When Tags Attack

There's a mindset that when an author has a book published, that's it. Sure, a little promotion here and there, but then that author moves on to the next book. And while this is nice in theory, the truth is an author -- either traditionally published or self-published -- should always be aware of all of his or her books. I know many newer self-published authors struggle with trying not to check their sales every half hour, but really, it's like watching paint dry sometimes. Some authors try to go weeks, even a full month, without checking their sales, and while that shows strong willpower, I think it's important for self-published authors to check their sales and product pages at least once a day. The reason being that a lot can change in a day. Amazon might for some reason do a price match and drop the price of one of your books. It might go from $2.99 to 99 cents, and if you weren't vigilant, a whole week or more might pass before it came to your attention. Your book could even be made free for some reason, like it did to one writer awhile back who then made a big stink, complaining that Amazon owed him money for every free download (which is stupid, really, because a free download is far from being a sale, as those who downloaded the book most likely would never have bought it in the first place). Also, I believe it's important to track your sales. If a particular title is selling well, good. If it's selling extremely well, great. If it's not selling at all, you need to examine it and ask yourself why.

So far this month, because of my free promotion at the end of February, No Shelter has sold just over 650 copies in the US Kindle Store.

In the UK Kindle Store?

A big whopping zero.

So yesterday I investigated and saw that in the UK Amazon No Shelter had a new review -- a two-star review from a reader who thought the book was just completely unbelievable. Okay, fair enough, because really, the book is completely unbelievable which is, you know, sort of the point. But as I've said before, you can't really argue with reader reviews and just need to accept them for what they are.

But then I noticed something else that had to do with the book's tags. Now, I've never really understood the point of tagging books, though I know for awhile a lot of writers bandied together to tag each other's stuff until Amazon sort of put the lid on it. I never saw the point, really, because it didn't seem that all of that tagging was doing much good for those writers. Anyway, when I looked at the tags, I found these:

So yeah, as you can see, some kind reader helpfully tagged No Shelter as "child sex abuse fiction" and "paedophile fiction," among other things (what, exactly, is "goan crime fiction"?).

Of course, the problem arises that the book features neither of those two things.

So are those two tags keeping my book from selling? Hard to say. But what I can say is that I wasn't (and am still not) happy to have my book associated with those two tags. If someone wanted to tag them "awful" and "sucks" that would be one thing, but those two? Absolutely not.

I contacted Amazon immediately, basically saying that it came to my attention those two tags had been used in regards to my book, which did not feature either of those things, and would it be possible to have them deleted.

Well, here was my response:

Hello Robert,

Thank you for contacting Amazon.co.uk with your concern. I'm sorry if you were offended by the contents of the tags for your book "No Shelter."

We understand your concern, but the tags don't fall outside of our guidelines. Therefore, we cannot remove the "child sex abuse fiction" and "paedophile fiction" tags from our site. I apologise if this causes you any frustration.

We want our feature to be something that all our customers find useful.

Please take a look at our tags Guidelines for information about acceptable tags content:


We appreciate your understanding in this matter. Thank you for your interest in Amazon.co.uk.

I once again checked the information about acceptable tags content -- which I had done before I sent my first message -- and saw that yep, I still had a case ... or at least I thought I did. After all, I'm not sure how all of their customers would find grossly misleading tags useful, but whatever. So I sent this message:

I'm following up on a response from [name redacted] in regards to one of my titles being tagged "child sex abuse fiction" and "paedophile fiction" -- neither of which have anything to do with my book. [name redacted] says the tags don't fall outside of your guidelines and hence cannot be removed, but isn't one of your guidelines for tagging that customers should not use "Tags that promote illegal or immoral conduct"? If that's the case, how does "child sex abuse fiction" and "paedophile fiction" not fall under this umbrella?

I haven't received a reply yet, but even when and if I do, I don't see much changing. Unlike many writers who complain about their dealings with Amazon, I've never had a problem as they've fixed whatever problem I had before without much fuss. This, however, is different. Amazon is, above and beyond, all about customer service. So if a customer placed those tags there, then so be it. At some point hopefully new readers come along and add new, more appropriate tags. Or readers who have read the book might be able to downgrade those two tags (I'm told this is a thing, apparently?). Either way, those tags are there and there isn't anything I can do about it.

My point?

Well, as an author (either self-published or traditionally published), you need to be very vigilant about your work, no matter how long ago it was published. Because sometimes, well, sometimes shit happens.

UPDATE: I received the following reply from Amazon. As expected, the outcome is not in my favor despite the fact that the tags are in direct violation of Amazon's own tagging guidelines:

Hello Robert,

I understand you are concerned by the tags posted on your book "No Shelter."  After careful consideration, I agree with my colleague that the tags don't fall outside of our guidelines. Therefore, we cannot remove the tags from our site. I apologise if this causes you any frustration.

I understand that you are upset and I regret that we have not been able to address your concerns to your satisfaction. Unfortunately, we will not be able to offer any additional insight or action on these matters.

We appreciate your understanding in this matter. Thank you for your interest in Amazon.co.uk.