#KoboFail: erotica ≠ romance and romance ≠ erotica

May 27, 2015

Recently, I stumbled across a reviewer’s comment that she had received a copy of my “science fiction BDSM romance.”

Spyder’s Trouble is in no way, shape, or form a romance. Technically, it’s not even science fiction, it’s space opera, but that’s a distinction many people don’t make.

I checked on the retail sites and sure enough, Kobo lists the book as Romance > Erotica > BDSM and Romance > Erotica > Science Fiction & Fantasy.

Once I recovered from shock, I wrote to the publisher, Circlet Press. I received the following response from Cecilia Tan:

“Unfortunately on Kobo the only erotica categories are all subcategories under Romance. There is literally no other way to choose an erotic category, and you must choose a category in order to publish. You are free to take it up with them if you wish, but they’ve been deaf to all calls to revise their categories so far.”

So, I did.

I started by tweeting:

“Hey @kobo erotica ≠ romance and ≠ porn! No romance in Spyder’s Trouble (http://transgressivewriter.com/spyder.php#trouble) but that’s only listing option!?!?!?

@mtamblyn” (@mtamblyn is the Twitter handle of Kobo President Michael Tamblyn.)

Tamblyn responded: “I don’t think we necessarily have a problem with any of those three options. Not sure what your question is…” Of course, when I explained the “question” by tweeting “@mtamblyn The problem is that a BDSM space opera with NO romance can’t be listed under Erotica BDSM or Erotica SFF UNLESS it’s under romance” he didn’t respond.

This did not surprise me. I had the same experience last September when I tweeted: “Hey, @mtamblyn it would be nice if your employees actually read emails before they cut and
pasted canned irrelevant responses. #KoboFail” Then he responded with his email address and a request to contact him. He completely ignored my email, despite two subsequent posts on Twitter bringing it to his attention.

This time, I refused to let him get away with pretending to care in public while ignoring all complaints in private. A couple of days later, I asked: “Ain’t it amazing how @mtamblyn always responds to @Kobo tweets, tells you to email him, then ignores emails & tweets questioning #KoboFail”

That’s when he started the whine (later picked up by another Kobo executive) that he couldn’t “have a conversation about metadata in 140 char.” (My interpretation: he didn’t want to have a conversation in the public eye.)

When I reminded him that “Last time I emailed you, you never responded. Since this subject is fairly simple, I thought to keep the conversation public,” he out and out lied.

“Last time I brought in our Director of Self-Pub @MarkLeslie & his staff to help you out. Hope we can help again.” I responded to this blatant fabrication with “Last time NO one responded to
my email, @mtamblyn. Not you nor any member of your staff. My concerns were ignored. You only pretend to care.”

No response.

Mark Leslie Lefebvre, Director of Self Publishing & Author Relations at Kobo, aka @MarkLeslie tried again (repeatedly) to steer the conversation offline (and out of sight) by following me and urging me to DM (direct or private message) him so “we can have a proper conversation regarding category code options.”

Then, he also resorted to lies stating “when a problem is identified it’s definitely addressed.” A good portion of my original email to Tabmlyn was specifically related to the fact that Kobo does not address problems created by its staff. This especially includes issues resulting from Kobo staff training to respond to emails by cutting and pasting FAQ responses rather than actually reading the emails sent them.

I reiterated that I didn’t believe any “dialogue” was necessary, either Kobo intended to correct the classification problem or it needed to admit it had no intention of doing so. Lefebvre again tried to take the conversation off Twitter: “Still waiting for your email so a proper dialogue can occur.” I asked “Why should I waste words on an email you will ignore?”

A day later when he hadn’t responded, I taunted him with “Apparently, @MarkLeslie goes to @mtamblyn school of #KoboFail customer ‘service.’ Pretend to care until hyperbole proved wrong, then ignore.” Lefebvre then took it upon himself to find my email address on my Kobo publisher account and contact me.

