Friday, September 15, 2017

Smashwords Implements New Classifications for Erotic Fiction

Smashwords has introduced new classification requirements for erotic fiction.

Starting today, when a new erotic fiction book is uploaded to Smashwords, or when updates are made to an existing erotic fiction book, a short supplemental check box questionnaire will appear.  The questionnaire asks the author or publisher to confirm the absence or presence of certain taboo themes.

Smashwords will use this information to honor the distribution preferences of our retailers and library partners.  

Apple Books, Kobo and Barnes & Noble want to carry most mainstream erotic fiction, yet all disallow erotic fiction containing themes of incest, pseudo-incest, bestiality, rape-for-titillation and sexual slavery.  Apple Books and Kobo have prohibited these topics for several years.  Last month, Barnes & Noble, once the most permissive of the major retailers, brought their policies into similar alignment.

The Erotica Classification Challenge

Retailers and libraries face special challenges with erotic fiction.  To a certain extent, these challenges have cast a cloud over all self-published ebooks, including those that aren’t even erotic.

By way of example, witness the WHSmith Kobocalypse that occurred back in October 2013 when the Daily Mail wrote a salacious story about how a search for “daddy” pulled up taboo erotica alongside children’s books at UK retailer WHSmith, powered by Kobo.   The next day, WHSmith removed all ebooks from self-published authors, including all non-erotica books.  To this day, the size of WHSmith's self-published catalogue is a small fraction of all the other major retailers.

Incidents like this jeopardize trust and confidence between retailers and the indie community.  Although some might cast blame upon erotic writers who explore taboo themes, the true culprit in this challenge is a technology one, and it’s the challenge we’re tackling with today’s announcement.

Most retailers utilize standardized classification systems such as BISAC to determine the appropriate virtual shelf for your ebook.  This enables customers who want to read books in any subject to find your book.  For example, a fan of paranormal romance will look on the fiction: romance: paranormal shelf, and a fan of political thrillers might look under fiction: thriller: political.

Whereas a typical physical bookstore might only offer a couple dozen book sections under high level categories, the BISAC classification system defines over 4,400 unique categories.  BISAC is what makes it possible for ebook retailers to create thousands of specialized, micro-targeted virtual ebook shelves, if they choose.  BISAC (or its international equivalent, Thema) makes it easy for customers to find books on their favorite specialized subjects.

These classification systems also enable retailers to set rules within their store that can keep certain books away from readers who should not see them or who don’t want to see them.  For example, retailers don’t want a violent adult horror novel appearing alongside books for children. 

But with erotic fiction, the BISAC classification system falls short.  BISAC provides only a few categorization options for erotic literature.  All of the options describe mainstream commercial erotica categories such as General Erotic Fiction, BDSM, Erotica Collections & Anthologies, Gay, Lesbian, Sci-fi/Fantasy/Horror, and Traditional Victorian.

Our largest retailers want to carry the mainstream erotica.

However, there are no BISAC categories for the more taboo themes mentioned above.  This means that heretofore, authors of these taboo subjects were forced to classify their books in a BISAC category that was inaccurate or inadequate. 

Restoring Confidence and Trust

The lack of support for taboo subjects in BISAC has negative implications for retailers, libraries, authors, publishers and readers alike. 

It makes it difficult for retailers to select which erotic titles they want to carry.  It diminishes the trust retailers and libraries have in self-published erotic content since the books they want are mixed with the books they don't want.

When a retailer (or distributor such as Smashwords, for that matter) must guess about the presence of certain taboo themes based on indirect inputs such as book title, book descriptions, book content and keywords, it creates an untenable, error-prone situation where disallowed books are distributed to retailers that don't want them, and where acceptable books are accidentally removed by retailers.

Our new approach empowers those who know their content best – the author or publisher – to directly categorize and certify the erotic themes of their books.  This will give our sales channels greater confidence to receive the erotica they want while avoiding the titles they don’t want.

The new Smashwords classification system is built on trust.  We trust our authors and publishers to accurately categorize their books, and we trust they recognize it’s in their best interest to do so.  As is our practice, we will continue to monitor all Smashwords titles for compliance with the Smashwords Terms of Service.  Those who jeopardize this trust through deliberate misclassification will face account closure.

Already, Gardners, a Smashwords distribution partner that previously did not accept any erotica, will begin taking erotica certified as mainstream following the launch this erotica classification initiative.  Other Smashwords retailers and library platforms are also taking advantage of our new approach to allow the taboo themes they want while blocking those they don't want.  Most retailers, for example, want to continue receiving dubcon erotica since dubcon is a common theme is mainstream fiction.

Start Certifying Today

The new classification system is in place today, and visible from the Smashwords publish page for all new uploads.

When an author selects any erotic classification (including erotic romance) as a primary or secondary category for their book, we will display a questionnaire to collect supplemental information.  The author or publisher will certify which themes are absent or present.  Authors and publishers with previously uploaded erotic works will also be asked to certify those those works.

If you publish erotic fiction at Smashwords, please click to your Smashwords Dashboard now to certify either the absence or presence of these themes in your work.

For erotica authors and publishers with large backlists, we’ve created a bulk certification tool to expedite the certification process.  The tool lists the questionnaires for up to 50 titles on the page at once.  The tool is linked at the top of the Smashwords Dashboard and visible to all authors and publishers with uncertified erotic content.

Going forward, certification of erotic content is required for all new and existing erotic fiction titles at Smashwords.  We’ll be in regular contact with our erotic authors and publishers over the next few months to help them complete the certification for all appropriate titles.

For erotica authors and publishers who neglect to certify their backlist titles, they risk the removal of those titles at the option of the retailer or library partner, even if the works don’t contain taboo themes.  Certification = trust, so please certify your titles today.

Taboo Themes Defined

If you're unsure how Smashwords and its partners define these themes, I've summarized the definitions below.  We developed these definitions in close consultation with our largest retailers to ensure uniform policy enforcement.  
Age play - One or more consenting adult characters role playing, pretending to be babies or children.  Most retailers will take this, but Apple Books will not.
Bestiality - Sexual relations between humans and real-world animals (sex with Big Foot, dinosaurs, shape shifters and other imaginary creatures is not bestiality).  Few retailers will take this.

