Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Dear Plagiarizer: Breaking Bad - A Bad Idea

19843099_s
Dear Plagiarizer:

You are obviously confused about what plagiarism is and how copyright works. Since plagiarism and copyright are important to me, being a writer who spends hours creating the original material I publish and all, I thought I would educate you about the topic. The first place I would have thought you might look, plagiarizer, is to the internet standard, Wikipedia:
Plagiarism is the "wrongful appropriation" and "stealing and publication" of another author''s "language, thoughts, ideas, or expressions" and the representation of them as one's own original work.
I can see where you might have become confused, plagiarizer. When the subject of plagiarism came up in school, I remember teachers saying, "Put it in your own words." And that was the extent of their lesson. But there's a problem with that phrase--put it in your own words--oft repeated by teachers and professors everywhere. It gives students, writers, and possibly future authors, the idea that putting something "in your own words" makes it yours. It doesn't. Putting something in your own words allows you to express the idea without directly quoting the person who said it--but that doesn't mean you don't have to cite the work the idea came from. That's the basis of research.

Plagiarizing fiction is a little different from plagiarizing an article or an essay. Two authors can take the same idea and write a completely different story. Let's take the example one of the forum posters used in their response--that two authors are both writing about a small town girl who falls in love with a vampire. One is Twilight, the other is Vampire Diaries. They both have similar ideas--tropes--but they are very different in their expression, their characters, their happenings, even if they share some of the same vampire lore. Vampire Diaries didn't plagiarism Twilight, or vice versa, no matter which came first. The authors simply used the same trope (girl in love with vampire, love triangles, etc) on which to base their fiction.

There is never, ever a time, when writing or publishing fiction, that it's okay to use someone else's work and "put it in your own words." Let's be clear about that. It is wrong to ever rewrite fiction and call it your own.

Apparently, plagiarizer,  you didn't get the memo or you took your teacher's word for it that "putting it in your own words" made it all okay. Aubrey Rose has come forward about this issue, but I personally know several other authors this has happened to who are afraid to come forward in fear of retaliation from the plagiarising author. And if the forum post above is any indication, it's clear you believe you did nothing wrong. After all you said:

"I looked at a selling genre and wrote a book around them. I didn't think it was going to be this severe. I didn't copy anything. The story stayed in my memory and I had significantly altered it."

Altering a work does not make it yours. You probably weren't around back in 2008 when the Cassie Edwards extravaganza happened. She was a traditionally published author whose publisher dropped her because she plagiarised. And being banned from Amazon KDP or dropped from a publisher are the least of your worries when you plagiarize something, plagiarizer.

As to how severe the consequences may be, let me enlighten you, plagiarising author, about just how serious it is. While plagiarism isn't technically illegal - you can turn in a completely plagiarised school assignment and not get arrested, although you're likely to fail the course if you get caught, and maybe even kicked out of school, especially at the college level - plagiarism can also be a copyright violation. That's where you can get yourself into trouble and pretty big trouble at that. And I'm not just talking about your book being removed from Amazon, or your account at Amazon being closed, and your IP and ISP address being blocked by Amazon. Obviously that's bad enough--it really hits you where you live, when: "This is my only income-stream ATM!" 

(Just an aside - I find it ironic you used the acronym ATM, which I assume you meant to indicate "at the moment," because you are currently using other author's hard work as your own personal ATM--automatic teller machine. Well, plagiarizer, your bank account has now been closed. And that's not all that may happen to you. I'll get more into that later.)

If you are taking someone else's work and simply rephrasing it, as was the case with Aubrey Rose's book (and quite a few others I've seen as well) - you are violating copoyright. There is a concept in intellectual property rights that you may not have been aware of, naive plagiarizer, called "substantial similarity." Check this glossary of intellectual property terms for its definition. I'll repeat it for you here. (Note I've cited the source... that's how not to plagiarize, plagiarizer. I've bolded the most important phrase in the quote.)
SUBSTANTIAL SIMILARITY [copyright]. The degree of resemblance between a copyrighted work and a second work that is sufficient to constitute copyright infringement by the second work. Exact word-for-word or line-for-line identity does not define the limits of copyright infringement. U.S. courts have chosen the flexible phrase "substantial similarity" to define that level of similarity that will, together with proof of validity and copying, constitute copyright infringement.
I'm pretty sure, plagiarizer, even if you have not read this particular term, Amazon's copyright lawyers have. And banning your account is the least of the actions that could be taken against you. Perhaps, plagiarizer, you aren't as naive as you claim. Maybe you thought you would pick authors you assumed couldn't pursue you with a lawsuit and decided to rewrite their popular works as your own in order to cash in on the gold rush of KDP self-publishing?

