Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Corporate Censorship: Amazon Targets Dark Erotic Romance and BDSM

Heads up authors: Amazon is targeting erotica again. This time, it's "Dark Erotic Romance" (read: DubCon and NonCon) and BDSM. I hate to say I told you so - but I told you so. I said, back when Amazon caved and stopped carrying the ped0phile's guide, that we were heading down a slippery slope. I said it again when my own work was first banned from Amazon. I've been saying it and saying it, and the slope just keeps getting slipperier. And not in a good way.

Now Amazon has started filtering and banning BDSM simply for being BDSM. For some books, it's all about perception. Titles with obvious references to abduction, kidnapping and reluctance are being culled. Descriptions with those identifiers are also being removed. And of course, covers are being targeted, now including things specific to domination and submission--chains, ropes, handcuffs, all the markers of the genre, may get a book banned.

When my original incest books were banned and many romance writers said, "Oh it's just taboo stuff? Well that's okay, then, I don't write that..." I warned the erotic romance community that it could be their niche next. Dark Romance as a genre has started to heat up Amazon's bestselling charts from Deviant to Tears of Tess, featuring heroes who have a dark edge, but some books have apparently gone too far, according to Amazon's ever-changing guidelines. Lily White's Her Master's Courtesan was outright banned on Amazon. Recently, the dark romance boxed set, Bend, was banned as well. Why? In these cases, it was likely enough customer complaint to warrant Amazon checking out the book and deciding that the line between consent and "dubious consent" was just too close for their comfort. Of course, this is conjecture, because Amazon won't ever tell us what is and isn't acceptable.

But this isn't good news for erotica or erotic romance writers, that's for sure. We're all standing on very shaky ground with Amazon and the line just keeps moving. It isn't easy to negotiate or find your way through the morass that has become self-publishing erotica on Amazon. Unfortunately, they still have the largest market share, so it makes the most financial sense to figure out a way to keep your books visible. To do this, you have to keep your fingers on the pulse of Amazon's ever-changing, unwritten "policy" and respond accordingly.

This will, of course, lead to a lot of self-censorship over time, which I'm sure is the point on Amazon's part, because erotica writers won't want to pay cover artists to re-do "inappropriate" covers and they won't want to write books that readers just can't find on the behemoth retailer. And dark erotica and dark erotic romance just seems to be upping the ante with every book, with heroes who are complete mysogynists, from drug dealers to human traffickers to violent criminals. Granted, the hero (usually) turns things around, driven by his love for the heroine, but the stakes are getting higher, the drama is getting stickier, and the darkness in these books is getting, well, darker. In the end, dark erotica/romance may have to go back underground, or at least be a little more careful in its presentation, if Amazon has anything to say about it. And, as usual, if a customer complains, Amazon will likely shoot first (by banning a book) and ask questions later (or not at all).
So what is a BDSM/dark erotica/erotic romance author to do?

What May Now Get Your Book Adult Filtered

Besides the list I updated recently, we can now add:
  • Words like reluctance, kidnapping, abducted, captured, master, slave and any other variation in the title or description MAY subject you to the ADULT filter. This is, of course, subject to Amazon's arbitrary enforcement.
  • Covers that contain elements of bondage, including whips, crops, handcuffs, chains etc., as well as heroines who look as if they are scared or in pain, may kick on the ADULT filter.

What May Now Get Your Book Blocked/Banned
In addition to the original list:
  • Content that involves rape for titillation, as well as nonconsent (even if the heroine ends up in love with the rapist at the end), dubious consent (where the heroine is being forced but clearly is physically enjoying it) MAY be subject to banning/blocking. Content that involves snuff (a character being killed during/after sex) will almost surely elicit a ban. (The bad news about this is that Amazon no longer will put a book back to "draft" status and allow you to change it. If a book is blocked, and you want to change it, you have to resubmit as a new book with a new ASIN. Unfortunately, this is disastrous for books that are doing very well in rankings.)
  • Covers that contain elements of bondage, including whips, crops, handcuffs, chains etc., as well as heroines who look as if they are scared or in pain, may ALSO get your book blocked or banned, depending on the Amazon reviewers' mood.
Enhanced Adult Filter
Authors have noticed a new feature on the KDP dashboard asking for appropriate reading ages for your book. Great news for authors of kids and YA books. The hope, of course, is that Amazon is creating a "safe zone" for kids, right? But there's another feature that's popped up in the past few weeks that is a little alarming for erotica authors under the ADULT filter. Now, when your book is filtered, not only does it not appear under an "All Department Search," as well as showing up very last in any search results in the Kindle store, regardless of title or keywords - it now doesn't even show up in the Kindle Store initial search results. Now a reader has to click the "excluding adult items" linkin order to see an ADULT filtered book. (see screenshot below)

excluding adult items

In lieu of this new development, it's becoming more and more important to keep your erotica and erotic romance books "clean" on the outside, even if they're dirty as can be on the inside, in order to avoid the ADULT filter. Hopefully (I'm crossing my fingers) this new age requirement will be a boon for erotica writers, creating a "safe zone" for the kiddies, while allowing adult readers to still find what they want. Your book(s) should be fine as long as you can keep them out of the erotica Red Light District!

And if you're a BDSM or dark romance author afraid your book(s) will be filtered, blocked or banned, all is not lost. You can navigate the choppy Amazon waters and hopefully allow readers to find your book. Unfortunately, I still predict storms ahead on the horizon, but I'll definitely keep an eye out for all of us. I know we can ride them out together!


Selena Kitt 
Erotic Fiction You Won't Forget 
LATEST RELEASE: Girls Only - First Time

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Multi Author Boxed Sets as Short Term Marketing Tools & Money Makers!

Dark Passions fixed
Single and multi-author ebook boxed sets have become all the rage in the self-publishing world. Bargain hunter readers love them. What frugal reader wouldn't love twelve books for a dollar? (Or even two or three dollars?) Authors by the hundreds have jumped on the boxed set bandwagon, offering readers boxed set bargains galore. Some authors have complained about $0.99 boxed sets, claiming they "devalue" books (usually fully novels) by selling them at an incredible loss (sometimes $0.12 each!) What these authors don't realize is that there is room for boxed sets as a short-term marketing tool in the self-publishing repertoire. If they're done correctly (and there is a right way and a wrong way to do a boxed set) they can be big money makers and boost your readership.

An ebook boxed set is far more simple than a print one--ebook boxed sets are just one large file consisting of several ebooks. Single author boxed sets can combine serial novels so readers can read them all at once. Multiple author boxed sets usually publish novels along the same theme or in the same genre. Either way, both authors and readers can benefit from boxed sets!

