Saturday, April 9, 2011

If You Want Me To Comply, Amazon, A Hint At How To Do So Would Be Welcome

OK, I'm a little bemused by the fact that Amazon has re-categorized my book as erotica based on the cover.

However, I am not so amused that when I asked (quite politely!) about their guidelines so that I could comply with them, I was told "We do not provide information about the inner workings of our company. I hope you'll understand our position."

What the re-categorization means is that if you're browsing for "historical fiction" or "historical romance," my book won't be returned in your results. Nor will it show up in the "people who bought this book, also bought" section. You either have to expressly search on "erotica," the title of the book, or my name for it to show up. While I have nothing against erotica, this book ain't it. There are some steamy scenes and there is adult content, but it is NOT erotica. And people who pick it up because they think it is will be quite disappointed.

I will also point out that if you do a search for "historical romance" in the Kindle store, you will get quite a few results that have covers far more explicit than mine, as well as a couple that also have the strategic placement of body parts over other parts. I found these titles just in the top 300 returned results (be advised that some of these are really NOT Safe for Work, while I think mine is maybe a little uncomfortable for work depending on where you're browsing.)

I'm at a loss as to why these books are browsable under "historical romance" and "historical fiction" but mine is not. And these are just the top 300; there are many more in the Carnal Desires series that didn't make the top 300.

Of course, I also wondered if the mature subject matter in the subplots had something to do with the re-categorization, but as neither Lolita nor The Color Purple has the erotica tag slapped on it, I dismissed that idea.

The entirety of my email conversation with Amazon is below the images. Please judge for yourself. And, really, I'm open to any thoughts you may have on this.

I'm also open to thoughts you may have on the reworked cover. Of course, I have no idea if Amazon will accept it for their general catalog or not because I can't get anything more concrete on what they consider "acceptable."

My initial mail to Amazon:

I noticed that the categories on one of my book's pages -- Spoil of War: An Arthurian Saga, B004UH7Z7U -- are both showing up as Erotica on the page, although in my KDP Bookshelf selection they are checked as:
Fiction: Historical
Fiction: Historical Romance

There is also a Fiction: Erotica tag showing up under "Similar Items By Subject" on the book page.

Can you please change the book page category and similar items tags to the Historical Fiction and Historical Romance tags as input? The book has mature content, but it is NOT erotica. In fact, readers looking for an erotic read would be quite disappointed to find this title in their search.

I appreciate your timely help in this matter on both the US and UK sites.

Best regards,

Amazon's reply:
Thank you for your email.

The following titles contain adult content that is not appropriate for general viewing because it either contains nudity or depicts or simulates a sexual act. It is Amazon’s policy to filter adult products from broad searches and your title will continue to be filtered in these search results.

Spoil of War: An Arthurian Saga B004UH7Z7U


To which I queried:
Thank you for your reply, [redacted customer service name].

May I inquire as to what the policy is concerning nudity? I'm assuming this title is being filtered because of the cover image. The cover doesn't depict or simulate a sexual act. The two models in the image are nude but they are photographed above the hips and the female's breasts are in their entirety covered from sight. This is little different from how nudity is dealt with on network television. Where does the cover cross the line into an erotic image, please?

Thank you for helping me understand your policy so I can take steps to comply.
All best,

And Amazon's reply:
We do not provide information about the inner workings of our company. I hope you'll understand our position.

Thank you.


Beckah-Rah said...

Well, that's annoying. I wouldn't think that describing what constitutes nudity would count as the company's 'inner workings.' Bummer. I think the new cover is fine (much less gratuitous than some of those other covers you posted links to!), and if it gets you into the general catalog, then I suppose you should go for it. At least with Amazon.

Beckah-Rah said...

sorry; I meant your current cover is less gratuitous than the other titles.' I wish you could edit your comments. :P

AA said...

Sounds a lot like the US Government.


Comply with what?


What rules?


fairyhedgehog said...

Amazon are just a pain when they get an idea in their head. Can we do anything? E.g. by visiting your page in the erotic section and complaining that it isn't really erotica?

Your second cover is fine but considering some of the others you linked to that are not considered erotica I'm totally baffled. Gorgeous Girls Seeking Sex has nudity and physical contact, and sex in the title - how is that less erotic than your cover?

Jo-Ann said...

I'm wondering if Amazon's response actually meant: "It just depends whose desk it lands on! And if you wanna publish with us, lady, live with it!"

When I was browsing through the covers of the other works, my other half looked over my shoulder, and asked what I was doing. He was quite willing to volunteer his services in rating just how "explicit/ erotic" the various covers were!

I agree that your art-work is less explicit than some of the others, but I'm wondering if the woman's expression influenced Amazon's decision - she's a passive participant in whatever's going on. She doesn't seem to be either aroused or outraged by the man's actions. Maybe they think she's a bored prostitute, and that tipped the balance towards erotica, rather than romance.

Anonymous said...

