The Literary Darknet of Independent Publishing

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The independent and self-publishing space recently found itself with a cascading bit of drama, eventually escalating to impact everyone from Amazon to Barnes & Noble, to WHSmith and Kobo. It began with an article on The Kernel about how Amazon sells incest, rape, and underage erotica in their online book stores. This is not mild content.

The story quickly spread through larger news channels to include virtually every major online retailer, though somehow, the Google Play Store escaped notice, despite having the exact same content. WHSmith, the respected online book seller, responded by shutting down their entire site to categorically remove all independent books until they could be verified “clean.” In case it’s back up by the time this article goes up, the image below is what a major site looks like when the universe implodes.

whsmith-article

The relative ease that independent authors can publish content directly to a digital store has created a tremendous swell in content with no editorial oversight. The vast majority of these titles have almost no reliable meta-data about what’s in them.  It is a large, invisible ocean of content that most people are not really aware of.


Learn more about the future of ebook retail at Digital Book World 2014


The Literary Darknet

On the internet, the Darknet is a collection of underground or largely unindexed websites that you have to know exist in order to find. A lot of questionable content has grown around these Darknet communities — if you’re familiar with the Silk Road that was recently taken down by the authorities, you’re at least partly familiar with the Darknet.

The invisible, generally unregulated ocean of written content coming onto the market from the self-publishing community is, in some ways, a literary equivalent of the Darknet. This tremendous volume of content is far greater than any current social-based review system can handle, not only from a sexual content standpoint, but from a review and discovery standpoint.The vast majority of these books have zero reviews, and zero star ratings on even the largest social review sites. You can see this in the hundreds of pages of “zero rating” books in almost any Goodread’s keyword search.

This creates a problem. Online retailers like Amazon, Google, and B&N end up putting books on their shelves without content oversight.

How to Map the Literary Darknet

Contrary to popular belief, there is a way to map these sorts of issues, and to do so with millions of books. The Book Genome Project, where I work, has spent years building and tuning computer-based tools that catalog the vast amount of invisible content, generally books that don’t have the marketing resources to be visible on social discovery sites. We also build tools to help retailers identify and reclassify books with potentially objectionable content, such as flagging a Juvenile title that has sex, bestiality, or incest in it. We do this on a scene-by-scene basis in a book, and we do it at scale — normally in the range of 40,000 to 100,000 titles a week.

You can read more details about how our tools work here in an article we did about the impact of 50 Shades of Grey on sexual content in publishing, but for a quick glimpse of what our system sees when it looks at a book, here’s a single sexual content graph from that article: 50 Shades of Grey, from beginning to end of the book.  Each block represents roughly 1,000 words. Green means no sexual content.  Yellow means some. Red means… well…Sexual Content of Fifty Shades of Grey

From our perspective, we’re mostly interested in whether or not a book is in the right category.  As Erotica, this graph wouldn’t have raised an eyebrow, but if it had been misclassified as Juvenile Fiction we would certainly have flagged it.  To give you an example that’s more specific to this topic, here’s a graphic showing the sexual content of one of the objectionable books identified by The Kernal as being for sale at Amazon, called Daddy’s Invisible Condom. This book was flagged as both Erotica and Incest by our automated tools:Daddy's-Invisible-Condom

As you can see, virtually every scene in this book contains sexual content, and as the name implies, incest or pseudo-incest features throughout. It’s also interesting to note that almost immediately after this book was highlighted in the article on The Kernel, the name of the book was changed from Daddy’s Invisible Condom to simply Invisible Condom, removing the ability for title-based screening methods to identify it as containing incestuous themes. However, when we ran the book through our system, it was still flagged as containing those themes anyway, meaning that at the time of analysis the incestuous content was likely still there.

What Percentage of Self-Published Books Are Erotica?

Now, let’s look at books that have sexual content to a degree that they’re likely to be considered erotica. These are self-published books that contain an amount and type of sexual content that puts them statistically in the erotica category established by traditional publishers. In our observations, roughly 28.5% of the self-published content falls into this category. This is based on a “slice of life” sub-sample of data; I would not consider it necessarily representative of all self-published content, though I believe it’s relatively typical as self-published content goes. I have no concrete way to estimate how representative our sample is of all self-published content, though it represents several tens of thousands of books — I can only speak to what we’ve observed. In that case, a little under 30% of the independent content we’ve observed fell into the sexual category. For comparison, about 1.11% of the roughly 110,000 traditionally published books in the Book Genome Project fall into the Erotica category, though I had difficulty tracking down a breakdown of Fiction categories in general in terms of the entire industry perspective.Self-publishing-erotica-vs-non

This supports my personal observations that the self-published marketplace is producing a great deal of sexual content compared to traditional sources.

