Censorship of Self-Published Authors or Something Else?

16 Oct

Many of you are probably aware of the major rule changes happening in novel companies, but, perhaps, some of you aren’t, so I’m writing about the rule changes in the hopes of both informing authors (especially self-published) and opening a forum where authors and readers can have a healthy debate over the issue.

So what’s happening?

As of a few days ago, companies like Amazon, KOBO, and WHSmith are deleting self-published books that are deemed inappropriate or simply deleting all self-published novels altogether. Here are a few articles:

WHSmith removing all self-published titles: to summarize what’s happening here, WHSmith has received many complaints of titles that are “inappropriate.” According to the summary on their webpage, it started with uncomfortable or taboo erotica, incest, and rape themed novels. Then it moved into all self-published titles shortly afterwards, promising to keep self-published novels once they’ve gone through a screening process that has yet to be fully defined. 

Upon doing more research, I found an interesting article by The Self-Publishing Revolution who talks both about WHSmith’s censorship and Amazon. Yes, Amazon is also removing titles. In short, this article discusses books that have simply been removed because they were flagged inappropriate while also asking, “What is inappropriate?” and pointing out that what might be offensive to some, could be completely acceptable to another, not to mention that some of these taboo topics, such as incest and rape, happen in real life. One author even goes on to say how his novel was removed simply because it had an orgy in his novel, which, again, happens in real life and isn’t considered inappropriate by many readers.

So I went to my Author Facebook Page, and I asked what you think of this censorship. Here were some of the answers:

Simone Lisbon: I guess that would depend on who gets to decide what constitutes ‘inappropriate content’. I smell 1st amendment issues all over this…

Zach Hitt: First of all, the U.S.’s concept of what “inappropriate” is seems quite…er, funny. I hate to do this, but to quote/paraphrase Miley Cyrus, “America is funny in what we think is wrong. Just last night, I was watching Breaking Bad. They were essentially teaching viewers how to make meth. Then, they soaked a dead body in acid and wheeled the pieces into the woods. Then, they blanked out “fuck” and “molly,” during my VMA performance.” I can’t say I am a fan of her music, but Cyrus has a point. At what point will the line be drawn?

Yvonne Cline Simpkins: The United States is supposed to be Land Of The Free, but nothing is free anyore not even our RIGHTS!!!!

What do I think? 

I’m not entirely sure. Although I don’t advocate incest or rape in novels, I have to admit that I FEEL like this is a violation of freedom of speech, which I do have a problem with, but it isn’t. It’s the company’s right to say they don’t want to advocate such topics. It becomes very unclear on what these companies will do when we discuss taboo topics, especially when they happen in real life. What if it’s a story like Speak? This famous novel shows how rape can affect an individual. Would self-published stories like this now be censored? Or will they allow novels with such topics if they are only written in a serious manner instead of an entertaining manner? What about taboo, self-published novels that have been very successful, like the dinosaur erotica that erupted? There’s also a question of different laws and cultures between countries. For instance, age of consent and drinking age is different in the US than the UK. Will novels that don’t follow rules for one country be unavailable in another? This is a very thin line these companies are walking on. 

I will be watching how these companies change as they release more information on their screening process and their expectations for novels.

Please comment below. Have you experienced any backlash because of these changes? What do you think? Do you think other companies will follow their lead? How do you think this will change the self-publishing industry and/or readers?

If you’re interested, there is a petition. But I’d suggest sending a letter to the CEO of these companies instead (or both.)

AEC Stellar's FB cover photo

AEC Stellar Publishing, Inc. FB cover photo


86 Responses to “Censorship of Self-Published Authors or Something Else?”

  1. Christopher Eyles October 25, 2013 at 7:00 pm #

    Reblogged this on Human Seasons.

  2. aedanwriter October 27, 2013 at 11:24 pm #

    Reblogged this on The Hot Topic.

  3. Anna Harte October 28, 2013 at 6:59 pm #

    Given that targeting authors JUST because they’re self-published isn’t the ideal strategy, I’ve been wondering when Amazon and similar sites would implement a review or screening process.

