Welcome to my world! First off, thanks to everyone at Sinfully for giving me this platform. In this column I’ll be talking about “Smut Life,” as a writer and a publisher. Hope you enjoy it!
Brad Vance’s Diary of a Smutketeer Episode One
It wasn’t hard to think of a topic for my first column. For those of you who aren’t aware, I recently had a story of mine blocked by Amazon – not an unusual thing to happen to a smut writer, believe me. The problem is trying to figure out why it was blocked, so that if possible, you can change a few things and resubmit it. Sometimes, of course, you’re just out of luck.
Okay, sure, Kyle’s New Stepbrother II: Long Hot Summer was a dirty story about two stepbrothers of legal age who met after their parents remarry. But Kyle’s New Stepbrother, the first in the series, went right through the review process. And there was plenty of hetero stepsmut out there before I ever ventured into these waters – so I knew it was “okay” to sell at Amazon, right? So what happened?
When Amazon blocks a book from publication, they send an email that you’ll need an Enigma machine to decode. In this case, it said the book was blocked for “violation of our content guidelines. Our content guidelines apply to the book interior, as well as cover image, title and/or product descriptions.” So yeah – it could have been any or all of those. The mail then referred me to Amazon’s content guidelines.
And what are those guidelines? Amazon’s web site has a one sentence guideline: “What we deem offensive is probably about what you would expect.” That’s it.
Well, the problem with that sentence is that it’s not about what *I* would expect. More like, “probably about what would make some bluenose in Arkansas buy the book, whack off to it, return it for a refund and then write an angry letter about ‘filth.’”
The funny thing is, getting something onto the Index of Forbidden Books was about the best thing that could have happened to me, career-wise. I was pissed off, especially since there were far, far filthier heterosexual stepfucking stories out there – why me? More to the point, why exactly this story? What was different about episode #2 that got it banned? (“Blocked” is such a Marketing Department word, it sounds so much better than “Banned,” I suppose.)
So I put up a Facebook post and said to my FB friends and fans: Look, I don’t know why it’s been blocked but if you want a copy, email me and I’ll send you one. And over two hundred people did! I got waves of support from people who are tired of censorship, who wanted to see for themselves what was so “awful” in the book.
I think that a lot of this anger was already in the air, since censorship of photos on Facebook is a big issue right now. Michael Stokes Photography had some crazy lady declare war on him for his imagery, which includes many erotic but not pornographic images of amputees, some of them former soldiers like Alex Minsky. She got him blocked from Facebook for 30 days! All it takes is one nutjob to get you burnt at the stake. If a thousand people love something, but one person is “offended,” off with its head!
I eventually made changes to Kyle and Nick #2, to see if I couldn’t get it up on Amazon. I tried publishing it to Smashwords and Barnes and Noble but the damn thing is, people don’t shop there. I was selling hundreds of copies on Amazon of #1, and I sold 13 copies of Smashwords. Amazon is like Facebook – people complain, but they don’t leave.
I consulted with a lot of people to try and guess what got it banned. Then, all their advice in hand, I had to think about whether or not I could in good conscience make those changes and still have a hot, dirty Brad Vance-style story. In the end I changed the cover (here are the first and the second ones), because I was told that the two guys might have been too intimate in the picture. I added a clear age declaration for the characters, something I had in the body of the first story but not the second one. I changed the blurb to omit mention of “rough, hot games.” And I changed one sex scene – there was a scene when Nick was sleeping and Kyle crept in and started, um, pleasuring him :) I forgot that “Sleep sex” can equal “dubious consent” in the rulebook.
Oh, and I changed one more thing. The most preposterous of all. You see, I discovered that all the other stepbrother stories on Amazon were categorized as “Romance” or “Contemporary Fiction” or “Women’s Short Stories” or…anything but “Erotica”! So if you were honest and wrote a hot stepfucking story and classified it as “Erotica,” you’d be in trouble, but if you called it “Romance” you were golden… See what I mean about needing an Enigma machine to figure this shit out?
At any rate, with #2 submitted as a “romance,” it went right through. Hot on its heels, I submitted Kyle’s New Stepbrother III: Independence Day Fireworks, using the same caution in the “content,” and that sailed through too! I know that a lot of people who wrote and asked for the book told me they were going to write and complain to Amazon. So who knows – maybe there’s a note in my file now J
All of this got me thinking about how this process affects my creativity. If “Censor” is your job description, you are looking for stuff to block, to ban, to forbid. No censor ever got fired for censoring too much. When you know you’re under a censor’s eye, how much do you start editing yourself?
The last time this happened to me, though, I learned my lesson. Like a lot of other erotica writers, I like money! So I was looking for things that were selling, and almost two years ago now, that was something you could do via keywords like “reluctance” and “submission” that a lot of people were interested in reading about – kinky stuff, right? So I came up with “Sam’s Reluctant Submission.” It would be about a former Special Forces guy who ends up being “manhunted” for money by a straight billionaire, who enjoyed making other straight guys “submit” to him sexually when they got caught. Of course, for the censors, they had to do so “reluctantly,” which isn’t the same as “noncon” or non-consensually. So from the beginning I had an eye to the guidelines when I wrote it.
Over three stories, I sold more and more of the series, and Sam grew into a different character than I’d originally planned – I won’t say more if you haven’t read the stories! But not long after the fourth one came out, Amazon suddenly dropped the hammer on smut. The “adult filter” went into place, which, at the time, wasn’t something you could turn on or off – it just hid results for books that had been classified as “adult.” So unless you searched for me by name or for the story by title, you’d never know it existed.
That was the end of the series’ financial potential. But, I knew that I had to write at least one more story, to tie up the story of Sam and Derek, the billionaire. I thought about retitling the stories to try and get them around the “invisible block” of the filter – I thought about calling them, o I don’t know, “Sam and Derek Pick Daisies” or “Sam and Derek Go Antiquing.” But in the end, I thought, FUCK IT. I finished the series with a bang, a big raunchy ending and the words RELUCTANT SUBMISSION emblazoned on the title of #4. And sure enough, that last episode died on the vine, with single digit sales.
But. Two years later…the bundle of stories, “Sam and Derek: The Whole Story” is a perennial seller for me. If I’d just given up, given in, to censorship on the spot, if I’d abandoned their story and moved on, well, I wouldn’t have the lucrative property I have today! If I’d just thrown my hands up on Kyle and Nick, I wouldn’t have not only #2, but #3 now as well, out there selling like hotcakes – with #4, the last episode (for now) in the works.
So yes, I’ve started writing with one eye on the censor. But I can’t self-censor myself as much as I should, maybe. I’ll leave you with this nugget that I couldn’t resist putting into Kyle and Nick’s third adventure, for the benefit of bluenoses everywhere…
“You better hurry,” Kyle panted. “People are gonna see us up here, when the fireworks go off.”
Nick laughed. “You think? Shit. People are all gonna be lookin’ up at the sky. Besides, what if they do see us? Let ‘em. Do you care?”
“No…I only care what you think.”
“Well,” Nick said, grinding his hipbone against the meat of Kyle’s glutes, making Kyle bite his own forearm to squelch the scream. “I think I’m gonna fuck you on this roof, then. It’s the Fourth of July, man – Independence Day. The day we celebrate being Americans who can do what the fuck we want if it ain’t hurting nobody else, right?”
Thanks for tuning in! See you next month! Xo Brad