Banned Amazon Keywords
A list of all words banned by Amazon KDP & most other book distributors.
Amazon has extremely strict standards for their Kindle Direct Publishing platform, they are much more strict than they are to traditional publishers with direct accounts, so it can be really hard for a person to tell which keywords or concepts are banned. Countless authors have complained to me about how unfair it is, and indeed often when I “diagnose” a book’s problem they don’t believe me. They sound a bit like this:
“But a simple Amazon search shows countlless books more explicit than mine!”
“Hundreds of books on Amazon also used this keyword!”
“I actually use these terms on every novel I’ve published, there’s no way they just banned me for it now.”
“I’m not publishing erotica, why should I care about their keyword guidelines?”
Don’t run afoul of Amazon. They are an estimated 80% of the eBook market, and even though that figure is exaggerated, they are too big to view a small publisher in any way except systematically. Your explanation about how and why your particular use of a keyword is actually completely correct, and not violating their TOS at all, will seem totally inadequate if they take action against your account. Especially if your livelihood is at stake, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Amazon can be too big to notice, let alone care – it feels like you’re stranded on a raft in the ocean, trying to flag down a passing cruise-ship.
You can certainly talk to a real person at Amazon who works in the KDP department – that is a very straightforward and useful feature. Still, save yourself some heartache by checking your metadata against this list.
If your account is banned, not only do you lose all your books on that account with no ability to re-upload them on another account, you also lose the royalties already earned – this means if you make $20k in January, and 50k in February, and you’re banned in March, you will receive all of $0. They will keep it all, and you explicitly agreed to it in their terms when you signed up.
This is true whether it’s your fault or not.
Amazon also pulls entire catalogs, for violations on a single book.
The first words to avoid are trademarked terms. These can be very spottily enforced by Amazon, but make absolutely no mistake – if you get too comfortable and start abusing trademarked keywords to get more views on your book, when they do find out they will ban you and there will be no sympathy, as it’s the type of basic good practice they expect even the smallest author to follow. If you have a fantasy magic book targeted towards children, don’t you dare slip “Harry Potter” in those keywords. Seriously, you’re not the first person to get that brilliant idea, but sadly it’s strictly forbidden. Even if it was allowed, it would be totally useless, as it would just be thousands of authors fighting to appear well below the book the user is actually searching for.
Besides trademarked terms, don’t abuse Amazon terms. As you search our Keyword Nerve Center, you might be surprised to see how many of Amazon’s real searches have “Kindle Unlimited” or another of Kindle’s programs in the search term. If your book really is in Kindle Unlimited, there’s absolutely no issue with slipping Kindle Unlimited into your keywords, right? Wrong, very wrong. Any Amazon specific keyword should be avoided, since Amazon can change it’s mind pretty quick on this, as many people who had to update their keywords to remove Kindle Unlimited found out upon receiving the mass warning Amazon sent out. There were people with 10k+ books, all in Kindle Unlimited, who had to change them all in under a week. Ouch 😛
Forbidden words includes “Amazon,” “Kindle,” “KDP Select,” “Kindle Unlimited,” “Best Seller,” and even “Free.” Straight from the horses mouth, the following are banned:
Unauthorized reference to other titles or authors
Unauthorized reference to a trademarked term
Reference to sales rank (e.g., “bestselling”)
Reference to advertisements or promotions (e.g., “free”)
You should also avoid putting your pen name in the subtitle, or keywords. Amazon had this to say about it when an individual complained, after his book was banned for just that.
As stated in our Metadata Guidelines (httpss://kdp.amazon.com/self-publishing/help?topicId=A294SHSUYLKTA6), search keywords that are not accurate descriptors of a book’s central storyline or are completely unrelated to its content may be misleading to our customers and are unacceptable. Misleading search keywords, such as reference to other authors or titles, result in confusion for customers as to why the work is included in search results. To that end, authors may be asked to remove misleading terms from their book’s search keyword fields so that we can ensure the keywords do not lead to inaccurate or overwhelming search results or impair our readers’ ability to make good buying decisions. If no changes are made to the book’s search keyword fields, the book may be removed from sale. In all cases of book removal, the author is notified. Our team is looking into any technical issues that occurred during our notification to you. If we determine an error in our messaging system, all authors impacted will be notified immediately.
