Censoring a Book Cover?

So what are the grounds for censoring a book cover according to Amazon?

A question that is asked by Rayne Hall in the below guest article.

Please read and share this information.

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Amazon’s censors find this book cover offensive.

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Yes, you’ve read this right. I was as astonished as you when I received the email. I had to read it several times before I grasped that they meant it. A quick glance at the calendar assured me that the first of April was well past.

Amazon gave no explanation beyond a vague reference to guidelines, and when I asked for one, I received only silence.

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The book has been published since 2013. with this cover, and been part of several promotions and advertising campaigns on Amazon. The censors didn’t voice an objection when I submitted to book for publication, and they accepted it for promotion and advertising campaigns… until now.

Suddenly, they’ve clamped down and refused.

I read and re-read the guidelines for covers Amazon deems acceptable. I see no rule against pictures of dolls, or against the colours orange and blue, or against the Oregon font. So what rule could this possibly offend against?

When I tweeted about this, everyone responded with the same bafflement.

Tweets

So what triggered the censors? It must be one of these.

1. Perhaps the cover is not “high quality, professional, and visually appealing”? I think the painting by artist Xteve Abanto meets all three criteria, but perhaps I’m mistaken – what do you think?

2. Maybe the text is not “easily understandable to the average customer”? It doesn’t strike me as difficult to understand the words “Thirty Scary Tales”. but maybe Amazon rates its customers’ intelligence lower than I do?

3. The fact that the cover depicts a doll may have triggered a censor’s dirty imagination, conjuring up fantasies of adult toys. The doll’s parted lips might qualify as “poses that may be suggestive of sexual behavior”.

4. Perhaps Amazon uses robots to censor books?

The automated scan may identified the doll’s head as a human face with the high forehead, small nose and large eyes of a child and flagged it up as “Images of human or animal abuse, mistreatment, or distress”. But would Amazon allow a robot to censor a book without a human taking a closer look first?

5. Maybe it was an honest mistake by a human censor who was over-tired, barely able to keep his or her eyes open that day, whose exhausted brain saw something that wasn’t there. But if that was the case, surely Amazon would have replied to my query with an apology and corrected the error at once… at least I would hope so.

6. “Foul, vulgar, or obscene language” – perhaps the word “tales” is vulgar? Or maybe “thirty” has an obscene meaning that I’m not aware of?

7. The rules forbid “excessive blood, injuries, mutilations, guts, corpses, and weapons being used in a violent or threatening manner” – maybe the cracks in the doll’s head are so much more gruesome than the axe-split human skulls on thousands of other covers?

8. Images hinting at “sensitive topics such as hormonal development or changes” are forbidden. Could it be that the censor thinks the crack in the doll’s face and the open eye are caused by hormones?

Rejection

So far, Amazon hasn’t banned my book, only refused to advertise it. Readers can still buy it on Amazon for 99c. viewBook.at/30ScaryTales

But I’m concerned that this may only be the first step. Amazon may remove the book from sale next – and after that, those of other indie authors.

I’m hoping that if we protest loudly enough, and spread the word in the social media, Amazon will reconsider not only this particular book cover, but its approach to censorship.

What do you think is the reason for Amazon’s censorship of this cover – one of the eight possibilities I’ve thought of, or something else altogether? Do you personally find it offensive?

I’ll be grateful if you could share this post on Twitter, Facebook and elsewhere.

Rayne

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Rayne Hall has published more than fifty books in several languages under several pen names with several publishers in several genres, mostly fantasy, horror and non-fiction. She is the author of the bestselling Writer’s Craft series (Writing Fight Scenes, Writing Scary Scenes, Writing About Villains, Writing About Magic and more) and editor of the Ten Tales short story anthologies.

She is a trained publishing manager, holds a Masters degree in Creative Writing, and has worked in the publishing industry for over thirty years.

Having lived in Germany, China, Mongolia and Nepal, she has now settled in a small dilapidated town of former Victorian grandeur on the south coast of England where she enjoys reading, gardening and long walks along the seashore. She shares her home with a black cat adopted from the cat shelter. Sulu likes to lie on the desk and snuggle into Rayne’s arms when she’s writing.

You can follow here on Twitter http://twitter.com/RayneHall where she posts advice for writers, funny cartoons and cute pictures of her cat.

To see her books on Amazon, go to viewAuthor.at/RayneHall .

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“Update”

At last, someone at Amazon responded. Three weeks of trying to get a statement from the advertising department or any other part of Amazon had brought only silence. After three weeks, an email addressed to Jeff Bezos finally brought a reply from the Executive Customer Department:

> In this case, your ad was not approved because a general audience may find the cover image for “Thirty Scary Tales” to be violent or disturbing.<

Huh? A doll’s head is too violent or disturbing? For readers of horror fiction?

What do you think? Can the general audience browsing horror books on Amazon cope with seeing cracks in the head of a doll?

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18 thoughts on “Censoring a Book Cover?

  1. Terry Tyler

    I wonder if some person who was abused as a child complained about it. That’s the only thing I can think of. Not that I think any such criticism would be justified, of course; it’s clearly a doll.