Dubious Consent (dubcon) - A common and popular theme in mainstream fiction.  Dubcon explores the gray area between consent and non-consent.  Not clear if the receiver of the sexual act was fully on board or not at the time of the act.  Most retailers will take this.
Incest or pseudo-incest - Sexual relations between family members, whether biologically or non-biologically related.  Includes stepbrother, stepsister and step-anyone.  Few retailers will take this.
Nonconsensual sexual slavery - Erotic depiction of a person captured or held against their will, such as kidnapping, imprisonment or human trafficking.  Not to be confused with BDSM, which is predicated upon informed consent and negotiation between both parties before the act, and which provides safe words so either partner can end the act if it goes too far.  If the book adheres to BDSM best practices, do not classify it as Nonconsensual sexual slavery.  Few retailers will take nonconsensual sexual slavery.

Rape for titillation - The dominant theme of this book is rape — whether the rape is by one person or a character is raped by a group of people, i.e. a gang rape or nonconsensual "gang bang" — and it targets readers who are titillated by the fantasy of nonconsensual sexual relations.  Few retailers will take this.

Others not mentioned - The above list is not all inclusive.   There are many other taboo themes that have never been allowed at Smashwords or our retailers (underage erotica, snuff, scat and necrophilia, for example).  For a full summary of Smashwords erotica policies, please review Section 9f of the Smashwords Terms of Service.

Who Takes What?

Below is a chart showing delivery preferences for Smashwords retailers and library partners as of August 31, 2020.  Please note Smashwords and all sales outlets always retain the right to refuse any title in any category for any reason.   Current policies at each are subject to modification at any time.

Smashwords Erotica Delivery Policies

✓= allowed    X = disallowed

My thanks to Smashwords retailers and library partners for their advice, counsel and encouragement as we developed this new classification approach.  Thank you to my friend Cecilia Tan for her wise input regarding definitions.

And thanks in advance to Smashwords erotica authors and publishers for their professionalism, cooperation and patience as we work to implement this new system.  I realize this will create extra work for you.  In the long run, however, our work here will help preserve maximum distribution opportunities for all indies.

Image credit:  derived from


Sally Ember, Ed.D. said...

Thanks for this clarifying post and information. I am not an erotica author, but I read widely and I'm wondering about some cross-over situations with fiction AND nonfiction books that ALSO include these "themes," but not necessarily for "titillation" purposes.

For example, there are many books that have sexual slavery, rape or dubious consent situations as part of the main or subplot, but the classification is usually "Thriller," or "Suspense," or "Realistic" ("Police Procedural," "Interpol," etc.) fiction and "Narrative nonfiction" includes these as well. So do biographies, autobiographies/memoirs and journalistic depictions of these and other similar stories.

Is it the author's self-selection as "Erotica" that triggers this extra survey for classification and that has the booksellers up in arms, or is these "themes"?

Thanks for responding.

Doing a great job over there at SW!

Sally Ember, Ed.D.

Cava Consulting said...

I am disgusted that you would publish erotic books at all - let alone the eally smutty ones. I am a volunteer with Crime Stoppers and am the author of the book Keeping our children safe. One of the topics discussed in my book is how damaging pornography is to children who grow up thinking that these kind of books depict 'real life.' These children do not learn about intimacy and loving - instead they learn only about violent and demeaning sex and hurting women.
I have 34 of my books listed with Smashwords, and am very disappointed that you have listed and will continue to list such smut!

Dovetail Public Relations said...

@Sally, these classifications are only for erotic books. Most retailers welcome the mainstream erotica but they have policies that prohibit certain themes.

@Roberta, I respect your views and I'm sorry you're disappointed. Erotic literature is fraught with strong feelings across the spectrum. Some people think it should all be banned, and others think restrictions are too tight. We're doing our part to promote greater transparency so retailers can control what they list and sell, and so readers can have greater knowledge about the content of the books they're considering reading.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Mark! This is exactly what all book marketplaces need. This eliminates confusion and cultivates trust between all parties involved.

As you said, the benefit to erotica authors is that it'll curb mistaken identity when it comes to titles being removed when they're innocent.

You're such an innovator. Keep up the great work!

Georgia Carter Mathers said...

This goes a long way to labeling erotic fiction appropriately. Well done, Smashwords! Gonna go and blog about this.

Lot's Cave said...

Yes, Georgia. It does go a long way to labeling erotic fiction appropriately. However, it deeply worries me. The first step to banning is to categorize. This applies in politics ranging from innocent issues all the way to burning books and worse, it applies to gun rights, it applies to freedom of speech, it applies to search and seizure law, and it applies to erotica.

There is no question in my mind that Mark Coker has all our best interests at heart. He's a great guy -- today. But in the slippery slope of today's political climate I am left wondering how far and how fast this categorization will slide into Smashwords banning all controversial erotic content.

Mr. Coker means well, but I'm left with serious concerns.

Thank you,
Phaedrus T. Wolfe

John Chapman said...

This is a great idea. When the Kobo/WHSmith debacle occurred some of my books were removed from the Kobo catalog even though they don't contain erotica and STILL haven't been put back there. My books may be 'adult' in that they contain bad language, violence, advanced technology and sex but I wouldn't classify any of them as 'erotic'. In fact I've had complaints that there is too little sex present for them to be labeled 'adult.'

I still have a problem with that 'incest' section though. At the very end of the second book in my 'A Vested Interest' series. The protagonist discovers she has been guided into a ruthless breeding program designed to enhance her children's ruthless gene. She and her partner were completely unaware that they were half brother and sister. Both are horrified. The act is not described and certainly not glorified in any way. I have therefore decided NOT to label the book as containing incest. Please tell me if you think I was wrong.

You state the tool is at the top of our dashboards. I don't see this. Perhaps a picture would be a good idea here?

Unknown said...

@SMASHWORDS So I know a lot of these themes are contained in books published by the "big Five." so is the lesson that only big publishers can get away with this, not indie authors?

Nosh M said...

After reading the list of Taboo Themes, I decided to aim this post at Authors, for one very simple reason: If they do not produce such filth, there won't be any such lists!

Erotica is acceptable in the realm of Sex if it creates imaginary scenarios which could exist within the bounds of Rationality and Reality. If it caters to psychosis, then the creators of these works seriously need medical and/or psychiatric attention.

