About a week ago, I released my latest box set, Swinger’s Box Set, for pre-order on Amazon. Who! Hoo! Then the very next day Amazon kicked me in the cojones and threw me into the dungeon. One Day, people!
Lisabet was right, and my original cover crossed the line for Zon. Why I asked myself? Everyone was pretty much dressed and in the bathroom, the cleanest place in the house. Surely, nothing nasty ever goes on in the bathroom?
Quickly, I reworked my cover with a more bland and non-threatening image. After resubmitting, my rating was switched to “Safe” within a couple of hours.
It was almost as if someone was sitting at their keyboard, ready to click Safe as they waited for my submission and give me absolution for my previous sins.
Up, Down, Yes, No! was I in some type of manic state where one day everyone is out to get me and the next its Mom and apple pie? Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean that they’re not out to get you.
Then to top it off, the big guy upstairs, no not Trump, but the big, big guy throws Sin City into the freezer. For the first time in ten years, its snowed in Las Vegas and two days in a row.
The girls all abandoned their short skirts and switched to pants as the weather hovered in the thirties with a serious wind chill. Instant downer!
I turned to Fox News and confirmed that global warming was, in fact, a hoax and fake news, but even after showing the outside world the news on my laptop, it still hasn’t warmed up. Confused and upset I’ve retreated to the comfort of my desktop as the warming glow of my twin monitors is likely giving me measles, brain cancer, or berry berry.
As you’ve likely read about, recent changes in regulations have caused problems with the porn industry and erotica in general. First, Tumblr was purchased by a goody two shoes company who felt that nudity and sex had no place in their organization. A large number of blogs in Tumblr instantly were censored and yanked. No longer are you able to see pictures of your next door neighbor’s wife with the milkman.
Then the thought police in Washington tweaked the rules making companies who hosted sites that exposed the naughty bits to be responsible for the content posted by their downstream sites.
Fearing the loss of their licenses, more and more web hosting sites are clamping down on perverts like me. I’m going to have to stop wearing my raincoat to better blend in with my local elected officials.
Over the last few weeks, it seems that many of the blogs dedicated to authors of erotic material have sprouted numerous messages about censorship and the big thumb of the government pressing down on erotic author’s collective necks.
One of my favorite quotes is from Larry Flynt of Hustler magazine, “Freedom of speech doesn’t protect speech you like, it protects speech you don’t like.”
As the walls continue to close around authors of smut, like when Luke, Princess Leia, and crew were in the trash compactor, while movie watchers were trying to confirm that Princess Leia was, in fact, braless in the movie, we must not give up the fight.
In January, I released the third book in my Vegas Babes erotica series, Sin City Sweethearts. This no-holds-barred erotic romp features a pair of fraternal twins, Marcie and Maddy, who come to Las Vegas to attend university and to escape from their overprotective family. They move into the apartment below Annie and Ted, a slightly older, recently married couple who have an open relationship. Annie and Ted undertake to initiate the two newcomers into the hedonistic, carnally-permissive lifestyle of Sin City. Needless to say, the twins are eager and attentive pupils who take their lessons to extremes even Annie and Ted didn’t predict.
In self-publishing this tale, I used the procedure I’ve adopted recently, setting the book up as a pre-order on both Amazon and Smashwords. This tactic means that by the time release day rolls around, the book will have purchase links on all the third-party platforms to which Smashwords distributes, such as BN and Kobo. In the past this has always worked like a charm.
With this book, though, I ran into problems, specifically with Kobo. On release day, more than a week after I submitted the book, there was no trace of the title on Kobo. I waited for another week. Still no Kobo link. Finally, I sent a support request to Smashwords.
I got a prompt and courteous response promising to investigate. After a couple of rounds of emails, I got the answer: Kobo had rejected my book because it violated their content standards.
What? I pointed out that the two previous volumes of the series, which are just as explicit, were available on the Kobo platform. The diligent customer service rep from Smashwords dug further and came back with the news that the following lines had caused the book to be banned:
“Holy Shit! Was Marcie licking her own sister? That thought, along with the blonde’s oral talents, pushed the ignition button.”
Apparently this was considered as breaking their rule against depiction of incest.
Note that there is no actual incest going on in this scene. Ted has Maddy sitting on his lap, bouncing up and down on his cock. Here’s the context, the paragraph preceding the offending sentences:
“Argh…” he sputtered. The sensation was almost too intense. Marce backed off a bit, letting him breathe. When Maddy raised her body off his shaft, Marcella swiped her tongue along the exposed length. He arched up to bury himself in the brunette’s juicy passage. The blonde’s daring tongue followed, keeping contact with his rod until it was completely hidden in Maddy’s cleft.
In short, Sin City Sweethearts was banned from Kobo because one of the characters was thinking about incest, and finding that thought arousing.
We’ve apparently reached the state described in George Orwell’s 1984, where merely thinking about forbidden things is considered a crime.
Arousal begins in the mind. Imagination is the ultimate aphrodisiac. Our characters’ sexual journeys originate in their fantasies, before they take any action. If Kobo’s rules were consistently applied, our characters’ hottest, most taboo fantasies would become unpublishable. This includes not only incest fantasies but also rape fantasies, golden showers, enemas, fantasies about dogs or horses…
After twenty years in the business, I still don’t understand the double standards that govern sexually explicit fiction as opposed to other fiction. If authors can write about murder, terrorism or war, why the special rules for sexual activities? But even if I’m willing to exclude some categories of sex acts from my stories (and there are some actions I’d be loathe to write about), must I censor my characters’ thoughts as well?
I suppose that Kobo might argue that there is no distinction in fiction between real actions and character fantasies, in that both exist only in the imagination of the author and the reader. I think this is wrong-headed. In reality, and in fiction, humans have control over what they do, but not what they think. If I’m attracted to my brother, I’m not going to do or say anything to reveal this situation, but that doesn’t make the attraction disappear.
In 1984, the supposed antidote to “thoughtcrime” is called “crimestop”.
The mind should develop a blind spot whenever a dangerous thought presented itself. The process should be automatic, instinctive. Crimestop, they called it in Newspeak.
He set to work to exercise himself in crimestop. He presented himself with propositions—’the Party says the earth is flat’, ‘the party says that ice is heavier than water’—and trained himself in not seeing or not understanding the arguments that contradicted them.
