Now let us all clutch our pearls and hyperventilate

First of all, DriveThruFiction‘s charity e-book bundle to benefit Feeding America will only remain available until Sunday, October 20, so order your copy now if you haven’t already.

In other news, the whole uproar about indie-published fringe erotica is still going on. W.H. Smith has finally managed to get its website back online, but they aren’t offering any e-books at all, just print books, stationery, toys and the like. My own books seem to be back at Kobo, though apparently Kobo is still not selling any indie-published e-books at its UK site. Meanwhile, the Daily Mail is still available at physical W.H. Smith stores in spite of prurient articles such as this one about a nearly naked Miley Cyrus in a suitcase or this one about the “pert derriere” of a reality TV star named Lauren Pope or this one with the charming headline “My abortion could cost me my children”.

I’ll gradually delete the W.H. Smith links from the book pages, because it looks as if they are so scared of the pearl clutchers of the Daily Mail that they won’t take self-published e-books back anyway, even if the books in question are not erotica. Nor am I feeling particularly well inclined towards promoting W.H. Smith in the future. As for Kobo, I’m disappointed by their excessive response to what was IMO a tempest in a teacup. But unlike some other indie authors I am not pulling my books from Kobo, because Kobo is my second best sales outlet after Amazon and the best option for buying e-books and e-readers in many countries worldwide.

And since this uproar proves once again that one should diversify as much as possible, I am in the process of uploading my all titles to indie focussed new e-book retailer Libiro. And there’ll probably be more new sales outlets to report soon.

What is more, here are the latest links from around the web about the W.H. Smith/Kobo erotica purge. Warning: A lot of these links might contain explicit images or potentially offensive content or what is often called “not safe for work”. We’re talking about erotica after all.

Other mainstream media outlets got into the fun as well, because a story promising sex and raunch and possibly “depraved filth” is certain to garners clicks and sales. At the Los Angeles Times, Michael Hiltzik, who once won a Pulitzer Prize, has no illusions about the click bait nature of the original Kernel article and otherwise believes that Amazon (and other retailers) should offer clearer guidelines what is and isn’t acceptable to them. The L.A. Times article is illustrated with what looks like a run-of-the-mill example of billionaire BDSM erotica, probably because most of the more problematic titles have already been blocked or pulled. I only hope that the exposure gets the author sales and not her book blocked.

In a surprisingly balanced article for a US publication with the word “Christian” in the title, the Christian Science Monitor wonders Kobo‘s and W.H. Smith‘s actions are censorship, an overreaction or a good thing. There is also a follow-up article about an online petition against the erotica purge started by several erotica readers and writers.

The German media jumped onto the news bandwagon as well, since the general news site Spiegel Online as well as the publishing news sites Buchreport and Lesen.net all report about the erotica purge. The comments at all three sites are pleasantly anti-censorship BTW.

Meanwhile, plenty of affected indie authors, whether they actually write erotica or not, speak up as well. David Gaughran has a summary of the whole uproar on his blog. Here is a good quote:

Personally, I’m of the view (and I accept there’s a range of opinion on this) that a retailer can decide to stock whatever they like, and I don’t consider it censorship when any given retailer decides they don’t want to stock certain stuff. But when all retailers move in lockstep in response to a panic manufactured by a tabloid famous for clickbaiting, then that acts as a form of quasi-censorship.

And I have a real problem with outsourcing moral decisions to a tabloid like the Daily Mail.

Erotica author Selena Kitt, who had some of her own books blocked, offers a delightful rant/takedown of Jeremy Duns, The Kernel, the Daily Mail, the BBC, W.H. Smith, Kobo, internet marketers out to make a quick buck, trad-published works with taboo subjects that would get any indie banned in a second and the lack of easily switched on/off adult filter at many major book retail sites. It’s a great post and you should really read it all. I also have problems singling out a favourite quote, but in the end I decided to go with this one:

I’d just like to point out that erotica writers aren’t perverts–at least the ones I know. We write for a living, and what we are writing is fantasy. Words, not actions. This is fiction, folks. It doesn’t hurt anyone. And the “but it might make someone DO those horrible things!” argument has been debunked again and again. Books about serial killers don’t make people become serial killers. Books about rapists don’t make people become rapists. Books about incest (or pseudoincest) don’t make people go have sex with family members. In fact, research shows that most people who do read incest erotica don’t, in fact, fantasize about actual family members. As for rape–it’s also well documented that rape fantasies are common for women (the BDSM community flirts with this and there is a cross-over) and psychologists say that it’s completely normal. And, in the end, what we are talking about here is just words. Words, not actions. If you don’t like it, don’t read it. But telling other people they can’t write or read it crosses the line of personal and intellectual freedom.

That’s not okay.

At Indie Reader, Michelle Fox offers a good summary of the whole debacle. And at The Digital Reader, Nate Hoffelder points out that most of the purged erotica books were not actually illegal and that plenty of erotic fiction that does not contain any of the objectionable content (e.g. pseudo-incest) singled out by the Daily Mail and the Kernel is being blocked as well.

Indie authors V.F. Folland and Adam L. Penenberg point out that many of the affected writers don’t even write erotica and were still targeted by the indie e-book purge.

Misanthropology gives us some detailed background information on spy fiction writer Jeremy Duns and Milo Yiannopoulos of The Kernel and notes that both have been involved in all sorts of misogynist crap. Misanthropology also points out plenty of genuinely dangerous products still freely available at Amazon.

