The Taboo Themes of Note

This year has certainly seen its share of market changes! We’ve seen slight changes in Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited system, B&N purging all controversial content, and a small uptick in popularity for taboo content. The latest change? Smashwords implementation of a classification system for taboo content. While this change already has authors talking, Lot’s Cave thought we’d add a new perspective to the mix! So, if you’re an author looking to get a little more out of the Smashwords classification system, this blog post is for you.

For those who may not know, Smashwords has implemented a new classification system for taboo content. This gives us an even better understanding of what Smashwords deems risky or hesitant content. The list is rather short:

  • Age play – One or more consenting adult characters role playing, pretending to be babies or children.
  • Bestiality – Sexual relations between humans and real-world animals (sex with Big Foot, dinosaurs, shape shifters and other imaginary creatures is not bestiality).
  • Dubious Consent (dubcon) – A common and popular theme in mainstream fiction.  Dubcon explores the gray area between consent and non-consent.  Not clear if the receiver of the sexual act was fully on board or not at the time of the act.
  • Incest or pseudo-incest – Sexual relations between family members, whether biologically or non-biologically related.  Includes stepbrother, stepsister and step-anyone.
  • Nonconsensual sexual slavery – Erotic depiction of a person captured or held against their will, such as kidnapping, imprisonment or human trafficking.  Not to be confused with BDSM, which is predicated upon informed consent and negotiation between both parties before the act, and which provides safe words so either partner can end the act if it goes too far.
  • Rape for titillation – The dominant theme of this book is rape — whether the rape is by one person or a character is raped by a group of people, i.e. a gang rape or nonconsensual “gang bang” — and it targets readers who are titillated by the fantasy of nonconsensual sexual relations.

As you can see, these categories aren’t shocking. In fact, many of these subjects have been deemed taboo for years. However, that hasn’t stopped many authors from commenting on the sensitivity of labeling such content. Smashwords already has an extra doubled layer of filters in place for erotica, and an added classification system can seem a bit excessive for some. That’s certainly an argument worth having, but how can you make the situation work for you? Well, if you’re a new author in particular, these classifications are worth studying!

Each of the classification categories highlight a different niche you, as a new author, can get into. Because these markets are often seen as taboo in many storefronts, they’re likewise under served. Markets with high demand and few books gives new authors the perfect opportunity to make their presence known. Choosing which category you want to write is best determined either by preference or by the ‘most taboo’ label. If you’re looking to write to an under served market, Incest, Bestiality, and Sexual Slavery are your best choices.  Keep in mind though, these categories, by definition, will heavily impact where you can publish within the eBook market.

If you’re completely new to the idea of certain taboo categories, Smashwords’ classification system can help with another important detail: reader expectation. Each category has a ‘reader expectation’, an idea of what they want when they purchase the book. When it comes to more controversial kinks, researching what that expectation is can be more than difficult– it can be impossible. Having even this vague definition can help shed some light into what readers want from your category in particular. For Incest, focus on biological over pseudo relationships, for Bestiality, real world animals will be preferred over the mythical options, and for sexual slavery, the non-consent component is probably the most important highlight. While vague, these concepts can get you, as a new author, started.

The other piece of advice to be had from Smashwords’ new classification system doesn’t come directly from their blog post, but rather, the comments concerning it. With the classification system already place, authors are, of course, worried about censorship. When asked what the future could look like for controversial publishers Mark Coker said, “The retailers have planted their stakes in the ground in terms of what they will and will not accept. I don’t see them tightening further unless authors push the limits.” So, how do new authors take that as a piece of advice? Don’t push the limits!

At times, it can be easy to see how far to push the limits. Other times, pushing the limits can actually be a well intended mistake. For example, a new author may think a truly explicit cover will help define the book better for readers. The intentions are good, considerate of that reader expectation even, but fails to notice one important detail: storefront compliance. Book covers, as a general rule, are kept  at a PG-13 level. A nude model then, while  indicating Erotica, wouldn’t be appropriate in most online stores. Just remember to consider common sense, and err on the side of caution, when it comes to the rules, especially when publishing controversial subject matter.

Writing taboo themes isn’t a particularly easy venture for most authors. If you’re looking to start though, start with the basics. Choosing a category can be the easy part, especially with Smashwords putting it out there so conveniently. For better or worse, the eBook market is changing dramatically. While it can be easy to see the bad, or have cause to worry, there are also positives. Perhaps Smashwords new classification system will make it easier for new authors. If so, the popularity and push to get controversial content mainstream might just happen yet!

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