My brother is not attractive. I don’t find that horse’s schlong arousing. I have no interest in watching two eighteen year old sisters pleasure one another.
Doesn’t seem to work for me…
The rep at Kobo suggested that they’d reconsider their decision if I modified the offending line. I thought about it. It’s not as though my sales are so high that I can afford to forgo listing on a popular platform. Indeed, I’ve been buying many ebooks for my own consumption from Kobo. I find their interface, their policies and their service far superior to the Mighty Zon.
Ultimately, though, I balked at the notion. I’m not willing to participate in this ridiculousness.
So you can buy Vegas Babes Books 1, 2 and 4 on Kobo, but not Book 3. I do hope some eager readers will bug them about this inconsistency.
Okay, I have to admit that I’m ticked off and it’s all Lisabet’s fault. Well its not actually Lisabet’s fault, she just wrote a blog post Consent and Complicity that got me fired up.
If you haven’t read it, take a minute and look it up. You should be able to click the link above to view it.
My problem is simply this, why are writers of erotica treated differently than writers of any other genre and their stories have to conform to different rules than others.
My top peeve is the use of rubbers in erotic stories. Why do we need a condom, will you get an STD from reading? Do we need to promote safe sex? Why?
Did Dirty Harry use blanks in his 44 Magnum, well did he punk?
Are James Patterson’s characters all nice Sunday school teachers, well hell no!
So why can other writers write murder and mayhem without any thought to their character’s safety? Is it written anywhere that we have to play nice? I’m mad and I’m not going to take this any longer!
When you read a fictional story, most people read to be entertained and a means to escape to another world for a few minutes. Well, and if you read one of my stories, I hope you get off also.
I don’t have any lofty ideals about my stories, I write stroke, plain and simple but that’s not the whole story.
An erotic story by definition is to entertain and stimulate the reader, not to teach a lesson. Unless that’s the actual intent of the story.
I never use a condom in a story because I think that the reader needs to imagine the feeling of bare skin on skin, not plastic rubbing together. The story is not going to somehow infect us but if you’re worried about it try spraying your books with Lysol.
I doubt that you can find very many people who would rather have sex with a rubber than bareback. Especially in today’s world, where we are constantly concerned about some disease such as Ebola, AIDS, Hep C, or some other God-awful thing that might make your dick fall off.
By the same token, if the thought of pseudo-rape or non-con scenes turns your crank, then why can’t we read that? If Stephen King can torture and kill people in his stories without raising an eyebrow, why can’t we have someone put clothespins on our nipples?
Personally, I’m not into pain but I know a number of people who really get off on it. That doesn’t mean that you have to read/write a story involving a flogger but you should have the right if you want to.
According to authors who use a conventional publishing house and have to deal with editors, there is often the comments that the editor makes them tone down their story to be sure it doesn’t offend someone.
That’s why I like to satisfy myself and my readers, not some editor somewhere, which self-publishing gives you that ability.
“Freedom of speech doesn’t protect speech you like; it protects speech you don’t like,” Larry Flynt of Hustler Magazine.
by Jean Roberta
So much has been said (even here in Canada) about the election of Donald Trump as President of the U.S. that I can’t think of anything new to add on a political level.
However, let’s consider how government by the “alt.-right” (loosely defined as a broad coalition of white male supremacists, proud gun owners, climate-change-deniers, Christian fundamentalists, and fans of robber-baron capitalism, unrestrained by unions or governments) might affect writers. The first thought that occurred to me was that new laws might criminalize erotic writing, as distinct from crude boasts about “grabbing pussy.”
My second thought was that legal censorship would not be the most serious threat to writers. The English writer Virginia Woolf came closer to the truth in 1928 when she gave a series of lectures which were later published as an essay, A Room of One’s Own, about how women writers are affected by a shortage of actual space and time in which to write. This argument could be extended to everyone who is socially and economically marginalized.
Thinking about my own past, I can honestly say there has never been a time in my adult life when I didn’t write anything. However, as a single mother in the 1980s, I always felt guilty about spending my scarce “free” time on any activity that didn’t involve tending my child or earning a living. I was also trying to finish a Master’s thesis in English, and this project – which is supposed to take a year or two at the most — took me most of a decade, partly due to delays on the part of a supervisor who had other priorities, and partly due to lack of time, energy and self-confidence on my part.
The real wall that tends to keep marginalized or oppressed people out of “mainstream” culture consists of obstacles to self-expression. If you’ve been taught that your real purpose is to serve someone else’s needs (or that you have no purpose and might as well be dead), and if apparently random circumstances reinforce those messages, writing anything feels like an act of rebellion. Everyone has stories to tell, but the obstacles to telling them are likely to be internal as well as external.
As an instructor of low-cost, non-credit creative writing classes in the local university in the 1990s, I met students who wanted to express themselves in written language, but they were afraid of possible consequences. Several of them insisted that they would never write for publication because their relatives and especially their spouses would never forgive them. My students wanted to tell the truth about their lives, but they were afraid that their truth would offend everyone they knew.
My advice might have seemed contradictory on the surface. I encouraged them to write down their most shocking (to themselves) feelings, suspicions and experiences in very private journals that they never had to show anyone, including me. This was Step One. After letting this raw material cool for awhile, students could continue to Step Two: rereading the secret diary, and pulling out sections that could be reshaped to form poetry, fiction, drama, or creative non-fiction.
Turning a spontaneous rant, a rambling journal entry or a masturbation fantasy into a coherent piece of writing makes it more comprehensible to others. It’s the beginning of a conversation. And a conversation that includes enough participants can change a culture.
In the November newsletter of Circlet Press, writer and publisher Cecilia Tan defended what she does so brilliantly (IMO) that I can’t resist quoting part of her editorial:
“It was a tough night here at Circlet HQ as the election results rolled in and I probably don’t have to tell you why–but I will. This wasn’t about Hillary Clinton versus Donald Trump for us. This was about the fact that the Trump campaign and the Republican platform are serious threats to our existence as marginalized people. Gay, lesbian, trans, bi, gender non-conforming, minorities in sexual identity of every kind, including survivors of sexual assault (and not to mention women and people of color in general) are all seen as less than human by the Trump camp. Literally.
So I thought it might be a good time to remind you all what Circlet Press stands for, and why even in the face of a difficult uphill battle, we’re not giving up, and why even in the face of massive global upheaval, erotic fiction still matters.
