SmutTalk: Censored!

I feel like such a big kid now!

I just got an email forwarded by my publisher informing them and me that Amazon is pulling Juliet Takes Off from its shelves because it’s “in violation of our content guidelines.”

Those guidelines (as they pertain in this case)?

I quote:

  • Pornography We don’t accept pornography or offensive depictions of graphic sexual acts.
  • Offensive Content What we deem offensive is probably about what you would expect.

My publisher expressed bewilderment.

Me? I’m not bewildered; I’m livid.

I’ve obviously read and thought a lot about the distinction between erotica and porn. We’ve thrown around a lot of definitions, but here’s the one that’s in my head right now: sex in the service of the story or the development of the character is erotic; sex for the sake of sex (or $) is porn. Does that cover it?

“Juliet Takes Off” is certainly sexual — it contains an extended scene in which a young woman loses her virginity, and a framing sequence that’s quite explicitly sexual. But it’s absolutely nowhere near the line crossed by something like 90% of the Erotica section on Amazon. (The work of present company, obviously, excepted.) But the whole story sequence is focused on the growth of the two characters and their coming to terms with each other.

Pornographic? I don’t think so. I’d have called it literary erotica — how successful its literary pretensions I can’t say, but that’s the intent. Porn? No.

What actually bothers me even more is the “offensive” bit. Obviously, I’m mortified to have offended anyone — and I assume that someone flagged the story as such. But I have NO idea what in the name of all that is sexy could have offended anyone about this particular story. It’s a story in which two adult characters of opposite gender who happen to love each other have sex. Twice. By mutual consent. And it’s all pretty straight sex, in every sense. Oh — I guess there is a very quick hand job. Still. Offensive?

Amazon says their definition of offensive is “about what you would expect” — which means… what? Me, there’s only one thing I find truly offensive: the glorification or romanticization of non-consensual sex. What does that mean, you ask? Thank you for asking: non-consensual sex means any sex involving anyone incapable of saying yes (children, animals, the mentally retarded, coma victims, sleepers, etc.) or who has said no.

There are other things that folks find erotic that really don’t turn me on — things that when I was reading and writing fan-fiction I was astonished to find where very popular. BDSM, scat, all of that. I don’t find those things offensive; they just don’t do anything for me. Turn me off, even. But rape — statutory or vanilla — portrayed for teh sex0rs? That I find patently offensive. Also illegal in most countries including the US of A.

And the Amazon Erotica category is FULL of those. Here’s the link to a search on “rape” in the Erotica section. And here’s the search on “non-con.” How about some “forced sex“? A few of those are about rape survivors. But most? :-p

“Bestiality”? We got that.

Underage” shows up with only 17 hits. Yay!

“Chan” mostly shows Asian authors, which is a relief.

You want to know two things that really piss me off? Some of these stories outsell mine, for reasons that I can’t even begin to fathom; and these are all on Amazon but mine isn’t.

Ahem. Psst. As of this moment, Juliet Takes Off is still available on Amazon.

It also remains on sale on Stillpoint/Eros (the audiobook too!), Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, and allRomanceEbooks. And the audiobook is on Audible and iTunes.

Oh, and the Goodreads page is here.

And what the heck. Here’s the trailer:


There. I’m still furious, but I’m feeling better now.

23 thoughts on “SmutTalk: Censored!

  1. It’s your cover. Amazon is cracking down (as you saw via my blog post) on nudity big time as of about a week ago. Things that were “okay” before aren’t anymore. And they’re just addressing new books right now, which means you WILL find things that used to be okay… but don’t worry, Amazon will get to those too.

    Change your cover. No nudity. Then appeal. I explain how to appeal in my “pornocalypse” post:

    That should do it.

    And I’m sorry it’s happened to you. It’s not fair Amazon doesn’t tell author and publishers what their policies are. Transparency would be nice – but I doubt we’ll ever get it. :/



    • The cover! Wow. Of the seven titles of mine that have been published to date, four of them feature a woman’s fully naked back — this one is half-naked (well, maybe 2/3) so I guess I figured it was the one least likely to be tossed! The publisher had already had to cover a nipple and crop out a butt-crack, but we thought backs were safe.

      The funny thing is, I’m close to having enough material in that series to issue a compilation; we were thinking of using that cover, but I guess not!

      Thank you for your insight — both here and in that post, which I found hugely helpful. I’ve already appealed the Scarlet Letter slapped on a couple of my bigger sellers, neither of which shows full nudity on the cover (front or rear — nudity, that is).

      I know that sex is in George Carlin Seven Deadly Words territory for titles — the publisher added that to the subtitle of “Juliet Takes Off” as an experiment. Could that have been part of what got it flagged?

      Also, have you found that erotic pulls the same kind of scrutiny? That’s featured in just about all of my titles and subtitles.

      In any case, thank you again for your help. Writing is a lonely enough profession — I’m finding writing erotica to be even more so (I’m a high school teacher, meaning I can’t exactly talk about my smutty writing with my friends). So to have someone successful whose work I enjoy and admire sharing her experiences is invaluable.


    • Hey, you probably know this, but Amazon seems to have extended the ban-hammer on any erotica that mentions virginity in the title or description:

      I think we’re going to be down to covering our books in brown paper bags pretty soon. I’m trying to launder my small oeuvre — I can’t imagine what a pain it is for you to have to revise the covers, titles and descriptions on all of your books.


