Saturday, March 3, 2012

Censorship Must Stop--How You Can Help (including Mark Coker's suggestions)

In recent weeks, there has been a wave of censorship against erotica and erotic romance authors to remove ALL books with incest, rape, and bestiality from the book shelves. It's complicated. There are nuances. My books were taken down temporarily at one vendor as they self-policed their titles to comply with their own Terms of Services (which have their roots with the PayPal and credit-card companies, of course, as well as what is accepted by traditional publishers). I'm lucky and all my books were reinstated because the incest was a backstory issue, not for titillation. Then there's the whole bestiality thing. According to PayPal, only sex in human form is allowed in a shapeshifter book. Well, the only one I've ever read (Cherise Sinclair's Hour of the Lion) includes at least one scene that I remember where the cougars have sex in animal form. Is that bestiality--or biology?

As an incest survivor, I detest the whole "daddy/daughter" incest and pseudo-incest realm of books. They aren't for me and I don't read or promote them. But other people do want to read them and/or write them. Who am I to say they shouldn't? I'm an adult and I can simply choose NOT to read them. Right?

But as a feminist, a woman, a writer of BDSM romances (which may be the next target), and an independently published author, I find this trend toward censorship and the limiting of choices very disturbing. I have writer friends like Bianca Sommerland who write erotic FANTASY novels that include dubious consent, captivity, rape--something permitted in horror, true crime, mystery, or mainstream novels, but not in erotica, apparently. I won't go into the psychology of it all, but lots of women have rape FANTASIES. Do we want to be raped? Hell to the no. But these FANTASY stories are enjoyable reads for many of us for whatever reason--myself included. (Bianca keeps warning me about my triggers in her books with scene where they play with needles and such, though, so I haven't been able to read the Deadly Captive books--yet.

But under these "credit card" restriction guidelines, the books I read first in the Romance genre and love to this day--Kathleen Woodiwiss's "The Flame and the Flower" and "The Wolf and the Dove," anything by Johanna Lindsey or Rosemary Rogers written back in the 70s or 80s, etc.) would have been censored and banned because they usually had scenes where the hero overpowered the heroine physically (and in every other way--because he was so alpha *melt*) and had sex with her, often without consent (even though readers knew they would end up together with a happy ending because that was all part of the ROMANCE and the FANTASY)!

One of the reasons I began writing again and decided to publish my books for the first time ever was because I didn't have to be "politically correct" anymore. Erotic Romance made that possible. I didn't need flowery purple prose to describe sex and sex organs. Amen to that. And I could write whatever I wanted. And as an independently published author. I didn't have to go through a publisher as a gatekeeper and could write the stories of my heart without being censored, especially as the New York traditional publishers are wont to do. I want all writers to be able to experience that freedom of expression and creativity--and to find an audience that wants to read their books.

Today I received an e-mail from the founder and CEO of Smashwords (the site that was started as a means of allowing authors to publish their own works and taking control of their livelihood). I think he has been incredibly rational throughout this attack (targeting primarily independent authors, as he states). He is fighting back rather than rolling over like many of the publishers and distribution channels seem to be doing who long ago agreed to these rules, just didn't enforce them until now. And he offers some very insightful interpretations--and hand-on actions YOU can do to help stop this before "they" take YOUR favorite books off the shelves.  (That's near the bottom, if you want to skip ahead.)

Please do what you can--and I welcome a serious discussion about the issue on my blog. Please feel free to share and Tweet, as well. While it's hard for me to defend some books that are under the ax--I will defend to the death the author's right to write those stories.  



(by Mark Coker at Smashwords)

In case you haven't heard, about two weeks ago, PayPal contacted Smashwords and gave us a surprise ultimatum:  Remove all titles containing bestiality, rape or incest, otherwise they threatened to deactivate our PayPal account.  We engaged them in discussions and on Monday they gave us a temporary reprieve as we continue to work in good faith to find a suitable solution.

PayPal tells us that their crackdown is necessary so that they can remain in compliance with the requirements of the banks and credit card associations (likely Visa, MasterCard, Discover, American Express, though they didn't mention them by name).

Last Friday, I sent the following email to our erotica authors and publishers:   Then on Monday, I issued an update, and announced we would delay enforcement of PayPal's guidelines so we and PayPal could continue our discussions:


PayPal is asking us to censor legal fiction.  Regardless of how one views topics of rape, bestiality and incest, these topics are pervasive in mainstream fiction.  We believe this crackdown is really targeting erotica writers.  This is unfair, and it marks a slippery slope.  We don't want credit card companies or financial institutions telling our authors what they can write and what readers can read.  Fiction is fantasy.  It's not real.  It's legal.


There's no easy solution.  Legally, PayPal and the credit card companies probably have the right to decide how their services are used. Unfortunately, since they're the moneyrunners, they control the oxygen that feeds digital commerce.

Many Smashwords authors have suggested we find a different payment processor.  That's not a good long term solution, because if credit card companies are behind this, they'll eventually force crackdowns elsewhere.  PayPal works well for us. In addition to running all credit card processing at the store, PayPal is how we pay all our authors outside the U.S.  My conversations with PayPal are ongoing and have been productive, yet I have no illusion that the road ahead will be simple, or that the outcome will be favorable.


