Wednesday, August 20, 2014

How NOT to get scadalized on Amazon


I've been running into the topic of discerning story content a lot lately, from blog posts about it to complaint-filled reviews. I decided to sound off on the issue, in hopes people will pass the information on. 

Because books don't have a rating system like movies, readers have difficulty gauging content. This is a problem for people who like 'clean' books and unknowingly get one that has explicit content. It can also be a problem for people who prefer explicit content or don't like a heavy religious theme, but I'm going to focus on the former for this post.

Let me pause to say, I'm not labeling specific content as good or bad, and I'm not promoting one genre or category over another. I'm simply educating folks so they can be better informed consumers.

Let's assume the reader wants 'clean' books with zero-to-minimal language, violence, and sex. How do they find books that suit?

The best way is to stick with Christian Fiction. 

(For the record, I do not write Christian Fiction.

There are two main groups out there, governing fiction--the ABA (American Booksellers' Association) and the CBA (Christian Booksellers' Association). My understanding is--although each publisher has his own philosophy and submission guidelines that allow for minor variations--the content of Christian Fiction is largely controlled by the CBA. 

If you purchase books marketed as Christian Fiction, you can relax and be fairly sure you won't come across anything that will make you cringe, faint, or blush. 

So, how do I know if a book is Christian Fiction? 

A good way is to look for the name of the publisher. If the book is published by a Christian publisher or imprint (ex: Zondervan, Bethany House), you're safe. That brings us to our first tip.


What if the book is self-published or there's no publisher listed?

In that case, you just have to take your chances. 
That said, there are clues.
  • If the cover image contains partially disrobed persons or a couple in the midst of a heated kiss or passionate embrace, it's probably not Christian Fiction.
  • If the story is described as 'hot' or 'sexy' or some other similar term, it's probably not Christian Fiction.
  • Get to know specific authors and their writing. Some authors who don't write CF, or not exclusively, still hold their content in check. (Ex: Debbie Macomber).
  • If you don't want to chance buying a book and being disappointed, go to the author's website and ask them. (We love to hear from readers.) 

What else can you do?
  • Read the reviews. It's not foolproof, but, if there are several, usually at least one will mention content. 
  • Ask for recommendations from friends.
  • Look at the categories/tags of the book in question. If you see 'Christian' or 'Inspirational,' you're safe. 
  • 'Sweet,' however, is dubious. Many people (myself included, for a time) use the word sweet, not realizing it is a term used to categorize clean romances. They might just mean the characters are sweet.
  • Check the book's listing for a content warning. Be sure to read everything. Sometimes these warnings are hidden at the bottom of the truncated story description.
For example, my book's description goes from this...





to this:



  • Consider books aimed at younger readers. Books marketed as Children's, MG, and YA are safe... usually (YA can be iffy).
  • Consider subscribing to book sites, such as The Fussy Librarian, that allow readers to customize recommendations according to content preferences.

I want to pause here and vent a bit. I've come across several one-star reviews in which the reader expressed outrage that a book was not Christian Fiction, even though the book was not marketed as such.

Many of these readers thought, just because the book showed up in a search or was recommended to them by the retailer, that it was CF. They didn't take the time to make sure before purchasing. You may not agree with me, but I feel it's wrong for them to blame the author.

Reviewers should be free to say what they did and did not like about a book--absolutely! But berating it for not being something it was never marketed as crosses the line. 

  • A book suggestion made by a retailer as something you might like is not a guarantee of content. Don't assume. 
  • If you've ever purchased mainstream (non-CBA) fiction from Amazon, they will likely market more of the same to you.
  • Christian Fiction readers don't all buy only Christian Fiction. Therefore--even on Inspirational books' pages--the 'customers who bought this also bought this' book suggestions may not be CF.
  • Just because a book is of a certain sub-genre (ex: western historical romance) doesn't mean it's automatically 'clean' or Christian Fiction. Though western historical romances often express traditional values, they run the gamut of inspirational-to-erotica, just like any other.
  • The review section on a retailer book page is for reviews of the book in question, meaning your opinion of its readability, its enjoyability, and its content. It is not the proper venue to complain about shipping problems (contact the seller privately) or to vent disagreements you have with the retailer and/or their marketing practices (contact them privately).

