Category Publishing

Publishers Weekly: Indie Authors Deliver Erotica

Great article from Publisher’s Weekly, quoting yours truly, about Indie writers rocking the erotica world! Thank you, Allison Schiff, for writing such a sex-positive and erotica-positive article!

And go go erotica authors! :D

Some highlights:

“Basically, they’re hiding our books on their site and it’s becoming harder and harder to find our audience,” says Kitt, whose incest-themed books were banned from Amazon. She has since released revised Amazon-only versions to avoid the filter, including Back to the Garden, a collection of four short stories centered on incestuous encounters. The original uncut book is available for sale on other sites, including Barnes & Noble and IndieBound.

“The problem is that Amazon isn’t listening to the throng of readers who want this material,” says Kitt, who also laments Amazon’s notoriously vague content guidelines. “They’re not the vocal ones, but they vote with their dollars.”

AND

While it can’t be denied that the wild success of Fifty Shades of Grey put erotica as a genre firmly into the mainstream, it’s the self-publishing realm that keeps it thriving. “There’s no more brown paper bag; the shame of that is gone,” Coker says. “You don’t have to look across the cash register at a snotty bookseller who’s judging you, real or imagined, for whatever you’re buying—you can browse, download, and read with total freedom and anonymity.”

AND

“I write erotica for a living,” says Kitt unapologetically. “It’s a genre with a huge audience, and I’m not ashamed of what I write—and I don’t think readers should be made to feel ashamed of what they’re reading, either.”

What do you think, erotica readers? Are you tired of being sent the message by retailers that what you read is “bad” or “dirty” or “wrong?” Go leave a comment on PW!

Email retailers and TELL THEM how you feel – stand proud and get loud!

EMAIL AMAZON - that’s Amazon’s executive customer service!

EMAIL KOBO - that’s the head of the company himself! Tell him how you feel about his ban on “certain” erotica content!

EMAIL iTUNES

EMAIL GOOGLE

You can also support authors and find out details about banned books at BANNED EROTIC BOOKS.

And if you’re an erotica author, join THE EROTIC AUTHORS GUILD!

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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

 

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Revisiting the Censorship of Erotica

Hey, does anyone remember when Amazon started banning erotic fiction?

Or when Apple removed “certain” titles from their bestseller lists?

Or when Paypal stopped paying for “certain types” of erotica?

When Amazon began excluding books from its “all department” search?

When Smashwords started cracking down on “nipples and floppy bits and dangly parts?

When Apple began rejecting outright those books which contained “certain content” they didn’t agree with?

When Barnes and Noble stripped bestselling erotica books (in the top 100) of their ranks by 1,000 points?

I do.

I remember, because it makes a difference to me, to my bottom line. This is my livelihood, my living. Every time one of these corporations decides to change the rules (again) without telling publishers (again) what is or isn’t acceptable in their venue, they take food off my table. It hasn’t stopped, by the way. Just because the news isn’t covering it today, doesn’t mean it’s stopped.

Your freedom to read what you like is being eroded every day. Every time Apple rejects a book or app (they just did it again and made the news last week), every time a corporation decides, “We won’t sell that here,” it narrows your choices as a reader. Yes, corporations can sell what they like, they can make the rules on their playground.

But they should then have the cojones to tell publishers and authors what is or isn’t okay with them. Instead, we have to guess, while Amazon and Apple and Barnes and Noble “reserve the right” to arbitrarily refuse one book, but not another.

I’ll give you a recent personal example. This story of mine, Girls Only: Pool Party, has a picture of two women on the front. They’re not naked (look closer) and there are no “important parts” showing. Yet Amazon stamped my book ADULT and excluded it from the All Department search.

girlsonlypoolpartyBN


However, this book has a very similar cover, but depicts a man and a woman, rather than two women, in the same position. I made the sensible argument that either my book should be unfiltered – or Leo should be ADULT filtered.

leo


This was the response I received:

Regarding “Girls Only: Pool Party,” we have evaluated your title in comparison to “Leo” and stand by our decision not to remove the adult flag. Mature content handling is confidential and we retain discretion over what we perceive as “adult” titles.

Really, Amazon?

I responded, letting them know that I was sure the GBLT community would like to know that they are censoring gay and lesbian fiction but allowing heterosexual fiction to remain in the all department search. In fact, I was sure that there were many reporters and journalists who would be interested in this fact as well, especially after Apple’s publicity last week in banning an app for gay/lesbian content, and I happened to know several of them personally, because they interviewed me during the Paypal fiasco…

Amazon took the filter off my book.

But most authors don’t have the same ‘clout’ that I do, or the means to back up an “I’m going to the press with this!” statement.

There is, however, power in numbers. It’s one of the reasons I developed Excessica as a publishing co-op. There’s always more power in numbers.

So with that in mind – if you have a book that’s been filtered or banned, a book you’ve been told by some corporation that it isn’t “acceptable” to them, please POST IT HERE.

BANNED EROTICA EBOOKS is a Facebook page dedicated to intellectual freedom, for authors and readers alike. Please share it with your friends, go “like” it on Facebook. Support those vendors who refuse to ban books, and tell those corporations who are limiting your choices that you don’t appreciate it!

Just because you haven’t heard about corporate censorship lately, doesn’t mean it’s gone away. In fact, the more silent we are about it, the more they will continue to do it–and get away with it.

Don’t sit back and ignore it. It’s not going away. Do something, even if it’s just “liking” the Facebook page to send the message to corporations: “We want to the freedom to read what we like!”

Make sure they get that message – loud and clear.



Selena Kitt

Erotic Fiction You Won’t Forget

www.selenakitt.com

LATEST RELEASE: Under Mr. Nolan’s Bed Sequel: Confession

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Predictions for Erotica in 2013

2012The world didn’t end on December 21. *gasp* I guess I have to actually start paying on all those “No Payment until 2013″ furniture loans I took out in 2011! *sigh*

The good news is that no 2012 Apocalypse means there will be a 2013 to look forward to writing in (well, unless we all fall off the fiscal cliff of doom…)

So since I still have my tinfoil hat around, I thought I’d put it on and predict the future of the erotica ebook market in 2013:

1. Translations
I think translations are going to be big in 2013. Some moved very early into the German market (which is currently the largest and is growing by leaps and bounds) but as Amazon adds more International stores and Kobo (who focuses so much on International sales) grows, we’ll see more and more erotica writers looking for people to translate their works to gain foreign sales.

2. Audio
This is another big market for 2013. Now that Audible offers direct access for authors through ACX, we’ll see more and more erotic versions of novels, and even shorter works, being translated into audio.