Don’t think your descriptions are a free for all, either. Also from Amazon:
Entice readers with a summary of the story and characters. Don’t give away anything that adds to the suspense or surprise. Let readers know what makes your book interesting, and give them a sense of what kind of book it is. If you’re stuck, check the back covers (or inner dust jacket flaps) of books you like for general ideas, or ask someone you trust how they describe your book when people ask about it.
We prohibit including any of the items below in your description:
Pornographic, obscene, or offensive content
Phone numbers, physical mail addresses, email addresses, or website URLs
Availability, price, alternative ordering information (such as links to other websites for placing orders)
Time-sensitive information (e.g., dates of promotional tours, seminars, lectures, etc.)
Any keywords or tags
Finally, there are normal keywords that are simply banned. These are words that are too abrasive for the general population to stumble upon, and you should never include these in your keywords or titles or subtitles. A small exception is in academic style non-fiction, where different filters and standards are used. A trigger warning – some of these terms might refer to non-consensual sex acts:
Abduct / abduction
Breast, breasts (Banned in title, not keywords)
Breeding, Breed, Bred, Breeder
Daddy / Dad
Forced / Force / Forces
Girl / Boy
Hypnosis / Hypnotize
Knocked up/Knocking up
Step-Whatever (Banned in erotica, not romance)
Virgin / Virginity
[We think] Word’s that will increase the chance of an adult title or additional review:
Alcohol / Drunk
Ass / Asshole
Drugs / Drugged
Milk / Milked / Milking
Pregnancy / Pregnant / Impregnate
Slut / Slutty
Young / Younger
Unprotected, no protection
Warning (As in TRIGGER WARNING)
Not mentioned but still banned: Generally any word that describes an illegal sex act will not be allowed, and as the word’s disturb me I’m not going to bother listing every single one here. These unacceptable sexual terms are obvious, I’m sure, so this is common sense.
Knowledge is knowing that it is a one way street – Wisdom is looking both ways before you cross the street, anyway. Even if you know that your book is relatively normal, and that all sex in the book is consensual sex between adults, it’s important to reference these banned words and avoid them.
Scenario: You’ve finished a romance or erotica book. You’re in the somewhat niche scenario where there are many books like it on Amazon, so you know the concept is not banned, yet you notice the keywords used seem to be banned. What to do? As long as it is not describing a sex act that is illegal in real life, you can generally still sell it, and in fact the top 100 erotica is full of content that has frowned upon keywords.
As an example of a common work around I see all the time browsing the top 100 lists:
Incest is clearly allowed, as long as it is not called incest.
Incest = Taboo
Father = Man Of The House
Mother = Woman Of The House
Daughter = Precious Girl
Instead of Hypnosis, “In A Trance” etc
You get the idea. This requires some creativity, and it’s better to err on the side of caution. Anyone searching for a fetish book that you published will generally find it, but don’t be stupid and try to push in something blatantly unacceptable by Amazon’s standards. You would just be working hard to earn yourself a ban. However I need to say, if you find yourself working to obscure a keyword that represents the books core concept – strongly consider publishing in a different niche. I certainly would never waste time and effort on a risky niche, because a book is not a movie – it should be a lifelong asset. Amazon could change their policy to be more lenient, or they could change it to crack down. Why risk having your entire catalog swept away?
Check this page frequently for updates, go over your keywords and descriptions with a fine tooth comb, and go forth and sell millions of books! Don’t let a mistake define you. Your mistakes don’t make you, or break you. If you get penalized by Amazon, learn what you did wrong and fix it.