“Kobogeddon”

First WH Smith then all KOBO

First WH Smith then all KOBO

A couple of days ago I wrote about online retailers censoring self-published and indie books, referring to WH Smith / Kobo in the UK. Despite including this picture of the BBC news headline, “Kobo pulls self-published books after abuse row”, I didn’t really appreciate that there were two distinct (though overlapping) aspects to the scandal.

The first part, to do with censorship of erotica, I covered in my previous post. I personally don’t have a problem with restricting books that might be considered inappropriate (or ‘sick’ as one commenter defined them. Although I think these days sick means good, yes? I’m over thirty, I don’t know.)

The other element, that had passed me by, was the fact that Kobo blamed self-published authors for the whole affair. I caught up when I stumbled across the hashtag Kobogeddon on Twitter last night. UK-based author Rayne Hall started the hashtag to bring attention to Kobo’s hypocrisy and back-stabbing actions. Her blog posts on Goodreads here and here explain the full story, for anyone who doesn’t know the details.

#Kobogeddon on Twitter

#Kobogeddon on Twitter

In summary, a UK newspaper pointed out to WH Smith that they had featured books on rape and incest alongside children’s books (I think we can all agree that something had to be done. Perhaps put an 18+ filter on all books containing erotica?). In reaction WH Smith took down their ebook website and their provider, Kobo, took down all UK books. (Not just UK authors, I believe US authors were affected, although their books are still available in the US).

Fine. They had to do something. I’ve worked in PR, I get that. But they only took down self-published books (and ALL of them, not just erotica): any traditionally published erotica is still available for all to see.

That was five days ago. As of now my books are still not available on Kobo, although I understand that books published directly through Kobo are starting to reappear.  Any of you who have read Dragon Wraiths, or Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes, or any one of the Claire installments on this blog that I collate into free books, will know there is nothing racier than a non-explicit sex scene or the occasional snog. Hardly risqué, Kobo.

Yet when I type in “School of” (as suggested by a comment on Rayne Hall’s blog) I get this selection of books (picture below): notice the erotic books School of Spank and School of Discipline alongside the children’s book The Clumsies Make a Mess of the School.

Kobo search results for "School of"

Kobo search results for “School of”

When I look down the list of categories on the left hand side there isn’t even an erotica category listed (although if you click in the book they are labelled as erotica, so the tagging is there).

I have restrictions enabled on my iPad to stop the children coming across things they shouldn’t (including books). Shame it doesn’t seem to work on any of the online retail sites. Smashwords at least has an adult filter, although it seems not all authors are using it. Self-published authors do need to take some responsibility for correctly tagging their books.

But Kobo has got it all wrong. Indie and Self-Published authors are not the only problem. Even if authors are not correctly labelling their books as ‘adult’, it still only represents a proportion of all books. By taking down everything, with no explanation (unless authors are published directly with them) they haven’t just chucked the baby out with the bath water, they’ve thrown the cash cow over a cliff.

Like it or not, self-publishing is part of the future of the book industry and pissing off authors is a really bad idea. I don’t need Kobo. According to my Smashwords stats I haven’t had a single book downloaded from Kobo since the beginning (although I might be in trouble if Barnes and Noble decide they don’t want to publish my books). I have other routes to market. Do they?

Please spread the word, whether you’re in the UK or not. If possible, buy your ebooks from another source. Direct from Smashwords is best. Support your Indie authors! We thank you for it.

E-Book Censorship – Necessary or a Slippery Slope?

The story as it unfolds

The story as it unfolds

Some worrying news has trickled through to me this week, through various sources, that Amazon, Barnes & Noble and particularly Kobo are censoring Self-Published/Indie Published books. As far as I can gather, from reading posts on Shannon Thompson’s Facebook wall – here and here – and through statements from Smashwords, the concern is specific types of erotica, such as incest or rape themed books, but may easily stretch into all Indie Publishing.

