If you are visiting my website looking to buy my books, you might wonder why there are no links to Amazon. After all, my books are on Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books, Kobo, Google Play Books, and Scribd. But not Amazon.
If you just want to know the short of it, the answer is simple. If I publish erotica on Amazon under my pen name, J.D. Masterly, and Amazon decides to ban my account, then I as a person am banned forever. My entire account with Amazon would be banned, and all the other books I have written under other pen names will also be removed. I would never be able to publish on Amazon again, and my career as an author would be over.
I cannot afford to risk that possibility, even if it is a slim possibility.
If you want to know the full story, then sit back and read on. What I’m going to tell you may shock and surprise you. It might even upset you.
Amazon, the biggest retailer of books the world over, actively bans authors and censors books.
That’s right. Amazon burns books and crucifies authors (figuratively speaking). Their main target: erotica.
I don’t know what Amazon’s problem is with erotica, and I don’t think anyone else knows, either. After all, looking at Amazon’s erotica selection from the outside, one would not even know there is a problem. I certainly didn’t, until I dug a little deeper.
Prior to publishing my first stories, I researched what other erotica authors were doing. That’s when I began running across various authors who had been banned from Amazon. Digging deeper, I discovered Amazon has some very strict rules on what they consider acceptable in the erotica category.
If you violate those rules, your book gets removed or hidden so that it does not come up in searches. And if your violation is egregious, you will be banned from publishing on Amazon. Forever.
Amazon’s Official Rules
The only problem is, Amazon does not tell authors what those rules are. So an author can suddenly be banned from Amazon with no explanation other than “you violated our (secret) rules.”
The only official rules Amazon gives can be found on their Content Guidelines, which goes for all books published via KDP (read it here). The relevant part is: “We don’t sell certain content including content that we determine is hate speech, promotes the abuse or sexual exploitation of children, contains pornography, glorifies rape or pedophilia, advocates terrorism, or other material we deem inappropriate or offensive.”
The most obvious takeaways are clear: Amazon will not tolerate erotica about underage characters or erotica that glorifies rape. The part about pornography is related to pictures inside the book, not “a pornographic story.” So far, so good.
But then they added this fine little piece: “or other material we deem inappropriate or offensive.”
No one knows what Amazon considers “inappropriate or offensive.” No one. And that’s a big problem.
Through painful trial and error, the erotica community has sort-of figured out what Amazon finds “inappropriate or offensive.” This includes, but is not limited to: any erotica having anyone under 18 in the story, anything that is rape or could be rape, anything with bestiality, watersport or feces, incest and pseudo-incest, age-play, sexual slavery, and finally, gore and sexual violence.
Most people accept the “no one under 18 having sex” rule, but if a character even appears in such a story (not participating, but are just “there” or passing through or even briefly mentioned) the book could be removed or the author banned.
Rape erotica is obviously anything that is non-consensual, but also includes reluctant consent and consent that might be questionable in some way. Falling into that are stories where there is drinking or drug use. If the story has two people meeting in a bar, having drinks, and they have sex… Well, that’s questionable or dubious consent, and the book could be removed or the author banned, even if the characters are not actually drunk.
Blackmail is also included as well, i.e., “have sex with me or some consequence will happen,” even though the character can clearly say “no” and simply accept the consequence. Regardless, Amazon considers that rape. Keep in mind we are talking about fictional stories here, not reality.
Sexual slavery runs along the same vein as rape, and involves someone being imprisoned or held for sex against their will, or an erotica story involving sex slaves. However, dom/sub BDSM stories can have the appearance of sexual slavery, and books have been removed mistakenly for that reason, even when it is clearly just a form of BDSM play. Fantasy stories (by that I mean sword & sorcery type fantasy) where there are female slaves held by some villain also fall into this category, and could result in books being removed or the author banned.
Bestiality may seem like a clear restriction, but it gets really muddy when you consider werewolf erotica or other shifter erotica, or any kind of mythical fantasy or urban fantasy where non-human creatures appear. Is having sex with a werewolf bestiality? What about a centaur or minotaur? What about a goblin or troll? No one actually knows. Some authors have been banned for it, others not. Necrophilia stories are also prohibited, by the way, so would having sex with a zombie be necrophilia? What about having sex with an undead vampire? No one knows!