    In recent years, the abundance of knock-off publications, e.g. under titles like “Thirty-Five Shades of Grey” or “I am the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” has Amazon looking like a litter-strewn dump. These companies are supposed to be reputable booksellers, and while quality and offensive might be relative terms, they have to start somewhere. Clearing up the riffraff, IMO as a book-buyer, is a great idea, and I support their freedom to decide not to carry certain titles. The concerns expressed in this post, though, as other commenters have noted, aren’t really applicable because in no way does this infringe on an author’s rights to personally sell or produce certain books. Amazon’s decision to manage certain content (maybe to keep their site from becoming the next Literotica) doesn’t mean they’ve done something wrong.

  4. coleman3442 October 28, 2013 at 11:16 pm #

    I’m a White, Republican, Christian police officer and even I think this is wrong…

  5. M. Antoinnette October 30, 2013 at 12:42 am #

    I am new to this blog. I have published two books through amazon and didn’t know that other writers of the same community were causing problems because they are sensitive and or cannot write as well as those that are reporting.

  6. fallenapostate November 1, 2013 at 11:47 pm #

    Son of a…donkey’s uncle. Your article just gave me a reality check because I like to hover above the taboo in horror. I can’t believe they are doing that; wouldn’t be simpler to categorize the work as adult etc…but even then that would be misappropriate.

  7. Sterling Holobyte November 2, 2013 at 1:10 am #

    I think that it is up to the company which peddles the stuff to decide if something they are selling is appropriate or not. And then to decide if they want to sell it or not. That’s freedom. And that’s the free enterprise system.
    If you want to buy something, and a certain business doesn’t have it, be assured that another business will.

    Remember, don’t be so open-minded that your brains fall out.

  8. larryarcher November 3, 2013 at 3:11 pm #

    I’ve had one story removed and then reinstated after I changed the title and description a little. I don’t know exactly why the story was pulled only that it involved the story title, or the cover picture, or the description. And what “word” was offensive if that was it. At least George Carlin knew the 7 words he couldn’t say on TV but for an author who didn’t think the title or description was offensive, I’m still wondering why I was kicked to the curb.

    Porn is probably the single reason the Internet is as big as it is today and if Amazon wants you to check a box to search adult material then so be it but don’t just tell us it’s one of ten things that you did without telling me which rule I violated.

    For example with Google images, you have to tell the search engine to show explicit images and why not do the same for Kindle?

    • Shannon Thompson November 3, 2013 at 3:59 pm #

      First, I’m sorry you had issues during this time. Second, I love how you mentioned George Carlin. He is my favorite comedian. I was so sad when he passed (on my birthday, too!) The 7 words standup is one my favorites to this day. Third, you made some great points! Thank you for commenting.

      • larryarcher November 3, 2013 at 9:24 pm #

        Sorry to hear that George’s final show was on your birthday. He was a legend who broke a lot of taboos and is surely missed. Hopefully he’s doing standup for the big guy upstairs.

    • larryarcher November 12, 2013 at 3:56 pm #

      My book that was pulled and then reinstated was pulled again by Amazon. What I find that’s really funny is that Amazon is currently pushing “Tampa” by Alissa Nutting that talks about how a 26 year old teacher seduces two 14 year old boys and apparently that’s okay yet my erotic story which was about three adults was not? You can read my additional information at LarryArcher.com on this!

  9. tinabellauthor November 5, 2013 at 1:01 am #

    Reblogged this on Tina Bell – Author and commented:
    Please sign the petition to stop companies from censoring self-publishing!

  10. Wausau News November 12, 2013 at 11:33 am #

    Reblogged this on Wausau News.

  11. crystaldelarm November 17, 2013 at 7:49 pm #

    I think free press is covered in the Constitution, but I don’t think you can tell a business man/woman what to sell in their store. If you want to sell controversial stuff find another outlet. For us saps who will get left out because of this, I am sorry I may not have the chance to sell something I have written.

    Thanks for the follow, enjoyed your perspective.

  12. Allie Potts November 19, 2013 at 4:05 pm #

    I am a self published author whose novel would barely earn a PG-13 rating, yet I’ve found that there has been a significant lag time between when Amazon has my work, An Uncertain Faith, on their site versus when Barnes & Noble had it up on theirs. I had heard about some of these policy changes and so attibuted to the lag to the rule changes. This lag frustrated me because it slowed sales and visibility, but I can only imagine how awful it must be to be denied the right to showcase your hard work at all. I was not aware that Amazon was doing something similar. I don’t believe that it is censorship necessarily, as their rules aren’t stating that an individual can’t write whatever they want, but as they gain more market share it will become more and more difficult for self-published authors to find a distribution channel willing to sell their ‘questionable’ work – effectively doing the job of censorship without going around the law. I agree – it is troubling and frustrating as an author, but legal.

