I Won’t Hang Upon Your Lover’s Cross For You

This is a follow up to yesterday’s post and a response to some of the comments I received.

Let me begin with a personal observation.  In my latest novel, Cannibal Hearts, I have a scene in which I describe, explicitly, a consensual sexual encounter between a male human and a semi-human who has both male and female sex organs (as well as appendages that humans don’t have.)

Is it an erotic scene?  It wasn’t to me when I was writing it, but for complex narrative reasons I decided that it was important to the story to include details.  Others might find it erotic.  Objectively it is an explicit description of sex.  It is definitely bizarre, not strictly heterosexual, and might be considered bestiality, since one of the persons involved isn’t fully human. (She’s partially plant, which I figures puts me well past the folks who do the werewolf/human thing.)

At the moment both of my books are listed as “draft” status on Amazon, which means, I believe, that they are under review. (It seems that Amazon is reviewing all of the self-published works.)  That means that it is very possible that the scene in question may cause the book to be flagged for removal.  If that happens, would I be willing to remove chapter twenty-four in order to keep my book up on Amazon?

In a heartbeat.  I said the scene was important, not vital. I would have no problems cutting to a line of asterisks when the couple gets close to the bedroom and picking up the next morning.  I believe that I have written enough chemistry into the characters that my readers can imagine the scene themselves.

Honestly, I don’t think that is going to happen.  It’s one scene towards the end of the book, and as far as the descriptive language is concerned it’s rather dry and clinical.  (I was more embarrassed than anything else when writing it.  For someone whose sexual history is as checkered as mine, I tend to be a real prude verbally.)

The point is that by submitting my book to their platform, I agree to abide by their rules.  I don’t have to agree with their rules, or understand the reasoning behind them, just obey them.  Amazon doesn’t have to know why I wrote that scene, or how I felt about including it, all they have to do is make the call–do we want this up on our site or not?

It’s their site, their sandbox, and they get to make the rules.

They also get to enforce the rules.  In an ideal universe, the rules would be enforced objectively, considering the work alone, and apply the precise same principles to every book in their catalog.

If anyone out there is under the impression that we live in an ideal universe, message me.  I’ve got a couple of bridges that I can give you a great deal on.

Rules are enforced by individuals.  I will give long odds that Jeff Bezos is not going to be the one reading my books. (Although I’d be happy to comp him copies if he’ll review them.) The procedure may be completely automated, or maybe there is an army of editors frantically skimming every single book.  (And you thought your job was bad?) Maybe my book will get flagged by someone who happens to be personally squicked out by the scene.  Maybe the editor who is skimming my books is in competition with the editor in the cubical next door and decides to flag my book just to keep up.

Who knows?  The point is that the rules are not going to be enforced fairly.  Life isn’t fair, and business less so.

This is why it does no good whatsoever to point out that Laurel K. Hamilton, for example, gets away with describing Anita Blake having a threesome with a ghoul and the Creature from the Black Lagoon. (I don’t know if that particular scene actually happened, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised.) Their sandbox, their rules, and they get to make exceptions for some and not for others.  We can either play nice or we take our toys and go home.

It is counterproductive to publicly argue against the decisions made by e-book retailers.  We may privately rant and rave (I know I do) but posting it isn’t productive and it isn’t professional.  Talking about Freedom Of Speech and Censorship and other irrelevancies simply helps to perpetuate the myth that all self-published authors are amateurs who are not worthy of respect.

This is a business, not a town hall meeting.

I don’t have a problem with writers who write erotica, or sell erotica.  I have a problem with writers who break the rules in order to do so. 

Maybe the author of Daddy’s Rape Party had the best intentions in the world.  He could have been brooding about the social decay caused by youth of America failing to heed the wisdom of their elders and decided to address the issue by penning an inspiring tale of a young girl who, under the firm hand of a strict yet caring older man, turned from her wicked ways and learned the joy of submission to her step-father and her step-father’s bowling team and her step-father’s dog.  I can’t say he didn’t.  I don’t read minds.

His intentions are irrelevant.  The fact is that Amazon doesn’t want that sort of book on their site and the author went ahead and posted it anyway. Maybe he didn’t read the rules, or maybe he read them and didn’t think that they applied to him because his work had a socially relevant message.

I think it’s most likely that he figured he wouldn’t get caught for a while and could make some quick money, but again, I don’t read minds.

That author is not our friend.  That author is not a lonely genius fighting for the integrity of art against an oppressive regime.  That author is an asshole who is going to get us all in trouble. 

I understand that there are gray areas.  I know that there are authors who post work that they consider romance or fantasy or whatever that gets flagged as inappropriate for a particular site.  As I’ve said above, I may end up being one of them.  That’s simply a risk we take when posting work to a site that someone else controls.

There are also areas that are not at all gray.  Step-Daughter Craves Daddy’s Cock is not a romance book, people.  Yes, there is a market for it, and for all I know it may be a very well written book.  But I am not going to support the author who posts it to a site where it is specifically forbidden, and I am going to do everything in my power to distance myself from that author.

