Tuesday, October 15, 2013

To My Fellow Indie Authors I Say... Take a Deep Breath

By: Marie Force

I'm asking all of my fellow independent or self-published authors to take a deep breath with me. That's it... Breathe in through the nose, out through the mouth. Crazy shit has been happening lately. It makes us nuts. It affects our income, our rankings, our sanity. Last week it was Amazon and sexy romance novels ending up in the Christian category. This week it's Kobo removing all self-published books because a few authors tried to sneak in something Kobo (and its partners) rightfully don't want in their system. Is this a massive overreaction on Kobo's part? Perhaps, but guess what? It's their company and their show. They can do whatever the hell they want, as can Amazon and Barnes & Noble and Apple and all the other retailers we rely upon to bring our books to market.

It is NOT censorship. It's BUSINESS. YOU are a businessperson. You make decisions every day about what you will and will not include in your books, on your website, on your social media platforms. Kobo and Apple and Amazon and B&N and all online as well as brick-and-mortar booksellers have the right to make those same decisions on behalf of their business. Don't like it? TOO BAD! Think of yourself as a guest in their house. You don't get to dictate what they eat and what they don't eat, what time they go to bed or what time they get up. You're a guest. We're all guests, and we need to remember our manners.

Three years ago, many of the books that have been removed from Kobo in the last twenty-four hours, including mine, were growing mold on laptops around the world because there was no way for us to publish them. Many of us, including me, were seriously SCREWED in this business because we couldn't get a publishing deal despite having lots of books ready to go and readers begging for more. Today, we have so many options, the head literally spins trying to manage them all. Who gave us those options? The same retailers we seem to be constantly railing at these days.

Ease up, citizens. Remember that they owe us NOTHING. They can do whatever the hell they want with THEIR business. We are guests in their homes. Let us please remember that and practice some decorum. Yes, authors are legitimately pissed because they are losing money they need. I get that. I'm losing money, too. I don't like that. But please aim your vitriol at those who deserve it—a few people who screwed things up for the rest of us.

Stop blaming the retailers who have completely changed my life and probably yours too. Be nice. Be fair. And remember, they owe us nothing and have given us everything. You know how you're still figuring out this self-publishing gig? So are they. Give them time to work out the kinks in what is still a very new system for them, too.

The author community is 100 million times better off than it was three years ago. And it's because of KDP, KWL, Nook Press and the iBookstore. Please don't forget that.

Take a deep breath. Then take another one.


  1. A voice of reason in the midst of chaos. Well said.

  2. Finally, another sane soul! Thanks for speaking out, Marie.

  3. No one violated any terms. There's nothing reasonable about this post, and I'll go out on a limb and say this is one time Marie Force is grossly misinformed.

    Kobo had an Erotica>Taboo category. They responded to technical glitches and opened tickets to get pseudo-incest books back up for sale on their site when authors had problems. I agree that some people pushed the line by publishing grisly rape stories, but they can't blame people for pseudo-incest alone when they invited it. They knew perfectly well what was for sale in their store, and they didn't have a problem with it until a few loudmouths in the media roared and scared the titans that are our markets.

    These places should be ashamed for cowering before British gossip rags.

    1. And again, they can do what they want. It's THEIR business. If they invited it and it caused them trouble with a valued partner, it's PERFECTLY within their rights to remove it, even if they once invited it. Their business, their show. They can also decide not to publish books by M. Rhodes Wib if they want to. Is it fair? Nope. But they can do it because they set the rules for their own site and can change them without asking us first.

    2. Yes, that is their right, but what of it? You're claiming authors found loopholes and violated guidelines that didn't exist. You're the one telling indies to turn their outrage on authors who did nothing wrong, instead of these retailers who are cowering before shoddy media sources in the UK.

      You invalidate your whole argument because you're claiming authors should effectively anticipate TOMORROW'S guidelines and standards.

      Kobo has the right to slam the door in the face of Taboo erotica today when they invited it yesterday. I agree with that. But how can you expect authors to read the future and know that they'll do this before it actually happens?

    3. Because from what I've heard and read and gleaned from the inside is that what started this whole thing was NOT something that was previously allowed on Kobo. If that turns out to not be the case, sorry if I got it wrong--but so did a lot of other people who believe this to be the case. But I'm not wrong about the bad behavior and you know it.

    4. That is wrong. You should research the history of the Kernel blog that started all this and its owner, Milo Yiannopoulos. He's done nothing but publish poorly researched sensationalism, mainly over pseudo-incest, and then spread his terrible journalism to the BBC and other sources using his personal ties to the UK media establishment.

