About Me

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Tacoma, WA, United States
An aspiring writer who currently publishes on Smashwords, Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Kobo, Sony, Apple and Diesel.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Removing Various Stories

Yesterday I received an email from Mark Coker, the founder of Smashwords that explained the need to have various titles removed from their website, thus removed from distribution for a whole slew of other websites to include Barnes and Noble, Apple, Kobo, Sony, etc.

I understand their reasoning for doing it and I am sure that you will as well after reading the below email.  But that said, this is going to hurt me to pull several of my stories, and hurt the reader as hundreds, if not thousands of stories are pulled from these websites.

I'm not a fan of bestiality, and I'm not a fan of rape, but I will admit that what two consensual adults do in their own home is their own business.  Thus, while I have not, nor ever desire to participate in incest I have written about it and those stories are all going to be pulled.  There are five stories that I know of off the top of my head that feature either incest outright, or psuedo-incest as they refer to it down below.

It's interesting to note from a writer's perspective that the stories that push the limits of what society finds acceptable are the stories that sell the best.  By far the best.  People fantasize about what they cannot have or will not have the courage to go after.  I think that fantasizing about ANYTHING is okay.  In my view, it provides an outlet for people that DO fantasize about something like Rape to satisfy a curiosity that is safe for everyone.  Who knows what would happen when you deny that ability to fantasize?  One can only imagine.

I am also against censorship in any form.  Who should be the one to decide what is acceptable for anyone else to read or write?  Who should be the gatekeeper of the written word?  Publishers filled that role for generations because they occupied a position of power and they could.  Smashwords is doing a good job of challenging that and I hope that they will continue to challenge this in some way.  Whether that is by finding an alternate way of processing and accepting payments (Google maybe) or some other way I don't pretend to know.  

What I do know, is that I don't want anyone no matter who they are to be a moral gatekeeper for me or anyone else.  I'm thirty years old and I can decide for myself what I should read and what I should not, thank you very much.

Your thoughts?

Dear Smashwords Authors, Publishers and Literary Agents,

This email is being sent to all authors, publishers and agents who have published
erotica at Smashwords.  We will also post this message to Site Updates and the
Press Room.

According to our records, you pubish 23 erotica-categorized title(s) out of 25
title(s) now live in the Smashwords system.  This message may or may not pertain
to you.

Today we are modifying our Terms of Service to clarify our policies regarding
erotic fiction that contains bestiality, rape and incest.  If you write in any
of these categories, please carefully read the instructions below and remove
such content from Smashwords.  If you don’t write in these categories, you can
disregard this message.

PayPal is requiring Smashwords to immediately begin removing the above-mentioned
categories of books.  Please review your title(s) and proactively remove and
archive such works if you are affected.

I apologize for the short notice, and I’m especially sorry for any financial
or emotional hardship this may cause the authors and publishers affected by this

As you may have heard, in the last couple weeks PayPal began aggressively enforcing
a prohibition against online retailers selling certain types of "obscene" content.
 For good background on the issue, see this Selena Kitt post here - http://selenakitt.com/blog/index.php/2012/02/19/slippery-slope-erotica-censorship/
or here - http://theselfpublishingrevolution.blogspot.com/2012/02/slippery-slope-erotica-censorship.html#comment-form
or this Kindleboards thread here - http://www.kindleboards.com/index.php/topic,104604.0.html

On Saturday, February 18, PayPal’s enforcement division contacted Smashwords
with an ultimatum.  As with the other ebook retailers affected by this enforcement,
PayPal gave us only a few days to achieve compliance otherwise they threatened
to deactivate our PayPal services.   I've had multiple conversations with PayPal
over the last several days to better understand their requirements.  Their team
has been helpful, forthcoming and supportive of the Smashwords mission.  I appreciate
their willingness to engage in dialogue. Although they have tried their best
to delineate their policies, gray areas remain.

Their hot buttons are bestiality, rape-for-titillation, incest and underage erotica.

The underage erotica is not a problem for us.  We already have some of the industry’s
strictest policies prohibiting underage characters (we don’t even allow non-participating
minors to appear in erotica), and our vetting team is always on the lookout for
"barely legal" content where supposed adults are placed in underage situations.

The other three areas of bestiality, rape and incest were less well-defined in
our Terms of Service (https://www.smashwords.com/about/tos) before today.   I’ll
tackle these one-by-one below, and I'll provide you a summary of the changes
that will go into effect immediately.

*Incest:*  Until now, we didn’t have a policy prohibiting incest between consenting
adults, or its non-biological variation commonly known as "Pseudo-incest."  Neither
did our retailer partners.  We’ve noticed a surge of PI books over the last few
months, and many of them have "Daddy" in the title.  I wouldn't be surprised
if the surge in "Daddy" titles prompted PayPal to pursue this purge (I don't
know).  PI usually explores sexual relations between consenting adult stepchildren
with their step parents, or between step-siblings.  Effectively immediately,
we no longer allow incest of any variety in erotica.

Like many writers, censorship of any form greatly concerns me.  It is with some
reluctance that I have made the decision to prohibit incest-themed erotica at
Smashwords.  Regardless of your opinion on incest, it’s a slippery slope when
we allow others to control what we think and write.  Fiction is fantasy.  It’s
not real.  It unfolds in our imagination.  I’ve always believed fiction writers
and readers should have the freedom to explore diverse topics and situations
in the privacy of their own mind.  From an imagination perspective, erotica is
little different from a literary novel that puts us inside the mind of farm animals
(1984), or a thriller novel that puts us inside the mind of a terrorist, or a
horror novel that puts us inside the mind of an axe-murderer or their victim.
 All fiction takes us somewhere.  We read fiction to be moved, and to feel.
Sometimes we want to feel touched, moved, or disturbed.  A reader should have
the right to feel moved however they desire to be moved.

