Genre Bias

I began drafting this blog post several days ago, but never published it. I happened to pop over to Facebook (as I’m prone to do), stumbled upon several posts and articles about a huge shakedown at Amazon, and got completely derailed. Well, now I’m back to finish this post, and strangely, the upheaval in the publishing world has not changed the title of this post, nor has it changed much of the content.

For those of you who don’t have a clue what I’m referring to, here’s a quick overview: A recent online article accused Amazon of selling “porn.” Though Amazon supposedly has strict guidelines, there are books being sold which violate such guidelines–books which glorify rape, incest, and bestiality. Other online book sellers also came under scrutiny. Amazon (and other sellers) removed the books that were specifically mentioned in the article. In panic, they also removed other books, some of which were not in violation of Amazon’s guidelines. Kobo (UK) began removing all self-published books.

Like many bloggers over the past several days have done, I could write about censorship. I could state my opinion on erotica and the authors who write it. I could speculate about the demise of self-publishing as we know it. I could even ramble about where Amazon went wrong and how all of this could have been prevented. But, I think I’ll stick with my original theme. Genre bias.

We all have our preconceived notions about some genres and the people who write them. We’ve all heard derogatory comments about erotica or romance or young adult vampire books. Maybe we’ve uttered a few of those comments. Lately, I’ve come in contact with some very vocal critics. I’ve even discovered I might suffer from a few genre biases of my own.

For those of you who are new to this blog, you might not know about my involvement in a group called Authors to Watch. My primary task is maintaining a blog where authors are interviewed. We also have a Facebook page and a Facebook group with dedicated admins who keep things from exploding out of control. As the group expanded from 300 to 3000 members in a few short months, the spammers took over. We had ads for everything from shoes to dildos. And, book links. Lots of books links. And, strangely enough, the book links seemed to be coming from the same few people.

Several authors complained about the frequency of the promotional links, and the primary target of their complaints were directed at the erotica writers. Maybe it was the covers with half naked couples intertwined that offended them. Or maybe it was the graphic excerpts. Let’s face it–no one wants to see a non-stop stream of promotional links. But, I can think of at least a half-dozen authors of other genres who spammed the group. It was obvious from some of the comments about “vampire porn,” that some authors do not want to see their own work promoted alongside erotica or vampire romance.

Secretly, I agreed with some of the critics who said there were some very badly written excerpts and some poorly produced covers being advertised in the group. It’s hard not to judge. It’s impossible not to have an opinion. But, was it my place to decide which books were worthy of advertisement and which were spam? Was it my place to decide which erotic covers were sensual and which were offensive? It took me about thirty seconds to decide I wasn’t willing to go down the slippery slope of selective censorship. And, you know what? I wasn’t proud of myself for agreeing with the authors who felt it was okay to criticize my fellow authors. And, this was what originally got me thinking about genre bias.

Fast forward to this week…

With the big shakedown on Amazon and Kobo this week, erotica has come under fire in a big way–and not just on booksellers’ sites. On Facebook, I’ve seen numerous posts from authors who claimed the erotica authors deserved to have their books removed for writing trash. Never mind the fact that many non-erotic books were removed. Never mind most erotica is well within the booksellers’ guidelines and should not have been removed. Erotica was painted with a wide brush and labeled trash or perverted. What do such labels imply about the authors who choose this genre?

Authors have been debating all week long about where we draw the line. What is acceptable in literature? What is inappropriate? Is censorship always bad, or do some books deserve to be banned.

I’m not here to debate this. What I’d like to ask is this: As authors, where do we draw the line in attacking and judging each other?

Is it okay to judge authors based on their chosen genre? Is it okay to decide erotica authors aren’t “real” authors just because we don’t like the genre they choose to write? What about fantasy? Or Young Adult authors? How about paranormal romance? Is that “real” literature?

As readers, we all have our preferences, and that’s fine. I’ll admit–there are certain genres I prefer over others. There are books I don’t like. There are titles and book covers that, in my opinion, look “trashy.” I have a right to my opinion, just like you have a right to yours. I don’t think I have the right to decide another author is not “legitimate” because he or she writes a genre I don’t enjoy. I don’t think I have the right to decide an entire genre isn’t real literature.

Authors invest a great deal of time and emotion in their books. They love their characters. Erotica authors are the same as any other author in this respect. I know several authors who are heartbroken over having their books pulled (their books were in compliance with Amazon’s policies, by the way). These authors aren’t just mourning the loss of income–they’re mourning the loss of a dream. For some, it isn’t just their chosen genre being judged–it’s their lives. I know a BDSM author who feels her dream is being crushed. She writes about BDSM relationships because it’s part of her life. When authors call her books trashy, they’re also making a statement about her personally.

This post probably won’t change anyone’s opinion on what they like to read. It won’t change anyone’s moral values or how they judge good literature from bad. What I’m hoping is that authors might be a bit more compassionate before making blanket declarations that an entire group of authors deserve to have their books removed. I’m hoping authors will concentrate on their own craft and on their own journey as writers instead of deciding someone else doesn’t deserve the title.

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