      And Kobo has not directly stated anywhere what's now forbidden on their site. It's true that they had guidelines somewhere prohibiting pornography (visual), incest, and sex with underage characters. But they clearly allowed thousands, if not tens of thousands, of pseudo-incest stories into their store with no oversight. Pseudo-incest has always been approved by these retailers, including Amazon, even while real incest between blood relatives was banned.

      What's also lost in all this is at the ultra-violent pseudo-incest rape stories were almost all published by ONE internet marketer/outsourcer under the name See You Next Tuesday Press and Something City Press. You can still see their stories up on Google Play. The stories are all under 5,000 words long, barely readable, and clearly written by ghostwriters for pennies on the dollar.

      This person published hundreds under a dozen or so different pen names over one year. They depended on shock covers and long SEO titles for sales because the content itself was pure garbage. Last autumn I watched them put up over a hundred short stories in one month over one of their names on Amazon in the "pregnancy erotica/breeding" niche.

      I'm personally frustrated because it seems no one is doing their fact checking. Not the sensationalist British media, not the retailers who are panicking over these reports, and not even our own self-publishing superstars like this blog.

      If they did, they'd at least realize much of the furor has been kicked off by one publishing outfit that can't rightly be called an "author" or even a publisher in the proper sense of the word.

    5. So you're suggesting those stories are being written by whom? A computer??? The fact is, the stories WERE published, and Kobo's retail partner ended up embarrassed by them. Thus, Kobo can react any which way it wishes to in order to address that issue.

    6. Almost. Probably by third world or very desperate writers with mediocre skills who can be hired cheaply on Odesk, Guru, and similar sites.

      Again, Kobo doing whatever it wants doesn't seem to be the issue. Everybody knows they can do what they want at any time, completely arbitrarily.

      But you claim in your post authors violated content standards by Kobo and other places, and they deserve the ire of their fellow authors. That wasn't the case.

      Even the stupid outsourcer I mention has disclaimers in his books that all characters are over 18, and they appear to be that in the body of the story too from what little I could stand to look at. You can see it on Google Play right now.

      The British media sources like the Kernel openly lied and claimed these books had underaged characters. Hell, the Daily Mail even claimed a non-erotic romance was a bestiality book because it had a dog on the cover, and Amazon blocked it without even verifying whether what was said in the media report was true.

      I never found a single book cited in these articles that was actually pedophilia or openly in violation of the limited content standards published by Kobo and others. These journalists like Jeremy Duns on Twitter and Milo Yiannopoulos at the Kernel are liars and incredibly sloppy.

      If you're basing your reaction to this series of events on what they've published, or what other authors are telling you based on their articles, you're wrong. You need to do your own research.

    7. I'm basing my comments on the behavior of authors who are reacting badly and who WERE in fact involved in getting these books onto Kobo and thus the UK bookseller in question. I'm not going to continue a skunk-peeing match with you over the details. You have your version and I've heard other versions.

    8. Kobo had a "TABOO" category on their site. No other major retailers have one. They knew exactly what was on their site and they even made a category for it. They also have no filter or parental controls(Amazon has the "Adult" filter, BN anchors certain books to keep them out of the top 100) and Kobo's search engine is a disaster (for everyone, not just erotica writers). It was a perfect storm. And yes, most of the stories in question were put up by a black-hat internet marketer. Not a computer, but someone who thought he/she could make quick, easy money, If you want to know how it works, look at my blog post for today. The whole story is there. While you're correct that titles and covers have been getting worse and worse, it's in part because real authors saw their visibility dropping because of these SEO keyword titling folks and felt they could only compete by doing the same. No one did anything "wrong" here and the literature in question wasn't illegal - there were no underage children, there was no rape, and the "incest" wasn't biological - it was between step relations. If that's illegal, Woody Allen should be in jail right now. Not to mention that all of the stories are FICTION. Words. Not actions. If they were being put side by side with children's books - well authors have no control over that, do they? You like to write romance - that's great! Some people find what you write very distasteful - did you know that? There are people who believe romance is crap. The think it's easy to write (anyone could do it!) and creates unrealistic expectations in relationships, so it is, in effect, harmful. Is any of that true? No. Should romance be banned? Should authors not write it for that reason? Of course not. The same can be said for erotica. There are a lot of people who find it distasteful. And they have lots of reasons. And none of them are "true." And erotic writers shouldn't stop writing erotica just because other people feel that way. So you write a romance book that has some sex in it and publish it - and it ends up in the Christian section. Or ends up side by side the Amish fiction. And people get all upset. Is that your fault for writing it? Of course not. And neither is it any erotica writer's responsibility where that book ends up on the vendor's store. I understand where you're coming from - I've lamented the trend of "the bigger the better" when it comes to titles and covers and blurbs as well. But this isn't just a few bad apples "ruining it" for the rest. This is a bunch of retailers who clearly didn't plan ahead for what they had to know was coming. They are the irresponsible parties here. Not the authors.

