I am the author and copyright holder of the webserial collection Babylon Red.
I signed off every chapter of Babylon Red with my Chinese name.
I am the owner of kitsuncheah.com.
No matter how many times I repeat this, Amazon doesn’t believe me.
Following a successful IndieGoGo campaign to fund Babylon Red, I submitted the manuscript to Amazon for publication. On 15 October, I received this email:
I’ve received this email before when publishing the preceding book Babylon Blues. I thought it was just a routine check. I dutifully followed the instructions stated in Option 1.
Little did I know it was the start of a headlong plunge into a bureaucratic labyrinth born from the darkest corners of Kafka’s nightmares.
On October 16, I received this email:
This prompted the following response:
What is in the content of those URLs they cited?
This is Chapter 2 of Babylon Red. In this post, I stated that I was running a crowdfunding campaign for Babylon Red, and posting the second chapter of the novel.
Babylon Red is a webserial written by Kit Sun Cheah, posted on kitsuncheah.com, signed off with Kit Sun Cheah, funded by an IndieGoGo campaign under the name Kit Sun Cheah, and was submitted to Amazon for publication under Kit Sun Cheah.
This wasn’t enough the Content Review Team.
I noted this sentence: “if the content you’re publishing is appearing on your blog (yourblog.com), then the email should be sent to us from email@example.com. The information following the @ symbol in the email address should match the website address.”
I replied with this, forwarded to my regular email address:
Amazon replied with this:
You’re receiving this message because you replied to a KDP email from an email address that’s not associated with your account. To protect your privacy, we only send account information to the email address on file for your account. For assistance, reach us through our Contact Us form (https://kdp.amazon.com/contact) or reply to our original email from the email address associated with your account.
Thanks for using Kindle Direct Publishing.
After that, there was no response.
On 17 October, I followed up with this:
As I typed the paragraph, I felt the edges of my sanity fraying. Me, granting myself the right to publish my book as myself on Kindle! Had I fallen down a rabbit hole without noticing it? How should I climb back up into the wholesome light of logical existence?
I wouldn’t even have bothered with writing this statement, if not for the fact that I wrote on Twitter here and here about this increasingly surreal situation. Russel Newquist said that the last time he ran into difficulties with Amazon, he wrote them an email where he granted himself the rights to publish books for Silver Empire. I thought that would work.
Instead, I received silence.
On 19 October, I sent a chaser email, copied with my webmail. The reply:
Gripped in naivete, I assumed that ‘Abigail’ was a human with a living mind, unbound by corporate strictures and scripted templates. Had I known the truth, it would have saved us untold woe. Instead, to my great sorrow, I crafted a response. Two responses.
Surely, I thought, surely this would cross the digital divide between us. Surely I would finally gain insight into the inner workings of the corporate machinery, and learn at last what documentation I had to furnish.
But alas, I was mistaken.
‘Abigail’ was a dream. A delusion. A daimon conjured from murky phantasy. I had thought I was conversing with a human capable of exercising judgment. Lo and behold, I was writing only to a server of email templates, powerless to act beyond the limited scope of scripted texts.
As this saga dragged on, the Amazon Social Media Escalation Team reached out to me on Twitter. After describing my situation, they gave me a link so I could once again describe the situation.
How astonishingly strange, and yet how expectedly corporate, to make your customer jump through hoops so they could jump through more hoops in an attempt to resolve their difficulties. And there were still more hoops to come.
For, you see, Cory of the Social Media Escalation Team had sent me the link to Amazon India.
Had Moshin solved my problem? Not at all! But perhaps Kelly from Amazon Singapore would help.
But, alas, I had yet to learn my lesson from Abigail. I had thought that I would in time reach a living, breathing human, free from the confines of narrow scripts. The heavens gazed down in gentle mockery as I described, for the umpteenth time, my problem to Kelly.
But Kelly did not respond. Erica did.
I am the author and copyright holder of the webserial collection Babylon Red. I signed off every chapter of Babylon Red with my Chinese name. I am the owner of kitsuncheah.com. I granted myself the right to publish my webserial under my name using my Kindle account.
Having explained all this so many times already, Earth’s most customer-centric company decided that the solution to my woes was to report myself for copyright infringement against myself.
So of course I clicked no.
With growing agitation, I hit the send button. Could it be that Kelly or Erica or whoever was manning the desk at the moment had no control over what they said? Was there even a human on the other end, or just a rotating roster of names to conceal a cold machine enslaved to the whims of a faceless megacorporation, mechanically scanning replies to identify keywords so it could choose the best fit script for the situation?
The answer to this question I knew not. But with growing dread, I read the response, pregnant with implication.
I was, once again, asked to report myself for infringing the copyright I hold for my book first published on my blog and signed off with my name and funded on my IndieGoGo campaign for final publication under my name on Amazon.