    Reply
    1. Rayne Hall (@RayneHall)

      I’ve heard that some people with a grudge against an author or editor denounce books to Amazon and demand that they get banned. Allegedly, Amazon overreacts to such complaints and takes the books down without investigating, rather than risk a lawsuit. I’m not sure if this is true – I’ve only heard it through the grapevine – although it wouldn’t surprise me.

      An author whose book I reviewed critically, or a writer whose story I rejected for a Ten Tales anthology, may well harbour a grudge and lash out against me this way.

      However, I don’t think that’s the case here, because Amazon didn’t ban the book, just refused to advertise it. If there had been a complaint, overreacting staff would have removed the book altogether.

      The mystery remains.

      Reply
  2. barbtaub

    What is with Amazon lately?

    I’ve had reviews rejected twice recently for “not meeting their standards”. In the most recent case, I spent over two weeks and untold hours of phone and online chats with over 15 different customer service people NOT ONE of whom could come up with any reason for the rejection of a 5-star review for a book which has consistently gotten top reviews. That was only the beginning.

    Although both Amazon UK and US eventually apologized, saying the review was actually just fine and posting it as submitted, the case dragged on. One of the people who had been “helping” me actually posted a negative review on the book as proof of …heck, I don’t know what she was trying to prove. But we then couldn’t get Amazon to delete the negative review. It finally took a backdoor contact at the highest levels of Amazon to get the negative review removed. To their credit, that did occur along with a sincere apology.

    But meanwhile, I and several others had spent a huge amount of time over many weeks just to get the poor author’s review average back to where he started. And through all fifteen customer service people (including those who introduced themselves as being part of the management team), not one of them had the authority or even the understanding to explain what had happened. For all I know—indeed, I can only assume—it can and will occur again.

    So I really do feel your pain. I wish I could offer some suggestion that will cut to the chase for Amazon, but that would include revamping their customer service team starting with those at the very top. (I did keep transcripts of the online chats because some day—not soon—I’m sure I’ll be able to appreciate all the humor there. Maybe.)

    Reply
  3. Rayne Hall (@RayneHall)

    Much of Amazon is robots and drones – and many of the remaining humans have their brains turned to auto-pilot, hitting auto-reply macros without bothering to listen to what the problem is.

    Occasionally, its possible to reach a human at Amazon, even one who keeps their brains in operating order and is willing and able to help with something. These people still exist within the Amazon Empire – but they’re rare, and it’s the luck of the draw whether we get a drone, a no-brain human or a genuine one.

    But the worst are the Amazon staff who make promises which they then don’t keep. I once spent an hour on the phone to someone from the “Executive Department” who apologised for the muddled mess created brains-inoperational staff. He promised to undo the mess, and promised to watch personally that the same problems wouldn’t recur. He promised all sorts of things.

    My mistake was to believe him. Of course, the same problem recurred, and when I contacted him, he was apparently oblivious of the specific promises he’d made. So these days, I don’t trust any promises made by Amazon, and make sure I get anything in writing.

    But in this case, with the censored cover, it hasn’t even been possible to get any human to explain what’s going on. I haven’t even had a robot reply arriving by drone delivery. Nothing.

    I certainly sympathise with you for what you went through with this Amazon review issue – it’s the futility of it all that’s so frustrating. If even one person at Amazon had competence and common sense, such issues could be solved in minutes. Instead, they drag on for months, wasting huge amounts of our time (and of Amazon’s time, too), and sapping energy which would be better used for writing.

    Reply
  4. KFThorsness

    I think you’re right with the robot thought. I bet it was scanned and the robot thought it was a cut/bruised child instead of a cracked doll with blues and oranges around it. Still, I’d assume that since you inquired, an actual person would look at it and correct the mistake… Ug. Hope it’s cleared up soon!

    Reply
    1. Rayne Hall (@RayneHall)

      I also think the robot censor scenario with automatic scanning is the most plausible explanation. But that makes it even scarier. If Amazon delegates book censorship entirely to robots, with no human judgment involved, that’s a dystopian horror scenario.

      Reply
  5. J.D.Hughes

    This is all very odd. There are many obscene, distasteful, crude and genuinely rubbish covers on Amazon, but this cover is excellent and not at all distasteful. Rayne should continue to try to get an answer from the monolith, but it might be more expeditious to change it for a blood filled body organ being dismembered by a serial killer robot.

    Reply
    1. Rayne Hall (@RayneHall)

      Ah, that’s a good idea. I’ve never tried that. Maybe that’s what I should do whenever I encounter a wall of robots and auto-responding minions at Amazon. I’ll give it another couple of days and then I may try. Thanks for the tip!

      Reply
      1. Rayne Hall (@RayneHall)

        I’ve emailed Jeff Bezos now. I wonder if someone at that address will finally reply. I’ve contacted just about every other possible department and address within Amazon, and met a wall of silence.
        Does anyone want to bet on whether or not I’ll get a reply?

  6. Tara Maya

    My theory is that a robot working for Amazon saw the picture and assumed the doll was actually a robot child who had clearly been abused. Robots do not like robot-abuse!

    Reply
  7. abigailengel

    This makes no sense. Just do what you do. The cover was beautiful to me. I am a Horror fan and see that it is a lightweight in comparison to many, many that I have seen on covers for Horror, True Crime and Paranormal Literature.

    Reply

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