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iBook Lessons: Getting Apple reviewers to wake up and pay attention

iBook Lessons is a continuing series about ebook writing and publishing.

One of our editors suggested I take a look at Holly Lisle's discussion of her issues with the iBookstore review process. Lisle, who writes both fiction and a series of instructional titles for writers, included an in-book link to Amazon in one of her educational ebooks. The topic, in this case, was how to leverage Amazon's site to come up with alternative genres for listing books.

Apple's iBookstore reviewers rejected the book, stating the "Rejected Reason(s)" being "Competing Website(s)." She replied by updating her book to redact the problematic links, resubmitting it to Apple. It was rejected again with the explanation, "The original change request was not fulfilled. Your changes were not saved. Original Issues have not been resolved. Please log in to iTunes Connect to view this request and upload replacement assets."

Lisle insists she did update the book, and that Apple is wrong. She writes, "As noted, however, I HAD changed the lesson, HAD removed the links, HAD complied with their request. Since the links were gone, their only possible objection-NOT STATED-was content." She decided to pull all her content from the iBookstore.

I have attempted to contact her to discuss the matter further. My take on this is that she may have reuploaded the wrong assets, or that the EPUB contained vestigial content, which was detectable by the automated scan. I did not get a reply, so I can't really explain what went wrong in her situation, nor can I offer suggestions specific to this case. (I would love to see the submitted EPUB to dissect it for a full analysis.)

Since I am unable to deal with the specifics of her book's rejection, Mike Rose asked that I offer some general advice about the Apple Reviewer/author relationship instead. I have four years of store-based experience under the belt. I have had material rejected, accepted, and escalated. Here are some of the lessons I have learned over time.

There are humans at both ends of the situation, even if Apple does not give you access to them. With most businesses, you can expect to call or email and either talk to someone directly or expect a reply within a business day.

Apple doesn't work that way. A lot of the App Store/iBookstore experience involves autoreply robots and a vast echoing silence from the Apple end.

As an extreme example, I submitted a review variance request for Ad Hoc Helper, an app, in early April. I quickly received standard we-got-your-mail reply. "Thank you for contacting the App Review Team about your app , Ad Hoc Helper. We appreciate you providing us with this information. We will investigate this matter and follow up with you as needed." Since then, nothing. It's been over three months.

This is slightly unusual, as normally Apple does reply to queries in a reasonable amount of time. You never know who you are going to get. You never know how much background they have in your area, but someone usually (eventually) replies.

You don't know who your someone is going to be. It's more like accessing a call center than working with a personal rep. Although Apple does assign reps for larger companies and offers troubleshooting and concierge services for those premium partners, for little guys and indies, you get whomever is on duty, who picks up your ticket and little else.

You are just one product in the midst of their busy work day.

What's more, they won't greet you and say, "Hi, my name is Bill, how can I help make your day better?" There's a fundamental power differential at play. Because of this, your communication needs to be courteous and deferential. You cannot make demands; you can make requests. Don't expect to call and get, for example, Verizon or Comcast customer support.

This is a vast improvement, by the way, compared to Amazon. Getting an Amazon ticket handled by KDP support works on geological time scales. So keep in mind as you're reading that Apple is by far the preferred experience -- although it's fair to say that Apple has more rules that one might run afoul of.

Do as much work for them as you can in your communication, and never assume there is any institutional memory happening. Put all the information a reviewer needs directly in your email and keep your requests succinct.

Here is how I would have phrased Ms. Lisle's communication:

Dear Apple Review Staff,

On (date), I submitted (product). It was rejected for containing a competing website reference. I removed the reference and resubmitted on (date). It was rejected again on (date) for the same reason. My case reference number is (number).

I have spot checked my EPUB and can confirm I submitted an edited version. Would you please determine if your validation tools are picking up on any remnants within the file that were manually deleted using (tool, e.g. Pages, or whatever)?

I'd like to work with you to ensure that (product) makes it to the iBookstore without any further hitches.

Sincerely.

The key points in this communication are as follows:

  • It contains a history of the situation, with specific details about what is going on. Further, it assumes the person reading the communication has no other background on this case.
  • It explains the immediate problem at hand and it contains a concrete request that a reviewer can act on.
  • It is short and respectful.

These points do not differ much from the best practices for writing any other consumer complaint letter. Further, you should follow up on a regular basis if Apple does not respond, e.g.

I'm touching base to check on the status of my previous request, case reference (number).

It's important to be proactive, because no one is going to be your advocate other than you.

[hat tip to BoingBoing and Hacker News]



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Apple

A lot of the App Store/iBookstore experience involves autoreply robots and a vast echoing silence from the Apple end.