Books From Yours Truly

April 23rd, 2016

It’s been mad busy here at Jewel HQ and it occurred to me that I have neglected to mention books that are available to buy or pre-order. I have more coming your way so stay tuned for more exciting news.

A Seduction in Winter – On Sale Now

A Seduction in Winter, my novella from Christmas in Duke Street, is available as a standalone purchase.

Pretty Regency Lady against a dark blue wintery background

A Seduction in Winter – Pretty!

 

Amazon | iBooks | Nook | Kobo | Google Play | All Romance| Print

He’s an artist and a duke’s heir. She’s sheltered and scarred. Can he show her by Christmas that love can be theirs to share?

As the holidays approach, Lieutenant Leoline Marrable, now Lord Wrathell, travels to London where he’s expected to fulfill longstanding expectations and propose to his former commander’s daughter. Wrathell longs to ease the strained relationship with his ducal father. The key may be an unfinished portrait of his late brother.

Honora Baynard has a terrible facial scar as a result of a childhood injury. She has never forgotten Leoline, who came to her defense when other children tormented her. Now, her over-protective artist father keeps her indoors, creating the beautiful detail work that makes his paintings so sought after.

As Wrathell and Honora spend more time together, mutual interest becomes mutual attraction. Can Wrathell convince Honora that for Christmas, he’d like to give her not only passion and pleasure, but his heart to keep for her own?

If you like sensual romance, complex characters, and witty dialogue, you’ll love Carolyn Jewel’s latest refreshing Regency tale.

Buy A Seduction in Winter to experience the passion today!

My Immortals Series Box Set

I’ve put together a box set of four of the books from the My Immortals Series. It’s on pre-order now and will release May 10, 2016. The pre-order price increases May 17th, so a pre-order locks in the lower price of $7.99 US.

The first three remain with my traditional publisher so I’m unable to include them. But with this box set you’ll get four books in the series: Free Fall (a novella), My Dangerous Pleasure (a novel), My Darkest Passion (a novel), and Dead Drop (a shorter-ish novel).

I’m not able to get a pre-order at Nook, alas. In addition, I have no plans for a print version. The cost would be prohibitive since the total word count would be well over 250,000 words which would push 1000 pages.

 

Box set cover with hot shirtless demon and the covers of the 4 included books

More Demons! Who Doesn’t Want More Demons?

 

Amazon | iBooks | Kobo | Google Play | All Romance

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Miscellaneous Updates

April 14th, 2016

I guess first I’ll mention that Emily and Devon’s story is going well. Last year’s decision to rent offsite office space has made a huge difference in my ability to get words written. There is nothing I can do about the situation that made this necessary, but now I’m able to meet word count and stay on track.

Another bit of news is that despite my poor production in 2015 (see paragraph above) my writing income was up significantly. This was about 50% due to the anthologies I was in.  They did very well.

At the end of last year and through now, I was concentrating on covers for the individual novellas from the anthologies, the covers for My Demon Warlord, covers for three special projects, managing the coding work for a data-management project, and getting ready to outsource all my formatting.

Yes, I can do the formatting myself. I absolutely have the technical skills, but I need to concentrate of maximizing my writing time, and that was one of the things that I decided needed to be outsourced. I’m in the process of sending all my books to be reformatted so they’re all the same visually. Several are done and ready to upload.

Why yes, I DID say there are three special projects that needed covers. I guess stay tuned!

 

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I Survived the Ides of March

March 27th, 2016

Life has been busy here at Jewel Central. I attended the RWA board meeting this month. We got a lot of important work done plus I got to spend time with some really smart women and men. The RWA staff is just amazing. The Board meeting was the weekend of the time change, so Sunday was super fun, getting up extra early. I don’t know what I’d do without espresso in my veins.

Then I came home from that and was tired the entire following week.

