Hyphen Hate? When Amazon went to war against punctuation.
This is a really strange blog post to have to write, simply because the situation is absurd. It would be comedic, really, if the situation was not costing me money and resulted in one of my best-selling books being unavailable in the run up to the busiest time of the year.
Let me tell you a little story.
I was sitting in front of my computer on Friday night, as is often the case, talking to friends on Facebook, randomly browsing things that seemed interesting and, in this particular case, attending the launch party for Chantal Noordeloos’s latest Coyote book, when I had an email notification arrive in my inbox from Kindle Direct Publishing.
The email was titled rather ominously as
Kindle Quality Notice: High Moor 2: Moonstruck – B00BVC7MKW
Now – Moonstruck has been out for around 18 months now. It’s done well for itself and, at the time of writing has around 123 reviews on Amazon.com, the overwhelming majority of which are four and five stars. Even the few people that have not liked the book have not had a go at the editing – and for good reason – I spent well over £1000 on getting that book edited, using the best editors I could find. I was more than happy with the product, so was bemused by this email. When I clicked on it to take a look inside my confusion grew.
Apparently Amazon had received a complaint from a reader about the fact that some of the words in the book were hyphenated. And when they ran an automated spell check against the manuscript they found that over 100 words in the 90,000 word novel contained that dreaded little line. This, apparently “significantly impacts the readability of your book” and, as a result “We have suppressed the book because of the combined impact to customers.”
I couldn’t believe what I was reading. This had to be a wind-up. Surely. An automated mistake, generated because some fucking clueless moron had a little moan over something they didn’t understand.
So, chuckling to myself, I sent back a response pointing out that the use of a hyphen to join two words together was perfectly valid in the English language and included a handy link to the Oxford English Dictionaries definition page which described its usage.
That, I felt, should have been the end of the matter. A fuck up was made. I explained the fuck up. Fuck up goes away.
Does it fuck.
The next day I got a response from Kindle Direct Publishing. It was signed by a Melania G – which is either the name of the particular automated response bot I was directed to, or the person reading from a script in a call center, which amounts to about the same thing.
You can read the response below…
Thanks for contacting us and giving me the opportunity to help you. I will be more than glad to assist you with your inquiry.
As quality issues with your book negatively affect the reading experience, we have removed your title from sale until these issues are corrected. Books with serious errors that are not corrected after 60 days will have their product detail pages removed from the website. Your book will still appear in your Bookshelf, and you can update it and resubmit it at any time.
Once you correct hyphenated words, please republish your book and make it available for sale.
Erm – what the actual fuck? Are we now considering hyphenated words to be unacceptable? Are there people out there so fucking mind-bogglingly stupid that the inclusion of a – between two words confuses them enough to be torn from the story and ruin the reading experience so much that they felt obliged to write to Amazon and complain?
What’s next? Will we start getting penalized for using words of more than two syllables? Is the semi-colon also headed for extinction? Is J.K Rowling going to have to take down Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince until she sorts out the blatant hyphenation in the title? Is Cormac McCarthy going to have to go and put in punctuation to The Road?
OK – clearly I am being a bit sarcastic here, and what is happening here is style enforcement by automation. And in some respects I have to applaud Amazon for at least trying to address the sea of utter fucking garbage that is available on Kindle. Do they need to do something about the quality of the ebooks on their device? Oh yes. Absolutely no question about it. However I really would have to question whether their time would be better spent looking at the 10 page automatically generated “books” that are flooding the kindle store to game the Kindle Unlimited algorithms, or the impending tidal wave of Nanowrimo first drafts that are about to hit us, than waging war on a professionally edited novel that had the gall to use hyphens to join words together.
If I was a suspicious sort, I may even wonder if this had anything to do with the fact that I unchecked the “automatically renew this book’s enrollment in Kindle Select” tickbox a few days earlier.
I am fairly confident that if I manage to speak to someone who is not reading from a script or is an email autoresponder, that this situation will be sorted out quite quickly. However, with over £1000 worth of paid advertising coming up over the Christmas period, I really can’t afford to have one of my top selling titles out of circulation, and so I will, reluctantly, start preparing a version of the book with all the hyphens removed.
And then some clever bastard will probably complain to Amazon about the lack of hyphenation and it will get taken down again.
So please, Amazon, in the unlikely event that you are listening – quality control is a good thing. However you should not take the word of some random fuck-wit that something is wrong. You are screwing with peoples livelihoods here, and you owe it to everyone involved to look at these issues on a case-by-case basis.
UPDATE: The book is now back on sale. Common sense seems to have prevailed 🙂