Sex begins in the Brain. It does not begin in the loins. Would your brain, if it's normal, be excited by Bestiality, for example? I would ask this question of both the reader and the writer. If the writer were to turn around and tell me that there was a "market" for this subject, I would hit him or her in the face, because they are boosting the "demand" by their "supply"!

Sex in itself is meaningless as a physical act and one may as well drill a hole in the wall and get it over with. But sex is a celebration of Love or intense emotions bordering on Love. That's what makes Sex a good thing. It's not what you do in sex that's bad; it's who you do it with. I don't see Bestiality figuring in an act that celebrates one of the highest, if not the highest of human values. Sex is Good. It's sexual aberrations that do not belong within its realm.

ChulaSlim said...

In a world in which the act of organized murder called “war” is treated as normal, in fact, is considered grand and heroic and freely published, while the act of creating life, called “sex” is considered shameful and dirty and hidden behind a cloak of security , I wonder about the sanity of humanity.
If a work of fiction contains one scene of consensual sex between willing partners, are we to consider it erotic? How many scenes does it take? One, two, a dozen? Also how much level of detail is required? If it’s only hinted, is that enough?
I’ve asked these questions before and have received no definitive answers. Sure, the guidelines on taboo subjects are made clear, but some of the others aren’t. And from at least two comments on this blog, it’s clear some people would do away with sex entirely. It makes me wonder how they ever survived the trip down the birth canal. Isn’t it considered “dirty?”

ChulaSlim said...

One more point. On Amazon the list of erotic stories and novels goes on for pages, many of which contain taboo themes such as pseudo-incest. There are thousands of them. Are we then to cling to Amazon for our content and shun Smashwords altogether? My works contain no taboo subjects, and although I’ve resisted going exclusive on Amazon for all my books is it then to become my only choice?

Eden Connor said...

How do you recommend we split the baby if there are scenes of non-consensual sex that aren't drawn out for the purposes of titillation inside an erotic story?

M.R. Leenysman said...

Now that authors are being required to identify whether their work fits into these categories, will those categories be made searchable on the Smashwords site? Or will they still be required to file them under the categories they already have?

Unknown said...

OMG, Mark Coker, you've helped drive another nail into the coffin of the indie writer! So disappointed. You've given into the prudish, narrow minded, self-righteousness of people like Roberta Cava who are totally unable to separate reality from fiction and in doing so you’ve narrowed the market again. You’re enabling censorship. I never thought this would happen on Smashwords. You’re helping to kill creative free thought. To my mind, the fact there’s an adult filter should be enough. The categories themselves are enough to warn a reader that a story may or may not be to their taste. What next? The symbolic burning of ebooks that don't fit the approved new rules? A slippery slope.

Unknown said...

Yasss! Say it again, louder!

Chris Meadows said...

It's funny how some people don't like the idea of categorization as possibly promoting censorship, while others don't like the idea of Smashwords publishing erotica at all.

Personally, I think categorization is a good idea, just because it can be pretty darned hard to find things you want to read when the categories aren't there. As it is right now, someone who wants to read just stuff in one of those categories doesn't have any better way to find that stuff than to take a guess.

I do think it would be nice if there were also categories for some of the more outre forms of erotica and fetish that you see published on the Internet, even if they were seldom used. But perhaps people who write them and choose "other" will know the appropriate keywords to use for themselves.

widdershins said...

@Nosh M ... To say that if no-one writes what you define as 'smut' then these lists will not be required, is naive and disingenuous.

You don't get to police what other authors do and/or do not write about based on your own preferences. Sex is different things to different people, and each and every one of us has our very own unique bunch of wants and don't wants.

widdershins said...

Whether this leads to the 'slippery slope of censorship' remains to be seen. If it does then authors will, as they always have, find ways and means to publish their work, and audiences will, as they always have, find ways and means of reading what they want to read ... and if it doesn't, then yay Smashwords. :)

Chris Meadows said...

I don't believe Smashwords would ever participate willingly in censorship. Remember how, a few years back, Mark Coker successfully fought back against the credit card companies' and PayPal's attempt to censor what Smashwords could publish?

But it's every retailer's right to decide what kinds of works they do and don't want to carry, and anything that makes it easier to avoid awkward controversies when a retailer discovers a work they accepted actually contains things they don't want to deal with has got to be better for relations all around.

#9 said...

Where does a story that contains a love potion fit in?

If such things were real, they would clearly be nonconsensual, but the Smashwords option likens it with sexual slavery which seems excessive. "Erotic depiction of a person captured or held against their will, such as kidnapping, imprisonment or human trafficking."

Shawn said...

I suppose this would be a big concern for everyone who writes romance or erotica--and who can tell the difference these days? To that end, when I say romance, I also mean erotica.

I support these retailers' decisions to exclude, if they feel it within their purview, content they aren't comfortable selling. It isn't a "slippery slope" as many here claim; they are private businesses, not governments. They can choose to sell--or not sell--whatever the hell they want. I say this, in case you're wondering, as a political liberal, a lifelong Democrat. Again--it isn't a slippery slope. These are private businesses with every right to make the decisions they're making.

I have a single romance title out myself. I'm not concerned with the recent questionnaire that asked me to further delineate its content.

Romance is Smashwords' bread and butter. My beef here isn't with some nonexistent slippery slope concerning erotic content with respect to private companies, but with the fact--and I do stress it's a fact--that Smashwords couldn't care less about other genres. I offer you as proof their Twitter feed:

Almost every single promo is for romance. You have to go all the way back to May 25, 2016, before you get any other promotion--and it's a retweet from Wattpad for mysteries and detective stories!

There are probably hundreds of non-romance genres featured on Smashwords. But apparently they don't mean squat to Mr. Coker or his staff. Very telling. If I were Smashwords, given that they don't, by the evidence, care about these other genres, I would be very concerned about what these retailers are doing with romance (erotica).

We who spend most of our time writing in genres other than romance deserve much better, Mr. Coker. Much better.

Unknown said...

