Not surprisingly, this is a topic I've talked about before, but I just wrote up a new guideline for my Excessica authors (now that we're taking new submissions and starting to distribute boxed sets) and realized--the rules have changed again.
So I thought I would create another post letting you all know what (unofficial) rules still seem in place and others that have been added, so you can keep your erotic book off retailer hit lists! You may have heard some of this before but it bears repeating--and some of it (everything in PURPLE below) has changed.
Erotica has been under attack and subject to corporate censorship since I started in this business and it will likely continue—and the rules will continue to change. Without warning. And without any advanced notice (or really any notice at all!) So what follows is what currently applies as of this writing. If your goal is to get your book in front of the largest number of readers, then in order to do that, it’s best to play the game, within the (arbitrary, nontransparent and constantly changing) rules.
If it sounds maddening--it is. And while I'm working on an alternative solution, I've had some setbacks (that's a whole other post--suffice to say I'm as anxious as you all are to get it back up and running and I'll shout it from the rooftops when its ready to go!) so for the moment, our best offense is a good defense.
If you want the rules in a nutshell: If you dress up pretty on the outside, you can be as much of a whore on the inside as you like.*
(*with a few exceptions...)
Amazon has an 80% market share on ebooks and is (and will likely remain) the biggest distributor and biggest money maker for most erotica authors. That means we have to pay close attention to their "policy changes" and adjust accordingly. Unfortunately, Amazon is completely nontransparent about their "rules" so we have to kind of figure things out as we go. This is what we've figure out so far:
- CATEGORIES: When selecting categories—if your book has two characters who fall in love and have a happy ever after, put it in romance. I don’t care if they’re men, women, or giant mutant chipmunks. Put that book in romance. The reason is, once you choose “erotica,” you have essentially chosen to ostracize yourself from all the other categories. Amazon won’t let you choose anything outside of the erotica category—you can’t be in erotica and horror at the same time. Or erotica and sci-fi. If you categorize your book as erotica, you are stuck in the erotica red-light district. In some cases (if your book is really NOT a romance) this is fine. But if your book/story has a romance theme and would benefit from being in other categories, pick romance.
- AMAZON'S ADULT FILTER: You do NOT want your book/story on Amazon to get ADULT filtered. They do this without warning or notice, but once your book has been filtered, recovering can be very difficult. I have some advice down below about how to avoid the ADULT filter. But sometimes you can do everything right and still get the filter slapped on your title. What do you do then? Check OFTEN to see if your book has been ADULT filtered! Go to Amazon, make sure you are in the “ALL DEPARTMENT” search, and type in the title. If you can’t find your book, you have been ADULT filtered. Another way to check (especially if you are checking a great many titles) is to go to Sales Rank Express. Type in your titles there. If you are filtered, a large red ADULT will show next to your book. Remember - you can’t fight an enemy you can’t see, so you need to know how to avoid the ADULT filter. If Amazon isn’t going to be fair about applying it to ALL books (including Fifty Shades of Grey) that contain erotic content, then we don’t have to be fair about playing by their inconsistent and non-transparent “rules” and “guidelines.”
How do you avoid being ADULT filtered?
- Keep nudity off your cover. Also keep it out of the inside of your book. You can push the boundaries here, but you risk getting ADULT filtered, so be careful. You don’t want to have to change your cover—that gets expensive. For example, thongs and “hand bras” (i.e. a nude woman with her or someone else’s hands covering her breasts) used to be okay but now they’re not. I can’t count how many covers I had to get changed due to this new “policy.” Tasteful nudity that doesn’t show any “bits” and doesn’t imply sexual action usually doesn’t get filtered. See my A Twisted Bard’s Tale for an example of a title that has nudity but doesn’t imply sexual action. But that rule could change at any moment.
- Keep your titles and descriptions free of the “Amazon Bad Words List” below.
- Do not add explicit excerpts in your description or you risk being filtered.
The “Amazon Bad Word List”
- Nudity on covers (this rule changes a lot – it’s better to be safe than sorry in this instance--changing covers can get expensive).
- Incest is banned altogether. But pseudoincest (sex between non-biological relations, like stepfather and stepdaughter) may get you filtered. Anything with obvious titles, especially “Daddy” and “Mommy,” but also sister, brother, siblings, uncle, family, etc. are no longer allowed in title OR description. Taboo, forbidden, kin, those words are still allowed as of this writing.
