I wrote this post some time ago and never published it (I have no idea why). Recently I had cause to think about the subject again, so I thought I’d polish the dust off, post it, and add an addendum to it.
OCTOBER 2, 2013:
It’s no secret that in the world of fiction today, the Young Adult (and “New Adult”) genres are a massive industry. They appeal not only to the young but also to adults who prefer a less gritty take on the world, who want to avoid graphic sex and violence or other purely adult themes. I’m personally a fan of children’s fiction, not because I’m at all bothered by graphic content, but because often they are the most imaginative. But no industry can thrive without versatility, and that’s why, when I set out to begin the Dark series, I deliberately let myself write whatever felt like the truth. It didn’t matter how seedy or sordid it was, how violent, how foul-mouthed or sexually explicit – if it felt like something a character would really say or do, it went in. I didn’t shoehorn these things in on purpose to be gritty, but I let things take their natural course.
I always intended Before Dark (previously titled Alpha) to be published, not only on the commercial platforms such as Amazon and Apple, but also on places like Wattpad and Fictionpress. After all, the wider your reach, the better, right? But when I checked out their Terms of Service, I found that I wouldn’t be able to publish on either because they have a strict policy against such content – specifically graphic sex, violence, prostitution and drug use. That’s me out four times, then. 🙁 But it made me wonder if they weren’t excluding too large a section of modern fiction by applying such rigid rules; after all, by their criteria, Fifty Shades of Grey would never have been allowed. And many readers want such content; my mother’s Tamarei series has all of the above, and every positive review she’s received has been eulogising over the sex scenes as if she were the natural successor to Laurell K. Hamilton (which makes her blush, lol). Of course they have to prevent children from accessing 18+ material, but wouldn’t that be solved by having a separate section of their site with a gateway page? Fictionpress used to have such a thing, as I recall, and maybe they still do – but if they do, I couldn’t find it.
I was curious as to what my readers thought – I mean, most of the reviews I’ve had said although it was gory in places, it felt as if it belonged in the plot and wasn’t gratuitous, which I was relieved about. So I assume most of you are okay with the graphic nature of the series. But I’ve also heard horror stories from authors whose books were savaged because the readers didn’t like the bad language, sex, etc., and that’s enough to make anyone in my position nervous!
APRIL 11, 2014:
Last week Jenna (Grey) and I were reviewing a list of promotional sites for indie books that a fellow author had kindly given us – there were at least fifty and we had to trawl through each and every one to see if they would be a good match for us. Many had to be ruled out because they catered only for free books, which is fair enough. If I had my way Before Dark would be permafree, and I’m still trying to find a way to do that. Other sites on the list required you to have at least 4 (or 5, or 10) reviews with an average of at least 4 stars. This one annoyed me because so many authors BUY reviews from professional services, friends, family or even the less-than-legal review sites out there, and this sort of criteria felt like rewarding the cheaters. Even when I met their targets, I didn’t feel inclined to use those sites for that reason. So slowly but surely our list shrank.
We thought we would get maybe twenty from the list that we could use – some free, some a pay service. But as we read their Terms and Conditions my heart sank because, time and again, we encountered the same problem I’d had with the likes of Wattpad and Fictionpress – they insisted on keeping it family-friendly and not allowing adult content. Actually, most specified no erotica, as if they were under the impression sex was the only form of adult material, but that’s another argument for another day. In the end I think we came away with maybe five sites we could legitimately use to promote. From a list of fifty-odd. And the majority of them were ruled out purely on the grounds of adult content.
The thing is, there are literally thousands of trad-pub books out there that are just reeking with sex, violence, bad language, drug use, gore, you name it and it exists. The Anita Blake series, one of my perennial favourites, borders on bestiality when it come to the wereanimals. But because they come from a traditional publisher, it’s allowed. So why are indies being persecuted for, basically, telling the truth about the world? Would it be believable for my Temple agents to say “Oh, fiddlesticks” when a vamp got away? Would the vampires still be scary if they weren’t violent, if they weren’t so shockingly hard to kill that it means decapitation or fire to actually make them stay still? I don’t think so. Certain genres and subjects need to be gritty in order to ring true. Think of some of the real classics out there: I’ve mentioned Lolita before, with its psychological study of a peadophile and the object of his obsession; I’ve raved over The Magic Toyshop, where an incestuous relationship is the catalyst to the final tragedy. There is the harrowing and truly brilliant Nineteen Eighty-Four, one of the most violent books I’ve read and by far the most frightening. Lady Chatterly’s Lover was banned for years. All of these would be ruled out by these sad generalisations regarding adult content. Yes, there are books out there that are dangerous and should be kept from the public. I’ve seen a few indies touting books that were, quite honestly, vile, because they were actively glamorising the content they’d chosen to include. But a blanket ban on ALL books that touch upon certain topics isn’t the way to keep these few nasty little examples out of people’s hands. It’s only damaging those of us that are trying to use this material for legitimate stories, or trying to make a statement about the world. It’s getting hot in here . . . has it reached Fahrenheit 451 yet?