Selena Kitts, a well-known writer of raunchy “pornography”, has written an interesting post called Survival Tips for the Pornocolypse (Erotica Writers Get Armed and Ready). It was of interest to me for two reasons. One, I write romantica under the pen name Leta Blake. You can find links to my books anywhere on this page, but to make it easy for you, here. Two, I write some really raunchy erotica under another Super Top Secret Pen Name. I do it mainly for fun and to blow off steam, and to feel like I’m giving the finger to some of the issues I have with traditional and e-publishing, but I wouldn’t say I’m doing it to make a ton of money. However, I would be lying if I said I didn’t want to make some money from the endeavor. Otherwise I’m just throwing away time and money on covers, etc.
There were many things I found interesting about Selena Kitt’s post. I almost don’t know where to start. I suppose I could break this down into a few posts to make it more digestible. Perhaps I will. Let me start at the beginning of her post and respond as I go.
First, off, kudos, Selena, on having such an attractive site for your porn. I know this sounds like I’m being facetious, but I’m serious. It’s very nice and it would definitely encourage me to click on something and possibly buy it. One day, when I’ve got more to offer, I want to have a site like yours!
The Pornocalypse has begun. Amazon continues filtering erotica out of their All Department Search in large numbers. Don’t stick your head in the sand and think it’s going to all go away. By then, it may be too late.
I’ve noticed the books I’ve published under Super Top Secret Pen Name do not show up under the All Department Search. I’ve never entirely decided how I feel about that. I suspect some of the roads my brain has taken on this issue are similar to the roads taken by Amazon itself while other thoughts diverge. I usually start out frustrated because if someone is searching for erotica books featuring a cheerleader losing her virginity to her step-brother (as a completely made up example, I didn’t write a book like that–yet), then they should be able to find one without having to jump through extra hoops. Right now, if I go to the Amazon home page and type “Cheerleader loses virginity to step-brother”, I get a result back that says, “No products match your search.” I know damn well that’s not true, but only because I know that damn well. If I was your Average Joe Internet User, I might think, “Oh, well, I guess there are no books for me to buy like that.” But, if I go to the Kindle Book Department and type in the same search, I end up with this small, but existing, selection of titles. No perfect match, but there are some dirty books there all the same. Hooray for dirty books!
I suspect that the next thought many of you are going to have is similar to mine and probably the main motivating thought of Amazon and those who encourage its policies. Won’t someone think of the children!?!?! In the days of books and mortar stores, the dirty books would be housed either in a separate room, away from children’s eyes, in a separate store altogether, or covered in dark plastic to keep them from looking. Amazon is likely trying to do the same thing. But even in the days of books and mortar stores, I always took the position that it is the parents’ job to police what their kids are reading, not the stores’ job to police what they kids have access to within the store. Does the internet make that a ton harder to accomplish? Hell yes, but it doesn’t shift the onus onto the stores necessarily.
I do recall not too long ago, I was looking up a children’s book recommended to me by a friend. My search on Amazon brought up two results. One was the book I wanted and the other was titled something very similar and looked like a possible sequel. I opened it up to read about the book, and it was, to my surprise and amusement, an utterly filthy rape erotica story and not a sequel at all. In that moment, I though, “Oh, there are going to be Christian crazies all over this shit before long.” I have no doubt that kind of thing played a role in what is happening at Amazon.
[ETA: Interestingly enough, if I search Amazon’s main search page for various raunchy dirty books while I am not logged in to my account, I find a much wider selection of offerings. And I find that curious under the Won’t Someone Think of the Children argument, since kids are much less likely to have their own accounts than bonafide grown-ups. So, why would the search be more liberal for people without accounts than those with accounts? Curious.]
Still, my next thought is, okay, fine, thinking of the children and all, what’s the harm in moving these books out of the line of sight? They’re still there and a user who really wants to read about cheerleaders sleeping with their step-brothers can still find those books if they work hard enough. It’s only two extra clicks to be able to find the books you want!
And yet it does seem to make a difference in sales. Is that a good thing? Or a bad thing? Are we reducing the number of sales to 14 year olds whose Mommy and Daddy don’t do spot checks of their e-book readers? Or are we reducing the number of sales to full-fledged adults who don’t know they have to make these two extra clicks to get what they want? I suspect it’s a bit of both, but more of the second. There’s no where on the Amazon site where they say, “Oh, psst, you can still find your dirty books! You just need to work harder at it!”
Uh, back to Selena’s post. I’m rambling and possibly getting ahead of myself here.