On Saturday the 19th, I was on a panel on behalf of the EFF with some of the authors from the anthology the EFF put together.

side shot of Dave Maas of EFF at a podium

Dave Maas of EFF getting ready for the panel

name tags at the EFF panelist table. Carolyn Jewel, Annalise Newitz names are readable. EFF banner too.

Yes! I was there! Next to Annalise Newitz omg

My adventure with arriving at the location of the panel at the Internet Archive in San Francisco began with me locking my keys in the car while I was getting gas. Fortunately, the gas station owner let me use his phone, and CSAA came really really fast and got my car unlocked. This used up all my time allotted for being lost so I was worried I’d be late. But I DID NOT GET LOST! It was a miracle. (No worries! I took two wrong turns on the way back.)

The panel was really fun and interesting. What a great group of authors. I got to shake Cory Doctorow’s hand and he was so, so gracious. As were all the panelists. They were so fabulous that I was just hoping to hold my own as we answered questions etc.

There was Romance in their midsts and everyone was fine with it, which as Romance authors and readers know, is often not the case in the mainstream. We talked about speculative fiction and civil liberties, and answered questions from the audience and everything everyone said was fascinating and thought provoking.

I did feel I had to apologize for my boring hair. I’ve decided to go purple-tinted platinum and in preparation for that, my hair was not dark purple, but a dark, dark, brown because that will be easier to bleach than the purple. So much colorful hair among the attendees!

By Sunday I was sick but needed to pick up my son who was home for Spring Break. Naturally, traffic was terrible and I got lost. Again.

I was sick most of the following week but it was great having my son home. Friday was a holiday from the EDJ. I got to make calls to the RITA/Golden Heart finalists which is pretty much the best thing ever.

My son went back to school today. I did get a little behind on my word count for Sinclair Sisters Book 3 because I was sick, but I’m coming up on the halfway point which is pretty exciting.

In writing-related news, I’m having all my books reformatted because I need not to spend time doing things that aren’t writing books. Ironically, this requires some work that is not writing, but as soon as everything is ready for Formatting Version 2.0, I’ll spend much less time obsessing over it.

And this means I can hint about some upcoming Exciting Things for Readers that are dependent on certain books being reformatted first. All that work went out Saturday and it’s in progress.

And so, March has been very busy, including writing.

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Preorder A Seduction in Winter

March 10th, 2016

A Seduction in Winter, Available for Pre-Order

It doesn’t have to be the holidays or even winter to enjoy my Regency novella about Honora and Lord Wrathell. I promise! This novella originally appeared in the anthology Christmas in Duke Street.

cover of A Seduction in Winter, 3D. Pretty Regency Lady in a blue gown against a snowy--ish background

Cover of A Seduction in Winter – in 3D

 

Pre-Order A Seduction in Winter Now!

All Romance | Amazon | Barnes&Noble | iBooks | Google Play | KoboM | Trade Paper

He’s an artist and a duke’s heir. She’s sheltered and scarred. Can he show her by Christmas that love can be theirs to share?

As the holidays approach, Lieutenant Leoline Marrable, now Lord Wrathell, travels to London where he’s expected to fulfill longstanding expectations and propose to his former commander’s daughter. Wrathell longs to ease the strained relationship with his ducal father. The key may be an unfinished portrait of his late brother.

Honora Baynard has a terrible facial scar as a result of a childhood injury. She has never forgotten Leoline, who came to her defense when other children tormented her. Now, her over-protective artist father keeps her indoors, creating the beautiful detail work that makes his paintings so sought after.

As Wrathell and Honora spend more time together, mutual interest becomes mutual attraction. Can Wrathell convince Honora that for Christmas, he’d like to give her not only passion and pleasure, but his heart to keep for her own?

Read Chapter 1

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A Slightly Funny Story

March 5th, 2016

So, at the day job, we’ve just moved into new office space. I 99.98% love it. All the lights are LED and set to a really lovely, relaxing white. The walls are beautiful colors and there are areas where you could, conceivably, sit and pretend you’re at someone’s home about to have tea and cookies. There are tables with runners and vases and there’s lots of artwork most of which I like. Total win!