- These words may get you filtered or blocked: gangbang, rape, reluctant, reluctance, nonconsent, dubious consent (dubcon), forced, or “rough” sex, strap-on.
- Breeding, bred or impregnation stories may get you filtered or blocked.
- Any profanity or obscene language: pussy, cock, cum, tits, fuck, sex, clit, etc. are not allowed in either title or description.
- Lactation, breastfeeding, lactating, milky are all topics and words that may get you filtered.
- Tentacles and other mythological creatures (minotaurs, centaurs, bigfoot, dinosaurs etc.) may be filtered or even blocked.
- Excerpts are no longer allowed in descriptions if they are explicit.
How do you get UNFILTERED on Amazon?
Make the above changes as they apply to your book.
Then email Amazon at this email: firstname.lastname@example.org This is the letter I send. Feel free to cut and paste! Please reevaluate the title ___________ by _____________. The title has been changed and resubmitted to comply with your current terms of service and should no longer have an adult filter placed upon it or be excluded from the all-department search. Please mark this title NOT ADULT.
But my book has a taboo subject matter—now what?
There are different rules for different vendors. Currently—
- Amazon bans incest, bestiality and rape for titillation. They allow pseudoincest (but without any reference to family relations on the cover or in the description). Rape for titillation they seem to allow—unless a customer complains. Then they are likely to block the book rather than ADULT filter it. (This has happened several times, for example, to Her Master's Courtesan, which currently is still banned at Amazon, in spite of the book's incredible popularity!)
- Kobo doesn’t allow bestiality, rape for titillation, incest OR pseudoincest. Everyone remembers why, right?
- Apple/iTunes/iBooks doesn’t allow bestiality, rape for titillation, incest OR pseudoincest. They also don’t allow any nudity on covers or explicit descriptions/excerpts.
- Google is late to the party and have just started banning bestiality, rape for titillation, incest OR pseudoincest. All erotica books must be in the erotica category and should be at least $1.00.
- Bookstrand and All Romance Ebooks don’t allow bestiality, rape for titillation, incest OR pseudoincest. They also don’t allow “barely legal” or any risqué titles (i.e. “The Cum Slut Gangbang.”)
- Barnes and Noble puts no restraints on their erotica. Although they have been known, on occasion, to “anchor” a book to keep it out of their Top 100 if they deem it too risqué.
- Smashwords and Draft 2 Digital follow the same guidelines as their strictest distributor (currently – iTunes/Apple).
- A1 Adult Ebooks/Fiction 4 All - They allow most anything, however, anything extreme (incest, pseudoincest, rape) must not be obvious due to merchant account issues. (Mastercard)
- Lot's Cave - They allow incest, if you write taboo topics. They are currently a publisher but are planning soon to become a distributor.
- Excessica - We publish everything except bestiality (actual animals, creatures are fine), underage sex (18+ only) and necrophilia (vampires and the undead are fine!)
- Excitica - We will distribute everything except bestiality, underage sex and necrophilia. Bookmark it and stay tuned!
If you write taboo subjects, you have to be more careful than most. Use innuendo and insinuation. The thesaurus is your friend. Find alternative words and phrases. Taboo, forbidden, illicit. Many authors have started saying, "So hot Amazon won't let me put an excerpt, use the 'LOOK INSIDE' feature to see just how dirty it is." I've put a notice in the "review" section on all my taboo books letting readers know that Amazon won't let me describe the content, hinting that it's too taboo for them. Get creative. You're a writer, right? You can let the reader know what's inside the book without making it obvious--and if you want to publish on the big retailers, I'm afraid that's what you're going to have to do.
I know many authors who have self-censored because of Amazon's ever-changing policies and that's unfortunate. There's a big market for taboo topics and it hasn't disappeared--Amazon has just made it harder for you to find them. But not impossible. Readers will still find you. And there are still alternative outlets provided to you by stalwarts like Stuart at A1 Ebooks, Phaedrus at Lot's Cave and me at Excessica--and Excitica too, as soon as I can get someone to shut up and take my money and make it like I want! :P (If you know anyone, contact me!)