    9. So a business can't decide to make a mid-stream correction or stop allowing something after it causes them trouble with a valued partner? Why not exactly?

      I have no issue whatsoever with erotica. I read tons of it. I have an issue with the sense of entitlement that we should be able to write whatever we want and every retailer should have to publish it. They don't have to do anything.

    10. I think you deleted my last comment, or else your site glitched out and ate it.

      Regardless, Selena is right. She's penned an opinion piece engaging multiple sides of a very complex issue.

      I feel that you're doing a great disservice to your readers and other authors by watering this down to authors breaking boundaries that shouldn't be touched - except the boundaries are invisible, or else constantly shifting, so no one can be blamed for anything in retrospect. It isn't that simple, and the authors don't deserve the majority of the blame in this.

      Why won't you at least touch on the incredible media distortions that started this, or link to sources that do? You seem to have nothing at all to say about anti-sex/anti-erotica, and professional troll owner of the Kernel, Milo Yiannopoulos, or else you don't care.

      The Kernel and the Daily Mail are absolutely responsible for spreading misinformation to the public and the retailers and starting this panic. I hope some author or group one day proves this by holding them legally responsible for their criminal misinformation. I think a strong case could be made if there weren't so many international dimensions to it.

      In the meantime, I hope you will reconsider your position and look beyond "bad authors" who can't be guilty of breaking non-existent rules.

    11. I didn't delete anything, and I mentioned a FEW people who skirted the rules. Not authors in general. If you know me at all, you'd know I'm a vocal advocate for authors who follow ALL paths--conventional and unconventional. You've misconstrued my original point by fixating on that one aspect of what I said.

    12. What I take issue with specifically is this, "But please aim your vitriol at the people who deserve it—our fellow authors who looked for and founds ways around the stated terms and conditions and screwed things up for the rest of us."

      Who actually broke the rules? As much as I detest the massive ghostwriter run operation, even I don't think they broke any guidelines issued by Kobo. As has been mentioned, Kobo had a Taboo category and therefore invited fringe erotica such as pseudo-incest and dubcon. All the other sites have allowed this too, until these media reports began to appear.

      I agree that it's perfectly within their right to change that. But you can't really blame any author - even the ones who aren't really authors, but internet marketer run publishing groups - for breaking policies that weren't yet written. And, I might add, still aren't.

      The UK media has done a criminal hatchet job of spreading misinformation. You, or anyone else, might think authors did actually break content guidelines by reading their articles.

      For example, the Daily Mail and the Kernel claimed that a lot of stories featured underage characters. I looked through EVERY book they linked through and not one had a character under the age of 18 - even the rape books and pseuo-incest.

      Every single book linked in those articles, however objectionable in other ways, had disclaimers showing the heroines were at least 18 and it was often mentioned near the beginning of the story, which you could see in previews. The UK tabloids totally lied or failed to check their facts to such a disgusting degree that it isn't even funny.

      And I do blame the retailers for overreacting. They shouldn't put so much stock into their social media departments and jump at every piece of tabloid trash without doing their own fact checking.

      On this account, Amazon and company failed miserably. Yes, it's absolutely their right to change policy and make stupid business decisions based on faulty information. But they deserve to be called out over it, and everyone deserves to know that this panic is largely based on absolute tripe from UK sources with very questionable motives and even more questionable leadership.

      It's obvious that Milo Yiannopoulos has harbored great distaste for erotica, chick lit, and romance authors for a long time. A quick trip to Google his background will tell you that, and he shoulders the most responsibility for starting this firestorm.

    13. Who broke the rules? According to a couple of articles, much of this began because authors who self-published books featuring incest, etc. tagged and categories their books to show up in lists with children's books! Deliberately chose words that would do it to get them better and wider exposure on retail sites.

      So, those handfuls of authors broke the rules and this is the overly-wide result so that those retailers protect themselves against possible criminal charges.