Type of Erotic Content in Self-Published Titles

Here’s the tough question: How much of this content is of concern to a company like Amazon, Kobo, Google, or news outlets like The Kernel? If we define Erotic Incest and Erotic Bestiality as objectionable, how many books are we actually talking about here?

That, too, we can provide some information on. Out of any given 1,000 self-published books that we observed, roughly 19 (1.9%) will contain erotic incestuous themes, and 9 (0.91%) will contain erotic bestiality themes. Put another way, just under 3% of self-published titles are likely to contain objectionable content by The Kernel’s definition.Self-publishing-bestiality-and-incest2

There are many ways to spin that, depending on your particular view. On one hand, this means that 97% of self-published titles do NOT contain this content. Yes, it contains substantially more than any similar content we’ve found in traditional publishing (we’ve observed virtually no erotic incest or bestiality in traditional titles), but self-published books are overwhelmingly about something other than those themes.

On the other hand, if you’re inclined to look at it the other direction, it potentially indicates that the amount of questionable content in self-published books is significant. Another way of stating our observations is that nearly 1 out of 10 erotic titles in our self-published sample contained either bestiality or incest. Personally, a more eye-opening way of putting this in perspective is to compare that potential 2.81% overall objectionable content rate in our sample with the prevalence of common genres in traditional publishing. For example, it would be three-times larger than the percentage of traditionally published Cookbooks in 2010. Those only made up 1.04% of total new books. Sports titles made up only 2.26%. If Erotic Incest/Bestiality were a single category of books, it would be a larger category than nearly half of the genres listed in Bowker’s data, and bigger than most sub-categories of Fiction:

best-compared-to-other-genres

Final Thoughts

Do I really think that the combined categories of self-published Erotic Incest and Bestiality compete in scale with Computer or Literature books? I certainly think it’s possible, but there are some caveats that have to be included.

  • There might be substantially more Incest & Bestiality books because: There are more self-published books published each year than traditionally published books. As a consequence, 3% of the self-published books is likely to be far more books than 3% of traditionally published ones. In terms of sheer numbers, there could be substantially more Incest books coming onto the market than this data implies.
  • There might be substantially fewer Incest & Bestiality books because:  Not all self-publishing companies attract the same authors, and we didn’t shape the data to represent source distribution. I do believe that the books we’ve observed are highly similar to what most people think of as “self-published” — the sort you’d expect to see in CreateSpace, Smashwords, Amazon Kindle Direct, and other similar publishers. But I’d never try to pass the above numbers off as somehow a complete picture of the universe of self-publishing; even if we had access to those books, most of that data would be proprietary and we wouldn’t be able to share it. So, this is more an indication of the potential scale in a single slice, not definitive.
  • There are no sales numbers in this data. As with any long tail, it’s likely irrelevant how many books on a topic are available compared to how many people are reading them. After all, does it matter that there is really objectionable content in the long tail of the book market if no one ever sees or purchases it? As a percentage of sales volume, they could be virtually invisible. They could also be one of the few categories of the market that’s filling a niche not already addressed in traditional publishing. The answer to that would require additional data I don’t have.

How Do We Know — The Tools for Mapping Content in the Literary Darknet

In order for any of the above to have any validity, even as a curiosity, it requires some faith in the technology used to generate the data. The Book Genome Project focuses on using computers to understand the thematic, emotional, and stylistic make-up of the content of a book. It’s often been compared to the Pandora of the book industry, in terms of methodology. Every theme that we measure is done on a scene-by-scene basis, allowing for a very granular degree of content mapping throughout a book. In terms of accuracy, our tools for identifying erotic content has a better than 99% catch rate, and a less than 1% false positive rate. The same is true with bestiality. For a more detailed example of measuring sexual content in books, check out how Fifty Shades of Grey impacted the amount of sexual content in Romance.

If you’re interested in the more general application of the Book Genome Tools on search and discovery, or you happen to be a Stephen King fan, check out Visualizing the Data of Stephen King.