  • For single-author bundles, the discount over buying all of the books in a series separately is a great selling point - readers save money and the author makes a sale! Readers also don't have to worry about cliffhangers or series that don't have an ending yet.
  • For multi-author bundles, the discount for 6-12 books is enormous! Sometimes the bargain is just too good to pass up, even if there's just one book in the bundle they really want!
  • Readers can use these bundles to "try out" new-to-them authors.
  • Authors can gain new readers and obtain visibility, which is hard to come by in the self-publishing world right now, in a way they might not be able to do on their own. Some boxed sets make it to Amazon's top 100, some even to the top 10. This creates huge visibility for authors and improves Amazon author rank at the same time!
  • You make money! While it may seem counterintuitive to price 12 books at $0.99, you have to understand how well these boxed sets sell (when they're distributed and marketed correctly!) When done right, boxed sets can often make an author more (even split twelve ways) than they make on individual books. Depending on the author, sometimes all of their individual books combined! In some cases authors have made thousands of dollars each. Boxed sets can be quite lucrative. The whole can be greater than the sum of its parts!
  • If a boxed set sells well enough, it can also hit the USA Today bestseller list, or even the New York Times bestseller list. As an writer, you can then forever claim to be a "USA Today" or "New York Times" bestselling author!
I've heard authors say boxed sets devalue ebooks but it's just not true. Boxed sets are simply another marketing technique, one that self-published authors can take much better advantage of than legacy publishers can. We can afford to set a 12-book boxed set to $0.99 for a few weeks, raise the price to $2.99, and then sit back and let the money roll in. We have enough control over our pricing and pay close enough attention to our ranks that we can adjust our price to maximize both our exposure and our profit. Authors who haven't done a box set seem to be under the impression that they don't make any money, but that couldn't be further from the truth.

I've also heard other authors expressing concerns about creating their own single-author boxed set, too afraid the boxed set will cannibalize sales of their individual titles. In my experience, the profit at the higher price point more than makes up for any sales you lose of individual titles.

Anyone can do a boxed set on their own, but it involves a lot of know-how and experience to do a boxed set well. We've done so many of our own boxed sets at Excessica that I've actually started a service for boxed sets alone. If you are an author who is interested in boxed sets, you can join our Excessica author forum. We put out calls for submissions for boxed sets there. If you already have a bunch of authors together and aren't quite sure how to proceed, you can check out our Excessica Boxed Sets page.

Goals: Are you looking to make the most money possible? Do you want to make the USA Today and New York Times bestseller lists? Excessica can help you clarify your goals and attain them!

Planning & Production: Working with up to a dozen authors can be like herding cats. There’s a lot of work involved in planning and producing a boxed set, from commissioning a cover, to formatting and uploading, to contracts, to working out all the financial details! It can be a great big headache. Excessica can help you with all of that!

Marketing: Marketing is KEY for these boxed sets. I've seen some boxed sets that should have easily hit Amazon's top 100, struggle to get into the 1000's and then drop off a cliff. You have to know where to market, how to market, and when to market. At Excessica, we have a very clear, specific marketing plan to help launch boxed sets as high as they can go!

Pricing: Most multi-author boxed sets aren't going to get much traction unless they start out at $0.99 but you won't keep your boxed set at this price forever. So how do you know when to change your price? At Excessica, we have very specific things we do with prices to maximize our bundle profits!

Limited Time Only: Multi-author boxed sets are usually limited time only. Think of them like concerts for books. They're a one-time experience. The reason for this is obvious - boxed sets are short-term marketing tools that work very well when utilized correctly. But long-term, they can cannibalize sales and start to be a detriment to authors. At Excessica, we can advise you, as a group, when it’s the best time for the ride to be over.

Boxed sets are simply another short-term marketing tool self-published authors can utilize to maximize both their exposure and their profits. Granted, there are no guarantees. I've had experiences where we've done everything right and a boxed set didn't perform as well as we expected. Sometimes genre is a limiting factor--boxed sets don't get home runs in every genre--but overall, especially in romance and erotic romance, boxed sets can do very well. In the end, they can be a win-win for both readers and authors!

Check out our BOXED SET service!
Selena Kitt 
Erotic Fiction You Won't Forget 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Corporate Censorship: Keeping Your Erotic Books Off Retailer Hit Lists

Not surprisingly, this is a topic I've talked about before, but I just wrote up a new guideline for my Excessica authors (now that we're taking new submissions and starting to distribute boxed sets) and realized--the rules have changed again.

So I thought I would create another post letting you all know what (unofficial) rules still seem in place and others that have been added, so you can keep your erotic book off retailer hit lists! You may have heard some of this before but it bears repeating--and some of it (everything in PURPLE below) has changed.

Erotica has been under attack and subject to corporate censorship since I started in this business and it will likely continue—and the rules will continue to change. Without warning. And without any advanced notice (or really any notice at all!) So what follows is what currently applies as of this writing. If your goal is to get your book in front of the largest number of readers, then in order to do that, it’s best to play the game, within the (arbitrary, nontransparent and constantly changing) rules.

If it sounds maddening--it is. And while I'm working on an alternative solution, I've had some setbacks (that's a whole other post--suffice to say I'm as anxious as you all are to get it back up and running and I'll shout it from the rooftops when its ready to go!) so for the moment, our best offense is a good defense.

If you want the rules in a nutshell:  If you dress up pretty on the outside, you can be as much of a whore on the inside as you like.*

(*with a few exceptions...)

Amazon has an 80% market share on ebooks and is (and will likely remain) the biggest distributor and biggest money maker for most erotica authors. That means we have to pay close attention to their "policy changes" and adjust accordingly. Unfortunately, Amazon is completely nontransparent about their "rules" so we have to kind of figure things out as we go. This is what we've figure out so far:
  • CATEGORIES: When selecting categories—if your book has two characters who fall in love and have a happy ever after, put it in romance. I don’t care if they’re men, women, or giant mutant chipmunks. Put that book in romance. The reason is, once you choose “erotica,” you have essentially chosen to ostracize yourself from all the other categories. Amazon won’t let you choose anything outside of the erotica category—you can’t be in erotica and horror at the same time. Or erotica and sci-fi. If you categorize your book as erotica, you are stuck in the erotica red-light district. In some cases (if your book is really NOT a romance) this is fine. But if your book/story has a romance theme and would benefit from being in other categories, pick romance.
  • AMAZON'S ADULT FILTER: You do NOT want your book/story on Amazon to get ADULT filtered. They do this without warning or notice, but once your book has been filtered, recovering can be very difficult. I have some advice down below about how to avoid the ADULT filter. But sometimes you can do everything right and still get the filter slapped on your title. What do you do then? Check OFTEN to see if your book has been ADULT filtered! Go to Amazon, make sure you are in the “ALL DEPARTMENT” search, and type in the title. If you can’t find your book, you have been ADULT filtered. Another way to check (especially if you are checking a great many titles) is to go to Sales Rank Express. Type in your titles there. If you are filtered, a large red ADULT will show next to your book. Remember - you can’t fight an enemy you can’t see, so you need to know how to avoid the ADULT filter. If Amazon isn’t going to be fair about applying it to ALL books (including Fifty Shades of Grey) that contain erotic content, then we don’t have to be fair about playing by their inconsistent and non-transparent “rules” and “guidelines.”
How do you avoid being ADULT filtered?
  • Keep nudity off your cover. Also keep it out of the inside of your book. You can push the boundaries here, but you risk getting ADULT filtered, so be careful. You don’t want to have to change your cover—that gets expensive. For example, thongs and “hand bras” (i.e. a nude woman with her or someone else’s hands covering her breasts) used to be okay but now they’re not. I can’t count how many covers I had to get changed due to this new “policy.” Tasteful nudity that doesn’t show any “bits” and doesn’t imply sexual action usually doesn’t get filtered. See my A Twisted Bard’s Tale for an example of a title that has nudity but doesn’t imply sexual action. But that rule could change at any moment.
  • Keep your titles and descriptions free of the “Amazon Bad Words List” below.
  • Do not add explicit excerpts in your description or you risk being filtered.
The “Amazon Bad Word List”
  • Nudity on covers (this rule changes a lot – it’s better to be safe than sorry in this instance--changing covers can get expensive).
  • Incest is banned altogether. But pseudoincest (sex between non-biological relations, like stepfather and stepdaughter) may get you filtered. Anything with obvious titles, especially “Daddy” and “Mommy,” but also sister, brother, siblings, uncle, family, etc. are no longer allowed in title OR description. Taboo, forbidden, kin, those words are still allowed as of this writing.
  • These words may get you filtered or blocked: gangbang, rape, reluctant, reluctance, nonconsent, dubious consent (dubcon), forced, or “rough” sex, strap-on.
  • Breeding, bred or impregnation stories may get you filtered or blocked.
  • Any profanity or obscene language: pussy, cock, cum, tits, fuck, sex, clit, etc. are not allowed in either title or description.
  • Lactation, breastfeeding, lactating, milky are all topics and words that may get you filtered.
  • Tentacles and other mythological creatures (minotaurs, centaurs, bigfoot, dinosaurs etc.) may be filtered or even blocked.
  • Excerpts are no longer allowed in descriptions if they are explicit.
How do you get UNFILTERED on Amazon?
Make the above changes as they apply to your book. 

