commentary and more to destroy sales. Advertising information allowed the fraudsters to target items of rivals that were being promoted so the rivals could use fake negative reviews, upvoting of negative commentary and more to counter the adverting and destroy any potential sales boost. Rival products were periodically delisted, had reviews removed, were removed from search results, flagged as inappropriate and more to harm sales and ensure the success of the scammers. 

Amazon itself uses these unscrupulous tactics to target popular products of independent sellers in its marketplace after making Amazon-branded versions of the same. Using insider information about the independent products from sales data to customer base to private marketing and advertising campaign data, Amazon puts the rival sellers out of business. Not only has this allowed Amazon to gain an unfair competitive advantage in its marketplace monopoly, it has done irreversible harm to the very sellers it purports to support on its websites, putting many sellers out of business as well. Just one of many ways Amazon abuses and destroys third-party sellers and creates rival products to boost operating revenues and profits no matter the cost to feed and grow its trillion-dollar monopoly. 

Six indicted in connection with multi-million dollar scheme to bribe Amazon employees and contractors - The defendants, who include former Amazon staff, paid bribes to at least ten different Amazon employees and contractors. Since at least 2017, the defendants have used bribery and fraud to their benefit, resulting in more than $100 million of competitive benefits, to harm competitors and to harm consumers. In exchange for bribes, corrupted Amazon employees and contractors facilitated attacks against competitors using their inside access to Amazon's network to suspend competitors' accounts and product listings, flood competitor product listings with fictitious negative product reviews designed to hurt sales, more. These self-styled "takedowns" against victim sellers used hateful commentary and other tactics to intimidate victims and drive away customers.

For more information, see:

Author Stanek's blog posts about the dirty tactics used to harm and destroy his book sales at Amazon go back decades. Here are some:

Speaking Out Against Ugliness in the Publishing Industry - Indie authors continue to get a bum rap from traditional publishers and authors. Read about the dirty tricks being used.

Inside Job: Amazon.com Employee Stole Credit Data of 106 Million Amazon.com is rotten to its core. This latest case of "employee gone bad" is yet another example of the widespread patterns of misbehavior, misconduct and mismanagement by Amazon.com employees that have been ongoing for the better part of two decades.

Amazon Reviews: Broken System Between 1 in 3 and 2 in 3 product reviews on Amazon.com are fake. They are bought and paid for. They are written by friends and family. They are swapped and traded on Facebook. They are incentivized from readers.

Amazon Caught in Pay-for-Praise Scheme Involving Hundreds of Employees Last August Amazon began recruiting so-called “fulfillment center ambassadors,” compensating them to generate praise for the company on twitter (and also elsewhere in social media and on Amazon’s websites). Several hundred employees have been enlisted into the highly questionable, unethical (and likely fraudulent) scheme so far.

Amazon Fraud Again: Amazon Employees Caught Creating Fake Ebay Seller Accounts In 2018, at least 50 Amazon employees were caught red handed creating fake accounts on Ebay and accused of multiple federal crimes, including criminal conspiracy, fraud and racketeering. Over a period of years, the Amazon employees had created hundreds—if not thousands—of fake seller accounts to lure sellers away from Ebay’s marketplace.

Amazon's Black Eye Deepens: A Public Sham/e Speaking out about fake reviews has made me the target of the thousands who make their living writing reviews for pay. This continues despite Amazon's public dispute with over 5000 paid reviewers at Fiverr--no few of which were writers, who unable to make a living at writing, made their living writing reviews.

Amazon Still Has a Review Problem. A Solution That Could Actually Resolve It. A visit to Amazon will take you to lots of products with oodles of reviews and the problem is that it's extremely likely most of these reviews are bogus. What percentage? Estimates vary widely, but my research says about 60% or so. Simply mentioning this fact, as I have for many years, makes me a target for those who make their living at this—whether they are merchants selling products or those who make a living by writing product reviews.

Amazon's Blackened Soul To date, there are about a billion reviews at Amazon sites that don’t meet Amazon’s own criteria for acceptability. This represents about 3 out of every 5 reviews. Is it any wonder when Amazon’s own management and executive staff are allowed to break the rules when it suits them to target an author whose book wasn’t as flattering as Amazon hoped it would be. Yes, I’m talking about....

Thanks for reading,

Team Read Indies


Goodnight Robert, Goodnight Moon, Goodnight Stars, Air & Noises Everywhere

After hearing about Robert, I broke down in tears, fits and sobs really, the kind reserved for family because Robert Stanek was like a father to some of us in the writing community, a favorite uncle, Uncle Robert, to others, and a valued mentor to a great, great many. So many writers, hundreds really, owe their start in writing and careers to this guy, and the same is true of thousands who work in Big Tech, on web-based platforms or in web-based businesses. This guy taught them all how to set up those very businesses. This guy who was larger than life. This guy who was so down to earth. This guy who was so humble. This guy who so loved life. This guy who so loved family. This guy who took care of everyone else. This guy who gave and gave and gave over so many decades to so many and never asked for anything in return.