Except.

Almost everything is slightly off center. Most of the pictures are crooked to some degree or not hung in a way that doesn’t make me think, hold on here…. something is off. There’s a large space with a beautiful table in the center, and a couch and mirror in the center of the wall at one end. The table is placed off center to the mirror, and literally, everyone who walked by the first few times would stop and cock their heads … because it wasn’t quite right. Plus, the table has a fabric runner down the middle, very pretty, and a large vase in the center. Except the runner was not aligned to the exact center of the table. And the vase was not aligned in the center of the runner. There are, in fact, two other tables with runners and vases, also not aligned. And at the end of the one corridor that ends in a wall, they hung a tapestry, so so pretty! And it was crooked.

I discovered that my colleague also noticed the off-centeredness of everything and it was also driving him crazy. We had several conversations about the pictures that weren’t hung so it wasn’t just…. off. Anyway, I straightened all the vases and runners because it was driving me batty. My colleague helped me align one of them. Because he too was so bothered by it. He straightened some of the artwork. I couldn’t safely reach the tapestry so it continued to be just so slightly off center.

Then the painters had to put another coat of paint on the walls and all the artwork came down. Everything went back up, still mostly crooked. The tapestry, however, was now noticeably crooked. I said “Hey, colleague, look at that!” And we both were deeply unsettled.

And then!

One day I saw that the tapestry had been straightened. Yay!!! When I returned to my desk, I said to my colleague, “Good news! They straightened the tapestry!”

And he says, “Oh, I did that. It was driving me crazy.”

And that is why I like where I work.

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Upcoming Releases

February 21st, 2016

I’m going through all my books and sending them out for reformatting by someone who isn’t me because I’ve decided it’s not a good use of my time. The changes will be exceedingly minor — basically just the formatting. I’ve got some pretty custom dingbats for the interiors and a nifty newsletter icon to include in my books.

In the next two months I’ll be releasing two historical romance novellas that previously appeared in anthologies and uploading new files for the two novellas already on sale. All four will have print versions. In addition, I had all four re-edited/copy-edited/proofed so they’re consistent as to punctuation etc. There are no changes to the stories, but they all went through slightly different editorial processes and I wanted to make sure everything was consistent.

I’m planning a boxed set of these, to be priced competitively compared to purchasing all four individually.

The four novellas are below.

A Seduction in Winter – April 2016

Pretty Regency Lady against a dark blue wintery background

A Seduction in Winter

An Unsuitable Duchess – March 2016

Regency Lady with reddish hair gazing pensively at a fan

An Unsuitable Duchess

In The Duke’s Arms

Regency Couple. Woman's dress is falling off. Man in open necked shirt and breeches. Shennanigans.

In The Duke’s Arms

One Starlit Night

Pretty Regency Lady in a dress that is unfastened down the back. She's not wearing proper undergarments and she's outside with stars.

One Starlit Night

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When Worlds Collide! Kapow! Writing and Database Design

February 14th, 2016

I continue to marvel at the intersection of my writing life and my tech life. One of my job functions is to architect databases that will hold the information that runs websites or pays bills or, report on the information in the database. It’s remarkably easy to get wrong. Because I’m a data architect and not a software developer, my approach is always, how would I set this up so we meet the users needs and protect the data?

Every software dev is now slapping her/his forehead and groaning.

Dude. We’ll negotiate the joins later, OK?

But no. We’re not doing it your way because your way is fast on the app side and 30 days later we can’t report on the data. Or it’s not actually what the user needs.

So. Authors who write series, often more than one, need a way to show readers the order of the books in the series. Sounds simple, right? Let the author number the books from 1 through a bazillion.

(And now all the authors are now groaning, going, wait! What about prequels, novels and novellas? where I didn’t write them in chronological order or where readers want Novel order interspersed with Novellas … without having to number Book 7 in the series 9th in the order because there are intervening novellas or short stories.)