If that author chooses to post his e-book to a venue that accepts explicit erotica, I have no problems supporting him in doing so.  I have friends in the adult entertainment industry, and, in fact, I have attended Internext in Las Vegas.  Twice.

But, you know, I don’t think Amazon was there.  I don’t believe that mainstream e-book retailers want to be associated with the adult entertainment market, and I believe that we, as self-published authors, should support their decision.

That’s just good business.

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About MishaBurnett

I am the author of "Catskinner's Book", a science fiction novel available on Amazon Kindle. http://www.amazon.com/dp/B008MPNBNS
This entry was posted in On Promotion, On Publishing and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to I Won’t Hang Upon Your Lover’s Cross For You

  1. mcwatty9 says:

    I think you will be find, I doubt it will be an issue. I like the new website layout.

    I noticed you removed the ‘I don’t do awards’ picture. Which means I might be nominating you for one… hehehe.

  2. ameliabishop says:

    I checked your books and they appear to be available for purchase, so I don’t think you have a problem. Some people have said they had to change tags, blurb copy, etc. and then re-post. It’s odd, though because your books don’t seem at all “flag-worthy”. It must be an algorithm they use? I’m sure you won’t be asked to change a thing.

    The problem with this happening on Amazon is two-fold, in my opinion. First, their “guidelines” are simply: “what we find offensive is about what you’d expect”, which really doesn’t help define parameters of acceptable content. Secondly, since they do sell actual porn (DVDs) and other very sexually explicit material (toys, bondage gear, etc), I find their aversion to sex in literature kind of absurd.

    Thank you for another very thoughtful and considerate post on this subject 🙂 I enjoy your blog very much!

    • MishaBurnett says:

      Thank you. I wasn’t aware that Amazon sold porn DVDs, so I went looking. (Purely for research purposes, of course). I did find some, but I noticed that many of them had a “this item is not available for purchase at this time” tag. So they may be changing their policy on that as well.

      And yes, the ambiguity of the guidelines is a major problem, I think we can all agree on that. It does say “We don’t accept pornography or offensive depictions of graphic sexual acts.” That’s not much more specific, though. Offensive to whom? I personally find anal sex to be offensive, but I’m probably in the minority there. On the other hand, there are things that interest me that probably gross out most of the world. So who decides?

      It would be nice to have a clear checklist– “Oral sex is okay as long as you don’t swallow.” for example, but I suspect that is too much to ask.

  3. Well, I hope they don’t remove you. Just so you don’t have to go through the trouble of reworking things.

  4. sknicholls says:

    I hope they don’t remove you also. That doesn’t sound like erotic or porn. If they remove every book with a sex scene then they might as well sell only children’s books. I have an Historical Fiction 920th century) on the shelf. It has both sex scenes and a rape scene. I changed my blurb not to mention the rape. It is not an erotic scene unless someone is perverted enough to make it one.

    • MishaBurnett says:

      I think that most people have a pretty clear idea of the difference between a work that has an erotic scene in it and a pornographic work. It’s a surprisingly difficult distinction to quantify, however.

  5. kingmidget says:

    Once again I agree with much of what you say. Where I have a problem is with the idea that it would be OK for Amazon or anybody other retailer to drop your book because of that one scene. If they drop your book for that scene, they’re going to need to drop a vast number of books for their policy to make any sense.

    • MishaBurnett says:

      Not necessarily. They might decide that sex scenes that involve hermaphrodites are offensive by their standards, and there probably aren’t that many of those out there.

      The point is that they don’t have to “make sense”. They aren’t a government agency, they are a private business, and they get to decide on a case-by-case basis if they want to stock a particular book or not.

      • kingmidget says:

        I’m unfortunately a lawyer by training. So, while I can agree with you that they can do whatever they want because they’re a private entity, I also disagree with you because if somebody has a rule, it should not be enforced arbitrarily or without reason.

      • MishaBurnett says:

        But in your opinion as a lawyer, do many self-published authors have the resources to fight a legal battle to prove that the rules are selectively enforced? I know I don’t.

      • kingmidget says:

        Of course. But having the power is not a reason to act arbitrarily.

      • MishaBurnett says:

        I used to do a lot of repo work for rent-to-own outfits, and one thing I learned about the law working for them is that a contract will only protect you to the extent to which you can have it enforced.

  6. Pingback: Haven’t you heard? It’s a battle of words. | mishaburnett

  7. Dave Higgins says:

    Another excellent article.

    There is no free speech issue here: each author can still write anything that is not banned by the laws of their country and offer to sell it to anyone who can legally buy it. If Amazon were campaigning to make any description of sex illegal there might be an argument, but they are entitled to not sell any book they choose in the same way they are entitled to not sell houses or broken glass.

    Having to cut some scenes might even be good for books: the author can release an “Author’s Cut” later with the scenes put back in and sell the book again to fans.

  8. Sue says:

    I noticed my story on Amazon is also listed as “draft” I question that someone at Amazon will be reading all the books published looking for “bad” language. From my research I gather that it’s certain situations that they are on the hunt for (maybe that dinosaur sexy story you mentioned a while ago qualifies) PS I doubt they will take 50 shades off their lists

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