Saturday, October 19, 2013

And Here We Go Again

It’s that time again ... time for major companies to pick on independent and self-published erotica writers.  Honestly, those idiots need to get a hobby.  Has anyone introduced these people to knitting?  Model building?  Basket weaving? 

The latest round of nonsense apparently started when someone  from a British e-zine called The Kernel posted this article:  The story was picked up by major UK news sites like The Daily Mail and BBC News.  From there, it picked up steam:

The long and short of it was, The Kernel, a self-proclaimed technology GOSSIP site (emphasis mine) alleged they used the search word ‘daddy’ on a certain bookselling site.  When they did, the search engines pulled up titles like ‘Raped by Daddy’ alongside children’s books.  As you might imagine, the media jumped all over it.

In typical knee-jerk fashion, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo began pulling titles off their virtual shelves.  Self-published titles only, mind you.  None of those put out by the major publishers, though incest and pedophilia figure largely in books like Lolita, A Song of Ice and Fire series (on which the show ‘Game of Thrones’ is based) and nearly everything by V.C. Andrews.  Oh no, no one is touching those, as usual.  Just the indie publishers are suffering in the onslaught.  Tons and tons of books are falling victim due to certain words appearing in titles and descriptions and who knows why else.  As is typical in these situations, there is no discernable rhyme or reason as to which books suddenly disappear from the shelves.

How arbitrary is this purge?  Here is an interesting article (please read the whole thing; it’s very good) at from author Kate Aaron.  It reads in part:

Firstly, numbers. According to Bowker, in 2011 there were just over 148,000 new self-published titles released, across all genres. In 2012, that rose to over 391,000 books. That’s over half a million titles in two years, and that only accounts for those books which have been issued with an ISBN. There is no such requirement for ebooks on Amazon, for example, meaning the actual number of books published is sure to be considerably higher. Those books are published on a number of platforms, of which the biggest are Amazon, iTunes, Barnes&Noble, and Kobo. Most of those half-million books will, undoubtedly, be available through Kobo and therefore through WH Smith. Of those half a million plus, how many do you think the media found that they could deem ‘objectionable’? Sixty four.


And you can bet your ass that creepy journalists were all over that library like a rash, each trying to find a title worse than the last. On Amazon they found 73; on B&N, 30; and on Waterstone’s, 5 (although there’s some debate about whether or not all those titles were actually available as the website ties in with Nielson’s catalogue, which lists all books with an ISBN and not all of them are stocked or supplied by the distributor).

My own novel Sister Katherine fell prey to this witch hunt at Amazon.  Those of you who have read Sister Katherine know it’s one of my least outrageous books as far as the whole captive/coerced sex thing goes.  However, its description sent up warning flags, and it was put into ‘Draft’ status until I cleaned it up.  The offense?  The word ‘children’ appears in the blurb:

Katherine’s world is torn apart when she learns she is to become the mate to a clan of three fierce Kalquorian men.  How can she save herself or the convent’s children from their conquerors when her body, heart, and soul cries out for the blasphemous touch of her captors?  How can it be that her peoples’ sworn enemy is her only chance for true salvation?

Okay, so I went in, changed the word ‘children’ to ‘residents’, and that brought Sister Katherine out of purgatory.  Realizing Alien Refuge would probably also be targeted (because the heroine has a young son), I went in and took the two words ‘son’ and ‘child’ out of that description as well...with a hearty helping of eyeroll.  A few choice words commenced as well.

Other books with seemingly no connection to any of this craziness have been hit, including those in the YA category.  I’ve seen books much tamer than mine disappear.  As I said before, there is no rhyme or reason to any of the madness.  It’s the same battle, just a different day.

And yes, they can take the books away from you.  When you buy an e-book, you are purchasing licensing rights, not the book.  You are essentially renting e-books.  Many people don’t realize this.  Here’s the scoop on that:

There is also a way around that when you back up your books elsewhere.

The tale, unfortunately, doesn't end there.  Just as I was beginning to relax and think my work was in the clear, two of my e-books disappeared from the 'All Departments' search on Amazon.  Alien Embrace and Alien Refuge could only be found if one searched for them under the departments 'Kindle' or 'Books'.  Amazon gave me no heads-up this was happening.  The only reason I discovered the books were gone from the general search criteria was because I saw that sales on those two had bottomed out.

I immediately contacted Amazon's customer dis-service.  Here is what I wrote:

Two of my books, which have been on your site for some time with no problems, have suddenly disappeared from the All Departments search. This is having an effect on my sales, which have dropped substantially in the last 24 hours. They can still be found in the Kindle and Books department searches, but not in All Departments. If there is an issue, Amazon has not bothered to contact me about the matter.

The books in question are:

Alien Embrace,  ASIN: B00DSGNBUO

Alien Refuge, ASIN: B00BTJKHEK

This disappearance of my books from searches with no warning or explanation has become an ongoing issue with Amazon and the KDP program. You have already lost many of my regular readers to other sites like Smashwords because they are disgusted with having a difficult time finding my books on your site.

Please explain this latest issue as soon as possible so it may be addressed.

