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.

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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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