WH Smith, who sell Kobo books in the UK, took down ALL self-published books in response to criticism over some of the content they apparently unknowingly stocked.

Smashwords  also has this comment in their statement:

Going forward, I think we can expect this to become the new reality as major retailers set their sights on a global market where the cultural, religious or political norms in some countries will find certain categories of erotica too objectionable, or might find non-erotic categories that most western cultures consider mainstream as too objectionable.  This means we can expect more mess to come in the years ahead as the industry navigates ebook globalization [My emphasis]

Now I have to be honest, this isn’t a straightforward debate for me. My mind is surging with conflicting emotions. Paramount is the thought “Oh my goodness, if they start deleting Indie books, there goes my five-year plan. Amazon is already censoring reviews (I’ve had at least three reviews of my books deleted and lord knows how many more I don’t know about). I’ll have to give up writing and get a job.”

This might seem like an overreaction when I write books with no sex in them, never mind erotica. But, as Smashwords points out, this may well not just stop at erotica but might cover any area that’s considered taboo in a certain culture. Shannon points out on her blog that the legal age of drinking between the UK and the US is different, so might books featuring a teenager drinking be banned in the US?

First WH Smith then all KOBO

First WH Smith then all KOBO

Then of course comes the view that refusing to publish any kind of books is bad. It’s censorship, it’s against free speech, it’s harking back to the days of banning and burning books for not fitting in with the social mores of its time. As one commenter points out on Shannon’s blog, though, it isn’t actually against free speech, because these companies are businesses and have every right to sell what they choose. Even so, it still isn’t good news for Indie authors like me.

Ah, but then, a third voice pipes up: the voice of the parent. I’d happily see all porn banned on the internet: free speech or no. And if there are erotica books out there that favour or promote rape, then I am happy for them to be banned. (Remember this is only the parent talking, so no snotty comments about me being a bigot, thanks!)

I don’t want my daughter growing up in a world where people have had easy access to books promoting rape. There’s something about an idea being written down that gives it gravitas. You write about rape in a book, make it sound like a cool thing, and somebody somewhere is going to feel like that gives them a green light.

In an article on the Christian Science Monitor (which I found through Shannon’s blog) someone defends the erotica ebooks by saying:

“We outlaw snuff films, child porn and, increasingly, revenge porn, because actual people are harmed during their production,” wrote PJ Vogt on OnTheMedia.org.

“Erotic fiction concerns fake characters who don’t exist in real life.”

So it’s okay if it’s in a book, with fake characters? I should agree, yes of course. Except I’ve read books that have changed the way I think. They’ve actually rewired my brain to see the world a different way. That’s the power of fiction (as so beautifully argued in a lecture by Neil Gaiman recently:

When you watch TV or see a film, you are looking at things happening to other people. Prose fiction is something you build up from 26 letters and a handful of punctuation marks, and you, and you alone, using your imagination, create a world and people it and look out through other eyes. You get to feel things, visit places and worlds you would never otherwise know. You learn that everyone else out there is a me, as well. You’re being someone else, and when you return to your own world, you’re going to be slightly changed.

Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman

The On the Media article quoted above says that internet porn hasn’t increased actual instances of rape, and makes the assumption that literature won’t either. But if you look at Neil’s argument, the written word is more powerful than onscreen images, precisely because it happens inside the mind. It locates another ‘me’ in the world. Great if that widens the mind, not so great if it narrows it.

Neil also says, “We have an obligation [as writers] to make things beautiful. Not to leave the world uglier than we found it” but that’s an entirely different argument against some of these books!

There is a petition on Change.org that I will probably sign, but I am having to think twice about it. The petition does say **This petition is NOT condoning non-fictional beastiality, incest, pediphilia or other things of such ‘extreme’ nature**. 