1. Writing matters. All writing is a declaration of humanity.
The act of writing is self-expression in a declarative form. Whenever we make words, even if they are tweets, at the most basic level we are saying “I am here!” Unlike vocal speech, writing is a deliberate act, one that combines cognition with communication–with intent to communicate to an imagined other who is not present. It’s a powerful act whether one is writing a personal blog, an article, a story, a letter, or even a diary entry. It might feel right now like putting down words doesn’t matter. But it does. It does because you matter, your voice matters, your personhood matters.
2. Erotica is a claiming of sexual identity.
The extension of the fact that writing matters is that writing about sex matters in particular. Not only do we write “I am here!” but “I am queer!” (or whatever flavor of non-standardized sexuality or sexual identity you declare) No matter what your sexuality is–even if it’s vanilla heterosexual–society has judged you for it and wants to tell you how you can or should do it. If you cannot be yourself in your private thoughts, you cannot be yourself anywhere. In our sexual fantasies is where some of us first discover our true selves, and then through that act of putting down words, of putting that fantasy to paper as if communicating with another sentience, we express that truth. There are those out there who literally wish death on us for being queer or sinners or ‘liberated women.’ Declaring our existence as sexual minorities and celebrating our sexuality with joy through erotica is an act of courage and an act of self-preservation, too. The more we are seen, the better we are known, the more space on the stage we take up, the more difficult it is to marginalize us. “
There you have it. The whole editorial is much longer than this, and it was intended for wide circulation. You can read it here:
by Jean Roberta
Selena Kitt’s clear expose of the “Pornocalypse” of hard-to-find erotic titles on the Amazon site reminds me of my uncomfortably educational stint on the local Film Classification Board in the early 1990s. Yes, folks, I belonged to a government-run board with the power to ban films.
I was a single mother, and desperate for any job that paid, a situation which could make almost anyone vulnerable to demonic temptation. A sister-feminist of my acquaintance told me about the position on the classification board that she had just vacated; she claimed that all the porn films she had been forced to watch had given her nightmares. I sympathized, and tried to ask as discreetly as possible what, exactly, had kept her awake at night: serial killers in masks chasing terrified women with chainsaws? The torture of political prisoners? My acquaintance was both vague and indignant: it was porn, and therefore an expression of contempt for women. Wouldn’t that be enough to give any woman nightmares?
I recklessly applied for the position on the board, and was accepted. I was told that I would need to watch films in a basement screening room with a few other board members for only a few days per month, and I would be paid a “per diem” to cover my “expenses.” This was not to be referred to as a salary, so I agreed not to call it that.
I watched numerous short porn films that had been seized from places with names like “Joe’s Gas and Confectionary.” The worst aspect of the films, IMO, was the relative lack of originality or esthetic value in them. There was usually a soundtrack of elevator music, and a well-worn plot about a horny housewife and a pizza delivery boy, or a naughty co-ed and her manly professor. The actors usually recited their lines as though reading them off cue cards. There was no torture, and no overt use of force.
Several of the films I watched were (somewhat) witty parodies of mainstream films (e.g. Edward Penishands). They combined sex with humour, not the degradation of the innocent.
I soon learned that while all mainstream Hollywood movies had to be viewed and rated by us, the classification board, before they could be shown in movie theatres in the Canadian province I live in, the rating of porn videos was complaint-driven. This meant that if no one complained, Joe’s Gas could stock unrated porn films for sale or rental, and life went on. If someone complained to the police (in small towns here, this consists of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police), they would hand over the entire stock of porn films from Joe’s Gas to us, the film police, to rate or to declare illegal.
The Film Classification Board was not equipped to rate every single porn film that entered a fairly large (geographically speaking) Canadian province from elsewhere. (As far as I knew, none of it was locally-produced.) There was just too much of it for six board members to view, discuss, and classify. This meant that any irate mother who caught her teenage son watching a film he had secretly rented from Joe’s Gas had enormous power to force Joe to hand over his entire stock, without compensation, to the Authorities (the police or us) and with no guarantee that it would all be given back to him. At the time I joined the board, it was in the process of reviewing a stash of over 900 films that had been seized from one retail outlet.
In a nutshell, anyone who claimed that the Film Classification Board was standing guard over the morals of the entire province was delusional. No one who actually sat on the board could believe that we could classify every piece of film available. Our role was to give an appearance of protecting “community values,” whatever those were, and to actually protect the politicians above us in the government from having to answer sticky questions from the public about what they were doing to stem the tide of “porn,” or why they were trying to limit what local consumers could read or watch.
Discussions with fellow board-members were informative. None of them was an anti-sex fanatic, as far as I could see, but all of them seemed to think we could make decisions that no sensible person could disagree with. The problem is that most people consider themselves to be sensible, neither prudish nor pathological, yet even in a relatively small population, there is large diversity of opinions about the depiction of sex.
Amazon, as a huge purveyor of books and related products, is highly visible to zillions of netsurfers. Although Amazon is a private company, not a branch of government like a film classification board, its administration probably feels the pressure to please a large, middle-of-the-road buying public that really does not exist. Given the quantity of items sold by Amazon, I suspect they have no coherent policy on what should be kept on a back shelf behind a curtain and what should be advertised from the rooftops.
In 1755, after an author and thinker named Samuel Johnson had produced the first “modern” English dictionary, a lady reader complained to him about the “improper” words in it. To his credit, Sam did not offer to pull them out of the next edition, but then, he wasn’t trying to earn a living from the sale of that book alone. Had he been more dependent on public opinion in general, Sam probably would have waffled, apologized, tried to blame an irresponsible typesetter, or promised that the offending words would be removed forthwith.
The problem with censors is not that they all have a fascist agenda to control the whole world, but that they try to please everyone in order to avoid negative publicity. If a certain book is available, someone will be offended. If it is suddenly made unavailable, someone else will be offended.
In effect, most censors are politicians who try to appeal to the largest number of voters by speaking in soothing generalities. Like politicians, censoring organizations need to be watched.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news twice in a week, but here we go again. This time it’s the folks over at Barnes and Noble. I’ve had reports (that I’ve now verified) that erotic keywords are being severely restricted. A search for “menage” comes up with a total of 3,661 titles. BDSM returns 6,988 titles, and incest comes back with just over 1,000 titles. Subkinks (like father-daughter or mother-son incest) are coming up at 20 to 40 total. Now, I haven’t checked the erotica keyword search results on Barnes and Noble in over a year, I admit, but back then, menage returned somewhere around 175,000 results, BDSM 110,000, incest about 80,000. For menage to suddenly come back with less than 4,000 books – it’s pretty clear that something’s happened.