Readers are doing much the same.

I know, I know. And I’m so sorry.

surprise/not surprised

I’m surprise/not surprised that ALL the book vendors have gotten the design of this wrong. It SOUNDS easy, but it’s not. We all see the huge disconnect between all the vendors who went “Let them number the books IN WHOLE NUBMERS!” and what authors and readers actually need.

A structured database, like SQL Server or Oracle could do this of course. So could a NoSQL db, but either way you still have to understand this isn’t just a numbering problem. NoSQL probably makes this easier to achieve.

But is OBVIOUS no one at the vendors actually talked to enough authors or even publishers about this. If they had, they’d know they were about to design it wrong.

Painful Lessons of Bad Data Architecture

One of the early lessons for any database person is that when the structure doesn’t provide users a way to do what is needed in real life, they will find workarounds that fuck up your data.

Like when there’s no field to hold (easy example) a middle name and someone goes by their middle name. Users will enter the middle name in the first name field OR the last name field, or a field for Company name. And then you are fucked because you have no way easy way to know that Roberta Ellen Smith is in your database as

firstname: Roberta Ellen
LastName: Smith
CompanyName: Acme Widgets

AND/Or
firstname: Roberta
LastName: Ellen Smith
CompanyName: Acme Widgets

AND/OR
firstname: Roberta
LastName: Ellen
CompanyName: Smith/Acme Widgets

Now get me a list of all the people whose last name is Smith.
Oops.

I’m not making this up, except the names. I’ve seen databases like this.

Real World Reading and Writing

In the real world of reading and authoring books, a series can have:
Novels
Novellas
Short stories
Something else we didn’t think of yet.

And the order might go like this:

Book 1
Book 2
Novella 1
Book 3
Short Story 1
Book 4
Novella 2

AND it’s possible the author wrote these stories in this order

Short Story 1
Book 2
Book 3
Book 4
Book 1
Novella 2
Novella 1

So that by the time they’ve written novella 1, which in the chronology of events in the SERIES places Novella 1 chronologically before Book 3, they will need to reorder their books.

How do I know this is possible? Because I’m a data architect and I’ve seen stuff like this before but also because here’s the story series order of my Sinclair Series books:

Books in chronological order according to the World
Mary’s story
Anne’s Story
Lucy’s Story
Emily’s Story

Here’s the order I have written or will write them in:

Anne’s Story
Lucy’s Story
Emily’s Story
Mary story

Why? Because PUBLISHING doesn’t commit to series and sometimes neither do authors. A book that was intended as a stand alone turns out to have characters in it readers are dying to read about, and some of those characters’ stories would be BEFORE the time setting of the book that was published first.

Authors commonly want to number books like this:

Prequel (Book 0)
Book 1
Novella 1.5
Book 2
Book 3
Novella 3.5

Which is a fairly obvious solution from their point of view, but with clear issues on the backend if you only allow the number field to accept whole numbers which everyone except All Romance eBooks does.

That’s the problem with the simplistic notion that Books are ordered 1, 2, 3, 4 . . . . N

Authors and Readers – in the same leaky Boat

Readers might want to read the books, regardless of length or nomenclature (novel, novella etc.) in the order they were written. Or chronologically according to events in the series. Or in some order the author has provided for the series.

So, on the backend, book order is actually considerably more fluid than any vendor currently provides to authors who would like to number their books so readers can figure out which stories they want to read first.

So vendors end up giving us this, which is completely inadequate for authors and readers alike.
Book 1 = Book 1
Book 2 = Book 2
Book 3 = Novella 1
Book 4 = Book 3
Book 5 = Short Story 1
Book 6 = Book 4
Book 7 = Novella 2
Book 8 = Book 5

Because to get the books listed in reading order authors have to say Book 5 is Book 8 when it isn’t book 8.

Obviously, you should allow the author to provide a reading order that does not link reading order to nomenclature.

