Thursday, June 5, 2014

SM Johnson ~ Fighting censorship of erotic works

Summer cup because grass! Dandelions!
Good morning, darlings.

I think I was going to post about sweet puppies or cute kittens, or letting wild snakes go back into the wild... or the fact that I am having a carpenter ant problem that has me ready to burn the house down, but I went a little crazy leaving a comment on the One Handed Writers blog, so I decided to copy it to over here. And expand on it, because, why not?

Yeah, lazy. Heh.

The topic was Amazon's ever-increasing intrusiveness to filter/block/ban erotic work, and you can read the post I was responding to HERE.

Honestly, I'm okay with adult filters. I don't want my kid running into titles like Daddy's Little Fuck Toy or Having Sex With My Brother while browsing Amazon. And I think it's too much for authors to expect inflammatory titles and covers to be accepted by the mainstream.

 I write erotica and Dark myself, but the sensationalized tasteless titles are a serious turn-off (to me). Not that I'm going to "report" them, but that kind of title tells me I won't like the book or the writing style anyway, so personally, such blatant non-creative titles don't generate a buy from me, and they SHOULD be filtered.

I read the darkest and most depraved stories I can find. And when I can't find what I want to read, I write it myself. Jeremiah Quick, for instance, and my M/M BDSM Dungeon series. I love words, and I love stories, and I love for my eyes to widen with shock while I'm reading. But I also require what I read to be written well, and if an author sensationalizes covers and titles with intent to shock and titillate, it's almost guaranteed that I won't care for the story. But that's just me. There are plenty of people who eat "penthouse letter" style porn like popcorn at a movie theater, and that's great. It's great for the readers looking for it, and it's great for the authors making some dollars writing it.

And if these books are hidden behind filters, well... the people looking to BUY them will figure out how to find what they want. I wish Amazon would just give us a blatant, in your face adult filter the way Smashwords does - it's there at the top of the screen, an option to "filter adult content" - ding, ding, ding - easy!


I DO think the purpose of KDP and Amazon and other retail outlets offering vehicles for self-publishing was designed, very specifically, as a ploy for said retailers to get a share of the porn market. And when I say "porn market" I mean DOLLARS. They want a cut of the money readers are willing to spend buying your books. That's the whole point of a retailer.

I mean, seriously, do you think Amazon DIDN'T know that tons of self-published titles would be porn? Erotica and pornography has historically been the number one thing people use the internet FOR.

And on the other hand, Amazon, as a capitalist for-profit entity, doesn't want to alienate the people shopping for mainstream best-sellers, either. So god forbid search results are so raunchy and tasteless they drive these people to visit brick and mortar bookstores instead of buying from Amazon. That would be a terrible loss of sales for Amazon.

The problem with Amazon is they have automated keyword monkeys that unpublish books based on particular keywords. One of mine got knocked out for the phrase "Traction is like non-consensual bondage, and Jeff calls red."

The solution was to write to Amazon and request human review. Not only did they put my M/M BDSM book back on sale, they CALLED ME ON THE PHONE to apologize, and when they didn't catch me the first time, they called me again later that day.

Book one of the series, Above the Dungeon, btw, has been lingering as a top book in category fiction, and I've made a few hundred dollars from sales of books 2 and 3:

Believe me, Amazon WANTS the dollars generated by sales of your erotic writing. There will always be a work-around, and if that work-around is clean packaging... well, consider kids and conservative Christians wandering around Amazon aren't much different than kids and conservative Christians wandering around Walmart.

Some products, by their very design, aren't appropriate for all ages. It's not so hard to figure out, is it?

Some writers use titillating keywords in their titles to drive sales - to me, this is a marketing tactic, and is usually a red flag that the writer has wrapped a poor quality product (IMO) in shocking packaging, and I already have the opinion that the narrative is going to be amateur, filled with exclamation points, and isn't going to arouse me any more than industry standard visual porn does. (shrug). 

But at the end of the day, Amazon doesn't care about quality or content - Amazon wants their cut of your sales. So if you're running into "censorship" and "filtering" problems - I suggest writing to Amazon through their KDP Help screen. Give them the ASIN # of your blocked/banned work, and tell them why it should not be blocked, banned, or filtered. But if you sound like you want to fill children's heads with visions of anal sex and fucking daddy... perhaps you might reconsider what your book looks like on the outside. 

I'm just sayin'.

Another piece of this, for me, is how baffled I am by marketing and promotion in general. So far the best generator of Amazon sales, for me, was putting book one of a series for free. (This required writing to Amazon via their KDP Help screen, as well).

There is some school of thought that a books title should contain elements of its description, including genre, so that keywords searches pop it up in front of potential customer's eyes faster. I dunno. Above the Dungeon: A M/M BDSM Erotica Novel feels a bit cumbersome to me. Let's try another... Jeremiah Quick: A Dark And Moving Tale Of Boy Meets Girl, Leaves Girl, And Finds Girl Later. 

Yeah, cumbersome. I think I'll stick to my original premise that readers are smart and they know exactly how to find the books they want to read. 

Remember the card catalog?

Good luck, darlings, keeping your books for sale and finding wonderful dark and erotic stories to read. And have a fun and safe weekend!


  1. Great article, SM! Totally agree with you - censorship is all very well, but can definitely be taken too far, especially for erotica writers like us! I'm an author too and my work is definitely on the naughty side. I'd hate for my work to be mindlessly censored!

  2. SM, I stalked you from 1HW (thanks for the comment). First I want to say I LOVE YOUR HAIR. And now that I said that, let's see, I'd like to think readers are smart enough to find the books, yeah, but I also know how the internet ADD is (I have the "ooh something shiny!" problem myself) so if it is "too" difficult to find, well, readers have other things pulling at them. So there's that. Did you ever read the saga of my one adult-tagged book (which I won't get into again here)? Mysterious it was. Something about the cover, but they would not narrow it down. Any time I've contacted KDP I've had very impersonal and cut-and-pasted non-answer answers, very different from your experience with them calling you on the phone! Which makes me think there's this "hit and miss" thing, or luck, or something else going on. Who knows ...

    Got a kick out of you saying you read the darkest and most depraved your can find, and love your eyes to widen, etc. Me too. And yes, well-written or it takes me right out of it even if it's dark and depraved.