Monday, October 21, 2013

50 Shades of Anything Goes

A few years ago, the publishing world was rocked by the phenomenon known as “50 Shades.” Dubbed “Mommy Porn,” the industry couldn’t stop scratching its head that female readership wanted to read explicit sex scenes.

I never read the series – I heard the writing wasn’t great – which is the same reason I never got into the Twilight series. Fifty Shades, of course, began life as fan fiction for Twihards who couldn’t wait for their celibate couple to finally get it on, and six ways to Sunday. And that impulse, dear reader, is one I could understand. I’ve been a die-hard shipper since I first saw Hawkeye and Hot Lips exchange barbs over an operating room table, and there’s nothing more satisfying than when two people you’ve wanted for years to find each other finally come together.

However, I’m going to go out in a ledge and say that reading a detailed sex scene between two or more people and/or animals to whom you were just introduced a paragraph ago isn’t necessarily the most satisfying papersex experience a reader can have.

Which brings me to events that occurred in indie publishing last week.

Not surprisingly, 50 Shades generated a title wave of “erotica” books designed to cash in on all this pent-up demand for Mommy porn. And it collided with a title wave of “indie” writers – most of whom were delighted to be able to share their stories with the world without benefit of agent and big six/four publisher, but some of whom who seemed only interested in pushing the sexual envelope as far as it will go and making as much money as possible.

Last week, Kobo Writing Life, which sells independent and traditionally published books for its own ereaders, abruptly pulled all its indie published works as a result of one of its distributors, WHSmith, doing so. WHSmith blamed certain indie titles for its decision, calling them “disgusting” and “unacceptable.”

Originally, this looked like censorship, and many in the indie writing community decried WHSmith’s, and by extension, Kobo’s, action to decide what was or was not fit to be read. But then things got more complicated. This was not the same of “60 Shades of Salmon” being pulled. These were explicit books describing gang-rapes, incest, bestiality and more. What’s worse, their authors were attempting to trick the distributor – and readers -- by uploading fake titles and using tag words that would let their descriptions come up in searches for non-erotica. They were not just trying to reach readers who wanted to be titillated; they were spamming and shocking readers in search for everyday fiction.

And sadly, they were causing other indie writers to be tarred with this same brush.

I am not a prude. I don’t think. And yet I’ve been a bit disturbed by the number of indie writers offering erotic titles. Because reviews, Facebook likes and Twitter followers are so important in publicizing our books, many indie writers form groups to help each other publicize our books. But truthfully, I don’t want anything to do with a book called “Hot and Horny Over 40;” I don’t want to read it; I don’t want to publicize it; and I don’t want to be reviewed by its author. And I’m really scared that these books and their writers are going to change the reputation of indie writers. Right now indie writers as a whole are seen as authors offering books at a lower price point that may not be quite as good or marketable as traditionally published books, but offer similar stories. It would hurt all of us if this reputation were changed to authors trafficking smut for a quick $1.99.

Again, I’m not a prude. I love a hot sex scene in a book that features well-written, multi-dimensional characters, sharp dialogue and loads of sexual tension. And I’m sure some of these books offer lots of detailed, well-written sex scenes. But if I don’t care about the characters, I don’t care about them having sex.

I don’t know how long it’s going to take Kobo to clean up this mess, and I’m angry at the writers who caused it by lying about their books’ content. For me, the bottom line is these writers are offering a completely different product and reading experience than other indie writers are. If we refuse to acknowledge that, we risk having our own books viewed with suspicion.


  1. I second that. I've been noticing a LOT of porn from groups that I originally followed on Pinterest, and had to unfollow because I don't need to see those covers or titles on my boards. I'm with you. A well-written sex scene with characters I've come to love can be very lethargic. Otherwise, it's just porn.

  2. Great post, Jami! Like they say in the movies . . . "follow the money!" When 50 Shades made big bucks, the copycats tried their hand at it! Although I haven't read 50 Shades (not a genre I traffic in), I admire an author who successfully captures so many readers (although she didn't capture me)!!