Watersport (piss-play) is a common kink, and you can find erotica on Amazon featuring it. But some authors have reported their watersport books being removed. Others are doing fine. No one really knows. Amazon’s official guidelines do not mention it at all.
Erotica featuring incest is also prohibited, although Amazon’s guidelines do not mention this specifically. Even so, authors have been banned for publishing incest erotica, as well as pseudo-incest. Pseudo-incest is “step-” incest erotica, i.e., “step-bro, step-sis, step-mom, step-dad, etc.,” as well as “foster-” erotica. Again, you will find some on Amazon, but authors have also been banned for it.
Authors have also been banned for “age-play” and especially age-play involving “fake incest role-playing.” That’s where a young woman may referred to her older lover as “daddy” or role-play being a daughter. Those books get removed sometimes, and sometimes the author is banned for it. Amazon is very inconsistent about this.
Erotica with lots of gore (such as mutilation) also get the ax, and so do a few works of extreme BDSM.
Again, these have only been figured out by trial and error, and many authors have been forever banned. Are there other hidden rules? Will there be other restrictions in the future, that existing books might retro-actively violate? No one knows. Erotica authors have been banned for no clear reason at all, and Amazon never tells an author why they were banned, nor what book caused it.
Book Covers, Blurbs, and Keywords
Amazon also has unlisted rules about erotica book covers, the blurb (summary), and keywords that an author might list on their book to assist in searches (i.e., meta-tags). Most obvious are book covers that feature nudity, and titles and blurbs that feature any of George Carlin’s seven favorite words: shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker, and tits… As well as many other similar words.
But that’s not all! Amazon prohibits “offensive” covers of any kind. That might be two characters in bed having sex, or in some sex position, even fully clothed or under covers. It might be they reject a cover with a woman in a small bikini or sexy lingerie. It could be anything. No one knows the rules. Amazon will block a book for a cover giving no clear reason at all, forcing the author to change the cover and hope for the best, since he or she won’t even know why it was rejected in the first place. And paying for a new cover can be expensive.
Erotica books need to have sexy covers, but Amazon hates sexy covers!
Erotica books are also removed for titles and blurbs using terms like “breeding,” “gangbang,” “ganged,” “pregnancy,” “impregnated,” “virgin,” “daddy,” “BBC,” and many others. There is no list I can cite because there are probably hundreds of such words, and Amazon keeps its own list a close secret.
Book Dungeoned or Blocked
Usually, when Amazon takes offense, an author will find that their book has been “dungeoned” or blocked. Dungeoning is when Amazon de-lists the book so that it no longer shows up in searches. The book can still be accessed and purchased, either through a direct link or from the author’s profile. Obviously, getting your booked dungeoned is not good, but it’s not catastrophic, either.
When Amazon blocks a book, it is removed from their catalog. The author can still see it in their list of books in the KDP console, but no one can buy it. The book is basically dead to Amazon. This is bad, but again, it’s not catastrophic.
Being banned is catastrophic. Amazon claims that authors are only banned when they violate copyright law (stealing and publishing other authors’ books), or conduct some other scheme, such as buying a bunch of fake reviews or hiring a bot-farm to page-read their Kindle Unlimited books. Or, lastly, if they repeatedly violate Amazon’s content rules.
What is of concern here is that last bit: repeatedly violating Amazon’s unlisted, unknown content rules. How do you avoid violating Amazon’s content rules if Amazon won’t even tell people what those rules are? Moreover, no one knows what is meant by “repeatedly” as there is no known violation count. It’s not a “three-strikes and you’re out” situation. Some erotica authors have had dozens of books dungeoned or block, and are otherwise doing perfectly fine on Amazon. Other erotica authors have had a few books blocked, or even just one, only then to be permanently banned.
Even worse, I have come across a few authors whose blog posts claim their books were never dungeoned or blocked at all, and that they simply woke up one morning to find their account closed and an email telling them they can never publish on Amazon again. No explanation, no chance to fix the problem, and no option to appeal. End of story, end of career.
Publishing erotica on Amazon is like having unsafe sex with a new, random person every single day. It may be fun and exciting, but eventually you’ll get burned. And it will suck.