The fact remains—the dirty secret that drives technology? It’s “porn.” Erotica, as a genre, has been Amazon’s dirty little secret from the beginning, driving sales of the Kindle to astronomical numbers. Does Amazon really believe that it was all the free copies of “Huckleberry Finn” and “Moby Dick” (Moby Duck on Apple?) that drove readers to buy Kindle devices? Nope, sorry. It was erotica. It was “porn.”
Jeff Bezos may have put out the product, but I made the Kindle into what it is today. Me, and legions of other erotica writers who were already writing it, and those who came later, who saw how much readers were clamoring for it. Readers could suddenly read erotica without anyone seeing the cover. The Kindle device made that possible, Amazon made the Kindle available… but I provided the content readers were surreptitiously reading under their desks at work and on the subway home.
Erotica writers made the Kindle what it is today. Not mystery writers, not horror writers, not even romance writers. Certainly not big publishing, who have been brought kicking and screaming into the ebook world. It was erotica writers who provided readers with the titillating books that made this new device so convenient and advantageous. So you could carry 500 books at a time… big deal, who’s going to read 500 books while you’re at the doctor’s office? But women everywhere realized they could read sexual fantasies, stories about BDSM, about dubious consent, about sex toys and infidelity, all those fantasies that we know women have been having since Nancy Friday wrote Secret Garden, and they could do it without anyone knowing, at the doctor’s office or in line at the supermarket.
THAT is what sold Kindles. Porn. Face it, Jeff Bezos. You owe the success of Kindle to me, and to every erotica writer out there making a living writing “porn.”
And what thanks do we get? None. Other writers (ala Konrath and Crouch and Bella Andre—the latter whose books are just as “dirty” or “porny” as some that have been relegated to the ghetto behind the ADULT filter) get special treatment from Amazon. They get spotlights and highlights. They get mentioned in Amazon newsletters.
Erotica writers get stepped on. We get shoved into a corner, we get relegated to back rooms and top shelves. We get “filtered.” Now, before you say, “But come ON! This is ADULT material, shouldn’t it be targeted just to ADULTS?”—my answer to that is “yes!” I don’t expect Amazon to highlight erotica writers in mainstream newsletters or even to highlight us at all (although if they were smart, they would… we make them a lot of money. A LOT of money. They should target us to readers they know read us… it only makes sense!) but I DO expect them to treat us with transparency and good business ethics.
She’s right, you realize. I mean, to a degree, she’s right. My mother has purchased thousands upon thousands of dollars worth of Kindle books. What are most of them? Erotica and romantica. She’s admitted that she loves the dirtiest stuff she can find on Kindle because no one ever has to know she’s read it. My mother is sixty-six years old. Who is Amazon to try to make it harder for her to read her books? And did the two additional clicks make a difference to her? You bet it did. She didn’t even know she had to make some additional clicks. She’d stopped buying from Amazon and switched to Smashwords and other online sources because Amazon had stopped carrying her dirty books. Or so she thought. How many other perfectly legal grown-ups also faced this?
And Selena Kitts makes a really good point. If Amazon actually marketed filth to those who like to read filth, they could make good money doing so. Why is it their business model to fail to do so? I assume we could say that it’s stand-up morality. But I’m pretty sure it’s stand-up stupidity. Or possibly fear. What, I wonder, are they afraid of? (Hell, probably. Oh, hell, you shiny, dark stinkhole of fear.)
The filtering tool that Amazon previously only used to exclude nudity on covers is now being applied to books arbitrarily, but in very, very large numbers. We haven’t seen a purge this big on Amazon since they banned incest and bestiality in erotic work.
First of all, Amazon has now separated Erotica and Romance. I don’t know if erotic romance writers know this or have realized it yet, but Amazon has recently changed their policy (not that they’ve told anyone about it or anything!) and you can no longer put your book in BOTH Erotica and Romance categories. You have to choose one or the other. “Erotic Romance” as a category will now classify your book as “erotica.”
And be careful, because once you have labeled your book as “erotic,” they will not allow you to reclassify it as NOT erotic. The only exception to this rule I have seen so far is for traditionally published books (ala Fifty Shades). Self-published books don’t get this treatment.
Now this? This is problematic. And revealing. There is money here, more money than they care to lose. Because Fifty Shades, while terribly written in many ways (sorry!), is just as porny as a ton of the stuff they’ve filtered. Maybe more so.
How do you avoid being filtered?
Keep nudity off your cover. Also keep it out of the inside of your book.
