I got some good news–well, it’s right there in the title. Amazon has reviewed my account and re-posted “Bridges” for sale on their store, as is, with no changes to the illustrations. Hold off before you run and buy it, though; I want to upload a version that corrects a bunch of typos (if you have the old version you can request to be sent the new one; if you don’t care about the typos and are paranoid about the illos then don’t bother).
Here’s how it went down: they notified me that “Bridges” was being pulled, and a few hours later that my account was temporarily suspended. This is, I think, just standard when someone uploads something that violates their TOS: they suspend the account, make you promise you’ve read the TOS, make sure you understand that if you keep doing it they can terminate your account, and then you’re good to go.
After an evening to think about it and let the matter settle, I wrote a long, polite letter in which I said that I was familiar with their TOS (there are two different versions that I was linked to in the two e-mails), that I considered them before uploading, and that I thought “Bridges” had been pulled in error. I proceeded to walk through the relevant TOS (both of them) term by term, explaining why I did not believe “Bridges” to be: pornography, an offensive depiction of graphic sexual activity, or “hard-core” material depicting sexual activity.
That left the vague “anything we find offensive.” I pointed out that Amazon sells sexually explicit m/m manga comics (including way more than two sexual illustrations), gave them an example, included excerpts from the reviews talking about how explicit the comic was (and as a bonus, that this comic included a story depicting the characters as cats and dogs), and said that I compared “Bridges” to something like this and did not think it was nearly as graphic.(*)
* Huge thanks to Rukis for pointing me to the manga. It was really helpful!
I told them a little about “Bridges”: that it was an emotional story about a gay man coping with the death of his boyfriend by throwing himself into sex; that it was written with furry characters because that was the metaphor my audience was familiar with; that it had won an award; that the artist had chosen to illustrate two of the sexual scenes as a natural part of the story.
I concluded by asking respectfully that my account be reinstated and “Bridges” re-posted for sale; I did say that I understood the difficulty of monitoring a huge catalog such as they have, and if they had a particular reason that “Bridges” should be pulled, I would like to hear it so that I could understand, and avoid posting anything that fell afoul of that in the future(*). I told them that I’d always had a good working relationship with Amazon and wanted to keep it that way.
* Seriously. I mean, if they have a rule that’s like, “no pictures of furry porn three-ways,” then, well, I can’t sell a book with that pic on Amazon. Maybe it’s a stupid rule, but I would rather be aware of it and know of it next time I have a book with a three-way in it to upload.
It took them three days to review it, during which I remained patient (if stressy), and then they wrote back simply saying, thank you for the e-mail, we’ve reviewed your account and it’s reinstated and Bridges is back up for sale.
So look. It might not have worked out this way. This might have been the beginning of a company-wide crackdown or a purge of furry stuff, or it might have just been that someone somewhere saw something and thought it was borderline. I didn’t know. But I believe that no matter what, respecting the other party in your business arrangement and giving them the benefit of the doubt is always a good first step–especially when they’re huge and you’re small and it might not be personal. If I’d written them a furious letter, they might’ve dug their heels in. And being polite didn’t shut off any avenues I might have wanted to pursue later (thinking about those options is one of the reasons I lost some sleep over three days). But I’m glad it didn’t come to that.
Amazon’s employees are trying to steer a mammoth company and answer huge numbers of issues, and every once in a while it feels like some lower-level employee gets a little drunk on the power to DECIDE WHO SELLS AND WHO DOESN’T (no, I haven’t forgotten the ‘gay purge’ and etc.). But they aren’t all evil bastards. Sometimes when you treat them like human beings, you find out that–surprise–they are.