Did you think you wouldn't get caught? That avid readers wouldn't notice the similarities between your book and hers? Or did you just not care? You figured, if you got caught, you'd take the money and run?
Here's the problem with your theory: a) you did get caught, and eventually, anyone who does this, will get caught--someone will find out and you will be exposed and b) you can still be sued. I don't care what country you live in, how protected you feel you are, or how "innocent" this crime feels in your head.

You think the author you're plagiarising has no recourse? But how do you know who that author is? I have more than one pen name, plagiarizer, and you could have chosen one of mine and not even know it. I have more than enough resources to come after you. And I would -- on principle alone. As self-publishing becomes more lucrative, as more and more authors make money from their creative endeavors, they are branching out into other genres. Hugh Howey is currently writing a romance novel. He has more than enough money - and integrity - to come after you, plagiarizer. What if you plagiarise his pen name "by accident?" What if you plagiarise a traditional author who has branched out and self-published erotica or erotic romance? Anne Rice wrote her erotica under the name A.N. Roquelaure. What do you think would happen to you if you chose to plagiarize her, before anyone knew A.N. Roquelaure was Anne Rice?

Don't think you're protected, plagiarizer, that even if you're found out, the author won't come after you, because you could be wrong, and being wrong can be costly. Do you know what happens, plagiarizer, if you are sued and you lose?

You give up all profits from the plagiarised work. You pay back the profits, plus damages. The law says you have to pay up to $150,000 for each work infringed. You will also have to pay the author's attorney fees and court costs. That's right, plagiarizer--the author won't have to pay to sue you, in the end. You will pay to be sued. The court can also issue an injunction against you or even send you to jail.

Was it worth it, plagiarizer?

And for anyone out there still doing this, or considering it, because all your black hat internet marketing friends are doing it too, ask yourself this: is it worth the risk? Are you ready to pay the consequences for breaking bad in this instance? Because you never know who you're plagiarising, especially in erotica and erotic romance. The names you see on the covers? 80% of those are pen names. And they might be pen names of authors who have a lot more money, resources and integrity than you do.
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Authors if this has happened to you, check out this resource: Authors United Against Plagiarism. The more authors united against this - and the more authors reporting it - the worse it will get for plagiarizers who believe they can continue to do this and get away with it. 
Selena Kitt 
Erotic Fiction You Won't Forget 

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Amazon's Midnight Booty Call to KDP Authors - Are You Amazon's Bitch?

Jeff Bezos' O-Face?
As an erotica author, every time I get a letter from Amazon's KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) in my inbox, I have a brief moment of panic. If you're a self-published erotica writer, I'm sure you know the feeling. When erotica authors get notices from KDP, it's usually the Amazon Book Team writing to tell you to bend over, because they're about to screw you in one fashion or another. Today, however, I received a very strange email from KDP - although I suppose it's no surprise, they're still asking me to bend over and be their bitch.

By now you've all read Amazon's latest PR move in the Hachette feud. I've kept my opinion to myself in this matter, for the most part - at least in terms of my blog - because I don't have a dog in this fight, a pony in this race, a chicken in this... well, you get the  idea, let's not beat a dead metaphor. I'm not a Hachette author and I've never been legacy published, nor will I ever likely be, nor am I (technically) published by Amazon or any of their imprints. Taking sides in this fight, to me, is like being the grass rooting for one of two elephants fighting overhead. Either way, I'm about to be trampled. But I'm an erotica writer in the self-publishing world, so I'm used to it by now.

Apparently, Amazon wants me to take up arms and protest against the horrible injustice being carried out by legacy publisher, Hachette. Amazon (seriously MIS)quotes George Orwell, they claim Hachette hasn't played fair, and essentially come across as a whiny girlfriend who thinks we should all get together and beat up some guy she doesn't like - a guy she's actually been cheating on us with all along behind our backs.

So Amazon is asking me to take sides - to specifically choose their side. Why should I do that?

Most self-published authors would jump if Amazon said how-high - and many of them will, in this case. I won't. I've heard the arguments of the Zonists. Yes, Amazon has given self-published authors a platform they never had before. Yes, Amazon has offered up their store/traffic to self-published authors, which is far greater than we could have generated on our own. Yes, Amazon markets self-published books, their algorithms/also-boughts drive more sales, and they process secure payments and hand us money every month. But they haven't done so out of the goodness of their hearts. They haven't done so because they truly value authors as content creators and want to invest in our collective futures.

