Wednesday, 5 December 2018

The 'death' of Tumblr

 Over the last few days, the social media and blogging platform Tumblr has announced that from 17 December 2018 they will no longer be allowing any 'NSFW' images to be posted by users.

This move is thought to have come about after Apple suspended the Tumblr app from availability in their App Store, because a large amount of child pornography had gotten through Tumblr's filter software and ended up on the platform.

However, others in the industry have posited that in fact this move has been a long time in the planning, and is more to do with Tumblr no longer wanting to dedicate time, money and staff to policing the individual pieces of content uploaded to the 'NSFW' segment of the platform or improve their filter software, when it is more cost-effective for them to simply blanket-ban all images of sex and nudity. It's also speculated that making themselves more attractive to advertisers is another consideration that has led to them deciding that from 17 December onwards, Tumblr will be free of adult content.

This has understandably been a controversial decision, in part because Tumblr has spent the past 11 years as a platform which was known by many to permit users to share nude images and pornography, erotic art and writing, and more. That they would decide now, after more than a decade of giving a home to many people who saw Tumblr as an outlet for expressing their sexuality, or as a supportive community for non-sexual nudity in the name of body positivity, to ban all that content (even in the name of cleaning up their image) has taken a lot of people by unpleasant surprise.

The decision has also been controversial because it is seen by many as a "sledgehammer to crack a walnut" scenario (if the explanation that it relates to Apple pulling the app from their store is the correct one) - Apple's issue was that the filtering software used by Tumblr (software Apple requires all apps in its store to have to prevent any app from being used to share child pornography) was ineffective and not up to industry standard. Apple weren't being squeamish about consenting adult porn on the platform, and there has never been any suggestion from Apple that they see Tumblr banning all adult content as necessary to prevent the app being withdrawn again in future.

Almost all users of Tumblr would concur that child pornography should have no place on that platform or any other part of the internet, and would have welcomed any measures taken by Tumblr to shore up their defenses against users being able to upload child porn in future, but few would agree that blanket-banning all pornography and non-pornographic adult nudity is the only or best way to achieve this.

Perhaps the biggest aspect of this controversy is the way that it will affect the many users of the platform who openly value it for the way it enables them to find, share and generate adult-oriented content where other platforms (such as Instagram and Facebook) have already banned this.

Much of the outcry has come from the following groups: sex workers, who use Tumblr to advertise and promote their paid work and to network and establish communities (especially sex workers from marginalised groups such as the LGBTQ+ community, those who have physical disabilities or mental health concerns, and those who are involved in more unconventional kink and fetish scenes, all of whom have found support and safer generation of revenue through using Tumblr); creators of adult visual content (especially artists, both those in fandoms and in the general user population); and also promoters of non-sexual or sex-positive body-positive movements, for whom the sharing of male and female nude self-portraits is a communal act of empowerment and rebellion against traditional one-dimensional standards of beauty and gender conformity.

There is also a small naturist community on Tumblr who, I imagine, are once more aggrieved that images of non-sexual nudity are again being considered ban-worthy alongside sex-based content.

All of these people will be deprived of their primary reason for using Tumblr after December 17, and many will therefore be left with either no outlet at all for both creative expression and safe networking, or be forced onto other, less safe and user-friendly platforms. Additionally, content creators and sex workers who benefit from using Tumblr as a safe promotional tool will likely lose revenue as a result.

To add insult to injury, there is no suggestion that Tumblr will be cutting down on other problematic content, such as violence or hate speech. While I am sure the platform would not wish to be seen to be endorsing either, they appear disproportionately more concerned with sex and nudity than with violence or hate. It's an old story, of course.

My book cover was apparently good enough
for Amazon but not for Tumblr...
Finally, users have been taking to Twitter to share examples of where Tumblr's automated content-review software (which was making red warning bars appear at the top of posts considered to be 'explicit' so that creators could appeal them if they were wrong) has flagged often laughably non-explicit images as explicit (as of today Wednesday 5 December, a lot of these warnings appear to have disappeared).