The moral is: Buyer Beware.

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44 comments:

  1. It looks like my comment got eaten, so forgive me if you get this twice. I think this is a great topic to discuss. I started noticing content ratings on books and wondered about that until it dawned on me that some readers do care about sex, profanity, etc. None of those things really bother me, unless a book involves teddy bear porn (yes. This is a apparently a thing. I ran across this on Twitter yesterday and I haven't yet recovered) or something else that might give me nightmares. And readers should definitely NOT be rating books on Amazon based on the shipment! That has nothing to do with the author.

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    1. I'm like you. There's very little I won't read at least once. A lot of readers are probably that way. Even so, I think anything that helps match a reader to a well-suited book is a good thing. :)

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  2. Well said! And that can go for any genre. Someone doesn't pay attention to what is in the book and then blasts it because it has those elements.

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    1. Thank you. Absolutely, it goes for all genres. (I'm a romance junkie, so sue me. LOL)

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  3. Interesting stuff. This makes me wonder if there should be some way to have authors or publishers be able to list what a book contains on Amazon or at a bookstore - not so much a rating, or even a warning, but content information, so people can avoid what they don't want and get what they do. Not sure how that would work out, but it's an interesting thought.

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    1. A lot of authors are adding content warnings to their book pages.

      You know, back when I was just a reader, I asked Amazon if they would change their search system so one could opt in (or out) of things like Christian books and separate novels from novellas. They didn't do anything.

      I wish they'd come up with a little symbol to indicate CF and even clean romances and put it in the line with the title so the shopper could tell at a glance which ones to click on (or not, if they don't want that). It would save consumers a LOT of time.

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  4. If people are looking for truly clean reads, there are a number of blogs and sites that focus just on that kind of content. I've discovered some amazing read through a few of them. =)

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    1. I figured there was something like that out there, but this post was too long already. :P

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  5. I don't come across much explicit stuff through the traditional fantasy books that I typically read. So when I branched out, there were some books that made my ears turn pink. But I've never taken it out on the author, and I think it's ridiculous that some people do.

    It's as my best friend says - opinions are like ice cream. Everyone likes a different flavor, and if we all liked the same flavor, things would be pretty boring.

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    1. Very true. I think some of the folks don't know the proper venue to express their upset, so they use the review section. They assume Amazon will see it, but all they do is hurt the author.

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  6. I think, when people read the Amazon reviews, they are able to gauge the review writer's beef with the book. I have a friend who does write Christian fiction and she got a review saying there wasn't enough sexual content. I do read reviews to help determine purchase decisions (especially on indie authors for quality control). I recently wrote a review only because one of the other reviews talked about explicit sexual content and there was more of a lights-go-off implied sex and I thought it was important to communicate that (in a YA book, for sure).
    In the long run, all reviews help the positioning of the book, even if they're low in the star category. Bad reviews, at least, show there is a real readership out there and not just the author's friends.
    Good blog topic.

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    1. I agree, if the review is about the book and the customer takes the time to read the reviews; but a one- or two-star rating affects the over all review average. When the review is not appropriate (esp. someone ranting at a 3rd party seller over shipping), it's not fair to the author.

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    2. P.S. I've heard that anything less than a 3-star actually hurts an author on Amazon, not helps.

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  7. Healing Summer keeps getting cover changes in an attempt to match the cover with the story. The first cover was a bit steamy (and if you looked closely, there was a bit of nipple showing through her shirt)- the book has sex, but is far from steamy. Second cover was too sweet. Hopefully third time is a charm.

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    1. That's a tough thing--matching the cover to the content. With Come Back, I was going for some heat but also that hesitant, first kiss innocence. Not sure if I hit the mark.

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  8. I just wrote a long reply and my webpage crashed. :(

    Anyway, I agree that this is a big problem for both authors and readers. And great FYI on how readers can navigate content. :)a

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    1. That's been happening a lot lately. Maybe when the kids go back to school, it'll reduce the stress on the internet. LOL

      Yes it is. I hope people find my little rant helpful. ;)

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  9. The number of one-star reviews posted because the reader misread or didn't bother to read the description is, from what I've heard, astounding. And the reviewer always seems to blame the author for the mis-communication.

