The Uncertain (Marketing) Landscape of Eros


The romance and erotica world stays in constant flux and one big reason is the unreliable wielding of power that Amazon exerts over our lives. Unable or unwilling to establish clear guidelines for authors to follow in writing blurbs, making covers and even content of their books. A book that has been fine for years suddenly gets banned, blocked or adult filtered. A book that has been doing well gets updated, and suddenly it isn’t something Amazon wants to promote.

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None of this is new, but it is increasingly creating havoc. On private forums, writers rant and rage because books that are clearly raunchier than their own are published with no problem while theirs are blocked. They agonize over whether a particular book will be blocked or banned due to something being over the line, even though no one knows what the line is. A rather innocuous cover photo that some employee decides is too erotic (on an erotic book no less) gets it tossed into the dungeon. Romance is held to a higher (more prudish) standard than mainstream fiction, and erotica is (erratically) even worse.

That doesn’t mean you won’t find sleazy books that are touted for their sexual content, because enforcement is haphazard. But it does mean that writers who need their Amazon income find themselves soft pedaling sexual content, both in blurbs and in cover design. That makes it harder for readers to find what they (obviously) want. Being adult filtered means that the book doesn’t come up in the search engine, which is why writers call it “the adult dungeon”. I have a number of books there and they don’t sell. That’s just the way it is.

The problem is that for most writers Amazon is their major source of income, and Amazon refuses to publish guidelines about what can and cannot be published outside of some very basic (illegal) acts. And their reviewers don’t all use the same guidelines. Often judgements are reversed. But the real problem is that if a writer asks why something was blocked or filtered, the canned email says that the cover or content doesn’t meet their guidelines.

What guidelines you might ask? Is the problem the cover or blurb? They won’t say. Maybe you suspect they object to a bit of bare breast, but how much bare breast is too much? They won’t say. Like some art buyers, they know filth when they see it. But, to say it like it is, they also sell filth. They make a lot of money from it. And sex toys are not filtered. Go figure.

Of course, Amazon is free to do business how they wish and with whom they wish. I don’t think anyone with any sense would like that changed. But their haphazard and vague approach still packs the might of Thor’s hammer and that makes life difficult for the writers, sometimes tragically so. It hurts to try hard to play by the rules while knowing that there are lot of rules you aren’t being told and that violating those can ruin your career.

Of course the situation is unsustainable. Unless Amazon takes a look at the situation and does something. I could be as simple as letting authors package their books as they know readers like them and then simply putting all adult content in “over 18” listings (Smashwords does this, to their credit). We live in an era of change and unless Amazon does something proactive, sooner or later this will come crashing down. Either Amazon will accept that this is a profitable market and find a way to serve it and help authors reach their audiences, or (either by design or through neglect) someone else will find a good way to market it.

I do hope Amazon takes this on soon. They have done so much good for ebook publishing. This issue shouldn’t be left hanging in the breeze.

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