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Sell your own adult / erotica / erotic romace / objectionable content ebooks!

As anyone who has been here knows, I’m an advocate for adult entertainment (for adults, but that should go without saying.)  I certainly read porn!  And I think that other adults should be able to choose their own entertainment for themselves.

If you’re a writer, you may be aware of Amazon and B&N’s recent blacklisting or demoting of sexual content — even if it’s sensual romance.  Amazon has been ADULT filtering certain works, making it nearly impossible for readers to find them.

B&N has consistently booted erotica and romance off the best-sellers lists, demoting them below #100 so they’re not visible on the first 3 or 4 pages.  As a reader, this offends me considerably.  Not only are they hiding things from me, but they are assuming that I am not fit to choose my own entertainment.  I have not usually been the recipient of slut shaming, but I really feel like that’s what this is.

How will I find what I want to read, if it’s not on Amazon?  By booting certain books off B&N’s bestsellers, are they trying to discourage authors from writing more of them?  What hit me was how many writers depend solely on Amazon and B&N for their sales.  I believe that every writer should have their own small ebookstore online, a way to sell their ebooks that THEY control.

If you can sell your own ebooks from your own website, no one can boot you off the general listings.  No one can censor your covers.  Sure, you won’t attract as much traffic as Amazon, but at least people can find you.

I’m putting up a long series of tutorials, leading you step by step in putting up your own online bookstore.  It’s easy — I’ve done it a couple times — and it is not that expensive.  An entire year will cost you less than the price of a good cover, and this may be the worthiest investment you can make to protect yourself.  As for the time it takes, maybe a weekend?  It’s simple and not very flashy, but it will work.

I’m already about halfway through, and the text will be HTML so everyone can read it online with screenshots.  It will be a work in progress.  If you have any suggestions or comments, leave ’em here, or hit me on Twitter.

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Amazon, World Adult Content Police?

There’s a new sheriff in town, but I was quite happy with the land being lawless.  Because, you know, us settlers were pretty good at regulating ourselves.  From recent events, it’s clear to me, at least, that Amazon is trying to take control of the wilderness that is electronic publishing.

In retrospect, it shouldn’t be that surprising.  They did make the Kindle, after all, and were pretty successful in making their name synonymous with ebooks for the general, mainstream public.  But at the time, it didn’t look like Amazon was taking anything away from the ebook-reading people, just making it more available.

Now, they’re starting to impose their order on the wider landscape of all e-publishers, both amateur and professional, and they are taking things away from us.

The Amazon Adult Dungeon

If you haven’t heard of this, the Adult Dungeon is what some erotica authors are calling it when Amazon internally labels a work as “adult.”  In itself, this is not problematic, as most erotica authors do a damn good job of laying out warnings and content labels in their descriptions.  But when a work gets put into the Adult Dungeon, it is no longer searchable.  If you search specifically for the title and author, you will not find it.

Nor will it get recommended in the “Customers who bought X also bought…”

They essentially blacklist any book thrown in their Adult Dungeon.  They don’t tell the authors they’re doing this, and they don’t tell the readers, either.  It’s done behind the backs of everyone involved.  Amazon is taking away your right, as a grownup reader, to make your own decisions about what to read.  Or, they think you can’t control your  (non-mainstream) sexual imagination, so they feel like it’s their place to do it for you.

(This is also what happened, apparently, a few years ago, when they “mistakenly” marked all LGBT related books as ADULT.  Of course, they claimed that it was a “glitch…”)

Author Selena Kitt points out — quite rightly — that erotica readers created the Kindle market.  Why does anyone want an e-reader?  For a private reading experience.

When I was describing this to a friend, she also works in PR, and she was quick to cotton on.  “Who pulls their strings?” she said.  Our best guess is that Amazon is randomly, haphazardly blacklisting “objectionable” books to please their (mainstream, hetero) shareholders.

Amazon is not the only game in town, say a lot of folks.  Just hop on over to another ebookstore and give them your money.

Well, not so fast.  Other ebookstores pull the same shenanigans — such as B&N kicking erotica off the best-selling lists because it was embarrassing.  Any while it’s easy for anyone to set up shop, they ultimately have to answer to PayPal’s obscenity clauses.

