So, Apparently My Cover is Too Prurient for an Amazon Ad + Mini Rant

AngelaQuarles_SteamMeUpRawley_400pxBehold, a book cover too salacious to get an ad on Amazon. I’m not kidding.

Yesterday, Amazon opened up advertising to non-Beta testers whose books are enrolled in KDP Select. For various reasons, I’d decided a week ago to put Steam in KDP Select (for non-authors, this means I decided to make the ebook exclusive to Amazon for 90 days), and I thought I’d try out this new opportunity.

Some early Beta testers are saying it was a total flop for them, but I’ve always been of a mindset that no book’s path is the same as another’s, and I couldn’t know if this wouldn’t work for my target audience unless I tried. Plus, I’d decided to make it super-granular to be sure it was only my target audience that would see it, thereby reducing the chance that a click wouldn’t convert to a sale.

Here were my other arguments for trying it:

  • The cost wasn’t out of line with other promo opportunities, and if it performed well, it would be even better.
  • Publishers pay for coop space with online and brick and mortar stores all the time, so why not do the same for my indie title
  • Even if I got zero clicks (and so would have spent zero bucks), I got free impressions. That’s eyeballs on my cover, which helps inch me closer to that adage of ‘you have to see a product x times before you buy’ or whatever that adage is.
  • There was a chance (slim, probably) that Amazon listened to the feedback from the Beta testers and tweaked the code for better ROI. Stranger things have been known to happen.

So, I chose to show my ad on only 38 books’ product pages whose audience might enjoy my book too. So I selected Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series, Kristen Callihan’s books, Bec McMaster’s, and Delphine Dryden’s steampunks, etc. I also unchecked the box that would allow Amazon to also show it on books that were similar. The way I figure, that meant my book would only compete with others to appear on the book page of just those 38 books.

Several hours later I got a rejection email saying my cover didn’t meet their advertising guidelines. I can only assume it was this part of the guidelines that flagged my cover: “Overtly provocative imagery such as partial nudity or blatantly sexual prurient content.”

I sent a reply asking: “So a bare-chested guy, which a child can see at the beach or even just seeing anyone jogging or mowing their lawn in the summer, is partial nudity??” I haven’t heard back yet, but someone else suggested that the pose is a little suggestive, and yes it is. It’s supposed to be. But is it “overtly provocative” or “prurient”?

Which brings me to my mini-rant

Why, why, why is sex in a loving relationship “bad” in our society? Why does our society find it okay to allow kids to see violence, but not images with sexual overtones, etc?

My parents were pretty awesome–when I was growing up in the 70s and 80s, nudity and sex weren’t taboo subjects for me. Heck, my mom’s an artist and she let me tag along to sessions where her and her fellow artists had a nude model, etc. Nudity was beautiful. Love was beautiful.

However, violence? No way! So I was the odd child in high school whose parents let them see Rated R movies that had nudity/sex, but Jaws? I still haven’t seen it. It came out when I was of an age where I was still under parental guidance, and since then I just haven’t gotten around to it.

So my book has a woman sitting in a guy’s lap in a playful, suggestive manner, and the amount of man titty (or mipple) is less than you’d see on any given summer day down here in the hot South, and it’s unacceptable to be shown?

On The Passive Guy, a commenter noted that hers was rejected because it had manchest too, but hers was just a surfer. No suggestive pose apparently. So it’s just a bare manchest that’s got their panties in a wad?

The rejection is also illogical

The thing is, this cover passed their review when it went live, meaning that it didn’t get flagged as erotic and so didn’t get put in what’s been called the Amazon dungeon where some erotic novels are shunted. (And to be clear, my book is not an erotic romance.) The Amazon dungeon is a place where they stick titles so they will not show up in a search, not even in the list of books by that author. So that means that my cover is showing up on other book pages right this very minute! Gasp! So Steam is currently showing in their “Customers Who Bought, Also Bought” pane, or their other search and display mechanisms they have in place to sell products that people want. So why is it that it can’t show in a sidebar ad? And if I really get lucky, and sales take off, I might even show up in the Also Bought pane for one of those 38 books… So weird.