This new policy is just more censorship! It's yet another way to try to push erotica off the shelves. Does no one understand the concept of FICTION? If it disturbs you, don't buy or read it! The onus for buying and reading any book falls on the reader. It's the reader's responsibility to check the synopsis and reviews. It's the reader's obligation to do their own due diligence before buying any book. Further subcategorization of erotica by these ridiculous subtypes is absurd! Let the reader make his or her own decisions!

One of the comments in this thread says it all. There's a very vocal minority who don't want ANY erotica in any form to be available. The book retail industry is filled with double standards. They'll take every penny they can get from any author regardless of genre. Oh, but let's not offend our distributors who might be bigots and hypocrites. Hey, let's just push a whole new set of rules and classifications out there for erotica. Let's completely ignore those novels designated as "thriller" or "horror" books that contain the VERY SAME elements of rape, incest, slavery, etc. This new policy is as discriminative and idiotic as every other fake reason book publishers and distributors have instituted with respect to erotica! And, as far as age play? That is as mainstream as erotica comes! There are literally millions of people who actively participate in age play in real life. What right does ANYONE have to judge an author's work simply because it's been placed in the erotica category? And that's ALL this new policy is, yet another attack on indie erotica authors. It's duplicitous, discriminatory, prejudiced, unethical, and totally without merit! Grow up, people! All this high-handed criticism and the "we're so superior to these uneducated, crass, and morally repugnant erotica authors" attitude shows just how uneducated, ignorant, bigoted, and judgmental you truly are.

Unknown said...

The recurring themes in all these disputed subject matters are ‘consent’ , ‘age’, ‘animals’, ‘rape’, ‘kidnap’ etc., all of which are either illegal in most places (in the real world) or are usually part of other criminal activity.

I’m a crime novelist. My books aren’t erotica… my publisher (I’m not self published) doesn’t handle erotica, and he happily publishes my work.

However, as so many of these activities are crimes, it makes them fertile ground for the crime writer to harvest for ‘new’ crimes to engage his crime fighters/solvers in, particularly one who writes a series that’s set in either a specific location or around a group of regular characters. There’s a limit on just how many murders, or major bank heists, can credibly be expected in a small community. Even ‘Jessica Fletcher’ has to wander from ‘Cabot Cove’ occasionally to find a murder to solve.

Does a book where police are investigating a rapist, or a kidnapper, or vicious sexual predator, class as erotica if the commission of the crime is depicted?… after all, to get the reader on side, you need to have them appreciate the horror of a crime. Or does the activity need to be glamorised to be ‘wrong’ in the eyes of critics? It’s a slippery slope… particularly when your protagonist is a high end call girl who uses her contacts in the seedier side of society to assist her friends in the police. Naturally, if her information comes from pillow talk, the scenes involving the pillow need to be written into the story to give them context.

Are writers like myself (or my publisher) going to find ourselves categorised too? Maybe this corporate prudery is an American thing… In Europe, if you don’t want to read something, you don’t take it from the bookshelf… virtual or otherwise. How would Nabocov have fared in today’s environment?

Unknown said...

What about classics like A Thousand and One Arabian Nights? The unabridged version is replete with the themes singled out for censorship. What about differences in cultures, for example where relationships between cousins aren't considered incest?

I agree with those who've already pointed out the obvious--if a reader sees something that may offend them in a book, don't buy the book. No one is forcing anyone to read what disgusts them. As for kids, my parents gave me the Arabian Noghts to read when I was eleven, adventure-packed and filled with wonders. I suppose someone will come along and say something like, 'And see where it got you? Now you write erotic filth...'

Please people, grow up. The world is full of obstacles and dangers - just look ahead and avoid them, don't impose your limits on everyone else.

Unknown said...

Excellent point, Mara… What one person finds offensive, maybe a children's story to another. I find the idea of making a genocide into a story (and toys) for little kids offensive… yet Noah's Ark and the flood features in many little ones' lives. (Personally, I think the idea of feeding kids religion in any form is wrong.)

Chris Meadows said...

All you "censorship" complainers are really complaining at the wrong person. Just look at that chart toward the end of the article. Every one of those "X" marks represents a book that one of those stores might innocently place on their shelves without realizing what taboos lurked with in, and then get deluged with smut complaints by their customers. Unwilling to risk offending customers (especially if they have access to big family-friendly lobbies who could organize boycotts, etc.), these stores pull the offending content. And too many such complaints and removals could lead to that store dropping Smashwords books altogether, hurting not just erotica authors but authors of any book offered to those stores from Smashwords.

Smashwords is just protecting itself and its authors from being dropped from sale by these stores. If you want to complain at someone over "censorship," complain to the stores whose policies (and prudish customers) make this categorization scheme necessary. Smashwords has to work within the constraints imposed on it by its resellers if it wants to keep those resellers.

Dovetail Public Relations said...

@AvaSterling and Georgia, thanks!

@LotsCave, what happens next is up to the erotica community. The retailers have planted their stakes in the ground in terms of what they will and will not accept. I don't see them tightening further unless authors push the limits.

@John, you can always contact our support team if you're in doubt. If the book is not erotica, you're probably okay.

@Ian, the lesson is most retailers don't want most of these taboo themes in erotica. It has nothing to do with indie vs. traditional, except of course that it's indies writing most of this taboo erotica.

@Chulaslim, Amazon doesn't want the taboo erotica either.

@Eden, that's tricky. If it's in erotica, and it touches one of the themes disallowed by one more more retailers, then you can expect those retailers don't want it.

@M.R., TBD, but our inclination is to make it easier for readers to find the books they want to read.

@N Brown, actually, we're helping to save indies. Retailers need to control what's coming in their stores. That means we and our authors need to support them.

@#9, it depends. If it's a "love potion" in a fantasy novel that makes two people fall in love, then it should be fine. But if it's a potion in an erotic novel that allows one person to rape another, then some retailers won't want it.

@Shawn, Romance and erotica may have some overlap, but they're very different. It's true we love romance at Smashwords. Almost 50% of our sales are derived from romance. As I've stated here and elsewhere often, I find great inspiration from the smart indie women behind romance. All indies could learn a lot from these successful authors. These authors are the most organized, the most sharing, the most prolific and they have the most voracious readers. Romance authors are often the first to adopt best practices, and they've pioneered many of the best practices that work so well for all indies today. Yet your claim that we don't care about other categories is simply not true.

