If you're an erotica writer, you know that Amazon has a double standard. If you publish a title and put it into the "erotica" category, there are certain things that aren't allowed in the title or on blurb. But if you put that same title and blurb into the "romance" category, it's fine. Half-naked couples in a hot, torrid embrace are just fine in romance, but strangely, in the erotica category, they're often filtered and sometimes even blocked. Earlier this year, I posted the double standard about covers, comparing my cover with Mia Sheridan's, both with what we call "Hand-Bras" (i.e. hands covering breasts). Mia's cover was allowed in the romance category, but mine wasn't allowed in the erotica category.
It seems strange that the "dirtier" covers, blurbs and titles are allowed in romance, but not in erotica. You'd think erotica is where those types of things would be located. I mean, isn't that where the adults are looking for more adult reading fare? It seems a little backwards to me to allow STEPBROTHER DEAREST in the New Adult/College Romance category, but Amazon banned, blocked and ADULT filtered every title I had with the mention of a family relation. They absolutely killed my sales of these books, forced me to change not only titles, but blurbs, take out ANY reference to a family name (we had to resort to phrasing like "man of the house" and "mother's new husband" when referring to a stepfather, for example) and even pay to have covers changed to match the newly stripped titles.
After all that drama and work, after bending over backwards to comply with Amazon's crazy, ever-changing rules in self-publishing erotica on their site, now a title like "STEPBROTHER DEAREST" appears and hits #2 on the Amazon charts.
The irony is, if Amazon wasn't gaming the system, I'd have books hitting #2 too. Easily. If readers were actually able to find our books, if they weren't pushed down the ranks, hidden with filters, constantly beaten down by Amazon's efforts, erotica writers would be able to have that same success. When Amazon's top lists started filling with erotic titles and books, they started making new "rules" about what they would and wouldn't allow. Of course, as you know, Amazon never tells us those rules. They continue to simply say, "We don't allow pornography or obscene material" (they clearly do) and they define that as, "About what you'd expect." Right. So helpful.
I don't begrudge Ms. Ward her success. I'm glad her book is doing well - I hope she makes a million dollars. Honestly. Go buy her book - I did. I read it, I enjoyed it. It's a romance between a girl and her estranged stepbrother. But let's call a spade a spade. This book is, in effect, what we in the erotica industry have labeled, "pseudoincest." It is a relationship not unlike anything I've written about myself when exploring "pseudoincest." It's a taboo relationship, on the fringes of what is acceptable in polite society. Woody Allen had a relationship with his stepdaughter. He wasn't charged or arrested for that, but it was certainly taboo.
People like taboo subjects. They're fascinating and intriguing, and when relationships push the boundaries between "right" and "wrong," we're interested. That's one of the reasons Ms. Ward's book is selling so well. With a title like, "STEPBROTHER DEAREST," she knew she was pushing some hot buttons. And good for her! She found a niche and capitalized on it.
But what about all the other pseudoincest books? We can't even SAY the word "stepbrother." Not in our descriptions, and certainly not in our titles! We have been slammed again and again by Amazon for using family-relation words and have learned to be good little writers, if we want to continue to play in Amazon's pool.
But then a book like this comes out and it rankles me. Not the book itself--what I'm angry about is Amazon's double standard. Penelope Ward can write pseudoincest, put it in romance, call it "STEPBROTHER DEAREST," and make it to #2 in the store. But I can't do that, at least not in erotica. In fact, if *I* published that book - same story, same title, same cover - and I put it in romance, Amazon wouldn't just ADULT filter it, they'd block it. A book by Selena Kitt (even if it contained the exact same material) is already marked. I've been labeled. I would have to create a whole new pen name (and likely a new account) to get away with what Penelope Ward is getting away with right now.
Of course, that's like starting from zero, and Amazon knows it. I can no longer capitalize on my own brand. Amazon has tied my hands, bound and gagged me, and thrown nipple clamps on for good measure.
Ouch. The hypocrisy is stunning. And their stranglehold on the market gives us all no choice except to comply. Theirs is slowly, inevitably becoming the only game in town.