Then email Amazon at this email: This is the letter I send. Feel free to cut and paste! Please reevaluate the title ___________ by _____________. The title has been changed and resubmitted to comply with your current terms of service and should no longer have an adult filter placed upon it or be excluded from the all-department search. Please mark this title NOT ADULT. 

ASIN: __________ 

Thank you.
But my book has a taboo subject matter—now what?

There are different rules for different vendors. Currently—
  • Amazon bans incest, bestiality and rape for titillation. They allow pseudoincest (but without any reference to family relations on the cover or in the description). Rape for titillation they seem to allow—unless a customer complains. Then they are likely to block the book rather than ADULT filter it. (This has happened several times, for example, to Her Master's Courtesan, which currently is still banned at Amazon, in spite of the book's incredible popularity!)
  • Kobo doesn’t allow bestiality, rape for titillation, incest OR pseudoincest. Everyone remembers why, right?
  • Apple/iTunes/iBooks doesn’t allow bestiality, rape for titillation, incest OR pseudoincest. They also don’t allow any nudity on covers or explicit descriptions/excerpts.
  • Google is late to the party and have just started banning bestiality, rape for titillation, incest OR pseudoincest. All erotica books must be in the erotica category and should be at least $1.00.
  • Bookstrand and All Romance Ebooks don’t allow bestiality, rape for titillation, incest OR pseudoincest. They also don’t allow “barely legal” or any risqué titles (i.e. “The Cum Slut Gangbang.”)
  • Barnes and Noble puts no restraints on their erotica. Although they have been known, on occasion, to “anchor” a book to keep it out of their Top 100 if they deem it too risqué.
  • Smashwords and Draft 2 Digital follow the same guidelines as their strictest distributor (currently – iTunes/Apple).
  • A1 Adult Ebooks/Fiction 4 All - They allow most anything, however, anything extreme (incest, pseudoincest, rape) must not be obvious due to merchant account issues. (Mastercard)
  • Lot's Cave - They allow incest, if you write taboo topics. They are currently a publisher but are planning soon to become a distributor.
  • Excessica - We publish everything except bestiality (actual animals, creatures are fine), underage sex (18+ only) and necrophilia (vampires and the undead are fine!)
  • Excitica - We will distribute everything except bestiality, underage sex and necrophilia. Bookmark it and stay tuned!
If you write taboo subjects, you have to be more careful than most. Use innuendo and insinuation. The thesaurus is your friend. Find alternative words and phrases. Taboo, forbidden, illicit. Many authors have started saying, "So hot Amazon won't let me put an excerpt, use the 'LOOK INSIDE' feature to see just how dirty it is." I've put a notice in the "review" section on all my taboo books letting readers know that Amazon won't let me describe the content, hinting that it's too taboo for them. Get creative. You're a writer, right? You can let the reader know what's inside the book without making it obvious--and if you want to publish on the big retailers, I'm afraid that's what you're going to have to do. 

I know many authors who have self-censored because of Amazon's ever-changing policies and that's unfortunate. There's a big market for taboo topics and it hasn't disappeared--Amazon has just made it harder for you to find them. But not impossible. Readers will still find you. And there are still alternative outlets provided to you by stalwarts like Stuart at A1 Ebooks, Phaedrus at Lot's Cave and me at Excessica--and Excitica too, as soon as I can get someone to shut up and take my money and make it like I want! :P (If you know anyone, contact me!)


Selena Kitt 

Erotic Fiction You Won't Forget 

LATEST RELEASE: Power Play: Bailey and the Professor


Monday, March 3, 2014

Software That Does What Publishers Can't

There are three things that self-publishers can do that traditional publishers will never be able to. Do you know what those three things are? I’ll give you a hint, they’re things that will revolutionize the publishing industry.

Before I discuss those three things, however, let’s first discuss traditional publishers and the publishing landscape. 

A lot is said in the self-publishing community about the evils of the traditional publisher. They reject great books and then take all of the revenue from the books they accept. And this might be the case, but let’s take a second to understand why they act this way. 

Traditional publishers are in a very difficult position. In order for them to remain relevant, they have to do what they do better than their competitors. In order to be the best, they must hire the best editors, cover designers and publicity folks. In order to hire the best people, you have to pay competitive wages which allow their employees a standard of living that is at least on par with the best of their field. 

What that means is that publishers can’t just acquire any great book that crosses their desk. They can only acquire the books whose revenue is enough to make sure that their publishers and editors can continue to make the lease payments on their 2012 Audi A6’s. And I don’t say this in jest, this is a real thing. The best editors and publishers in the United States should be able to drive Audis. They work hard and do a great job, so why shouldn’t they? 

But what this means is that traditional publishers need to increase their odds selling a lot of books. Were you involved in a national scandal? Were you on a reality show? Then move to the front of the line. After all, publishers and editors have lease payments to make.

Where does this focus on profit leave the self-publisher? Actually, in a really great position. Why? Because there are advantages and disadvantages to employing a large team of egos. The disadvantage is that large companies move slowly. We have all seen this point in action when it comes to the book-to-shelf times of large publishing houses. But we can see another example of it when we bring up the topic of innovation. 

How much innovation have you seen from the traditional publishers during the last 10 years? Did anyone notice the new font they introduced in Bill O’Reilly’s last book? No? Well neither did I. That’s because there has been no innovation. We’re 7 years into the digital revolution and the great minds at the helm of the most successful publishing companies in the world haven’t introduced an innovation since glued binding. 

Well, my SnapChatting nephew probably doesn’t even know what a box bookstore is. And, while traditional publishers have been chasing after the next sure thing, self-publishers have been busy inventing things that traditional publishers could never think of.