Ultimately, of course, Tumblr are free to choose what sort of content they do and don't allow on their platform. They are a private enterprise, they aren't obligated to allow adult content just to satisfy freedom of speech in the US (where they are based) or any other country. While there have been a number of users advocating for petitions or various other rebellious tactics, I doubt they will have impact on the company's decision or the way it will be implemented. Statistically, adult content accounts for approximately 1% of all user content on Tumblr (that's not to say there isn't still a lot, but it is vastly, enormously outnumbered by general content), an acceptable amount to lose. The only reason Tumblr is doing this is because it can make more money than if it doesn't.

On the other hand...
I suspect most content-creators know this: those I have seen are already packing up shop, upping sticks for other platforms ahead of the ban, for fear that if they wait too long, they will be simply obliterated from the site like the poor souls in Marvel's Infinity War film, their accumulated audience not knowing what has happened to them.

My history with Tumblr goes back many years. I have used Tumblr as a platform as both a general user and as a creator of erotic content, and I've had several Tumblrs over the years. I have a number of friends I have made through Tumblr who have either been or gone on to sex work, or who have been body-positivity and sex-positivity advocates, or promoters of a naturist lifestyle. None of those people would have been there if Tumblr didn't allow the content they were posting, content which will now be forbidden from 17 December.

I don't deny there were issues with adult content on Tumblr. A great many adult accounts were porn-sharing bots, usually aimed at promoting pay sites by randomly reposting images with links underneath. There was also a grey area of consent, whereby body-positive activists and naturist-types might share nude images without a sexual context, only for those images to be reblogged in a different context on porn blogs. A plus-size friend who shared nudes of herself to promote positive female body image described playing almost a game of whack-a-mole with all the chubby-fetish blogs who would keep sharing her pictures; for every one she asked to take her photo off their blog, another would pop up. Even when she captioned her photos warning porn blogs against reblogging her, they would simply delete the caption as they reposted.

But while these issues needed to be addressed, I don't think anyone experienced with the adult side of Tumblr would have advocated banning all images of sex and nudity altogether as the only or best solution.

It's perhaps unsurprising that these promotional
images for Brave Nude World have been flagged
As a writer, I find that Tumblr is perhaps my least-used platform to promote my work, but starting out it was the source of most of my inspiration. I browsed adult-oriented Tumblrs and when I saw images that appealed to or inspired me, I would reblog them with a short story attached (usually one or two paragraphs, a snapshot of a moment). Invariably, given the type of fiction I write, these were pictures of naked women and stories about how and why they came to be naked. I soon graduated to longer prose and then novels, but most of my old stories were still on Tumblr. I imagine they will disappear too come December 17, along with the graphics I created to promote my book Brave Nude World when that was published earlier this year. All feature nudity; all are deemed no longer acceptable.

Whether explicit text is to be banned along with explicit images remains to be seen; presumably it is a question of cost and man-hours setting up and maintaining software which can read text posts and flag them as objectionable, and at the moment Tumblr is concentrating on the image and video posts and not the written ones. But I am sure it is only a matter of time.

So I'll be saying goodbye to Tumblr. As a producer of adult content I am no longer welcome there, even if that content itself still flies under their radar (and as I have said, much of it will not). They have made that perfectly clear. I shall survive and thrive, I am not concerned for myself. I have Amazon and Literotica and Twitter and this blog, they are more than enough in terms of outlets. But there are a great many people who will be hurt, massively hurt, by Tumblr's decision, not least because many have spent years, perhaps even a decade, amassing followers and building and participating in a safe and welcoming community which will be soon to disappear.

Friday, 16 November 2018

Ten writing "rules"

My apologies for once again finding inspiration for a blog post from something that has been trending on Twitter! But over the past couple of days, fellow writers and others have been having a lot of fun with US novelist Jonathan Franzen's recent appearance in an article for LitHub, in which he offers his ten rules for aspiring authors.