He started out with a proven lie: “We take every single email we receive from authors seriously and we track issues reported.” (To which I responded with the list of five emails — including the one to Tamblyn — that never received answers from Kobo.)

He then went on to complain that issues weren’t black and white and required more than 140 characters to discuss after which he wasted almost 600 words trying to justify, with some pretty lame examples, why erotica needed to be listed under romance. He actually claimed that: “Our customers are able to find what they are looking for within the existing hierarchy so what you might see as an issue isn’t an issue from the point of view of the people who are currently purchasing titles in those categories.”

I pointed out that by forcing erotica books to be categorized as romance, “whether or not they are found is not the issue. When they are found by someone thinking they will include romance they are tossed aside in disgust because they contain no romance.

“Meanwhile, people who are interested in Erotica > Sci-Fi or Erotica > BDSM but do not care to read romance (men) will not find my books because they wouldn’t think of looking under romance.”

He insisted that “customers make purchasing decisions from a cover that is designed to appeal to the target audience as well as a synopsis that ensures they are properly informed about what they are going to read should they purchase that book.” He completely ignored the fact that the first step in that purchasing decision is finding a book (to see the cover and descriptive blurb) and no one will be able to do so if the books “are on the wrong shelf in the library or categorized incorrectly by the retailer.”

His response completely ignored the “dialogue” he claimed on Twitter he wished to have. He just defended his boss ignoring my emails, and instead focused on the other four emails that never received answers under the mistaken belief that they could have gone missing. (They all were responses in ongoing conversations that were cut off by Kobo staff who just stopped answering my emails rather than discuss my concerns.)

When I admonished him for not addressing “a single point I made about the classification system,” his response was a politely worded “go away.” He said: “As I stated in a previous email, classification systems are arbitrary. Ours is no exception. I explained how our classification system is set up and acknowledged that you do not agree with it. (Which he actually had not done. His only reference at all to the “dialogue” he claimed to want was the statement: “Your concerns and points have been dually noted.”) It has been noted and if it is felt that making any change to the existing classification system better serves our customers and our business, the appropriate changes will be made.”

Kobo has been, as my publisher stated, “deaf to all calls to revise their categories” for one reason: Kobo wants to marginalize erotica. As I explained in my Banned Books Week post back in September, retailers’ puritanical attitude that readers must be protected from evil authors who produce books those readers might want to purchase and consume will continue unless readers take their dollars elsewhere.

You will notice that I have shared no links to Kobo on this post. I would ask that those of you who are interested in reading Erotic BDSM Space Opera without romance instead purchase Spyder’s
from the publisher, Circlet Press. There you also will find many other books that offer both speculative fiction and erotica, some of which contain romance and some of which do not. But, at least you’ll be able to determine whether or not romance is included before you purchase any books.


Just because you read it in a book…

March 5, 2014

No one asks a mystery writer how many people she’s murdered. But, readers too often assume a writer of erotica has personally performed every sex act she writes about. Worse, as today’s guest blogger Beth Wylde discusses, they sometimes try to emulate what they read.

Just because you read it in a book…
by Beth Wylde, author of Broadly Bound: Broad Horizons

Fiction is fabulous. I was a reader long before I became a published author or an editor and I still have a voracious book appetite. The bill for my monthly book habit rivals that of a long-term addict. Words are my drug of choice.

My taste in fiction is also quite broad. As long as it is well written I will probably read it, no matter the genre or pairing. But, one of my criteria for a fictional story (even though fiction means the story is not true) is that it contain a bit of realism. Just a bit, otherwise I’d be shopping in the non-fiction section.

I know what you’re thinking: fiction is fake. Why should it be realistic? How can it be?

While it’s true that there are no such things as werewolves, vampires, or sex-enslaving aliens (or at least I haven’t met any), with a little research, an author can present the subjects in way in which the characters will be believable in a story.