Self-Publishing Innovation #1
Did you know that studies have identified the people who are most-likely to purchase your book? Did you know that traditional publishers already know who these people are and use it to their benefit?

Studies have shown that the person most likely to purchase your book is a person who has purchased one of your previous books. Traditional publishers know this. The reason why they place ads in the back of your books is because the person reading your book is a proven customer. And the reason why the ads in the back of your book are to books written by other authors is because publishers need to make their Audi’s lease payments. 

Traditional publishers need to redirect proven customers to the books that are most likely to increase their revenue. They might sell more of your book if they showed only your books, but they will make more money if they show someone else’s books. And because they show someone else’s book in the back of yours, does not mean that they will show your book in the back of someone else’s.

My Publishing Assistant’ is a suite of software that is designed to make self-publishing easy. ‘My Publishing Assistant’s Book Management’ plugin works with WordPress and allows you to automatically place links to your back catalog in the back of your books. This allows those who are most likely to buy your books to find your books. 

But advertising your book in the back of your other books is something that traditional publishers can do. They just don’t. Let’s discuss something that publishers can’t do. 

We all have our favorite digital bookstores. And if we could, we would probably buy all of our books from there. Readers are the same way. So when we add our back catalog to the back of our books, why not add links to the book at the reader’s favorite bookstore? If a reader bought your book on iTunes, why not have links in your book to all of your other books on iTunes?

Traditional publishers can’t do this because it takes too much time and they aren’t motivated to chase after every sale like you are. Digital publishers like Smashwords and D2D can’t do this because the one book you upload to them has to be generic enough to be distributed to all publishers. As a self-publisher, however, you can do this. And with software like ‘My publishing Assistant’s Book Management’ plug-in, you can do it quickly and easily. 

When your reader purchases your book on Barnes & Noble, the links in the back of your book will go to Barnes and Noble. When your reader purchases your book from Google Bookstore, they are just one click away from purchasing your other books from the Google Bookstore as well. And when you add in the Book Management plug-in’s ability to output books in ePub, Doc, Mobi, Pdf and html, you get an innovation in self-publishing that traditional publishers can’t match.

Self-Publishing Innovation #2
Do you know what one of the hottest trends in children’s book publishing is? It’s customized books. Kids get a kick out of seeing their name in print as the protagonist of a wonderful story. And why shouldn’t they. We read to be swept away on an adventure. And one of the fun things about reading is imagining yourself in whatever adventure or romance the protagonist is experiencing.

What if book customization wasn’t limited to stories under 1000 words? What if readers could customize full novels replacing the names of the characters with ones they know? What if your reader could put themselves and their favorite crush in the romances you’ve written? And what if they could change the novel’s locations to their city and the places they visit every day. How much would your readers be willing to pay you to customize your stories?

Could you imagine a traditional publisher every being able to offer this? Why not? The technology has been there for years. So why haven’t they at least tried? It’s because large companies move slowly. You, as a self-publisher, don’t have the same limitations. 

Soon, by using My Publishing Assistant’s website themes, you will be able to easily turn your catalog into a bookstore. And adding on the Customize Book plug-in, you will be able to take advantage of the fact that your books are digital. You will be able to quickly and easily turn your books into customizable books that your readers can buy. And you will be doing this while traditional publishers wait for the latest Bachelorette to deliver her non-fiction book on how to win friends and influence people.

Self-Publishing Innovation #3
I’ve already mentioned how valuable the space in the back of your book is. It is direct access to the attention of proven customers. And when you publish your book with a traditional publisher, they own that space. They could use it to advertise your books or the books of their favorite cash cow. But whoever it is, they will certainly be the ones to benefit.

Do you think that, on your own, you could ever get access to the ad space at the back of a bestselling book? No, you couldn’t. Why? Because it is a monopoly. 

If you published traditionally, could you ever be the one to reap the financial reward from the space in the back of a book you’ve written? Never. Traditional publishers employ a lot of people and that extra revenue is what helps to keep the juggernaut alive.

What if you could, though? What if you could sell the space in the back of your book? What if you could purchase space in the back of bestsellers within your genre? How valuable would that be to you?

Soon, by using ‘My Publishing Assistant’s Ad Marketplace’, you will be able to purchase ad space on the back of other books, while selling the space at the back of your own. You will be able to choose who gets access to your book and you will be able to ask for a flat fee or sell it to the highest approved bidder. And this will be a feature created by a self-publisher for self-publishers.

Could traditional publishers ever give you such access? Do you think that they would even if they could? And as self-publishers gain access to more and more innovative and effective forums of advertising, what do you think will happen to traditional publishers?

This article has only highlighted the innovations of one company focused on the arena of self-publishing. What happens when more self-publishers turn their creative minds on innovation? The possibilities are endless.

So, as traditional publishers chase after Kim Kardashian for her next literary tome, self-publishers will be changing the landscape around them. And for me, it isn’t a matter of which group will win the publishing game, because self-publishers have already won it. It might not look like it to them as they peer down from their New York offices, but it’s only because they can’t see here from there. 

Alex Anders,
International bestselling self-publishing author
Software developer at

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Porn Hunt 2013: Gossip Boys "Researching" Porn Real Hard

One of my all-time favorite movie scenes is from Doubt.

A woman was gossiping with a friend about a man she hardly knew— I know none of you have ever done this—that night she had a dream. A great hand appeared over her and pointed down at her. She was immediately seized with an overwhelming sense of guilt. The next day she went to confession. She got the old parish priest, Father O’Rourke, and she told him the whole thing.
“Is gossiping a sin?” she asked the old man. “Was that the hand of God Almighty pointing a finger at me? Should I be asking your absolution? Father, tell me, have I done something wrong?”
“Yes!” Father O’Rourke answered her. “Yes, you ignorant, badly brought-up female! You have borne false witness against your neighbor, you have played fast and loose with his reputation, and you should be heartily ashamed!”
So the woman said she was sorry and asked for forgiveness.
“Not so fast!” says O’Rourke. “I want you to go home, take a pillow up on your roof, cut it open with a knife, and return here to me!”
So the woman went home, took a pillow off her bed, a knife from the drawer, went up the fire escape to the roof, and stabbed the pillow. Then she went back to the old parish priest as instructed.
“Did you gut the pillow with the knife?” he says.
Yes, Father.”
“And what was the result?”
“Feathers,” she said. “A world of feathers.”
“Feathers?” he repeated.
“Feathers everywhere, Father!”
“Now I want you to go back and gather up every last feather that flew out on the wind!”
“Well,” she said, “it can’t be done. I don’t know where they went. The wind took them all over.”
And that,” said Father O’Rourke, “is gossip!”
It seems a little bit of gossip has gone a long way this week toward creating a lot of trouble in the ebook world. Jeremy Duns likes to gossip. That much is apparent from his voluminous Twitter feed. (How he managed to get any books written is beyond me!) He also has a history of attacking other writers. He and Kernel magazine owner Milo Yiannopoulos (self proclaimed gossip who even refers to his ezine as "technology gossip") got into it with someone in the Twitterverse about erotica and all of a sudden, this... "article" (and I use that term loosely) was born. It lambasted Amazon for not doing anything about titles he deemed unacceptable (i.e. those of a sexual nature) on Kindle. But that wasn't enough. He then had to make a list of smutty titles. And then another one. Then he dug a little deeper and started accusing all the major retailers of allowing "filth" on their virtual shelves. (Never mind that he defends sending naked pictures of your ex to other people--but that completely fictional erotic story? That's just wrong!)