Another interesting search restriction that’s been verified is that searching for a publisher on Barnes and Noble returns no results (unless the publisher’s name is in an anthology or listed somewhere other than the “publisher” field – our Excessica anthologies come up, for example, but none of our books do, and yes, they used to!) From Excessica to MacMillan – no results. For small publishers, this is a disaster. Many small pubs have spent years building a brand, and have readers who search those publishers for new books on the larger distributors. This eliminates that as an option (unless you do a search from Google – the results clearly come up there – which serves to prove further that this is a Barnes and Noble restriction.)
The conclusion we can draw here is that publishers and keywords are now restricted from the general search on Barnes and Noble.
My guess is this – Barnes and Noble is using a nuclear “quick fix” option. (Like when they dropped ranks on books by 1000 a few years ago – or anchored other books to keep them out of the Top 100…) They wanted to make keywords unsearchable going into the holiday season and in doing so they had to turn off publishers as a search term. I think keywords and publisher search were linked in their system somehow. So when they shut off one, they shut off the other–like throwing off a breaker to turn off one light in the house.
And now, we’ll see – but I think they’ll move on to individual books that have keyword-stuffed titles still coming up in searches. Because those are the books still showing when you search for things like “menage” and “BDSM.” Most of them have long keyword-stuffed titles that Barnes and Noble’s search engine is still finding. Suppressing publisher and keyword searches decimated the titles available that come up in a search – and made less work for them. Now instead of 200K titles they have to comb through, they have to go through only a fraction of that.
If you’re an erotica author thinking, “Ohhh! I’ll just keyword-stuff my titles then!” let me say one thing – I wouldn’t if I were you.
Earlier this year, Barnes and Noble threatened to close Excessica’s account if we didn’t get rid of keywords in parenthesis after our titles. We had to go through and remove them all and clean things up or face being banned from publishing on Barnes and Noble. I didn’t blog about it at the time because we seemed to be targeted as a publisher – I didn’t hear anything through the erotica grapevine about it happening across the board. I’m sure a few others were targeted as well, but it didn’t seem to be widespread.
This, however, is a sweeping change I think all erotica authors need to know about. I know, in the wake of KU 2.0, many erotica authors went wide with their books and were starting to gain some traction on Barnes and Noble. I have a feeling this is going to ruin Christmas for quite a few.
Thanks, Barnes and Noble. Amazon didn’t give us any warning or use any lube, but just because you got sloppy seconds doesn’t make it hurt any less.
Pass the eggnog, erotica authors. We’re gonna need it. Because while the storefronts will be safe “for the children!” this holiday season, none of the grownups will be able to find your books. Again.
Pornocalypse 2015 has begun…
How do I know this? Because they shunted nearly 3/4 of Excessica’s catalog into erotica. All of a sudden my author rank rose to #2 in erotica – sounds great, doesn’t it? What’s the problem? I mean, doesn’t erotica belong in erotica?
Yes. And no. It’s a lot more complicated than that.
Anyone who publishes erotica and/or erotic romance knows that the line can be unclear between what is considered “erotica” and what is considered “erotic romance.” Generally, longer books with a romance focus (i.e. two people falling in love, overcoming obstacle(s) and ending up with their happy ever after, or at least happy for now) even if they have explicit sex in them, are considered romance. Shorter works are a little more dicey, but even short stories can be erotic romance if they have all of those elements I listed above. So who determines what belongs in erotica and what belongs in romance?
Amazon. Their store, their rules, right? The problem is – we all know how inconsistent Amazon is when applying their “guidelines.” Case in point, when they decided that most of our catalog belonged in erotica, they decided to place Hunting Season in erotica. There’s zero sex in that story. None. Nada. Zip. Zilch. It’s horror, not erotica, and that’s where we placed it. But Amazon, in their infinite wisdom, decided to place it in erotica.
Does this look like erotica to you?
That alone tells me that Amazon clearly painted us with one brush, without any regard to actual content. If your catalog is primarily erotic romance and/or erotica – they may have done that with yours as well. If I were you, I’d check.
CHECKING YOUR BOOK’S CATEGORIES
Unfortunately, I don’t know an easier way to do this, except to check one book at a time. To check what categories your book is in, go to the Kindle book page, and scroll all the way to the bottom of the page. You will see a list of categories your book is in there. If you only see “erotica” listings, your book is in erotica.
So far books have been moved without much rhyme, reason, consistency or transparency. And definitely without any warning. Some authors have had their erotic romance sent into the erotica categories – along with their children’s books and cookbooks!
Hello? Amazon? You in there?
Excessica is a small press – we have 450+ authors in house and about 1000 books. Amazon deciding to put 3/4 of our content into erotica without any warning, and then offering us little or no recourse, is just an unacceptable and unprofessional way to treat content providers. But we all know that while Amazon likes to be known as customer-centric, they don’t treat their workers very well. Or their white-collar employees either, for that matter. Now that Amazon has decided to pay their content providers half-a-cent a page, I’m starting to feel like I’m working in some sort of digital sweatshop. They expect all sorts of exclusivity from us, and put all sorts of restrictions on us, and then pay us a half-penny per page read? Just how long do they thing indies are going to tolerate this kind of treatment?
HOW TO GET YOUR BOOKS OUT OF THE EROTICA CATEGORY
In my conversation with the Amazon customer service representative about this situation, I was told, “We are improving our ability to identify erotic content, so you’ll see more books put into erotica going forward.”
Me: Just going forward?
CS: No, we’ll also be identifying other content and moving it into the erotica categories.
Me: How will you be identifying this content?
CS: I can’t tell you that.
Me: How can we get our books out of erotica?
CS: You can change the content and resubmit it.
Me: How would we know what to change?
If you find your book(s) in the erotica category and you didn’t place them there, and you believe your book(s) belongs in romance or another category, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org to ask them to review the book(s).
Why don’t you want your book to stay in erotica? Well, there are a few reasons. But the main one is VISIBILITY. If your book has a tame cover and blurb, it has a clear story, two characters who fall in love, overcome an obstacle, and end up together in the end? Put it in romance. Because by definition, it is romance. Erotic romance, to be sure – but Sylvia Day and E.L. James are in romance, and they write erotic romance. I don’t see them being forced into erotica-only!