3. Longer Works and the Return of Erotic Romance
This has already been happening, of course, and you know this if you’ve watched the erotica bestseller lists changing over time. Erotica readers will still enjoy shorts now and again, but they’re going to start looking for longer, more sustainable stuff as time goes on.

4. Tamer Covers
This goes with the former. I hate to say “I told you so,” but when the whole Paypal debacle happened, I warned erotica writers that the over-the-top titles and covers would only go so far for the attention-grab of readers—and would likely attract the wrong kind of attention eventually. Now the trend has shifted into tamer covers, ala 50 Shades of Gray. I think covers will re-cover somewhat this year, and we’ll see less plain ties and feathers and candles and more people, but less-skin is definitely in this year!

5. Growing Niche Markets
Niche markets are going to grow this year. BDSM is an obvious one, but other niche markets will find more readers, as the ebook market grows. Topics like lesbian erotica, BBW, cuckold, group sex, piercings/tattoos and furries are ripe and ready for a breakout audience.

6. Erotica Bookstore Breakout
Someone is going to create it. I don’t know where or how, but I’m sure that an erotic-focused bookstore is going to breakout this year. Maybe more than one. Competition is a good thing!

7. Erotica Serials
Erotica serials are going to grow in popularity, but I have a feeling readers are going to start demanding more story and length in their serials though. I think the era of 5K $2.99 serial pieces is past.

8. Paranormals
These somehow never lose their popularity, and I think 2013 is going to manage to gain some new paranormal ground. I predict some new supernatural sexy creatures this year!

9. Movie Crossovers
Not full “adult” movies (i.e. porn!) but erotic adaptations of books into movies. Yes, ala 50 Shades of Gray (I’m still wondering how they’re going to make that one… not much plot, honestly!) We’ll see some NC-17 rated movies out in 2013, I think!

10. Growing Audience—Fewer Writers
Readers are going to continue to look for erotica, but I think the amount of writers dabbling in erotica is going to wane. Those looking to cash in on the gold rush and recreate the boom of 2012 may find sales less satisfactory than they hoped and look for other revenue streams. I predict the writers who love the genre and are serious about it will prevail, and readers will find and focus on the writers who give them what they’re looking for—good writing, good stories, and hot sex!



Selena Kitt

Erotic Fiction You Won’t Forget

www.selenakitt.com

LATEST RELEASE: TABOO: THE COLLECTION

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To Agent or not to Agent

Just when you think you know what’s going to happen in the publishing industry, everything turns upside down again. I spent the summer recuperating from a back injury, and when I came back to the world of the Internet I found something rather stunning had happened. My genre (erotica and erotic romance) had exploded. Apparently, the flood of erotica in the market went crazy after the success of Fifty Shades of Grey. And what truly amused me was that writers who previously shunned the idea of writing “that stuff” were now invading the erotica genre like panhandlers looking for sparkly stuff in the early days of the California gold rush.

Of course, there’s no recreating the organic success of something like Fifty Shades of Grey. It’s like trying to recreate Harry Potter, Twilight or The Hunger Games. Yes, wizard, vampire and post-apocalyptic fiction can and has ridden the coat tails of such bestsellers. But you can’t recreate the first, because the original had an x-factor that the later copycats couldn’t capture. It’s like cloning – you can get a facsimile, but it’s never going to be the same.

That said, apparently my name has been bandied about this summer, after the popularity of the James’ series, because I’ve had not one, not two, but… well actually it’s now more than three, agents approach me in the past month or so with the promise of, “You could be the next EL James!” First of all, you’re assuming I want to be the next EL James. You’re also assuming I want to be traditionally published. Two pretty big assumptions.

I’m not sure I want to do either. Do I really want to open that door? Most of the agents have approached with the caveat: “I know you’re doing well on your own…” so at least they know the score. I’ve got 100 titles out there with my name on them and I’m pretty close to a million ebooks sold (if I haven’t passed it officially already… I still have to run the numbers) in the past two years. “Pretty well” is a bit of an understatement, I think.

I always said, “I’m glad I write erotica, because no agent is ever going to approach me with a ‘too good to turn down’ offer from traditional publishing.” I was so sure of this fact, especially given that everyone from Amazon to Apple to Paypal wanted to get rid of the stuff.

Then Fifty Shades of Grey became a runaway bestselling series.

Derp.

Now I’ve got a decision to make. To agent, or not to agent? I know all the arguments for and against. I think we all do. But self-published erotica and erotic romance authors are heading toward traditional publishers in droves. Sara Fawkes recently signed with Amanda Hocking’s agent and he got her a book deal with St. Martin’s. Maya Banks just signed a 7-figure deal with Penguin for a three book series.

Publishers are now banking on erotic romance.

Whhhhaaat!? Really!? Have I entered the Twilight Zone?

I’m leery, I admit. I’ve heard so many horror stories about traditional publishing from authors who have jumped ship to self-publish. But there are authors (like EL James or Amanda Hocking) who have decided to go the other way, from self-publishing to traditional, and they’ve had good success.

The fact is, I have a three-book series based on Under Mr. Nolan’s Bed waiting in the wings. It was a huge seller for me in the days before Amazon decided to ban “certain types” of fiction, and although its ranks have never recovered there, it’s also the book that spurred people to run over to Barnes and Noble to buy it and clock in record sales (over $100,000 in a month!) last year. It’s also my “most requested” book in terms of a sequel. It’s different while still tapping into the erotic romance genre, it’s controversial, it’s already got an enormous following of readers who want to read a sequel and it’s hot–in short, it has huge potential.

Now I have to decide… do I want to self-publish it? Or give it to an agent?

What would you do?



 

 

 

 

Selena Kitt

Erotic Fiction You Won’t Forget

www.selenakitt.com

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Erotica Gravy Train

My brother-in-law says he wants to write an erotic book.

What he really means is: I want to get rich.

Everyone is talking about erotica lately. The words “mommy-porn” are on everyone’s lips, from Dr. Phil to Dr. Oz to the ladies of The View. E.L. James’ “Shades” series has pushed erotica and erotic romance into the mainstream spotlight. Suddenly my “smut writing” isn’t such a shameful secret the family doesn’t want to talk about–oh no, not anymore–now it’s a lucrative career choice!

Everyone wants to ride that erotica gravy train, bay-bee!

My brother-in-law took a look at my current success in the genre and decided that he, too, could write about inserting tab A into slot B and make a million dollars.

And he’s not the only one.

I get a lot of letters asking me what amounts to: “How do I get rich writing erotica?”

