I best get to work cultivating my bad boy image.
Yes, yours truly is the author of a title banned on Amazon.
Should I grow my hair long, don a black leather jacket, chug Jack Daniels straight from the bottle and start riding a Harley? Perhaps I should dress all in black. Maybe I should even grow a beard ... wait, I’ve got that one covered already.
Wow, I’m moving up in the world, joining the ranks of banned authors.
Although I’ve chosen to laugh over this instead of remaining angry, in all reality I am deeply disturbed over the situation, and for what I consider good reason.
Was Amazon stepping in because I was publishing something obscene, threatening, racist or divisive?
The answer is none of the above. I actually was guilty of parody, with a solid basis of fact behind it.
Brace yourself, the shocking not-fit-for-listing title of my latest book was “Almost Award Winning Christmas Carols: Holiday Hilarity by Don Allison.” My paperback is listed this way, but I was forced to remove the offensive-to-Amazon words from the title to meet their guidelines for the e-book listing, settling on “Almost [Censored] Christmas Carols: Holiday Hilarity by Don Allison.”
As you can see, Amazon’s issue was with the “award winning” part of the title.
Regular readers of this weekly column may well be aware that for one installment each year I create modern-day lyrics set to the tune of well-known traditional Christmas carols. My latest book is a collection of my favorites from past years’ columns.
Over the years I have received statewide awards through the Associated Press for my column writing. In the AP contest’s Best Columnist category I have placed anywhere from first through honorable mention. I do not note this to brag, although I do appreciate my peers’ respect for my work, but to point out an “award winning” label can be fairly applied to the column excerpts contained in the book.
It is true that the Christmas carols themselves did not receive any awards, but columns with the carols were part of the column collections that received the awards. For comedic effect, and to avoid any deception, my title noted the carols were “almost” award winning.
In fairness to Amazon, their policy against having “award winning” is designed to head off deception, false claims and hyperbole. I get that.
But initially Amazon was not clear why they were not allowing my e-book title. How they handled it disrupted my careful plans, as I intended to have both the paperback and e-book available for the Thanksgiving-Black Thursday-Black Friday-Cyber Monday weekend. They listed the paperback right away but not the e-book, sending me a generic email challenging the title but not informing me exactly why.
To make a long story short I got conflicting information as to what was going on, Finally I was given direction that I needed to remove “award winning” from the titled. To their credit they cleared the [censored] version, but the e-book listing was delayed until late Saturday afternoon and that limited the book’s sales potential during a huge shopping weekend. Although I was able to speak with Amazon reps I could not argue my case with anyone from the team that actually made the final decision.
I was affected not only by the timing, but the inability to link my paperback and e-book on Amazon because now they have different titles. This also will affect results of internet searches involving the original title.
Some may argue that I could choose not to do business with a firm that treated me this way. Amazon, though, is not a normal business. Last time I checked more than half the books purchased in the United States were sold through Amazon. As a small publisher I can’t afford to cut my income by more than half, so I must deal with the behemoth firm.
Amazon is very powerful, and with that power comes the ability to create great harm, whether intentional or not.
A rep told me that Amazon owns the e-book platform, so the firm has the legal right to restrict what they want to restrict. They may indeed have that power, but the effect of this can be chilling. I put great time and effort into creating my title, with nuance, humor and truthfulness.
Good titles do sell books – in fact an attention-grabbing title is essential to publishing success.
One Amazon email suggested my title should simply be “Christmas Carols: Holiday Hilarity,” a sure recipe for a dull title that would kill a book’s chance for success.
Beyond that, the potential for misguided suppression of the freedom of expression is chilling. Amazon has the power to stop more than half of all book buyers from receiving an author’s message.
That is deeply disturbing to me, and I can’t let it go without standing up against it. I may be spitting against the wind here, but in good conscience I need to speak out. Hopefully, just maybe, enough people will listen, pay attention and help effect a change.
And if I motivate people to purchase my book by the boatload, well that’s just a bonus.
Don Allison is an author, columnist and retired editor of The Bryan Times.