Please welcome today's Dirty Mind, Selena Kitt.
Selena Kitt is both a best-selling and award-winning writer of over sixty erotic titles, and a publisher at Excessica. She’s here to offer you her unique perspective on the impact of the Paypal crackdown on erotica and indie authors. Welcome, Selena, and thank you for coming. You’re uniquely qualified to address some questions I have. For example, what percentage of your customers/readers are female?
It’s hard to know with certainty, but from the amount of fan mail and reviews I receive, I’d say that 70-80% of my readers are female.
If the content being banned is primarily written by woman and read by women, and those with an anti-porn stance claim pornography denigrates women, then is there not an inherent contradiction in PayPal’s action?
Of course there is. Not that Paypal or the credit card companies care. According to them, what they’ve done is solely a “business decision.” What do I say to that? Phbbbbbt! “Whatever, Paypal!” It doesn’t matter to me what you call it—it has the same effect. If this is being motivated by some vocal moral-minority complaint, the fact is that the more erotica (or “porn” for that matter) that a society has available, the less instances they have of sexual assault and sex crimes. So the morality police can put their torches and pitchforks away right now. If this is being motivated by some perceived legal “danger” in the material being presented, I think Paypal and the credit card companies are taking their policy to extremes. Erotic fiction doesn’t hurt anyone—there are no victims here. And the chargeback rates and cost of carrying it are practically nothing. Erotic fiction, I’m afraid, is being lumped in with other high-risk material, and it doesn’t deserve this treatment. Women are writing it, women are reading it, and women want it. Paypal and the credit card companies, however, don’t care what women want. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a poor business decision. I don’t think they thought this through or realized the wrath they could bring down on their heads with this decision from the female population. I wouldn’t want to be a customer service rep at Paypal or the credit card companies right now, that’s for sure!
I think it needs to be asked how PayPal decided certain titles had to be taken down. What’s their criteria? Do you have a sense the people actually doing the censoring of your catalogue understand anything at all about the sub-genre, or are they simply on a key-word based witch hunt, regardless of actual content?
I don’t know that Paypal has the manpower or cares if they eradicate every site using their service for the purpose of selling erotic fiction containing incest, bestiality or rape for titillation. What I do think they care about is 1) their image and 2) their relationship with the credit card processors. You have to remember that Paypal is an aggregator. They’re not a credit card processing company and they’re not a bank. They’re a middleman. They have to rely on the credit card processing companies and the banks in order to run their business, so when those companies come up with new rules or policies—or start enforcing them—Paypal has to comply. I imagine that isn’t an easy task, considering the amount of accounts Paypal has on its hands, so from what I can tell in my own experience and in talking to other vendors who have been targeted, their main focus has been on keywords and tags. No matter how many employees Paypal has, they don’t have enough to read every book published at all of these erotic books sites, so as you noted, they have pretty much gone on a keyword-based witch hunt of “offending” titles. Anything with Daddy, Mommy, Sister, Brother—eliminated. It doesn’t matter, by the way, if it’s between cousins, second-cousins, step relations, adopted relations (all of which are legal in most states) or even just a role-play between two consenting adults. If it has a familial reference in the title, it has to be removed. They’re applying these kinds of heavy-handed tactics because they clearly don’t have the time or energy to do anything else.
Your website, eXcessica was one of the first to be targeted by Paypal. How many authors, approximately, had affected titles? How much of the content you had to pull or re-categorize had perfectly legal content?
A very small number of authors actually. We have about a hundred authors in our stable, and only a handful had their titles targeted. The truth is, most of them were mine! I’m a naughty girl that way, what can I say? I like pushing things to the edge! In terms of perfectly legal content—it’s ALL LEGAL. Even incest-fiction is legal. The only written obscenity case in recent years that came even close to a conviction (the woman plea bargained because she couldn’t afford to continue the legal expenses or the stress) was one that involved underage incest fiction. Excessica has never published underage fiction—all our sexually active characters are eighteen or older.