1 = Book 1
2 = Book 2
3 = Novella 1
4 = Book 3
5 = Short Story 1
6 = Book 4
7 = Novella 2
8 = Book 5

So, you show the end user this:

Vampire Flowers Series – Reading Order

Flowers in My Garden, prequel
Flowers in my Sock drawer, Book 1
The Gnome Attack, Novella 1
Flowers in my mailbox, Book 2
Gnome Attack!!, A short story
Bees Knees, Novella 2

Reading Order, as a numbering concept unrelated to any other order, would also permit a reader to get a list of just the novels, in reading order.

But nobody asked me.

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Movie Review – Roy (The Smoke Got In My Eyes)

February 7th, 2016

Yesterday on twitter, a fellow Arjun Rampal fan asked why I hadn’t blogged on the subject lately. His tweet reminded me that I have been remiss, and that Rampal’s recent movie, Roy, has been sitting unwatched in my stack of DVDs. Which means it’s been unwatched since before there was any hope of streaming movies here at Jewel Central. I used to have to buy all the Indian films I wanted to watch. Now, though, I can do Prime or Netflix.

It so happens, though, that Roy recently won Best Music at the 61st Filmfare Awards, which I actually knew already because I follow several Bollywood related accounts.

Having just watched the movie, I can represent that the music IS really good.

And so, @arjungrg  (He has the same first name as the actor we admire) herewith my review of Roy.

Roy was directed by Vikramjit Singh and stars Rampal and Jacqueline Fernandez.

The trailers I saw for this film were smoking hot scenes of Rampal and Fernandez in a pool and I guess I blanked out everything else. So, what I thought the movie was about and what it’s actually about? Two different things. Also, keep in mind this paragraph, because I’m going to circle back to it.

Smoke Got in My Eyes

Except for the two minutes while the final credits were rolling, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie with such an overt male gaze. There were maybe two minutes out of the three some hours where there were two women on screen at the same time (excluding extras).

Besides Fernandez, the only other woman (Shernaz Patel) who has more than a couple of lines of dialogue, is there for the sole purpose of providing moral support to Rampal’s character. It’s like whoever wrote this film thinks women spring to life only when there’s a man around. Which was kind of ironic because Patel’s role could have been played by a man, so kudos to casting a woman. I guess. She did a great job letting us know Rampal’s character was in emotional pain and that she was there to support him.

Upfront, I’ll just say that plot of this movie was so convoluted it started to feel like the screenwriter was trolling me. There wasn’t enough shirtless Rampal to make up for that. The master of “I AM IN SO MUCH PAIN SHE BROKE MY HEART!!!!” could not rescue a confusing script. Which is a pity because there was so much potential, and twice it broke out and I was all “Oh, whoa, that’s interesting!” and then I think the director was all “WAIT! I have to make this even more confusing. DO NOT FOLLOW THAT THREAD!” Right, because if he did, there would be a movie worth watching.

Smoke? What about the Smoke?

EVERYBODY smoked. And, for this film, that means every man smoked. Whenever someone was smoking there was this tiny little notice “smoking kills” in the lower right corner of the screen. It was there a lot. I now believe all the smoking is the reason the movie opened with two anti-smoking ads. All that smoking was distracting. I think the director must not have trusted his actors to actually act.

Plot

Rampal plays Kabir Grewal, a screenwriter (with writer’s block when the love of his life isn’t there) and director who is a playboy. He’s writing/directing the 3rd movie of a trilogy. Singh’s (Roy’s director) conceit is to make us unable to figure out that the subplot is actually the movie that Rampal’s character is writing/directing. In doing so, Singh seems to have forgotten that confusing movies ::cough::Inception::cough:: need a story hook that won’t let you go.

Confusing isn’t enough and the writing forgot to give us a reason to care about Kabir. The fact that I cared even a little speaks to Rampal’s ability to emote. But there was so little script for him to work with.