Non-fictional? What about fictional? Also, there are some views in the comments that I don’t agree with. For example someone says you need a credit card to buy the books, so you’re obviously over 18. Except what about the free sample? I’ve downloaded the first few chapters of plenty of books without having to pay for them, and many of them I wouldn’t want my daughter to read at any age.

It’s a difficult debate and I hate not knowing what side of the fence I sit on. If Amazon and other online retailers delete my books, I’m back to square one: trying to fight my way in through the agent/publisher route. And I believe we’ll all be the poorer for stopping the publishing revolution before it’s even got underway. However there is no doubt that there are books out there that ruin the image of self-publishing for all of us, never mind books I wouldn’t want my kids to have access to.

Where do you sit?

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Smashwords Stats: 2013 365 Challenge #243

Good news for me!

Good news for me!

I received an email from Smashwords this morning with some great information. I’m sure any authors reading have probably seen it, but if you haven’t had a chance to go through it, here are the highlights.

1. You can now complete an author interview on Smashwords (you don’t even need to have published a book, just to be registered with Smashwords).

I’d heard about this from Pat Elliott, who looked into it when releasing her short story collection, At Sanctuary’s Gate. However it was a useful reminder to me to get around to completing it. It’s now about #3 on my to-do list! (After finish August’s THSH and finish proofreading BBWS)

2. The results of Smashwords’ survey are in and they make interesting reading. The key points for me were:

  • $3.99 books sell better than $1.99 books (in numbers, not just revenue)
  • Longer books sell better than shorter books (115,274 words was the good average: Baby Blues and Dragon Wraiths are both around 113,000 words so this was good news, and against traditional publishing advice, which is to keep novels below 100,000 words)
  • The trend has moved away from 99c books but Free still does well. This is interesting in light of the discussion here on the blog earlier in the week.
$1-$1.99 not as effective as it used to be

$1-$1.99 not as effective as it used to be

3. You can now (or will soon be able to) set your self-published book up for pre-order. This is excellent news. The advantages of pre-order are many (see the link), but the key two are:

a) you can ensure your book has reached the premium catalogue before beginning promotion. It can take ages to get out to Barnes & Noble, Apple and Kobo (In fact, one of my Two Hundred Steps Home books still hasn’t made it to iBooks, which is annoying). Being able to do that in advance means it’s all in place

b) pre-orders go through as sales on release day for Apple and Kobo, meaning an influx of sales numbers all at once. This can be enough to put you on the bestseller list, at least briefly, and will really help rankings.

It’s too late for Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes, as it’s already been live for a while (albeit it with the unproofread version. An error on my part that I won’t make again!) but, for Class Act, when it’s ready for publishing next year, I will definitely make use of it. I might even re-release Dragon Wraiths through Smashwords, and see how that works, next time my KDP Select expires.

So, there you go. The world of self-publishing gets better and better. I’m looking forward to seeing what Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes can do outside of the KDP Select Program. I am going to be more patient with this one and not enroll unless sales are at zero for several months. It’s all exciting stuff!

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Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog: 

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Sunlight flooded the room, dragging Claire from sleep. The rays of light felt like needles entering her eyeballs and she pulled the duvet over her head with a groan.

You’re too late, sun. We needed you yesterday, not ten foot waves and the roaring forties in full swing.

She tried to ignore the call of the yellow glow and go back to sleep. But the light was insistent, urging her to leave her bed and go outside to explore. It was the first time she’d see the sun in the capital and after a few minutes she threw back the covers.

“Alright, you win. I’m up.”

The voice echoing in the empty room didn’t sound like hers at all. The rasping noise reminded her of her thirst and the long day spent on the ferry fighting nausea. Her tummy rumbled into the silence, recalling midnight hunger that had only increased while she slept.

A glance at her phone told her it was nearly time to check out. Surprised she had slept so late, Claire hurried into the en-suite for a shower. It seemed a waste not to take advantage of the facilities: to stand in the cubicle and not wonder who else had used it since it had last been cleaned.