For more information on BookLamp or the Book Genome Project, feel free to visit here, or fire questions my direction.


Learn more about the future of ebook retail at Digital Book World 2014


Aaron Stanton

About Aaron Stanton

Aaron Stanton is the founder and CEO of BookLamp.org and the Book Genome Project, a technology-based book analysis platform built on computer-derived BookDNA. He's an outspoken advocate and critic of the role of technology in book discovery and predictive publishing, and the role of computers in powering the connective threads of the publishing industry. He's lectured in venues as diverse as Hong Kong, Germany, New York, Denmark, and Stanford University on the challenges of technology disruption in publishing. Stanton's work has been profiled in media outlets such as Mashable, TechCrunch, FastCompany, Popular Science, Macworld, Wired Magazine, CNET, PC World Magazine, NPR, the Huffington Post, the Seattle Times, ABC News, and others. In mid-2013, he wrote and contributed to the final chapter of Hard Listening, a collaborative book by Stephen King, Scott Turow, Amy Tan, Dave Barry, Roy Blount Jr., Mitch Albom, James McBride, Ridley Pearson, Matt Groening, Greg Iles, Sam Barry, and Roger McGuinn.

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65 thoughts on “The Literary Darknet of Independent Publishing

  1. Pingback: Publishing Opinions | The Literary Darknet of Independent Publishing

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  3. The raw data is based on so many assumptions that it makes the results meaningless. There are no details of how the sampling was done, what the sample sizes were and the assumed biases that would skew the final results. If you read the credentials of the contributor, this is nothing more than a schill, IMO.
    Who knew that incest and bestiality were so similar they could be bracketed? What about underage sex, scat, necrophilia and other illegal practices described in fiction? To be honest, I’m more worried about the levels of sickening, mindless violence you can find in fiction.
    Credentials – currently an author, published by reputable publishers and self-published (the erotics I write are published by reputable publishers, my self-published are largely Regency romances with much less sexual content), previously a senior market analyst with Kraft Foods, MBA, MInstPS, MMRS

    • Hey, Lynne, I’d like to think I’m not a schill, but then no villain ever thinks of themselves as a villain, right? :) I do have a professional interest in this topic, which is why I have some knowledge of it, but my background is both commercial and academic. Feel free to discount anything I may say based on that if you feel more comfortable that way.

      As for questions about the sample, you are absolutely right – the sample is not necessarily representative, simply an observed set of data from 10,000 – 15,000 titles based on a project we did a few months back. I hope I made that clear in the article. I can think of all sorts of reasons it’s not representative, as well as all sorts of reasons it might be. The post was primarily an exercise in taking The Kernel’s definition of objectionable content and extrapolating it out; there’s a lot of nuance and discussion that can go into what is “objectionable” content. The only three I have data on were mentioned in the post.

      I don’t think that makes the observed data without value or interest, but perhaps. I’m not sure what life-changing decisions could be made based on this data, one way or the other, but I’d encourage us all to not do so. :)

      Aaron

  4. I’ve heard a LOT about this censorship issue, but I have yet to hear from anyone about something some of my author friends noticed during the few days before this scandal erupted.

    They looked at their books on Kobo and noticed that their indie titles–mostly romance–had been RECLASSIFIED as “religious,” “inspirational,” sometimes even “instructional.”

    These are seasoned authors with over 10 titles each up at Kobo. They are not beginners. They’ve been doing it for as long as Kobo has been accepting indie titles.

    Obviously an author of romance, especially sexy romance, is not going to label their book incorrectly.

    You can imagine the result.

    How did this happen?

    Is anyone looking into this?

    • Jennifer – I’m not sure about that, it’s not an area I’m familiar with. I do believe that each retailer is trying to figure out how best to address this content based on their own sensibilities. It’s a tough situation to be in; some authors legitimately need help with classification, others don’t but may look like they do. It’s a tough line to walk, but I think that it’s important to keep in mind that it’s a line that’s being walked with good intention; there’s simply a lot of forces to balance and not a cut-and-dry task. That said, I don’t have any visibility on how various retailers do their BISAC categories, so this is just my perspective.

      I will say that I don’t think of it as as a censorship issue; from my perspective it’s a classification issue. Fundamentally, it’s about helping people that want to find specific content find it, and helping people that want to avoid it, avoid it. I tried to make it clear in the article that I was using The Kernel’s definition of objectionable content, not my own. I have fairly specific opinions on censorship and what it normally looks like, but I generally try to keep those to myself unless asked. Knowing about the contents of a book is the key to both hiding it, and discovering it.