Keep your titles and keywords free of the “Amazon Bad Words List” below. Amazon’s current policy could be summed up in this way—if you dress up pretty on the outside, you can be as much of a whore on the inside as you like.
The “Amazon Bad Word List”
(who else is thinking about George Carlin right now?)
(And if you know of more words or things that are being banned, please go ahead and add to the list in the comments, or better yet, post it over on Banned Erotic Books on Facebook!)
Nudity on covers (this rule changes a lot – thongs are ok so far. “Hand bras” are not ok, i.e. a nude woman with her or someone else’s hands covering her breasts).
Incest is banned altogether. But pseudo-incest will get you filtered. Anything with obvious titles, especially “Daddy” and “Mommy,” but also sister, brother, siblings, uncle, family, etc.
Gangbang, rape, reluctant, reluctance, nonconsent, dubious consent (dubcon), forced, or “rough” sex, strap-on – careful BDSM folks, keep an eye out, because they may come after that next.
Breeding, bred or impregnation stories
Any profanity or obscene language: pussy, cock, cum, tits, fuck, sex, clit, etc. (Now I really feel like George Carlin…)
Lactation, breastfeeding, lactating, milky
Tentacles and other mythological creatures (minotaurs, centaurs, bigfoot, etc.)
I’m not at all sure what Selena is suggesting here. Is she suggesting that these changes only be made to the cover, title, blurb, etc? Or is she suggesting that these changes be made to books themselves. I’m going too assume she means the former and not the later because otherwise the books would be censored.
I am not sure, though, I think doing as she suggests is a good idea? If authors of the raunchy erotica/porn follow these suggestions, then how will their books ever be found? Porn readers want to know what they’re buying before they buy it. In fact, up until now, the suggested way of doing the entire raunchy porn book thing was the exact opposite of these suggestions. The advice my Super Top Secret Pen Name received when she began was:
a) make the title very obvious so people can find what they are looking for. If it is about having sex with an alien from another world, then title it something like, “Alien Tentacle Sex” or “Bred by Aliens” or whatever.
b) make the cover very sexy/obvious so people know, yes, this is the porn I seek.
c) use tag words when uploading that make it easy for the person to find the porn they want to read.
d) use the blurb area to be descriptive of the contents so people are very aware of what they are buying. Describe the sex acts within and mark it as 18+.
Now, Selena is advising that we not do these things, and I understand why she’s saying that. At the same time, readers like to know what they are getting and I don’t think people who can’t figure out that they can find what they are looking for by clicking two more times into the Kindle store are going to be able to figure out that a book called “Professor’s New Suit”, in which the blurb reads, “In a dressing room of a high end department store, meeting with a tailor who happens to be a former student, the professor’s full measure is taken and he gets something unexpected in return” is, in fact, all about dirty gay sex in a dressing room between a professor and his former student. Well, maybe they would. Who knows? But it seems more likely that “Banging My Professor” will be what someone looking for erotica about Professor/Student is going to search for. Covering it up in order to avoid Amazon’s filter doesn’t seem any more likely to bring sales than just letting it sit with its original filthy name under the Adult filter. Thoughts on that?
I suppose what most bothers me about this entire situation is the fact that Amazon made/makes a ton of money from these kinds of stories, and clearly capitulates to the likes of 50 Shades of Grey, and yet screws over the little guy making a buck. I suppose my main question is why?
Weirdly enough, because I know that the majority of people buying these books are women, I feel the reins of misogyny pulling at me when I hear about this kind of thing. Women are reading things that men don’t want them reading, that society doesn’t want them reading, and as their minds are getting free, along comes a big company, run by a man, who wants to put the brakes on it at the very least, and maybe introduce the idea of some non-sexy shackles. Gotta control access to the vagina, y’all. Gotta keep the women from getting ideas about their vag and what they might do with it! It’s for their own good, of course.
1. “As fellow author, Will Belegon, noted, if Amazon is going to start pulling books with incest in them: “I just re-read Genesis 19: 30-38 and realized that Lot’s daughters got him drunk, had sex with him and bore sons. I demand you follow your clear precedent and remove The Bible from Kindle.”
Or perhaps Amazon should create a new television ad after they follow their clear precedent and ban the book the woman is reading in the advertisement on her Kindle (“Sleepwalking” by Amy Bloom) which tells the story of a 19-year-old boy who has a sexual encounter with his stepmother, which, in some states, is legally incest.”
3. Kindlerotica: The strange but inevitable rise of e-reader pornography. — Proving Selena right that the Kindle was driven by written pornography sales.