Maybe I could stay another night. It was rather glorious to sleep in a proper bed.

Claire dug her fingers into her scalp, trying to wash away the memories of her ferry ordeal and the fact that she would have to go through it again soon if she wanted to continue her trip.

Maybe another night wouldn’t hurt.

Then she thought about the sunshine pouring in the window, telling of the beautiful day outside. If she was going to try the ferry again, today would be the day: assuming she could get a ticket. There were another two or three hundred people also on the wrong side of the Cook Strait after the events of the day before.

Deciding she could do nothing while in the shower, Claire rinsed her hair and quickly towelled herself dry. Pulling on the cleanest clothes she could find, and spraying them with deodorant to mask the smell, Claire stuffed her belongings into her rucksack and left the room.

First things first, it’s time for breakfast.

She asked the lady on reception where the nearest café with free WiFi was located, and tried to memorise the directions.

After wandering for twenty minutes she at last found the place and ordered croissants and coffee. There was a booth in the corner and Claire threw her bag on one seat before slumping into the other. It took a moment for her tablet to connect to the internet and Claire tapped the table with her nails. Eventually her email loaded and Claire wondered why she had been so eager to reconnect with the world. There was nothing of interest in her inbox: no new comments on the blog or messages from home.

I don’t know why I thought there would be. The only person who has even noticed my absence is my potential future boss, who I’ve only met twice.

Claire sipped at her coffee and flicked through the emails, pausing at a name that didn’t look familiar. When she opened the message, her hands shook and she plonked her cup back on the table with a clatter. As she read the words the room receded until the only reality was the email on the screen.

Hi Claire,

Sorry for contacting you again. I need to see you. I really need a friend to talk to. I saw on your blog that you were in Wellington and I really hope you still are. I know it’s a long shot, but there’s an event on over the Queen’s Birthday weekend that I’ve told Fiona I’m going to. I’ll be staying at the Travelodge. If you get this email, perhaps you could stop by.

Josh

Claire’s mind pitched and tossed like the ferry that had brought her back to Wellington. Josh, here? Was it fate? And the Travelodge: he’d been staying in the same hotel as her. If only she’d managed to read her emails the night before. Would he still be there?

She gulped down her coffee and quickly consumed the croissants as the words of the email replayed in her mind.

Really need a friend? Last time he said that he admitted to killing someone, albeit by accident. Now what? And telling Fiona he’s at an event, not that he’s come to meet me? More lies.

Even as she sensed the seeds of doubt forming, she pushed them aside. This was Josh. Of course she would see him; that went without question.

It seemed to take forever to get back to the hotel and when she arrived the sweat had soaked through her top and she knew she must stink.

Great. So much for having a shower this morning. This rucksack is too heavy for carrying around in the sunshine. The sooner I get back on the bus the better.

Even as she thought it she wondered what her plans would be now. Josh wasn’t about to come to Picton with her or travel around the South Island. How long would he stay in Wellington? He wouldn’t fly all the way from Australia just for a night, would he?

Her mind twirled with questions as she went to the check in desk and asked the same receptionist who had given her directions earlier whether Josh was still in his room.

She leant against the counter and chewed her lip while the woman called through to check. Her voice murmured too low to be heard and Claire held her breath until she hung up the phone.

“He’ll be right down.”

Claire exhaled and grabbed the desk for support. She wondered if she had time to go and freshen up. She shouldered her bag again and was searching around for a ladies sign when she heard the ping of the lift.

Turning in what felt like slow motion Claire stared at the lift doors as they opened. The person that stepped through was so welcome, so familiar, that Claire had to force herself not to run across the floor and fling herself into his arms. Instead she waited for him to make eye contact, and then she smiled.

His answering grin made her heart flip-flop in her chest and her skin tingle. She took two steps towards him before stopping, uncertain.

“Hi, Claire.”

With a sob she dropped her rucksack and ran forwards.

***