  2. KD, I’m really sorry. No wonder you’re livid; this is outrageous and unjust and imbecilic (and a host of other adjectives I’m sure you’ve already applied). You’ve my sympathy and my indignation…and I’m sure, the support of every erotica author out there.

    PS: Selena’s response makes sense of Amazon’s moronic decision to leave my third title marked with the Scarlet Letter because of its cover, which is *identical* to the first two (which had the SL removed on appeal). ‘Cretinous dolts’ falls short of the mark by quite a distance, but there you have it…


    • Amazon’s decisions have a certain logic at a macro level — but at the level of actual authors and books… Yeah. Moronic.

      And thank you. As I said to Selena, this is a lonely vocation. It’s wonderful to connect to you, even if it’s over stupidity like this.


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  4. Wow, this really fucking sucks. And that you don’t get an explanation of what the problem is.

    I’ve been in the middle of an Amazon crush lately, basically for not giving me shit over stupid stuff, but yeah. This. Sucky.

    And totally on the awfulness of having really vile shit for sale, and then making a fuss about details elsewhere.

    If it helps it’s probably just some random thing from some random staff member and not in any way personal or reasonable or even very consistent. So like you said, someone points it out and you get hit with the beaty stick.

    But it still sucks.


    • Oh, I love Amazon in a lot of ways — but the being censored thing really sucks.

      I understand that there’s no way for them to enforce the rules fairly. How many books get uploaded an hour? There’s a reason that Apple’s iBookstore takes such a long time to get approved on: they actually try to look at every title. I’ve had the first Juliet book up there awaiting their decision for something like three months.

      Still. I don’t have to like it. :-p

      I think there’s likely some combination of two causes: one is that Stillpoint added the word “sex” to the subtitle (though that shouldn’t have gotten the book banned); the other is that, as Selena Kitt pointed out, Amazon’s meandering line of demarcation may now push a picture of a naked woman’s back over to the dark side. Which is funny, because the picture on this book isn’t even naked. She’s taking the shirt (vest, down there, I think), you know, off. Like the title says. Actually, I think the removal of clothing can be more charged than full nudity. But that’s me.


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  6. Me too. On the lots of ways.

    And I’d be as upset by the not being told how to fix it as the being told, too. It just makes it seem more, I don’t know, capricious, if that means what I think it does.

    Now I’m wondering whether it’s both the word and the cover, or just the cover, because Erin actually has more nude on its cover – like bare shoulders too – shock! – and not blurry.

    So I might go and just preemptively change it, if they’re having a purge, so I don’t need to get on a high horse and make principled stands once trouble starts. And this does sort of make sense, at least to me…

    But yeah. I hope it all gets sorted out. And just, sucky.


  7. Yes. You do know that word. It does mean what you think it does.

    I think since the cover’s been up for months, you may be better off leaving it as is as opposed to running the whole book in front of a possible Amazon employee, who might actually, you know, READ it, and might — for reasons unknown — take offense.


  8. Yes, good point.

    And to be honest, I am frequently amazed that people don’t take more offense at that particular one. I mean, the people who are looking to be offended, not other people.

    So yes, and thank you, and that is good advice and I shall leave well enough alone.

    And because hopefully long enough has passed she isn’t looking now – ooh, you have famous people reading you! I’m impressed!


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  15. I write romantic fiction. All of my books have sex scenes in them, nothing too outrageous, but because the characters fall in love and sometimes have children. Can’t have children without the sex. I think that Amazon needs to come up with actual guidelines, not just we know pornography when we see it. What is pornographic to one person is not to another. And standards of pornography have changed over time. They didn’t publish “Lady Chatterly’s Lover”, “Tropic of Cancer” or Robert Burns’ “Merry Muses of Caledonia” for many years after they were written. They’re probably not too shocking by today’s standards.


    • Thank you, Pamela.

      I think that’s the thing that really bothered me the most: the lack of clarity. And, ultimately, the arbitrariness of the dividing line on what was in and what was out. If it talked about a young woman’s virginity or just used the word “virgin” in the title (or “Mommy” or “Daddy” or…) or description it was out. No attention at all was paid to the actual content.

      And don’t you think those books are still shocking — as books? As erotica, maybe not. Pretty tame.

      I’ve always felt that the decision on the US vs. A Book Called Ulysses case should be required reading for anyone who had anything to do with writing or publishing.


      • I just wrote a book about Robert Burns and I must admit that I was a little shocked by his “Merry Muses of Caledonia” which was a collection of “bawdy” drinking songs. They were pretty obscene. I discovered “Lady Chatterly’s Lover” and “Tropic of Cancer” on the top shelf of the library in my house when I was in high school. I was a little shocked by them at the time, but I enjoyed them. D.H. Lawrence and Henry Miller were both excellent writers. Sex is part of the human experience. I’m not sure that Amazon should be discouraging people from writing about it. Maybe if it’s only purpose is to titillate. Maybe not even then though.


      • “Sex is part of the human experience.”

        Yes. A thousand times. That’s what interests me — not the mechanics. And titillation is part of the deal — Shakespeare titillated. Still, I understand what you mean.

        And I get that it’s their web site and they can sell what they’d like, but it would be nice if they gave us some clear idea of what it is that was and wasn’t okay.


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