Incest, however, carries thorny baggage.  The legality of incest is murky.  It
creates a potential legal liability for Smashwords as our business and our books
become more present in more jurisdictions around the world.   Anything that threatens
Smashwords directly threatens our ability to serve the greater interests of all
Smashwords authors, publishers, retailers and customers who rely upon us as the
world’s leading distributor of indie ebooks.  The business considerations compel
me to not fall on the sword for incest.  I realize this is an imperfect decision.
 The slippery slope is dangerous, but I believe this imperfect decision is in
the best interest of the community we serve.

*Bestiality:*  Until now, we didn’t have a stated policy regarding bestiality.
I like animals.  Call me old fashioned or hypocritical (I’m not a vegetarian),
but I don’t want to be a party to anyone enjoying animals for sexual gratification,
for the same reason we’ve never allowed pedophilia books.  I don’t want to publish
it, sell it, or distribute it.  The TOS is now modified to reflect this.  Note
this does not apply to shape-shifters common in paranormal romance provided the
were-creature characters are getting it on in their human form.  Sorry I need
to clarify it that way, but we don’t want to see bestiality erotica masquerading
as paranormal romance.

*Rape:*  Although our Terms of Service prohibits books that advocate violence
against others, we did not specifically identify rape.  This was an oversight
on our part.  Now we have clarified the policy.  We do not want books that contain
rape for the purpose of titillation.  At Smashwords, rape has no longer has a
place in erotica.  It has no place anywhere else if the purpose is to titillate.
 Non-consensual BDSM - or any other form of non-consensual violence against another
person - is prohibited.

*NEXT STEPS:*  If you have titles at Smashwords that are now expressly forbidden,
by the end of day Monday (Feb 27), please click to your Dashboard at (EDITED FOR MY PRIVACY)
and click UNPUBLISH then click ARCHIVE.  This will also cause our automated systems
to remove the titles from retail distribution.

DO NOT try to hide or obfuscate violating content by changing book titles, book
descriptions and tags.  If we discover such shenanigans, said authors/publishers
will risk account deletion and forfeiture of any accrued earnings, per our Terms
of Service.

We take violations of the TOS seriously, because such violations jeopardize the
opportunities for your fellow authors.

We do not want to see PayPal clamp down further against erotica.  We think our
authors should be allowed to publish erotica.  Erotica, despite the attacks it
faces from moralists, is a category worthy of protection.  Erotica allows readers
to safely explore aspects of sexuality that they might never want to explore
in the real world.

The moralists forget that we humans are all sexual creatures, and the biggest
sex organ is the brain.  If it were not the case, none of us would be here.
Erotica authors are facing discrimination, plain and simple.  Topics that are
perfectly acceptable in mainstream fiction are verboten in erotica.  That’s not
fair.  Our decisions today are imperfect.  Please, act responsibly, don’t try
to game the system or publish content that pushes the limits of legality.  Help
us continue to help indie authors around the world to continue to publish and
distribute with freedom.

*THINGS TO AVOID:*  Avoid using words such as 'bestiality,' 'rape,' 'incest,'
'underage,' or 'barely legal' in book titles, book descriptions or keyword tags,
otherwise Smashwords may conclude you’re violating the Terms of Service, or trying
to push the limits.  If you’re writing non-erotic works, and any of these words
are necessary, then you’re okay.

On Tuesday (Feb 28) we will begin removing content that we deem in violation.
 When we remove a title, you will receive an email notifying you of such, and
that email will append this letter along with instructions on how to notify us
if we made an error.   I promise you, we will make mistakes, so please work with
us, take a deep breath and honor us with your patience.

If you believe we removed something in error, please click "Comments/questions,"
mention the title we removed, provide the hyperlink to said title, and provide
your *calm* reasoning for why we should reconsider.

Our support team is backlogged, so it may take several days for them to respond.
 As we mention in the Terms of Service, we reserve the right to remove anything
for any reason.  That said, we will also try to make our decisions with care
and prudence.

You might wonder if Smashwords should simply switch to a different payment provider.
 It’s not so easy.  PayPal is designed into the wiring of the Smashwords platform.
 They run the credit card processing for our retail store, and they’re how we
pay our authors and publishers.  PayPal is also an extremely popular, trusted
payment option for our customers.  It is not feasible for us to simply switch
to another provider, should such a suitable provider even exist, especially with
so few days notice.

Please note our Terms of Service is subject to additional modifications as we
work to bring Smashwords into compliance with PayPal requirements.  Let’s hope
today’s actions mark the limit of the slippery slope.

Significant gray area remain.  Erotica is still permitted, though if authors
try to push the limits of what’s permitted, we risk further clamping down.  Please
be responsible.  Don’t go there.   If you’re going to push the limits, push the
limits of great writing, not the limits of legality.

Thank you for assisting our compliance efforts on such short notice.  We know
these decisions will be upsetting to some of our authors and publishers, and
for that we apologize.  We do believe, however, that these decisions will place
us on a stronger footing to represent the best interests all indie authors and
publishers from here forward.

Best wishes,

Mark Coker

P.S.  Please contact our support team for inquiries regarding this change in
our Terms of Service by clicking the "comments/questions" link at the top of
any page at Smashwords.  If your inquiry regards a specific title, please include
the hyperlink to the book page of that specific title.