@ChrisGraham, if you don't write erotica you won't have to worry about those concerns. People read erotica for sexual titillation. When people start reading a crime novel for sexual titillation, that's the day that crime novel is probably misclassified.

E. Morell said...

This will drive erotic content further into hiding away among other genres. It'll make it more difficult to find what you want to read, which is the OPPOSITE of what cataloguing and categorising should do. Hence it's a travesty already in that respect to call it such a thing.

As to all those pearl-clutching retailers, they are happy enough to sell such books as Reisz's "The Siren" series, which contains rape for titillation, sex with an unwilling minor, sexual, perfectly non-consensual torture under the disguise of BDSM to the point of the victim needing to go to a hospital, a priest sexually directing and pimping minors and having sex with members of his parish, and more of the above-mentioned catalogue of taboos. All of this is written for erotic titillation, even though those books are distributed as "thrillers".

As long as any of these retailers sell this series and a couple of others like it, I call bullshit on their statements.

Charlie Ashbacher said...

I wonder about historical fiction that uses actual or suspected sexual acts considered taboo. For example, it is a well known legend that Catherine the Great of Russia had sex with horses. Gang rapes of women are well documented when the Soviet Red Army invaded Germany in the last months of World War II. It would seem that these would be taboo subjects as well.
Another potential point of conflict is in mythology. Let us not forget that the king and queen of the Greek gods were Zeus and Hera, his sister. They were also husband and wife, so of course this was incest. Zeus also took animal form in order to seduce other females, which is of course bestiality. Therefore, there is the potential for Smashwords to ban stories based on the foundations of western civilization.

Dovetail Public Relations said...

@Charles, thanks for the comment, and for raising your concerns. I don't share the concern of this bleeding over. The challenge the booksellers face is that need to know what they're selling, otherwise they're not confident selling anything. The focus here is narrow - erotica. When I read WWII history, or about the raping and pillaging of the Crusades for that matter, the accounts of rape are not presented with the intent to sexually titillate, nor is the reader reading those histories for that kind of titillation. Such titillation, if that's what the reader seeks, is much more easily and efficiently achieved in erotica. Zeus sounds like one of the original shape-shifters, so he's safe too. :) If one of these themes is present in erotica, the assumption is that it's put there to titillate and therefore should be classified as such.

Unknown said...

Okay, what part of classification means Smashwords is banning the stories? They're letting you know what the retailers accept. Doesn't mean SW won't print your book... just that certain retailers won't sell it for you. That seems like a nice heads-up to me. Then, if there is something in my stories that would fall into a category B&N won't like, I can see if I can write around it.

Classification happens everywhere. It keeps "Children of the Corn" from being pulled up in the kiddies' section. It keeps "The Story of O" from appearing with alphabet books. It also allows for specific searches and keeps the results down. No one wants to slog through 1000 possible books to find what they want. The Internet Generation doesn't have that kind of patience.

This is a way for the retailers to know what they are buying, not for readers to know... though I think that would be a good idea too! That way, if a retailer allows it, their readers can find it. Of course, the stores can put a 18-or-older verification before calling up the list.

How much of erotica writers' problems with classification come from the fact they don't like to be judged/pigeon-holed as "weird" or "deviant"? It's a reasonable wish, but not likely to be practical. Erotica is generally viewed as being less about action or relationships and more about the sex. If that offends erotica writers, I'm sorry, but it's true. Therefore these sub-genres, a passing aspect of Romance etc., might be the MAIN purpose/theme in erotica.

I would like some clarification on how much is too much when it comes to the topics listed, though.

I will admit that I think Horror, Suspense, Thrillers and Crime Stories often have the elements categorized here. It's almost required these days. I think the authors should have to be honest about it too. Mind you, that would put many popular traditional authors on the retailers' s&^t list.

I avoid everything in those genres because I never know when a good book might go into a lengthy description of a brutal rape with almost loving detail. Unless there's some way to mention that in the blurb, that fact going to be missed... and not everyone will put that in their blurb. If these had categorizations such as the "safe and wholesome" sub-genre you find in some Romance (though obviously not that label), people who don't like that stuff can avoid it.

All these people who say, "If you don't like it, don't read it" are really missing the point. The whole point of this classification system is so retailers and readers don't get surprised. They won't have their searches clogged with stuff they don't want. Try looking up something on Google or other websites with simplistic search engines, and you'll see what I mean. A search for "Floracraft craft foam" pulls up all sorts of items, and there's no way to narrow your search.

Giving the reader/retailer as much information as possible allows them to not read/sell what they don't want... which is what those who say "If you don't like it, don't read it" want, right?

Besides, some books aren't clear as to what is in them, sometimes because the author wants to keep his readership possibilities broad. They don't want to "scare away" a potential reader.

Georgia Carter Mathers said...

Lisa, I couldn't agree with you more. I'm an indie writer, and I write about rape and the damage it can do. I describe the brutality because that is the experience of rape. It should never be trivialized. I mention rape in the blurb because that's the responsible thing to do--because there are readers out there for whom it might be a triggering experience. It means that those who buy my book have an idea what is contained within.

Indie writers need to realize that publishing is not an excuse to publish anything you want. You still have to play by the same rules that publishers do. It's not okay to say a black person is closer to an animal than a human; it's not okay to say beating a baby to a pulp is a good thing. Why? Because these things are fundamentally untrue, and because people find that sort of thing objectionable. Yet, if you want to extrapolate the idealistic concept of censorship, then you'd have bestiality placed in schools etc etc. It is ridiculous to say that anything can be communicated to anyone, just because the communicator thinks that they can make money out of it.

Publishing has been categorizing books for a very long time. Erotica writers should be happy about this--it will mean that those who want their rape fantasy and bestiality can get to it, and those who just want a BDSM romance with a happy ending can get what they want just as easily.

As for Lot's Cave / Phaedrus T. Wolfe, I can see what you mean about the slippery slope, but I'm honestly not worried about that. I'd be worried if there were some important messages here being silenced. As with guns--if you give it to responsible people, then no one gets hurt. Essentially, we are talking about material written for titillation. There is no actual point to these narratives other than to fulfill sexual fantasies, so therefore give it to these people. Those who just want a mainstream erotic romance won't be afraid to buy erotic romance for fear of stumbling on the "dark romance". To me, this sounds like an awesome solution that gives everyone an opportunity to be heard and everyone an opportunity to write what they want.

