Last week, Barnes & Noble deleted approximately half of the erotica from their site and banned the accounts of dozens of erotica authors. Authors who were affected were sent form emails that simply stated the author had violated B&N’s policies — and authors who followed up to ask for further information or to make a case that they had not violated the policy were simply sent the same form email again. By the end of the week, it seemed that B&N had reversed whatever decision they’d made and reinstated most (or perhaps all) author accounts and their books.
Currently, Amazon is going through KDP accounts. If you have a KDP account, you might’ve noticed that your books are all out of order when you log in — that’s because when Amazon “investigates” a book, it jumps to the top of your list as it’s the most recently modified file. So far, it seems that few (if any) erotica books or accounts are being banned. Amazon has not said a word about what they’re doing — so authors are unsure if it’s another crackdown on erotica or if it’s perhaps something more innocent (like adjusting file information for the new Kindle Unlimited page numbering and payment system).
Erotica authors are, understandably, quite nervous right now.
This isn’t the first time a vendor has cracked down on erotica — these “pornpocalypses” happen on an almost annual basis. Huge catalogues of books are blocked or thrown in the “adult dungeon” on Amazon, authors lose their accounts, and that brings about the end of their self-publishing careers.
It’s a frustrating experience because vendors such as Amazon (who blasts erotica catalogues on an almost annual basis), Kobo (who did an erotica purge last year), and Barnes & Noble (which caused mass panic among erotica authors last week), make a ton of money on self-published erotica. They don’t like to admit it, though. In fact, when someone makes a stink about all the erotica on these book sites, the sites respond with a message like “Yikes! We had no idea this was going on! We’re going to delete everything!” Once the inevitable media attention dies down, these sites let their erotica catalogues grow again — until someone new raises a stink.
There are any number of reasons for this — but there is one reason that stands out above all others: We bring this on ourselves.
Not all of us bring this upon ourselves, but certain individuals within the self-publishing community make poor choices that lead to this unnecessary scrutiny and subsequent disaster.
I’m not normally the type to name names and call people out on their bad behaviour, nor am I one to usually make an example of bad books. (Nor am I one to freely swear in blog posts.) Today is different. Today, instead of talking about what we should be doing, I’m going to show you some examples of what people are doing that are wrong — because, apparently, we aren’t getting the message through to some people.
Chances are that if you’ve read this far, you’re one of the authors that treats self-publishing as a profession and you don’t do these things, so I may be preaching to the choir here. Nevertheless, let’s get started…
Self-Publishing is a Profession
Self-publishing may be a hobby to some, but it’s a profession for others. Even if it’s a hobby to you, you want your books to appear as professional and top-notch as possible. If you’re throwing garbage on Amazon and Smashwords, then what’s the point of self-publishing?
You can cut corners on editing and cover design, especially if this is more of a hobby for you, but unless you’re a very experienced author, you cannot write a draft and throw it up for sale. You need an editor. I have multiple pen names and I’ve been published over 80 times. I need an editor. I’ve published about a million words, but that doesn’t mean I can publish without a proper edit.
If you can’t afford an editor, then get a well-read friend to give you honest and critical feedback. If they say it’s perfect, find someone else, as they are either not experienced enough or objective enough. No one is a perfect writer. Also, a proofread is not an edit.
If you don’t want to get an editor or an objective friend because you are doing this as a hobby, then join a writers group and don’t self-publish. Don’t fuck things up for the rest of us.
At the core of all this is an ignorance of the very basic rules of story telling, such as:
Point of view. Pick a point of view. Stick with it. Don’t head-hop. If you don’t know what these mean, Google them.
Grammar, punctuation, and spelling. If you’re having trouble with sentence structure and your editor isn’t doing a good enough job, run your story through the Hemingway App or Grammarly to at least catch some of the problems. If you use the Hemingway App, it tells you what grade level your writing is at — you want to aim for about grade 5 for easy readability. (Using these sites are not a replacement for honest and critical feedback from an editor.)
Don’t refer to the cover image. I went perusing Smashwords’s recent publications and I found two books that refer to the cover image. The first was by a young writer (who I will not call out, as they are beginning this wonderful journey of writing and publishing and will make mistakes along the way) who had published two books — one was a novella and the other was a “book” that just had the cover image so that you could look at it.
