Okay, gang, time for my favorite type of post: whining about book promotion and marketing. (Actually, I’d prefer to be fat and happy and selling a lot of books. It might be a while before I achieve that, so . . .)
As a goal for the new year (I don’t make resolutions), I decided that I was going to kick out the jams on book promotion and really try to do something about Fester‘s lackluster sales. There are different paths to different marketing goals, but as I was interested in boosting sales, it seemed like focusing on Amazon ads would be the best bet. After all, people on Amazon are almost certainly looking to buy something right then and there. For other platforms, such as Facebook, advertising would be more useful to increase brand awareness (whatever that is).
To get a better handle on Amazon’s complex advertising platform, I bought a couple of books and a spendy online course that offered to provide easy-to-follow steps to get a handle on this complicated process. I did my homework, came up with a very basic advertising plan, and eagerly navigated the Amazon ads console to set up four new ads, each of which had slightly different settings. The idea was to gather data to help determine how to better refine my advertising strategy.
The first three ads launched without a problem. However, for the fourth, I got an email from Amazon advertising saying that my ad had been rejected because the ad contained “excessive violence or gore.”
This was patently ridiculous. The ad – which was just the book cover – contained no such violence or gore. (You can see the book cover below.) I checked Amazon’s Creative Acceptance Policies, which admittedly I hadn’t bothered reading before, as the cover seemed pretty anodyne.
I checked the policies about what constitutes “excessive violence or gore.” According to their policies this includes but is not limited to (italics mine):
- Brutality, graphic depictions of blood, open or sutured wounds, scenes of torture, dismemberments, or mutilations of bodies (including cadavers).
- Overt references to or images implying or depicting rape and sexual molestation.
Clearly, this didn’t apply to the cover of Fester, so I filed an appeal. When the rejection was reviewed, it was upheld. The reviewer said: “When we reviewed the ad, we determined that the ad (Campaign Name: Fester – SP – Manual Category – Down) contained violent content. To ensure a good customer experience, we don’t allow ads containing images of human or animal abuse, mistreatment, or distress.”
I was genuinely nonplussed. The first perplexing thing was that the reason cited for the rejection of the appeal had nothing to do with the “excessive violence or gore.” I re-read the Creative Acceptance Policies, and notices the includes but is not limited to phrase. These are utter weasel words, which you’d think I’d be in favor of, given the name of this publishing company. Weasel words they may have been, but they were certainly not sweet. Basically, Amazon seemed to be saying that they could make the rules up as they went along.
This notion was reinforced when I considered that I had run ads for the same book five times previously (the three new ones plus two experimental ads from last year). All of these were accepted. Amazon was more than glad to take my money to advertise something from which they take a cut. Clearly, the “policies” were not being applied consistently. I figured that the first rejection was an overeager newbie, or an Amazon employee having a bad day. The judgment for the appeal seemed more like summary punishment for having dared question the mighty Bezos Machine.
After some back-and-forth on a FB group, I decided to go ahead and appeal the appeal. I was hesitant, as it seemed risky. I had three other ads running, and I didn’t want them to get yanked. If I kept fussing, I might get the book cover – and myself – on a permanent shitlist. After all, the nail that sticks up gets pounded down.
I also figured that the odds were in my favor: I was batting .833, with five out of six ads being accepted. If I just started over with new ads, I could probably just let them slip by whatever inconsistent scrutiny Amazon might apply.
I eventually decided to appeal the appeal and try to make an argument to Amazon. It seemed like the right thing to do; I will almost certainly be punished for it. If I lose the appeal appeal, I’ll probably just have to get a new book cover. Can’t really afford that right now, as I spent all my money on the fuckin’ advertising course.
At the end of the day, Amazon is the eight-zillion pound gorilla for the indie publishing community. Without Amazon, one’s sales channel options are significantly narrowed. So I will, if necessary, bend the knee to Bezos’ Bozos and offer my heartfelt contrition.
Then I’ll whine and talk smack about it here.