Robert Stanek was always creating resources to help writers. Writer’s Galley, Internet Job Center, Internet Daily News, others, his earliest efforts in the mid ‘90s. Go Indie, Read Indies, Free Today, and others in the mid ‘00s. He taught us all how to use social media, to create blogs, to use Facebook, to use Twitter and beyond. He created and curated memes like #amwriting, #amblogging, #epicfantasy, #kidslit and #teenlit. He led by example.

By 2000, his professionally published books numbered over 100. Those books, published and distributed by the biggest names in publishing—IDG, Simon & Schuster, Random House, Macmillan, Pearson, Microsoft, McGraw Hill, Time Warner—blazed trails. At a time when few understood the world wide web and its technologies, Robert was not only one of the few recognized world leaders in the web and its technologies, he was the recognized world leader in explaining how those technologies worked clearly and concisely.

Robert was a King maker, unmade by the very things he helped establish. He put upstart Amazon on the map by writing about the company to his audience of millions from its earliest days. He transformed Microsoft Press from a publishing company its readers swore published books in a foreign language called Microsoftese into one praised for publishing books in plain language—that plain language approach Robert himself created and that praise itself was for Robert’s books. His words and style were so beloved they eventually became the plain language style of Microsoft itself.

Credit where credit is due one might imagine, but instead as Robert revealed through his varied writings and blogs, he got no credit for any of it. At the end of the day, his work taught tens of millions, enriched the pockets of his publishers, agents and managers, but left Robert and his family with 3 cents on the dollar. Robert’s work was used in $1B-$2B (yes, B-I-L-L-I-O-N $) worth of training courses and other Microsoft and non-Microsoft work for which he never received a single cent. Not one. None. Zero.

In 2000, Robert Stanek founded the modern indie author movement with his breakout self-published books that transformed publishing and the way we publish today. In 2001, Robert became the first indie author to serialize an e-book at Amazon and has since gone on to write more than 150 indie books. In 2002, his Keeper Martin's Tale and Kingdoms & the Elves books were the first indie e-authored books to top Amazon's bestseller lists. In 2005, the same books were the first indie e-audiobooks to top Audible bestseller lists where they dominated for the next three years (#1 fiction for 14 weeks 2005, 167 weeks Top 10 YA 2005-2008). His Kingdoms & the Elves became one of the top grossing e-audiobooks of all time and was featured on the Audible Home Page throughout the Summer of 2005.

We all know what happens to those who are so far ahead of their time that they seem to exist in a world of their own making. Robert had climbed too many mountains, and those standing at the bottoms of those mountains desperately wanted what he had, and so they did whatever it took to take what Robert had created and claim it as their own or destroy it. Read Robert’s heartbreaking posts about the things that happened to him and you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. We as a society love to tear down our heroes. We tear them down with lies, with fake news. We puff ourselves up and make ourselves look big, to make those who are larger than life look small.

Sad but true, strange but true, one of Robert Stanek’s favorite sayings was dare to dream and he dared all of us to dream. Not only to dream with him as he conquered the bestseller lists, which he did time after time until he had so many number ones it seemed a thing unreachable in the sky, but to dream our own dream, forge our own paths and to make of our writing and lives whatever beautiful dream we could dream. Robert told me many times that the empty page was friend, not foe, that he never knew a day of writer’s block. He saw the empty page as a challenge, one that he was not afraid to answer, and answer it he did. In his lifetime, over 20 million of his words were published in over 250 books. I know from speaking with Robert that he has half as many words unpublished, words that we all should hope are someday published. Robert had much to say to the world, and his books indeed say much.
Robert challenged us as writers to see the blank page as a friend as well. He dreamed that his books would be his legacy, his way to ensure his family was financially secure. My silence when Robert needed me the most is something I will never forgive myself for. It was shameful. It was disgraceful. It was dishonorable. I hope that Robert can forgive me, forgive all of us, for not doing what we should have when it would have mattered most. I’m sorry, Robert. Please, please forgive me.

To those reading my words, if you want to do one decent thing today, one decent thing this week, read Robert Stanek’s books and tell the world about them. It’s never too late to right a great wrong.

You can learn all about Robert’s Bugville Critters at www.bugvillecritters.com.

You can learn all about Robert’s Magic Lands at www.magiclands.com.

You can learn all about Robert Ruin Mist at www.ruinmistmovie.com.

You can read Robert’s blog at http://robertstanek.blogspot.com/.

You can read about Robert’s Imagined Lands at www.imaginedlands.com.

You can read about Robert’s writing as William Stanek at www.williamrstanek.com.

More about Robert’s writing as Robert Stanek at www.robert-stanek.com.

Any future posts here or elsewhere on Robert’s behalf will be made by the indie writing team. Goodnight Robert, goodnight moon, goodnight stars, air & noises everywhere.

- Cathy Thompson


Memories of the Long Road Home

My accomplishments during my military service earned me 29 commendations, including the Air Force Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal, the Air Force Commendation Medal, and the Humanitarian Service Medal. When I left the military, I was one of the most highly decorated in the command. 