What’s left?

Yesterday, an indie thriller writer reported that hers was rejected and the only thing she can figure is that her cover had some blood spatters. Another author in a private forum quipped that the only thing that sidebar ad pane will be able to show are sea adventure novels and women’s fiction.

What do you think? Leaving aside that this could probably be a big waste of money for an indie author, do you think this type of cover shouldn’t be seen? Did your cover get rejected? If so, for what reason do you think? Feel free to post your rejected cover in the comments so we can get a feel for the range of rejected covers.

ETA: If you’d like to post your rejected cover in the comments, use this code: <img src=”URLofYourImage” width=”150″ />

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31 Comments

  1. Guess Amazon will be missing out on a lot of romance novel ads then. Love that cover!

    Reply
    • Thanks! And yep, and since we make up a good chunk of the ebook market, they stand to lose. Especially if it is just a waste of money, they just lost out on a good chunk of the sector willing to try it out to see if it works in their case.

      Reply
  2. Thanks for the great post, Angela. Yep, I ran into the mystery of the man-chest on Amazon too when I tried to setup an advert in KDP. This is the book they turned down:

    Selkie

    Apparently, my surfer has too much naked chest. I asked them if he should be wearing a full-bathing suit, but they haven’t replied.

    I don’t understand the issue they’re having with naked male chests to be honest, but I can see it being a huge problem for thousands of authors since most romance novels show a bit of skin on the cover.

    Also, if they allow the book to be sold in their store, why can’t it be advertised in their store? What’s the difference?

    Reply
    • “I asked them if he should be wearing a full-bathing suit, but they haven’t replied.”
      *snicker*

      Um yeah, weird. So that rules out that mine was rejected because it was too suggestive. Yours is just man chest, plain and simple. And yeah, I don’t get the ban, since our covers will appear in Also Boughts….

      Reply
      • The only possible reason I can come up with is that it’s cultural. If it’s a blanket rule for worldwide, it would make some sense. I know in Google Adwords that ‘some’ countries find a bare shoulder in the advert offensive. But it that’s the rule Amazon are using across the board, it’s going to lead to some very dull romance covers in the future.

        Hopefully they lift the ban or localize the marketing, so you can have sexy men on the covers in the US etc.

        In the meantime, I’m going to try out naked back next on Icebound and see what happens ^^.

      • That could be. But then how come we’re allowed to show up organically in Also Boughts in those countries?

        oooh, naked back! Let me know how that goes!

  3. P.S. Fabio would be in trouble in this new world lol.

    Reply
  4. S. J. Pajonas (spajonas)

     /  January 30, 2015

    You know I think this rejection is pure stupidity. My husband goes bare-chested all summer long! Crazy to think about how many people will be turned down for something so dumb. OTOH, this is one of those times I’m grateful I don’t put half naked men or abs on my covers (they just don’t do it for me), and I am so not a prude. It just worked out that way 🙂 Lol.

    Reply
  5. This broke my brain this morning…. I don’t… I can’t even… Was it his nipples or her knees that were so darn racy? If this doesn’t fly with them, then the vast majority of Romance covers should also be declined… Amazon once again fails to make practical sense…

    Reply
  6. It is looking like this is an obvious anti-beefcake prejudice. For shame!!! ;- )

    Maybe the big A needs to find someone with a more open mind to vet their ads. Both of the covers I have seen here are in no way offensive to me. In fact, I find them rather delicious.

    =^..^=

    Reply
  7. Wow is all I can say. Of all the romance covers I’ve seen, yours is not one I’d put on the risque list. Funny that it’s the guy who’s most revealed, and that is the issue? I can’t imagine it’s the lady’s knee. Or the monkey.

    Is it the monkey? Ridiculous.

