Genre Bias

I began drafting this blog post several days ago, but never published it. I happened to pop over to Facebook (as I’m prone to do), stumbled upon several posts and articles about a huge shakedown at Amazon, and got completely derailed. Well, now I’m back to finish this post, and strangely, the upheaval in the publishing world has not changed the title of this post, nor has it changed much of the content.

For those of you who don’t have a clue what I’m referring to, here’s a quick overview: A recent online article accused Amazon of selling “porn.” Though Amazon supposedly has strict guidelines, there are books being sold which violate such guidelines–books which glorify rape, incest, and bestiality. Other online book sellers also came under scrutiny. Amazon (and other sellers) removed the books that were specifically mentioned in the article. In panic, they also removed other books, some of which were not in violation of Amazon’s guidelines. Kobo (UK) began removing all self-published books. (You can read more here, here, and here.)

Like many bloggers over the past several days have done, I could write about censorship. I could state my opinion on erotica and the authors who write it. I could speculate about the demise of self-publishing as we know it. I could even ramble about where Amazon went wrong and how all of this could have been prevented. But, I think I’ll stick with my original theme. Genre bias.

We all have our preconceived notions about some genres and the people who write them. We’ve all heard derogatory comments about erotica or romance or young adult vampire books. Maybe we’ve uttered a few of those comments. Lately, I’ve come in contact with some very vocal critics. I’ve even discovered I might suffer from a few genre biases of my own.

For those of you who are new to this blog, you might not know about my involvement in a group called Authors to Watch. My primary task is maintaining a blog where authors are interviewed. We also have a Facebook page and a Facebook group with dedicated admins who keep things from exploding out of control. As the group expanded from 300 to 3000 members in a few short months, the spammers took over. We had ads for everything from shoes to dildos. And, book links. Lots of books links. And, strangely enough, the book links seemed to be coming from the same few people.

Several authors complained about the frequency of the promotional links, and the primary target of their complaints were directed at the erotica writers. Maybe it was the covers with half naked couples intertwined that offended them. Or maybe it was the graphic excerpts. Let’s face it–no one wants to see a non-stop stream of promotional links. But, I can think of at least a half-dozen authors of other genres who spammed the group. It was obvious from some of the comments about “vampire porn,” that some authors do not want to see their own work promoted alongside erotica or vampire romance.

Secretly, I agreed with some of the critics who said there were some very badly written excerpts and some poorly produced covers being advertised in the group. It’s hard not to judge. It’s impossible not to have an opinion. But, was it my place to decide which books were worthy of advertisement and which were spam? Was it my place to decide which erotic covers were sensual and which were offensive? It took me about thirty seconds to decide I wasn’t willing to go down the slippery slope of selective censorship. And, you know what? I wasn’t proud of myself for agreeing with the authors who felt it was okay to criticize my fellow authors. And, this was what originally got me thinking about genre bias.

Fast forward to this week…

With the big shakedown on Amazon and Kobo this week, erotica has come under fire in a big way–and not just on booksellers’ sites. On Facebook, I’ve seen numerous posts from authors who claimed the erotica authors deserved to have their books removed for writing trash. Never mind the fact that many non-erotic books were removed. Never mind most erotica is well within the booksellers’ guidelines and should not have been removed. Erotica was painted with a wide brush and labeled trash or perverted. What do such labels imply about the authors who choose this genre?

Authors have been debating all week long about where we draw the line. What is acceptable in literature? What is inappropriate? Is censorship always bad, or do some books deserve to be banned.

I’m not here to debate this. What I’d like to ask is this: As authors, where do we draw the line in attacking and judging each other?

Is it okay to judge authors based on their chosen genre? Is it okay to decide erotica authors aren’t “real” authors just because we don’t like the genre they choose to write? What about fantasy? Or Young Adult authors? How about paranormal romance? Is that “real” literature?

As readers, we all have our preferences, and that’s fine. I’ll admit–there are certain genres I prefer over others. There are books I don’t like. There are titles and book covers that, in my opinion, look “trashy.” I have a right to my opinion, just like you have a right to yours. I don’t think I have the right to decide another author is not “legitimate” because he or she writes a genre I don’t enjoy. I don’t think I have the right to decide an entire genre isn’t real literature.

Authors invest a great deal of time and emotion in their books. They love their characters. Erotica authors are the same as any other author in this respect. I know several authors who are heartbroken over having their books pulled (their books were in compliance with Amazon’s policies, by the way). These authors aren’t just mourning the loss of income–they’re mourning the loss of a dream. For some, it isn’t just their chosen genre being judged–it’s their lives. I know a BDSM author who feels her dream is being crushed. She writes about BDSM relationships because it’s part of her life. When authors call her books trashy, they’re also making a statement about her personally.

This post probably won’t change anyone’s opinion on what they like to read. It won’t change anyone’s moral values or how they judge good literature from bad. What I’m hoping is that authors might be a bit more compassionate before making blanket declarations that an entire group of authors deserve to have their books removed. I’m hoping authors will concentrate on their own craft and on their own journey as writers instead of deciding someone else doesn’t deserve the title.

 


11 thoughts on “Genre Bias

  1. The only writer’s groups that I will join on Facebook are those who have a strict “no promotion” policy. Otherwise the spam overwhelms the feeds.

