Poof! The Amazing Disappearing Stories

banned According to techie news site Ars Technica, Selena Kitt, a self-published author of erotic fiction and a publisher, reported that Amazon removed some of her stories from the print store and from the Kindle store. Other authors affected include Esmeralda Green and Jess C Scott. Amazon did not give an explanation to the authors, but the stories had one thing in common — they all contained erotic incest fantasies.

Kitt’s non-incest stories seem unaffected. Early reports that Amazon was removing the stories from readers’ Kindles were wrong. However, they did remove the stories from readers’ archives, so if those readers want to read the stories later, they are out of luck. They may be able to get a refund, but that depends.

For all the incest stories Amazon pulled, hundreds are still available for sale in the Kindle store. Including stories with underage incest and worse. No wonder people argue that Amazon isn’t being consistent. Some readers even argued that if Amazon pulled incest erotica, they should pull all stories involving incest, from V. C. Andrews’ Flowers in the Attic to mainstream novels about incest or memoirs about survivors of incest. But surely there is a world of difference between V. C. Andrews (the infamous sex scene between Chris and Cathy in Flowers in the Attic was barely a page) or the memoir Daddy’s Girl by Charlotte Vale Allen. Context is everything. In those cases, the incest is part of a larger story, rather than the driving force behind an erotic fantasy.

Like just pretty much everyone else who is covering this, let me state that incest fetish fiction isn’t my thing. I realize it’s a part of erotica. I found that out in college, when I bought an “erotic” novel (a Beeline Double Novel) so that my friends and I could read it out loud at a birthday party. It was the worst book I had ever read, and the funniest birthday party ever. In that story, relatives jumped into bed together as casually as most people put on socks, and the dialogue consisted of words like “Ohhhhhhhhh.” The incest was supposed to make the story “hotter,” but the only hot things in that room were the candles on our birthday cake.   I read one of Selena Kitt’s free stories while researching
this. Although most of her stories aren’t about incest, I read one of her
incest stories to learn what they were all about, and learned that she is a
far better writer than the author of the Beeline novel. Still, the plot line
left me depressed, with a feeling of “This shouldn’t be happening.” Then
again, in high school, I was one of the few V. C. Andrews fans who thought
it was a tragedy when Chris and Cathy eventually became a couple, while many
fans saw it as true love.

I believe that a business also has a right to say “That’s not my thing.” So what are Amazon’s guidelines for publishing for the Kindle? I wish I could tell you. The FAQ for DTP for the Kindle says that “Pornographic, obscene or offensive content” is banned from the descriptions of items and says, “For more information on Amazon.com policies with regard to inappropriate content, please see the Digital Text Platform Terms and Conditions.” Yet the Terms and Conditions don’t really say anything about what is “inappropriate”. The Amazon Kindle Publishing Guidelines  cover formatting issues rather than obscenity, pornography, etc. The CreateSpace guidelines are also vague and apply tovideos more than to books. Under “Offensive content,” they say, “What we deem offensive is probably about what you would expect” and then go on to mention crime scene videos and the like. Amazon most likely kept their guidelines rather loose so that they could use them if something came up that they didn’t plan for, but that only creates new quagmires. Barnes and Noble could get into a similar quagmire in the future. Their guidelines for Pubit, their self-publishing service for the Nook, ban pornography and define it as “Hard-core material that depicts graphic or explicit sexual acts.” Huh? Does that mean they would ban Bertrice Small from the NOOKbooks store?

Compare those guidelines to the guidelines set some eBook publishers. Ellora’s Cave guidelines  say “NO incest” and also ban sexual situations involving children. Similar bans are found in the guidelines from Samhain, Loose Id, Phaze Publishing, and eXtasy Books. Even erotica publishers that are more open, such as Total E-Bound, ban sex with minors and rape as titillation. Selena Kitt’s own company, eXcessica, allows incest — but bans underage sex, among other things, and the self-publishing platform Smashwords does publish incest erotica, but they ban also sex scenes involving minors and rape as titillation.

 Like Smashwords, Amazon is a distributor and not a publisher, so their guidelines don’t have to be as specific as, say, Ellora’s Cave. Still, if they are going to carry Kitt’s incest erotica stories for over a year, then why pull them now without warning or explanation? Many people think this is because of the furor over Amazon and the self-published pro-pedophilia book, which was eventually pulled by Amazon. Yet Kitt’s incest stories are fantasies involving consenting adults, not handbooks for pedophiles.

