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

Friday, July 19, 2013

The Breakthrough - I am JK Rowling

I had kind of a breakthrough.  I'm not sure I should jinx it though.  I started all these different things and they had similar scenarios.  I'd get the first scene written and think of something else.  In fact, when I re-read them, I had used some of the same names.  I decided that they were all pieces of one story, which means some names will be changed.  I put them all in one document and started writing the beginning.  Now I have 22,000 words. 

Today I thought about what was working and what wasn't, and I'm ready to make changes and add more.  I try to write a whole scene - dialogue first then I go back and add stage directions and stuff.  The next day I read it all and if it sounds stupid or repetitive, or doesn't make sense, I do rewrites.  It takes a while.  I stop when I don't quite know how to make the transition to the next bit of information.  That next bit will come to me the next day when I'm working out.  I don't know how it does that.  I think my mind relaxes or something.  I almost see it in a waking dream.  It tells me what to say and do, and what it all looks like visually. 

I almost feel like the story was there all along.  I did what made sense - I couldn't build another non-consent BDSM world without referencing Cinderella Club a little.  I am looking at one character in particular who had a spot on the periphery of CC, and now I have her story - sort of, and a number of others that can take place in the same location.

I don't want to share any of it yet because every time I share in real life, someone either copies me or tries to change the idea somehow - they want to be part of my process, which I thoroughly hate.  This story feels like I had written it before, in another dimension, if there is such a thing.  I would like that to be true because I would like to believe that somewhere else there is a Mia Natasha with a slightly different story.  Maybe a better one.

I also hate when people say "Life's too short" and "You only live once".  Life is not that short.  Sometimes it feels like an eternity.  An animal's life is short.  I look at my cat and I wonder what it will be like when we have to cross that bridge.  My cat represents a specific chunk of my life, like the Mayan Calendar.  When my cat is gone it will be an ending.  I will reflect on the time we had together as our dynasty or whatever, and assess my success during that period.  Have I made any leaps in this time?  What the fuck am I doing?  I don't really want to think about that.

When I'm writing, I am so into it - as though it's the greatest thing ever written - unique, original, refreshing....  I get high from it.  Not manic, just - happy.  Content that I am creating and I have the confidence to do it.

JK Rowling had good reviews on her pen named book but sold only a few copies.  So what did they do?  They totally told.  I don't buy that it was uncovered by other sources.  I think it was leaked to the media.  What if I said that I am really Jo?  Of course, no one would believe that, because we sound nothing alike.  Too bad.  Because I have good reviews too.  It's never enough.  You can fool yourself that it is, but it isn't.

I sent paperbacks to specific people hoping for the kind of media attention that is bigger than a random blog.  But nothing yet.  No responses.  Does anyone read blogs?  I know there are a few of you who read this even though you don't comment (Hi, Kelly).  I know I'm not talking to myself because if I were, well, that's a sad face emoticon, which I would post if I knew how.

When I re-read old diaries, I feel like it's a different person but I love that person.  That sounds about as narcissistic as they come, but I do.  I do love myself.  I am strong and courageous, organized and focused, (and I have a pretty fucking great ass).  I love the idea of finding my younger self  (in a time-travel) and sitting her down to tell her that she won't change very much.  And that is perfectly okay. (But oh my god, she's going to love my hair!)  I'm trying to think of a specific point in time that I would change that could change the trajectory of my life.  But I'm not sure I would change anything.  I keep wanting to go back to the night I first slept with The One so I can keep my clothes on and leave.  Would he have pursued me?  I doubt it.  Actually, I know he wouldn't.  I was always going to be just sex.  

Would I go back to high school and go slutty?  Fuck someone?  No.  Because I always wanted the relationship to be adult.  I never thought and still don't, that kids who live under their parents roof should be having sex.  I hate it because they are living children's lives but playing adult games and they are just not emotionally ready.  College students are the same way, let's be honest.  Dorm fucking seems to lead to marriage without even actually having dates, which is so fucked up.  I know women who had never even purchased sexy lingerie or stillettos because their relationships happened in sweatshirts and sweatpants, and one ratty bra that they washed on Sundays!

Which reminds me of the bondage pictures I see that people post on Twitter  - the homemade ones where the girl is roped up and in the background you see dirty laundry in baskets littering the floor, photographs of family on the wall instead of art (not placed there aesthetically either), and cheezy matchy-matchy furniture sets that would make the Architectural Digest editor's head spin while puking pea soup, and it's supposed to be sexy.  Is that sexy to you?

These days there are a gazillion twenty somethings living with their boyfriends on their parents' dime.  Apartments in big cities and jobs that can't pay for them.  And they are playing house.  To me that's not sexy either.