Now, I have no idea if Jeremy Duns and Jeremy Wilson are the same person.  The byline on the "articles" is Jeremy Wilson - but it was Jeremy Duns who was tweeting his prudish, pedantic heart out on Twitter before the articles appeared. I really don't care if they are the same person, different people or conjoined twins. The result was the same. A little bit of Twitter gossip ballooned into three gossipy (and poorly researched) "articles" in a magazine that boldly claims it is all about gossip. I'm sure these gossip boys got off "researching" their topic--researching it real hard! I think they got so excited about doing it they forgot to include a lot of actual facts.

The Kernel has a history of presenting things in the worst light, twisting facts to suit their sensationalist needs. Want proof? The guy who runs it, Milo Yiannopoulos, doesn't exactly seem to be the most ethical fellow, as this article proves. He even calls himself a gossip and identifies his blog as "technology gossip." If you want some examples of the controversy Mr. Yiannopoulos has invented or stirred up, just check out this wiki page.

When Jeremy
DunsWilson pointed out the most shock-and-awe titles in his "article" (and I use that term loosely) in The Kernel, that's when the notoriously extremely conservative UK rag, the Daily Mail, picked up the story. I guess that makes sense - they're all about gossip too right? In a stellar act of journalism (not), they posted titles on their site they clearly did no research on. One of Excessica's titles was listed. It's a little romance story called Dog Gone It by Chelsea Fox. Ms. Fox is a romance writer. She even said herself, "There's hardly any sex in it at all! This is crazy!" Apparently, the Daily Mail posted it simply because it had a dog on the cover, professing to all the world that it was "BESTIALITY!" I can assure you, as the publisher of this book, at no time do any humans have sex with any dogs and portraying this book and the author this was was a serious act of libel.

Then the BBC picked up the story and ran with it. You would think a mainstream news organization wouldn't lower themselves to culling articles from gossip rags. And twenty years ago, that would be true. But today, gossip IS news, unfortunately. So the BBC spread the gossip further.

Once it hit a mainstream news source and they accused the largest bookstore in the UK of carrying erotica titles that they deemed "unacceptable," that's when it got real. (Never mind that most of these titles had been available for a very long time. Years, I would venture to say. At least since WH Smith launched the Kobo reader in their stores back in 2011 and started using the Kobo feed for their ebooks. I know my books have been on Kobo for years.)

What did WH Smith do. They acted like a kid with his hand caught in the cookie jar. “What? Who me? I had NO idea! You mean there are COOKIES in this jar? What!? I’m appalled and disgusted! Get that offensive cookie jar away from me! That’s it, we’re banning all cookies from now on! No cookies for anyone!”

Brilliant. Bloody good show, ol chap!

So WH Smith took their bookstore offline. That's right, completely offline. As of this writing, they are still offline. Even I could have told them that wasn't a good idea, and the experts apparently agree with me. But that's what they did. They shut down the presses and put up a statement saying they would be unpublishing ALL self-published books. Not just erotica, folks.

All of them.

I wrote a blog post a long time ago called, "Self Published Authors Banned From Kindle," talking about the possibilities of a backlash against self-published authors due to Amazon's (and other distributor's) perceived liabilities in publishing. Most authors said I was being too "Chicken Little" about it. Self-publishing wasn't going anywhere, they said. They were safe, they said.

Hm. Not so much. When David Gaughan's entire Kobo account gets hit, now authors start to listen and perhaps realize that they, too, aren't as safe as they once believed.

Unfortunately, many self-published authors not only thought they were untouchable, but they have acted holier-than-thou whenever the subject of erotica comes up. "Well, it's good that they're taking those books down!" But when suddenly their own books are being threatened?  Now, all of a sudden, it's a problem - it's not fair, it's censorship, it's overreacting.

WH Smith obviously confronted Kobo about the material in question, and since Kobo is the one who feeds them their content, the buck now stopped with Kobo. They started by taking all self-published books down from their store. I could almost hear Kobo president, Mark Lefebvre, yelling, "Shut it down! Shut it ALL down!" Do you think they knew these books existed on their site? I know they did--they even created a "taboo" category for it. Kobo knew. So did WH Smith. What's going on now is a bunch of damage control and whitewashing.

The only books of mine that currently appear on Kobo are the ones we uploaded via FTP years ago, before Kobo developed its self-publishing platform, Kobo Writing Life. Then books started re-appearing, slowly, one by one. Obviously, they were doing all of this to appease WH Smith. One vendor, who was up in arms about titles they a) knew perfectly well existed in their online store and b) who only professed to not know now simply because it was convenient and c) only paid attention to them now because someone (The Kernel) had started gossiping, a little doggie with a bone it just couldn't let go. (They got bored and have moved on from erotica now, although they're still targeting Amazon. This time it's holocaust denial books.)

Amazon and Barnes and Noble, not to be outdone and having caught whiff of the stench coming from the other side of the pond, started working on their catalogs too. Barnes and Noble claimed to be working on ridding their virtual shelves of offensive titles. So far I haven't experienced that firsthand, but perhaps they don't have the manpower to put into doing it quickly. Amazon, on the other hand, came down like Thor's hammer and started removing books from their store with lightning speed using all the keywords used in the articles like virgin, teen and yes, babysitter.

That's right, fans--my Amazon Top 100 Bestseller, Babysitting the Baumgartners, was taken down. They couldn't remove the audio version, since Audible is far less reactionary and, in my experience, much more protective of intellectual freedom, so that one is still there. But they removed the CreateSpace paperback version. As of this writing, I have changed the title to "Sitting For The Baumgartners" (Really, Amazon? Really?) and they have restored the Kindle version. But not the print one. If you've read it, you know that there is no underage sex in it - the babysitter in question is nineteen, going on twenty. And while it does explore an alternative lifestyle, there is definitely a story being told, as there is in all my fiction. It's not "porn." It's erotica.

Perhaps, if someone along the way had said, "Whoa, wait a minute - what's really going on here?" instead of jumping to conclusions, shutting down big online book retailers, banning titles left and right or simply hiding entire accounts of books from view, this little witch hunt could have been focused on the "real" problem. Considering how out of hand it has gotten now, I'm surprised they haven't started burning the books (digital or not) and hunting down the authors to burn them too--as witches, of course. When we look back on it, we'll think of the Porn Hunt of 2013.

Most of the titles they referenced in their article aren't even written by real authors.

What? How can that be, you ask? Well, let me explain.