The base commander and my supervisors loved it when I put on my dress blues and participated in the various parades and celebrations on base, especially Memorial Day and the 4th of July. I've met royalty. A crowned prince, a princess of a city state, a queen. I've met and dined with presidents, including George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, and a few generals, including Colin Powell and H. Norman Schwarzkopf. They've offered their hands to shake, given toasts in my honor for my duty, for the distinguished flying cross pinned to my chest. Captains of industry have offered me the sky and moon for my ideas then robbed me blind, I've been praised for the hundreds of published works I've written over decades, and damned for the same. I've survived the worst of abject poverty, risen to the heights of high society, and fallen to the ugliest of depths. This is life, this is the life of a combat veteran.

With a somber 4th of July just behind us, yet another national-wide lockdown looming ahead of us, it’s a good time to look back and reflect. Much of my childhood is filled with pain, poverty and hunger, as I write about here. I served my country in foreign lands and during several tours of duty in combat zones, including two combat tours in Iraq. I flew on 32 combat missions from the opening days of the war to its end. In that time, there was never a day I didn’t stare death in the face and there was never a day death didn't stare back. AAA, SAMs and more came at us as we flew our missions. 

Because of that service, I will always know that when the darkest of hours arrives I will not hesitate. When asked, I answered. When called, I went. When death stared up from the void, I did not fear. I gave because it was my duty and because I felt it was the right thing to do.

I wrote about some of my experiences in my military memoir, Stormjammers: The Extraordinary Story of Electronic Warfare Operations in the Gulf War, which was featured in a full-page review in the Journal of Electronic Defense and on NPR. Originally released in 2006, the book was re-released in 2016 for the 25th anniversary of the war as Air War: The Incredible True Story of the Combat Flyers.

Though a memoir, the book is largely a tribute to the men and woman I served with. It's written to be light, not as dark as the terrors that surrounded us or the terrors that stared up at us from the void. I suppose I could have focused on the death and the dying, the terror and the mayhem, but I was more interested in telling the story of the day to day, the story of the lives the war affected.

I did this because the younger me, the young man who was, was filled with light and hope even though the traumas I endured rock me to my core. The older, more jaded me, probably would have written a much darker account, an account that delved into the many we lost due to mental break down, the many who went home broken even before the battles ended. The older me, probably would have named names of those who refused to go or to fly, would have recounted affairs, would have told you more about the little red pills--speed--they gave those of us who were left to keep going as our numbers dwindled and dwindled. That me, however, was not the me who wrote the book or recorded the memories in the journals that were the basis of the book.

If you read my memoir and I hope you do, I hope the book opens a window for you as big as the original experiences did for me. After combat, the world never seemed quite the same. The return to normalcy was a strange experience, never quite accomplished. I don’t, in fact, think I ever slowed down or ever quite touched the earth after those experiences. For it was afterward that everything in this world changed—that everything in this world became so clear. And afterward that I set my sights on the future and never looked back.

While you're reading this, I’d like to introduce you to the Distinguished Cross National Memorial Act and the related National Memorial at March Field Air Museum in Riverside, California. As a combat veteran and recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross, I had never before heard of the act or the memorial until 2018 and so I thought if I hadn’t heard of it many others might not have heard of it before either. I don’t really keep up with what’s happening with such things as it’s all really painful for me in truth. But something to think about this 4th.

Here's the background on the act: The Distinguished Flying Cross National Memorial Act was introduced on January 22, 2013 by Rep. Ken Calvert (R, CA-42). It was referred to the United States House Committee on Natural Resources and the United States House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation. It was reported by the Committee alongside House Report 113-79 on May 17, 2013. On October 25, 2013, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor announced that H.R. 330 would be on the House schedule for the week of October 28, 2013. The bill was considered under the suspension of the rules. On October 29, 2013, the House voted to passed the bill by a voice vote. The United States Senate voted on July 9, 2014 to pass the bill with unanimous consent. On July 25, 2014, President Barack Obama signed the bill into law. You can learn more about the memorial at the website for the memorial.

A story that’s not in my military memoir but perhaps should be in my next is about the dangers soldiers face not in the field of combat but in the bases where they are housed and should be safe. My wife’s second miscarriage was a clue that something was terribly wrong. I thought it was the stress of being a combat flyer’s wife, constant deployments, or the subsequent ever-changing schedule when I worked inside the secretive underground facility known as the Tunnel. I never imagined that it was due to the air we breathed, the water we drank or the soil beneath our feet, but it likely was as lead from lead-based paints had leached into the soil we used for gardening and other toxic substances were throughout our base housing and the places we worked.

No one tells you when you join the military you’re risking not just your life but your health—and that of your family and even your unborn children. As Newsweek said in its July 25, 2014 cover story, the US Military is supposed to protect the country’s citizens and soldiers and not poison them.

Throughout the United States, there are 141 military bases and related Department of Defense facilities on the Environmental Protection Agency’s superfund list and the National Priorities List for cleanup—and that list of 141 isn’t all inclusive by any means. It is simply a list of the worst of the worst, bases and facilities with toxic contamination so bad that the EPA has assigned them its highest priority for cleanup due to unacceptable risks to human health.