The men in my new book all own their own places except for one.  It's preferable for them to be in some way independently wealthy so they don't have to work in order for their Dom/sub relationship to be 24/7.  One will work from home... I have it all planned.  It's actually much easier to make them all have dead parents so you don't have to deal with them but I won't do that.  I think having the parents in there in small doses grounds the story because you see how the parents see the person and it's always different than the way they see themselves.  Like some people are complete fuck ups at work but their parents praise them galore!  Others work their asses off and their parents think they don't work hard enough.  I may have said this before in another post, but I love when each character in a show has their "problem".  In Star Trek the Next Generation, no one has the kid they want.  Warf's kid is like a Ghandi instead of a this-is-a-good-day-to-die warrior.  Wesley Crusher makes all sorts of stupid mistakes and gets emotional while his mother the doctor is calm under pressure, Jon-Luc had a son in one episode- not sure if he really was or he thought he was, but the guy did not want to follow rules.  In Beverly Hills 90210, every single character had a substance abuse problem or some other "issue".  Donna got drunk at prom, Kelly did coke, David was taking pills to stay up late to do that radio show....

Anyhow, there will be a huge cast of players in my new story.  I will challenge myself to write scenes with lots of people in them to balance the one-on-one scenes that can get repetitive.  Even so, people want the one-on-one relationships.

The other thing about that book from my previous post (On my own blog - http://mianatasha-erotica.blogspot.com/2013/07/thickening-plot.html) that I'd read for "research" :  the guy basically had no friends.  In the next book, which is so short because there is no plot, they go out with her friends and all he wants to do is take her home to fuck her.  The point of going out is to dress up, to be alluring while you are out in public showing off how much your man likes you, showing him to anyone  - look at this sexy fucker, everyone - he's going home w/ me.  Then you think about it, anticipate it and when the fucking commences, the hot liquid magma becomes full blown lava.

In real life, guys have tons of friends because they just hang out without the deep emotional stuff.  They like each other.  And that's the final piece to my puzzle today.  The men in my story will bond.  I'm aiming for epic - but if it is that in my mind only...then I really am JK Rowling.  And you will buy the book.  Should I have put that in caps?

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

No Parental Controls? It's Not About Parents - It's About Profit

I write erotica for a living. I'm also a mother of four.
And I do not allow my children to search anything on Amazon by themselves.

That's right--a majority of my income is derived from book sales on Amazon, and yet I won't let my own children search for babysitting books or squirt guns on their site.
Why not? Because searching "babysitting" or "babysitter" can turn up 100 titles about babysitters fucking their employers. One of which is my own. And "squirt," in any variation, can turn up all sorts of titles about women "squirting."

Amazon doesn't protect children from those search results. Neither does Barnes and Noble. Both of my kids have Nook Colors--but I buy all their books. They're not allowed to buy a book on their own. And they're tweens (11 and 12) who have plenty of freedom in their day-to-day lives and are quite responsible.

But I can't count on Amazon to protect my children, and I can't count on BN to protect them, so I go out of my way to do so. Because I know exactly what's out there. And that's a parent's job. Ultimately, it should be up to the parent to set those boundaries, and I do so.

Unlike Google though, I can't even let my kids search on Amazon. With Google, I can set up a "safe search" function that blocks most, if not all, of the things I wouldn't want them to see yet. Amazon doesn't have that. Amazon has been making attempts, as we erotica writers know, to keep erotica out of the hands of minors by putting it behind a wall--labeling it with the "ADULT" tag and excluding it from the all-department search. And we all know this is a poor solution to a growing problem. In a post-50-Shades world, the rules have changed. "Mommy porn" has become a huge genre, and many, many new writers have come along to write it, flooding the market with erotica.
Amazon's solution is arbitrary and non-transparent. It doesn't keep children from finding books about babysitters having sex or women squirting, that's for sure. They just have to be looking for a book about babysitting in the Kindle store and voila! There's my book.

That's not good.

I write erotica, but I write erotica for adults. 

I never intended my audience to be under the age of eighteen, I make clear disclaimers in the front of my books that the intended audience should be of-age, and I don't want underage children or teens reading my books far before they're ready to handle the material contained within them.

I can protect my own children--but I can't protect yours. Only Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Apple, Kobo, etc. can do that. And there is an easy fix to this problem. Google has one--parental controls. It's a switch. On or off. Very simple.

So why haven't they done so?

I can guarantee you one thing--their motivation isn't to protect you or your children.

They are protecting their bottom line. Their profit. Period.

Follow the money.

Selena Kitt
Erotic Fiction You Won't Forget

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Join the Insatiable Reads Hot Summer Romance Giveaway Hop!

This summer is going to be HOT!

The Insatiable Reads Book Tour is sponsoring the HOT SUMMER ROMANCE GIVEAWAY HOP from July 18-21, and if you’re an author, I suggest you sign up. Blog hops, unlike blog tours, are easy–there’s little effort on the part of the author, no long blog posts, just sign up, grab the graphic, and plan a giveaway. Easy peasy! Readers love free stuff (I know, cuz I’m a reader!) so there’s a great incentive for them to go on the hop and enter all the blog hop giveaways. And while they’re on your site, they’ll check out your books, and if they find something they like, who knows, they just might buy it!

As a reader I love blog hops because, hello!? Free stuff! But as an author I love them for the same reason. I love giving away free stuff! It’s a win-win! And blog hops are a fantastic way to get new visitors to your blog and if we’re all out there fighting for visibility in the sea of available words, you have to love a promotion that brings writers together, and readers too. I’ve never been the most competitive writer in the world. Since Excessica’s inception, I’ve always been more about being inclusive, helping other writers, and letting the power of numbers buoy us all up to the top.

