An Author Lost in Amazon.com’s Rainforest

Guest Post by Katherine Ashe

Let me admit at the outset that I have, from birth, had a problem with identity.  When asked what my name was to be on my birth certificate, my father blurted out my mother’s name then, as an afterthought, tacked on Junior.

Now that might be troubling enough, but my mother’s name was Ann Frank. We both heard more than our fill of very sick jokes. I suffered but supposed I would marry and the problem would go away. I reached my 34th year still thinking that.

As a writer of art books the name Ann Frank had posed no problem for me, though Barnie Rossett of New Directions commented, “When did yuh change yer name t’ Anne Frank, when yuh thought yuh’d sell more books?”

So when I did begin to write in a general way, circa 1976, I recognized the necessity of changing my name. I took my nearest cousins’ name of Ashe, and because I liked the scene in “Henry V” where Katherine de Valois is learning English, I opted for Katherine, changing my name legally to Katherine Ashe. Even my family was relieved. My Ashe cousin offered to trade his daughter Penny to my father in exchange, except that Penny Frank would sound like a one-cent hot dog.

Everything went well. I embarked upon my 34 year project of writing the Montfort series, and also wrote plays, screen plays and radio drama, all as Katherine Ashe.


Simon de Montfort

Then two years ago all that changed. A KathArine Ashe appeared—writing bodice rippers. Now I had been offered a contract for Montfort (sample and outline) as early as 1977—from Playboy Press, and had turned it down because my intention was to write a novel that was serious history. With the first draft done by 1985, I was offered a contract by Random House—provided I turned the book into a romance. I turned that down, and another from Crown, and another from Simon and Schuster—and so on, until 2008 when my agent, Jacques de Spoelberche, no longer could get anyone to even look at the manuscript since I refused to make a woman the central character.

So I went the tough route of self publishing, with Booksurge. Montfort The Early Years was the first manuscript to pass through the process as Amazon bought Booksurge and it became Createspace.  That was the winter of 2009.

Now, in 2010, here was a KathArine Ashe with the formidable promotion machine of Rupert Murdoch owned Harper Collins, publishing exactly the sort of trash I had refused contract after contract for in an effort to have the name Katherine Ashe known for historical integrity.

Friends in publishing told me I could do nothing, but not to worry—she would probably soon disappear. She hasn’t disappeared. In fact, since Harper Collins can outsell me any day of the week, and since this mistress of the bodice ripper churns out two to three books a year, the algorithm at Amazon hijacked my name and referred all searches for books by Katherine Ashe to her.

By last month, two years into the publishing existence of KathArine Ashe, it had become impossible to find my work through a search of KathErine Ashe.

I wrote raging emails to Amazon via Author Central—threatening to tie up at least one member of their legal staff in a courtroom in rural Honesdale PA, with a hostile judge and jury and a claim for damages.  And friends pitched in on line! The independent Authors Guild, English Historical Fiction Authors and Facebook friends, and friends of friends hit the “like” button for all four volumes of Montfort. A ruckus was raised!

And today Amazon, after numerous emails that they could do nothing about the search procedure, capitulated. Though a book search for KathErine Ashe still first turns up KathArine Ashe’s “Swept Away by a Kiss,” a picture of me comes up second with access to all of my books. On a Kindle or amazon.co.uk search of my name, I come up first.

Sword rattling or the power of friends—or both? I think it’s been the power of friends and the “like” button! And I’m very, very grateful—and renewed in faith in the power of people.

If you enjoyed this guest post about challenges with Amazon, you may also want to read Amazon’s Jungle Logic, an Op-Ed piece by Richard Russo that appeared in The New York Times on December 12, 2011.

_________________________________

Katherine Ashe (with an “e”) is the author of: Montfort: The Early Years 1229 – 1243, Montfort: The Revolutionary 1253 – 1260; Montfort: The Angel With the Sword 1260 – 1264, and Montfort: The Founder of Parliament: The Viceroy 1243 – 1253

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23 thoughts on “An Author Lost in Amazon.com’s Rainforest

    • Yes, why? But we know why. There are sick people in the world and the Internet as it is policed today is an environment that offers anonymous trolls to get away with abuse of others. I think of them as another form of the virus that spawned Al-Qaeda and terrorists like Ben Laden.

  1. Pingback: What does it take to be called an ‘Amazon Fora Troll’? | A Nevill Feast

  2. Llloyd, quoting my blog out of context does your argument no good, I’m afraid. The ‘literary cardboard cutouts’ i was referring to occur in what you might call ‘serious’ HF as much as the more frivolous. And they are people who were alive int he 15th century – I hadn’t realised Harlequin had such a long pedigree!

    Katherine Ashe, understandably annoyed at Amazon, lashed out at a fellow author in public. What that author choses to write doesn’t matter in this context. Katherine clearly feels superior to her and entitled to trash this woman and her books in public. As I said at the start of this comment conversation – that doesn’t show a good deal of class. She has lost a good deal of what might otherwise have been useful support because of this. I am far (as I said) from being alone.