It’s a hard question to answer, because I didn’t set out to make a million dollars writing about sex. I didn’t even set out to make a million dollars as a writer. All I wanted to do was find a larger audience for my year’s worth of work at Literotica.

Maybe I’m a cynic, but I have a kind of “if you build it, they will come” philosophy when it comes to this business. There is no magic wand, no secret formula for success. You have to be passionate about and love what you do, whatever it is, whether that’s being a writer or being a chef or working in advertising. No one ever gets rich inserting Tab A into Slot B–or writing about it, for that matter.

If it were that simple, we’d all be doing it, right?

Writing about sex may sound simple, but it isn’t. Writing itself probably looks easy-peasy from the outside. You sit at a laptop and peck away on the keyboard until you have enough words on the screen. Taa daa, you’re a writer! Ask the thousands of people who fail to finish Nanowrimo every year how easy it is to write a novel, to commit to writing every single day, or even just five days a week.

I happen to love writing. I also love sex. And I have a very vivid imagination. That has served to give me a modicum of success in the erotica and erotic romance genre. I’m no E.L. James, but I’m making a very good living writing about similar topics (although I tend to push things to far edgier places!) and the market for it seems to be widening.

So if you are a writer who is looking to get on the erotica gravy-train and want to know if you can make a living doing it, my answer would be a hesitant and conditional “yes”–if you’re looking for short-term gain and not long-term stability.

Right now, erotica sells, and it sells well. There are many well-known authors out there who have opted to write erotica under a pen name who are doing quite well pumping out several 2-3K shorts a week, selling them for $2.99, and in a very minimal amount of time, making enough money to quit their day jobs.

But the question is, what is erotica’s future? We have to remember that self-publishing is in its infancy, and while erotica and erotic romance have absolutely and unquestionably driven the sales of Kindles and Nooks everywhere, there is no telling how stable this genre is going to be in the future. We only have to look at how often this genre has been attacked, from Amazon pulling books from their shelves, Apple removing the genre from their bestseller lists, to Paypal refusing to pay for it, to see that job-stability is an issue for erotica writers.

My feeling is that this “gold-rush” – both in self-publishing and in erotica writing – is going to end, at least as we know it. Like those who never finished Nanowrimo, there will be writers who wanted to jump on the erotica gravy train who put out a few stories, made a few sales, and gave it up because they didn’t make a million in their first few months. Or, like my brother-in-law, they’ll talk a lot about wanting to write it so they can get rich too…but they never will.

And yes, there will be writers who make money at it, who take advantage of the “gold-rush” and pay off their student loans, their credit card debt, maybe even their mortgages. And good for them!

But in the end, the glut of work being rushed onto Amazon’s virtual shelves on a daily basis will end up settling to the bottom. Big publishing has known for a long time that the bell-curve doesn’t apply to books–which is why they invest all their money into those books at the top they think will sell best. They know that most books, whether they’re self-or-traditionally published, only get minimally read.

The shine is going to wear off the Kindles and the Nooks. Readers are already getting more discerning about what they’re willing to download. I’ve seen threads on forums where readers have asked, “How do I avoid downloading ANY self-published work ever again?” because they’ve been burned by the unedited, poorly written stuff that people are putting out there.

The fact is that this erotica “gold-rush” thing is going to end. This genre isn’t a magic bullet. And trust me when I say I’m not looking to discourage the competition. As a publisher at eXcessica, I’ve done more to help writers succeed in this genre, I think, than most. What I’m trying to discourage is the “get-rich-quick” mentality that breeds poorly written and edited stories and books–and the heartache and disillusionment that comes with it, when authors realize they’re not making the money they wanted to.

The reality is that writing isn’t easy, whether you’re writing erotica or thrillers or children’s books. Writers work hard (and erotica writers may even work harder… every pun intended!) and, as in any profession, the best ones make it look easy. I always know someone is following their calling when, watching them do what they love to do and are clearly very good at, I find myself wanting to do it too. So it’s always a compliment to me when someone says, “Wow, you make that look easy, I want to do what you do!” But I also feel a little like Simon Cowell on American Idol – I want to keep it real. I want to encourage those who are good at it, while redirecting others toward a path that may be more suited to their talents. So the whole, “How can I get rich doing what you do?” question also rankles me because it doesn’t put the focus on the writing, where it should be, but rather on the money.

When it comes down to it, erotica is like any other genre. Writing about sex might seem titillating, but in the end, those books and stories that stand the test of time will be those written by authors who loved what they were writing about, and who conveyed that to their readers.The writing that will abide will have been written by authors who didn’t worry about bottom-lines and time-investment ratios, but rather let the story lead and the characters tell their tale.

As for whether my writing will be among those?

Only time will tell!

Selena Kitt

Erotic Fiction You Won’t Forget

www.selenakitt.com

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Ch-Ch-Ch Changes!

I met another writer today. It’s funny how many people reveal that they are would-be authors, once I tell them that I write for a living!

This particular writer is a financial planner by day (which was the service we were seeking from her) but a young-adult fiction writer by night. When she heard my tale of publishing success and I talked to her more about self-publishing as opposed to the query-go-round of legacy publishing, she began to really understand the advantages. And of course, the idea that she might be able to publish her already-finished first book in her trilogy RIGHT NOW was thrilling. I sent her over to the Newbie’s Guide (which I always do with aspiring writers who are thinking about self-publishing – why try to reinvent the wheel?) and we moved on from talking ebooks to discussing finances. Apparently, my husband and I have official labels in the finance world. We’re called “young accumulators.” I was thrilled we got to be “young.” My husband was much happier with the “accumulator” part of the equation!

After we left her office, I got to thinking about my initial experiences with ebooks and ebook publishing and ereaders. When my first ebook was published in 2006, I wasn’t thinking of epublishing. I didn’t consider ebooks “real books.” And small ebook publishers were barely a step up from vanity presses, as far as I was concerned. I just saw that a small epublisher was having a contest for entries. Winners would recieve $100 and a publishing contract. Three runners-up would receive a publishing contract, but no cash. Me, I was looking to win the cash. I didn’t. But I did win a contract.

I was reluctant. But finally, I decided – why not? What could it hurt? These were the days before online ebook self-publishing was really viable. There was no Kindle Publishing Direct. There was no Barnes and Noble PubIt. So I signed a contract with the now-defunct StarDust Press to publish my story, Christmas Stalking. They gave me 35% profit and kept 75%. And that was pretty good, considering a legacy publishing deal would only give you about 17%, and they wouldn’t publish anything as short as 17,000 words anyway, except in an anthology.