Hey Phoenix,
I hope you will check out Rob Parnell's Magellan. You have nothing to lose and might gain.
I've done a non fiction hip replacement in China and Thailand ms and it goes to him when I'm finished. Retain copyright and other good things. Clean and simple.
Good luck, if you need more info I'll pass it on. It may not work for you, but nothing to lose looking at it.

Jo-Ann said...

Ooops, forgot to mention.. the second version is safer, might as well go with it, if it means sales.

Wilkins MacQueen said...

Songkran is coming in a few days. I will powder myself up and douse myself in celestial water and offer up a cleansing prayer to the Amazonian gods that they will come to their senses and JUMP at your book, cover(s) notwithstanding. AND get a pair of glasses so they READ the lovely piece by BESTSELLING NY TIMES AUTHOR Jennifer Blake. Man alive. I'd be punching holes in the wall. I will make merit and put joss sticks on fire as well. I may rally the street and arrange a chanting procession with parasols. A few baht donation, yeah. Might work. We chant in Sanskrit and Hindi.

Matt said...

Recently, Amazon came under fire for remotely removing already purchased books from peoples' kindles. Said books were supposedly removed because they contained sexually explicit/deviant themes.

I imagine Amazon revised their adult content policies afterword so that they wouldn't have to resort to such measures and field so many complaints. It seems they've become overly cautious and you're paying the price. Judging by the servant rep's flippant response, I'm guessing you're not the only one.

vkw said...

Hey Phoenix,

Your old cover was certainly less explicit than the other covers you linked.

I'm going to play the devil's advocate here, (and I say that with lots of love and respect). I wasn't a big fan of the cover because I thought it was too provocative. It's not something I would have laying around my house.

Dont' get me wrong, it is a beautiful cover. It looks more romancy than fantasy or historic, which was another put off for me.

The second cover is better, although to be very safe, may I suggest not just a banner across the middle but to widen to the very bottom.

I know you feel outraged by this development and I am very sympathetic.

P.S. I've worked with people like Amazon. . . that's not how you do it! Then how do you do it? Not like that

Orlando said...

That is totally unfair. I will help you out by making mention of it in my Twitter, facebook, and blog. I'm not huge but it's something. I want to see you achieve success, and I think you are on your way there. Good luck, I know you're an awesome writer.

Phoenix said...

@Beckah: You're right, and I'm sure I'll be changing the cover. But you know, now "it's the principle" ;o)

@AA: Direct experience there, eh?

@FHH: Thanks for the offer! But I'm sure I'll cave -- it's Amazon. I'm surprised they've been as responsive as they have.

@Jo: I'll keep your SO in mind for future cover comparisons :o) And really, I wish they would just say why and what. Sigh.

Phoenix said...

@Anon: A non-fiction hip replacement in China and Thailand manuscript -- now why couldn't I have come up THAT idea? What in my blog triggered the "hip replacement" bit I wonder? My age???

@Mac: Thanks for the support, sweetie! Wouldn't that be something to see: the parasol parade and the joss sticks! Which gods are the mightier, I wonder? The Amazonian ones or the Hindi/Thai ones? I'll send you a few baht to throw in, how about?

@Matt: Unfortunately, you're probably right. They've come under fire when gay-themed books went missing from their catalog too.

@vkw: Please always feel free to be honest with me. It's good for me to know that some people do object to the cover. To me it conveys being "protective" and a bit "proprietary" but, as we hear over and over in this industry, it's all so subjective. The fab thing about ebooks is that changing out the cover is just a bit of a pain and not a huge undertaking (unless you're paying someone to do it). But it is frustrating working through it!

@Orlando: Thank you! I saw your tweet. Much appreciated!

Wilkins MacQueen said...

I bought the paste, the celestial water, leave it to me and we'll see how it plays out. You do understand I have to DANCE down the street at 7 am with my entourage yelling wooo hoo every third step? But for you Divine One, this is no hardship. I'll have those monks pray for weeks on this one.Photos to follow. And the band will be awesome. I'm connected.
Need a day or two to organize it,we'll rock.

Phoenix said...

@Mac: ROTFLMAO! I love you!

Sarah Laurenson said...

Hm. I like the original cover better than the bannered one. But I'm not sure how I really feel about the cover in general. Her expression is a bit bothersome. I love all the muscles. It's not any "worse" than TV - you're right on that score.

Looks like a great read.

AA said...

"Direct experience there, eh?"
Gee, how did you guess?

"I'm wondering if Amazon's response actually meant: "'It just depends whose desk it lands on! And if you wanna publish with us, lady, live with it!'"

Yeah, that's exactly what it meant. Each person has a different idea of what constitutes erotica, and there are several people doing this job.

"We do not provide information about the inner workings of our company."

Translate: There are no rules, just however the person working that day feels about it. If we tell people that, everybody will scream how unfair it is, so it seems best to just tell people nothing.