Many of the worst facilities are closed or closing. However, it’s not like the toxins in the soil and ground water are going to stay where they are. They’re going to continue to pollute and contaminate adjacent facilities until they are cleaned up once and for all. What’s waiting beyond the 141 highly toxic bases and facilities? Well, the Department of Defense has identified 39,000 contaminated locations so far, from areas as small as a building to as large as an airfield, and those locations are spread across many of the 4,127 DOD installations located in the United States.

As a soldier who was deployed overseas for many years, I was stationed at Department of Defense facilities all over the world and I can’t help but wonder what toxic nightmare is lurking at the thousands of Department of Defense facilities that are located outside the United States. What I suspect is that there are likely as many contaminated locations and highly toxic sites at Department of Defense facilities located outside the US as there are inside the US.

All those years ago, I didn’t know about these issues or that toxins were possibly changing my life and my family, but I guessed there was something going on beyond stress. I started asking questions, and a healthcare worker who treated my wife suggested I look at environmental factors in our home and workplaces.

In our pre-World War II base housing, lead paint often was prevalent and possibly other toxic substances. We dug up the garden which was alongside the house, stopped drinking the tap water, and made other changes. With these changes, our overall health seemed to improve. Months later, my wife got pregnant again and this time, she carried the pregnancy well and my son, Will, was born.

Will arrived a few weeks early, but healthy. For us, it was a new beginning and a hope for the future of our family.

Thanks for reading,

Robert Stanek


This is Not the Time to Stand By and Not Say Anything

I've written and re-written this article about five times. Some of my black friends (and probably all of my white friends) would really like it if I would just shut up, and no they do not—absolutely do not—want to read the essays I’ve written about police brutality, injustice, racism, poverty or hard times. Besides, what the heck do I as a white male know about what it’s like to be black in America? I don’t know anything, nothing at all, as I readily admit whenever the question is asked and as I’ve stated repeatedly.

Yet I also know that as a white person in America it’s not only my responsibility to speak out against injustice and racism, it is my moral obligation. It is the moral obligation of every white person in America. The system is failing people of color. It’s not their job to fix the system. They can’t fix it without help. It’s a white system, it’s a white problem, and if us white people don’t fix it, it’ll never get fixed.

I have in fact been told to just listen—and listen I have since 2015. I also tried to be part of the movement in any way I could, which ultimately for me meant using my words. Words are more powerful and lasting than any weapon ever could be. The pen is mightier than the sword.

Recently, there’s been lots of advice printed about being a good white ally. You white people do this. You white people don’t do this. You white people are our guests, follow our lead. This is Black Lives Matter, black voices matter, not white voices. You white people just listen.

Okay, yes, I did listen. I listened for a long time. I listened until my outrage could no longer be contained and then I let my words rage out. I write to the detriment of my health, each word as if the jab of a blade. Words here mean hours of pain, hours where I can do nothing—and often days. That’s the cost for a person in such poor health.

But I kept saying this isn’t a black problem. This broken system is a white problem. White people are responsible for the broken system. And it’s my problem as a white in America—and so I spoke out again and again and again.

A really good friend of mine who is black read this article about my experiencing poverty in my childhood and said to me just because I had a tough childhood doesn't mean I know anything about being black, having a tough life has nothing to do with being black. She also said to me that having a tough childhood doesn't mean I know anything about racism. Granted, the title of the article is "Racism in America. Poverty in America. Working-Class America," but you'd have to read the article to know why it actually has nothing to do with being black or white or experiencing racism. Also, to be clear, I added the addendum to the end of the article afterward, because of what she said. We all see the world as we want to see it and we don't always see what's right in front of our eyes.


I asked a few journalist friends of mine who are black to look at this article I'd written about the history of police brutality in America, to help make sure I didn't make any mistakes or say something that might be considered insensitive or unintentionally inflammatory. These were journalists I had mentored when they were starting their careers and spent countless hours of my time helping over a period of years.


The original article as written included personal details about police brutality my family had experienced, including an incident we ultimately turned to members of the Washington state congress for assistance with and an incident involving another member of my family who was brutalized by three police officers after being pulled over for speeding, and I told them this. Yet these friends of mine told me one by one that they didn't have time to deal with it. I understand. What's been happening in America is overwhelming and the news cycles showing black people dying at the hands of the police over and over compound the horror. And so I cut down the article to what was published and later wrote this article:


After which, I was told politely yet again what the heck did I know about police brutality, racism, discrimination, etc, I was white. Yet the family member of mine who was brutalized by police and almost died is Asian American. My wife is also Asian American, my children are Asian American and I've talked with these journalists about racism they've experienced. Being in an inter-racial marriage beginning in the '80s, my wife and I experienced racism frequently. Admittedly, she got the worst of it, but it deeply affected us both. That kind of racism and discrimination has not gone away either.

Stationed in Japan in the '80's, I experienced racism and discrimination by Japanese against non-Japanese. Non-Japanese weren't allowed in certain businesses, restaurants and shops. These business owners openly displayed either Japanese-only signs or no non-Japanese signs. Either way, it was racism that meant non-Japanese weren't welcome and would not be served. Even some businesses without these signs would not serve non-Japanese. They'd just ignore you until you left their business or worse, scream at you and chase you away. Some businesses near military bases wanted our money, so they just discriminated against us by seating or serving us in different areas. Here, you'd have a Japanese area and an area for others, not just discrimination, but a form of segregation even if the areas weren't labeled Japanese / Non-Japanese.