I learned a lot at that little publisher. I dealt with editors (she was great, and I was insufferable) and cover artists (not so great – vector drawing covers, ugh!) I learned about marketing on blogs and in chat rooms and on Yahoo groups. I learned that there was already a large network of romance and erotic romance readers who had been reading on ereaders for years. Really, years! They liked to read their fiction anonymously and electronically. Especially the erotic romance, because no one could see the covers or ask what they were reading! It was like a whole little underground network that I’d never known existed.

Maybe I’d misjudged this ebook thing? Maybe ereaders really were going to be the wave of the future?

Little did I know!

It’s funny to me to look back now at my judgments and attitudes. I accepted the publishing contract, but I didn’t tell anyone. I mean, I wasn’t really published. Ebooks weren’t real books! Then Kindle came along, and even though my books were now all over the place, including on Amazon through their Mobi site (back then, Amazon only offered publishers 35% profit, not the 70% they give to authors now, believe it or not) I still didn’t consider ebooks as real books.

It cracks me up that Fictionwise (before Amazon opened their self-publishing department) actually cancelled our account and deleted all of Excessica’s books because they’d found out that, as an author co-op, we had done all our own editing and cover art! *gasp* They were simply horrified by this fact. Horrified enough to actually just delete us! I had to go to bat and convince them that we were a business, an LLC, just like they were, and that I didn’t publish “just anything” and that we did have editors and cover artists on staff (never mind that they happened to be co-op volunteers… shhhh!) They finally reinstated our account.

I can laugh about that now. But back then, it was a big deal. Fictionwise was the largest ebook retailer at the time, and here they were saying “NO!” to self-publishing. Of course, that was before Amazon got into the game and blew them out of the water.

It was all so new, so strange, such uncharted territory. The rules in ebook publishing seemed to change every few months. I just continued to plug along, writing and (self) publishing under the umbrella of our little co-op at Excessica. But I still didn’t own an ereader. That’s right. I was making $10,000 a month via ebooks, but I’d never actually read one!

Then my husband decided we had to have a Kindle. I was reluctant. I liked paper books. I liked my hardcover collectibles. Here I was, an ebook author making my primary living as an ebook author–and I was still hesitant to actually own an ereader! How crazy is that?

But once I got my hands on my Kindle, I never looked back. I’ve now officially been assimilated. I write ebooks, and use print-on-demand services to provide them as paperbacks. I consider ebooks as “real” books now. I even primarily read ebooks as opposed to dead-tree books. In fact, I haven’t purchased a paper book in over a year, unless it was something out-of-print I couldn’t get on my Kindle. (And I get really, really cranky when that happens!)

And as my own attitudes changed, I watched the culture shift. Writers like JA Konrath, who had once denounced epublishing, were jumping on that wagon with both feet and huge backlists, speeding toward a six-or-seven figure income. I started seeing people reading Kindles in coffee shops and at the gym. When I got my first ereader, I got asked about it all the time when I was reading in public. “Is that one of those new Kindle things?” People were interested, curious.

Now, people glance at my ereader and then go on with their business. It’s commonplace. They know what it is. They probably own one or know someone who does.

And all of this has happened in a very short span of time. When I published my first ebook five years ago, they were less than 1% of the market. (Although the market did exist!) Now, the ebook market is about 25% of total book sales. Granted, the idea of self-publishing and ebooks hasn’t fully entered the collective consciousness… not quite yet. As my conversation with my financial-planner/would-be author can attest.

But it’s coming. Ch-ch-changes!

Back in 2006, I couldn’t have predicted where the epublishing market would be today. I never thought I would e-publish. I didn’t really believe that ebooks would become popular. And there was no way I was going to switch to an ereader over paperbacks! Yet here I am, making a (very, very comfortable) living writing ebooks. Self-publishing them. And I read almost exclusively on an ereader myself.

The prejudice against self-publishing is going to fade. Trust me – my own prejudices were quite strong, and they have all but disappeared. The world of publishing is going to look very different five, ten years from now. I feel as if I got into the game at a strange time, like being caught between the years of Betamax and VHS. Or MySpace and FaceBook. There are bigger things coming, I think. Bigger, even, than Amazon. I don’t know what they’ll be.

But hang on – it’s going to be one hell of a ride, folks!

Selena Kitt

Erotic Fiction You Won’t Forget

www.selenakitt.com

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Corporate Bullies

The blogosphere exploded last month when Paypal started threatening account holders who published “extreme” erotic fiction – things like incest, pseudoincest, rape for titillation and bestiality. Our little publishing company, Excessica, was contacted directly by Paypal. Mark Coker from Smashwords was too. He fought the good fight, got lots of bloggers and tweeters on board, we all made a great big stink, and lo and behold… The good guys won! Might doesn’t always equal right! Paypal reversed their decision!

Or… did they?

I received an email recently from Stuart, who runs A1 Adult Ebooks. They’ve always been willing to carry content that’s a little more extreme than most, so Stuart is very familiar with credit card processors and their particulars when it comes to sex. He heard the news about Paypal and Mastercard and Visa, and he rejoiced. Finally! He was going to be able to sell all those books the CC processing companies previously refused to pay for!

Except when Stuart contacted Paypal, the representative told him that, no, there had been no recent change in their policy in regards to adult erotic fiction. Incest, according to them, was still banned. He then contacted his credit card processors, and both of them agreed – that “icky” stuff was still not allowed. Just for chucks and giggles, I contacted Paypal as well, and received the same response from the CS rep – still banned. Then I called the guy I’d talked to before – the one who could get a CC processing account for practically anyone – and he, too, was aware of no changes in policy. Still banned.

Now, this could be the case of the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. They’re all large companies, so it may take a little time for the word to filter down to the customer service department. That’s giving them all the benefit of the doubt. Maybe Stuart and I are asking too much too soon. I hope so.

But what concerns me is that the credit card processors told me “NO!” before all of this went down with Paypal. And they’re still telling me “NO!” afterward. And it’s not just me–because Stuart is getting the same answers. And while Visa and Mastercard came forward and said they’ve never had policies or limits against selling erotic fiction of any sort… I was still getting processors telling me no, for very specific reasons (i.e. rape and incest).

So if the right hand didn’t know what the left hand was doing then… why would that change now? And what good is a policy change, if the actual policy doesn’t ever go into effect?

I feel a little like we’ve been unsegregated… on paper. But I still have to sit at the back of the bus.

I truly hope that’s not what’s happening. But what’s going on at Amazon right now gives me pause and makes me wonder. Can it all just be a coincidence? Yes, I sound like a crazy conspiracy theorist sometimes. But just because you’re paranoid…

Oh, what’s been happening at Amazon?