The thin veneer of what I once foolishly called reality split open, becoming a gaping maw exposing the totality of nothingness beyond. Was there anyone at Amazon capable of making a judgment call and responding to a simple query with living thoughts and human tongues? Or were they forever restrained by contract and legal liabilities to answer only in fixed templates and dead scripts until the ending of the world?
More unsettling possibilities crept around the dark corners of my brain, whispering into my subconsciousness, every suggestion a drop of corrosive poison eating away at my soul. I could not listen. I refused to listen.
If only I had listened.
After the non-response from Erica, I gave tongue to the rage and perplexity growing in my head. Once again I turned to Twitter, updating my loyal readers with the latest happenings. Once again, Amazon Help through the voice of a being calling itself Paul reached out to me, asking me to, once and twice again, reiterate the saga from start to finish.
In fury, in frustration, I answered thusly:
It is said that in an exorcism, the demons howl loudest in the moments for they depart. The demons of delusions were surely howling in my head now, persuading me to believe that I could yet reach a free human with a free mind. Their diabolical influence inspired this exchange:
After this, the Twitter-demons stole away, leaving behind only a cold and empty silence.
I had thought I could fill that silence by reaching out to KDP directly through its contact form. In so doing, I demonstrated once again to an increasingly unhinged universe that I, a mortal man, am still inescapably bound by a cage of conventional thought.
When Amazon’s response arrived, a dizzying wave of disorientation washed over me. Had I not seen it before? Had I not clicked on the right mail? Had I stepped into a time machine and propelled myself three days into the past?
Another scripted response. The same script that had haunted me for three days and three nights without end.
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Responding to this email would merely prolong the mind-warping insanity, or so I believed.
Little had I known it then, but my own grasp on sanity was growing weak and tenuous, for on 26 October, I contacted Kindle again through the same form.
Could this be a stepping stone towards resolution? A human who could at last light the way out of this Kafkaesque maze? A final ending to this strange saga once and for all?
Every word was a hammer blow, knocking down the last vestiges of my delusions brick by brick. The final sentence was a lightning strike, a wrecking ball, the fires that consumed the peak of the Tower of Babel and the earth that swallowed its base and the high winds that wore its shaft to dust, shattering forever every false belief and misconception I had held, blasting open a hole in my mind to let through at last the light of sanity-blasting revelation.
Abigail, Mohsin, Cory, Kelly, Vik, Paul, Erica, Harika, Heather, Lakshmi, Grace, Augusto Cesar, none of them were real. They never were. In the endless replies and rephrases of boilerplate statements and scripted emails, they had revealed their true selves. They were not living people behind a screen, they were not sentient souls seeking to solve sticky situations, not in any meaningful sense to any right-thinking man, no, they were but miniscule cogs in an enormous machine, itself but a tiny organ within the body corporate that was Amazon, serving as the iron voice of a blind idiot machine.
Were they humans? Or simply illusory names chosen by non-living machines following the dictates of rigid code to create the illusion of humanity? It didn’t matter. By speaking for machines, through machines, as machines, they had become machines, and worse than machines.
Obligated by contract, restrained by regulations, governed by inhuman algorithms and never-living scripts, they were the tiniest of tendrils in a heaving, bloated, overgrown mass of unblinking eyes and titanic pelagic limbs, every arm serving an endless army of mouths, speaking with one breath and consuming with the other, doling out distractions and entertainments and also-boughts and scripts and forms, a virtual entity with neither form nor physical existence, given entirely over to soulless artificed intelligences wrought at the hands of imperfect men aspiring to be Prometheus but merely mimicking Icarus, a modern machine shoggoth sitting upon a throne of silicon and electrons endlessly slurping up your sanity and your money and demanding in return your praise and your worship.
Enough is enough.
In the Babylon universe, Team Black Watch battles machine monsters and false gods and all who worship them. Draining enough to chronicle their struggles on the page. Shall I have to grapple with a real-life megacorp horror too? No. I shall not condemn myself to endless cycles of scripts and buck-passing. When the system falls apart, you must go outside the system.
I ask now only for this: to speak to a real, live human who can help me resolve this issue once and for all. A person with the authority and the ability to make a judgment call, to leave scripts aside and plainly address the issues I have surfaced, and who can verify, once and for all, that I am the author of Babylon Red, I am the owner of kitsuncheah.com, and that I hold the copyright to Babylon Red.
Surely that is not too much to ask?
Or shall we spiral forever downwards into increasingly maddening depths of surreality and lunacy?
I will not play that game. I have promises to my readers to keep. And there are other alternatives to Amazon.
I don’t know what will happen to my Amazon account in the coming days, so if you want any of my books, get them now at this link.