Free expression is important to me. When it comes to words, images and music, I continue to stand by the opinion that if you don’t like them, don’t look or listen. Not liking them, though doesn’t give you the right to suppress someone else’s expression. One of the things I don’t like at present is Amazon’s current book listing procedure that makes a writer’s work subject to special scrutiny by the company’s personnel. Much like the motion picture rating process, there are parts of the system that remain mysterious to those of us attempting to use it. In this case, it means creators must pass the scrutiny of unknown eyes that have the capacity to literally judge books by their covers and reclassify them based upon image or title no matter what the writer has to say about the content. It means that self publishing writers are left without key controls over the marketing disposition of their own creations.
In theory, this seemingly subtle form of censorship can place a book on a virtual shelf where a writer never intended it to be. Having your deeply religious work end up labeled as philosophy or self-help and your scholarly documentary placed as a children’s book may not seem like much to someone who’s not a writer, but it’s a few exponential steps beyond any of those arguments you ever had with your parents those times when they were being arbitrarily unfair about anything you wanted to do. Fighting with Amazon personnel over it as an adult will leave you feeling about as impotent.
What seems to be the most extreme result of this is that Amazon has the power to relegate a book to the obscurity of a virtual pornography closet if it is deemed that any element of it is too dangerously adult unless it is changed. Again, to some it may not sound like much, but if you’ve been told by some government clerk that the carefully crafted name you’ve bestowed upon your love child (in honor of your beloved grandparents) has to be changed to something the clerk likes, you’re going to be upset. You could decide to stay with your original decision, but when it comes to a book that obscure placement can have a tremendous impact. Suppose that it had been decided that “Moby Dick” could only have been sold in adult bookstores because of its title because…come on, we know what that title means. No, it doesn’t matter what you say the story is about, just look at that title. Seriously? You want high school students reading porn? Now, imagine that “The Scarlet Letter” or “Lady Chatterly’s Lover” had been released under the name “Whore”. How many people would’ve found it on the shelf of the adult bookstores it was hidden in because they were the only places that could carry it? Should some disinterested functionary have had the power to change their titles to “A Small Town Scandal” because it sounded less offensive?
In the realm of independent publishing supposedly governed by free expression, the correct answer is “No.”
If you’re writing, take heed, because the righteousness of your fight is going to matter less than you’d like. Unfortunately, the reality of it all comes down to this: whether you’re pouring your heart into a tragic chronicle of a prostitute’s life on the streets or a passionate virgin’s sexual awakening, don’t name it “Whore”. Sure, you know it’s a biography or a romance or a literary adventure or even a religious redemption, but you may not like how it ends.
Sorry for the spoiler.
How did this get started? Where do pop culture and politics meet in scandal? Why don't I watch MTV anymore?
For those answers, the prelude to this post (Erotica: Foreplay) can be read along with video of the historic controversy over at Tears of Crimson where my friend Michelle Hughes weaves her wicked writings about vampires, virgins, and strong men who don't spend a lot of money on shirts.