Raising a special needs child, my family has experienced plenty of discrimination, hostility and inequity--we still do. During a recent trip to abroad, my wife and I were told by a restaurant owner where we were having dinner, that disabled were better unseen than in public and that we should go to Singapore where they could cure my daughter's Downs Syndrome. How the heck do you respond to that kind of ignorance? There are no words.

I grew up in a black neighborhood as I write about here, and on and on. Don't presume to know what anyone has experienced in their life, without having lived their life.

We all see the world as we want to see it and we don't always see what's right in front of our eyes. We may see friends as enemies because we hurt inside. We may see friends as enemies because they aren't us. We're very good at building fences, putting up walls, creating divisions. Us, Them. Them, Us. We humans aren't good at saying our, finding common ground, seeing our American future  together. But we have to, now more than ever. The solution to the problem in America, the problem in the world, has to be multiracial, all people.

As I wrote about here, I’m not speaking out ‘just now’ or because it’s convenient, I’ve been speaking out my whole life. This is a fight of a lifetime that I hope is resolved in my lifetime. The best way to end inequality, racism, discrimination, injustice and all the other things that sicken our world worse than any pandemic is to shine a light on them, to keep shining a light on them even where there seems to be no hope. And so, I have shined a light, I have continued to shine a light even though I knew I may never be heard.


So what the heck do I know about discrimination or inequality or racism or intolerance or police brutality or poverty or what hard times are like for working-class Americans? Except that these things have touched every corner of my life for the entirety of my life? Nothing.

The system is failing people of color. It’s not their job to fix the system. They can’t fix it without help. It’s a white system, white people are responsible for the problem, and if us white people don’t fix it, it’ll never get fixed.

I urge you to do what's right, not what's easy. It's easy to just be quiet, especially when people who are speaking up keep getting shut down by those who say stupid things like 'old white folk should just shut up already' or 'celebrities just be making fools of themselves by speaking up in public service announcements' and on and on. Like it or not, old white folk hold much of the power in this country and they hold the keys to changing the system. Like it or not, celebrities have clout and are followed by millions and those millions include people who need to understand how important it is to accomplish real change right now.

We want all people to help change the broken system in America into one that works for all. If we don't get as many people as possible to speak up, nothing will change. If we don't let all supportive voices be heard, nothing will change. Forty years from now, we'll be right where we are now. I don't want to be right where we are now forty years from now. I want change to happen sooner rather than later. I hope you do too.

Be the positive change you want to see. Speak up, make sure you are heard. Everything is possible.


Thanks for reading, I’m William Robert Stanek, Microsoft’s #1 author for nearly 20 years, and author of over 250 topselling books.


Taylor Swift Wants to Control Her Own Destiny--And Why Not

You probably know Taylor Swift from her music. Maybe you even heard her public outrage about not owning her music and not having a say in who controls her catalog (of songs). Such outrage is easy to understand and agree with. That said, the vast majority of us working creatives don’t own the rights to our work, nor do we control who owns our work or what happens to our work in the future.

Taylor has been extremely fortunate to have found success, to have found labels willing to back her work, and even to get ownership of her newest work. Being an A-list music star helps tremendously. Meanwhile millions of creatives have never had full ownership, nor control over who does.

Millions of creatives have never had labels lining up to back them like the fortunate few, Taylor included. If A-listers didn’t need labels, they wouldn’t go to labels and labels wouldn’t exist. There’s a fine line to cut between control, ownership and labels. It’s a catch-22, an evil necessity, an ouroboros—the snake that eats its own tale.

The music industry though has been on the bleeding edge of changing the rules, allowing creatives to maintain more ownership and control—if not complete ownership and control. The music industry celebrates those who maintain ownership and control of their own work. The music industry celebrates small labels. The music industry celebrates independent artists. Together, they are indies—and there’s a whole world out there celebrating indie music.

In stark contrast, in the world of publishing, independents are derided, relegated to second class, trotted upon. There is intolerance—even hate—directed at independents. Those who independently publish are derided as frauds, failures, fakes, largely by those who fear the slipping away of the status quo. This despite nearly two decades of revolution in independent publishing.

It’s no secret that historically creatives get the short end of the stick. I’ve made no secret of the fact that my first publisher (Macmillan) ripped me off, nor of the fact that without those early contracts I might not have gone on to sell millions and millions of books. I have both thanked Macmillan for the opportunity and condemned Macmillan for taking advantage of me and countless of others. Substandard royalties, work-for-hire contracts that paid a pittance, more. Whatever they could get away with really.

I’ve made no secret of the fact that my publisher of 20 years (Microsoft) was more generous than others in the industry when it came to contracts, though I feel my work was still misused and also that there was tremendous usage of my work that I was never compensated for, including worldwide usage within and by Microsoft as well as third parties with relationships with Microsoft. I am, of course, eternally grateful to Microsoft and especially those that I worked with. Those who oversaw the publishing of my work did the best they could to keep the hungry machine from swallowing it and they ensured a graceful exit when the publishing world changed so dramatically that there was no longer a place for Microsoft Press within Microsoft Corporation.