Having heard there was "gold" in them thar hills, many black-hat internet marketers have entered the erotica field. That's right--they go on Fiverr or other sites looking for ghostwriters, have them "write" a story (some of them just pull stories from Literotica or other free story sites instead and hope they don't get caught) slap a girl with big breasts on the cover, title it for SEO keyword search (which is why they have such long, "porny" titles, in case you were wondering) and then "publish" them via Amazon's KDP platform. Or Kobo's Writing Life platform. Do they make money? A ton of it. Why doesn't Amazon or Kobo stop them? Good question. I think they try. When they discover one, they delete the account. But black-hat internet marketers are just above the level of "criminal." What they do isn't technically illegal, but it's ethically wrong. So they have no qualms about creating another account and publishing the same material again.

The Kernel references Shannon Leigh (whose once extensive catalog, you'll note, has been decimated--she has one book left, and the term babysitting has been switched out for a ridiculous, clunky replacement, "teen worker") who is clearly recognizable as a black-hat internet marketer. I knew it at first glance. She'll lay low until this all blows over, and then she'll upload those titles again, trying to get around Amazon's "adult filter" by using phrases like "teen worker" instead of "babysitter." Most of the 'real authors' of erotica and erotic romance don't do what Ms. Leigh did. Most erotica writers have begun heeding my earlier warnings, toning down their titles, covers and blurbs. We all went through the Pornocalypse. We're not stupid and most erotica authors want to play by the rules. We have conformed to Amazon's rule changes over and over and over again.

But none of that mattered to the "journalists" (Bwahahaha! Ahem. Sorry.) at The Kernel. They found a little sensationalist bit of gossip and spread it like wildfire! Did they care who they hurt? No. They just wanted to cause some drama. And they succeeded.

So instead of going after who they should have all along, the retailers overreacted (to say the least) and started going after EVERYONE. Erotica writers who don't have "porny" titles are being lumped in with black-hat internet marketers whose main goal is to game the system by trying to garner the most visibility by using shock and awe tactics. The Kernel was clearly taken in by their efforts. So are many readers, unfortunately. What Mr. Duns and Mr. Yiannopoulos did on Twitter and spread to their "ezine" was nothing but a bit of fear-mongering. Gossip. They didn't check their sources, and neither did The Daily Mail. And the response to the original article was a huge overreaction.

The question now is--how far are they going to go?

They won't touch legacy publishing's books, of course. But I can tell you, a lot of my stuff is tame in comparison to what's being offered (and protected by legacy publishing) out there right now. Tampa by Alissa Nutting is nothing but kiddie porn. It touts itself as a modern day Lolita, but Nutting is no Nabakov, and it comes off as blatant child pornography. Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma contains incest between underage siblings. (Not step siblings, mind you - actual biological siblings). That one's protected by legacy. Self-published erotica writers write things no worse than any of the above, or worse than any of the numerous romance, erotic romance and new adult/college romance titles out there, for that matter, but they are being singled out, simply because they CAN be. Kobo and Amazon aren't removing Fifty Shades or any other erotic books protected by big publishing logos. But their content is quite similar to what's being removed.

I've been through this enough times to know, this too shall pass. Perhaps the black-hat internet marketing folks will finally take the hint and disappear. It was those "authors" (using that term lightly too!) who started the ramped-up title and cover competition. Erotica authors (those who actually took the time to write a good story) who didn't title this way saw themselves slipping in rank and felt forced to complete with "Daddy's Anal Whore." So they started titling using keywords and put out covers showing more and more skin. I warned authors this was going to happen. And so it has.

I've also called Amazon out again and again on how they lack any parental controls. The same goes for all of the other retailers. It isn't there and it should be. That's the only thing the gossip-mongers didn't get wrong, and may be the only good thing to come out of this mess. I won't let my children search anything on Amazon. I know what's out there--and I know Amazon won't protect them from seeing it. The only retailer who does this right is Smashwords. They have a simple parental control switch which is defaulted to "OFF." Those who are offended or who have children using the search can simply switch it to "ON" and keep those titles from appearing.

Would some authors try to get around the parental control by labeling their book as "not adult?" Yes. The black-hat internet marketing folks sure would. But it's certainly better than nothing, like Barnes and Noble and Kobo have done (until now). It's also far better than Amazon's "Adult filter" solution. And it would definitely be more useful. Amazon's current solution simply puts a Band-Aid on the problem. It's like trying to plug the Hoover Dam one tiny hole at a time. They "fixed" my book, Babysitting the Baumgartners, by simply having me remove the "offensive" word from the title. It's still on the cover, but that's okay with them. And it's still the same book inside--titled as Babysitting the Baumgarters at every other retailer.

I think the message here is loud and clear--no one cares what's inside the book. It can be the most raunchy tale of sex and debauchery since the Marquis DeSade started writing, as long as the title, cover and description don't reflect that. Of course, you see the problem. Erotica writers are being asked to deceive readers. We have to pretend our books aren't about sex. If they involve sensitive subject matter that could trigger some readers (pseudoincest, nonconsent etc) we aren't allowed to label them as such. Of course, if one of my books gets into the hands of someone like that, they're going to complain to the retailer--and the retailer is going to simply remove the book, because the customer is always right.

This puts erotica writers in a very bad position. And yes, it's quite unfair. The retailers have put the burden on us, as authors, rather than assuming it themselves. Frankly, they should have anticipated this problem before the first Kindle was ever released. Everyone knows new technology is driven by porn. And it's widely known that erotica pretty much made the Kindle. And even if they didn't anticipate it, they have had more than enough time to come up with a real, workable solution. Unfortunately, until they do, many self-published authors are going to suffer--or live in fear of something like this happening again. So don't shoot the messenger--in this case, erotica writers--put the blame where it should be, on the shoulders of all of the distributors who have done nothing, or next to nothing, up until now.

So what can you do? As a reader, you can:

Write to Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, Apple and all the other book retailers, telling them you support intellectual freedom and do not support corporate censorship

"Like" the Facebook page: Banned Erotic Books - we are working hard to keep authors and readers updated when something like this happens

Buy your books at Smashwords, or direct from your favorite erotica author's web site--Excessica has its own and there are many good writers to be found there

I'd just like to point out that erotica writers aren't perverts--at least the ones I know. We write for a living, and what we are writing is fantasy. Words, not actions. This is fiction, folks. It doesn't hurt anyone. And the "but it might make someone DO those horrible things!" argument has been debunked again and again. Books about serial killers don't make people become serial killers. Books about rapists don't make people become rapists. Books about incest (or pseudoincest) don't make people go have sex with family members. In fact, research shows that most people who do read incest erotica don't, in fact, fantasize about actual family members. As for rape--it's also well documented that rape fantasies are common for women (the BDSM community flirts with this and there is a cross-over) and psychologists say that it's completely normal. And, in the end, what we are talking about here is just words. Words, not actions. If you don't like it, don't read it. But telling other people they can't write or read it crosses the line of personal and intellectual freedom.

That's not okay.

And one last thing. There is a reason we look back at the witch hunts in Salem and cluck and shake our heads and wonder how people could have overreacted like that. Gossip is powerful. It's insidious, it's heinous, and the people who participate in it suffer from the need to feel superior to others, to compensate for their overwhelming feelings of inferiority. Gossip is a form of passive-aggressive violence and the people who run or write for rags like the self-proclaimed "tech-gossip" site The Kernel are far more offensive and damaging to humankind than even Ms. Shannon Leigh's over-the-top erotica titles could ever be.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Amazon at it Again - Blocking Pseudoincest and Monster Sex!