This one, though, when Annette is introduced, the narration literally says “That’s Annette on the cover of this story!”
That floored me. An author directly and overtly referring to the cover image? That is a huge no-no for fiction writing. It could work for non-fiction, but only in special circumstances.
The quality of writing in self-published works ranges from better-than-traditional-authors to absolutely atrocious. I have stopped reading self-published works because half of them are by authors who don’t know story structure, POV, grammar, punctuation, or any of the dozens of things that an author must know. This is also why I’ve stopped reviewing books. I get offers from authors I know can write extremely well, but I also get offers from authors who are nowhere near ready for publication — and I don’t have the time to sort through this.
I do want to take a moment to acknowledge that there is a lot of very excellent self-published fiction out there. I have just grown tired of sorting the wheat from the chaff.
The biggest problem I’ve found with self-published fiction is that too often there simply isn’t a story, or at least not enough of one. Two people meeting and falling happily in love? That’s not a story. You need tension and conflict — maybe they meet but can’t stand each other (which is how a lot of romances work), maybe one has to win the affections of the other, perhaps the romance is a secondary storyline to an adventure plot.
Unless it’s a short story, you can have the problem solved on the first attempt. The heroes need to fail and come up with a new strategy to win the day.
A perfect romance is not a story. An effortless and conflict-free hookup is not a story.
If you don’t have a story, don’t publish a fucking book.
Invest in a Cover
You can usually identify a self-published title at a glance — because of the atrocious cover.
- hand-drawn covers. Don’t ever do this.
- covers that are not “book sized”. All covers should be at or close to a 2:3 ratio, such as 1600×2400 pixels; do not do a square cover or a different ratio UNLESS it’s an audiobook or a kids book. Even then, if the kids book is an ebook, you want a cover that fits on an ereader… which is at or close to a 2:3 ratio.
- covers made with paper, scissors, and tape, then scanned and uploaded.
- covers made in Paint or Word.
- obviously copyrighted photos used illegally.
Ideally, you would invest in hiring a cover artist or cover design company.
However, this may be out of your budget range. You can easily purchase a stock photo and use Photoshop (or a free equivalent like Gimp or a user-friendly online program like Canva) to put something together. You can even find free stock photo sites that offer royalty-free images that you can use for any purpose.
If you are purchasing stock photography, make sure that the site you are purchasing from allows you to use it for erotic ebooks (read the terms and conditions).
And for the love of God, pick a photo that is at least remotely sexy.
Here we have a cottage that may be a location in the book — but if I’m looking for jerk-off material, I won’t even give this a second glance:
And I don’t know what the fuck this is:
And I highly doubt President Trump makes an appearance in this book:
Also, that author is opening themselves up to a lawsuit from the lawsuit-loving president.
And, please, don’t use garish, neon font.
Also, make it readable.
Write a product description that entices the reader and draws them in. Blurbs are written in first tense, are not weighed down with unnecessary detail, and are engaging.
None of the blurbs on the books I’ve shared here are good. Most of them are godawful.
For examples, look at traditionally published books and take notes on what they’re doing.
This is the reason we’re in this mess!
Categorize your stories properly.
Let’s look at this one:
This is incest erotica being categorized as coming of age fiction. What the fuck?
Should you choose two categories? Yes. But for fuck’s sake, make them relevant. Incest erotica is NOT coming of age fiction. I’d barely call it “romance >> erotic”, but I’m willing to let that slide as I haven’t read the book and that’s at least an appropriate category. If this author wanted an appropriate secondary category, I would have gone with “fiction >> erotica >> men’s erotica”.
Let’s look again at the others we’ve already called out:
^ That’s somehow both business fiction and action romance? If the author meant it’s a romance set in the workplace, the proper place to make that distinction is in the tags, not the business category.
And then there was this:
^ I think this might’ve been miscategorized. The blurb seems to indicate political science, not general romance.
And we also saw this:
^ “Women’s fiction”? Really? Granted, I haven’t read the story, but… generally books about prostitutes are not women’s fiction. That genre tends to be about women finding themselves, recovering from loss, finding strength in family, etc. While it’s not impossible for this to be women’s fiction, I doubt that’s the best category.
