This post originally appeared Jan. 8, 2012 on K.D. Grace’s blog, “A Hopeful Romantic”.
When I got the rights back to the first two novels I’d had published, Broken and Shattered, I engaged the talented Nyla Alisia who works with me at Pussy Cat Press to create new covers for them. The publisher’s covers gave no clue as to what the books are about and had done nothing to sell them. I wanted to correct that.
While cruising a stock photo agency website, I happened upon the perfect picture for the Broken cover. The model looked like the protagonist, she appeared vulnerable, what she wore spoke to the dichotomy of the roles Jessica plays in the book, and the expression on her face was appropriately haunted. I turned the photo over to Nyla along with a synopsis, the first few chapters of the book, and the pitch:
Jessica lived luxuriously until her father lost everything in the dot.com bust. To continue her graduate studies and support herself, Jessica begs her professor for a research assistant’s position. He refuses unless she agrees to also serve as his slave. When in desperation she consents, he breaks her. Then, Jessica discovers she has a Dominant streak and exploits it.
What Nyla sent back was absolutely awesome. She had created a new background of a broken mirror, harshened the model’s makeup making her look even more haunted, and darkened the shadows. She selected the perfect font (aptly named “kink”) which I echoed inside the book using it for chapter headings and drop caps.
She created the subhead of “A Disturbing Erotic Novel” and added the tag line “Some things can never be fixed” to the epub cover and as the title of the description on the back of the print cover.
I was thrilled, amazed, and exhilarated to see a cover that so well captured what the book is about. I uploaded Broken to Amazon (print and Kindle), Erotica Romance Books, All Romance books, and Smashwords.
Imagine my surprise and consternation when I logged into my Smashwords dashboard more than a week later and discovered this note posted for Broken: “some of our retailers are cracking down on even illustrated nudity. Could you cover up our lady’s nipples a bit? ”
Say what? Of five distributors/retailers they were the only ones to express concern. And, they weren’t complaining that the novel contained graphic sexual content, non-consensual BDSM, coerced slavery, and a professor who pimps his students out to other members of a university’s faculty. No, they wanted her nipples, those sexualized conduits for breast milk, covered up.
Mine is hardly the first example of such censorship. On the Facebook page: “Amazon Censors” (of all places), the most recent discussions revolve around Smashwords censorship. According to Esmeralda Greene, “This isn’t new. Smashwords told me I had to change the cover of a book of mine before it would be accepted for their distributer’s channels because it used a *painting* that showed some nipple.”
I asked Mark Coker, Smashwords founder, about the censorship. His response: “Our policies have changed little in the last two years … We’ve always had a no-nudity policy on cover images. No nipples has always been standard policy. Other than nipples, fully bare breasts and penises on cover images, we and our retailers allow quite a bit.” He also took exception to the idea that there had been any recent changes to policies. “There’s always a chance that our policies have been applied inconsistently because the vetting process is a human process and subject to human error and subjectivity.”
I was left with the choice of being shut out of the Smashwords premium catalog or paying to have my cover remade. Frankly, I don’t care whether or not some of the Smashwords retailers carry my books. They don’t cater to an audience who has any interest in reading what I write. But, unless you are a publisher with more than 100 titles, the Smashwords premium catalog is the only way to get them listed on Ebook Eros (a Diesel eBooks company). I’ve written guest posts, been profiled, etc. on Ebook Eros. Most of the books I’ve published through Smashwords are listed there, including Shattered which is the sequel to Broken.
Coker did not answer my question as to why Smashwords has an all-or-nothing policy regarding distribution to retailers.
I spoke with Nyla. She is such a talented artist that she was able to hide the nipples without dramatically changing the look of the cover. She moved the model’s pearls over her right nipple and lengthened her hair over her left. On December 20, the cover was accepted into the premium catalog by Smashwords, which pushes it through (eventually) to Sony, Kobo, Apple, Barnes & Noble, and Ebook Eros.
I decided I did not want to have two different (even subtly different) covers for the same book, especially given the confusion already caused by the fact that this is a second edition and some of the first edition books are still out there. I went ahead and replaced all versions of the book with the new cover, which took a considerable amount of my time.
So I’m out a bit of money and a lot of time for what? To cover up some nipples? For a book that’s billed as “a disturbing erotic novel”?
At the Erotic Authors Association’s (EAA) inaugural conference last September discussions turned more than once to the acceptability of violence over sex in mainstream literature. If one wrote about an underage woman having sex and wanted to have the work published, she couldn’t enjoy it. If she was raped, an author would have a much better chance of finding a publisher than if the sex was consensual and pleasurable. As disgusting as that might seem, it’s reflective of repressive attitudes toward sexual pleasure, especially female sexual pleasure.
What does it say about our society that we use sex to sell everything from soap to shoes and then freak out when a woman’s nipples are exposed on a book cover?
In an excellent post about the Dossier Journal cover controversy last month, Lisa Wade, PhD, notes that the “social and legislative ban on public breasts rests on a jiggly foundation. It’s not simply that breasts are considered pornographic. It’s that we’re afraid of women and femininity and female bodies and, if a man looks feminine enough, he becomes, by default, obscene.”
Does it worry you that the companies deciding what you get to read and how it’s presented were founded by megalomaniacs determined to keep what they decide is pornography off their electronic bookshelves, try to run every other bookseller out of business while hiding anything written by or about LGBT people, support bills in the U.S. Congress that would make Internet access in this country as limited as it is in China, etc. are deciding what you get to read and how it’s presented?