I read for enjoyment, as an inexpensive way to relax. I want to be entertained. Nothing infuriates me more than weak characters, half-assed storylines, or an attempt to disguise abuse as BDSM. I want kick ass heroines and men who don’t feel the need to hide in the closet. I want action and drama and my HEA, no matter what. Sometimes the truth has to be stretched a bit to achieve that.

This is where our job as readers comes in.

Authors are first and foremost entertainers. We write stories for our readers to enjoy. Sometimes our characters do things that real people should not attempt. Some of you may be laughing right now, but I worked in a hospital for 13 years, three of those in ER Radiology on third shift. People chasing the orgasm do some stupid things in bed, on the roof, in the backseat of their car, on the kitchen stove, etc… (you get my point).

Hell, there is now an entire show dedicated to sexual escapades gone wrong and the subjects don’t always walk away laughing. Sometimes they don’t walk away at all.

Just because you read something in a book, especially BDSM fiction, does not mean you should run out and try it.

Your girlfriend may suck like a Hoover but when she is gone don’t try to use the vacuum as a stand in for her. She’ll come home to find you missing some valuable parts.

It’s never a good idea to put an animal up your ass, no matter how small it is or how amazing someone tells you it’ll feel once you get it in there.

There are certain household and easily found chemicals that should never be used as lube or arousal cream, and I mean never!!!

For those times you want penetration, and there are no toys handy to help you out, be very careful what you decide to use as a substitute. Bottles of any type are never a good choice, especially if they are glass or are open at the top. The vacuum effect can happen here too and it won’t be an enjoyable experience unless your desire is for major, internal surgery.

Don’t take someone else’s sex meds if your dick works. A loving partner will understand that you need recovery time and a ten-hour erection is not a fun thing, or so I’ve been told.

There are other incidents I could mention but those remain at the front of my mind. Overall it is the reader’s job to use caution.

I always add in personal touches to my stories, especially my BDSM ones. I write about things that fascinate me and turn me on. I do my research if it is a kink I have not personally experienced or had the nerve to try yet, but sometimes my characters still push the envelope of what is safe and sane. If you read about something kinky that interests you, even if you know the author does her research, you have to do the same.

Ask someone you trust, who has experience in the lifestyle, to guide you. Go to a munch, watch a demo, take some time to visit a local club and just observe for the evening. I’ve found people in the lifestyle to be unusually welcoming. I think part of that is because they have been the subjects of prejudice for so long they welcome those who are truly interested and want to learn.

But, don’t pick up an absolute stranger, go back to their house, and let them tie you up and beat you. (Don’t laugh. I’m not making these examples up.)

You won’t find ‘do not attempt this’ warning stickers on most fictional books, if any. The fiction category label is all the warning a reader should need. So go out and enjoy a good book, just remember in the end that it’s entertainment, not a how-to manual. If you enjoy reading BDSM stories, please pick some by authors who actually know how to research in that genre. If you need some good recommendations just email me. I promise you won’t find any poorly written, abusive-boyfriend-disguised-as-a-Dom, fanfic on my list.

About Beth Wylde:
Erotica author/editor Beth Wylde writes what she likes to read, which includes a little bit of everything under the rainbow. Her muse is a flighty smut bunny that believes everyone, no matter their kink, color, gender, or orientation is entitled to love, acceptance and scalding HOT sex! You can contact her directly at b.wylde@yahoo.com, visit her website or join her yahoo group.

Beth’s books range in genre from paranormal to contemporary and in pairings from lesbian, bi, het and beyond.

About Broadly Bound: Broad Horizons:
Welcome to Broad Horizons, the world’s first and only strictly GLBTQ BDSM entertainment facility. It’s opening night and the owners, Dani and Maryanne, want to invite you inside for a first hand look at what they’ve created. With ten themed bondage rooms, a main stage with several smaller performance areas, a second level observatory, two bars and a dance floor, plus a few extra surprises, your pleasures are only as limited as your desires. Tonight’s event is by invitation only, so bring your RSVP, your proof that you’re over twenty-one and your imagination because this evening almost anything goes.