That said, back in late 2010 when Amazon started removing erotic incest and bestiality from its virtual shelves, it made some legal sense. Actual incest between biological relations and bestiality are illegal in most states. However, this new move by Paypal (via the credit card companies) is targeting acts in fiction that aren’t illegal at all in most states. “Pseudo-incest” (i.e. sexual relations between adults who are related, but not biologically, like step or adopted relations) is being specifically targeted. Bestiality is also being focused on as well, but it’s not just sex with the family dog they’re targeting—they are also including two werewolves getting it on in werewolf form! Rape “for titillation” is included on the list as well, and this opens a very big can of worms, of course, considering the amount of BDSM fiction contains non-consent or dubious consent. There’s also a large body of romance fiction that contains non-or-dubious consent going all the way back to the 1970’s.
Excessica was forced to remove pseudo-incest titles. That’s right, we had to remove books containing sex between two consenting adults who could get married in any state in the U.S. We were forced to remove stories about “fantasy rape.” That’s right, rape fantasies that didn’t really even happen (where the rapist turned out to be a ghost or you found out the woman was dreaming in the end…)
Never mind, of course, that we’re talking about fiction in the first place. Imaginary situations. Just words on paper.
With Republica Press announcing they will close their doors at the end of the month, do you feel some pressure to continue to modify what you can accept and publish? Has the crackdown affected what you personally write? Does it add pressure on you, as a publisher, to know other publishers who encouraged edgy, transgressive themes have folded?
We’d already changed our guidelines back in 2010 when Amazon started removing incest and bestiality fiction from their virtual shelves. We didn’t publish bestiality anyway, but we stopped taking actual incest fiction back then and decided we’d only publish pseudo-incest. I have self-censored as well since this “book banning” thing started. I had a sequel to my popular Under Mr. Nolan’s Bed already written, but I decided not to publish it, and have now shelved it completely, much to the chagrin of many fans.
That said, I find it abhorrent that we can’t publish our own books on our own site if we continue to take Paypal, so we have developed an alternative storefront called “Eden” for all of our edgier titles. (www.excessica.com/eden) We’re in watch-and-wait mode right now, of course. We don’t know if other payment companies are going to start enforcing the same policies as Paypal. And we don’t know what Amazon or Barnes and Noble or any of the other bigger distribution sites are going to do in light of these industry changes. Once the dust settles, we’ll have a clearer idea of how to proceed moving forward.
Whatever happens, we will change and adapt. They won’t keep us down for long!
\My guest authors have stated their reasons for reading and writing edgy, transgressive erotica. Would you share your personal reasons, irrespective of the sales they generate? I’m not going to make any apologies for seeking to generate a sale or three by writing sexually explicit content, and neither will you, but is there something other than profit potential which drove to toward this type of writing?
I write erotic fiction that turns me on. I’ve found that if it doesn’t turn me on, it doesn’t work. Many people who write pseudoincest or non-consent fiction will tell you they do it because there’s a market for it—and there is. The stuff sells like hotcakes! But I’m one of the few erotica authors who will tell you the truth—I write incest fiction because it turns me on. I write non-consent fiction because it turns me on. And trust me, there are many, many women who have the same fantasies that I do—go back and read Nancy Friday’s Secret Garden if you don’t believe me. No, I don’t want to have sex with my father. No, I was never sexually abused by a relative. No, I’ve never been sexually assaulted. I just have a very rich, vivid imagination and the taboo or forbidden fantasies happen to push my buttons and ring my bells. I know I’m not alone, because I sold half a million ebooks in 2011 and many of them contained subject matter that Paypal now refuses to pay for. I know I’m not alone—and I want readers to know they’re not alone either. And they’re not wrong for fantasizing. Fantasy is not reality. Fiction is not action. No one should ever been castigated or censored for having or expressing a fantasy. After all, it’s called “fantasy” for a reason! I appreciate your time and the candid way you've added the business perspective to our forum, as well as your personal views as an author.