Author Services: Amazon’s AMS Snubs Thriller/Mystery/Genre Authors

Amazon's AMS, its new Pay Per Click advertising platform (yes, the one I talked about yesterday in this post), takes aim at the authors of thriller and mystery genres, with a notable number of civilian casualties in the fantasy, science fiction, and horror genres. What do these five distinct genres have in common? You guessed it–guns and weaponry.

Warning: Sarcasm and opinionated ranting ahead.

Buried deep within Amazon's AMS services is a nasty little clause stating that no cover art featuring any sort of violence or guns may be used. In most advertising venues, there is generally leeway for certain amounts of ‘controversial' content matter. Having worked in advertising as an office job for a few years, stupid content rules are nothing new to me. However, Amazon's current no-weapons stance could spell disaster for self-publishers in its KDP Select system–and provide a damned good reason for authors like me to give up exclusivity, especially when Amazon has gone out of its way to piss off a great many of its exclusive users.

How did this all begin? I asked why Winter Wolf's creative was rejected.

And I quote the CSR's response to my query:

Thank you for reaching out to us. I am sorry for any inconvenience this may have caused to you.

I've checked your account and see that this ad campaign was rejected, since your cover image has firearms and weapons. This is not allowed as per the policy guideline of Amazon.

If you'd like to resubmit this campaign, please update the cover image and republish your book “Winter Wolf.”

A CSR agent continues the discussion with this little gem:

As a reference in relation to your inquiry, you may take a look at section “4. Unacceptable Ad Content” and “6. Placement Specific Guidelines” for details.

I'm unable to discuss other reasons behind the limitation of certain elements on Ads covers, however, this should always respond to equal terms for all the Amazon community in order to provide a good customer experience to avoid affecting sensitivity.

What pissed me off about this was the way the CSR suggested I update my cover image and republish my book as a solution to this problem. I put the text in red, because I'm imagining all of the blood my fictional book is currently shedding.

Seriously, excuse me? That cover cost hundreds of dollars. It was tens upon tens of hours of work for my artist.

How about this, Amazon? Why don't you pay for the new cover art? You can also factor in the potential loss of revenue while the cover waits in a six plus month waiting list for alterations or repainting. While you're at it, why don't you also submit a proposal on how to create engaging art for the book that's (properly) sanitized (to meet your guidelines) to the point that my alcohol-based hand cleaner develops self-esteem issues.

Heaven forbid someone's sensibilities be offended.

For some reason, I suspect the resulting proposal would involve poor Nicole being forced to cling to some man's leg. Wait, that won't work either. By Amazon's AMS guidelines, 90% of all romance covers should be rejected, too. (Whether or not Amazon will enforce the rules for romance cover art is yet to be seen.)

Hey, Amazon. Seriously, get your collective heads out of your asses. An obviously fictional weapon (note the CSR points out ‘firearms and weapons' in the explanation) on a cover of a fictional story is not an endangerment anyone, nor is it going to affect sensitivities. I'd say it won't impact your bottom line, but wait, yes it will: it's a huge endangerment to your financial bottom line as you lose hundreds upon hundreds upon hundreds of dollars of potential sales as you cut out six distinctive genres of fiction. What's the deal? Are you afraid someone might think your company supports terrorism if you allow advertisers to promote their fantasy, thriller, horror, etc covers?

And damn it, I'm going to say it, even if it pains me–a tasteful romance cover showing a bit of skin isn't going to kill your poor, sheltered users either.

Delicate sensibilities, indeed.

Have you forgotten how bloody popular thrillers and mystery novels are? And romance, for that matter? And fantasy too, by the way. You know, things like Game of Thrones, Wheel of Time, and so on? Which, for the record, feature swords and general violence on (many/some of) their covers. (Which are weapons, by the way, in case you're confused, Amazon–I think you are.)

But, if you're going to take aim at weapons… why not just open fire on all of your major sources of income? According to the rules, many romance covers are doomed, though most will probably slip through without much issue.

I've got my popcorn out. Popcorn for you! Popcorn for me! Popcorn for all the riled up authors who want to make a living!

I'd love to hear if the romance authors out there have been hit with the rulings, or if Amazon's playing nicer with the romance authors.

This policy (in my not-so-humble and rather annoyed opinion) has huge ramifications for authors like me, who feature guns and magical weaponry–including swords–on her covers. To keep this party properly open, I'm going to toss in tasteful displays of skin, too. Nicole's showing some belly in that cover, after all.

Where is the line drawn for things like tasteful nudity and reasonable violence? Guns are right out. Swords are questionable at this point in time.