Well, for the past few months, Amazon has been filtering more and more erotica titles out of their main search page. This ADULT filter makes books unsearchable from the main/All Department Search page.Which makes some sort of sense – a kid looking for “What to Expect Babysitters Handbook” doesn’t want to see my “Babysitting the Baumgartners,” right? And their parents definitely don’t want them seeing it. Heck, I don’t want them seeing it!

And they both come up in the main search. The handbook is first, my book is second. So it makes sense to filter adult titles from the main page, okay, I get that.

The problem is that this “filter” is being applied without any rhyme or reason. It’s totally arbitrary. For example, my Babysitting the Baumgartners isn’t filtered. The one with the nearly-naked bum on the cover and “babysitting” in the title. But my Modern Wicked Fairy Tales Vol 2 is filtered. That cover doesn’t even have people on it! And strangely, Modern Wicked Fairy Tales Vol 1 and Modern Wicked Fairy Tales The Complete Collection remain (as of this writing) unfiltered.

If you want to know if your book is being filtered, click HERE and put in your title. If you see a red ADULT next to your book – it’s being filtered. If you see NOT ADULT next to your title, that means it was previously filtered and has been, for some reason, unfiltered.

What does Amazon say about it? As with the incest banning, Amazon will only refer to their so-vague-as-to-be-useless terms of service instead of being clear and transparent. So far, they won’t tell us why certain content is filtered, or what criteria have to be met to keep it from being filtered. Previously, it’s been nudity on covers – understandable. But my Modern Wicked Fairy Tale series has no people on the cover, so that’s clearly not all the criteria they’re using. But who know what it is? Because they’re not talking.

I know Amazon doesn’t want to be targeted as “censors,” and go through what Paypal just did. They’d like to save face, I’m sure. So they’re doing all of this secretly and sporadically and arbitrarily. And then denying it. Otherwise it would be clear, and we could call them on it. We certainly can’t have that!

So what’s the big deal about being “filtered” out of the main search?

Being filtered is a sales-killer. Because not only are you removed from the main page search and relegated only to Kindle Books search – your filtered book will now stop appearing with any UNfiltered books, in terms of recommended reads or also-boughts. Your filtered book also won’t appear on any “hot new release” lists either. Your filtered book is now wrapped in plain brown paper and sold at the back of the store.

Which is where porn belongs, you say! Well fine. But then why aren’t ALL of them back there? I won’t name names here and put out titles – don’t want to target anyone unnecessarily when Amazon is clearly going on a sniper hunt – but there are plenty of adult titles that have gone “unfiltered” that should be wrapped in brown paper and sold at the back of the store, if that’s what they’re going to do.

I’ve never had a problem with Amazon selling what they want to sell, how they want to sell it. I’ve always had a problem with their lack of CONSISTENCY and TRANSPARENCY. Even now, years after they’ve banned incest books from their site, erotic incest is still available on Amazon. They’re still publishing it. Some of it has remained. For years. Amazon just targeted the most visible and obvious titles.

Amazon knows its biggest strength — and weapon — is its search engine, algorithms and rankings/ratings system. They’re using it now, hammering erotica writers right out of the top lists. And they’re trying to do it without anyone (who matters) catching wind of what’s happening.

Is this a form of censorship? Oh boy, here we go again. You know what, I don’t care what you call it. It’s unfair, any way you look at it. If you’re going to have a policy, apply it–clearly, consistently, and fairly. It’s very simple.

You you hear that Amazon?

Do you hear that Paypal?

Do you hear that Visa and Mastercard?

Stop being so afraid of sex that you can’t even talk about it. You’re perfectly willing to profit from it, but you don’t want to make policies about it? Ridiculous. And stupid. It’s bad business. There isn’t anyone in this equation, from reader to writer to customer (in or out of the erotica genre) that doesn’t want you to be clear about your policies!

Instead, Paypal pretends to have a policy change – but really doesn’t. Visa and Mastercard claim they’ve sold this stuff all along, no problem – but they lied. Amazon claims they can “filter” whatever they want, whatever they want, willy nilly, without any consistency or fairness.

If these corporations want to be treated like citizens, then they should stand up and be a man about it, instead of slinking around behind the scenes, only making a statement when they’re forced to, and then going back on their word. They’re wussies. And they’re bullies.

And I really hope they prove me wrong.
Selena Kitt

Erotic Fiction You Won’t Forget

www.selenakitt.com

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Slippery Slope Part 2: Why Frogs Boil

“The difference between pornography and erotica is time…” -author unknown

When Amazon started banning erotic incest fiction in 2010, one of the things I heard again and again was, “So what? It’s not censorship. Amazon is a private corporation and they have a right to sell whatever they want. They’re not saying these books aren’t allowed to exist – just that they don’t want to sell them. So go buy them somewhere else.”

I also heard a lot of: “This is not censorship.” And: “This is not a free speech issue.”

Now that Paypal has started to target the erotic ebook market, I’m hearing much of the same thing. “Paypal is a private corporation. They have a right to accept what they want. They’re not saying these books aren’t allowed to exist – just that they don’t want to pay for them. So go buy them somewhere else.”

Okay. But where? Because now that Amazon has banned erotic incest FICTION from its site, and Paypal has refused to pay for erotic incest FICTION (and have taken it further too include “pseudo-incest” FICTION – these are words on paper folks, totally made up!) …where is a reader supposed to go read it?

No, this isn’t government censorship. No, this is not a constitutional “free speech” violation.

But it is a form of corporate censorship, and it is a violation of your personal freedom.

Big corporations everywhere are eliminating your choices.They’re doing it quietly with no notice or warning to the public at large. They are starting at the fringe and working their way inward, eliminating the things they can get away with, one at a time.

And like the frog in the pot of boiling water, we sit oblivious until it’s too late.

Oh I know, I’m Chicken Little, the sky is falling, blah blah blah. There’s no such thing as a slippery slope, you say! Slippery slopes are a logical fallacy!

Yes, that is so. But all fallacies can be true sometimes. That’s why they sound so logical to begin with! Like stereotypes, if they didn’t have some truth in them, they wouldn’t exist. Stereotypes are so defined because they’re not always true. (Some Asian people are good at math, but that doesn’t make the stereotype true). The slippery slope is a fallacy only because it doesn’t have to be true,or isn’t always true.

It doesn’t mean it isn’t true…sometimes.

And the problem therein is that you never know when you’re standing on a slippery slope—or sitting in a pot of boiling water—until it’s too late.