And PayPal has brought the hammer down (again, quite randomly.)  They, too, probably have to answer to the shadowy oligarchy of their shareholders.

Plus, Amazon has built up so much brand equity that their very name is now synonymous with e-publishing.  They have 80% of the ebook market.  I’m not saying that they don’t deserve it, since they worked damn hard for it.  But now, they look much less like they’re trying to bring ebooks to the masses, and more like Christian missionaries trying to convert the “heathens.”

The “Kindle Worlds” Fanfiction Deal

Their recent fanfiction deal is another attempt to bring their vanilla, PG-13 order to an unregulated wilderness.  Content holders can agree to let writers publish their own fanfiction for money, and Amazon will curate the stories.

Fanfiction seems to be dominated by:

1) Mature content

2) Non-hetero content (“slash”)

3) Both

And the mature stuff is some of the best written.  But will Amazon allow that under their guidelines?  Probably not, and the rights-holders can also set their own restrictions.

Fine and dandy, people say.  It won’t change what’s happening in the rest of the fanfiction world… except that it will.  Fanfiction’s entire purpose is for writers to express the full range of their imaginations, without the restrictions of the original works!

Perhaps this is paranoid, but Amazon seems to be trying to redefine fanfiction itself — ushering it away from this fan-ruled unregulated expression of creativity, and into the well-manicured lawns of PG-13 amateur media tie-ins.  In doing this, they take away from the very thing that interests me about fanfiction, the unbridled creativity.

“But what about the children?”

There is always that well-meaning American who approves of censorship out of desire to protect children.

First of all, only adults are allowed to shop on Amazon.  You need a credit card or PayPal account, and that means you have to be 18 (in theory.)

But even if my own offspring does get hold of my PayPal account and start buying all kinds of ebooks, I don’t fear this future.  My offspring will venture out into the wild, uncontrolled borderlands of porn — it’s why the internet was born.  But my young charges, by the time they’re interested in adult material, will know the difference between thought and deed and fantasy and reality because I taught it to them.

What do I really fear?

I fear that they will never venture out of their own safe backyards because of this nanny culture that hasn’t ever quite gone away.  It’s everywhere, from Bowdlerization of literature (de-sexing) to the USDA food pyramid, which is really not healthy but still taught in schools anyway. 

I fear that they will never even think to explore and make their own decisions in this age of blind brand trust, where there is a ready-bought solution for every woe.  (Except for awesome Japanese toilets, which Americans refuse to buy because of embarrassment about bathroom functions!)

Goodreads

Amazon also acquired Goodreads, another self-regulating community of settlers.  While GR was not perceived to have any central authority before, now Amazon’s army of data miners (and censors?) will be able to keep its ever-present eye on your book reviews.  I don’t think they’d go as low as to stop allowing reviews of “objectionable” books, but you never know.

Peer reviews still are a major force that drive sales, and Amazon clearly knows that since they bought GR.  But if their strings are being pulled by their PG-13 shareholders, they might be forced in a position of disallowing adult book reviews.

Authors also sell through GR.  Since GR is now under the Amazon umbrella, they can shut down any sales of “objectionable” books as well.  As for advertising?  Will advertising erotic romance even be allowed?  Especially if it’s not vanilla hetero?

They’re only in it for the money.

We can safely assume that these measures are all for the money.  It’s no secret that Amazon wants a bigger and bigger piece of the pie — but now, it looks like they also want to control the recipe and production of the pie itself.

Amazon is a company, and companies don’t act for the greater good.  They act for the money, which may coincide with the greater good, but it also might ride into town on a horse, make lots of fancy promises, and start stripping the land of its most valuable resources at the expense of the settlers.

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How much does physical beauty really matter in romance?

I haven’t posted here in over a year because most of my thought-power has been going to my job at a publisher.  But lately, I get the urge to write an essay, or share some random observations, and I realize that I actually miss blogging.  I blog for my job, but I have to be careful.  My opinion, my personal thoughts, sometimes are just not appropriate to express when I speak for a brand.