    E-book retailers have guidelines regarding what they will and will not allow on their sites. This isn’t censorship, this is the right of a business to decided what it sells in its shop. There are people who post hardcore pornography–not erotica, not questionable content, but porn. Titles like “Cock-Craving Step-Daughter” and “Daddy’s Rape Party”.

    These people post a file that they know is against the terms of service and trust to make a quick buck before it gets pulled, then set up a new account, change the metadata and the title, and post the same file again.

    In response to those people, e-book retailers are changing the way that they do business. The authors whose work is pulled or suspended can thank the serial pornographers. As usual, a few who are abusing the system have made things more difficult for everyone.

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    1. Its really easy to sit around and point fingers –> Author “A” had their books removed because XXX. And of course, retailers have every right to remove books where the content is objectionable.

      Here’s where it becomes legally questionable: WH Smith and Kobo UK have removed ALL Self-Published books, because of erotic content. Supposedly, the non-erotic books will reappear at some undefined point in the future.

      But, both websites are still selling LOLITA, 50 SHADES OF GREY, and THE BOOK OF O, and have fully populated genre categories of EROTICA, and EROTIC ROMANCE.

      As a business, when you set a policy that Group A cannot distribute this content, but Group B can, you are now heading into a different kind of slippery slope. Its not censorship per se, but it is a certain form of discrimination, and in the US, civilly, its also called RESTRAINT OF TRADE.

      I am not a lawyer, but do you need a lawyer to tell you that self-published books and authors are being discriminated against? Anyone can see that for themselves.

      I have blogged on this subject too:
      http://thenightlifeseries.blogspot.com/2013/10/self-published-erotica-removed-but-50.html

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      1. Hi Travis. I’ll definitely stop by to check out your blog. You make a very good point about some of the booksellers who decided to remove ALL self-published books. It’s within their rights to set certain policies, but it should apply to all authors.

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    2. Hi Misha. Yes, I agree each business has a right to set their own policies. Unfortunately, they didn’t enforce their own policies until the recent uproar. With titles such as the ones you mention, Amazon should have flagged these books during their review process. The titles themselves violate Amazon’s content policy. I’ve self-published a few books through Amazon and it usually takes several hours for the “review” process. I wonder what Amazon is reviewing (if anything) if such titles were able to slip through. This situation is terrible for authors whose books were removed through no fault of their own. Thanks for your comment!

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  2. I know the main issue WHSmith had in the UK, was apparently with dino-porn appearing next to dinosaur books for children, you can understand them freaking about it. As for the general debate, it’s difficult for me to comment on the whole issue as I really am not into erotica and have never personally rated it as a literary genre, but I am sure this is bias based on poor examples of literature such as the appallingly written Fifty Shades. But it is certainly true to say, that some bad apples tend to ruin it for the rest of us, and indie & self-published writers have a hard enough time of it as it is, without denigrating each other.

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  3. It feels harsh that sites blame authors for their own lack of content policing, categorisation and adult content filters. If it’s any consolation my books have all disappeared from kobo and I write humorous speculative fiction.

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    1. I’m so sorry about your books. If Amazon, Kobo, and other booksellers had been reviewing books before allowing them to be published, much of this could have been avoided. Instead, they’re scrambling to correct the problem and in their panic, they’re removing the wrong books. I hope your books are restored soon.

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  4. Such an intelligent post, Tricia. I have been subject to critics who paint my poetic brush as “fluff” and say that poetry is “not their thing” (even one person admitted afterward that she had not even read my work). It’s not right to say all authors of one genre are one way. In every genre, let’s face it, there are books that we live and books we don’t (that’s personal preferences). I think it’s so hard to decide what to censor… I hope Amazon learns from this upset and sticks to their guidelines now when they decide “yay” or “nay” for book publishing requests.

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  5. This is what it comes down to. No one wants to be accountable, but everyone wants to make money. These companies don’t want to take the time to evaluate book submissions to see if they meet specified guidelines, but they also don’t want the “majority” to be upset with them and since indie authors aren’t offering up big payouts and side-door contractual agreements like the The Big 5 or other presses, it’s easier for these companies to attack all indie authors do deal with an issue involving an isolated few.
    I don’t like or read erotica, but I understand that there is a difference between erotica and porn; just like there is different between movies rated R, NC-17, and classified as porn. If the movie industry understands this distinction, why can’t they explain it to the publishing industry? Grown people should be allowed to read, watch, and listen to whatever they want, even if I, or anyone else, don’t like or agree with it. If someone is trying to pass off porn as erotica, that needs to be dealt with, but other authors shouldn’t be punished for that.
    Everyone has their preferences. I feel very strongly about mine and I’m not changing my mind anytime soon. There are just some things I do not like, but I’m not going to speak out against an entire group, genre, etc… to keep other people from enjoying those things if they so choose. I do have morals and I will answer any question someone asks of me concerning my morals (I’m an adult and I act like one), but I’m not going to put anyone down who’s put hard work and effort into writing a book. I know what goes into writing a book. There are so many books, movies, songs, celebrities, etc… that I do not like, but I’m not trying to stop anyone else from liking them.
    Sorry for the rant.

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    1. Don’t apologize! You are so very right. Amazon, Kobo, etc didn’t care what was being published until there was a public outcry, then they went into reactive mode. Funny how the books removed were primarily indie books. In terms of other authors who have labeled erotica,”trash,” we all have different interests and morals, as you pointed out. We all work hard on our books and have to support each other.

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