  5. I drew a true random sample from Amazon’s entire ebook production of the period March 31, 2012 through April 5, 2012 for my dissertation and found that erotica was used as a subject term for 8.5% of the random sample, with no titles classified that way in a list of the top 200 free and paid downloads. This corresponded to my visual review of the samples. I also noted that at the time, 50 Shades books were not cataloged as erotica, but rather as Contemporary Romance. It has since been updated. Many of the self-published erotica titles in the sample were shorts, comprised of only a few pages. The research is summarized in a youtube presentation at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kPqL279M-tE with links to download the script or full dissertation.

    • Very cool, Bruce – I’m listening to the presentation right now. Sounds like a much more authoritative look at the amount of erotica, for sure. The 50 Shades is an interesting example of borderline classification, for sure.

      I’ll also add that someone just pointed out that if you look at Smashwords, 48,227 of their 256,176 titles are listed in the erotica category, or about 18.8%. I think I’ll update the article with that number, as it would suggest the sample we had may have been high.

      For clarity, the operational definition of Erotica for us is fairly easy to objectively define. It’s the point where 95% of traditionally published books in the Book Genome Project with similar amount and type of sexual content were published with an Erotica BISAC. The remaining 5% tends to overlap with the upper range of Romance. As a result, it’s testing the content against the standard expectations of the Erotica genre of the last 10 years, or so.

      The Bestiality and Incest definitions are less absolute. We trained our tools against samples of hand-selected content, but there’s more flexibility in how two different people may define these things. Do you count step-relationships as incest? Is a relationship between two werewolves bestiality? (yes, I have had these conversations….) I think there’s some variation on either side of the line, more conservative and less, but generally the goal is to settle on a definition that most people would probably agree represent the “presence of.”

  6. Years ago, I worked night shift in a hospital. Once, when I went to get a drug from the pharmacy, I found the pharmacist, a most-plain-looking woman in her forties, reading a romance novel. Seeing what I’d seen, she hastily said that it \was the only way she could get romance.\

    She’s hardly alone. When I was living in Israel, I met a Canadian woman who was thinking about getting into writing the more normal romance fiction. I didn’t be surprised, she told me, to find out how many such books were written by aging spinsters who’d never had a romance. Looking back I understand. That explains why those books are so utterly unrealistic.

    I think of all that when I read about the sales of romance novels and that literary breed now called erotica. They remind me of all the out-of-shape males who spend their weekends watching sports rather than participating in something active. Sad.

    Earlier this year, one of my books based on my time at that top-rated children’s hospital (Hospital Gowns and Other Embarrassments: A Teen Girl’s Guide to Hospitals) had the misfortune of some glitch linking it through \also viewed\ to some of the seedy ebooks at Amazon that were supposed to be invisible. Ticked off, I complained in a letter to a major slice of Amazon’s board and upper management. The problem was quickly fixed. A friend who is a software developer for Google told me that she had friends at Amazon who’d been coding Amazon’s hide-these-books schemes for a couple of years.

    In my letter, I warned the Amazon hierarchy that what they were hiding would eventually come out, as indeed it has. Thus far all those involved have gotten off remarkably light, partly I suspect because their guilty consciences meant they were ready to act quickly. The stories have mostly been confined to the trade press and writers groups. The mainstream press in this country tends to operate in two modes, indifference due to ignorance or hysterical and still more ignorant. This time it was in the first mode.

    Someday it will enter the second mode. My hunch is that in the long run these more seedy books will be like cigarette advertising and particularly the advertising that covertly targeted children to draw in new customers.

