This week there have been some changes brewing (yet again) over on Amazon. Recently erotica authors have found their sales ranking stripped from their books without warning or explanation. I’m here today to hopefully shed a little light as to why.
Just this week FOSTA-SESTA (Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act + Stop Enabling Sex-Trafficking Act) was passed. This new law in the U.S. is a good thing (at least the sentiment is). It aims to tackle online sex trafficking. I highly doubt that any romance author anywhere, or hell, any person with a heartbeat and halfway reasonable moral compass wants to see sex trafficking continue … am I right? However, the implications of what this new law means for the internet as a whole is in question.
Now I’m not going to touch the whole debate about internet regulation and digital freedoms because there are plenty of advocates on both side of the fence, and really nobody has a few hours to spare when we *should* be off writing our next novel. But what I can do is give a few tips if you’re an author or devout reader and have concerns about how this is going to affect you.
Companies are already starting to react to FOSTA-SESTA and many are starting with their Terms of Service (ToS) and how they handle content deemed as “adult” with the world. This new the law means platforms are responsible for its users behavior, speech, shared content (legal and illegal) and anything loosely construed as trafficking.
Go ahead and read that sentence again and let the implications sink it. That’s a loaded no-win situation for anyone with a website that has any kind of content-sharing. As a result, Microsoft is banning offensive language. Skype is following suite. Craig’s List Personals have been removed. And Reddit banned several long-standing forums.
Now I know what you’re thinking. What does this have to do with book sales?
A lot, actually.
The platforms in which we run our businesses are evolving with this new law, and we, as authors will need to adapt, too. For some, that may mean adapting the content in our books. For others, it could impact how we market our titles. And that’s just the surface of it all.
One of the first ways Amazon is complying with FOSTA-SESTA is tightening the reigns on the adult content it sells. Already, there are new filters impacting the erotica genre (though it is ironic, that sales rank on some adult products have not been stripped … at least not yet … but I digress) that are stripping rank off of books considered erotica. And rank stripping impacts your title’s accessibility and search-ability. Titles that are ranked in the overall Amazon store can be found much more easily than a stripped title, not to mention the impact it has on AMS and the “Also Bought” algorithm.
Now … are all erotica books how-to guides for sex trafficking? No. Absolutely not. In some far fetched universe, could someone misconstrue our books or pull loose details about trafficking from our titles? Yes. And that, right there, is the reason for the change.
The FOSTA-SESTA bill is so vague and puts so much accountability on websites that they’re essentially being strong-armed to change their current practices as a way of protecting themselves. Simply stated, it is easier for them to proactively change their mode of operation than it would be to fight a costly battle in court and inevitably lose.
So rather than complain about why things are the way things are, let’s take a look at the things that we can control.
What to do if you think your books could be negatively impacted by FOSTA-SESTA:
- Remove any and all keywords that have anything to do with your book being classified as Erotica.
- Unless your book is actually erotica, do not place your book in the erotica category. C’mon … this is best practices, people, don’t put yourself in a category just to chase an orange flag if it’s not actually relevant for the respective category in question.
- Ensure that your book covers don’t overtly scream “I’M AN EROTICA NOVEL!” unless it actually is an erotica novel and you want to be categorized as such.
What to do if your books have already been negatively impacted by FOSTA-SESTA:
- If you have no issue having your rank stripped and want to keep your titles categorized as such, you could do nothing. And that’s totally okay. There is a large market of readers who crave these books and know where to go to find them. The impact on you is that you may not be able to achieve bestseller status on that specific title and you may need to adapt how you market your books in the future to avoid adult-sensitive content filters.
- If you have a pure erotica novel currently available, but want to adapt to the new changes and be re-categorized, you’ll need to delist your title, remove the erotic content and republish your book with a new ASIN. If this is your route, I would consider updating your artwork and title as well to ensure that there is enough space and differentiation in between the books. No, this doesn’t mean you need to go and erase every racy scene on the page, but you do need to better understand what differentiates erotic from romance and make adjustments as appropriate for re-categorization. Sylvia Day does an excellent job explaining the differences here.
- If you have a title that you fear could fall victim to the rank stripping, see the aforementioned section on what you can do to cover your bases.
If you are a reader and want to continue to read the genre:
- Continue to support your favorite authors. Word of mouth goes a crazy long way. Share their content. Buy their books. Leave reviews. Show them love!
- As a customer, you have the right to view sensitive products online should you so choose (which, from at first glance, includes erotica titles). In your Amazon Profile, you can self-elect to be able to remove a general adult-filter to view/seamlessly search for content deemed “adult.” Do know that your activity with products that Amazon considers sensitive will automatically be hidden from your public profile, so any reviews you leave may be hidden from your profile but will be visible from the product page itself.
So what happens next?
Ah, yes. The golden question … what now? Before we can continue to determine our next move, we need to wait and see how other retailers and social media channels (and websites in general) adapt to FOSTA-SESTA.
No doubt, Facebook (and by default Instagram) will continue to tighten the reins on what they will and will not allow for ad content, so choose your ad images and messaging wisely. If you thought it was bad now, just wait. I imagine we’ll see an influx in those being put in Facebook jail for racy posts as a result for the gray-area content we put out there.
Will we see a change in how promo sites handle the genre in the future? Maybe. I’ll be watching BookBub and similar websites closely for any changes on how they handle the categories.
As more information becomes available, I’ll be sure to update this post. In the meantime, feel free to comment below and let me know what your experience has been thus far and other ideas you may have on how to adapt to these new regulations.