A growing number of self-published authors are receiving ominous emails from ebook distributor Amazon, warning them that their books are about to be removed from the website if action isn’t taken immediately. The warning–which some authors claim they did not actually receive before their titles were removed from sale–pertains to authors who’ve used titles of other books in the keyword searches for their titles.
Authors who have attempted to garner more searchability for their books have resorted to including titles like “Fifty Shades of Grey” or “Gone Girl” in the keywords for their books, hoping that potential readers stumble across their book listings. This practice is also in place by the traditional publishing industry, and apparently the ruling applies to those titles as well. Warnings to traditionally published authors have even been posted on message boards, encouraging them to contact their publishers as these authors do not upload their own titles or establish their keywords.
Interestingly, comments from authors on sites like The Passive Voice and Author Marketing Experts have demonstrated that self-published authors, at least ones who see themselves as professionals, are siding with Amazon on this rule, with many pointing out that it is not a new rule, and it is also bad business practice to piggyback one’s work off the marketing clout of another author, especially without permission.
What is not yet clear is whether or not an author can list his own title in the keyword search for a sequel, for example. I do know from personal experience, having received this warning email from Amazon myself, that if authors can justify the reason for including a title as a keyword, Amazon will review it and make its decision. One of the keywords for one of my own young adult novels contains the title of a very well-known literary classic, and I pointed out my justification for this inclusion to Amazon in a reply email. The result was that Amazon sided with me and allowed the keyword to stay in place.
While this rule is not new, the greater crackdown on authors abusing it may very well stem from Amazon’s efforts to ensure that books are matched appropriately throughout their site by keyword. This move may help avoid more fiascoes like the recent erotica-in-the-children’s-section issue, in which books were wrongfully put in front of young readers based on erroneous metadata and keywords.