I’ve joked with fellow writers for a while now that I’d have to do something to offset that snarly feeling one gets when one receives an email saying one’s book has been pulled from a retailer’s shelves due to “[insert inappropriate content here].” (Edited to add: That sounded really, very wrong. Don’t insert anything you don’t want to insert, anywhere.) It would seem, after some developments of late, that the time for turning lemons into lemonade and using the TOO HOT FOR KOBO!!! angle is now.
Here’s the thing: I know why a couple of my books can’t (or should I say won’t) be carried by certain e-retailers. I’ve blogged before about the shift in erotica markets and the controversial moves to ban certain subgenres and kinks altogether from a few places. I’ve made reference to the anti-censorship posts made by the prolific erotica writer Selena Kitt more than once (LINK NSFW), and believe me, the landscape has only gotten increasingly harsh since then. I do understand the whys and wherefores behind these retailers’ decisions; I just…don’t agree with them.
I’m assuming, since you’re reading this blog, that you know a little bit about my “Fruit of the Forbidden Tree” series, why I titled it such, what its contents are, what the common theme betwixt the three standalone stories is, and so on. For fear of raising whatever Google’s version of “hackles” would be, I shan’t spell it all out, but if you were to do an internet search for, say, “P.I. erotica,” I think you’d get the picture. (Note: I don’t recommend you actually doing said search unless you’re 18+, using an incognito tab, and are miles away from anyone to whom your reputation may matter. Just sayin’. It’ll probably turn up some pretty skeevy stuff.) But, at the risk of sounding as though I am protesting too much, I can honestly say that all of the feedback I’ve gotten from readers has told me that my series cuts a few close corners without going headlong into stuff most booksellers would find genuinely objectionable.
…well. Okay. GIVING THANKS pushes some boundaries. And by “some” I mean “yes, fine, it’s P.I. erotica.” But the other two? Hot sex aside, there’s not a whole lot with which even a prim Western culture could find real fault. At least that’s the sense I get from the readers who’ve messages me (or, you know, feedback from my mother’s book club and my father’s colleagues). If anything, I’ve actually been called out for playing it too safe! Apparently people looking for P.I. want the envelope pushed right into the blazing fires of hell itself. Hey, I’m not judging. It’s just not what I happened to write. (…except maybe GIVING THANKS. Ahem.)
For reasons about which I can only speculate, it’s this specific subgenre of sex books – this and monster sex/tentacle porn, it seems (if you don’t know, don’t ask!) – that has thrown major retail players into a panic, and rather than instating more stringent search safeguards (I mean, really…nobody wants a kid who’s looking for a “Babysitter’s Club” title to have their innocent eyes assaulted by X-rated covers bleating words like, “DADDY AND THE BABYSITTER”…and, oh, dear, I bet Google’s gonna zap me for that one), it’s simpler to just send out emails like the ones I’ve received.
Emails like….this (slightly-redacted-to-fool-search-engines-bwahaha) message:
Dear Ms. Blythe:
Our sales channels have asked us not to send certain material to them. Our automated content review has detected some of this material in your book, Fruit of the Forbidden Tree: The Complete Collection. As a result, we cannot send this book to the following sales channels:
The types of material at issue include:
[Inc*st] and [Ps*udo-Inc*st]: The content portrays characters engaged in s*xual activity with rel*tives, blood-related or otherwise. This includes situations where characters refer to each other using familial terms.
Sales channels not listed above continue to receive this material at this time.
If you believe that your book has none of the content listed above and wish to contest the issue, please reply to this email and we will investigate further.
[Very Kindly Distributor]
So, you see, a story where, say, a college guy refers to some woman as his “aunt,” when in fact it’s just a term of endearment he’s always used when talking to or about his mom’s best friend, would get blocked from being sold in these bookstores. (I haven’t written that story, in case you’re wondering, but it seemed like a reasonable approximation of what’s going on in SUMMER OF SIN. As for FROZEN IN TIME, there’s absolutely… Well, I won’t spoil it, but suffice it to say that Kobo and Apple are quite happily selling it.) That’s why I can’t contest it. The series does skirt the content they’re unable to distribute, by its very design. I know a lot of others who’ve had their titles unceremoniously pulled from the Google Play store recently, too, on a much broader scale and encompassing a much greater scope of erotic themes.
And that’s a problem. Because erotica is about fantasy. A lot of erotica is about role-playing or taboo relationships (a fling with the boss, a summer affair with the older-but-still-sexy next door neighbour, hate-sex at your sister’s wedding with the guy she stole from you and is about to marry…that sort of thing). By applying the standards outlined in the email I quoted above, and imagining it extending even slightly farther, you can see how this is gonna be a problem.
I’m fortunate in that Amazon reviewed my books independently and determined that they don’t cross the
invisible arbitrary line into what they refuse to carry, but it’s a shame that other retailers have been cowed into pulling their stock in one sweeping motion, taking out a lot of books that are unlikely to offend anyone already browsing the erotica section. Stricter safeguards to avoid having underage kids accidentally wandering into those categories would go a long way, but I don’t know if that’s going to happen anytime soon.
Which means, for now, I’m going for the silver lining. I can set up a little shop right here on this site to sell the books that can’t be found outside of Amazon. Just picture it: Ella’s Erotica Boutique! And instead of worrying about limited reach for my readers, I can simply advertise the “offending” titles as TOO HOT FOR APPLE!!! and so on.
That’d be sure to turn some eyeballs this way, no?
(And now, just for my dear friend A.M., I give you a fitting BANNED IN BOSTON! burlesque show. Enjoy.)