Supposedly, religion is supposed to be right out, but I have suspicions that Christian titles will be able to be promoted just fine. Things like that seem to happen with companies for some reason.

Now, before I start my rant about cover art and the presence of weaponry on them, I want to make this much clear: I am not anti-amazon as a result of this boneheaded move. Yes, I'm pissed, yes, I'm annoyed, yes, I'd like to smack around the desk monkey who thought this was a good idea, but Amazon represents almost the entirety of my income. I've tried non-exclusive, and that failure of an experiment netted me less than $20 in earnings and cost me a great deal of income. I'm definitely not happy about this current situation, as it significantly limits my tools, but amazon is my bread and butter at the moment.

While Amazon's AMS has taken aim at almost all of my covers, Amazon is where most of my fans are. (And frankly put, if you wanted to support me, do so by clicking one of the links and buying a book or two for yourself or a friend.  That'd be awesome, seeing that with the exception of Inquisitor, I likely can't take advantage of the branding and general advertisements being offered by Amazon's AMS.)

In short, I'd love to throw money at Amazon to help me connect with my fans–and I'm seriously peeved that this option has been lost to me because of an overzealous desk monkey who can't understand that tasteful nudity, guns, swords, and other bits of weaponry does not constitute a support of horrible lack of morals, terrorism, or otherwise harm delicate sensibilities. I like to think that my covers are not in any way offensive. They are typical fantasy fare. If Amazon is so concerned about the delicate sensitivities of their users, get out of the fiction business.

Back on subject: Allow me to begin by showcasing my only book cover (Inquisitor's) that is permissible according to these rules:

Inquisitor by RJ Blain

While I am of the opinion that this is a lovely cover, it's a pretty good thing that at first glance, the creative managers over at amazon didn't zoom in the picture and notice the exploded car behind her. I mean, that's technically an act of violence, right?

Right. So, technically, if the creative ad approval team was really observant and decided to play hard to the rules, this cover isn't allowed either. What fun.

The cover that brought the whole issue to light is my Winter Wolf cover, shown below.

Winter Wolf by RJ Blain - Cover Art

Nicole is armed with a gun and lightning. My first problem with amazon's ruling is that there's obviously nothing real about this cover. It's art–it's art of an armed woman with a wolf–an armed woman with lightning surrounding her rifle. And fire. Because how realistic is it to have a girl with freaking fire coming out of her hands and surrounding her assault rifle, right?

In short, it's fairly standard urban fantasy thriller fare. And zombie novel fare, murder mystery fare, war thriller and spy thriller fare, and so on and so forth.

I wonder if this means a wizard hurling a fireball will be caught under the no violence or weapons ruling?

But that's not all. Included in Amazon's reactionary ‘Oh my God, we can't dare potentially offend anyone or at all be seen as supporting violence or terrorism' rulings, is a tiny bit that states no guns or violence, period.

So, here is a general gallery of all of my covers that can't be used due to the presence of weapons, firearms, and potential violence in the cover art.

Note: Winter Wolf's cover is the only one confirmed to be unsuitable. In the original posting, all covers with weapons were featured. However, Storm Without End's cover passed through the creative approvals process, so I modified the gallery to include the covers most likely not to pass through their filters.

Most of the covers include daggers or swords, but Winter Wolf's has firearms, in this case, an assault rifle and a pistol.

At least I slipped Inquisitor through the ad creative requirements.

To be fair, it was nice of the CSR to express concern over whether or not I'd continue publishing with Amazon. At least their AMS sanitation hasn't reached out for all cover art on titles–yet. I'm a small fish at this point, but it's nice they want me around… sort of.

Rules like this annoy me so much. How long will it be until Amazon (and other big distributors) decide that their advertising creative rules should apply to general cover art? It wouldn't surprise me.

Having worked in the glorious world of advertising before… all I can say is Woohooohooo, it's all been done, wooohoooohooo, it's all been done, wooohoooohooo, it's all been dooooonnnnneeeee before…!

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2 comments
Sue R Griffin says February 12, 2015

Wait…..this looks like we are going to black and white covers with no art….or white and black covers, equally missing the art…heaven forbid you use red letters…someone might be offended by the color red while another be offended by the color blue. Next they will want all books to be G rated….And you will never be a small fish….you dream too big =)

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Author Services Guide: Using Amazon’s AMS Platform Effectively – On Writing says February 12, 2015

[…] lot about Amazon’s AMS platform, first announcing the system and my hopes for it, as well as ranting about some of the more idiotic elements of their creative guidelines. Today, I’m going to go into some nitty gritty detail about how to take advantage of the AMS […]

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