    For a long time, little will be done. Then there’ll be a little fuss, mostly over technicalities, and something ineffective will be done (the one in three ratio of cigarette warning ads to cigarette ads). Finally, there’s be something like the Joe the Camel controversy and things will blow wide open. Here’s what Wikipedia says about Joe Camel:

    In 1991, the Journal of the American Medical Association published a study showing that by age six nearly as many children could correctly respond that \Joe Camel\ was associated with cigarettes as could respond that the Disney Channel logo was associated with Mickey Mouse, and alleged that the \Joe Camel\ campaign was targeting children, despite R. J. Reynolds’ contention that the campaign had been researched only among adults and was directed only at the smokers of other brands. At that time it was also estimated that 32.8% of all cigarettes sold illegally to underage buyers were Camels, up from less than one percent. Subsequently, the American Medical Association asked R. J. Reynolds Nabisco to pull the campaign. R. J. Reynolds refused, and the Joe Camel Campaign continued. In 1991, Janet Mangini, a San Francisco-based attorney, brought a suit against R. J. Reynolds, challenging the company for targeting minors with its \Joe Camel\ advertising campaign. In her complaint, Mangini alleged that teenage smokers accounted for US$476 million of Camel cigarette sales in 1992. When the Joe Camel advertisements started in 1988, that figure was only at US$6 million, \implicitly suggesting such advertisements have harmed a great many teenagers by luring them into extended use of and addiction to tobacco products.\

    In short, eventually this whole seedy business will become very nasty when something really vile comes out: perhaps evidence of the obvious, that these books feed the lusts of sexual perverts, perhaps the use of them by perverts to dupe children, or perhaps their spread into the consciousness of children, as with Joe Camel.

    And as I’ve been telling writers and publishers, if issues like these are not fixed internally by setting standards and enforcing them, eventually an external fix will be imposed, driven by media hysteria and clueless politicians.

    –Michael W. Perry, My Nights with Leukemia: Caring for Children with Leukemia (my other hospital book)

    • Hold up one second.

      Have you ever read a murder mystery? Perhaps you’ve read some fantasy book where everyone’s fighting a dragon? How about a book where the evil antagonist is in fact the protagonist?

      Using your reasoning that would mean you’re probably a murderer-in-waiting who has serious ambitions to go and kill some dragons in your spare time. You’ll just slip in the murder and crime when you’re not stabbing, poisoning, or garroting someone.

      What a ridiculous line of logic on your part.

      The statement that “such books were written by aging spinsters who’d never had a romance” , and that the reader was a “pharmacist, a most-plain-looking woman in her forties” says everything we need to know about you and your mindset.

      Were you deliberately aiming for a hilariously stereotypical misogynistic tone, or just attempting to slip in links to your books?

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  8. Here’s another approach amazon, et al could take on this. Don’t worry about it. Institute fines, confiscation, blocking and reporting to police for any work that actually breaks the law, figure the rest will only re raead by people who want to read it and just move on.

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  11. I have a question. You do this genome for the large publishers. Do you take indie published books and how is that done? I have a novel, my first, that was published in August. I’ve been wondering how it would be classified if some folks got a hold of it. It has some erotic content, two chapters, and that’s it out of the entire book. But I worry with the “throw the baby out with the bathwater” attitude that has been going on in the retailers. I’m working on the second book in the series now and I don’t want to put all that work into something that is going to be blocked before it even gets out there. I made my choice to indie publish because with the subject (ok, it’s a paranormal, with vampires, in New Orleans…) I’ve been told that no one is willing to take a new writer with those parameters, no matter how good it really is, it won’t be even looked at. So, rather than spend two years or more trying to get it seen by the agents and publishers who won’t even give it a chance, I decided to publish through indie publishing.

    I am interested in seeing how my book comes across in the genome. Thanks.

    • Hey, Barbara – so first off, congrats on your first novel; I have a great deal of respect for authors, so that’s very cool. :) Second, generally I don’t have a lot of visibility on the catalog policies of a lot of retailers, but I don’t think you should be particularly afraid of having erotic content in your book, so long as it isn’t a kid’s book. Certainly from our perspective it’s unlikely to cause an issue. There’s a large number of factors that impact whether a book might be flagged for review, and it depends on context.

      For example, a great deal of Literary Fiction books contain sexual content. As does Romance, as does General Fiction, etc. The approach we advocate is human review only when the type or amount of content seems out of place in the book’s claimed genre. So, for example, it’s extremely unlikely that two chapters or scenes worth of sexual content in a Romance or Fantasy novel would raise any eyebrows at all. If it were really explicit, it might throw a flag, and if it’s a paranormal Romance instead of Fantasy, you’re likely safe; I’d be surprised if retailers are particularly concerned with a very spicy Romance novel.