Because of the confusion, many people worry about what will be yanked next. What is “pornography”? How does Amazon (and B&N) define offensive material? You’ve got me there. Both sites make it easy to report eBooks as offensive. Maybe too easy. Someone with a vendetta could report an author’s book as “pornographic” to get back at them.  Some people also fear that while today Amazon is going after incest erotica, tomorrow they may yank BDSM or male/male. I would like to think that Amazon is not going to do that. For one thing, too many readers are buying these stories. Then again, when big companies make decisions, sometimes stupid things happen. Let’s hope Amazon’s staff knows better than pulling the plug on erotic romances. Let’s hope instead that they settle a lot of the controversy by creating more specific guidelines and following them more carefully and consistently in the future.

 

 - Anne Marble

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17 Responses to “Poof! The Amazing Disappearing Stories”

  1. JML says:

    Incest written as a sexual fetish is not something that appeals to me in any shape or manner.

    But, and it’s a HUGE but, I believe that banning books containing stories that are about CONSENTING ADULTS is wrong.

    There are also some books written by some wonderful NY Times Bestselling romance and mystery authors who address incest, to one degree or another and with some or all of it’s ramifications, and they could be included in this someone-else’s-moral roundup of controversial material and that would be a damn shame.

    The brothers Cain, Abel and Seth had sex with their sisters so if Amazon is pulling incest stories they had best get the two-hundred thousand or so copies of the Bible off their inventory.

  2. Carrie says:

    While I think Amazon’s decision to carry some books and not carry very similar books is arbitrary and chaotic, I’m not all that upset (or surprised). Because they haven’t eliminated the only place to buy the books, in the end they may inconvenience authors and readers, but will only hurt themselves.

    However, the idea that they can REMOVE a book from your Kindle archive is definitely something to get up-in-arms about. That’s a gross invasion of privacy. Just as they can’t come into your home and demand a book off your shelves, they shouldn’t be legally able to take any books from your Kindle archives. THIS is something anyone with an ereader should be worried about.

  3. Carrie says:

    I just wanted to add, that if they start with guidelines such as no underage sex, there are many mainstream books that feature couples having sex where one or both are under 18. Technically if an 18 or 19 yr old has sex with a 17 year old, it’s child molestation. I can think of two romantic suspense book off the top of my head that have a sub-plot involving teens.

    I’m just adding this because it’s true that ANY slope we get on to censor content is going to be a slippery one. Where do you draw the definite line? Like I said, “No sex depicting minors” is going to leave out a lot of mainstream books, including popular YA fiction.

  4. Pat says:

    About the “fact” that once the book is pulled from Amazon, it can’t be put back in a person’s Kindle. Yes, that’s true IF the person doesn’t make a personal backup of Kindle books. However, if the K owner makes periodic backup to his/her computer, then everything the owner puts on computer can be put back into a Kindle. At least that’s been my experience.

    (And I’m not getting sucked into the What’s Pornography? discussion!)

  5. LJ says:

    @Carrie

    It’s not molestation once they are past puberty and if there is less than 3 years difference in age, it’s generally not thought to be statutory rape provided there is a previous relationship.

    Molestation applies to children.

  6. Carrie says:

    @LJ
    Without going into the details, I know from some experience that it gets tricky these days when one person is over 18 and one is younger. Especially if the parent of the younger one wants to press the issue. Maybe it isn’t called “child molestation,” but you can’t be sure it won’t be considered taking liberties with a minor or something similar. And it goes beyond that. My 19 yr old son ended up in court slapped with a restraining order for a year because he texted something to an under 18 yr old girl that was considered inappropriate. (He ended up having to leave the church he was attending because the young lady’s family went there, and he wasn’t allowed to be in the same building with her.) What he texted was immature, and I’m not defending his stupidity, but it wasn’t outside the norm of what I’ve seen and heard of.

    I don’t think, in this environment, that we can be too sanguine about the ages involved in “teenage” sexual encounters.

  7. kathy says:

    Amazon beware. Censorship is wrong!! If a person is offended by a book THEY DON’T HAVE TO BUY IT!!! By getting cought up with all the people who were complaining instead of sticking to your guns you’ve created a bigger issue. Now you are going to be seen as censors. Not a good thing.

  8. Pat said:
    About the “fact” that once the book is pulled from Amazon, it can’t be put back in a person’s Kindle. Yes, that’s true IF the person doesn’t make a personal backup of Kindle books. However, if the K owner makes periodic backup to his/her computer, then everything the owner puts on computer can be put back into a Kindle. At least that’s been my experience.