Lot's Cave said...

@Georgia Carter Mathers,

Thank You. I can also agree with you that as of now I am not worried. I also repeat my stipulation that @Mark Coker is a great guy, He was at the forefront of defending us in the PayPal fiasco a few years back as well as other actions he is known to have taken. I am also not concerned about him as a person in the future.

I'll even take a bold step further, and stipulate that a Categorization method really is needed. Lot's Cave does not want any reader to ever pick up a Lot's Cave book without knowing exactly what it contains, and we have always erred on the side of over-accuracy in our Metadata to prevent an accidental situation. Our company policy is that while specializing in controversial content, we would rather loose a few sales from accurate metadata than misrepresent content. I requested some years back that Smashwords add an Incest Category to erotica, however was told it would not be happening.

Nevertheless, I do feel Mark Coker is being slowly backed into a corner regarding controversial content even though categorization is needed. I hope I am wrong. Time will tell about the slippery slope. The next step down this slope would most likely entail "Content Snitches" who self appoint themselves to run through multiple catalogs looking for authors who have tread too close to the line if not crossed it. The next step will entail unscrupulous authors who in an attempt to remove "sales competition" by falsely reporting authors whose books they feel might compete with their own -- a trend we also witnessed on B&N around Sept/Oct of last year.

While I fully support categorization, I worry that Mark Coker's vigilance against these other steps may not be rigorous. His company is maturing. His time is now more than ever devoted to things outside the development of his platform. At some point, someone else will step in to fill his shoes in various parts of his business, similar to Bill Gates with Microsoft. As these events and more slowly unfold, other publishers will indeed step in to fill the need for controversial erotic as they have done so for the last 500 years. All things being equal, Lot's Cave will be there. But today, one difference exists. All purchases go through payment processors and gateways. Until an alternative method of payment exists, we are all stuck in a slippery slope matrix defined by these companies. Even bitcoin would be subject to a payment processor that handles digital downloads, making it subject to the same rules. What happens when the Law becomes increasingly harsh: witness Operation Chokepoint -- categorization will make it easy to comply; or not only to comply but to legislate against.

It's not Mark Coker I'm afraid of; it's the slippery slope. Remember how the slippery slope closed churches under Operation Chokepoint when attacking "Digital Downloads" and "Adult Products" while lumping them with drug distribution by threatening to close down banks who handled clients with mostly cash businesses? They forgot that many churches source of income comes from cash in the offering plate. As a company who was directly affected under Operation Chokepoint, it is my duty to protect my company and to protect its authors. Therefore I remain ever vigil against the slippery slope.

Unknown said...

I'm Dylan Cross with the Erotic Authors Guild. On behalf of erotica writers, it's good to see that Smashwords is being proactive and giving a clear-cut definition. Our writers find growing frustration when dealing with other major retailers who refuse to define what is "wrong" with a submitted work (the only answer we get is "what we deem offensive is about what you would expect."

Our authors need to have the right to freely express themselves through their craft. On the converse side, readers also have the right to not open a book and find it filled with shocking or triggering content. When we don't have well-defined category codes, or are censored against using the correct keywords or blurb matter, it leads to such a situation.

Please feel free to reach out if we can assist in any way.

Georgia Carter Mathers said...

As we all know, erotic romance is a different kind of narrative to erotica. I think what you've said Dylan makes perfect sense.

Lot's Cave, I can see that you publish responsibly, and I applaud you for that. It's just that there are so many unethical players who do not take a professional stance, and I object to that. They so easily use this concept of censorship to silence those who have real objections and real criticisms, which have nothing to do with wanting to suppress material that they don't personally agree with or like. I don't paint everyone with the same brush, and I think that is what is happening here--a movement away from painting all erotica as the same. We need to categorization for everyone's sake.

SelkieTG said...

I applaud Mark Coker and Smashwords for extending their classification schemes so that readers and publishers can have a better chance of understanding what topics a book covers. It is to everyone's advantage I believe to know whether you might want to read a book, or avoid it.
Why on earth would categorising a book harm the book's chances for success? Far greater harm is done by someone reading a book who hates the subject matter and writes a ferociously negative review -- not because of the writing, but because they object to the topic itself. That person should not have read that book.
So I'm contacting BISAC to request they extend their classification scheme too. If they had more granular and refined categories, Smashwords and the other publishers wouldn't have to go it alone and try to work this out.
I also encourage Smashwords to make their own submissions to BISAC, and to encourage the other epublishers to do so too.
But there's work to be done for each requested additional category.

JJ Argus said...

I have a few questions about the 'dubcon' description. What is and is not to be included? Now most of my stories explore new experiences in domination and submission. The female character is generally reluctant, at first, wary, uncertain, anxious, but excited. Since I write not just erotica but BDSM this gets tricky, but the reader is never in the slightest doubt that she is being forced into something - unless it's by her own desire, her own excitement, her own heat. I take great pains (no pun intended) to establish a situation where she might be hesitant, might be embarrassed and doubtful, but is deeply aroused, and filled with hunger. There is never the slightest fear (unless of discovery) nor doubt that she could stop things if she really wanted them to/could summon up the will to resist her own desire. I do not want to write the typical 'porn' story. You know the one, where five seconds after a couple meet they're tearing each other's clothes off without a hint of seduction or even a pretense of resistance. I also have some books which are in the paranormal class. Again, the female is incredibly aroused, and doesn't want things to stop, but some of that arousal is done through paranormal means. Think vampires and how they can screw with your head. Is that dubcon? You mention most retailers allow dubcon. Who does not? What percentage?

Dovetail Public Relations said...

@Administor/Dylan, welcome, and thanks for the comment and support.

@JJ Argus. Thanks for stopping by, and thanks so much for working with Smashwords all these years as one of our bestselling erotica authors. If it's clear to the reader that the character is consenting to the exploration and experience from the beginning, I don't think I'd classify it as dubcon since the consent isn't dubious. The chart summarizes the current rules for all our retailers. Our biggies - iBooks, B&N and Kobo all welcome dubcon.

