There’s been tons in the media this week regarding the mass panic of companies such as WHSmith and Kobo, and the ridiculous solution they came up with to prevent potentially damaging erotica from being sold through their websites. Their answer was not to pull all erotica titles until they’ve been screened, which would have been understandable, but to pull ALL self-published books regardless of genre or content. Meanwhile, many trad-pub novels with similar content has escaped the cull unscathed. I suspect there’s going to be claims of discrimination over this for months to come, and yes, I’m a little mad that all indies are being dubbed “bad” and all trad-pubs “good”.
It’s hard to say exactly how I feel about this. I’ve never been comfortable with erotica titles that glamourise rape, incest, paedophilia and bestiality, particularly when the author has done some fancy fandangling to the search engines so these titles show up alongside mine. On the other hand I have absolutely no problem with these things being portrayed in fiction for a purpose other than titillation. Novels like Lolita and The Magic Toyshop are among my favourites of all time, and feature paedophilia and incest respectively. But these novels are psychological and social studies; the taboo subject matter is not graphically described and more importantly, is pivotal to the development of the plot. It’s not there purely to arouse.
When the new vetting procedures are in place for these companies, there’s going to be the question of just what counts as inappropriate content. Things like sex with dinosaurs is likely to be the first to go. What worries me is if they fail to distinguish between pure titillation and serious discussion of the topics above. Alpha features a young Dark who has turned to prostitution to survive on the streets. He’s a heroin user and a murderer (with mitigating circumstances, of course) and yes, the novella does include mentions of rape later on, when the vampires capture him. The point of these ingredients is to provide an obstacle for my boy to overcome; he must grow from the lowest in society into the inherently good man we’ve already met. New criteria might well deem it inappropriate simply because these things feature at all, without consideration of the context; and if they decide to go that route, a lot of authors and many, many fine books will fall by the wayside. Just imagine how Lolita might fare under such circumstances.
I have to admit that a part of me will be pleased to see some of the worst stuff go; it’s a constant embarrassment that whenever you admit to being a self-published author, people tend to assume you must be producing badly-written smut featuring Daddy bonking his daughter’s school friends or, worse, a huntress boning a dinosaur. But how to determine what goes and what stays? Fifty Shades of Grey would be in trouble if it was self-published today, and that scene where Anita Blake had sex with Nathaniel in half-wereleopard form would never be allowed. I only hope Amazon, Kobo and others choose their criteria wisely. Apple have been vetting their erotica content for the past year, and they accepted Dark without a quibble, so I probably don’t have to worry overmuch – but there are many walking a finer line than me and still producing good books. It’s them I’m worried about.
One last thing: I always knew this would happen. And believe me, it’s no pleasure to be able to say “I told you so.” 🙁