READ PART ONE OF THE SAGA HERE: THE ACCIDENTAL PORNOGRAPHER PART ONE: THE PORNOGRAPHER RISES
I guess it was about August 2012 when the first of my porno stories got blocked on Amazon.
I'd been churning out porn e-book stories steadily all spring and summer, and was at that point receiving monthly deposits of $1000 or more from Amazon, and quarterly deposits of $200 - $400 from Smashwords. (I think my best month total was about $1600) My girlfriend had been turned down for a student visa; that left us plotting a holiday for September and me stuck in America.
Sure, I saw my friends and family and ate barbecue and all that; but I also wrote porn.
I went to work, baby. I researched all the tags, jargon, and abbreviations popular porn authors used; I guerrilla marketed my shit in the Amazon Kindle erotica forums. I spent hours researching the best-selling "erotica" titles and then the various fetishes they portrayed. I read about and watched documentaries about sex slaves, BDSM, spanking, and other things still more vile.
And fapping incessantly, I must admit. Not masturbating while I wrote erotica seemed like cheating, somehow. If I didn't, how could the reader?
IN VIOLATION OF OUR CONTENT GUIDELINES
Then I got the first e-mail from Amazon, that went a little something like this:
We’re contacting you regarding the following book(s) that you submitted for sale in our Kindle Store:
During our review process, we found that your book contains content that is in violation of our content guidelines. Our content guidelines apply to the book interior, as well as cover image, title and/or product descriptions. As a result, we will not be offering this book for sale.
Our content guidelines are published on the Kindle Direct Publishing website. To learn more, please see: https://kdp.amazon.com/self-publishing/help?topicId=A1KT4ANX0RL55I
The "guidelines" for defining what is obscene or pornographic are hopelessly vague, on Amazon's website and on any level they've ever tried to be decided -- the best the Supreme Court managed to come up with was "offensive by local community standards" which could conceivably include anything from a rerun of THREE'S COMPANY to Japanese snuff porn.
So one of mine got blocked. I'll spare you the details, but it involved a woman being extorted for sex by a policeman, a rather popular sub-genre of the BDSM world.
I have a feeling that it basically worked like this: Amazon would sell anything, as long as it didn't involve the depiction of minors in sex acts. BUT. There is a button on each book's page that allows interested readers to "report inappropriate content."
I think that if Amazon got any reports of inappropriate content, they'd block you. "Offensive by community standards"? Check.
But then I discovered -- if you got blocked, you could just re-upload the thing again, with a different ISBN or ASIN number, and it usually got through just fine. Even the reviews would be intact when it went back up. So all my stuff stayed up, and the money continued to roll in.
EVERY GIRL'S DREAM
So I went to Cyprus with the Girlfriend in September, then to Costa Rica. Girlfriend knew I was making money from "erotica" stories, and didn't have any particular problem with it -- but when I invited her to move to Cyprus (or somewhere else) with me, and live off e-book proceeds, she didn't think that sounded too good at all.
Gosh, can't imagine why! "Okay, honey, you give up your steady office job and we'll move to Cyprus and I'll write porn and you can be a baby-sitter or something. Every girl's dream, right?"
I was back in America for Christmas, and then my mother had a hysterectomy, and I was stuck in America for January. Girlfriend got a new job at a bank back in Vodkaberg.
WITH ONE SWIFT STROKE
Amazon greeted the new year by removing its tag system.
The tag system was a feature by which readers (and authors) could affix tag words to the description of their books, allowing people to search for books that way; erotica readers used these quite often to find books related to their (often very specific) fetishes. Or combination of fetishes.
Authors had been abusing tags in various ways, such as tagging their books with the names of better known or even totally unrelated authors, just to get their books to show up in more searches; this was a problem for unsuspecting readers because a guy might be searching for a book for his kids about camping and click the "young adult" and "camping" tags and get a story about some barely-legal summer camp orgy.
Offensive by community standards indeed!
So Amazon removed the whole tag system.