    14. Your take is in line with mine, Terri. Thanks for weighing in.

    15. Ahhh - here's where the confusion seems to lie. I don't think that anyone purposefully used keywords and categories to put their books next to children's books. It's bad business -- it would reach the wrong target market, result in a slew of 1 star "revenge ratings" from angry parents, and would end with (as we see) the authors' books being pulled.

      It's much more likely that the *non-existent* adult filters and abysmal search function on the WHSmith website made that glitch happen. Then they panicked, and since the books originated with Kobo, Kobo panicked and pulled everything to appease WHSmith (makes sense, that's good business, for them at least). Then Amazon pulled the books they found offensive to protect their brand image, then B&N, etc etc. Chain reaction.

      But it all started because WHSmith and Kobo didn't employ appropriate filters to shield children from erotica... not with the authors who chose to write the erotica.

      But the rest of your post, Marie, I agree with. They're a business and can sell (or not sell) what they want. Sucks for us as authors, but that's how it is. Hopefully they'll get everything figured out soon and get people's books back up.

  4. SO agree with you, Marie. I can't say how much I agree with you. I sure don't want anyone coming in and telling me how to run MY business. Well said!

  5. They can do what they like - but why should you blame authors, when the retailer didn't say, until a few days ago, that what was being published wasn't allowed? They are changing the rules now - that's fine. Most erotica authors have bent over backwards to comply with the rules at every venue. But the fault doesn't rest with the authors - it rests with the retailer who not only didn't forbid any of what erotica writers were posting - they even created a category to accommodate it. And it isn't an "entitlement" that we should be able to write whatever we want. In the US at least, for the moment, it's a right. There has never been a successful prosecution in this country against the written word for obscenity. As for business - Kobo can run it however they like, but the fact is, they welcomed those titles on their site before someone noticed and made it public. And if they were unaware, that's on them - no one was evading any "rules." There weren't any. Even what the black-hat internet marketers were doing was perfectly legal, if unethical. It's Kobo's responsibility to know what's available in their bookstore. And in fact, they did know. So they're coming forward now and saying certain things aren't allowed - that's fine. Erotica writers will adapt. But it was never the writers' "fault" for writing or publishing what was clearly allowable until recently.

    1. I'm not talking about hardworking erotica authors who follow the rules and do the right thing. I'm talking about the few (and I said FEW in my post) people who have tried to get away with something else altogether and caused this whole thing. I guess you and the other poster don't think they did anything wrong, which is your opinion. I have mine.

      And I didn't say it was an entitlement to write whatever we want. I said it was an entitled attitude to think that the retailers should have to publish it. Writing what we want was never the argument. Thinking that if we write whatever we want that we should also be able to publish it anywhere we want was what I actually took issue with if you re-read my comment.

  6. Marie - I absolutely agree with you -- this is not a conspiracy against self-published books, it's not a conspiracy against erotica or erotic romances, it's a reaction by several retailers trying to protect their businesses from possible criminal charges...and to protect their reputations among their consumers.

    They're businesses - we're businesses - we each have to do what we need to do to protect our brand....

  7. Thank you for being a voice of reason. Technology has glitches. Always has and always will. Whenever systems undergo change--Amazon adding new countries, Kobo redoing their storefront, B&N struggling to keep up--bugs happen. We forget that "search" is a complex and competitive system. We've been spoiled by systems like Google, and even Amazon, and have come to expect that everything will work that way. We forget the years of investment and thousands of programmers that keep those systems at the top of their game, and the data those entities have amassed over the years that younger companies don't have yet.

    I personally want Kobo to succeed. I've met the people who run Writing Life. I like them. I believe they really want to help indie writers AND booksellers. I'm sure they are just as frustrated with the technology as we are and probably working a lot of overtime to try to get this resolved. The last email I saw indicated they were hoping to have this taken care of within a week. That seems very reasonable to me and I'm confident the system will be better for all of us when they are done.

    I agree with you that patience is the key here, and thankfulness that there are companies like Kobo and B&N and Apple and Amazon giving us opportunities and access to publishing that we never imagined only five years ago.

  8. Too bad.. I feel sorry about this. It seems that independent authors don't have other options left than to make their books published physically and it costs too much. Unless the main problem is resolved, like identifying the real people who screwed up for the rest, the innocent shall be given justice and may be given the privilege to publish their ebooks online again.

  9. Your right. This is a game we are all learning and playing....and breathing. Thank you Marie.