      Where you find issues is if the sexual content shows up in a genre where the retailer has reason to believe that there should be none or very little, like kid’s books. If you have two chapters of sexual content in JV, for example, it might get a little closer look. But again, many young adult books deal with sexuality, but in a particular way, so it depends again on the type, as well as amount. If you’re familiar with your genre, and writing to the genre expectations, you’ll probably be fine – at least in terms of our systems.

      The “throw the baby out with the bathwater” issue is real, but less so from our perspective – our goal is to narrow the volume of books that need human review enough that there’s no reason to be hasty in those sorts of decisions.

      As for wanting to include your book in the Book Genome Project, please feel free to fire me an e-mail at a.stanton@booklamp.org. We’re actually just starting to put together a project specifically with the focus of using data to help make independent content more visible and discoverable; I’d love to chat with you about it.

      All the best,

      Aaron

    • Barbara,

      That is really up to what genre your book is in. If it’s classified as Erotica, be leery. If it’s under Romance, those get passed by the censorship police.

      Take Phillipa Gregory’s Wideacre Trilogy. It’s flooded with incestual rape, but that’s ok because it’s Historical Fiction Entertainment.

  12. Just for the record, I never saw anything cited by these sloppy Daily Mail/Kernel pieces that was actually illegal. These pieces were so badly fact checked that they openly lied or made up the part about underage stories. The rape books are still up on Google Play, and they have disclaimers stating all characters are over 18. A great many of the “incest” books they linked were pseudo-incest between step/adopted relatives and not actual blood relations.

    It was bad reporting at its worst.

    I have no real opinion on this project. Just wanted to throw that out there because I am tired of people linking the Kernel’s badly researched piece without doing their own research. The Kernel does not care about accuracy – only about publishing sensationalism to bring traffic to a failing tech journal.

    Any legitimate business, including Digital Book World, would do well to stay away from them. Or at least check the facts before giving the trolls more link juice.

  13. One more consideration: Mr. Stanton is assuming these retailers really didn’t know what they were selling and not just flubbing the facts. I have reason to think otherwise.

    Kobo, for example, had a Taboo erotica category. They responded to tech issues opened on pseudo-incest books and cooperated in fixing them for authors. They invited in incestuous work and only hit the panic button to plead ignorance when WHSmith decided to cower before the UK tabloids.

    Kobo is trying to turn around and blame authors when they knew perfectly well what they were selling. Heck, they invited it.

    Amazon has not banned pseudo-incest on the basis of content either. They have been blocking books over the presentation. This is the reason why the Invisible Condom story cited in this piece had its title changed. Unfortunately, I think this new policy will only make things confusing for readers because authors now cannot identify the pseudo-incest Amazon allows as such on the title, cover, or description.

    I personally don’t think any of this content should be censored. Also, the more I read about this software, I’m not sure what it’s purpose is. I could see other applications, but not so much when it’s aimed at erotica.

    The problem isn’t ignorance on the part of the retailers. It’s their inability to come up with coherent policies about how to deal with it, and then outright lying and pushing responsibility for the content onto authors every time some amateur journalist publishes a story full of bad facts and exaggerations. Kobo’s response to this especially has been very disgraceful and dishonest.

  14. One possible gap here: In Germany at least, there is a huge market for pornographic novels and stories sold solely in porn shops, published by specialized publishers just for that market. I would assume the same holds true for other markets. While certainly far from being over a quarter of all published books, it is a large (or at the very least, large enough to be profitable) part of the book market that is not usually accounted for in such data sets, because those specialized porn publishers are generally not part of any publisher alliances and organisations.

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  18. I’ve actually received a review in which the (female) Canadian reviewer called me a “Potty Mouth” because I used the words “poo” and “pee” in my SF satire, Rebody. For heaven’s sake, I was writing about the bathroom habits of genetically modified animals! Perhaps she would have preferred “urine” and “faeces” or maybe, much better still, “doodoo” and “sprinkles”. And yes, that was a reviewer!

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  24. I take no issue regarding proper classification of books. If I’m looking for a book with sexual content, I’d rather not have a list of books for children about ducks that learn how to cook or magic carpet riding bears. So a tightening of classifications would be an excellent resource for people like me who have a serious lack of morals when it comes to books featuring illegal acts perpetrated upon people who don’t exist.