What’s so bad about EROTICA as a category? First of all, if your book is put into erotica by Amazon (rather than you choosing the category on your own – and yes, there are some books that do belong there!) you will never be able to change it again without their permission. If your book gets forced into erotica, your KDP dashboard will show the categories you initially chose. But the book page will show “erotica” – and ONLY erotica.
The other problem is, if a book is in erotica, it can’t be in any other secondary category outside of it. It can’t, for example, be in both “romance” and “erotica.” (Not to be confused with erotica>romance, which is still inside the erotica category). It can’t be in both “erotica” and “sci-fi,” for example. Erotica does finally have some sub-categories, but they are definitely located in a red-light district of Amazon’s store. They aren’t searchable from the main book page, until you drill all the way down (pun intended?) to the erotica category itself. So romance as a category has way more eyes on it – your book will be seen by far more readers in romance. And there is plenty of crossover between romance readers and “erotic romance” readers. I would venture to say, except for those who specifically seek out “sweet” (i.e. no-sex or fade-to-black sex) romances, most romance readers expect some sexual content in books in the romance category.
There’s also another problem with Amazon shoving books into erotica, aside from visibility. One of the biggest trends this year has been stepbrother romances. Amazon allowed the first one in romance, and erotica authors were shocked. Up until that moment, we’d been shown that using “familial” words (Daddy, Mom, Brother, Sister, Step-anything) was a blockable offense. Books would be blocked (even if step-father erotica was allowed – and it is) if authors used those words. So we came up with a whole lexicon of words, like “man of the house” for Daddy and “princess” or “brat” for daughter.
Once the stepbrother craze began, erotica authors began trying to put those words in titles again. Some stepbrother books were blocked in erotica – but they sailed through in romance just fine. Clearly the message was “familial” words are fine in romance, but not in erotica. (And I’m calling the “Daddy” craze coming in romance right now… here we go again…!) But check out the list of “bad words” on Amazon in erotica and see if you don’t see the issue here!
So I asked the customer service representative about these kinds of books. I told them that they’d just put books that would be considered blockable by their reviewers into erotica. What happened if I went to make changes on that book a couple weeks from now and new-reviewer Viper from India decided to block it based on the unwritten rules they refuse to tell us? Or if notoriously ham-fisted Carlos F happened to be reviewing and blocked it?
I was told they wouldn’t block books they’d placed in a category.
How would they know??
CS: “Oh we keep records on changes to each book.”
Me: Uh huh. But how do I know your reviewer is going to read and pay attention to them, given your incredible amount of employee turnover? I could be penalized for having that book in an erotica category when you’re the one who put it there!
CS: Oh that wouldn’t happen.
Me: Oh you mean like the last time I had to fight to get a book out of the erotica category, you told me personally none of our catalog would be forced there without notifying us as a publisher…?
CS: Oh. I didn’t… Did I? I don’t believe…
Me: Oh yes you did. So in other words “we wouldn’t do that” until you decide to do that anyway and to hell with whatever you said at the time because technically you don’t have any clear or consistent policies or guidelines, do you? So you can say whatever the hell you want. And you want me to believe you now?
I have been fighting with Amazon for the past week to get many of our books (which belong in romance) back into romance. For example, they put my top 50 bestseller with over 400 reviews, Step Beast, into erotica. Yes, it has sex in it. But it’s not erotica. It’s romance. It belongs (with all the rest of the stepbrother romance) back in the romance category.
They also put my gay romance, One Second Chance, into erotica. It’s most definitely a romance – with a plot. In fact, it was an Epic award winner.
And then this happened. As I was emailing ASINS (Amazon’s book identifiers) back and forth with them, they sent me a list of books that weren’t ours, saying they’d removed the “erotica” restrictions from them. This was their exact email (sic):
After further review, we have decided to remove the search restrictions so your book(s) will now be found in our general product search results. The change takes up to 24 hours to process. Bellow you will find the ASINs and the links showing the books in the Kindle Store with the correct categories.
That was followed by a large list of ASIN identifiers. I started going through the ASINs. None of them were published by Excessica. And they were all extremely explicit! I don’t mean, they might or might not be romance. I mean, they have keyword stuffed titles with explicit descriptions and they are all clearly erotica.
But Amazon decided to put these books back into romance? While refusing to put books like the ones I listed above back into romance?
Here’s one of the books Amazon decided should go back into romance (where it still is, as of this writing, although I don’t expect it to stay there long) but my award-winning gay male romance? Nope.
HARD MEN – ALL OVER ME (GAY TABOO EROTIC COLLECTION)
MEN ARE SO HARD – THEY’RE THROBBING! AND THEY’RE GOING DEEP INTO THEIR FORBIDDEN TWINK PARTNERS! THIS IS A HIGHLY EXPLICIT BOX SET – A HUGE VALUE WITH HUGE GUYS! DON’T MISS OUT!
Then there’s this one. It’s in romance – Amazon put it back into romance, and it’s there as of this writing. But they won’t put my lesbian romance, Stay, which definitely has a plot and a relationship, back into romance.
WE SHARED EVERYTHING… A ROOM, CLOTHES – AND EACH OTHER! MY ROOMMATE IS SO DAMN SEXY… AND I WANT HER! I WANT MY SOFT SKIN ON HERS, MY LIPS PRESSED AGAINST HER LIPS… MY MOUTH ON HER WETNESS. MY FIST INSIDE OF HER!
And one more example. My book, Surrender of Persephone, a Greek god romance – Amazon has shoved it into erotica. But this book? This book was put back into romance – even with its warning at the end! It’s currently there as of this writing.
LEAKING DIAPERS – A FOUR BOOK ABDL COLLECTION
SO FULL… SO READY TO BE CHANGED! TOGETHER IN ONE PLACE – A FOURSOME OF DIAPER BOOKS THAT’LL SATISFY YOUR EVERY NEED! These girls are ready – ready to be changed! Once the diapers are off – anything can happen! THIS COLLECTION CONTAINS STRONG LANGUAGE AND IS NOT SUITABLE FOR EVERYONE!