The Impact of Being Banned
The impact of getting banned like this cannot be stressed enough. Here’s the problem. Amazon, as a company and as a publishing platform, has the right to do business with whoever they want. No author “has the right” to publish on Amazon. It’s not a matter of freedom of speech protected by law. If Amazon says “I don’t want to deal with you, bye,” then you can’t do anything about it. You cannot sue them to make them publish your book (well, you can, but you won’t win), and if they don’t want to reopen your account, they won’t. End of story, end of career.
Amazon is free to make up their rules however they want. If they don’t like something an author published, they can just close their account and be done with them. They don’t even have to say why. And there is nothing that author can do about it.
This is an even bigger a problem when it comes to writers and their pen names. Most erotica authors, and many romance authors as well, use pen names. When an author sets up their Amazon publishing account (KDP), they must do so under their real legal name and address. Even setting it up as a company, a person must still be associated with the account. All of that author’s pen names are then setup under their one KDP account.
When an author is banned, their entire KDP account is banned, including all pen names. Maybe they wrote erotica under one pen name, spy thrillers under another, YA books under another, and had a few children’s books as well. All of those books would be gone, not just the ones under their erotica pen name. Every single book by that person, under whatever pen name, is permanently removed. And they can never reopen another KDP account, either under their name or as a business.
They are well and truly fucked.
My Decision Not to Publish on Amazon
Now, with all of that out of the way, my reason for not publishing erotica on Amazon should be more-or-less clear.
It’s simply not worth the risk or the anxiety.
I do publish books on Amazon, but those books are not under the name J.D. Masterly. Those books are not erotica or romance, either, but sci-fi and fantasy books, and they have very little sexual content.
Yet, if I was to publish on Amazon under the pen name J.D. Masterly, and Amazon decides they do not like one or more books by J.D. Masterly and ban my account, then I as a person am banned forever. All those sci-fi and fantasy books, completely unrelated to erotica or J.D. Masterly, are suddenly gone. And I would never be able to publish on Amazon again. Ever. My career as an author would be over.
Even if the risk of it happening is low, I cannot take such a risk. Nor can I suffer the anxiety of waking up every morning fearing that dreaded email from Amazon.
That is why you will find no books by J.D. Masterly on Amazon.
As I mentioned earlier, all of my books are available on Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books, Kobo, Google Play Books, and Scribd. If you would like to support me, please consider buying some of my books from those retailers. Even combined, those retailers hold less than 10% of the ebook market, with Amazon dominating the other 90%. As a result, my sales are minuscule. Every book I sell is a small but wonderful miracle!
Unlike Amazon, none of the other book retailers will “ban me as a person forever.” I publish through Smashwords (which is now part of Draft2Digital, so technically I publish through D2D) to each of those retailers, with Smashwords/D2D as the distributor. If they don’t like a book, they will simply remove it. But I won’t be banned. Not like I would be with Amazon.
I’m not asking you to boycott Amazon, as that would be silly and useless. But consider buying some books from those other retailers. If you by a book from Smashwords, you will get the DRM free epub file, which you can put on any reading device or ebook app you choose, including Kindle. If you want something similar to Kindle Unlimited, you can even try Scribd, which is a subscription service that works much the same.
If you love reading erotica, you will find a much bigger selection of erotica on Smashwords. Smashwords does not prohibit content nearly to the extent that Amazon does, and the only erotica they truly prohibit is underage (under 18) and some extreme gore erotica. Everything else goes (even rape and bestiality are “discouraged” but still allowed). The other retailers (B&N, Apple, Kobo, and Scribed) have rule similar to Amazon’s, but most of my books are in the “ok” category since I do not write about rape, incest, or bestiality. That’s why you will also find my books on those other retailers as well.
If you write erotica and plan to publish on Amazon, then I can only advise that you carefully consider your options. If your erotica stories are strictly “mainstream” or “vanilla” you are most likely safe. But Amazon’s rules are unknown, and if you happen to write that scene where the couple meets in a bar or kick back to smoke a joint… Well, you’re taking a big risk.
If you only write erotica, and have no intention of writing “non-erotica” as a career, then perhaps you have nothing to lose by publishing on Amazon. But if you, like me, do write other forms of fiction and do have a career as a writer of not-erotica-books, do yourself a favor: do not risk publishing erotica on Amazon.
Until such time as Amazon changes their draconian policies on erotica, the consequences of getting banned will be catastrophic to your writing career. But if you choose to do so, then I wish you the best of luck.
You’re certainly going to need it.