Over 20 years, my work also was used in thousands of training courses (outside of Microsoft’s control and consent) that instructed millions of students around the world for which I was never paid. These students paid hundreds to thousands of dollars for short—3-5-7-day—training courses, amounting to billions of dollars of instructional training that I didn’t receive a single cent for. It makes the millions I was shortchanged by publishers over the years seem like a drop in the proverbial bucket—a single tear in a lake of tears.

The industry finds ways to further suck the marrow from your bones, to squeeze and wring out your blood. There are managers, agents, publicists to pay, not to mention accountants, others and the IRS, leaving the creative with pennies on the dollar. Point of fact, somewhere along the way, I figured out that over a 20-year period, after everyone got paid, I got about .03 on the dollar while my publishers collectively made well over $100,000,000 off my work (and retailers who sold my work made even more).

Thus, it both alarms and astounds me, that there continues to be so much hate and intolerance in the publishing community for authors who decide to go independent, who decide to self-publish, who decide to embrace new technologies and new means of getting their creations to the world. It boggles the mind that there are still so many fighting tooth and nail to prevent, deter and destroy those who simply want what every working creative should want. To own and control our own work, our own future.

Thanks for reading, I’ve written much about this and other related issues. You’ll find articles at Linkedin (https://www.linkedin.com/in/williamstanek/), in my personal blogs (http://robertstanek.blogspot.com/ and http://williamstanek.blogspot.com), at Go Indie (http://readindies.blogspot.com/) and on my websites (http://www.williamrstanek.com and http://www.robert-stanek.com/). You’ll find posts about related problems going back to 2003 here @ http://www.robertstanek.com/rsblog.htm. I do of course write as William Stanek, Robert Stanek, William R. Stanek and William Robert Stanek. I am of course the author of over 200 full-length works of fiction and nonfiction, having been a successful published author since 1995.


A Tribute to William Robert Stanek, an American Author Who Should Be on Everyone’s Must Read List

My name is Jennifer Blake. This guest post is in honor of William Robert Stanek, an author recently named “an American author who should be on everyone’s must read list.” A group of us have been wanting to guest post here in honor of Robert for such a long time, and I jumped at the opportunity to pay tribute to someone I owe so much to. When no one else would publish my work, Robert took me under his wing and helped me publish my first book, Baby Animals on Safari.
Baby Animals on Safari had been turned down by every publisher on the planet, well practically every one, at least that’s how it seemed to me as the rejection letters kept coming year after year after year. As a single mom who works in special needs classrooms, I’ve been writing stories for children since grad school. I wasn’t able to find a publisher or anyone who believed in my work until Robert.
To shorten a long story, Baby Animals on Safari was published four years ago and it changed my life. Though Baby Animals on Safari had modest success in stores, it was a massive success in libraries, where it sold thousands and thousands of copies worldwide and transformed me overnight from a complete unknown into a popular in-demand author. With Robert’s help, I’ve even released a sequel called what else, Baby Animals on Safari 2.
Robert Stanek was fresh off a recent Lifetime Achievement nomination for distinguished accomplishments in American letters when a group of libraries took notice and started buying up his work for their patrons, having named him “an American author who should be on everyone’s must read list.”
I don’t disagree. The Audio Book Store called Robert Stanek “one of its most featured and respected Kids & Young Adults, K-12 Educators and Kids authors.” Parenting Magazine in a listening partnership with Audible.com named his Bugville Critters, recommended reading. Follett Early Learning said his wonderful Bugville Critters stories addressed all major issues of growing up, while combining facts about the natural world with instructive and entertaining fiction.
To date, Robert has released 100 Bugville Critters books. These include magnificent learning books under the Bugville Learning umbrella, Bugville Jr. books for toddlers and preschoolers, and Bugville picture books for kids ages 4 to 8. With the 28 original Bugville books all featuring luscious 2-page spreads from original watercolors, it’s no wonder that millions of readers have devoured the books.

Of his Ruin Mist novels, which include The Kingdoms & the Elves of the Reaches and In the Service of Dragons book and are now enjoying their 15th anniversary, The Fantasy Guide said the work was very satisfying and that word of mouth had turned it into a bestseller. VOYA, the leading magazine for young adult librarians gushed even more saying that the books were “sure to attract fans of graphic novels and classic Tolkien alike.” With all the praise, it’s no wonder the Ruin Mist books were featured on Audible’s homepage for an entire summer in 2005, #1 bestsellers at Audible in Fiction, and on the Audible Children’s bestseller lists for 182 consecutive weeks.

Robert also has written bestselling thrillers and science fiction. His Scott Evers novels, which include The Pieces of the Puzzle and The Cards in the Deck, have also climbed the charts to become #1 bestselling fiction. Meanwhile, his “After the Machines” dystopian novels are some of the most gripping sci-fi I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading.

Few other authors have written over 200 full-length feature works. Few other authors have been successful in so many genres.