I know, because I've been spending my own time actually helping authors, for years, before Kindle even came to the forefront - I started Excessica to help not only myself but other authors like me, who wanted a chance to run with the big(ger) boys. (At the time, it was a little outfit called Fictionwise - but they were the biggest dog in town!) I spent a lot of my own time and effort and money (when I could have selfishly been creating more of my own content, mind you, which would have made me far more cash in the long run) editing, doing cover art, formatting, uploading, marketing for other authors. I did it because I DO value authors as content creators and I DO want them to make as much as they possibly can from their own work (which is why Excessica only takes 10% - and we didn't take anything at all in the beginning.)

Does Amazon put its money where its mouth is when it comes to truly valuing authors as content creators?

No, I'm afraid they don't.

Amazon likes to say they support self-published authors, but what they support is their own bottom line. They use us when it's in their best interest (like when Amazon came knocking on my door, desperate to increase their numbers, asking Excessica's 100+ authors and 500+ titles to go all-in with Amazon KDP Select before it was first announced) and discard or discount us when it's not (who found out about Kindle Unlimited before it was unveiled? Anyone? Were you asked if your KDP Select book could be included? Of course not--they already had you
by the ballsunder contract in KDP Select for at least 90 days...)

Of course, that doesn't let Hachette off the hook. They don't support authors either (and, to be fair, treat them even more poorly than Amazon currently treats self-published authors). These are two giant corporations in the middle of a feud, and like all "feudalists," (ha) they believe we peasants/authors are around for their profit and amusement, to be used at will and tossed aside when we're no longer of interest. Ask any midlister whose contract has been cancelled how sympathetic Hachette is. Ask any erotica author whose account has been cancelled by Amazon how sympathetic they are to "their" authors.

Hachette has already pulled out their big guns, asking their authors to name-drop and get involved in this fight, and like trained monkeys, they've danced to Hachette's tune. Now Amazon is attempting the same trick--see, Hachette, we have trained monkeys too, says Bezos! In fact, our trained monkeys are even better than your trained monkeys - look how many of them we got to sign a petition! (And we didn't even have to take out a full page NYTimes ad to do it!) Amazon asked authors to CC them in their emails, I'm sure in part so they could tally up the number of responses and rub it in Hachette's face.

The fact is, Amazon is using me again. They want something from me that will pad their bottom line--and they're taking money out of the pockets of the very authors they're asking to support them! They tell self-published authors to ask Hachette to "stop using their authors as leverage" - while Amazon decides to use "their" KDP authors to try to leverage their own position in their little feud! This is Amazon-logic. It's the logic of elitists, of a 1% who think the 99% consists of stupid sheeple who simply do whatever they're told. Because if you follow this action to its logical conclusion, self-published authors are being asked to slit their own throats. I'm being asked by Amazon to tell a legacy publisher to capitulate, stop colluding, and lower ebook prices to reasonable levels. Why would I do that? If legacy publishing keeps their prices high, self-publishers benefit. We can easily, consistently undercut agency pricing, every time. That's a huge advantage. Amazon wants me to tell Hachette to lower prices so they can sell more books - so that Amazon can sell more books - and in the end, decrease my own piece of the pie?

Gee, Mr. Bezos, if you wanted me to bend over and take it, you could have at least offered me some flowers and candy! Maybe if Amazon had started by offering me a higher royalty, it might have softened me up a little? I mean, there are a lot of things, and I mean A LOT, that Amazon could do to sweeten things up for self-published authors. They could do them out of the goodness of their hearts. Of course, they won't. They could do them because they value self-published authors as content creators and believe they should receive a fair wage for fair work. Of course, they won't. They could do them because they want us to say "how high" when they say "jump." But, apparently, they feel they don't have to. Apparently they think they can yank up our skirts and give it to us whenever they feel like it. Amazon = alphahole? Not a bad analogy...

If you want me to put out, Amazon, perhaps you could, oh, I don't know...