While this may not technically be censorship, that doesn’t mean that a decision like Amazon’s, and now Paypal’s, doesn’t have a stifling effect on free speech. It does. Paypal and Amazon are giants in their particular industry. If they are starting to deem things “unacceptable” (and please remember this is in the realm of fiction!)it amounts to de facto censorship, even if it doesn’t technically violate the first amendment.

Cen·sor [sen-ser]noun:

any person who supervises the manners or morality of others.

Amazon has the right to remove books. Paypal has the right not to pay for them. But we don’t have to like it. And you have to start wondering about the slippery slope again. No, this may not be one. But how would we know?

I could be like WalMart’s decision to refuse to sell adult-only video games in its stores. That effectively eliminated any chance of explicit video games making it into the U.S. market. No, it wasn’t a violation of the first amendment, but one corporation had a large enough level of influence to eliminate your choice. That’s disturbing.

In 2007, Verizon attempted to block the abortion rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America from using their text messaging services to speak to their supporters. Verizon, like Paypal, fell back on a “policy.” They had a right to enforce a policy that didn’t allow their customers to use their service to communicate “controversial” or “unsavory” messages.

That’s very disturbing.

And of course, most recently, the Susan G. Koman Foundation cut off funding to Planned Parenthood, basing its decision on a “policy change.”

If corporations have more power than government (and you can argue this if you like, but the evidence is pretty obvious, given the state of things) and they can make decisions like this based entirely in “policies” alone, often made without regard to public safety or opinion, without a checks and balances, without regulation, without any way for the public to weigh in… really, without anything except an eye on the bottom line. Where does that leave you, the consumer?

Take a look at what’s happened with Homeland Security since 9/11, at how many freedoms have been taken away from the American people in the name of protecting our safety. Just recently, Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act. When do you think Americans will get that freedom back? When the war on terror is “over?” When everyone in America is “safe?” When will that be exactly?

It’s easy to take away someone’s freedom. A stroke of a pen. A policy change. It is far, far more difficult to get that freedom back.

Why do you think there have been so few “obscenity” cases in the US courts in recent years? Because corporate America has taken over the role of censor. Money talks and now corporations censor. They hold the purse strings and they have the control.

And Amazon has that kind of power. So does Paypal.

When a giant retailer like Amazon eliminates something from their store or when the largest online payment system in the world (Paypal) decides they don’t want to pay for something, it suddenly becomes less profitable to produce those “offensive” products at all. Now it doesn’t just effect people who shop at Amazon or use Paypal.

Now the decision of one corporation has reshaped the entire (arguably) free market.

These huge corporations have now limited your choices. And you probably didn’t even know it.

Censorship is about judging something – a book, a movie, a TV show – on content. Yes, it’s legal. It’s not against the first amendment. But customers don’t like it.

And we don’t have to stand for it either.

Corporations are exerting greater and greater control over society, and without regulation, the only force that could obligate them to be consistent is the market. A business doesn’t have a moral compass. Its bottom line is the almighty dollar alone. Companies can currently create whatever ambiguous rules and policies they want and apply them as arbitrarily as they want.

Without a backlash in the marketplace – why wouldn’t they?

Because the truth is, while the constitution protects free speech, corporations control it. They say what’s allowed and what isn’t. They tell you what you can read, what you can purchase, what you can think. But we don’t notice. We’re the frogs in the water.

Remember when Amazon decided to remove WikiLeaks? That happened just before they decided to remove erotic incest from their site.Apparently, both of them are bad for us. Oh, and don’t forget, Visa, Mastercard and Paypal decided to stop facilitating donations to WikiLeaks as well, right around the same time. Coincidence? Hmm…

Corporations continue to have a huge influence over what we can or can’t access. Yes, the constitution limits government. They have to go through the legal system if they want to limit our access to material. But corporations aren’t bound by that document. Lucky them. Too bad for us.

They can censor speech without warning and without penalty.And they can do it secretly, without your knowledge. How would you know, after all?

The only recourse a consumer has today is a boycott. It’s a consumer’s right – no, duty – to tell a corporation when they think they’ve gone too far, because every corporation needs you, the consumer, to make the money they so covet. So yes, you have a duty, as a consumer, to stand up – not just for yourself,but for your neighbor as well.

Even if you don’t like his taste in music,literature or movies.

Yes, even if you personally find it reprehensible, or indefensible.

Because who do you think is reading this “unacceptable” material? Perverts? Psychos? Pedophiles?

No. For the most part, they’re your neighbors. The same ones who watch “Hostel” (labeled by some as “torture porn”) and read “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.” (Rape themes anyone?) They aren’t people who go around doing illegal things – at least not anymore than anyone else in the rest of the world.

But if you won’t stand up for your neighbor’s freedom, how can you expect him to stand up for yours?

If public consensus is any indication, half of the people are “not caring” themselves toward an Orwellian world for their grandchildren that they themselves might not even recognize.

And the other half are cheering the elimination of such “icky” and “distasteful” subjects.

Neither of them realize they could very well be standing on a slippery slope. Or sitting in a pot of boiling water with the temperature on the rise.

And they all continue not to notice.

Because as Lucas captured so perfectly, whether it’s giant corporations or evil emperors deciding what is best for the safety and security of society as a whole:

“This is how liberty dies. With thunderous applause.”

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Slippery Slope: Erotica Censorship

Well, the morality police are at it again. And this time, it’s scarier.

First, Amazon started banning books from their site. They backed down on their anti-censorship stance and removed the Ped0phile Guide. Then they went after books that contained incest, bestiality and rape.

After the dust settled, it was clear that, while biological incest was a no-no, Amazon would, however, allow sex between of-age adults who were related to one another in a non-biological manner–step-relations or adopted relations. Suddenly the top 100 in the Erotica category on Amazon exploded with “pseudo-incest” titles. And the covers were far more revealing than anything the category had previously carried. Titles like “Daddy Licks My Pussy” became commonplace. The line between “erotica” and “porn” had blurred even further.

Most (if not all) of these titles were written and published by “Indie” authors, who were distributing them not only through Amazon, but through other self-publishing platforms as well–Barnes and Noble, Apple, Bookstrand, All Romance Ebooks. The latter had even taken a stance against the “porn-like” covers and refused to allow them on their new releases front page, especially if they contained content relating to “pseudo-incest” and what they called “barely-legal” sex.

(I assume this is sex between an older person and someone in the age-range of 18-19. Of course, it’s interesting to note that they didn’t seem to object to the plethora of “Twink” m/m titles on their site–18-19 year old males having sex with older men. No, their objection seemed entirely against 18-19 females having sex with older men).