My erotica sales almost immediately plummeted. (ETX sales were affected, but less so.)
At the same time, two of my best-selling erotica books were blocked; I got them put back up, but Amazon (and Google too) had both changed their search algorhythms so porn results didn't show up so much, and they'd been knocked out of the high-ranking spots they'd occupied.
Erotica sales continued to fall on Amazon, so I spent a lot of time in January posting all my naughty stories up on Kobo and Barnes and Noble, and maximizing interior linkage and all that boring shit. (January wasn't much fun.)
But by then I already had a job interview for a very high-paying position in The Kingdom in March; I was fairly sure I'd be offered it. I took off to the Dominican Republic for February and didn't worry too much about erotica.
Sales continued to fall on Amazon, but they started going up quickly on Kobo and Barnes and Noble. I went to Russia and Greece in April and May of this year; by that point my $1000 a month or more in sales was back down to about $500 a month in sales, but I had hopes I could get it back up there if I wrote a few more porn stories and another couple of English Teacher X books.
In July, I came back to the Kingdom where I have, if nothing else, plenty of time to write. I finished GRAMMAR SLAMMER (which I'd long neglected mainly due to messing around with erotica) and made plans to pep up my porn empire by rebranding some of the more extreme ones as horror / thrillers ... and then ...
And then on October 13, 2013, this article about smutty e-books that 'glorify sexual violence' was in the Telegraph.
The response of online booksellers was dramatic; they folded up like origami. Most of my Amazon erotica titles were blocked; all of my titles (including the ETX titles!) were blocked from Kobo; Barnes and Nobles blocked about half of my erotica titles. (Smashwords continues to provide sleazy fetish smut a loving home, though.)
So did my books deserve to be banned? Well. If you're not going to ban 50 SHADES OF GREY or the also best-selling CAPTIVE IN THE DARK, a dark tale of sexual slavery, my books weren't more graphic or offensive than either of those.
(My best one, a series of stories that I later turned into a novel, had more thematic similarities to THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO.)
So that's probably pretty much the end of my porn empire. I made some minor changes and got most of the Amazon titles back up, but sales are minimal now. They've changed all their search algorhythms again, I'm sure.
WHAT'S THE MORAL OF THE STORY?
Smut doesn't pay, maybe? I suppose it does and always has, but only a very select few manage to make it pay off forever.
The cautionary tale here, to me, is more: don't be deluded into thinking that working at home is somehow not working. And publishing on indie e-book platforms is NOT the same thing as working for yourself; you are still, basically, a slave to a powerful corporate entity who can get rid of you at a moment's notice, for reasons of their own. And remember, Amazon took 70 percent of my porn profit, since all the books were priced less than $2.99.
In fact, the only job I can think of where you are DEFINITELY and SOLELY working for yourself is subsistence farming. Anything else puts you at the mercy of, if no one else, your customers.
WHAT DID I GET OUT OF IT?
Well, I did enjoy it, mostly. It was nice to write pure fiction after all my guides and memoirs, and I really want to do more of that. My career as a writer is just beginning, after all. I remember reading an interview with John Holmes where he said something like, "Why can't pornography be art? If art can make us laugh, cry, be moved, why can't it make us be aroused?" No doubt, there, Cockboy!
And I realized that a thriller about sex is far closer to my experience than trying to write a thriller with a lot of like espionage or military shit that I really don't know that much about.
SO WHAT NOW?
Well, I will probably wait a few months, and hopefully get my next memoir, REQUIEM FOR A VAGABOND into first draft stage, and then move forward with the plan to rebrand one of my porn series as a horror / thriller sort of thing. (Amazon doesn't seem to mind if you write about sex slaves and stuff if it's like a horror novel. Perhaps as it should be.)
I'm not going to fess up that titles yet, but as I said, some sleuthing around the Amazon pages for the ETX books would reveal some connections to them. I'll reveal them in my next memoir, I guess, a little Easter egg for you faithful out there.
NEXT WEEK: Doing Dubai with Crazy Bob. Speaking of offensive by community standards ....