I missed the opportunity to really reveal myself, to be honest with my own thoughts.  Like the phoenix, I blog once more!  (Wait, that didn’t quite work.)

A few thoughts about modern romance novels & physical beauty.

So, I’ve been doing some reading for work.  We’re slowly getting ready for our first “New Adult” release, so I’ve been reading some YA, paranormal romance, and urban fantasy, which usually has some romance in it.  In a crime / urban fantasy series I picked up, one of the viewpoint characters is an adult police detective, and what I knew about him was mostly from his actions.

It wasn’t until I got into the second volume, where he mentioned his own ordinary looks, that I realized I had absolutely no idea what he looked like.  I hadn’t even tried to visualize it, because the author didn’t even give a hair or eye color.  And I was all right with that.  Granted, this was mostly an urban fantasy story with a sliver of romance in it, and I had a slightly better idea of what the lead female looked like.

But only slightly, with the emphasis on her nonhuman features (she is an elf.)  And, to my memory, she was never discussed as being beautiful, pretty, voluptuous, sensual, or even particularly feminine.  I still cared about the characters, and, for the most part, still believed their attraction.

It made me wonder how essential being beautiful / handsome / pretty / hot is for romance characters.  For us to want to participate in the story and the romance, do they have to be beautiful? It wasn’t in the urban fantasy series, but the romance wasn’t central.

I read another book for work.  Reading is such a generous term for it; this was one of those New Adult books that seems to be flooding the digital market.  I’m a full adult and have no inherent interest in twenty-year-olds or their developmental angst.

It’s not that I avoid central characters who are 18 – 25, it’s that the New Adult books aren’t any more compelling just because of the age of their characters, any more than I expect my son to be interested in friendship with someone just because they go to the same school.

I never would have considered reading it, except that it’s part of my job. And it was number one on Amazon for a long time (though not anymore.)  That alone was enough to spark my interest.

The main character was a senior in college, and naturally, smokin’ hot.  But of course she didn’t feel hot and was quite insecure because of her history of abuse.  The love(?) interest / lust object was a teacher, only slightly older, but still forbidden fruit because he’s a teacher where she’s a student.  Also smokin’ hot.

In fact, it seems like the only thing these two had going for them was emotional baggage from the past and good looks.  Their personalities?  There wasn’t much there for him except some generic charming behavior.  Though I spent 300+ pages with the viewpoint character and her feelings, I still didn’t feel like there was much ghost in the 20-year-old shell.  If anything, she was presented as nothing more than a victim of her own emotions.

The plot was a constant series of coincidences and dramatic outside pressures that made sense within the story… but only barely.  The attraction between them seemed to be only based on mutual sympathy for each others’ tragic pasts and being beautiful.

So why the hell was this so popular?  Every time I read a book like this, I get the feeling that the moral of the story is that romance is only for the young, hot, wounded, and / or plucky.

Romance is a deeply vital and human motivation.  Everyone has an attitude about romance because it’s part of life, whether directly or indirectly, but when I read books like the second one, I start to lose faith that writers are still tapping into the actual substance of the human experience to create their works.

Because this is my blog, I’m offering up my strong opinion.  Here it is:

In this age of self-publishing, I think more erotica and romance writers should take a chance.  If they’re so inclined, I would love to see them depart from the lazy, superficial groove of what sells, and go more into what moves us, or at least moves me: some actual human experience.  I would like to see more romance writers stop relying on the “halo effect” of beauty, and stretch their imaginations and go further with what’s actually inside the character’s heads (if anything…)

It seems lazy to have a generically beautiful / hot character without the reader or other characters having to do the work of finding out what is beautiful or sexy about them.  Our own attraction is what makes people attractive.  Desirability isn’t a quality that someone inherently has; it’s a quality that the one who desires them gives them.

I’m interested in characters as whole people, not only aesthetic objects of desire.  It’s actually rather insulting to me that most of the writers in a majority genre thinks I won’t be interested in characters unless they’re beautiful.

Perhaps they should trust the readers a little more and see what happens?  Anyway, I’ll read it…