Before I heard back from Amazon, Alien Embrace returned to the All Departments search category...but with the old cover art.  Huh?

The next day, I heard from Amazon:

Thank you for contacting us. I would love this opportunity to assist you.

I've searched our website using your name and your books' titles and can confirm it's working as designed.

When you search on Amazon using the author's name/ do a keyword search on Amazon, products are displayed in order based on popularity, availability, and other factors. In general, the search results give a mix of the most popular products across various product categories.

In order to find more results for a given keyword, you will either need to use the drop-down menu to search within a specific store or choose the link to one of the product categories from the left-hand side of the search results page.

You should be able to find your product in the larger set of results for your specific product category.

I hope this helps. Thanks for using Amazon KDP.

Idiots and their customer-response templates.  Obviously, the issue was never addressed at all.  So I fired off yet another complaint including the fact that Alien Embrace was showing up under the search with its old cover art.  This is what I got back from Amazon:

Thanks for your reply. I understand your concern regarding the searchability of your titles. I've searched for your book "Alien Embrace" in our website and can confirm it's working as designed. Your book is searchable by ASIN, author name and title name.

As my colleague informed you before, when you search for an item, in this case, in "all departments" on Amazon, products are displayed in order based on popularity, availability, and other factors. In general, the search results give a mix of the most popular products across various product categories. In order to find more results for a given keyword, you will either need to use the drop-down menu to search within a specific store or choose the link to one of the product categories from the left-hand side of the search results page.

You should be able to find your product in the larger set of results for your specific product category.

However, this is not the case for your book "Alien Refuge". Even though, your title is live in the Kindle Store, we reserve the right to make judgements about whether or not content is appropriate; this can include the cover image or the content within the book. We have found your Kindle book contains mature content and it will not surface in our general product search results.

I hope this information helps to better explain the way this feature works on our website.

Thanks for using Amazon KDP.

In my response to Amazon, I pointed out that the damned search for Alien Embrace was NOT working correctly once more.  I went on a rant then:

As to the sensual nature of the other book's cover 'Alien Refuge' and that being the reason it no longer shows up in the 'All' search, I would like to point out that this book came out in March, seven months ago.  It was reviewed and put up for publication at that time and was readily available via the 'All' departments search until just two days ago.  Yet it is suddenly too risqué after Amazon had some fingers pointed at it for selling adult material that minors might find.  The timing is quite interesting.

You may be interested to know that a search of keywords 'Two Virgins' in the 'All' category brings up a photograph -- not a painting, mind you -- of full frontal nudity of a man and woman.  Penis, breasts, and a woman's hair-covered pubic area are there, front and center, for all to see.  Even more interesting is that searching the words 'adult toys' in the 'All' category -- something very possible for an unsupervised child to type in and much more likely for them to do so than the book title 'Alien Refuge' -- will yield penis-accurate vibrators and dildos, as well as and fake vaginas in blatant and shocking detail, alongside children's toys.

May I ask how these images are less shocking for children to see than the cover of my book, in which ALL nudity is masked?

The issue isn't that Amazon really cares whether or not there is smut on its site and that children can readily access it.  The issue is that Amazon is making a scapegoat of indie authors and small publishers because we're easy to attack.  One might consider this discrimination.  And when one considers the hardest hit by Amazon's tactics are authors that are overwhelmingly female and that their customers are also overwhelmingly female, it makes us wonder if the discrimination is aimed at women. 

I have no problem with my books being hidden from children.  If you'd be sensible and install an Adult Filter option on your site, many issues would disappear.  It works for Smashwords, and not one erotica author I know cries over it.  By all means, keep adult content away from children, but do it across your entire site.  Stop using indie writers as your whipping boys. 

And fix the cover for the digital version of Alien Embrace under the 'All' search.  Otherwise for my own protection, I will inform that book's first publisher you're using their copyright-protected material to promote a book they no longer sell.

Their response:
I'm sorry your experience so far has been poor.

I checked the cover image when searching for your book "Alien Embrace" in All departments, and the new cover image for your Kindle book is the one showing online. 

With regards to your feedback on our adult content search policy, thanks for your comments. I understand your position and have forwarded your message to our leadership.

They'll consider your input as they plan further improvements.

Feedback like yours helps us continue to improve our author and publisher experience. Thanks for taking time to offer us your thoughts.

Have a lovely day further.

In other words, nothing got fixed, nor is it likely to.  When I plug in 'Alien Embrace' in the All Departments search, I still see the old cover.  Surprise!  Such is the life of the self-published erotica writer.

I got to vent, at any rate.  That made me feel a bit better.  Alien Refuge is harder to find than it should be, but I'm fairly confident those who want it badly enough will search it out.  Life goes on, and I'm tired of feeling pissed off.  I've got better things to do with my life then scream at Amazon.

So what do we do about this?  The final solution is the same as it’s ever been:  money.  If you readers want to continue to get your books from your favorite indie authors, you have to hit Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo where it hurts; the ever-powerful pocketbook.  They don’t know any other language.  Buying from indie sites like All Romance or Smashwords, which do support platforms for Kindle, Nook, and Kobo readers, also takes sales away from the worst offenders.  They pay your authors better royalties.  