To be honest, when you forget that Women Are People Too, it’s understandable you might not realize you should give the women in your movie actual acting to do. Fernandez is a beautiful woman and director Singh never lets us forget that. I’m pretty sure she can act, but when your main function is decorative and to reflect the hero of the movie, it’s hard to be sure.

Surprises?

Well, I was surprised by the martial arts scene in the movie within the movie. Totally surprised. There wasn’t actually any martial arts. It was more like Movement, jump to post movement so no one actually had to do any martial arts. American movies take the same dreadful shortcuts, I’m afraid.

Sum up

This wasn’t a total waste of time because Arjun Rampal. If you like movies with women that exist only in the minds of men, this is the movie for you. But it was a waste of some talented actors. My recommendation is to watch only the final credits because those scenes were combustible. Actual acting!! The pre-release trailers I saw were entirely made up of scenes from the final credits and it made it look like the movie was about heartbreak and true love. Nope. It could have been. Loads of Indian films successfully do that. Not this one.

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My Demon Warlord – On Sale Now

February 2nd, 2016
Cover of My Demon Warlord. A hot shirtless guy who looks exactly as you image Kynan Aijan would look.

Cover of My Demon Warlord

Where to Buy

Amazon | Barnes&Noble | iBooks | Kobo | Google Play | All Romance eBooks | Print

It’s done! It’s on sale! I hope you’ll read and review it. If you’d like a review copy, let me know!

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Amazon Reviews and Timestamps

January 31st, 2016

Recently, I followed a twitter link that landed me here: k-lytics.com which page is a tutorial for authors about how to understand Amazon links and lessen the risks of review removal. Although the main take away, which is it’s better to use a link that contains only the ASIN, the tutorial is wrong on just about every technical fact.

It’s hard to know where to start when everything is so . . . wrong.

Note: I’ve gone in and clarified when I’ve realized that I wasn’t specific enough or I used language than means something different to a developer or database admin than it likely does to a person who isn’t either of those things.

The TL;DR

Amazon URLs don’t identify the person who did the search so Amazon is not using incoming links as a criteria for review removal. The value of qid= in a URL does not assist in distinguishing the user account. While there are reasons to use a “clean” Amazon URL in your links, identification of your Amazon account as the link source is not one of them.

Credentials

Before I continue, and on the off chance that someone who does not know my background reads this post, here’s a statement of my technical credentials:

I am a former web developer. I have worked in dev-ops. (Technically, I think I still do, but for a much smaller company without scheduled product release cycles.) I am a SQL Server DBA and data architect. It has been my job to design and maintain the database back-end for commercial, enterprise web applications. I have attended daily meetings with software architects and developers where my responsibility was to head off boneheaded code and bad database designs or to design such structures for them. My current job is with a much smaller company, but the skill set is still required.

When someone starts talking about interpreting URLS and particularly about databases, this is squarely in my technical expertise. Especially the database stuff.

The Actual Problem

Amazon has identified relationships between the poster of a review and the creator/seller of the product as reasons they will remove reviews. The exact words (see quote infra) are “perceived to have a close personal relationship” or “a direct or indirect financial interest.”

In order to establish these things, Amazon has to connect a given Amazon account with one or more external accounts. More on that later.

And so, you might think, of course a link on a third party site is an external thing that might create the appearance of a relationship. But link clicks would be a remarkably inefficient way of deriving that information.

A link, sitting on your website, or facebook, or twitter, or pinterest, gets clicked on by someone and that someone ends up at Amazon and they buy your book. This is not behavior that Amazon, or anyone who sells stuff on the web wants to discourage.

We know that Amazon has removed reviews from readers who love an author and post reviews of every book that author writes. That is because they have identified that the reader has done something such as like the author on Facebook, and that there is, therefore, an outside, personal, relationship between the reader and the author. Facebook, as do other social media companies, provides a wealth of information about who likes what/whom. That information is pretty easy to find out. The contents of a link URL are irrelevant to that determination.

That relationship is NOT contained in the URL.