Buy it at Excessica.

Why Writing About Female Submission is a Feminist Act

February 3, 2014

I reserve this blog as a soapbox. Starting today, I have decided to occasionally step aside and let others use this platform to share their thoughts. As my first guest blogger, I am excited to welcome Cecilia Tan who is an amazing writer, a ground-breaking publisher, and a great friend.

Why Writing About Female Submission is a Feminist Act
by Cecilia Tan, author of Slow Seduction

I’ve been writing fiction and non-fiction about BDSM for over 20 years and I often write about women on the bottom: subs, masochists, “slaves.” I write from the following basis:

  1. Sexuality is a normal part of being human and being a healthy female.
  2. Sexual and erotic fantasies are a normal part of being human and being a healthy female.
  3. Oppression of women’s sexual fantasies is oppression of women.
  4. Anything which oppresses women’s sexual fantasies cannot be feminism.
  5. Feminism’s goal is to overcome power structures that empower men at the expense of women.

By writing and sharing my sexual fantasies, some of which are about submission, I commit a feminist act.

Where people get tangled up when discussing BDSM is when #4 and #5 seem to be at odds, because in their view BDSM is a power structure that empowers men in favor of women. Put simply, that is a shallow, misinformed view of BDSM. BDSM is practiced by women, men, and people self-defining all along the gender spectrum, with no inherent role ascribed on the basis of gender. But the common idea that a man “should be” the dom and the woman “should be” submissive persists in the mainstream. That’s the setup in the wildly popular book 50 Shades of Grey, a book that has opened a huge conversation about BDSM but which doesn’t push that conversation beyond what the mainstream already gets wrong.

Setting aside the fact that in BDSM women are often dominant and men are often submissive, let’s talk specifically about women on the “bottom”–women like me and the women I write about. If we believe that women’s sexual pleasure is central to their freedom and to their health, we should be celebrating the diversity of things that turn women on. On one level, BDSM is a sensual and sensory experience.

There is a panoply of sensations, cravings, and tastes to be indulged when one is a masochist or a sub. This is the sensual world that Karina, the heroine of my Struck by Lightning book series, is introduced to by James, the mysterious dom she meets at the beginning of Slow Surrender. Karina quickly comes to realize that what makes BDSM so vastly different from the unsatisfying vanilla sex she’s previously had is that as the submissive, her pleasure and sensations are the absolute central component to her interactions with James. She’s confused when James doesn’t want his dick sucked at the end of their first encounter. It really is all about her. What gratifies James, as a dom, most is not his own orgasm but his ability to play Karina like a fine violin.

The psychological aspect of D/s comes quickly into play in Slow Surrender, too. Karina comes to realize how silenced she has been in her vanilla relationships, which have been built on (patriarchal) assumptions about what a “good girlfriend” is supposed to be like. Based on some unspoken standard, a good girlfriend is supposed to make herself attractive to her mate, be sexually available when he needs, but never too pushy with her own needs (because that would make her a slut). In her BDSM relationship with James, she finds he fully expects her to be open and honest about her needs. Consent and negotiation, the basis of BDSM relationships, can’t exist or take place without that honesty and disclosure. James also takes the guesswork out of it by being equally honest with her about what he wants and needs. Karina finds it refreshing that he will tell her what to wear, or that he’ll set options before her in which there is no “wrong” selection: Each choice she makes informs him about her preferences.

As Karina learns, dominance and submission doesn’t mean James dictates her every move. It means they have a framework within which each partner has agency. Unlike “traditional” relationship structures, which hand the majority of the power and privilege to the male partner, in a BDSM relationship the power is split in a systematic way. At first, Karina doesn’t even realize how much power she has in the relationship because she’s having too much fun to have thought deeply about it. When she realizes what immense power BDSM–and love–give her over her partner, it’s a lesson she’ll never forget, and I hope it’s a lesson the reader will remember, too. Not every reader is going to go out searching for a BDSM relationship, but my hope is that by seeing how an alternate power structure creates a functional relationship, some readers will be able to effectively seek out honesty, agency, and erotic satisfaction in their own lives.