1. Give self-published authors an Amazon representative. Every self-published author should have one - that's only fair.
2. Give self-published authors back the pre-order button. You took it away when you deactivated Mobi as a publishing platform and never gave it back. Now you dole it out to authors you feel are "worthy" of the pre-order button.
3. Allow self-published authors to join Kindle Unlimited WITHOUT exclusivity.
4. Give self-published authors something reasonable - say 60% of list price for borrows - in Kindle Unlimited.
5. Hachette got to pay for coop on Amazon to get their books out in front of the reader - offer the same thing to self-published authors. Why can't we pay to get our books out in front of readers too?
6. Hachette gets full control over their books - including choosing more that two measley categories for each book. (Or, in the case of erotica, just one!) Give self-published authors the same treatment.
7. Stop serial book returns. You give readers carte blanche, let them return dozens of books, and take money out of self-published authors' pockets.
8. Define your terms of service more clearly and make your policies and guidelines transparent.
9. Actually TELL us when you're going to start a program like Kindle Unlimited and ASK if we'd like to be included, rather than opting us in and telling us we can opt-out if we like.
10. Let us make books free at will. Let us price at whatever level we like. In fact, let HACHETTE price their books whatever way they like too. Let the free market be... you know, FREE.

Those are just ten easy things Amazon could do to sweeten up their relationship with self-published authors, to show us that they take us seriously as content creators. Just as seriously as they take Hachette and the other legacy publishers. Will they do them? Oh, maybe. Eventually. In their own time. But not because they value self-published authors. That, I'm afraid, is a delusion. Self-published authors talk about being afraid of biting the hand that feeds them, but what they really need to be worried about is being trampled underfoot of the giants fighting over their heads.

To me, Amazon's letter smacks of desperation. This is a midnight booty call, folks. Do we answer midnight booty calls? No - we have more self-respect than that. Don't we? I sure hope so.

Amazon's calling self-published authors to unite and that's all well and good, but in the end, we have to have a reason. Indies are independent. It's right in the name. Simply providing a platform for us to sell on doesn't cut it, I'm afraid. That's not enough incentive for self-published authors to rally around a retail giant asking us to cut our own throats in order to keep ebook prices down for consumers, while they pay their own warehouse workers minimum wage, cut off affiliates in states where they might have to pay sales tax, and an overall 6% effective tax rate.

Not that I think self-published authors shouldn't unite. I believe they should. And some day, there may actually be a good enough reason to compel most of them to do so. I doubt that reason lies in supporting Amazon's fight with Hachette. But if I were Amazon, I'd pay closer attention to the self-publishing community, because we're not playing peasant to their feudal lord and we only look like sheep. We're really wolves in sheep's clothing, every one of us, and we have quite a bit of bite, especially as a group. Amazon knows this to some degree - they're trying to activate that rabid capability to their own defense.

What Amazon doesn't want you to know, what they don't want self-published authors to wake up and realize, is that we have far more in common with Hachette and legacy publishers in this matter than we do with Amazon. I know this because I've been a small co-op publisher since 2008, and have been using Amazon as a distributor since then. In fact, through Excessica, I have more power than most self-published authors in fighting against Amazon's strong-arm tactics. Most self-published authors, even though they are, essentially, publishers in their own right (they simply have an author stable of one), have little to no power in negotiations with Amazon. Right now Amazon is dictating terms to Hachette. They can choose to play ball, or they can take their bat and mitt and go home. What are you going to do, when Amazon decides to change your publishing terms? When they want to tell you that you can no longer sell your book at $0.99? When they tell you your royalty rate is now 50% instead of 70%? Or 35%?

I know some self-published authors will rally around Amazon, afraid of biting the hand that feeds them, but I also know that many will not. Many authors will find Amazon's midnight booty call just as offensive and appalling as I did. And in the end, if we don't unite for Amazon, we may still combine our forces and use our powers for good. Amazon should watch their backs, because self-published authors may unite all on our own - some of us have already begun. The numbers Amazon is trying to leverage surely do exist - but I'm afraid they may not always come down on the side Amazon wants them to. Marie Antoinette threw bread to the peasants and told them to eat cake - before those peasants all grabbed their torches and pitchforks and decided to storm the castle. She ended up headless. In the end, I'm pretty sure the full force of united self-published authors is not an opposition Amazon ultimately wants to deal with.

~Selena Kitt~
www.selenakitt.com

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Corporate Censorship: Amazon Targets Dark Erotic Romance and BDSM

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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!

BENEFITS FOR READERS
  • 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.
 BENEFITS FOR 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!
AUTHOR CONCERNS
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.

WHY CAN’T WE DO THIS ON OUR OWN?
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 “RULES”

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: title-submission@amazon.com 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 

www.selenakitt.com 

LATEST RELEASE: Power Play: Bailey and the Professor

JUST $0.99 ON AMAZON

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 MyPublishingAssistant.com

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.