If you have an Amazon link on your Facebook page and someone clicks on it and buys your book, the smoking gun isn’t the URL string of the link. It’s the referrer information that tells amazon that the click came from your Facebook page or profile (And if it’s from your profile rather than your author page, then you are likely asking for a false positive).

An Amazon URL is a Dumb and Inefficient Way to Infer Relationships

Amazon is unlikely to be using URL strings from incoming third parties (your website, facebook etc.) to figure out which reviews are suspect. They surely are interested in incoming links, but not as implied in that article. Parsing URLS for such information would be a strange and inefficient way to get that information, especially when third parties make it easy to mine far more relevant data.

Carolyn’s Theory

Personally, my theory is that authors who are using the same email address for Amazon, writing- related social media activities, and their personal lives, are more likely to run into problems with Amazon incorrectly deriving personal relationships where none exist. I suspect that logging in all over the place with a Facebook account only exacerbates the issue. Using the same email address at Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, etc, or filling in alternate email contacts at those sites where that alternate email is the same as your Amazon email account are going to make it really easy for Amazon to find connections and come up with real, or incorrect, derivations of actual problematic relationships. Especially if you haven’t locked down your privacy settings.

The Technical Problems with the Analysis

Right. So, the claim is that a link containing stuff besides the ASIN is sufficient to invoke a review removal.

Amazon knows if a reviewer bought the item they’re reviewing. And they surely know what events led to the reviewer’s “buy this” click. If it’s a link from a third party site, then they have whatever information is in the referring link. However, that link does not contain the account information of the person who copied and pasted the link.

The tutorial implies that a qid value, should it exist, is sufficient to identify the account that created the link. That is false.

The qid value is an Epoch timestamp — the number of seconds since January 1, 1970. This value is precise only to the second. That right there tells you there’s a huge problem with the analysis in the tutorial.

The idea that the qid value provides enough information to identify the account that made the search is just … wrong.

The addition of the qid value does not and cannot guarantee uniqueness of the string. It is possible for two people make the exact same search at the exact same second and click on the top result at the same second. In such a case those URLs will be identical.

How a DBA Gets Fired

Uniqueness is a key component of database design. If the data architect gets this wrong because they fail to account for the possibility of collisions where two objects cannot be distinguished from each other, they’re going to be out of a job.

Unique Snowflakes MUST Exist

It is actually impossible to have uniqueness on a timestamp that is precise only to the second. I imagine many people unfamiliar with such concepts think that precision to the second is pretty darn precise. But in this context, it is not. It’s also not precise enough for things like the Olympics, by the way.

When the ability to uniquely identify something is required, you don’t choose imprecise values to achieve that.

Frankly, this is a dumb discussion. If you want to track search queries by account this isn’t how you do it.

The qid does have a useful purpose, but it’s not identifying the user who made the search.

Let me remind you that when Amazon needs to know what user account referred an incoming link, they don’t say, “No worries, we have that in every URL!” What they say is, sign up for an associates account so we can give you a uniquely identifying string that tells us the link came from you.

More Problems

The tutorial goes on to state that the number of times the link was clicked on provides evidence of author manipulation. No. Mere clicks on a link are evidence of popularity of the content and the popularity of the author. If number of clicks alone was evidence of manipulation then popular authors would disproportionately suffer from such a system. Further, if that were true, then no author should ever use associates links.

Additional information is needed in order to infer manipulation and that information is not in an Amazon URL.

I think it’s pretty ridiculous to think that Amazon would take punitive actions based on data that does not identify the account that made the link. The implication that it’s the qid portion of the URL, is, in a word, bullshit.

Here’s what Amazon says about its policy (found here):

Authors and artists can add a unique perspective and we very much welcome their customer reviews. While we encourage reviewers to share their enthusiasm and experience, there can be a fine line between that and the use of customer reviews as product promotion. We don’t allow anyone to write customer reviews as a form of promotion and if we find evidence that a customer was paid for a review, we’ll remove it. If you have a direct or indirect financial interest in a product, or perceived to have a close personal relationship with its author or artist, we’ll likely remove your review. We don’t allow authors to submit customer reviews on their own books even when they disclose their identity.