    If the issue is classification, then fine, fix it. If the issue is that trad publishers and authors don’t like the competition from these unvetted self-publishers (and how dare they think they are at MY level), then be honest about it. The first refuge of the liar is to say, \Won’t someone think of the children?\

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  28. \ I didn’t be surprised, she told me, to find out how many such books were written by aging spinsters who’d never had a romance.\

    I beg to differ. I have been reading and writing romance on and off since I was in my mid teens. I’ve been happily married since I was 18 to the same man. I was very popular in high school as well, so the bit about me being an aging spinster with no romance in her life is hogwash.

    \Looking back I understand. That explains why those books are so utterly unrealistic.\

    Most of my heroes are based loosely on my husband of 31 years who is just about as alpha male as they get–and yes, he’s handsome with brown hair, sky blue eyes and a smile and sense of humor to die for.

    \I think of all that when I read about the sales of romance novels and that literary breed now called erotica. They remind me of all the out-of-shape males who spend their weekends watching sports rather than participating in something active. Sad.\

    There’s nothing sad about my life. We are VERY active, in and out of the house. ;-)

    And comparing reading romance to cigarettes…really? You make me laugh. I think the only correlation there is the Hollywood stereotype of smoking after sex. However, not all of us partake of tobacco after good sex. I never have. You can ask my husband.

    As far as what they are doing about it, it is no one’s business what I read as long as it’s not illegal, and to date, I haven’t seen any laws that make it illegal to read about sex between FICTIONAL consenting adults who are neither related, dead, or having sex with children or animals.

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  31. Just my experience with this technology..booklamp /genome

    I got back “Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg: The Letters” when I put in “Eat, Pray, Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert
    Was it a joke or random generator?
    seems to be more work to be done here…

    • Hey, Andrew, I was curious about this, and had a question for you. I’ve never read “Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg: The Letters” but from the description it seems to have a fair number of similarities to Eat, Pray, Love, which I’m more familiar with. Eat, Pray, Love is a story of a writer that travels the world trying to deal with the complexities of love and loss, spiritual quests, and the complexities of life.

      From the description of the Jack Kerouac book, it’s a sequence of letters between writers discussing “books, spiritual quests, sex, love,” as well as, “art, truth, and Buddhism… [and] world travels…” among others. There are a lot of differences between the books, but I think I can also see the thematic connections, and why they might share similarities. Not random, certainly.

      So, the question I was wondering was whether or not you’d read both of these, and are saying, “They have nothing in common,” or were you looking at the surface info and guessing that they probably had nothing in common? I’m just trying to get a sense how much of a confirmed “miss” this is, as opposed to possibly weighting factors that you were not looking for?

      It would be informative for me to know, either way, so thanks again for taking a look. :)

      Aaron

  32. 1. Anais Nin wrote both incest and bestiality erotica that is widely available in bookstores and even considered rather literary. (See wrote her erotica on commission from a wealthy sponsor who clearly liked her stories to be highly transgressive; there’s not much reason to think she found the material erotic herself.)

    2. I’m not sure \Best\ was the most advisable truncation of \Bestiality\ in your graph!

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  35. Sounds like the beginning of the creation of a \problem\ where none should exist. While the subjects of incest and bestiality are odious if it’s strictly adults consuming such fare, then where is the problem? Granted it shouldn’t appear on the pages of any online retailer through casual browsing. I champion the idea of zero tolerance for child porn, visual or written, because it involves the exploitation of persons who don’t have very much control over their being–persons who are under the control of adults.

    Yes there are sex acts that are filthy and disgusting. But apparently there is a tiny niche audience for the filthy and disgusting. But one has to define filth and disgusting. One act in particular was very taboo fifty years ago. Now it has become mainstream. Rap lyrics frequently refer to \head\ and \brain\ or any other moniker for fellatio.

    Maybe there is a argument for limiting access to such books because it might make a pervert act out or give them ideas. Well it’s obvious to anyone that \scat\ bestiality, and necrophilia plus a host of others considered taboo, have been around for eons. Yes there is the danger that a perverted sex book might arouse something sinister in any of us. Well that’s the downside of books and learning. Books give us knowledge and power and the ability to reason for ourselves. And yes a tiny tiny faction might use the ideas gleaned from a book to harm others or themselves. But what will a mass banning of books achieve? What will software designed to sniff out phrases achieve? Nothing but to drive objectionable content underground. People who want to find out what’s going on underground, know how to dig.

    That bookseller was silly for taking down the site. All the newspaper wanted to do was write a sensational article in order to make its ad space valuable. I’ll bet no one is removing Fifty Shades

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