If that’s not a feminist act, I don’t know what is.

About Cecilia Tan:
Cecilia Tan is “simply one of the most important writers, editors, and innovators in contemporary American erotic literature,” according to Susie Bright. Tan is the author of many books, including the ground-breaking erotic short story collections Black Feathers (HarperCollins), White Flames (Running Press), and Edge Plays (Circlet Press), and the erotic romances Slow Surrender (Hachette/Forever), Mind Games (Ravenous Romance), and The Prince’s Boy (Circlet Press). She was inducted into the Saints & Sinners Hall of Fame for GLBT writers in 2010, received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Leather Association in 2001, and is a current nominee for the Lifetime Achievement Award in Erotica from RT Magazine. She lives in the Boston area with her lifelong partner corwin and three cats.

About Slow Seduction:
Slow Seduction is Cecilia Tan’s latest BDSM erotic romance novel, the second book in the Struck by Lightning Series. Karina finds herself in England, working at a major museum. There she meets the enigmatic Damon George, a dominant man with clues to James’s past… and to James’s desires. Damon is rich, gorgeous, and a member of a secret society that caters to the sensual thrills of the wealthy and powerful. And he’ll help Karina lure James in, while teaching her how to please a dominant man. By the time she finds James, Karina has been “trained” to please another. Will James reject her, or find her more irresistible than ever? Karina is determined to confront him and she will not be denied.
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Stolen Rights: Are you one of more than a hundred victims?

June 25, 2013

Writers often get their panties all in a knot about pirates stealing their work. I’m not going to get into the debate about whether book jacking helps or hurts right now. However, I am going to describe another type of rights theft that’s, in my opinion, much more serious and more commonly tolerated.

Way back in 2007, I sold a flash fiction piece to a very large anthology. The pay was low, but it was for non-exclusive print rights and (I thought) good exposure, so I accepted the terms as did 109 others.

I was dismayed to discover that the anthology included no biographical information for its authors and, in fact, only listed them by first name. So much for exposure.

Flash forward to 2012. Through someone’s post about another book, I discovered the anthology that includes my story at the top of the Amazon rankings for erotica EBOOKS. The original agreement did not include any electronic rights.

I immediately wrote the editor and demanded my story be removed or I receive compensation for sales of the book in electronic form.

After a series of e-mail negotiations, I agreed to allow the continued use of my story for a percentage of the royalties. I was very specific that I would not allow royalties to be determined based on “net” unless that term was defined. I received a small check and inferred (possibly incorrectly I now believe) from the correspondence that other authors also received compensation.

Imagine my surprise a year later when I get (one month late) an accounting indicating that the book was now “in the black” and that royalties were due, but because I had already received payment (for royalties up through December 2011) I would not receive additional compensation for sales from January 2012 through December 2012.

Remember, I got the term “net” struck from the agreement. Royalties were due on all sales.

After insisting that I receive the compensation which the publisher had agreed to pay, I was told that my story would be removed from the collection and I would receive what is essentially a go-away-and-don’t-bother-us-anymore kill fee.

Now, given that I get no additional exposure from this collection, given that I have since sold the same story to two other collections and that I also have it for sale (with all of my backlist) on Smashwords, given the size of the royalty payments, I gladly accepted the cheque.

But, I have to wonder if any of the other authors included in the book received royalty payments for the electronic rights that were stolen from them. I also have to wonder how much more money the book is earning than is being reported (late) to me and to any other authors who insisted on being paid for their rights.

This is why I publish most of my work myself. Too many publishers steal rights and don’t honor the terms of the contracts they sign.

If any other writer is curious whether their work might be included in this collection, feel free to contact me privately for the name of it. I prefer not to give the collection any publicity by including the name here. (And, needless to say, I waited until the cheque had cleared before sharing this information at all.)