I've been in this business since 2006 and I suppose Amazon's continuing double standard shouldn't be surprising. It's about what you'd expect.
As erotica writers, we continue to change and adapt. We've all self-censored to the point of insanity. We now have all sorts of different phrases for things that are no longer allowed on Amazon. We can't say daughter anyore (or even stepdaughter) so we say, "Brat" or "Princess." We can't say stepfather, so we say "Man of the House." We can't say incest, or even psuedoincest, so we say "Taboo." We can't say cheerleader (really, we can't say cheerleader? yep...) so we say "Spirit Squad." Penelope Ward has no such restrictions. She can publish a title like STEPBROTHER DEAREST without the fear of Amazon's backlash.
I'd love to live in a world where I could do that too. But I don't. I live in a world where I get "just about what you'd expect..." Thanks, Amazon.
Let's take a best guess at what Amazon is attempting to do. I'm going to say, on the high road, what they're trying to do is "protect the children" from sensitive topic. On the low road, they're trying to protect the sales of their upstanding, vocal, moral minority by keeping the smut from their innocent, adult eyes. The irony is, Amazon's policies are pushing taboo topics OUT of erotica, into the mainstream! Instead of finding those topics only in erotica, people can now find them all over in romance. Subjects previously only tackled by erotica writers - taboo, pseudoincest, dubious/nonconsent/rape, monster sex - it's all finding its way into Romance instead of saying in Erotica. Way to go, Amazon! You've accomplished the exact opposite effect you were looking for.
So instead of "Daddy's Favorites: Anna," I have to title my work, "Little Brats: Anna." Instead of telling you it's a story about adult girl and her stepfather, I have to tiptoe around that and tell you the "new man in her mother's life" has a thing for her. It's taboo - it's pseudoincest. It's no different than STEPBROTHER DEAREST. None of these are. They're stories about taboo relationships that intrigue and titilate us. I hope you enjoy Penelope Ward's book. I hope you enjoy mine too - if you can find them. If you're looking for taboo subjects and type in "stepbrother," you'll find Ms. Ward's book. But you won't find any of mine, because I'm not allowed to use that word.
So here are my books - just $0.99 for a limited time and free if you have Kindle Unlimited. Enjoy them while you can, before Amazon changes the rules again! (Don't blink!)
Chubby Tina thinks she couldn't hate herself any more than she already does, when she overhears the women who raised her telling a friend, "We're going to be stuck with Tina forever. No guy is ever going to want her." Even though it's her freshman year in college, she vows to quit school and run away. That is, until the new man in her mum's life catches her with going out the door in the middle of the night with a suitcase. Tina finally, tearfully, confesses, and is surprised by the man's insight and perspective--and how willing he is to show her just how beautiful and loveable he thinks she really is..
Bookworm Anna is always reading something, but never what she should be! When someone close to her comes up with an ingenious incentive plan to motivate her--Anna tells him she wants something far more dirty than money.
Tomboy Becca has always been the girl who caught frogs, made mud pies and climbed trees. She's never cared for or even paid attention to boys much, unless they were tossing a ball in her direction, but when a new girl shows in up at her school during her senior year, all that changes. How does the new girl get so much attention just for wearing skimpy clothes? Becca discovers she does want the boys to notice her after all, and decides to find out how to make that happen. And what better place to start her experiment than at home?
Spoiled Christa has never wanted for anything in her life. All the boys want to date her and every girl wants to be her--but Christa wants someone she can't have. Someone very, very wrong for her. But spoiled Christa is used to getting what she wants--and she's determined to get her way this time too!
Clara lives a typical farmer's life, getting up in the morning to gather eggs and milk the cows. She knows the man who raised her can use all the help he can get, now that the woman who should have helped him raise her and take care of the farm left them both for a richer life in California with a younger man. The two of them have picked up the pieces and developed their own routine, but when Clara approaches him with a question about boys, both discover that they are far lonelier than either of them ever realized.
Sheltered Darla knows the the man who raised her has a whole new life, but she still wants to be part of it. When she takes an opportunity to ask him to prove his love for her, it surprises them both.