    Your rant about sex vs. violence … a total frustration. Our values in America are a bit backward. I see this in kid/YA fiction. The idea of “clean” books for YA, which is vague and too subjective a term, typically means no swears and no sex. Violence I have not heard referred in the list for “clean” or if it is, it’s downplayed. I’ve heard of Twilight referred to as clean because the teens are chaste until marriage (hello, child bride) and yet there are literally blood sucking vampires and werewolves fighting. Not to mention a monster baby.

    I’ve noticed this with TV too. The show Hannibal is extremely violent (though excellent in craft, direction, acting, storytelling), though to me one of the most schocking elements last season was a very sensual scene between two lovers. It was artist in approach with a very dreamlike edit, so not hot n’ heavy and grunting. It was actually beautiful. And I NEVER see this on network TV anymore. Seriously, I could not think of another show on right now that took this level of attention with a love scene. And yet, we see, even within this very show, women mutilated, captured, hurt, threatened, oppressed, raped, and all manner of yuk on everything from campy Castle to CSI to Scandal.

    Something’s wrong there.

    Reply
  8. I don’t blame you for the rant. Honestly, I suspect that Amazon didn’t put thought into what would or wouldn’t be approved before opening this up, and their robotic people are just being random. :/

    Reply
  9. I don’t get our fear of nudity and acceptance of violence either…. My daughter, Panda, was in elementary school when Titanic came out on VHS. I had seen the movie in the theater and determined from the fiance beating Rose and chasing her with a gun, and the portrayal of frozen people and babies in the water, that this was NOT a movie for my daughter.

    Then she came home all sad because her friends got to watch a “clean” version that had the naked scenes cut out…. *BLINK* I asked around and someone in town offered a cheap service to cut and splice the video to cut out the Rose modeling naked and the car scene where her hand ran down the sweaty window. *boggle*

    God forbid my kid see that other people have nipples and fall in love, but hitting her and shooting at her it totally fine…. I was stunned to say the least.

    And happy to report Panda never saw that movie until she was 20….

    I don’t get it either. Facebook rejects my ads too because of the man chests. Lame!

    Lisa

    Reply
    • tammyjpalmer

       /  January 30, 2015

      I agree totally on the violence vs. sex issue. It’s so backward! You were wise not to let your daughter watch Titanic. We watched it in the theater. I went home and didn’t sleep. At all. I kept seeing all those people trapped and drowning. The mother putting her kids to bed for the last time…made me cry so hard. I don’t even remember there being nudity. A breast maybe? So what?

      Reply
      • She was laid out naked on a couch and he drew her, and then the naked picture came up later in a safe… I still can’t get over thinking all the violence was okay for the kids, but a woman’s body was not… *boggle*

  10. Put some overalls on that monkey! 😉

    Reply
  11. Well, if it makes you feel better, my ad was rejected too and I don’t have a bare-chested beefcake or a couple in a sexy pose on it. I do have a fully dressed (in a suit no less) man holding a gun and that is also a no-no in Amazon’s strident ad guidelines.

    So authors of action thrillers with R-Rated type violence (that’s me) are not getting a pass. I don’t want to get into it from a societal perspective; I just wanted to try to buy an ad on Amazon and couldn’t.

    My Amazon offending cover: http://amzn.com/B00B8BJBBE

    Reply
  12. All I’ve ever heard about Amazon is they make their own rules and then change them as they see fit. And they never tell writers why. Was it the bare chest or his hand reaching under her skirt that offended them?
    It’s a romance. Obviously there would be some sex in it.
    As for your rant on violence, I totally agree that any amount of violence is acceptable in America. American Sniper has been the number one movie for several weeks.

    Reply
  13. livrancourt

     /  January 30, 2015

    How did Amazon get to be the arbiter of what’s appropriate in book cover art? Maybe since they can’t control the content (dinosaur porn, anyone?) they try to keep a tighter hold over the packaging? Though having a bare-chested man on the cover is almost a requirement for romance novels, so it does seem like they’re shooting themselves in their (sales) foot by prohibiting those images in their advertising. Which makes me wonder if there are some higher-level legal (or similar) concerns motivating their restraint. There must be a threat of income loss somewhere to make them willing to give up potential sales.

