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.