As for the new cover: I'm an artist as well as a writer, so naturally I hate it. There is a gratuitous fuzzy black banner obscuring part of an otherwise beautiful picture. However, as a writer, I'd go with it if forced to in order to comply with the nonexistent rules. If people can't find your book they can't buy it.

Phoenix said...

Hi Sarah! I've missed you! Not just here but around the blogosphere. Are you posting somewhere that I can catch up with you, your wife, your writing and your life in general?

@AA: I sent a followup email. Not that I think it'll get me anywhere, but there you have it.

Your opinion, please. I fuzzed the banner purposely so it doesn't look so stark. Do you you think it should have clean, hard lines instead?

Sarah Laurenson said...

Hi Phoenix!
I'm posting in fits and starts here. Searching for the balance in my life and incorporating a new(ish) volunteer gig. Was in the Bahamas recently and then spent a few days with my mother in Louisiana. I hope to post about all of that soon. Have fun videos to put up.

Phoenix said...

@Sarah: OK, that blog's been in my Google feed, but I hadn't seen much from you so I was hoping maybe you were posting more elsewhere. But what with all the globe trotting it sounds like you've been doing, I see now you just haven't had time! I'll be looking forward to the vids and hoping you're able to find -- and maintain! -- your center soon.

Whirlochre said...

The issue is not whether your cover is more or less explicit than others on Amazon but why it should have been classified as erotica purely on the basis of the cover when you have explicitly stated it's a historical romance.

Since when was Nudity = Erotica some kind of default setting for anything?

AA said...

You shouldn't do another version if it would be too much trouble, but if it wouldn't, I'm kind of wondering what it would look like. Either way, it's a black banner obscuring an otherwise good picture, so I won't be in love with it, but if you have to go with a censored version there may be a way to make it look as good as possible.

AA said...

I had been wondering that about Sarah, too. When I saw her name I thought, "Now where's she been?" And here I am waiting for the sun to warm up the granite long enough for the pasque flowers to come out.

Wilkins MacQueen said...

Instead of the fuzzed edges on your name blocking the perkies, I'm going to suggest you put your name an oval shape and try it in a matching/close to color of the background. Your name in bold black. An oval may go well with the horizontal/vert lines. Maybe.

Just a thought, the fuzz edge isn't fitting the crisp clean lines of the cover, which I love.
IMHO the fuzz takes away from the professional design/look of the cover.

Or change your name to OO LaLa with the OO's strategically positioned, LaLa underneath.

Way too much caffeine.

AA said...

Actually, I had been wondering if you could do a ripped effect, as if a swath of the photo had been ripped off horizontally leaving a black background showing through, with your name on it. I don't know your skill level, but I can kind of visualize this and I think it has the power you need in order to not look like you're wimping out, while at the same time complying with their rules.

W. McQ.- That's an idea worth considering, but it depends on what Phoenix wants to portray. An oval is a strictly feminine symbol. Granted the book will attract a lot of female readers, but the strong, powerful looking man and the determined looking woman don't seem to go with a nurturing, feminine oval to me.

Ripped edges suggest power, force. Clean, straight lines suggest an edge like a blade.

The fuzzy blurred lines suggest a dream world or mystical world. This does not seem to go well with the book's description.

Wilkins MacQueen said...

Ripped might be an interesting angle. Add a little burn here and there? I see a contest (us voting on the cover). Divine Miss Phoenix does as she wishes but we get to see the evolution process.
Ths is an interesting aspect of the pub world to look at a little closer and see how it works.

Wilkins MacQueen said...

Hey AA,
Now I can visualize the oval covering Mr. Wonderful's
hands. I undersand oval is female, I don't get a conflict here. I think strong women are admired and strong women are strong nurturers. I'd like to see it both ways, the crisp sliced oval and the ripped edge. (A contest/vote? Repetition is one of my writing probs.)
The reverse with faded edges seemed to me like a fix instead of design dahlink. I'm fascinated with the process, the evolution after the constraints are put in place. I almost went to art college, ended up in advertising and the correct/blend/layout mix has always captured me. A good graphic artist is priceless. I can't imagine the struggle doing both does to your head.
Fun chatting on this.

AA said...

A contest would be fun, if Phoenix is into it. I did see the blur as sort of "fixy.

Phoenix said...

@AA and Mac: For now, I don't think I'll change the cover. If I don't get any sales, I probably will go in and make changes, though. I had played a bit based on your suggestions and I have a couple of choices up on my WIP Stuff page (at the bottom, after the mockups with other people grafted in them).

The ripped effect has blurred rather than clean lines only because of my program's limitations. If I go that route, I'd take the time to ensure those lines were sharp, maybe with a little shadow for depth?

What do you think?

AA said...

Yeah, that's not at all what I was thinking. I'll bet your program is too limited to do a really realistic rip effect. That's not your fault, of course. I think if there's only so much you can do, do whatever you can live with. It's unfair of Amazon to put you in this position.

You could always go with the one that has Peter and Sarah. It would definitely get people's attention!