Meanwhile at The NightLife Series, Travis Luedke points out that W.H. Smith and Kobo still sell plenty of traditionally published erotica and erotic romance. This jives with my own observation that it was never a problem to find skin mags, Black Lace novels or 50 Shades of Grey inspired BDSM erotic romance in W.H. Smith‘s physical stores. It’s only indie writers who are collectively blamed for the existence of a handful of fringe titles.

At On the Media, P.J. Vogt points out that unlike child pornography, snuff films and so-called revenge porn (which The Kernel supports BTW), which harm people, fringe erotic fiction may be tasteless, but there is no evidence that it is harmful. Bad headline though, cause Amazon does not publish “rape or incest porn”, regardless what The Kernel and the Daily Mail may claim, and the objectionable titles mostly featured consensual sex between adult step-relations, which may be offputting to some, but is not illegal.

Meanwhile, you can still buy Homo Faber by Max Frisch and Wälsungenblut by Thomas Mann (the Kindle edition costs a whopping 1.99 Euro) at Amazon, even though both books contain actual incest, unwitting father-daughter incest in Homo Faber and brother-sister incest in Wälsungenblut. And by the way, both works were (and still are) on many German highschool reading lists. I had the misfortune to read both. Indeed, when discussing the whole erotica purge with a fellow German, his first reaction was, “Does this mean they’re finally banning Homo Faber, pretty please?”

Meanwhile, some people like this fellow who operates a self-publishing site (which I’ve never heard of) are already calling for oversight and censorship. For example, one Michael Kozlowski calls for major e-book stores to create ghettoized self-publishing section at Good E-Reader, because self-published books can be found right next to traditionally published books in stores and we cannot have that, cause all indies cheat the system and put books into the wrong categories. And traditional publishers would never do this, which must be why Game of Thrones (which BTW contains incest, underage sex, rape and plenty of violence) shows up in not just in fantasy, but also in SF, horror, adventure fiction, war fiction, etc…

On a similar note, at Medium.com a fellow named Chris McCrudden also places the blame squarely on indie authors and decides that indie publishing urgently needs a sherriff, since it has become the Wild West. He also comes up with a bunch of stupid ideas for policing indie writers modelled on eBay‘s feedback system, which of course was not prone to fraud at all. Basically, indie authors should be rewarded for good behaviour and positive feedback from readers and penalised for negative feedback from readers. Now anyone who has been around for a while will have come across stories about sockpuppet reviews, malicious one-star reviews on books by rivals and negative reviews for short stories being short, serials having cliffhanger endings, erotica containing sex, non-erotica not containing sex and a dozen other things. So in short, this guy’s proposed rating system would encourage even more fraudulent reviews.

Meanwhile, the Kobo CEO Mike Serbinis gave a rather mealy-mouthed interview at The Telegraph, wherein he dithers between “Of course, we support the right to free expression” and “But some of those nasty indie authors are updating books to violate our guidelines”. The headline is also lovely: “Kobo porn scandal: the end of self-publishing”. Is it me or is the entire UK press, including supposed quality papers like The Telegraph, rapidly sinking to the level of the Daily Mail?

However, it’s not just indie authors who find themselves under fire. For Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, a book that is after all a minor urban fantasy classic, was removed from the 10th grade reading list at a highschool in Alamogordo, New Mexico, because a mother complained about a “graphic adulterous sex scene” as well as a few f-words. When I first read this article, I thought, “Wait a minute, what? Where is the graphic adulterous sex in Neverwhere. Cause there sure isn’t any in my copy.” Turns out that the “graphic adulterous sex” is a scene of maybe half a page where Richard, the protagonist, watches a couple making out on a park bench. There is no sex, just some groping and kissing and the f-word. In short, nothing that would shock a 16-year-old. And indeed I have given away a copy of Neverwhere to a 14-year-old with no problem at all. In fact, I didn’t even remember the scene that so incensed the mother from New Mexico. Though it’s telling that the violence in Neverwhere (which is rather graphic in places) did not bother the mother, but a heavy petting scene involving two nameless walk-on characters did.

Neil Gaiman himself responded at the BBC. Here is a great quote:

“There are no bad authors for children, that children like and want to read and seek out, because every child is different. They can find the stories they need to, and they bring themselves to stories.

“A hackneyed, worn-out idea isn’t hackneyed and worn out to them. This is the first time the child has encountered it. Do not discourage children from reading because you feel they are reading the wrong thing. Fiction you do not like is the gateway drug to other books you may prefer. And not everyone has the same taste as you.

“Well-meaning adults can easily destroy a child’s love of reading: stop them reading what they enjoy, or give them worthy-but-dull books that you like, the 21st Century equivalents of Victorian ‘improving’ literature. You’ll wind up with a generation convinced that reading is uncool and worse, unpleasant.”

Finally, here is a great video in which Alice Munro, newly chosen Nobel Prize laureate for literature, talks about the slippery slope of censorship. This is very fitting given the current witchhunt against indie erotica.

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6 Responses to Now let us all clutch our pearls and hyperventilate

  1. VH Folland says:

    Great article. I’ve also heard from Tracey Morait, whose popular YA book Goalden Girl (about a girl’s football team) was removed. There does not seem to be much of a pattern to what is being pulled down.

    • Cora says:

      Thanks, V.F.

      I wonder what they thought was offensive about “Goalden Girl” (great title BTW). I guess someone had their smutty imaginations working overtime and imagined it was “Debbie does Dallas”, only featuring Real Madrid or Manchester United or Bayern Munich. And now I need brain bleach to get that image out of my head.

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