    BTW: Did you find anything interesting in my blog except a quote to take out of context?

      • That does not mean I won’t return. What it does mean is that my schedule is crowded and I’m in too much of a hurry so I can do more than I proably will achieve before the day is done. Maybe I could have said that better but I think the point is made. In fact, there is far too many intersting Blog posts on the Internet for me to even scratch the surface. I have tried and when I do, I get nothing else done so I scan, which is why it appears I took your comment out of context.

        I took a speed reading class once (decades in the foggy past) and apply those learned skills when I visit many sites and I probably miss much due to that. In fact, I have a friend that speeds through novels in a fraction of the time most people take and he does miss stuff all the time. However, when it comes to reading books and novels, I take my time and with nonfiction often keep a HiLighter handy and slip markers into pages with the most interesting facts–especially when I’m doing research.

        In addition, since WordPress offered the ability to Reblog posts from other WordPress Blogs, I often go in search of interesting Posts that fit one of my Blogs and then Reblog those posts so readers to my sites will have more choices.

      • “My regular readers seem to enjoy it.” If they return and do not leave complaints, I’m sure that is a sign that they enjoy your site. With 7 billion people in the world, the odds are that we all will find an audience that enjoys what we write and post on our sites but we will also find people that do not. I have found both those that complain and those that don’t. Then there is that vast silent majoirty we never hear from but only know of because of the stats.

  3. Who might have had the name first isn’t the point, Lloyd. Katherine’s problems were with Amazon, not the other writer, and trashing another writer because she’s an inconvenience is not the way to win support or respect. I am far from being alone in this view. I’m pleased to see that things have been sorted out and I hope the two Kathe/arines can now peacefully co-exist.

    • Coexistence is a good thing. And yes, KathErine’s problems were with Amazon and possibly search engines such as Google due to the way they rank topics/sites. However, did KathErine trash the type of novels (you know, bodice rippers — by any other name…) KathArine writes or did she trash KathArine?

      I’m not exactly a fan of the formula romance either and prefer reality to fantasy. Of course, the majority of mostly women readers in North America (I don’t know about Europe) seem to love this sort of fantasy story since the last time I heard; it was still a growth industry.

      Which leads me to this question? Does KathArine write this type of formula romance for the money or something else?

      • Yes.

        What contributes to the short and long term health of our nation and culture more?

        A. Harlequin Romance Novels written to a strict formula that often ignore history and reality

        B. Historical fiction that not only entertains but teaches us about our heritage, our history and how we got here without being confined by a formula or what the mob wants to read.

        If KathArine managed to include elements of “B” in her formula Harlequin Romance Novels, then “maybe” it doesn’t matter. However, Harlequin is mostly out to make a profit and could care less about accuracy, reality and history if it gets in the way. To most corporations, the long term health of a nation is not as important as short term profits.

        Follow the Formula. Harlequin is known for having very specific story formulas for each of their lines. Not every writer likes to write this way and some of their lines such as Mira are less formula-driven than others such as Silhouette. Learn and follow the formula for a better chance at success.”

        Read more: How to Get a Novel Published for Harlequin | eHow.com http://www.ehow.com/how_5805942_novel-published-harlequin.html#ixzz1x1O0V1rA

        To quote one Blog, A Nevill Feast – An antidote to literary cardboard cutouts, “I’m hoping to present a point of view that goes beyond the one-dimensional stereotypes seen in a lot of historical fiction.” Source: http://nevillfeast.wordpress.com/

        Isn’t Harlequin Romance fiction an example of those cardboard cutouts?

      • “What contributes to the short and long term health of our nation and culture more?”

        Probably not novels that make up nonsense about Simon de Montfort being Edward I’s real father, by an author who boasts of her many years of historical research yet claims that it was a ‘hanging crime’ for 700 years even to speak of de Montfort (without ever pointing to the relevant legislation or its repeal). It makes me wince to think of novels like this ‘teaching us about our heritage, our history’.

      • My gosh, a third Kathryn without the A or E and with a Y, which may be a good thing since Kathryn may not be confused with KathArine in an Internet search.

        ________________________________________

        As for KathErine’s novel making up nonsense about Simon de Montfort, that may be a matter one person’s opinion compared to another and only KathErine could respond to that.

        It’s possible that KathErine’s sources offered her a choice and she went with one you disagree with.

        I only have a few examples of how the authors of Historical Fiction often use literary license to tell a story. For example, while I was attending writing workshops out of UCLA extension program in the 1980s (for several years), one of the other members of the writing group was Ellen Jones, who was writing historical fiction about the first queen of England, Queen Maud, and her son, Henry II. I know for a fact that Ellen did extensive research for these two novels which included research on site in England with original documents from that era. While researching those original documents, one of the librarians shared with her a rumor, which had been alive for centuries, that Queen Maud had an affair with her cousin, King Steven and that Henry II was a bastard. Ellen decided to “run” with the rumor in the historical fiction she wrote.