Soon after All Romance Ebooks had imposed these restrictions, and Bookstrand had taken Indie erotica authors off their front page as well, Bookstrand sent out an email to all of its publishers. This is from that email:

We were informed by PayPal, without notice, and by our credit card processing company, that we are required to remove all titles at BookStrand.com with content containing incest, pseudo incest, rape, and bestiality, effective immediately.

We request that you immediately log into your account and unpublish all titles that contain the restricted content.  If you have uploaded titles containing restricted content and do not unpublish these titles as we are requesting, we will deactivate your entire publisher account, which will remove all your titles from sale.

We urge you to log into your account and remove these titles as soon as possible to prevent your account from being deactivated today.

If your account is deactivated, it may or may not be reinstated in the future. After deactivation, requests for reinstatement will require us to go through your catalog, which may take several weeks or longer for us to process.

Note that they list not only “incest” but “pseudo-incest” as well. Now, while “incest” is illegal in most states, “pseudo-incest” is not. (Woody Allen, anyone?) Having sex with a step-relation or an adopted relative is just… sex. It might seem creepy or weird, but it isn’t illegal.

Now they’re not just targeting illegal acts (this is in fiction mind you) now they’re targeting acts that may simply just be “morally objectionable.” Where else do they do this? Are they targeting authors who write about serial killers?

Of course, erotica writers everywhere were up in arms. How could they do this? Why? A petition even cropped up, and it has some excellent points, if you’d like to go sign it:

Earlier this week, PayPal told Bookstrand, a major distributor of erotic romance and other erotic content on the Internet, that if certain titles containing “objectionable” material were not pulled from Bookstrand’s shelves, Bookstrand’s PayPal account would be shut down and the funds within confiscated.

PayPal has a long track record of suspending, freezing, and terminating customer accounts on the thinnest of justifications, but this is going too far. By telling Bookstrand what books they can and cannot sell using PayPal services, they are also telling readers they don’t have the right to read what they wish and telling authors that PayPal has the right to take away their freedom of speech and the press.

If you use the Internet to find new reading material, if you use PayPal, and/or if you support the rights of authors and readers to have the widest possible selection of topics to read and write about, please sign this petition and let PayPal know that censorship, no matter what form it takes or how it is implemented, is not acceptable. Readers, publishers, storefronts and authors have the right to choose what books are sold and bought.

Don’t leave it up to PayPal to choose how you spend your money or where.

The fact is, and we all know it–sex and porn make the Internet go-round. It’s a huge industry, even if there is a vocal minority who doesn’t like it. People like their porn, and they want access to it. So why would Paypal refuse to sell something that wasn’t even illegal in any state in the U.S.?

I got my chance to ask that question, because a few days after the BookStrand debacle, Excessica received a phone call from Paypal. THE phone call. And then came the follow-up letter:

After a recent review of your account activity, it has been determined that you are in violation of PayPal’s Acceptable Use Policy… In order to comply with our Acceptable Use Policy and avoid the limitation of your account, you will need to:

- Remove those items from http://www.excessica.com that violate PayPal’s Acceptable Use Policy. Example/s:  all ebooks containing themes of rape and incest.

Under the Acceptable Use Policy, PayPal may not be used to send or receive payments for certain sexually oriented materials or services or for items that could be considered obscene.

When I asked if “pseudo-incest” was included (since that was mostly all we had on the site) the representative confirmed that yes, that would have to be removed. “What about BDSM?” I asked–a category full of dubious consent. “That would have to be removed as well.”

That’s right–they weren’t just targeting illegal acts between non-consenting adults. Now they were targeting legal sex between consenting adults.

When I asked her why they were doing this, I received no answer except, “We’ve always had this policy.” Perhaps, but it seems that they weren’t previously enforcing it very seriously. Why now?

The only answer I received from Paypal was silence.

So I started to search for alternatives to Paypal. Not an easy task, I might add. Like Amazon, they are a veritable monopoly in their field. At least they graciously (ha) gave us thirty days to comply, after which the account would be frozen or cancelled. So I had some time. What I discovered was that most merchant-services (i.e. companies that allow you to use Visa and MasterCard on their site) which allow adult products charge a $5000 up-front fee to use their service. Then, they take exorbitant percentages from each transaction. Some 5%, some 14%, some as high as 25%.

Now it was starting to make more sense. The credit card companies charge higher fees for these “high-risk” accounts because there is a higher rate of what they call “chargebacks.” You know that protection on your credit card, where if you dispute the charge, you don’t have to pay for it? Well they’ve determined that happens more with porn and gambling and other “high-risk” sites than others, so they’re justified in charging more money to process payment for those sites.

Paypal doesn’t want to have to pay Visa and MC for carrying “high risk” accounts on their books. You have to remember that Paypal is a middleman. Sites that carry high-risk material have to pay the high-risk costs of doing business. If you’re going through Paypal, you don’t have to pay that. Until Paypal catches you. And then they insist you take down your high-risk content or lose your account.

What Bookstrand did was use this as an excuse to get rid of a problem. They were having difficulties integrating the harder-core Indie books into their site (although to be fair, the books in question, in terms of content, weren’t actually any more hardcore than many of the books in their Siren collection–they just had more revealing covers and more conspicuous titles) and so they used this crackdown by Paypal to eliminate hundreds of Indie books.

Who would be next? All Romance Ebooks? Smashwords? Amazon itself? Erotic writers everywhere said that Amazon was immune from Paypal’s clampdown, but were they? No, they didn’t accept Paypal on their site. But they did accept Visa and Mastercard. Where, exactly, did the buck stop?

I’m not sure, but I did find out an interesting piece of information that made me pause and consider where all of this may be leading.

Someone suggested the new “Amazon Payments” to me as an alternative to Paypal. I thought it made sense – if Amazon sells our books, why would they refuse to pay for them through their payment service?

Well guess what? I opened the account, and they closed it a day later, stating:

Thank you for registering with Amazon Payments. We appreciate your interest in our product.

Unfortunately, at this time, we are not able to approve your request for an Amazon Payments Business Account based on our review of your intended use of our payments service.

As stated in our Acceptable Use Policy the following product or services are prohibited from using Amazon Payments:

Adult Oriented Products and Services – includes pornography (including child pornography), sexually explicit materials (in all media types such as Internet, phone, and printed materials), dating services, escort services, or prostitution services.

While we appreciate your interest, the blocking of your account is a permanent action. Please feel free to write to us for any questions that you may have.

Which means, Amazon may not be “immune” to the Paypal rules after all. Because they still have to process credit cards through the same credit card companies that Paypal does.

I don’t know what this means for the future of erotic self-publishing, but like the banning of certain titles begun by Amazon, it is a very slippery slope indeed. Today it’s “pseudo-incest” and “rape” (including BDSM titles) which is nothing more than legal sex between consenting adults.