Independent advocacy groups are considering taking on the PayPal censorship case.  I'm supporting the development of this loose-knit coalition of like-minded groups who believe that censorship of legal fiction should not be allowed. We will grow the coalition. Each group will have its own voice and tactics  I'm working with them because we share a common cause to protect books from censorship.  Earlier today I had conversations with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), The American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE) and the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC).  I briefed them on the Smashwords/PayPal
situation, explained the adverse affect this crackdown will have on some of our authors and customers, and shared my intention to continue working with PayPal in a positive manner to move the discussion forward.

The EFF blogged about the issue a few days ago:
Today, ABFFE and NCAC issued a press release:

I will not be on the streets with torch in hand calling for PayPal's head, but I will encourage interested parties to get involved and speak their piece.  This is where you come in...


Although erotica authors are being targeted, this is an issue that should concern all indie authors. It affects indies disproportionately because indies are the ones pushing the boundaries of fiction. Indies are the ones out there publishing without the (fading) protective patina of a "traditional publisher" to lend them legitimacy. We indies only have each other.

Several Smashwords authors have contacted me to stress that this censorship affects women disproportionately.  Women write a lot of the erotica, and they're also the primary consumers of erotica.  They're also the primary consumers of mainstream romance, which could also come under threat if PayPal and the credit card companies were to overly enforce their too-broad and too-nebulous obsenity clauses (I think this is unlikely, but at the same time, why would dubious consent be okay in mainstream romance but not okay in erotica? If your write paranormal, can your were-creatures not get it on with one another, or is that bestiality?  The insanity needs to stop here. These are not questions an author, publisher or distributor of legal fiction should have to answer.).

All writers and their readers should stand up and voice their opposition to financial services companies censoring books.  Authors should have the freedom to publish legal fiction, and readers should have the freedom to read what they want.

These corporations need to hear from you.  Pick up the phone and call them. Email them.  Start petitions.  Sign petitions.  Blog your opposition to censorship.  Encourage your readers to do the same.  Pass the word among your social networks.  Contact your favorite bloggers and encourage them to follow this story.  Contact your local newspaper and offer to let them interview you so they can hear a local author's perspective on this story of international significance. If you have connections to mainstream media, encourage them to pick up on the story.  Encourage them to call the credit card companies and pose this simple question, "PayPal says they're trying to enforce the policies of credit card companies.  Why are you censoring legal fiction?"

Below are links to the companies waiting to hear from you. Click the link and you'll find their phone numbers, executive names and postal mailing addresses.  Be polite, respectful and professional, and encourage your friends and followers to do the same.  Let them know you want them out of the business of censoring legal fiction.

Tell the credit card companies you want them to give PayPal permission to sell your ebooks without censorship or discrimination.  Let them know that PayPal's policies are out of step with the major online ebook retailers who already accept your books as they are.  Address your calls, emails (if you can find the email) and paper letters (yes paper!) to the executives.  Post open letters to them on your blog, then tweet and Facebook hyperlinks to your letters.  Force the credit card companies to join the discussion about censorship.  And yes, express your feelings and opinions to PayPal as well.  Don't scream at them.  Ask them to work on your behalf to protect you and your readers from censorship.  Tell them how their proposed censorship will harm you and your fellow writers.


American Express:



Ebay (owns PayPal):



  1. Well said, Kally!

    Honestly, when I started writing the Deadly Captive series, I looked at it the same way I would any other story. The scenes involving straight out rape aren't meant to be titillating (but they are for many even without details) and the dub-con scenes are written with the influence of some of those bodice-rippers you mentioned. I read a lot of those as a kid! There's BDSM and romance and a story I wrote without holding back because I've always believed authors should have that freedom.

    Most still do. Right now on erotica and erotic romance authors are going under the magnifying glass, but if we fold why should these people who handle our funds stop there? Technically, a large group could get together because of political or religious beliefs and target any genre and pressure the credit card companies or paypal to restrict other genres. Young Adult, horror, science fiction. Once we give corporations that power it's going to be nearly impossible to get it back.

    As authors, there are many things we can do, but I think it's the readers that have the numbers to really make a difference. As a reader I DO NOT accept someone deciding where I can spend my hard earned money. And I'm going to make that loud and clear.

  2. I don’t understand Censorship guidelines at all. I’m with you as an incest survivor, I don’t read the incest pseudo-incest books, will say I read one just to read it as a friend said it was really good. To me I’ve read fan fic from twelve olds that wrote better than this author. I’ve played for many years and reading to well written Bd/Sm story is very erotic to me. It brings me back to my younger years when I played.
    I know censorship will always be out there, but I feel its wrong to do it the way it’s done. Each person so censor their own selves. I know some countries have really harsh censorship laws, but they can censor sites and not allowed them to even come into their countries.
    If I see a book or movie I don’t believe in I don’t read and I don’t watch the movie. I feel since I live in a free country Thank God of that, I should be able to read and watch what I enjoy.
    I hope this gets fixed soon as I’ve really been looking forward to your next book. Keep up the writing.