Unknown said...

George, you also might want to be careful of including blurbs or excerpts. This could create a copyright issue unless there's written permission to use another author's work, even if you did a blurb exchange. Could become an issue if you agree to swap excerpts and have a falling out with the other author.

SelkieTG said...

BISAC has their next meeting to discuss classifications, some time in October. I think they would be open to reasonable submissions on the subject Mark has raised. If you have helpful suggestions, why not contact them, or even suggest some valuable new categories via ?

I wonder which would be the most valuable/helpful to add. Or even, how one would go about finding out which categories would be most helpful to add?

Unknown said...

Selkie, is there a point of contact for this? The Erotic Authors Guild would like to be involved in this. We are at

SelkieTG said...

Rather than share the contact I made, may I ask you to contact them via their provided form?
That's how I got in contact with them. They're very responsive!

Harry Kummings said...

I'm afraid your classification system leaves one of my titles in a grey area.. Should a goddess assuming the appearance of a real world animal ( in this case a deer) be considered shapeshifting or bestiality? Especially since it may not be 100% obvious to the reader until near the end?

Harry Kummings said...

I'm afraid your classification system leaves one of my titles in a grey area.. Should a goddess assuming the appearance of a real world animal ( in this case a deer) be considered shapeshifting or bestiality? Especially since it may not be 100% obvious to the reader until near the end?

Unknown said...

Having been away from internet access for over a month, it's interesting to read through these comments en masse.
It appears that one of the justifications for concern is that readers don't get 'surprised' by a book they open in error.
Surely being surprised by books is a good thing… it's how many readers get to read different genres and authors from those they feel 'safe' with and generally seek out. Sometimes they find new experiences that they like. Other times they just put the book down. After all, e-books don't cost much to download, do they?

Maybe it's an American thing, but why can't bookshops (virtual or otherwise) have erotica (or even porn) on their shelves alongside all the other genres. Just label books as being for grown ups, and keep them separate from the children's section… whatever the genre, and give readers a wide choice.
It's not the place of the bookseller to be censor and arbiter or good taste… and if books like '50 shades etc. are to go by, they don't mind selling stuff that makes money, however badly conceived… A bookstore's raison d'être is to provide an opportunity for readers to choose books. Readers can't choose freely without a wide selection to choose from.

Mindy Haig said...

So, I have a question. My Book Midnight Radio is a bout a woman who hosts a radio show where people call in and tell their secrets and fantasies, but it's all subplot to the story of her facing the duality of her life. She is Cassandre Duschaine, a woman with a job and overbearing parents, at the same time, she is Sadie Caine, this radio show host. So none of the Erotic calls are story plot, just her experiences as the host and how they affect her/who she is. I am not sure how to classify this properly. Any suggestions?

Dovetail Public Relations said...

Mindy, whatever you feel most accurately describes the book and its target market. If the target reader is reading primarily for sexual titillation, then it's likely erotica. But if a reader who's reading primarily for titillation wouldn't be titillated, or if the erotic aspects are secondary/ancillary/inconsequential, or few and far between and not the primary reason for reading, then it might not be erotica.

Mindy Haig said...

Thank you. I would say it's not erotica then, because the fantasy/erotic aspect is definitely secondary. I appreciate it!

Unknown said...

So many negative comments; in all directions. I write in so many genres and people are extremely closed minded. Initially, I thought I was writing sexy stories for women in struggling relationships, marriages or sexual partnerships. It turns out that everyone enjoyed them. I have made several friends in the writing community and have enjoyed it. My thought on the "categories" is this. If some have to categorize, all should. Amazon has basically made my once prosperous writing--which I loved, into pennies and hardly worth pubbing there. My fear is that Smashwords will be doing this next. I write romance, fantasy, erotic romance, etc. You are taking peoples dreams and crushing them. Believing or pretending people don't have sex is ridiculous. And selective censorship is very dangerous. You doing it for other companies, merely protects them from being sued. I actually have your website saved at the top of my Twitter, as I believed in your company. Unfortunately, this move is making me question that.

Unknown said...

Suzy, I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing. Readers are going to want to know what they're getting, and won't want to be blindsided with some theme that's a "trigger" or hot button for them. Story codes are nothing new; some of us were using them even on the newsgroups back in the 90s.

I'm with the Erotic Authors Guild and have to say that Smashwords has always had our genre's back. We certainly have not seen anything near the struggles that we've had with Amazon.

Unknown said...

It’s interesting that ‘Administrator’ should mention Amazon. A few years back, when I was negotiating with my soon to be publisher, he came back to me with a query.

The first book’s plot (Transactions) was centred around two school girl sisters, from an exclusive private school, who would travel into the city (Bristol) by train then pick up a couple of ‘punters’ each as street prostitutes to pay for an evening’s clubbing and a taxi home. It was their way of financing a social life that was beyond their meagre allowances. (This was based on actual incidents reported to me by a former street walker and now clean heroin addict).

My publisher asked me if there were any sex scenes involving the underaged girls (my series central protagonist is also a prostitute, so sex does feature in the book). He said that Amazon would allow a lot of things, but might be dodgy about underaged sex being portrayed. As Amazon was a major outlet (and source of reviews that potential readers used), it was important not to risk losing the exposure.

I agreed that there were scenes with these girls (in the UK, the age of consent is sixteen, but for prostitution it’s eighteen… these girls were fifteen and seventeen, with the younger one looking older.). I suggested that I would look at the scenes, with a view to either changing the girls’ ages, or taking out the scenes.

The ages proved to be a problem because it provided a continuing sense of jeopardy within the plot… the younger girl acquires a much older ‘sugar daddy’/client who thinks she’s over eighteen. He’s not one of the bad guys, and there’s the continuing theme of ‘will he be found out and arrested as a pædophile?’ He also reappears in subsequent novels in the series (as do the two sisters… they were too much fun to write for me to ditch.)

Instead, I re-wrote the scenes with this girl to imply rather than detail what occurred between the two characters. The elder sister’s scenes were OK as she was ‘legal’.

As it turned out, the re-written scenes worked a lot more effectively leading to abetter book, so we were all winners. The book was published, and the series has just seen the seventh book released. (The ‘Lena’s Friends’ crime novels)

Unknown said...

