Sunday, February 26, 2012

Paypal's Rules on Obscenity

The eBook sales platforms Bookstrand and Smashwords have recently changed their publication policies in order to comply with PayPal obscenity rules, according to a series of posts by ERECsite. These new policies are hitting self-pubbed erotic fiction authors hard--and not just the people who write the taboo stuff. Throwing the baby out with the bathwater comes to mind.

However, Bookstrand and Smashwords weren't blind-sided. The PayPal obscenity rules have been around for a long time. Most folks who sell using PayPal are perfectly aware of these rules. The payment service evidently just decided to enforce the obscenity prohibition.

Here are the relevant portions of PayPal's rules:
You may not use PayPal for transactions involving... (f) items that are considered obscene ... (h) certain sexually oriented materials or services.
So what does obscene mean? For more detail, you'll have to look to eBay, the company that owns PayPal. Here are eBay's rules:
Obscene materials, while not easy to define, aren't allowed on eBay. For some guidance, we prohibit items depicting or describing bestiality, necrophilia, rape, scat, and incest (real or fictionalized).
Further, eBay explains:
Child pornography is illegal and not allowed on eBay. We generally don't allow the listing of any item that depicts people under 18 years of age naked, including child erotica. We may also remove listings that involve the exploitation of minors, regardless of whether the items are sexual in nature.
So there you go. You can't pay for incest and pedophilia fiction with PayPal. The rules were always there. The ebook sales platforms should have expected the crackdown.


Saturday, February 25, 2012

How Not to Write a Book Blurb: Part II

In a previous blog post I discussed creating a book's "cover copy". In part I, I listed three things not to do. Here I continue with Part II.

1. Don't overwhelm the blurb with names. It's not necessary to give people's last names, particularly if there are more than two characters in the blurb. Try to avoid listing names of secondary characters. Sometimes relationships are enough to identify them. Her brother, her boss, his mother, their children, is preferable. The same thing goes for locations. Don't overload the paragraphs with names of cities or states or regions unless it matters. Don't present lots of names of coffee shops or hotels or companies, no matter how clever you think the names are, if names aren't really critical to the story.

2. Avoid the temptation to give long, poetic descriptions of character's physical attributes in a blurb. Go especially light on describing eye-color and hair-color. "When smoky-eyed, blonde Gemma first sees tanned, green-eyed, curly-haired Ronald, sparks fly." Really? Is the eye-color important? Will a reader buy the book because the heroine is smoky-eyed? Romance/erotica blurbs are permitted to describe a bit about the characters' hotness, like hunky or sexy.

3. Don't provide long excerpts of reviews in the blurb. Self-pubbed folks often list review after review in the description, hoping to lend credibility to their work. It doesn't impress. It usually results in a potential purchaser giving up. A reader wants to know what the story is about. Sure, if you got a review that says "..altogether superior" from some bigtime reviewer, put it in your blurb. Use a very short excerpt (no more than a phrase), the attribution, and only one review. Don't list awards the book has won unless it's a real contest everyone has heard of. Blurb real estate is valuable. Don't waste it.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Living What You Write

A few months ago an interesting drama unfolded in the m/m fiction writer world. A popular m/m author, who claimed to be a gay man, was outed--as a woman. The author had evidently even hired a gay friend to impersonate her at signing events. She also published autobiographical pieces on her life as a gay man.

Can a woman write gay m/m fiction? Sure. To broaden the discussion: Must an author have provable cultural provenance to write about that culture? Such questions have been posed for hundreds of years. Controversy still whirls around William Shakespeare, for example. How could the son of an illiterate glover have created plays about kings and courtiers? Was he a fraud simply because he wasn't a king or courtier? Nope.

I believe an author who has absolutely no real-time experience with a culture, character or gender can write credible fiction. A stand-up guy can write convincingly about a psychopathic serial killer. A great-grandmother who has never ventured outside of her little town in Arkansas can write a war novel. A woman can write stories about gay sex. A non-scientist can write SF. A vanilla man can write hot BDSM novels from the sub's point of view.

Writing outside of experience is possible with enough research, imagination and empathy. In fact, I always distrust BDSM fiction authors who trot out their kink cred at every opportunity ("my Master approved this story", and "I live the lifestyle".)

What about the author who hires an impersonator for a signing event? I think that's fine, too. Writers invent. Why shouldn't they be able to create an identity at odds with real life? Most authors pretend they are more good-looking than they really are. Writers attempt to project glamor, thinness, intelligence, success. An author who hires a gorgeous, edgy model to sign edgy books is just giving the readers what they want. It's performance art, not fraud.

But it's a completely different story when is comes to fakery in non-fiction. If readers are looking to an author as an expert, the author had better be one. Authors who get confused between autobiography and story-telling are cheating. An author shouldn't blog about her firsthand penis experiences--when she doesn't have one. It's unethical, especially since real life m/m frequently involves two.