Maybe I should pose that as a question rather than a statement; it comes off sounding as though I have an answer for it, and I really don’t, especially not over the past 48 hours. It’s one of those things where it’s probably easier to answer when it’s not happening to you at that very moment.
I found out, quite by chance on Monday night, that one of my books (GIVING THANKS) has been pulled from Amazon’s shelves. They didn’t email me to let me know about it – or to give me a reason – until roughly 24 hours later. That’s…not cool. But, okay, at least I eventually got an email, right? It told me that the reason my book was taken down was because of the description (a.k.a. the “blurb,” a term I know a lot of people hate). I was, and am, a little bewildered by that, as the description is neither misleading nor offensive, but…sure?
Does that read like an upsetting “blurb” to you? No? Me neither!
I submitted the changes and emailed their people, as per instructions, at around noon on Tuesday. As of writing this, my Amazon Dashboard says the book is “Live,” and I received an email telling me it was published…but the link is dead. Not live at all. Dead as a door nail. When you click it – http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00FVIY23W – you should get a pretty cover and a shiny new description. Instead, thus far, you get a 404 Error. Lovely.
I’m sure many of you have heard about the massive
witch hunt clean-up that’s been going on at many of the biggest ebook merchants (Amazon, Kobo, B&N). I think Selena Kitt’s blog post about it from September is a good place to start if you’re not familiar with what’s happening. The online stores are in a bit of a panic over the influx of self-published erotica, mostly, with a particular interest in genres like “monster porn” and pseudo-incest. (Yes, I, too, have wondered why “pseudo-incest” gets the giant banhammer in the Indie world, while works containing Legit!Incest, like GAME OF THRONES, are front-page sellers.) Theoretically this crackdown is taking place because there was some keyword-jimmying going on, and a bunch of kids stumbled upon a whack of super-graphic covers while entering innocent search terms (I…can’t even guess, to be honest). But there’s a bigger problem: the Terms of Service on many of these sites are vague at best, and completely arbitrary at worst.
Take Amazon, for example. When looking up guidelines in Kindle Direct Publishing, you might ask yourself, “Self? What does Amazon consider offensive? This is something I need to know so I don’t overstep any boundaries and have my book yanked off the shelves.” It’s a valid question to pose.
Do you want to know the answer you’ll get if you read the actual, honest-to-god Content Guidelines on Amazon?
What we deem offensive is probably about what you would expect.
Yeah. That’s word for word, straight from the horse’s mouth.
Now, obviously there’s a common sense factor here. But most of that is covered in their (very few) other guidelines, like saying they don’t accept anything illegal. That one’s a fair point, and it’s reasonably clear, at least.
But “probably about what you would expect” is a bit dodgy as far as an actual guideline goes, wouldn’t you say?
So. Your book gets pulled off the shelves at Amazon because you’ve broken a rule or violated someone’s idea of “what you would expect” is offensive. What to do?
If you’re smart (read: Not Me), you’ve got your book listed in a few other places, so having it taken down from one – even though we all know Amazon is the biggest marketplace these days – isn’t a total cork in the cash flow. You just ride it out, keep making the changes they recommend in their Email O’ Doom, and hope that it will eventually get put back up. Meanwhile you can continue to sell it through other retailers and even your own website.
If, however, you’re…well…me, you’ve got your books enrolled in KDP Select, which means you’re stuck for whatever’s left of your 90-day exclusive contract with Amazon. You can’t distribute digital copies of your book(s) anywhere else until that time is up, not even your personal site.
And if you’re in Publishing Limbo, which is where I am now – this bizarre grey area where Amazon says your book is available and “Live” but the link to it is demonstrably Dead – you’re really screwed. Presumably you could pull it off your Dashboard yourself and terminate the KDP Select contract that way, but unless you’re willing to pull all books you’re selling through Amazon, that’s a risky move to make. Especially if you’re already locked into an upcoming promotion. *cough*
In short, then, I think the only answer to “How To Not Freak Out” is a preemptive one: If you’re self-publishing something that might strike anyone at all as even slightly dicey, don’t strap yourself into a 90-day contract anywhere. Diffuse and disburse your books widely and freely. That way, if one avenue of revenue gets blocked off, you’re not in dire straits.
But if you’re
me already in that contract, you do freak out. And you keep resubmitting. And then you end up looking like Jesse Eisenberg as Mark Zuckerberg at the end of THE SOCIAL NETWORK, woefully hitting refresh, refresh, refresh until your book reappears to the world. And if it doesn’t, you’ve probably been hitting refresh for the better part of three months, so ice those wrists and consider it a lesson learned.