What will it be tomorrow?

EDITED TO ADD:

I’m putting this addendum here, rather than create another blog post, because so many people are linking to it. Bookstrand took the final step and completely eliminated “most of the Indie titles” from their site. They sent an email stating they wanted to “go back to their roots.” Whatever that means. Of course, this decision came without warning, and while Indie authors were still trying to comply with their (ever-changing!) new Terms of Service.

Then Bookstrand said to DearAuthor that Siren “NEVER has and NEVER will publish books with the disgusting themes of incest, pseudo incest, rape for sexual titillation, or bestiality with naturally occurring animals.”

No, they don’t publish them. (Except for this one. And this one. Oh and this one). But they sure as heck didn’t have a problem distributing them and making 50% commission on selling them before Paypal said, “Hey, you can’t do that!” did they? Nope. No problem cashing that check. And they’ve been selling our stuff (incest and pseudo) since 2008. Hypocrite much?

Well I guess we couldn’t expect them not to cave to Paypal. I just wished they’d done it with more regret and class.

And I wondered who might be next, didn’t I? Well… here we go…

All Romance Ebooks has been contacted by Paypal and given the same ultimatum as Book Strand. They have now changed their policies and are implementing a new structure, splitting erotic romance from erotica. Of course, the concern is that perhaps they, like Bookstrand, will simply use that structure to lop off erotica as a category and go without it. Only time will tell.

In the interest of transparency, here is the letter from All Romance Ebooks:

This communication is being sent out to all publishers since it involves a process change:

From the beginning, we conceived of All Romance as a niche bookstore that would sell a wide variety of romance novels. Our primary demographic is adult women who enjoy reading romance subgenres featuring stories between two consenting adults. We opened with an “Erotica” category and, until fairly recently, that category was dominated primarily by Erotic Romance, which was our intent. “Vampires/Werewolves” was intended to carry romances featuring Vampires and Werewolves. “Gay” was intended to carry romances featuring Gay men. Over the past few months we’ve begun to receive more and more pure Erotica titles. Admittedly, there is a segment of our readership that wants to read Erotica. There is another segment that prefers to read Erotic Romance. Still others enjoy both, or neither.

In order to improve discoverability for all, we’ve decided to create separate Erotic Romance and Erotica categories. The “old” Erotica category will soon be retired. All titles in that category will need to be re-shelved prior to its retirement to avoid inactivation. We have also made some amendments to our restrictive section to provide some further guidance as to the types of books we feel will resonate best with our Romance community. Please review section 7 of the publisher contract here. If the amended terms are ones you can’t abide by, please let Barbara know and she will accept your notice of termination. If they are, accessing your publisher panel after today will be sufficient to constitute acceptance. We request that you take immediate initiative to remove any titles that may be in breach.

In order to help publishers shelve titles appropriately and aid readers in finding the types of books they most want to enjoy, we’ve worked in conjunction with a team of Erotica and Erotic Romance authors and publishers to craft some guidelines. We appreciate that this division is rather nuanced and that our views may not equate with yours. None-the-less, these guidelines will serve to direct customers, so we ask that you refer to them when deciding upon category placement.

In the next one to two weeks, you will receive notice that re-shelving has commenced. You will have seven calendar days in which to complete the re-shelving process. During the seven-day period, only titles in the New Erotica and New Erotic Romance categories will be visible to the public. If you publish all Erotica or all Erotica Romance, you’ll be able to complete the process with one simple step upon login. If you would like us to complete that step for you, please send an email to me, Subject: Shelving. Indicate in the body of the email if you publisher only Erotica or Erotica Romance. I will confirm with you via email when your migration is complete.

If you publish a mixture of Erotica and Erotic Romance, when re-shelving begins upon login you will be directed to a pop-up page that lists only your current Erotica content along with summaries. You will need to check a box for each title, indicating whether it falls into the Erotica or Erotic Romance category.

I’m including our guidelines below so that you can begin planning for this process:

Erotic romance is a Romance containing frequent, sexually explicit love scenes. The main plot centers around two or more people falling in love and struggling to make the relationship work. The love scenes are a natural part of the romance and described using graphic and frank language. Typically these stories have an HEA (happily ever a fter) or HFN (happy for now) ending.

Erotica is a sexually explicit story, which explores and focuses on a character’s sexual journey rather than an emphasis on a developing romantic relationship. While such an erotic story may have elements of romance, it is the sex that primarily drives the story.

I find this rather questionable:

“…accessing your publisher panel after today will be sufficient to constitute acceptance.”

So if we want to log in and see our sales or look at our titles, we have to accept these new terms of service? This smacks of what Bookstrand did. They gave no notice to publishers of the terms of service changes (and seemed to change them every five minutes!) and certainly gave no indication that they would be removing the entire “Indie” section of books until it happened. All Romance Ebooks has followed their example, deactivating books and then saying, “Oh by the way, when you log into your account to find out what’s going on, you agree to our new Terms of Service.” Really!? No box to check, nothing. The contract was amended without anyone’s knowledge or consent and then come to find out that logging in to figure out what’s going when publishers find their books gone means they somehow agree with the stuff they weren’t told about? That’s so not cool.

And what are All Romance Ebooks’ new restrictions? Funny, they look similar to the issues Paypal was having with the Bookstrand books. Incest, pseudo-incest, bestiality and rape. All Romance, however, has taken this one step further, and has banned “barely legal” (their term) books. This is, apparently, sex between 18-19 year old women and older men, at least if the books they’ve banned so far are any indication. Of course, they have lots and lots of “twink” books (18-19 year old males having sex with older men). So far, no banning of those. Double standard much!?

These will sound familiar:

7. Restrictions

All Romance reserves the right not to accept any particular Work submitted by Publisher at All Romance’s sole discretion, and may remove any particular Work from sale at any time and for any or no reason. Pornographic and obscene Works are restricted and not allowable for upload on the All Romance site, including without limitation, Works depicting sexual acts involving persons under eighteen years of age (exceptions may be made for certain works of literary fiction involving time periods wherein the age of consent was less than 18 and the purpose of the depiction is not for sexual titillation), Works involving any exploitation of minors, sexual or otherwise, Erotic Works which contain incest or pseudo-incest themes, Works that are written for or being marketed to the barely legal market, rape for the purposes of titillation, scenes of non-consensual bondage or non-consensual sado-masochistic practices, bestiality with naturally occurring animals, sex with non-animated corpses, snuff or scat play.

Well.

Two distributors down.

Next?

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