Smashword Settings – Adult or Erotica?

Here’s how to kill your non-erotica book on Smashwords. When you publish it, mark it as Adult. Under Settings, on your Dashboard, you’ll find this statement:  “In order to protect minors from viewing inappropriate material, please let us know if this book contains language, situations or images inappropriate for children under 18 years of age.” There are two buttons: “My book does not contain adult content,” and “My book does contain adult content.” Like any honest and considerate person, I marked both my novels as Adult. And have paid for it ever since.

They are invisible to almost everyone who uses the Smashwords site.  I usually have the adult filter on because I browse through the new listings every day. I’m not interested in reading erotica and get tired of scrolling through all the extra pages that the erotica makes necessary. And here’s the kicker–even with the filter on, I  see listings for erotica and for titles that are out and out porn. But my books are invisible.

There are two problems here. First, is the adult filter itself. It’s the default setting for all newcomers to Smashwords. If those newcomers are like the average web user, most of them don’t even notice that the filter is on, and if they do, won’t bother to change it. I base this opinion on the regular complaints on every site I’ve ever been on that “this doesn’t work right” or “I didn’t know I could do that.”

The second problem is two-fold: the question of what’s “inappropriate for children under 18 years of age,” and what is meant by “adult.” My books have no graphic sex. In fact, they have hardly anything that could be regarded as sex. But they do have violence, implications of child abuse, slavery, and other issues that aren’t appropriate for children. They are books for adults. They aren’t erotica or porn, nor do they come even close. I wouldn’t want my children reading them until they’re old enough to understand the issues involved. So, what do we mean by children? At what age is someone mature enough to read about these issues without being upset, confused, traumatized?

These are the same issues that come up when libraries filter content by putting books in the children’s section rather than in the main areas. The same issues that come up when schools apply filters to students’ use of the computers. The same issues that come up when closed-minded parents try to force schools and libraries to take certain books off the shelves.

Why am I writing about this today? Partly because it’s been annoying the hell out of me ever since I hit the Adult button for my novels and watched the downloads of samples drop to practically nothing, and sales drop to even less. Partly because I read a blog post this morning by an author who had given the Adult kiss of death to her first novel, and because she had explained the problem to another new author whose book had been invisible for six months because she chose the Adult button.

Mark Coker has done a wonderful thing with Smashwords. But I doubt he thought through all the ramifications of setting up an adult filter, especially one that automatically opts readers  in, in a world where most people are barely aware of being able to opt out of anything. Writers of erotica can and do remain on the radar simply by hitting the “not Adult” button, while conscientious non-erotica writers pay for their honesty with invisibility.

Note: If someone has the URL for your book, it will take them to it. But if they’re searching by book title or the author’s name, your book will not come up in the listings if it’s in the Adult category and the Adult filter is on.

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11 thoughts on “Smashword Settings – Adult or Erotica?

  1. Double kudos to you today. I had no idea that Smashwords was protecting me from adult content. Like you say, most people probably don’t even realize that it’s in the ON position. I’ve been defaulted to the bland–not that I’m interested in erotica either. There’s a big difference in Adult Content and Erotica.

    I read under What’s This, that it’s an experiment. I wonder how it’s working out for them???? Low sales are not good for anyone.

    So…what are you going to do?

    1. I changed my setting to “not adult.” And until Smashwords figures out how to distinguish between adult issues and erotica, that’s where they’ll stay. I also started a small file noting the number of downloads I had over the last two months and will be tracking them to see if it makes a difference.

      One point the other blogger made is that if you have the adult filter on and know the URL of the book, there’s no problem. But if you do a search by either title or author, you won’t find anything. To its credit, though, Smashwords will put up a message, if it’s a title hunt, telling you that you have to change your filter setting.

  2. I’m still fuming, Smashwords could have told me that Adult meant Invisible before i wasted 10 weeks of my life doing 18+ hour days promoting my invisible book. My book is now marked “non-adult” and has been since mid August – suddenly getting downloads of the sample just from Smashwords, instead of only when i blog, tweet, and Facebook.

    In the past 6 weeks (without me doing anything and with filter off), the numbers of sample downloads are averaging slightly better (up from 1.03 downloads per day, to 1.10) than when i was promoting it every day.

    On the bright side, it gives me time to write Bk2 – on the dark side, of course, i lost the magic time when my book was a new release, when i was motivated (instead of distracted by need to finish next book), and when my friends weren’t totally sick of me promoting the damn thing. Self-publishing, lol – whose dumb idea was that? (Yeah, completely mine.)

  3. Don’t give up on self-publishing, please. It’s a learning process for all of us, sometimes very frustrating, I agree. I thought the almost complete drop-off in downloads was my own fault for slacking off some on promotion. Or all the people who bought my first book didn’t like it well enough to take a chance on the sequel.

    We just need to get the word out that choosing to list your book as Adult is a bad idea unless it’s actually erotica or has a lot of sexual content.

  4. Thanks 🙂 i’m okay – just temporarily gutted as most of the people caught this way seem to be. I went through agonies too – i even rewrote Chapter 1 thinking the beginning was wrong. i felt like i had destroyed my entire career with one very stupid move – to use Smashwords. I figured their throughput couldn’t be more than 10 people a day, seeing even when my book was no3 on Highest Rated i couldn’t get anyone to even look at it.

    It was a relief to find out what was actually wrong, but doesn’t change how angry i am now over Smashwords not saying anything about how the site would see Adult rated fiction – I’ll get over it, but that kind of treatment from a website that’s charging me $ doesn’t make a user feel loved. (I’ve written and asked them to change their Adult system, perhaps so Erotica is invisible when u first log in, but everything else is visible unless you request an Over 15 or Adult Filter – and yes, there should be both.)

    I chose to self-publish deliberately, and the reasons why haven’t changed, but damn, it’s hard to remember when stuff like this happens 🙂 Nice meeting you, btw.

    1. I honestly think that this was one of those decisions that wasn’t thought through very well. Subject to the law of unintended consequences, like so much that we do, hoping for a better outcome.

      I like the idea of making erotica invisible to all until a viewer opts in.

      I don’t understand about being charged $. Smashwords doesn’t cost anything unless you choose to buy your ISBN.

  5. yeah – agree “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”, lol

    re “charging” j just meant they take a cut of each sale – that’s fine, they’re doing a good job generally, and i appreciate the fact the site’s there so i can get my work out to a much wider market than i could achieve by myself (at least that’s the idea, lol). Smashwords has so much potential, I do think these are really just teething problems.

  6. FYI: I loaded my book on SW under horror–bit of a stretch–and had the option of adding Young Adult and Adult only. Happily, my book shows up with the Adult Filter either ON or OFF.

    I see no reason why you could not list your book on the upload with no Adult connotation and then manually add the words to the title or in the description yourself. My title looks like this: Creepy 13 (YA or A only)

    1. That’s what some writers are doing, including a warning in the description. And it’s what I’ll be doing, as needed. Pretty much everything I’m writing has some violence, and “bad language.” I’m not going to put them in the ghetto with erotica. By the way, since I changed the Adult setting for my two books, I’m starting to get some sales again. Not a lot, but I’ve been doing zilch promotion, so I don’t expect a big rush to buy.

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