I am personally getting away from my Kindle and going to a tablet.  Downloading apps from all the bookselling sites will guarantee that when one bunch loses their minds (as they too regularly do), I will still be able to get the books I want.  I know that’s not feasible for everyone, but it’s the route I’m going.

Also, we need to push these sellers to do the same as Smashwords:  the sites need an Enable/Disable Adult Content button for us to click.  I have no problem with that at all because kids don't need to read my work.  It's as simple as that, in my opinion.

If you’re in a confrontational mood, you can also feel free to clog up snail and email by giving Amazon’s head honcho a piece of your mind:

Jeffrey P. Bezos
Amazon Corporate Office and Headquarters
410 Terry Avenue North
Seattle, WA 98109

Here’s hoping the latest bout of censorship dies quickly.  Fortunately, I have put aside some savings to see me through a few months if my books go away again and sales go down the toilet.  Other authors aren’t as lucky, and in the long term, we’ve all got bills to pay.  Not that it matters to the big boys.  They just want to pretend they own the world, and by extension, us.

It’s another day in paradise, gang.


  1. Tracy, if I wanted to choose between all romance ebooks and smashwords, does one pay the author better than another? I like them both but don't like that ARE only gives you the option of one download format, 2 if you include send to kindle.


    1. Elizabeth, I don't know how well All Romance pays. Because I've found uploading books to them to be something of a technical challenge, I haven't put my self-published books there. I will have to bite the bullet and figure that site out in the near future. Sorry I don't have an answer for you.

  2. I had been in love with my Kindle until this debacle began a couple of weeks ago. Now I'm not so sure I even like it anymore.

    1. I have a Kindle too, and it's always been my sweetheart. Love the creation, despise its creator.

  3. I have a sony reader which uses the epub format. Being as just about everyone but kindle uses this format, I'm happy with it. I will admit to having once or twice gone into the grey shades of legality by removing drm from a book I purchased. This is because (for example) b&n with their nook actually use the epub format, they just CALL it the 'nook' format because they drm it to work only for the nook, but its actually epub. Other sites/companies do the same thing. This is so that you have to purchase THEIR device to display the books they sell. There have been occasions where it was difficult to find a book I wanted and in desperation purchased it from a site then removed the drm so that I could read it on MY reader of choice.
    Now I am an informed person, I know that people can purchase and load books from sites other than Amazon if they have a Kindle and B&N if they have a Nook, etc. But other people are completely shocked to find that out. I turned a friend onto an author and she called me saying that she was disappointed that she couldn't purchase the books because they weren't on Amazon yet. When I told her she could purchase them from the original publisher (I believe it was Samhain) and told her how to load them she couldn't believe it. Unfortunately this is typical of Kindle and Nook and other ereader users in that the companies try to keep it a deep dark secret that the devices are not exclusive for their company's use. So I appreciate you educating people on this as well.
    In my personal opinion, these companies are actually hurting their sales by drm'ing their book formats this way. Why? Because this means that I will go to the 'other' sites to purchase my books. It means that they have no chance to compete for my purchase. If they run a sale then only 'their' users will buy from them. Whereas if they did not 'lock' their format, then they could entice readers from all over instead of from their limited pool. If a bookseller really wants to sell books, they should advertize that they have formats for all readers available and they want to sell to everyone instead of having only a select number of people in their 'pool' of device users. Honestly, that's why I buy from the e-publishers whenever I can. Samhain, Siren, Ellora's Cave, and through Smashwords to name a few. Also this gives me access to several formats as I like one format to read on my computer and another to read on my reader.
    Also I have recommended Smashwords to other authors who mention in their blogs and such that they are thinking of self-publishing. Advising them that this way they can sell all formats.
    So again, thank you for informing people about this because it is one of my serious pet peeves. (If you couldn't tell.)

    1. Your peeve is my peeve. The trouble with big business is that it always seems to go out of it's way to stomp on the little guys (or gals). The only way to keep big business in check is to support its smaller competitors. Otherwise, it gets to rule the world.

  4. Tracy,
    Why why why? What is amazon up to?
    I own all your books and love them, all bought from amazon. I have rated them all 4 and 5 star. I am on the email update list so I know when you have new releases from amazon (umm, that does not sound obsessed, does it?).
    So I have been waiting for the release of Alien Caged. Today I finally found it on amazon on your author page for the first time. I was a little bemused. I searched through over 125 recommendations for me on amazon and could not find it amongst them. I found lots of crap recommended, but no Alien Caged. This was the same problem with Ravenous Virtue. I had to actively seek both to purchase them. I have a whole list of authors I regularly buy, love their writing, yet they seem to fall in the holes with amazon because of God knows why, probably that there is hint of non PC.
    Do they actively seek to influence the purchasing decisions based on the perceived need for homogenous social conformity?
    Anyway, I don't know if your other readers are having the same problem, but it's frustrating the hell out of me.

    1. I am sorry Amazon is giving you a hard time but glad you found the books. And thanks for the ratings!

      I couldn't begin to tell you why Amazon does what it does. Some of the recommendations it gives me are for things I already bought. I don't have a clue as to how it works, except not very well.