And this is only a fraction of the list of titles I have that Amazon put back into the romance categories. I won’t list all of them (and I was reluctant to list the ones I have already, given that I’m sure Amazon will target them now) but I thought it was necessary to list a few to prove a point.
Given Amazon’s actions, I can only conclude that:
a) Since they have no real guidelines about erotica – they tell us “it’s about what you would expect”
b) We have to read between the lines and figure out what Amazon allows, based on what is currently in the category, what they let through, and what they block, ban and adult filter…
It seems, given this list of titles and their descriptions?
Amazon apparently “expects” adult diapers, twinks and fisting belong in romance.
Look, I have no problem with Amazon deciding what is or isn’t “erotica” in their store – if they do so with some consistency and transparency. But as it stands, their slash-and-burn tactics (and I seem to have to write at least one of those pornocalypse posts a year) when it comes to erotica, instead of developing a real solution to the “erotica problem,” only creates more of a mess. Like Smashwords or other retailers, they could solve this problem by allowing customers to decide whether or not they wanted to see “adult” material. It’s as simple as installing a button or toggle switch. But that would mean Amazon would have to admit to selling erotica! *gasp*
The reality is, without clear guidelines, self-published authors and publishers can’t really follow them – and how can Amazon expect dishonest content providers not to take advantage when they provide no structure whatsoever? But instead of being clear, consistent and transparent (why oh why isn’t Amazon run by this guy??) Amazon continues to stick their heads in the sand, pretending nothing is wrong – until they’re forced (for example, when they launch a new Etsy competitor like Handmade or maybe just because Kindlemas is coming!) to clean up the storefront. Then they run around like crazy, targeting the most visible books (like mine and Excessica’s) like a 13-year-old shoving Playboy between his mattress.
I bet Jeff Bezos did that a lot when he was a kid.
Once again. Amazon FAIL.
Erotic Fiction You Won’t Forget
LATEST RELEASE: A Modern Wicked Fairy Tale: Peter and the Wolf
Last week, the Audiovisual Media Services Regulations 2014 introduced a series of restrictions on the pornography produced and sold in the UK. The acts that are now prohibited to show on video range from the edgy to the puzzling.
- Aggressive whipping
- Penetration by any object “associated with violence”
- Physical or verbal abuse (regardless of if consensual)
- Urolagnia (known as “water sports”)
- Role-playing as non-adults
- Physical restraint
- Female ejaculation
The last three are included for being potentially life threatening.
Rest assured, all these restriction only apply to video remediation of the acts, but what interests me is the reasoning behind them.
Certainly breath play can be dangerous; there might, feasibly be some concern that making it seem unproblematic could lead people to try it without further education on the subject (although a reenactment your run-of-the-mill movie bar fight would be just as likely to cause severe injury). But a search of the research indicates only one death, in 1987, caused by fisting which tore the tissues so badly that the victim bled to death. There is another recorded death associated with an air embolism. Following this reasoning, as dangerous activities go, videos of showers should be banned; it’s a thousand times more likely to lead to fatality. I’ve searched far and wide, and cannot find a single incident of death by ‘facesitting’.
Then there is the puzzling ban on female ejaculation. When asked to explain their thinking on this, the group responsible for this decision argued that there was no evidence that female ejaculation actually exists and that the fluid being ‘ejaculated’ might contain urine, putting it in the same category as other watersports, i.e. golden showers. The fact that mainstream society’s objection to golden showers stems from it being considered an act of degradation – not because it involves urine – seems to have been lost on this panel. Is there actually porn out there where women degrade men by squirting on them? Well, if there wasn’t, there will be now!
The list of ‘strange’ goes on. Spanking is out, even though approximately 65% of all couples have tried it. Penetration by any object “associated with violence” is on pretty dicey grounds; most women who have been raped would consider a penis an object associated with violence. Physical restraint is so broad as to be laughable. Hands up if you’ve ever let your lover tie you up and fuck you? The absurdity of this part of the list would be risible if it weren’t so sad. How is it that a government ends up banning the remediation of what a considerable number of lovers do in their bedroom on a fairly regular basis? The subtext is that these things aren’t normal. They are abusive, they are perversions, they are wrong.
But strangest of all, at least to me, are the prohibited acts that are not even physical: verbal abuse, humiliation and age-play. None of these are acceptable even when there is clear consent in the video. All of these restrictions approach the concept of ‘sins of the mind’. It appears that the powers that have imposed these restrictions have completely discounted the difference between fantasy and reality. Fictionality is no longer acceptable in porn because, in their view, our society can no longer be trusted to distinguish the difference between, for instance, pretending to be a 12-year old schoolgirl and actually being one. Ironically, it is fictionality that makes porn culturally safer.
Another defense of these restrictions is that it protects children from seeing things they shouldn’t see. But think about all the sexual acts NOT on the list. Is it okay for children to see those things? I’m not going to list them. I trust your imaginations. This argument can be dismissed as ridiculous.
On a personal basis, the banning of the remediation of the acts on list offends me – not because I would want to see most of the acts, I’m not much of a porn fan – but because the prohibition makes a very grave statement about how intellectually subnormal the government assumes its adult citizens to be. More importantly, the government has once again entered into the business, as it did in most of the 20th Century, of taking on the authority to determine what normative sexuality is, and it has moved to ensure that non-normative forms are discouraged, even in fantasy.
But more ironically than all of that, in the name of stemming ‘rape culture’ and the depiction of violence against women, it has banned the video remediation of female ejaculation and facesitting, while still allowing the depiction of women choking on cocks and bukakke scenes.
This is not about protecting anyone from anything. This is, along with the ever-increasing surveillance of our private lives, a claiming of additional powers in the guise of concern for our safety.
Of course, the censorship of sexually explicit material and bans on pornography have never stopped people from getting their hands on it. The plethora of both written and photographic porn produced during the late Victorian period attests to this. What the legislation has done is make certain pornographic spectacle more forbidden, and therefore more alluring. If squirting was a popular meme before, its cache in the UK will go through the roof. People will crave more violent flogging, caning and spanking material because it is prohibited. Eroticism requires transgression and this has simply made the things that have been banned all the more erotic.
And it that spirit, I offer you a little piece of social science fiction:
Show Me Bad
Having pulled on their gimp masks as they make their way down into the basement of the strip-mall Thai takeaway in Ruislip. Gina, Lotte and Rose weave their way through the occupied stacking chairs in the dank, windowless, impromptu cinema.