PS: For a free taster to the series, there's a short story, 'Recreations' (11k words), prequel on or a longer prequel, "Payback' (16.5K words) for 99¢/99p at .
All the other, full length, books are also on Smashwords (or as paperbacks from any bookseller).

Unknown said...

Wanted to clarify something technical... for some reason, my Blogger settings had my name as "Administrator." This may have implied that I have some sort of administrative capacity with Smashwords and with this blog, which I do not. I'm the administrator of my own various sites/blogs, including the Erotic Authors Guild. Hopefully it's showing up properly now.

Dylan Cross

JJ Argus said...

With regard to Suzy Ayers' comment. I don't think it's Smashwords which is demanding this, so much as the other stores like Apple that Smashwords distributes to. Smashwords doesn't seem to have much of a problem carrying anything, as long as it's legal. And they are far and away more flexible than the likes of Amazon or Apple in telling you what might be wrong that you can change - as opposed to simply rejecting your book and banning it out of hand. Unfortunately, as you are aware with Amazon, other web stores feel differently. I share your frustration with this. It has definitely impacted me in sales, especially at Amazon. I feel that anything that's legal that people want to read should be sold without bias. Unfortunately, not many of the online retailers agree. So we all face the task of updating what we write to come to terms with what they're willing to sell. Now this new system is also going to impact me. A number of my older stories are some variation of incest (adult), and the new incest category includes any stories with people related even if it isn't technically incest - such as in-laws or step-siblings. Removing that element from them is, in some cases, simply not possible, so those stories won't be distributed. That will cost me money (and Smashwords, and the other distributors) and will frustrate those who want to read them but there's not much anyone can do as long as the online retailers continue to live in fear of condemnation from the media.

Unknown said...

The actions of these gutless retailers smacks of censorship… they care more about the opinions of a load of sanctimonious media whores, than the integrity of a free press. How would the media like it if they were told which stories they could report?

In fact, how would these retailers feel if the distribution and publishing houses grew some balls and insisted on all or nothing?… They're told to take all the titles… or none, including those they make a lot of money out of selling.

Would they still cringe like frightened kittens at the prospect of criticism from the arseholes in the tabloid press, the lowest common denominator TV stations, and those wastes of space, the bloody churches, if it would mean they had no block busters to sell?

As I said in a previous comment, it seems to be an American thing (Land of the free… Home of the brave?… Don’t make me laugh.) which I couldn’t imagine happening in Europe… Here the literary world remembers censorship, from the likes of Cromwell or the Inquisition, to the book burnings of the Nazis, and it cherishes its hard earned freedom to publish almost anything (libel laws permitting). It only takes a warning tag on bookshelves, virtual or otherwise, to steer the over sensitive away from what they don't want to see.

Come on retailers… Grow some balls! Don't bow down to media tyranny.

Unknown said...

PS: I'm OK with the categorising of books. It's the retailers selective refusal to make available for sale that pisses me off. - I accept that certain outlets may have valid exceptions, religious or political for instance, to stocking titles that conflict with their ethos (I wouldn't expect a temperance society shop to sell a guide to the world's whiskies), but general booksellers should be just that… general booksellers… Not self appointed arbiters of good taste or morality.

Unknown said...

I sometimes like to have a category to inform people what it's not. It's also gives the writer a more sense of creating the ebook or at least placing it into a category.

Unknown said...

Generally, I'd agree, Larry. However, sometimes an author's books fit several genres. A friend of mine writes a sci-fi series, but they're also crime novels and detective, stories. To add to this, there are snippets of clever humour in the writing.

If you can imagine a blend of the epic galaxy wide sci-fi sagas like Star wars etc., with lighter sci-fi like Hitch hikers' guide, Red Dwarf, and Dark Star, then throw in a Morse like detective plot, with cliffhangers added.… Amazingly it works really well, even though it shouldn't. (Check out Bob Cubitt's 'Magi' series

These days, there are so many genres and sub genres that a listing can have as many genres as newly released books. Then when you get to age classifications… YA, childrens etc.… the waters muddy even more. I know parents who encourage their teens to read books like my own, which are decidedly aimed at grown ups (while others won't let their kids near them). Some kids reading ages, or sensitivities, are way above (or below) their peers. My own granddaughter was reading Harry Potter books herself at five years old, yet a friend's twelve year old still struggles with them. However, subject matter and content wise… when presented as TV or film, and the positions are reversed.

Lot's Cave said...

Welcome to the age of Self-Blacklisting, a mechanism forced on the pro-author Smashwords by anti-author publishers; and one that will eventually force Smashwords profits lower even as it increases sales and promotional efforts to maintain year over year figures.

kalinka1 said...

Thank you Mark Coker for your as always excellent information!

Interestingly, Marion Zimmer-Bradley's "The Mists of Avalon" would not have made it past this modern classification, because of the incestuous scenes between King Arthur and his sister Morgaine. For a young teenage reader, those scenes are horrifying and cringey in the extreme. There was nothing on the cover warning that the material might not be suitable for under-16's (the genre is of course "Fantasy"). Isn't it odd that Tolkien never needed to resort to that.

Unknown said...

All she's doing, Kalinka, is referencing the original Arthurian 'legends' (I only live a few miles from 'Avalon' - or the high ground near Glastonbury that once was the 'Isle of Avalon' when the rest of the levels were under water. - And the earthworks of 'Cadbury Castle', believed to be the site of Arthur's Camelot by the river Camel, is even closer, so the King Arthur story is well known around here.)

Arthur and Morgan's incest was always a part of the story… Besides, I'll bet that, in America at least, those kids don't bat an eyelid at the creation myth in the Bible.
If, as the biblical literalists maintain, we're all descended from Adam and Eve, then incest is not only inevitable, but God given… Hmm… I'll stick with my own godless beliefs, thank you.

rebeccaryatt said...

I'm afraid I'm late to the party, but I wondered if age-gap (NOT age-play) falls under mainstream erotica. By this I mean old-and-young erotica (where the "young" is absolutely over the age of 18 years). Also, it would make NO reference to pseudo-incest either, straying away from referencing that theme. So I was scratching my head... I can't see this listed at all in the "taboo" section, so I wondered what the view was.