        In Becoming Madame Mao, there is no way to know the intimate details between Mao and his fourth wife since there is no record of those private moments, but Anchee Min goes beyond closed doors and shows the story from Madame Mao’s mind.

        In my novel, The Concubine Saga, the only record we have of Robert Hart’s first decade in China are the journals that he wrote that he did not destroy before he died in 1911. Of those first ten years, he burned about 7.5 years of his journals covering his decade with Ayaou, his concubine. With scant evidence of that relationship and a record of his early life in addition to using events from that era of China’s history, I brought that love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover back to life. Is it 100% accurate? No. But is it close? I’m sure it is as close as anyone will get.

        Historical Fiction authors are often detectives gathering clues and then filling in gaps to tell a story with an emphasis on fiction while striving to stay as close to the known facts as possible.

        However, when a publisher tells a historical fiction author they want to make the main character a woman in a novel about a man’s life, such as Montfort, we learn much about how the traditional publishing industry works. Instead of focusing on accuracy, the publishers’ accountants focus on what the largest possible audience may want according to the sales data of previous popular bestselling novels and accuracy loses out.

        The Fatal Crown by Ellen Jones (1991)

        http://www.amazon.com/The-Fatal-Crown-Ellen-Jones/dp/0671724649/ref=la_B000AQ45KA_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1338997318&sr=1-2

        Beloved Enemy: The Passions of Eleanor of Aquitaine by Ellen Jones (1994)

        http://www.amazon.com/Beloved-Enemy-Passions-Eleanor-Aquitaine/dp/0671872796/ref=la_B000AQ45KA_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1338997318&sr=1-1

      • How does attacking a particular writer’s novels for inaccuracy and as being “trash” without having first bothered to read them contribute to the “short and long term health of our nation and culture”? KathArine Ashe, the romance novelist, indicates on her author page that she is a professor of history. Why assume that she hasn’t done adequate research without first reading her novels?

        Publishing a novel as a historical romance and through a large publisher does not guarantee its historical inaccuracy, just as publishing a novel as “straight” historical fiction and through a small or self publisher does not guarantee its accuracy. It all lies in the individual author.

        And yes, Harlequin is out to make a profit. I fail to see how it is reprehensible, however, for a publisher to want to stay in business and to pay its employees, especially in the present economy. I suspect most small-press and self-published authors also enjoy cashing their royalty checks, whatever grandiose protestations some might make to the contrary. I certainly enjoyed royalty payment day when I was self-published.

        I am not a romance author and don’t particularly enjoy reading romances, simply because I prefer novels where romance is a subsidiary element of the story rather than the main element, but I dislike seeing broad generalizations being made about romance novels (or about any genre fiction) by people whose only exposure to the genre has been secondhand.

      • Susan,

        Yes, it may have been better if KathErine had left out the sentence about “trash”. However, as Americans we are supposed to take pride in our freedom to express our opinions, which seems to be unpopular these days with many that turn to the Internet to criticize opinions they do not agree with in an attempt to demonize individuals and possibly censor them.

        Instead, we should agree to disagree and then make a strong case for our individual opinions, which I believe KathErine did when she pointed out what all of those publishers interested in her work wanted her to make changes to her manuscript so it would be more palatable to a wider audience that may not care an inch for any level of historical accuracy.

        Yes, it makes sense that any business in the private sector would want to make a profit so they may stay in business, which is why more than 3 million people work in the fast food industry and the sugar industry spent more than $50 million recently through lobby efforts to make sure no taxes would be added to products such as Coca Cola, Pepsi and candy bars in a country where consumption of these products has contributed to 75% of the people being fat and a third being obese with the health problems that come with such lifestyle choices (the sugar industry won that round).

        I know it sounds as if I’m getting off topic but I’m hoping to make a point. Sometimes making profits based on a questionable product is not good for the people or the culture and KathErine’s comment about “trash” may serve a purpose in starting a dialogue on this topic to make others think instead of just react emotionally.

  4. “exactly the sort of trash I had refused contract after contract for” and “this mistress of the bodice ripper churns out two to three books a year” doesn’t show a lot of class, Katherine. It’s hardly her fault you changed your name to something close to hers. I wish you both all the success in the world.

    • KathArine Ashe looks to be 20 or 30 something. KathErine Ashe probably changed her name long before KathArine was born. In fact, did you know that KathArine Ashe published her first two books under Kathryn June, which was a pseudonym. Why did she change it to KathArine Ashe and when did she do it?

      http://www.katharineashe.com/bio.html

      Of course, it’s not KathArine’s fault. The problem is with search engines that cannot seem to tell the difference between KathArine and KathErine.

  5. Pingback: Ten Reasons to Avoid Doing Business With Amazon.com « The Fifth Column

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