The others in the secret audience are also masked. Some in balaclavas, some in gas masks, some in pillowcases with holes for the eyes. People nod, murmur. All the seats are occupied, so they stand to the side, leaning against the damp brick wall, and stare at a large flatscreen TV.
Someone switches the lights off. The bluescreen menu prompt pops up and the input is set to ‘video’. First the screen goes black, and then brightens again. On the screen, in what looks like an old fashioned kitchen, a small, bony man argues with what appears to be his obese wife. The wife grabs him, trips him, and pins him to the dirty linoleum floor. The camera moves in, closer, closer. She is hiking up the skirt of her faded, stained housedress. She’s not wearing anything under it. The little man is struggling to free himself but he’s no match for her. She inches her bared bulk up his body.
Someone in the audience whispers, “Fuck, yeah.” The sound of multiple zippers being pulled down, the rustle of displaced clothes is a whisper beneath the hiss of the video. On the screen, there’s a close-up of a plump, enormous cunt lowering itself onto the little man’s panicked face. He screams as the huge, meaty, wet labia cover his nose and mouth. Only his bloodshot,frightened eyes are visible as the woman begins to rock her pelvis back and forth, slathering his face in viscous effluvia.
“Lick me, you motherfucker,” mutters the woman. The man’s hands are fluttering, clawing at her thighs but she doesn’t stop.
In the dark of the room, there are moans, the quick, determined sounds of genitals being self-pleasured.
The man’s legs are kicking wildly, uselessly. Muffled choking sounds are emanating from under the draped slabs of her vulva
“Oh, my god,” whispers Lotte.
Gina has her hand down the front of her jeans, frigging herself, gimp mask impassive, eyes fixed on the flatscreen. The little man’s face – what’s visible of it – has turned a deep red. His head jerks helplessly.
“So fucking hot,” whispers Rose.
On the screen, the massive woman is coming. Her body goes rigid, flesh judders, fluid floods out over the face of the little man, who now appears to be passed out, if not dead.
Half the masked audience is also coming. Moans, cries, grunts fill the dark.
* * *
While waiting for the bus, Rose, Gina and Lotte stand in silence for a while, their gimp masks tucked safely back in their purses.
“I can’t believe what we saw,” says Lotte. “So this is a thing?” “They used to have face sitting in porn, on the net,” says Rose. “It used to be just cunnilingus, you know. The normal kind. But then the government banned it.”
Lotte looks confused. “Why did they ban it?”
Gina smiles. “They said it was too dangerous,” she says. “So someone decided to make it dangerous, for real.”
Rose nods. “It’s way hotter now, isn’t it?”
Last month, the BBC reported that Bettina Bunte who writes under the pen name Cass E. Ritter, was dismissed from her administrative position at a child care centre run by Kent Country Council. She was fired from her position after a number of parents (it’s not clear how many and I’d personally love to know) complained that she had written an erotic novel. According to Ms Bunte: “She claims the council told her they could ‘not be seen to promote this sort of thing’ and that her book damaged the reputation of the children’s centre.” (Staffing Industry). This is after Bunte asked for and received permission from her employers to speak to the media about her recently released novel.
Bunte is the first in a long line of people, mostly women, who have lost their jobs when it was found out they wrote erotic novels. But it doesn’t happen exclusively to women, or to erotic writers. Recently Patrick McLaw, an African American middle school language teacher was put on administrative leave and forced to undergo ’emergency medical evaluation’ after it was discovered he’d written two novels, set 900 years in the future, which involved a massacre at a school. When pressed on the issue, authorities reported that it was not just the novels that concerned them, but his state of mental health. (Atlantic Monthly). There was recently an incident of a UK male who was forced to step down from his position when it was discovered he wrote erotic stories. (DailyDot). Ironically, I have it second hand that the discovery was made when after the school organization contemplated raising funds by having an erotica reading night, his wife let it slip that he actually wrote some. Judy Buranich (Judy Mays), Carol Ann Eastman (Deena Bright), Ayden K. Morgen, Deidre Dare…
It’s usually women, it’s usually erotica and the excuse for firing them often involves the protection of children.
Let me offer you a contrast: Phyllis Dorothy James, Baroness James of Holland Park, who has written some of detective fictions most celebrated novels under the pen name P.D. James. Her first novel, “Cover Her Face” was written in 1962. She has worked in the criminal section of the British Home Office, and served as a magistrate for years. No one ever thought she should be fired for setting her novels in environments she knew, or suggesting that she couldn’t do her job right because she wrote about mentally unstable characters with murderous intent, or painted word pictures of gory murder scenes. She now has a seat in the House of Lords. Of course, there is one huge difference: she doesn’t write about sex.
claims the council told her they could “not be seen to promote this
sort of thing” and that her book damaged the reputation of the
children’s centre. – See more at:
http://www.staffingindustry.com/eng../Research-Publications/Daily-News/UK-Agency-worker-sacked-for-penning-risque-novel-31286#sthash.mG477szd.dpufShe claims the council told her they could “not be seen to promote this sort of thing” and that her book damaged the reputation of the children’s centre.
claims the council told her they could “not be seen to promote this
sort of thing” and that her book damaged the reputation of the
children’s centre. – See more at:
claims the council told her they could “not be seen to promote this
sort of thing” and that her book damaged the reputation of the
children’s centre. – See more at:
It’s not a wildly irresponsible to surmise that a number of the parents who demanded Cass E. Ritter’s removal and at least some members of the Kent County Council who fired her have read Fifty Shades of Grey. I do have to wonder if they’d be quite so anxious about the effect this administrator might have on their kids, if Ritter had been E.L. James. Sorry to seem jaded, but I notice that people are much less worried their children’s minds will be poisoned by millionaires. Similarly, why is it that the consumers of erotic or pornographic works aren’t considered destabilizing but their creators are?
But more haunting still is the unwritten, unexpressed accusation that lurks beneath a lot of these firings. What risk do people really believe these women pose. Words like inappropriate and reputation are bandied about, but strip the rhetoric away, and what it comes down to is that these women are losing their jobs because of a vague unspoken fear that they would, in some way, sexualize children.
It is not the content of the written work that is suspect. It is the mind of the person who writes it.
No one actually accuses anyone of anything. Because this allows the accusers to infer risk, rather than having to prove wrongdoing. In Western democracies, the accused have a right to hear the precise charges leveled against them, defend themselves against them, demand that those charges be proved.