Blog hops are a great way to do that. So authors, go sign up! And readers, mark your calendars, because this summer is going to be HOT, HOT, HOT!

Selena Kitt
Erotic Fiction You Won’t Forget

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Corporate Fail

badboyclubThere's been a lot posted about the corporations behind book selling lately, and to me, it just smells like a whole lot of "fail."

This is what happens when corporations gain so much power that people forget that corporations aren't really "people." Corporations are FOR people. They serve people. They consist OF people - the people who work at them, from the lowest paid to the highest. But when corporations forget that, when people forget that, suddenly we all become slaves. Corporations becomes slaves to their stockholders (and the stockholders to the almighty dollar). People become slaves to the corporations, relying on them for everything.

Sometimes I think people forget about the *people* involved, all the way around.

I had a conversation with Amazon last week about the Adult book filtering going on. It was a reasonable conversation with a real person. She understood my point of view, said she appreciated my feedback, and really wanted to help as much as she could. Because of my feedback, they made changes in the ways they now handle appeals to the ADULT filter. If your book has been filtered and you attempt to get it unfiltered, Amazon will now tell you whether the problem is on your COVER, in your TITLE or in your DESCRIPTION. While they still refuse to tell us exactly *what* the problem might be on the cover, or in the title and description, at least they're now pointing us in a direction! At least it's something...

Now if only everyone who worked for her company would get with the program and treat people the same way... *sigh*

When we are faced with the people behind the corporations, or when corporations are faced with the people (the actual customers they serve or the vendors who supply their products) the whole dynamic changes. Suddenly things become personal - and real. The decisions corporations make have huge implications for REAL PEOPLE. What Amazon is doing with adult books is hurting a lot of authors right now who have quit their day jobs in order to do what they love -- write -- full-time. It's hurting readers who can't find the books they're looking for. It's hurting customers and it's hurting parents who STILL have no work-around or real solution to the plethora of adult books on Amazon's store.

A simple switch, Amazon. That's all it takes.

I wish we could all sit down and have a reasonable conversation. I'm tired of dealing with a faceless corporation who doesn't care about me or even the customers who are complaining to them about the books showing up in their also-bought feeds.

Amazon FAIL
  • Putting ADULT filters on books arbitrarily, with no rhyme or reason.
  • No transparency - not telling publishers and authors when a book gets an ADULT filter. Not telling authors or publishers what got the book flagged in the first place.
  • Not creating an "adult" on-off parental control function for their site instead of using the clunky and unfair ADULT filter.
Barnes and Noble FAIL
  • Misrepresenting their "bestseller" list by keeping certain adult books out of the top 100. They are tagging certain books in their system somehow, which weighs them down in the ranks, like an anchor. Once a book is flagged, it won't go past the "anchor." This happened to my box sets, which sold more than enough to get me into the top 100, but my books wouldn't go past 126, 127 and 128 respectively. So instead of dropping the ranks by 1000 (which they were doing for a long time to erotica books) now they're doing something a *little* more subtle. But still as damaging to sales. We caught you, Barnes and Noble!
  • Pushing Erotica and Adult titles to the back of their search engine function, so that those titles appear behind those which are ranked below them.
  • Not creating an "adult" on-off parental control function for their site instead of manipulating their bestseller lists.
  • While Kobo hasn't (yet) started filtering or suppressing adult titles, they have erotica categories that simply do not function if you put your books in them.
  • Kobo's search engine is very poor, so those missing categories make a difference. And they refuse to allow you to put key words where they would be useful.
Apple FAIL
Apple's uber-prudishness is known far and wide.
  • Apple has manipulated its bestseller lists - it's removed books they found "offensive" right from the list!
  • Apple has removed erotica books from their store - they have wiped out ENTIRE publisher accounts that contain erotica (even when they also contain a great deal of sweet and inspirational and Christian romance!)
  • They have no erotica category and no way to see erotica bestsellers at all.
  • They reject adult and erotic books outright. Even when a title is sent back censored (someone put apples over the offending floppy bits) Apple STILL rejected it.

If I had the people from Amazon and Barnes and Noble and Kobo and Apple in front of me, maybe we could have a real conversation, person to person. Maybe they would realize that, as a parent, I don't want kids to find these books either. I want their business model to succeed - and I'd like to be part of that. I'm sure there's a way to do it. I have lots of great ideas.

If they called, I'd have a lot to say. But I won't hold my breath or spend my time sitting here waiting for the phone to ring like some girl waiting for her bad boyfriend to call. None of them are worth it, in the end. It's like dating a pit viper. You never know when they're going to strike (again).

Enough with the bad boys and their little club. I'm tired of being a member and paying their dues (and being used at their convenience, like when KDP first started and they called us all eager for us to put our books exclusively with them!) and not reaping any of the benefits.

I think it's time I started implementing some of those good ideas I have all on my own.

Stay tuned...

Selena Kitt
Erotic Fiction You Won't Forget