As you would expect from someone who has been a successful and established literary author for some time, Franzen has a particular set of opinions which seem to be both largely divorced from the reality of experience for many people attempting to write novels, and also particular to his own experience and privilege. Where they aren't tin-eared to reality, his rules are nebulous and vague (what could "you have to love before you can be relentless" possibly actually mean, and who could this ever help?).

Author Twitter, of course, has had a field day making fun of Franzen's "rules", with many different writers offering their own takes on advice they would recommend fellow authors follow. Some is comedic, some genuinely attempting to be helpful, while others mix the two.

Although I doubt anyone needs it, here is my own list of ten rules I would suggest aspiring writers follow (tongue firmly in cheek, of course):

  1. Don’t care about word count (unless you’re being paid by the word in which case, use as many as possible, even if it doesn’t make sense purple monkey dishwasher)
  2. Don’t care about other people’s word count (even if it’s NaNoWriMo – it literally doesn’t matter)
  3. If you aren’t enjoying it, stop and don’t go back until you enjoy it again. This might take a while but what is the point of writing if you hate it? It’s hard enough to make a living doing it if you like it!
  4. Don’t be afraid to edit as you go, your first draft doesn’t have to be a stream-of-consciousness
  5. Don’t worry if your first draft needs masses of work, that’s what editing is for
  6. Write in the environment that works best for you, whether that’s naked in the dark in isolation or plugging away at a laptop in a busy coffee shop
  7. Don’t write naked in a busy coffee shop, though
  8. Do as much research as your work demands, whether at the library, via the internet, or by talking to people who can add something to your narrative
  9. If you haven’t researched, keep things big and vague and you will probably get away with it unless you write historical fiction or something techy about planes or tanks, in which case, someone will tear you a new arse on the Amazon reviews for having a character use slightly the wrong type of teacup or fix their engine with the wrong spanner
  10.  A bit of ego is fine but don’t go around lording it over other writers like you are God’s gift to literature. You aren’t Tolstoy (unless you’re Tolstoy, in which case congratulations on defeating death and discovering the internet). Your work might change someone’s life but more than likely it will just briefly entertain them, and that’s good enough

Friday, 12 October 2018

Publishing Platforms for the Indie Writer

A post and conversation on Twitter the other day has inspired this blog post's topic; as a self-publishing indie writer of erotica, which do I think is the better option for an author to take - publishing an e-book via multiple platforms, or opting into Amazon's Kindle Unlimited service, which requires exclusive availability?

I should preface this by saying; I am no expert on self-publishing. I have two novels in the marketplace, both niche erotica. I have been doing this for less than a year. I write for fun and not profit, although I am pleased that the success of my novels has exceeded my expectations. There are people who have written entire books, blogs and websites about how to maximise your earnings as a self-published author in both the mainstream and adult-only marketplaces, and there are a great many authors who make a sizeable, even liveable, income from self-published e-books. If they have something to say about platforms and exclusivity, their advice probably comes from a more informed, researched and considered position than mine does!

That aside, I can talk about my own experience within my narrow field.

Firstly, an explanation. When you as an author choose to publish a novel or story or other work as an e-book, currently you face a choice as to what option you take.

You can choose to make your book available across multiple platforms, so that different retailers can sell it. Obviously the main one of these is Amazon, they have come to dominate the marketplace for both electronic books (the Kindle is the market leader in e-readers) and traditional books. But there is also Smashwords, who function as both a marketplace for e-books and a distributor to other retailers (such as Barnes & Noble) as well as several others, including specialist retailers.

That is one option. The other is that you can opt to sell exclusively with Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP Select) and not have your e-book available via any other digital platform. The incentive Amazon offers for this exclusivity is that you can then be entitled to some of the 'pot' of royalties for Kindle Unlimited, Amazon's subscription-based virtual lending-library (KOLL), as long as readers can borrow your book via KU. Amazon pays you a small sum per page read on KU, with the amount being dictated by the overall size of the pot, which grows as they get more subscribers.