    I hope people are able to read their books if they have a backup. But I guess I have become cynical about how good backups are. ;) I have excellent backups of some of the first ebooks I had, but in some cases, I can’t get them to open for various reasons. And of course, backups don’t always work. Last year, I made dilligent backups of my laptop files. Only after the laptop died did I find out my “backups” were blank. :)

    JML, Carrie, etc.

    I think there can be difference in context between, say, underage sex in an erotic story and in a historical romance. When I was at an RWA National meeting, I attended publisher spotlights for several erotic romance publishers. One of the editors was very specific about what you could include and what you could not include. For example, no sexual contact between minors was allowed, nor was incest. Yes, you could write an erotic romance about an incest or sexual abuse survivor, but you couldn’t show the abuse in a flashback. You could write about people who had had sex when they were minors, but you couldn’t show the actual encounters in a flashback. She realized that authors got away with that sort of thing in print all the time, but she explained that because they were an erotic romance publisher, they had to be especially careful about those lines.

    I’m hoping Amazon knows better than to remove non-erotic novels that have sex between minors or child abuse. Then again, there is always the danger of a well-meaning staff member who doesn’t understand the rule, or a staff member who is offended, or a customer who posts a false complaint. On the one hand, I like that it’s easy to report material because it enables people to report illegal materials, copyright infringment, etc. But it makes it too easy to report things for the wrong reason, or even by mistake. I think there should be safeguards

    • JML says:

      Anne Marble AAR:
      The authors that I referred to in my post are those whose books I read that I thought handled the issues of incest in their stories with sensitivity for the victim and insight about the predator. They are responsible authors writing good novels and one of the reasons why I worry about the censorship that seems to be taking place now.

      Actually I was thinking that the really big mess would come if some Amazon personnel put in a search on their site for “incest” (on a weekend, wasn’t that when they ‘un-ranked’ some erotic books a while back?) and then started cutting from there.

      It’s an open field if they pick and choose by genre or whim or customer protest. It’s a terrible way to do business and it makes me very leery for the future if they don’t have a clear policy in place.

  9. [...] Book news and views: Dear Author, ReadReactReview, and AAR on books being removed from Kindle archives. [...]

  10. No longer silent says:

    Are you getting it yet? Freedom of the press and free speech will soon be ended in the US… You are not allowed access to all information, your books are being censored, YOU are being censored.

    Lots of companies, incl. Amazon, have rolled over. Do you really think you’ll be reading books with a sex scene or werewolves or petticoats for that matter if they feel you ‘shouldn’t be reading it for your own protection’?

    Do something about it before it’s entirely too late.

  11. Jane O says:

    Oh for pity’s sake, calm down No longer silent.

    A store refusing to carry a specific item is NOT censorship. Censorship is something a government, and only a government, does.

    Free speech means you can say or write whatever you like (short of shouting Fire! in a crowded theater). It does NOT mean that anyone has an obligation to disseminate your speech.

  12. Caryl says:

    somehow I doubt Amazon will be pulling, JOhn Garth’s HOtel New Hampshire, which featured a brother/sister incestuous encounter, which makes me wonder about whether their standard’s apply only to non-mainstream publications.

  13. mirole says:

    I purchased Naughty Bits by Selena Kitt (a brother-sister incest erotic story) on Chapters.ca website (for Kobo reader, but I have it saved on my computer as I don’t have an ebook reader). Well, it has not disappeared anywhere.

    I am one of those “sick” people who enjoy incest [only brother-sister] fantasy. But for what it’s worth, the only other story by Selena Kitt, Under Mr. Nolan’s Bed (not an incest story), impressed me much more and there are at least two brother-sister stories on Literotica that are better quality than the story by S. Kitt.

    I also have a book by Vladimir Nabokov Ada or Adour about an incestuous relationship between a brother and a sister which started when they were 14 and 12 respectively. I haven’t read it yet but am just wondering about it in view of all this situation. I read on Goodreads that Ada has some description of sex when they both were just that, 14 and 12.

  14. biteythingy says:

    Are they taking down Flower in the Attic by V.C. Andrews? I read this as a small child and I can tell you the whole thing is incest and underage sex. Is this somehow more acceptable because it is not described in detail? The answer is yes, of course. So the censorship (or banning) is only for erotica really. Someone telling me what I can and can’t read (or think about) is very frightening. Does this type of literature turn me on? No. But, I also don’t like hearing the KKK make hate speeches either. I just support their right to make fools out of themselves.

  15. amazon ebook says:

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