But if we stick to vague, undefined mutterings about inappropriateness, any amount of injustice can be done. How many gay men and lesbians through the years have lost their jobs based on the baseless but oft-perpetuated fallacy that being homosexual immediately implied you were also a pedophile?
Looking back on the great censorship cases of the 20th Century, I am reminded why, for all its draconian influence, state censorship is preferable to economic persecution.
In the case of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, the 1958 trial on charges of public obscenity didn’t see D.H. Lawrence, the writer, in the dock, but Penguin, the publisher. The charge wasn’t that the writer was dangerous or unfit for society, but that the book was obscene and should not be published. When the state censors in a modern democracy, the writer, the publisher and the reading public have some legal recourse.
Similarly, in the US, it was Grove Publishers who were charged and defended obscenity charges over Lady Chatterley’s Lover, The Tropic of Cancer, and Naked Lunch. They notably won each case. But it is important to note that IT WAS THE TEXTS that were considered dangerous and drew down legal censorship, NOT THE AUTHORS. Moreover, even had it been the authors, a formal charge allows for the accusers to have to prove wrongdoing, prove risk, etc.
I suspect, at least in the West, that the supremacy of the marketplace, and fast-eroding protections for employees will mean that the persecution of writers will increase as it becomes clear that there are no mechanisms to stop it, save expensive civil trials that most erotica writers could never afford to conduct.
There are worthy efforts to highlight and ridicule the banning of certain books from schools and libraries, and I’m delighted to see this. But there is no movement to protect women who are economically punished for writing about sex. We’re not in a good place, as women, as creatives, as workers or as eroticists. And if you think that writing under a pen name will keep you safe, think again. It only takes one bitter intimate to ruin your career.
by Jean Roberta
During the winter holiday season, when occasions for partying abound, I feel a rant coming on. Lest I sound like a perpetual complainer, I will put my discontent in perspective.
I’m sure I’m more privileged than most people in the world, and probably more than most readers of this blog. Looking over the events of 2013, I’m grateful for my blessings, and relieved that my misfortunes were no worse.
In the summer, I moved years worth of books and papers into my new office in the university English Department where I teach first-year classes. My new home-away-from-home has an incredible amount of shelf space for my books, plus a window to the outside world so I can see the weather before I step out in it.
In September, I taught my first credit course in creative writing. This favour was granted by the head of the English Department, even though it is a second-year class usually taught by scholars with Ph.D.s (something I never managed to get, for various reasons). Teaching a small class of eager young writers was an adventure that helped refuel my enthusiasm for my job. My usual first-year classes are mandatory for most students, and therefore I get many recruits who would rather avoid writing essays about literature.
In 2013, I also saw more of my words in print than in any previous year. On the scholarly front, I co-edited OutSpoken, a collection of articles and creative work based on a series of presentations on queer (lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender) topics by faculty members. The co-ordinator of the series (also head of the Theatre Department) had been invited by the university press to put a book together, he graciously invited me to co-edit, and I accepted. I also had an article accepted for a book about teaching vampire literature which was edited by Dr. Lisa Nevarez of the English Department of Siena College in New York state. I’ve been told that Teaching the Vampire will be released by McFarland Press at any moment.
My historical erotic novella, The Flight of the Black Swan, appeared early in 2013 from Lethe Press. (The cover art is by Ben Baldwin, who was nominated as best fantasy artist of Britain.) A few months later, my collection of erotic stories, The Princess and the Outlaw: Tales of the Torrid Past, also appeared from Lethe Press. Both books got a few glowing reviews.
However, during two family gatherings in the cozy house I share with my spouse (Christmas Eve for immediate family, Christmas Day for two old and dear friends, their grown children, their spouses, children and their friends), I didn’t mention my publications. It was understood that the non-fiction was too academic to interest anyone I know outside the Ivory Tower, while my fiction is too raunchy to be mentioned in the presence of children. I wonder how many writers, particularly erotic writers, are in this predicament. (In all fairness, I had already shown my new books to those closest to me. They don’t read my books or stories, but they accept my writing hobby as less harmful than most other addictions.)
On both occasions, I was encouraged to show off – guess what? – my new surgical scar. On November 4, the first snowy day in the town where I live, I slipped on the ice and broke my left wrist in several places. Thanks to the Canadian health-care system, I was rushed into surgery within 24 hours, and had my wrist repaired and reinforced with a long metal plate that shows up clearly in X-rays. (I will set off metal detectors in airports for the rest of my life.) During my short stay in the hospital and my longer convalescence, my two stepsons and my spouse were an impressive source of support. Later, when my cast was removed and I was shown X-rays of my damaged and repaired wrist, Spouse took photos of these images her cell-phone, and circulated them among the assembled crowd during our holiday suppers. Everyone commented that my incision has healed well.
On Christmas Day, before the second flock of guests were due to arrive, our furnace stopped working after keeping us toasty-warm during a week of very cold temperatures. Although the outside temperature had risen, we couldn’t welcome our guests into an unheated house, so we had to pay a repairman for his labour and a new furnace motor. He was honest enough to tell us that if we could have waited another two days, the bill would have been $100 less. But such is life. Luckily, we didn’t have to choose between warmth and food.
Medical and home-maintenance issues were not the only topics of conversation, but they seemed to be of general interest. Well, of course. Everyone lives in a body, and most folks (especially in Canada in the winter) have a dwelling-place.
I couldn’t help wondering how many other writers can only discuss their writing with other writers, or with any readers who can be found. And how many erotic writers must go far out of their way to prevent relatives, “friends”, coworkers and bosses from finding out that they write about sex, the stuff of life. (Note my previous comment about the universal human condition of living in a body.) News items about the inconsistent and fluctuating policies of booksellers regarding “obscene” material show that there is not (and never has been) any real consensus about what this is. In the current cultural climate, I’m well aware that I’m probably luckier than most.
My employer is exceptionally tolerant of everything I write, and for that I am truly grateful. My holiday wish is for peace on earth and good will toward all the writers who are brave enough to write about something that really (let’s be honest) interests everyone. The impulse to write anything seems to be a certain kind of craziness, and a desire to write about subjects formerly considered “unspeakable” still requires courage. I’m glad I live in a world where so many have felt the bite of that bug.
May the Deity of our choice bless us, every one.