  13. myselfishdream November 20, 2013 at 5:26 am #

    voltaire said it best in the 1700’s ‘I hate what you say but defend to the death your right to say it!’
    Don’t like it? Then write a response or simply, don’t read it in the first place. More worrying for me is the evolution of key words in self published novels – only yesterday the kindle newsletter was advocating SEO for self publication…ugh!

  14. gustyadek November 25, 2013 at 7:20 am #

    Reblogged this on gustyadek.

  15. royalsfan1969 November 30, 2013 at 4:16 pm #

    WHY is it called censorship? It is a BUSINESS decision on what books they will carry..I am pretty hard to offend so if they don’t want to carry certain books that is their choice.

    • larryarcher November 30, 2013 at 6:02 pm #

      While you are true that it is they business to censor stories but step back and take a broader look at what they are doing. Censorship is a slippery slope and what would you think if they decided that books about crime or religion were off the market. If they decided that murder for instance was a no-no then we would see all the books by Patterson, Stephen King, Dean Koontz an others pulled off the shelf, would you be happy about that? Keep in mind that America was founded on freedom from oppression.

      As a author myself, the thing that irritates me is there is no rhyme or reason to their censorship. For example Amazon is currently pushing a book, Tampa, that glorifies an adult teacher seducing a 14 year boy and that is okay yet books with sex between adults are banned. Plus they give no reason what they find objectionable.

  16. Paul Simard December 14, 2013 at 8:31 am #

    First of all, in this country (the U.S.) a person has the right to express his or her viewpoint. This right is nearly absolute. A business person has the right to carry or refuse to carry any product they choose, allowing the marketplace to determine what product succeeds or fails.

    These are the two issues that appear to be colliding. The distributors are free to carry or not carry any self-published work they choose. That said, those same distributors had better be certain that their guidelines are codified and in writing somewhere, because they will certainly be sued at some point, and the issue will likely be destined for the U.S. Supreme Court. That leaves as a separate issue any ‘restraint of trade’ suits that may be filed as well.

    Everyone knows of some speech they consider offensive enough to be banned. The problem arises in that everyone has different topics, opinions, issues, and works they consider worth banning. If something offends your sensibilities, turn away. That’s all that one need do. Let it wither on the vine into obscurity. I am 58 years old. There’s lots and lots of material out there I do not patronize because it offends me. There’s lots of distasteful material out there (this issue, for example) that I read, as disgusting as some of the opinions on the issue are, because the wrong choices here inevitably have unforeseen consequences for us all.

    Many of our differences of opinion can be traced back to the founders of the nation. I was born in New England, with all the puritanical relics stemming from the pilgrims that still exist to this day. Little things like ‘blue laws’, as one simple example. Attitudes about sexual issues for another. Both of these stem from the moralities preached by varied religious groups, with various levels of lip-service paid to real or pseudo-science used to justify their positions. Unfortunately, the Bible, Torah, Koran or other ‘sacred’ scripture cannot be seen objectively as arbitrarily right or wrong in this day and age. To stifle discussion on the issues these texts have created is just plain wrong. Voltaire said it best, “I disapprove of what you say, yet I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Here’s a link.to a brief summary: http://www.voltaire.ox.ac.uk/www_vf/about_voltaire/didnt_say.pdf

    My point is this. The free discussion and dissemination of opinion on all issues is fundamentally essential to freedom. Everyone has issues they would resist interference with in their own lives. “Your freedoms are my mortal sins,” some say (paraphrased), as the context generally becomes apparent that they intend to decide for others what is proper and what is not, and they want the power of the state to exercise authority for what amounts to little more than their personal opinions and feelings. I seek to persuade, not to dictate, though you need not be surprised that I object to the needless meddling into my personal issues that are frankly no one’s business but my own, and those others immediately concerned.

    Fiat lux, everyone, in your own minds and consciences especially.


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