And, finally, we started off with this:
^ I read the whole thing. It’s not contemporary romance. It’s not any kind of romance. It’s not even a fucking story. It’s a scene (that evidently refers to the cover image). If I had to choose a category, wow… I’d go with… uh… general fiction or perhaps literature (though that’s a stretch).
The Problem With Miscategorization
Shitty writing, crappy covers, and atrocious blurbs are bad enough for the self-publishing industry, as it gives us the reputation that we rightly deserve, but above absolutely everything, it is miscategorization that is killing the erotica self-publishing industry.
In self-publishing resources, we are told to think creatively with categories. If you write a western romance, you could categorize it as general romance and historical romance — but if you instead categorize it as general romance and western, then you get the readers who read westerns and are open to a romance book. It’s sound advice.
That is — it’s sound advice for romance, but you have to be careful with erotica.
You don’t fucking categorize incest as coming of age fiction.
Let me explain what happens:
- A mother and child go on Amazon or Smashwords to look for a good ebook
- They type in some innocent keywords or click on some ideal categories (coming of age fiction, perhaps)
- They scroll through the list together until they find “Sex With Daddy For An Easy A”
- The mother sends the child out of the room and, mouth agape with horror, clicks around a bit more and finds more incest or extreme erotica mixed in among kid-friendly titles
- The mother contacts Amazon and complains
- Amazon is slow to respond, so the mother goes to the local media
- The media raises a stink
- Amazon releases a press statement that say “Yikes! We didn’t know this was happening! We’re deleting everything now!”
- All of us who play by the rules have any of the following happen:
- Our titles get banned / removed
- Our titles get put behind the “adult filter” (also known as “dungeoning”) and our sales plummet because we’re not as discoverable anymore
- Our accounts may be cancelled, ending our self-publishing career, as Amazon bans your tax ID number permanently
I can almost guarantee that’s what happened at Barnes & Noble last week, minus the part about the media. It happened a year or two ago when a mother and daughter were looking for animal books and found erotica on Amazon. It happened last year on Kobo.
Those of us who play by the rules have to sit back and try not to stress out as our erotica colleagues are getting hit by the “ban hammer” and try not to freak out over the same thing possibly happening to us. Those who are in it for the quick buck — likely those that break all the rules — give up and move on. The industry recovers, we get back on our feet, and then a newbie who’s heard that erotica is an easy way to make big money comes in and breaks all the rules — throwing us into the same cycle.
If you’re thinking of writing erotica, here’s how you make money on it:
Write. Edit. Revise. Proofread. Get a cover. Publish. Repeat.
The money in erotica (other than risky and temporary trends and highs that lead to you eventually getting banned) is in building a catalogue. I have over 80 erotic titles under various pen names and I make a decent income from writing.
More importantly, it’s consistent income.
Sure, a rule breaker might make a ton of money before they go and wreck everything for the rest of us, but those of us who are in it for the long haul make more money over time.
I’m not perfect.
I never claim to be. I’ve made mistakes and I continue to do so.
I also don’t like calling people out on their shit. Everyone starts somewhere and if any of these authors are new to self-publishing, the last thing they need is a public lashing.
But I’ve had it.
I am probably one of the most patient and understanding people you will meet, but I’ve had it with those who constantly break the rules in search of a quick buck and just end up making the rest of our lives a living hell.
I continue to support indie authors
I know how hard it is to make money as an indie author. Truth be told, most of us do it because we love telling stories, not because we’re chasing money.
My offer for book promotion help is always open and is always indie-friendly. This rant doesn’t change that fact.
Indie publishing is a lot of fun — it’s challenging, but it’s fun. If you’re a total newbie to self-publishing or if you’re perhaps guilty of making some of these mistakes (or perhaps you’re one of the authors I made an example of) — don’t let this hinder you from doing this, if this is really what you want to do.
Learn from your mistakes, learn from the mistakes of others, and strive to do better.
Like I said, I’m not perfect. I’ve made many mistakes with self-publishing, but I learned from them. I’ve also learned from looking at what other authors do — both good and bad.
Anyone with interest, patience, and perseverance can do this.
Let’s write some good books. 🙂