Sunday, February 26, 2012

Censorship: how the latest erotica debacle affects all readers & writers

For a few days, I’ve tracked news on several targeted attempts to remove erotica titles online, from retailers like Smashwords, Bookstrand, AllRomance and Siren Publishing. Under PayPal’s Acceptable Use Policy, no one can use the service for sales of “items that are considered obscene.

Last week, AllRomance, (where my historical titles appear) sent me an email that indicated a new classification system for erotica. A few days later, Dear Author commented on Siren Publishing’s push to remove erotica titles from self-published authors, which generated a lovely laughable reply. Smashwords recently informed its erotica authors that it would be removing certain titles, bowing to PayPal’s threat to sever their business relationship, whereby SW’s authors received payments through PayPal.

In varying degrees, I recognize the prevailing factors that compel each of the online retailers who have taken drastic steps against their authors. Businesses have to follow the law. I also disagree with the principles behind their actions 100%; when did PayPal begin to define what was obscene? Who's the next arbiter of good or moral taste in the business world? Remember when Amazon removed certain erotica titles in 2010? The challenge for US businesses, where hysteria over sex and hypocrisy continually evolve, is nothing new.

Voltaire once stated,I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it.” The graphic covers or content of certain erotica titles actually disgust me. My objections are about my personal tastes, which should not dictate the buying or reading choices of anyone else. I don’t find erotica that contains incest or sex with minors appealing. Yet, I’m a huge fan of Anne Rice’s Sleeping Beauty trilogy. Culling erotica titles en masse has the effect of removing books where the sex occurs between consenting adults.   

Our governmental and legal systems have typically been the final arbitrators of obscenity. While pornography is not erotica, the same standards are applicable to both. The obscenity standard allows censorship of content that some believe has little social, artistic or literary value. In Jacobellis vs. Ohio, Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart once said of pornography, “I know it when it when I see it…”, yet American jurisprudence has long recognized that regulating taste through censorship sets the precedent for a dangerous, slippery slope.

When censorship begins to affect what we read, where does it stop? How many more challenges will Andrews’ Flowers in the Attic series face because the books deal with incest? Will someone decide there is too much violence in horror fiction someday? Will my Rule of Love, which revolves around the author of the Kama Sutra and has explicit sexual scenes, suffer the same fate as erotica titles because someone might consider it obscene?

When we allow the loss of personal freedoms for others, we’re just setting up for the inevitable, when someone takes action against our liberties. A sad day for all.

ETA: Dear Author sums up the actions of each online retailer mentioned above here

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Favorite literary couples

Francisco Hayez's The Kiss
Happy Valentine's Day! Before some of you roll your eyes, just know that typically I would be doing the same, but not today. The lack of a significant other in my personal life isn't going to stop me from enjoying this day for lovers. Actually, I can't do that since I spent most of the morning editing the great love scene in The Burning Candle between Isabel de Vermandois and William de Warenne. Well, I'll see if I think it's a great love scene when I finish up after work.

My work has also inspired some thoughts of my favorite literary couples and consideration of what made their attachment to each other so powerful. Elizabeth Bennett and FitzWilliam Darcy. Lancelot and Guinevere. Romeo and Juliet. Each relationship had it's own tragedies to overcome and HEA wasn't necessarily assured, but what endures in my mind is the power of that love between the couple.

In writing The Burning Candle, I've tried to capture the essence of that all consuming love. I've tried to imagine what it must have been like for the real William and Isabel, how she endured a marriage to another man, while yearning for William, until the day he stole her way to his castle at Lewes. How she felt in returning to her husband, knowing the consequences of her adultery with William and how the members the Anglo-Norman nobility might have regarded her. When William Shakespeare wrote, "The course of true love never did run smooth," he could have easily been referring to William and Isabel.

Who are some of your favorite literary couples? What is about their passion for each other that makes them remarkable?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Don't let publishing kill your soul

If you're wondering where this morning's inspirational message comes from, for several days I've been exchanging emails with other writers on their struggles in publishing. One has retreated in a cave of self-loathing because her debut has been targeted by a gang of jealous internet bullies, all because she self-published her work. Another long-time, dear friend of mine has been offered a deal with the devil in her latest contract, where she's expected to sign away rights to her book for the copyright period. Someone whom I'm greatly admire has been reduced to bitter tears of frustration because she hasn't enjoyed the successes of other writers, despite her own terrific skills. Another has stopped querying altogether after receiving the last rejection of his poetry anthology and has no plans to self-publish.

To all these friends and others like them, I say do not let the business of publishing rob you of the desire to write, query, pursue a traditional contract or self-publish. You make your own success and you won't do it by giving up on your goals. Define success by your own terms, and if you have to start in small increments, then so be it. Some writers are lucky to sell thousands of copies in their debut month. Be happy for them or not, but focus on your own writing efforts. Keep realistic, positive and attainable goals in mind. "I want to sell a hundred books this month" is a common goal I often hear  from other writers, but what happens when readers don't respond the way you want them to do? Does that mean you stop writing and just wait around for those hundred sales?

As much as we can't lose sight of our goals, we also can't treat our publishing efforts as anything but a business. That means putting forward the best product possible; it is the only thing we can directly control. Some will love it, others will hate it for reasons that have nothing to do with us, all revolving around their own expectations. We only, truly fail when we don't try harder, when we let publishing turn our love of writing into something we loathe or no longer recognize. Don't let this business kill your soul.      

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Milestone Moments

This week, I silently celebrated a nice milestone: over 2,000 ebook sales of Sultana. Didn't mention it to any of my friends, co-workers or loved ones. If you're reading this blog, then you heard it first. My mother is probably wondering why I'm so cheery, despite a dreadful cold.  

For many of my writing friends, that figure is small, but it's very significant to me, as I recall my struggles to get this title published by traditional means. Along that journey, there were the nagging fears and self-recriminations involved in being 'agented, not sold' and one spectacularly bigoted rejection, something about "a positive portrayal of Muslim society post-September 11 will never sell." I keep that 'gem' along with a few other ridiculous letters from industry insiders tacked up on my desk for a good laugh. Reaching this milestone on what is the anniversary month of Sultana's publication is also gratifying, because I have done very little to promote the title.  

Last month, in celebration of the upcoming anniversary, I offered the book for free over a two-week span, which resulted in over 15,000 downloads, some additional good reviews and 108 sales of the sequel, Sultana's Legacy. It keeps getting better. Amazon's been a bit wonky all day, but for the first time, Sultana broke into the smaller genre categories at #92 in Family Sagas (yes, I took a screenshot for posterity). I don't expect things to stay this way forever - that's my inner pessimist / realist talking - but I'll enjoy while it lasts. Lest you think I'm planning on grinning like an idiot all night watching KDP data, I have a book to put out in the spring that I'm steadily editing. No rest for the sick or highly motivated. 

To all those who read and critiqued early drafts, supported and believed in the strengths of Sultana, and those readers who've bought the book and / or its sequel, you have my undying thanks.


Time flies when you're having fun, or writing novels.

It's been a tremendous twelve months. A new job and health issues have impacted my writing time, but I'm still at it, trying to wrap...