Amazon is at it again. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised anymore when Amazon decides to change the rules of publishing erotica on their site, but there are days when I feel like my career in this genre is a little bit like playing Calvinball. (Anyone else remember Calvin and Hobbes?) The only rules are the ones Amazon makes up – and they constantly change. And to make it even more “fun,” they don’t tell you what that rules are, or when or how they are going to change.

Can you tell transparency isn’t exactly this company’s strong suit?

So what’s new? Amazon is cleaning house. The message I got (and I actually talked to an Amazon customer service representative, in fits and starts, a bit like trying to crack a code or talk to someone speaking backwards Pig Latin) is that Amazon doesn’t mind selling or profiting from erotica, and it isn’t going to ban it or stop selling it—they just don’t want it to actually look like erotica is about… you know… (sex!)

They are specifically targeting pseudoincest (i.e. those stories where sexual relations take place between perfectly legal of-age step-siblings, or between 18+ stepdaughter and stepfather, stepmother and 18+ stepson, etc.) and monster sex (tentacles, bigfoot, etc). As far as I can tell, right now they are reviewing any new work or anything that shows up as new (i.e. if you tweak your title, change the price, upload a new cover, and republish). If they find a title too risqué, they are blocking it (not just slapping the ADULT filter on it or kicking it back into draft, mind you, but actually blocking/suppressing it) and sending an email out to the author letting them know where the problem lies (title, cover or blurb) if not exactly what the problem is.

They are currently only looking at NEW or REPUBLISHED titles, but be forewarned—you are going to want to clean up your catalog, because down the line, I got the feeling they intend to start going through already-published titles. So what, exactly, is the new policy? What’s ok, what isn’t?
Welcome to Calvinball Amazonball, where the rules constantly change and your opinion doesn’t matter!

It’s all hit and miss with Amazon, as usual, and there’s no telling what will or won’t be approved, to tell you the honest truth. I’m so tired of playing this game, I’m about ready to quit. Just when you think you know the rules, they change. Just when you think you’ve got a handle on it, Amazon throws another ball at your head. And of course, there’s no transparency.

The ADULT filter is still being used—completely arbitrarily and without warning to authors or publishers. I recently had a freebie of mine, Connections, ADULT filtered. But back in May, I put ujnderwear on the girl and they unfiltered it, no problem. Some time between May and a few days ago, when I noticed it was filtered, Amazon changed their mind. Of course, they didn’t tell ME about it. No notice. Months of lost downloads and exposure. Thanks, Amazon!

Why am I doing business with this capricious, duplicitous, unreliable company again? Oh yeah, because they’re the biggest distributor in town and provide me with the most exposure for my work. That’s really unfortunate, because I feel quite stuck between a rock and a hard place. If I want to sell (and this is my business, my livelihood, of course I do—there’s a real person here, raising a family, and I have braces and wrestling shoes and a mortgage to pay!) I have to deal with Amazon.

But they sure don’t make it easy.

Amazon’s so vague-as-to-be-useless “guidelines” they point erotica writers to when they reject a title don’t give me any idea what the rules actually are. When I talk to Amazon customer service, they speak in code. Their lack of transparency is truly appalling. They don’t tell authors or publishers when they ADULT filter a title. And until recently, when an author noticed and appealed, they simply pointed them to their vague (useless) guidelines. Thanks to a conversation I had with Amazon a few months ago, at least now they are giving us some direction (title, cover, description or content) even if they still won’t tell us specifically what the issue/problem is.
So in trying to interpret the new rules of Calvinball Amazonball, I’ve come to the following conclusions. Of course, your mileage may vary, and the rules may change tomorrow.

Anything containing nudity is now completely out (unless you want to be ADULT filtered). No breasts, no hand-bras, no bare bottoms. Thongs aren’t okay anymore. Even some lingerie is being rejected. You can have the hottest, smuttiest prose you want on the pages of your book, as long as the cover doesn’t reflect your content.

Also, couples are okay on covers, however, if they are touching each other in any way, and they look like they are actually enjoying it, it may be rejected. If the models are passive, you may get it through. However, if they have that “oh yes!” look, or happen to be groping each other? Nope. That’s right, Amazon has now pushed our sexuality back to the Puritan age. We can embrace, but we can’t look like we’re actually enjoying the sex! Anyone have a sheet with a hole cut into it we can put between our characters? *sigh*

Most of the same rules I gave you before still apply here. Keep the “bad” words out of your titles and descriptions. You’re a writer—you’re going to do some creative writing here. Mommy, Daddy, Sister, Brother, Siblings, etc, may get you  blocked (not just filtered—blocked) if it’s in the title. The same goes for monster sex—tentacles, bigfoot, centaur, etc. in the title may now get your book blocked. Again, it seems arbitrary right now—some titles are getting through—but it’s better safe than sorry. I know, it’s frustrating. How is anyone going to find your story without a keyword in the title? But if you put it in the title, no one is going to see it, because Amazon is going to block it. How’s that for a nice Catch-22? Thanks, Amazon!

Again, you’re going to have to get creative. References to relations (i.e. Mommy, Daddy, Sister, Brother, etc) won’t necessarily get you blocked here (although they might get you filtered) but it depends on how explicit you are. The more tame you are in your description, the better. Amazon doesn’t want someone who accidentally stumbles onto your title to be “shocked” by what they find.

And that’s really what it comes down to. A year ago, Amazon’s erotica bestseller list was full of shock-and-awe titles. It was like erotica authors thought they had to outdo each other in order to gain any visibility on the charts. Well, that’s changed. Go look at the erotica titles on top now—they have titles, covers and descriptions more in line with Fifty Shades of Grey. They’re tame, soft, romantic. This is clearly the erotica image Amazon wants to present, and that’s what these “policy changes” seem to indicate.

I predict that a year from now, erotica on Amazon is going to look very different—even the hardcore stuff. Amazon isn’t just hiding it behind the ADULT filter anymore, they’re outright blocking and suppressing titles they don’t want their customers to see. Is it corporate censorship? Yep. Is it unfair? Yep. But Amazon can do what they like and life is unfair.

In this business you either change and adapt, or you… well, you don’t die. You just lose visibility and fall into obscurity. Which, for an author, is pretty much the same thing.
So erotica writers, now you have the new “rules,” such as they are. You need to decide for yourself what you’re going to do.
I do have some predictions. I imagine a lot of authors who jumped on the gravy train a year or two ago (writers who had scoffed at erotica with disdain who suddenly started writing in the genre looking for a big payout) will fall off. It won’t be worth it anymore, because it won’t be so easy for readers to find them and the money will dry up.

Some will switch genres and find success there. Some will go back to their day jobs. But the pool of authors writing erotica is inevitably going to shrink because of this change. I don’t like the corporate censorship and self-censoring that’s happening because of Amazon’s policy changes and I don’t like any company big enough to force such a change on the face of literature. But the bright side, if you want to find one, is that the authors who remain will be the ones who truly love writing it, who care about their craft and their readers.