Robert’s oeuvre doesn’t stop with fiction, however. In his day job, he’s an internationally acclaimed technology journalist writing for Macmillan, Microsoft Press, Pearson, O’Reilly, and other leading publishers under the name William R. Stanek. His William R. Stanek books include over a hundred heavy hitting titles like Windows Server 2016: IT Pro Library, a multi-book set with over 500,000 words, and the equally impressive Exchange Server 2016: IT Pro Library, with a mere 300,000 words. Oi!

Robert published these works independently. After being the #1 author at Microsoft Press for nearly twenty years, Robert says it was time to do things his own way.

Robert tells me his writing career began in 1986, the year he finished his first novel. In 1991, Robert won his first writing award, The George Washington Honor Medal. The winning work was an essay about his combat tours in the first Persian Gulf War, an essay that was later turned into a full-length memoir that has recently been re-released for the 20th anniversary of the war as Air War: The Incredible True Story of the Combat Flyers.

I’ve only met Robert a few times. Each time felt like an extraordinary opportunity, like I was walking with a giant among men. Not because Robert’s 6’ 2”, but because he himself is larger than life. The kind of person you feel honored and privileged to even be in the same room with. Yet, at the same time, he’s so self-deprecating and real.

It’s rare to meet someone who is so down to earth. Funny, sincere, caring, giving, passionate about the causes he supports. And if you know Robert, you know he’s passionate about many things, but especially causes related to peoples with disabilities, veterans, libraries, education and conservation.

That’s what I noticed most when talking to Robert. You don’t see the decorated soldier (yes, he received the Distinguished Flying Cross) who fought against the second Gulf war with raised fists or the guy who conquered the publishing world from his worn keyboard while wearing pajamas. You don’t hear those things in his words you expect from someone who’s achieved so much. You see instead a guy who’s trying like the rest of us to swim up river. You see a guy who deserves your wholehearted support. You see a guy whose works should be as widely read as any author today. There are certainly enough of his masterworks to choose from. Works that will move you, teach you, show you. Works that will make you think, deliver you to the brink, leave you breathless.

Read Robert’s work. Praise it where you can. Spread the good word. Tell others.

Jennifer Blake

Author of Baby Animals on Safari


Finding Success as a Writer and Becoming a Bestselling Author

a picture of robert stanekI'm Robert Stanek and today I'm writing about finding success as a writer and becoming a bestseller. In 1995, I attended a writer’s conference on Maui, hosted at the swanky Ritz-Carlton Kapalua. I’d just signed my first contract with Macmillan after years of trying to break in to publishing as a writer. Unlike most other attendees, I didn’t stay at the Ritz-Carlton—the hotel wasn’t something I could afford at the time. On a military salary, with a wife and toddler accompanying me, the best I could afford was a $79 a night room a few miles away, and the only reason I could afford to get to Maui in the first place was because I was stationed on Oahu, where I worked at the hush-hush NSA facility Edward Snowden made famous. 

As I wrote about in my post “How Betsy Mitchell, SheilaGilbert, Diana Gill, Beth Meacham, Jim Minz, Tom Doherty, and Other PublishingLegends Helped Launch My Writing Career” I’d previously received a number of encouraging responses to my debut novel, Keeper Martin’s Tale, and other works of fiction I’d written from Magic Lands to The Pieces of the Puzzle. It’d taken years to break in, but I’d finally managed it.

The conference was mostly about breaking in as a writer, with seminars on writing, getting agents, getting published and such. I felt a little like the cat who swallowed the canary, as I’d already managed to land a contract. It wasn’t something I’d say in the crowd I’d found myself in, many of whom were rather snobby and elitist, certain they were the best writer in the world and that their big break was just around the corner.

The conference went poorly and I ended up skipping big parts of it to spend time with my wife and son instead. Nonetheless, attendance taught me some valuable lessons, especially about how much I disliked snobby elitists. I also decided sitting around talking about writing for hours and hours was a colossal waste of time. Instead of talking about writing, I would instead just write.

And just write I did. My first book, Electronic Publishing Unleashed, was 1031 pages in print and I wrote 800 pages of it over a 4-month period while also working full-time in the military. The other 200 pages of the book were written by contributors, one of which was originally supposed to be the author of the book, but for one reason or another wasn’t able to produce what was required. Meanwhile, the acquisitions editor loved my work and kept expanding my role in the book until I was its author and the others were contributors.

Electronic Publishing Unleashed was published in September 1995 to great success and I signed a contract for a second book with Macmillan almost immediately. This book, Web Publishing Unleashed, was entirely my project from start to finish. The book was written to a tight schedule, and I wrote as much of it as I dared as quickly as I could: again 800 pages over a 4-month period. I hand selected the contributors to round out the content and the book was published in March 1996 to even bigger success than the first.

Meanwhile, I was at a crossroads in my military career. I’d earned my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees while in Hawaii and my commanders were recommending me for Officers Training School (OTS). As one of the most decorated soldiers in the unit and a frequently recognized top performer, I knew most of the top brass and they knew me. After OTS, I could have any job I wanted in the military. But then there was this writing thing.