    Or else they’re not thinking very clearly.

    And I’m sorry your fantabulistic cover didn’t make the cut!

    Reply
  14. This reminds me of a small town in Pennsylvania that passed a regulation requiring that no vegetation within the town limits be over the height of three feet. It was meant to get people to mow their lawns and pull up weeds, but the way it was written all the trees would have to be cut-down. They did end up throwing that one out, by the way, and the trees have been very grateful.

    This could be an issue of bad wording and people not thinking.

    Reply
  15. I think it’s absolutely absurd. Between Amazon and Facebook, you’d think we were living in somewhere where showing any skin at all was taboo. I’m flabergasted.

    Reply
  16. tammyjpalmer

     /  January 30, 2015

    Nice cover! I wonder if covers are being rejected purely by the amount of skin shown? Is it possible it’s all automatic and no one is actually looking at the covers? That’s the only thing that makes sense to me.

    Reply
    • ha! that’s a thought. perhaps it automatically snags anything in the skin color range….sandy beaches, peach dresses, cappuccino.

      Reply
  17. OMG! I’ve asked this question, “Why, why, why is sex in a loving relationship “bad” in our society? Why does our society find it okay to allow kids to see violence, but not images with sexual overtones, etc?” a hundred times on my blog.

    One reviewer says, “Too many morals…”, another says, “Mommy porn…”

    And I ask why are scenes in Hunger Games and Divergent okay to show our youth, but a ‘healty’, loving relationship isn’t?

    Not that it’ll make you feel better, but Amazon turned down one of my friend’s books, and I didn’t find it overly provocative either. They’re clothed and kissing…standing up even. LOL!

    Ohhhhhh….But they didn’t have a problem blasting 50SOG on every single page on their site. I’ve never bought an erotic novel, never searched for erotica, but that didn’t stop them from shoving it in my face.

    I feel you, friend!

    Reply
    • It’s so maddening, how society views violence! Glad I’m not the only one asking this question 🙂 On your friend’s book, there wasn’t even man chest???? It was just kissing? Can you ask her if she’d be willing to post her cover in the comments? Am trying to get a bead on how strict Amazon’s being…

      Reply
      • She was posting a blog about this topic today, too… I sent her your link, and now I’m going to check out her post, so I’ll ask her.

  18. What monkey? Oh, sorry. Was blinded by the delicious male chest there. Hey, so screw Amazon and their prudish rules. Wishing you many sales!

    Reply
  19. Hi Angela,
    Love the cover, and I’m totally with you on the violence versus sex attitude in our censors brains, they are screwed up, BUT I don’t think it’s the man chest that’s too risque. I think it’s his hand sneaking under the blanket. Maybe if you cropped the picture so it was just his chest you might have a better time with the censors. That hand, in combination with the title, is definitely not kid on the beach man chest. I’d love to see the other covers that got rejected to see if they had something on there that indicated more than man chest, because for sure the top of your guy is pretty tame. But that lower half? Wowza! Looks like a sizzling read so I’m sure you don’t even need the ad.

    Best wishes on your sales!

    Reply
    • Oh, and I can’t see a single issue with the Selkie cover above. Amazon promotes far more sexier covers to me every month in my emails, so I don’t get that one at all.

      Reply
      • Thanks :). Yep, the mind boggles on the rejection of that cover, but Amazon did get back to me. The cover is still rejected, but I requested on behalf of romance authors everywhere that they rethink their policies for romance genre marketing images. They thanked me for my input and told me that they were constantly working on improving their service, and they would address the issue.

        I don’t know if that’s a standard line or actual progress, but it was nice of them to flag up the issue. We can’t be the only romance authors running into this problem. Hopefully, it’s just teething problems that will be fixed in the future.

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