And here’s a few of the items that prompt removal:

  • A product manufacturer posts a review of their own product, posing as an unbiased shopper
  • A customer posts a review in exchange for $5
  • A family member of the product creator posts a five-star customer review to help boost sales
  • An artist posts a positive review on a peer’s album in exchange for receiving a positive review from them

For that last one, substitute “author” for “artist” and “book” for “album.”

There’s very, very little in any Amazon URL that provides any of that information.

It’s not the purchase that is suspect. Amazon knows who bought what. Amazon is saying there is a non-commercial, personal relationship between the poster of a review and the author.  The URL doesn’t provide a smoking gun of “These people are buddies outside this commercial transaction!”

What people suspect Amazon is doing for the purposes of determining those relationships is examining things like connections between Amazon accounts (Kindle sharing, mailing addresses, etc) or links between Amazon email addresses and possibly IP address that indicate that one person is posting under multiple identities.  They’re also believed to be looking at other social media accounts, including Facebook and places where unwise authors might obtain insincere reviews, such as Fiverr, including taking legal action against those services. Gifting a book to a reader is something that appears to trigger an issue with a subsequent review.

Even More Problems

If you listen to that tutorial, you’ll come away thinking several incorrect things.

The tutorial implies that the qid, which is a Unix Epoch timestamp (the number of seconds since January 1, 1970) is a unique identifier. This is so false I immediately lost track of the tutorial because I was all wha??? (No worries! I listened three times to get their statements straight.) It manages to also imply that the qid somehow identifies the user making the query. That is also false.

It makes a big deal of demonstrating that a qid value changes over time. Um, doh?

Wrong about Short Links, Too

Then the tutorial talks about short links and it implies that using a short link will strip the identifying data from a copied Amazon URL. That, too, is false. Whatever is contained in the source URL that you paste into your short link destination will be used to resolve the destination of the click.

So, suppose you use bit.ly/mybook  as the link you post at FB.

When someone clicks on your FB bit.ly link here is what happens:

The user goes along for the ride to bit.ly where bit.ly looks up the destination you gave it for bit.ly/mybook (this happens really quickly. The user is unlikely, but only unlikely, to notice the millisecond or so that they’re at bit.ly.)

Bit.ly sends the user to the destination you copied and pasted from Amazon. The ENTIRE URL you copied and pasted. Including any applicable qid or other search string.

Lastly, the tutorial completely omits consideration of the use of Amazon associates links. If it’s true that Amazon is using information from incoming third party links to figure out whose reviews to remove, then authors should NEVER use associate links. An associates link actually DOES identify the source of the user account that made the link. But that’s an absurd result. Amazon wants people to use their associates links.

Precision to Websites and Databases

Amazon processes millions of transactions and there are, guaranteed, many many queries that occur in the exact same second. Database systems that need to know which transaction to commit first are looking at milliseconds and nanoseconds. Therefore, a timestamp that is precise only to the second is inadequate for the identification of separate transactions. An Epoch timestamp might uniquify, but it cannot uniquely identify. And, even if it were used to add some value to a search string to make it unique, an imprecise value like that would not guarantee there would not be a collision.

Here’s what the timestamp can efficiently do: create an easy, lightweight way to compare the start time of the product search result to actions taken later. So you know something like, how long it took the user to click buy. It’s easy and lightweight because all you have to do is some arithmetic like subtract one epoch value from another.

Why You’d Want a Clean URL

Long URLS are subject to errors that break the link. Certain characters, such as spaces and ampersands, may need to be encoded so the URL is correctly parsed. You might not get the entire URL. It’s a lot of work. It’s easier to read your html and other analytics.

But it’s not because Amazon is using a qid to identify the person who created the link.

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