You’d think my initial success in writing would make the answer an easy one. That second book was a blockbuster bestseller from the start. It was selling like snow cones during a heat wave. But the answer wasn’t an easy one. I’d written Electronic Publishing Unleashed as a work for hire, meaning I received no royalties, even though the book had over $2.5 million in sales. I’d written Web Publishing Unleashed as a royalty contract, but I had received a very low rate, even with an agent. How low? Less than 1/2 the industry standard rate, and then since I’d signed up with an agent, he was going to get 1/5th of that.

Worse, I wouldn't receive my first royalty check for some time. It takes months for royalty payments to make it to authors. Books are published, shipped to stores. Stores pay based on sales, typically in 90 days or so, and in 90 days or so after getting paid, publishers pay authors. Still, my publisher loved my work and was in the process of signing me to three new contracts for FrontPage UnleashedPeter Norton’s Guide to Java Programming and Web Publishing Unleashed Professional Reference Edition.

Thus, when I decided to leave the military in June 1996, I had no idea where I was going to go or even if I would actually ever get paid royalties. My wife, son and I ended up in a tiny apartment in Oregon. Still waiting for that first royalty payment and living off the dregs of advances, I wrote all three books in the apartment manager’s back room. The tiny apartment wasn’t big enough for writing, and my wife’s sister and her daughter had joined us in Oregon and moved in with us as well. Fortunately, the building manager graciously offered me the writing space, where I was cooped up 16 hours a day working to finish all those books.

How we ended up in Oregon? I'm not really sure myself. It is where Peter Norton was. Perhaps at the time I thought since I was writing Peter Norton’s Guide to Java Programming with Peter Norton he’d actually be working with me on the book. As it turned out, I never even got to meet Peter and his contribution to the book was nothing more than his name even though he received half the royalties. Peter Norton’s Guide to Java Programming was published in July 1996.

By this time, offers from other publishers were pouring in. One in particular that intrigued me was from PC Magazine. They were looking for a regular contributor to write technology articles about the Internet, the Web and related technologies. Exactly the space I worked in. I was up to my ears in books, but how could I or anyone else possibly turn down $1+ a word?! I took the offer and started writing regularly for the magazine.

After a few months in Oregon, the family and I moved on to Washington state, and the wait began anew for the first royalty check to reach me. However, I finally did have advances in hand for the three books I’d written. The publisher had made a special effort to get the payments to me and I’d also finalized two new contracts for FrontPage 97 Unleashed and Netscape ONE Developer’s Guide.

Those payments paid for a U-Haul and helped secure a larger apartment in Olympia, which was about 8 hours or so away from where we lived in Oregon. My wife’s sister and her daughter were still living with us, so we really needed the big space. While we were there, FrontPage Unleashed was published (September 1996) and I was already hard at work on the other books and writing for PC Magazine.

The new apartment was nice enough, but still not a home for my family, and still rather crowded with my wife's sister and her daughter living with my family. Nonetheless, we settled in and I worked. My writing space was in the master bedroom, so I had the difficult task of crawling out of bed to a chair a few feet away every morning where I wrote through the day and into the evening.

For months, the rapid succession of contracts, delays from the publisher, delays from my agents (I was with Studio B by this time) and other things had all been between me and ever getting paid my first royalty check for all the work I was doing. That check seemed some sort of myth by this time, so I was unsure if I'd ever receive it and rather certain I'd made a horrendous mistake by leaving the military.

Just about the time every cent we had ran out and our options were running out, a check finally arrived. The check was for the first royalty book I’d written, which had been published in March of that year. It was now September.

In the military, I barely made enough to get by. I’d finished college and earned my degrees only because my wife worked overtime to help pay the tuition. The check I was holding in my hand was two year’s military salary. I nearly fell over. It’d taken months to get to me, but there it was. Proof that I’d done something right.

To say that we celebrated that night is an understatement, but we weren't able to go out anywhere or do anything special. It takes days for a paper check to clear, especially when it's made out for a huge amount of money, and the one credit card we had was maxed out already. Still, we celebrated.

The next month, October, my wife’s sister and daughter moved out. With writing seeming like a sure thing for the future, my wife and I started looking for a house. We found one right away and by early November we moved in. It was our first house. We quickly made it a home.

There are a big surprise for us soon after, and just in time for Thanksgiving: another royalty check.

I was upstairs working in the office when my wife brought it to me. She’d opened the letter and from her expression I wasn’t quite sure whether it was extremely good news or extremely bad news.

At my hesitation, my wife said, It's good news, really good news.

And it was. I’d never seen that much money in my life, yet there it was on a check written out to me.

I was stunned, shocked.

My wife gave me a big kiss and wrap her arms around me. We stood like that for the longest time, just reveling in the moment. It was a measure of my success as a writer. A success as wild as any I ever imagined.

The books I had been working on were published shortly after. Web Publishing Unleashed Professional Reference Edition in December 1996, FrontPage 97 Unleashed in January 1997 and Netscape ONE Developer’s Guide in March 1997. Altogether, those early books had many millions in sales at retail, exceeding even the wildest of my wildest dreams.

In your own writing, dare to dream. You never know what might happen.

Thanks for reading, I’m William Robert Stanek, Microsoft’s #1 author for nearly 20 years, and author of over 200 topselling books.