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    1. Yup. I sometimes comment and try to educate the person, since I know most authors can't/don't/won't respond to reviews.

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  10. Something along these same lines are review sites that are vague about where they draw the line. If you have zero sex or violence or language, it's easy. If you write erotica or hardboiled crime, it's easy. Those of us in the middle have to figure out what some of them really mean in what they do and don't want.

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    1. I agree. It's difficult to qualify when your writing falls somewhere in the middle.

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  11. Writing is an art form and some people are going to be offended no matter how "clean" a story is, and some are not. I'm more offended by books that moralize. I just want a story to provoke thought, entertain or enlighten me. If it's well-written, the language and sex scenes will be intrinsic and not there to shock or entice me to buy. Great post, Melissa.

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    1. Agree.

      One reviewer of Come Back made the comment that the book was strong enough without the sex, as if I put it there just to sell books. I didn't. Another encouraged readers to skip over those few parts if they didn't like it, that they wouldn't miss anything by doing so. I disagree, at least with the heavy petting scene toward the beginning. If the reader skipped it and didn't know exactly what happened, the next few scenes would be unclear and they'd miss out on a big motivator for character behavior.

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  12. It doesn't seem fair to penalize a book for not being Christian fiction. Let the buyer beware indeed.

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  13. Fantastic post. I agree with what Lee said. If a book is well-written, it doesn't matter if it's clean or full of sex and violence. A good story is a good story. And I like both kinds. I've put down books that moralize and preach at me. That's not why I want to read fiction.

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    1. Me, too. It's a big reason why I stopped reading CF.

      I don't mind characters being characters, but when the author uses them as a mouthpiece to get on a soapbox of any kind, it turns me the heck off.

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  14. This is yet another reason I have serious issues with the star rating system. On one hand it makes it easier to get a quick glance at whether a book might be a good read, but on the other it tries too hard to reduce all the elements that might make the book a good match into an oversimplified metric.
    An intelligent reader will take the time to look into why a book might have received the low rating, and make up his or her own mind. It's too bad though, that the star ratings could turn a reader off an otherwise suitable, (and even spellbinding!) book.

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    1. No system is perfect. And you're right. I've probably missed out on some good books because of star average. Usually, though, if the cover and the blurb entice me, I'll read a few of the reviews to see what people are complaining about. (Esp. when reviews seem to be split--as in 'loved it or hated it' with not much in the middle.) Sometimes their complaints actually make me want to read the book. LOL

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  15. Art is often about provoking and controversy. If you buy an adult book, it should be assumed there will be adult content. There might be ideas the reader doesn't agree with. It's part of what we do. Yes?

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  16. I agree. There on review site I like that rate the book and then tack on a sexual content, language and then it say stuff like "references sex" etc so people know what to expect.

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    1. Yes, it's nice when reviewers include that.

      Some publishers have different romance imprints that are based on heat level. That's something to look into, too. :)

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  17. I get upset when I see a 1 and even a 2 star review for any book. How rude! Great Post, Melissa!!

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    1. Thank you.

      Sometimes, low reviews are deserved, but these were definitely not.

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  18. Well, yeah, that critical reader should critique his/her own reading skills upon purchase. It's completely nonsensical to complain that a non-Christian Fiction book is not Christian Fiction.

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  19. Crazy. All of this. There's so much I don't know…

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    1. Don't feel bad. If I hadn't been a member of ACFW for a year, I wouldn't know some of this stuff either. ;)

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  20. Oh, I'm always in the Christian section—specifically, the Christian thrillers. My retired father has a Kindle now, and he reads faster than I do. Guess what my job is? LOL

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    1. Cool! You're his own personal shopper. :)

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  21. Excellent post! Thank you for expressing this so well!

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    1. Thank you!
      You know me, when I get on a soapbox... :P

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  22. Melissa, it's so easy for me to get lost and confused with the number and variety of books on amazon. This was a big help! I've been out of the loop for some time but I'm back at my blog at www.anne-writersspace.blogspot.com. Hope you can come visit again :)

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Thanks for taking the time to comment. = )