Amazon's Banned Book Covers

After cover artist Erin Dameron-Hill posted these tips for how to prevent a cover from being flagged on Amazon, we had to ask: which covers has she seen flagged on Amazon and how does she, as a cover artist, work within Amazon's vague content guidelines to edit "racy" covers? Erin is here today to give us the rundown. (Note: Parts of this post appear in Erin's original post on her blog. She has expanded on it for RT readers.)

"What we deem offensive is probably about what you would expect.” - Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing Content Guidelines

For someone like me, that rule from Amazon’s KDP program is a little vague as to what makes a cover offensive. As an Award-Winning Cover Artist at EDHGraphics, Samhain Publishing, Ellora’s Cave Publishing, and Blushing Books Publishing with a focus on Romance and Erotica genres, I find there is little that offends me. How am I supposed to know what is appropriate for Amazon?

As far as I know, there is no official list from Amazon of what is or what is not appropriate. The following are examples that have been brought to my attention — instances where Amazon has flagged a book because of what it deemed as "inappropriate" content and those were the reasons given to the authors and to me. This list is based on what people in my field — art directors, cover artists, and authors have told me. My list is to just simply save you the headache of potentially having your book flagged. However, I do believe Amazon needs to have official rules instead of the very broad interpretation of "What we deem offensive is probably about what you would expect". My goal, as a cover artist, is to provide the most eye-catching cover I can provide within safe guidelines. I compiled the list of examples over the past few years for your benefit.

All of these are unofficial no-no’s:

- Naked female torso including front view or sometimes side view. Side boob inappropriate.

- Arms or hands across breasts.

- Naked butt. On one occasion, upper thigh close to lower butt cheek was unacceptable.

- No naked people in a clinch even if they aren’t “fondling”.

- Any sexual position that implies penetration (Missionary, doggie-style, etc).

- No naked characters straddling each other.

- No handcuffs on wrists. Handcuffs being held is fine.

- No “O” faces.

- No nudity.

- No women on their knees in front of men (as in implied fellatio).

- No men between women’s thighs (as in implied cunnilingus).

- No men’s faces on breasts.

Following the above list will keep you relatively safe. There are exceptions to be found. A recent cover was banned because the woman was bound in ribbons. There will be never be a guarantee because Amazon does not have any official rules. They “reserve the right to make judgments about whether content is appropriate and to choose not to offer it” according to the KDP Content Guidelines

So, how exactly did I compile the above list? Mostly by trial and error and listening to stories that fellow cover artists, authors, and art directors told me. The following are a few examples of covers that were flagged so you have a better understanding of the list I compiled.

A racy book cover that was banned from Amazon

Carolyn Faulkner’s Rod of Correction was the first cover I designed to be flagged by Amazon. The reason they gave the publisher and I was simply “cover”. There wasn’t anything more specific sent to us. We had no idea what was wrong with the cover. Her private areas are fully covered, there isn’t a man with hands on said private areas …. We honestly had no idea why the cover was flagged. What we opted to do in order to fix the “problem”, was we created a completely new cover, one with just a face and some poker cards. Keeping a cover safe can be very difficult when there are no official guidelines. The above cover is a prime example of the need for official guidelines. It has only been in the past month that I learned handcuffs on wrists were frowned upon.

A racy book cover that was banned from Amazon

Maddie Taylor’s You Said Forever was flagged for one reason — her hand is going down his pants. A sensual embrace is fine so long as it’s not overtly sexual. Her hand near his groin clearly states there is sex in this book. I fixed the cover by zooming in on their faces. Easy fix but shouldn’t be necessary if there were official guidelines.

A racy book cover that was banned from Amazon

What’s especially odd about Maddie Taylor’s situation is that when Book 2 in the Club Decadence series, You Said Forever, was flagged, Amazon then went and flagged the first book in the series even though it had been approved for several months prior. Above you’ll see that cover I also had to fix. His hand is not allowed anywhere near the breast. Cloth in-between the flesh of his hand and her breast does not necessarily mean “safe”. And, she’s sporting an “O” face.

A racy book cover that was banned from Amazon

L.A. Cloutier’s Abduction, Seduction, and the Making of a Slave was flagged for obvious reasons — well, obvious to me now that I have my guidelines — she is nude and she is bound. The title was also flagged. 

A racy book cover that was banned from Amazon

Tracy St. John’s Ravenous Virtue was flagged because of that little bit of the model’s thigh on the left. See that tiny sex line on his upper thigh?Inappropriate. I painted over it in dark colors in order to fix the problem.

What I have discovered over the course of the past few years, is that focusing on the sensual curves of the human body such as the shoulders, back, and torso will keep a cover relatively safe. If you want to include BDSM or kink implements, keep them off the body. The implements will tell the reader what to expect, but it won’t incur the wrath of Amazon.

An example of a tamer book cover that was not banned by Amazon

The best way of keeping your book from being flagged is not to be too sexual. A simple cuddle can keep your cover safe and still show readers what to expect.

An example of a tamer book cover that was not banned by Amazon

If you are an author of dark erotica, BDSM, or even general erotica, I would highly recommend one of two options:

1. A symbolic cover. If Amazon finds offense to a rose, then I throw my hands up.

2. A “step-back” cover. Have your artist create a very safe cover and then have her/him create an insert cover with a very smexy image. I have to emphasize here no nudity — that could still cause issues. A fine example of this is Jenn LeBlanc’s Absolute Surrender.

It is challenging to create a cover that Amazon will not find inappropriate when there are no official rules. Hopefully, this will change one day and we will not be expected to piece together emails, letters, and comments in order to keep covers from being flagged.

You can hear more from Erin over at EDHGraphics. And find more genre coverage on our Everything Romance and Everything Erotica pages.