Those authors, I believe, will adapt—their covers and blurbs and descriptions will become less shocking and titillating, but I think the quality of the work will rise. I think erotica itself as a genre will become better. The writers who love it will stay, and the readers who love it will find those authors and stick with them.

At least, that’s what I hope.

For those authors who aren’t willing to give up—this is a time when building a name for yourself in the genre, creating a brand, cultivating a relationship with fans and building a mailing list is going to be crucial. It’s once again going to get harder to find what you want in the erotica category on Amazon, so you as an author need to find a way to directly connect with your readers.

I truly wish you the best of luck in your game of Calvinball Amazonball!

Selena Kitt
Erotic Fiction You Won't Forget 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Nanny State Gone Wild in the UK

9742995_sWell it's happened to our friends across the pond. The Prime Minister has made it official - pornography will be blocked by default on the Internet in the UK unless you choose to "opt in" to receive it. (And of course, if you do "opt in," your name will be forwarded to a UK government agency in charge of overseeing citizens who are seeking out banned material. Isn't that special?)

I'm absolutely horrified by this development and the attitude of a government who believes it needs to step in and regulate adults and adult behavior. The prime minister claims this is about children having access to pornography on the internet - but it isn't the role of any government to step in and regulate what goes on in people's homes. Pornography isn't illegal (yet) so why is it being denied to adults by default? I understand having a filter that can be turned on and off, although it is a bit of a slippery slope to have government supplying that filter. However, having that filter set to "OFF" by default makes it a much slipperier one.

When you have a child, do you expect the government to raise it? Do you expect them to feed it, care for it, change its diapers, keep it safe? I certainly hope not. It's not the government's responsibility, it's the parents' responsibility. As a parent, you're in charge of keeping that child safe until it's old enough to do so. If you have bleach, you keep it in a locked cupboard under the sink. If you own a gun, you keep it unloaded in a locked cabinet. If you possess pornography, you keep it locked away and out of a child's sight. That's a parent's responsibility. Not the government's.

A computer and the internet are no different. I'm a parent--I don't let my children have access to the internet without my direct supervision. But as an adult, I don't want my government making those choices for ME. I'm not a child and I don't need a nanny. A government that steps in and makes those kinds of decisions for parents by default is effectively saying to adults, "You can't parent. I must do it for you."

Is this the level the UK has sunk to?

And how long will it be before politicians on this side of the pond start making these kinds of decisions for us?

We've gone down this road already in the realm of erotic ebooks with corporate censorship. Amazon, Apple, Barnes and Noble, Paypal--the list of companies who have attempted to or continue to deny adults access to adult materials while claiming they're doing so to "protect the children" (never mind that they're still selling sex toys, porn DVDs, torture-porn movies like "Hostel" and books like Jack Ketchum's The Woman)--have all participated in some form of corporate censorship. Right now, the American government can get away with using corporations to do their dirty work--mostly because America itself is in the pocket of corporations, and government motivations are in line with the corporate bottom line.

But whistleblower Eric Snowden has given us a glimpse into just how much information the NSA is gathering about average American citizens while at the same time using the media to whip people into a frenzy with fear-mongering about vague threat of terrorists. What's happening in the UK just may be a portent, a keyhole peek into the future of government control and the ever-growing nanny state in our own country.

For example, Tumblr has always had anti-censorship beliefs and policies in the past, so well known for their stance they inspired articles like this one in Salon about the best adult porn Tumblr blogs. But recently, Yahoo purchased Tumblr. Soon after that purchase was announced, users started to return "no search results" for certain terms relating to sex and pornography. Yahoo effectively made adult blogs invisible, in the same way Amazon's ADULT filter makes adult ebooks invisible. Another example of corporate censorship? Yep.

Where does it end?

Right now, Americans are being offered a censored version of the world, and many don't even know it. I'm not sure if that's better or worse than the UK government stepping in and forcing ISPs to block pornography by default. The former is an insidious form of censorship, a creeping, crawling, sprawling sort of censorship that most won't even acknowledge IS a form of censorship. At least the latter is more direct. As we've learned with the "war on terror," or the "war on drugs," the enemies you can't see, the ones that come at you from behind or underneath, the ephemeral sort, are a lot harder to fight then those who attack directly.

This is a direct attack on personal freedom and liberty. It's shocking and appalling, and if you're not shocked and appalled, you should be. This is government censorship being wrapped up in a nice "protect the children" wrapping paper with a big fat bow on it. It's a slippery slope that should not only horrify and frighten you, it should motivate you to act. At least I hope so. You can protest. You can sign this petition. If you're in the US, you can write to your congressmen protesting legislation like the proposed SOPA. You can support the Office for Intellectual Freedom, Banned Book Week, the Open Net Initiative and the International Freedom of Expression Exchange or even just go and like our Facebook page - Banned Erotic Books, where I will post everything I hear about banned books or censorship - in all forms.

And if you're thinking, "Well isn't this a good thing? Aren't they protecting the children?"--think again. This isn't about protecting children, it's about control. Control of consenting adults that should be free to watch what they like. Maybe you think I'm alarmist, just being a Chicken Little, and you don't believe in slippery slopes. If that's the case, consider this - Scotland and Wales banned "pornography depicting rape" back in 2008. Now the UK has followed suit. This law now also makes it illegal to possess any sort of pornography depicting rape. So what does that mean? Is BDSM pornography illegal now? Even if it's between consenting adults? Even if there's a "safe word?" Who makes the decision about what is or isn't rape, exactly?

By effectively "banning" pornography by forcing ISPs to filter it by default, politicians aren't really solving any problems. It's an easy fix. They haven't done anything to keep actual children from being harmed in the making of pornography. They haven't helped any actual rape victims by making stricter rape laws. They haven't done anything to teach real children about real sex--its dangers and pitfalls, as well as its true nature, meaning, and significance in life. They haven't done anything to help actual sex workers who endanger their lives in order to make more money than they could working at the local Wal-Mart. They haven't helped the actual harmful practice of women being sold as slaves in human trafficking. They haven't done anything about curbing the mainstream media's portrayal of women as sexual objects. Pornography has nothing on Cosmo, folks. They've gone after pornography, but they haven't gone after the "torture porn" in movies. It's okay to watch someone's head severed, to see a woman's nipples cut off, her labia flayed in a horror film, but it's not okay to watch two consenting adults with nipple clamps and hot wax?

They have gone after what they see as an easy target, something that can be perceived as "action," but is, in fact, a non-action. It's not a step forward, it's a step backward. This law creates a false sense of security for parents. Worse than that, it encourages parents to take less parental responsibility when they should be taking more, and it sets up both parents and children (who will, in another generation, become parents themselves) to rely on the government to control them. If that isn't the scariest slippery slope of them all, I don't know what is.

So before you start cheering because you feel children are being "protected" by the law just passed in the UK, imagine a world where everything you read, watch or do is restricted by government control. Imagine China. Imagine 1984. It's really not as far away as it seems. As Chicken Little as it sounds... sometimes the sky really is falling. Sometimes a slippery slope turns out to be far slipperier than you imagined.

Sometimes you wake up in a world you don't recognize, and wonder how in the hell you got there.

But by then, it will be far too late. The time is now. The choice is yours.

Selena Kitt
Erotic Fiction You Won't Forget