(It should go without saying that if you don't want to make your book available via KU, you have no requirement to go Amazon-exclusive and indeed the best option for you will doubtless be multi-platforming).

So while at first glance this would seem to be a no-brainer (more platforms = more potential sales = more potential royalties), having a book available via KU has a number of selling points; especially if you are an author of erotica or other less-mainstream genres.

When I began selling books, I didn't actually realise that KU required your book to be available exclusively through Amazon. Chalk that up to eager excitement on my part to publish - I simply didn't read all the terms before hitting 'publish'. As a result, for a couple of months I had a book available on both KU, and also via a non-Amazon retailer, in this case Smashwords.

I don't recommend doing this. While Amazon is so vast it is possible to 'game' both marketplaces (at least in my experience for a short time) as your books tend to fly under the radar of the various automated processes they have to keep track of things (unless someone actively reports that they are not exclusive) it is a breach of your terms and will undoubtedly lead to some sort of punitive action from Amazon if they find out - with ignorance being no excuse. In the end, when I realised, I opted to remove my books from Smashwords and keep them Amazon exclusive and in the KU scheme.

My reason for choosing that option, ultimately, came down to the fact that I was getting more readers through KU than I was through Smashwords. My sales on Smashwords had started well, but had petered out to almost nothing by the time I discontinued selling through them. I also wasn't confident that Smashwords was as secure as Amazon in terms of being able to protect my work from being pirated, due to the wide variety of file formats they made books available in (including .pdf). While this is great for accessibility, it also greatly increases the risk of your book being circulated for free without your permission, in my opinion.

So compared to Smashwords, KU was performing much better for me. It's true that the amount you receive per page view is small, but overall my total income from KU pageviews is about half as much as my income from book sales on Amazon, whereas my income from Smashwords had peaked at 25% what I was earning from Amazon sales and had dropped to less than 10% by the time I took the books off that platform.

It's perhaps understandable that a book on Smashwords doesn't perform as well as it does on Amazon. Amazon dominates the marketplace to the point that the existence of alternative retailers for e-books is not well-known. I hadn't heard of Smashwords until I began investigating platforms for self-publishing, and as authors who often mostly interact with other authors, we can become ignorant of the fact that sites like Smashwords might be common knowledge to us, but are not always well-known to consumers.

That said, Smashwords has one major selling point for me, and that's the fact that it is an authorised distributor serving Apple iBooks, which I think is Amazon's main competitor in the e-book market. So while Smashwords itself might not be on the radar for many consumers, the places it distributes books to may well be. I don't think I personally made enough of the Apple connection when I was promoting my books, and had I done so it might have benefited me somewhat; that said, it is more difficult for authors to market works on iBooks directly to readers in my opinion as Apple doesn't have a webstore in the same way as Amazon; browsing and purchasing is done via the app. That said, Apple does offer a lot of tools to aid authors who wish to use them.

For me, however, opting to be Amazon KDP exclusive to be enrolled in KDP Select and have my book available for lending via KU was the right option.

-

So how can you know if it is the right option for you? Here are a few criteria I think can be considered:

Am I publishing a novel or a short story?
If you're publishing a story that isn't very long, you probably aren't going to receive a lot of money each time someone reads it on KU. It may be better to have it available through multiple platforms for a set price than have it for 'free' to subscribers so you will be paid per page read. However a novel of 200 pages or so will probably generate a little more income, provided everyone who downloads it reads to the end!

On the other hand, short stories still do well on KU because many readers may not consider them good value for money as a purchase compared to a novel priced around the same amount, but may be more inclined to read them if they are getting them as part of their KU subscription. I had a KU subscription for a few months and read a lot more short stories than I normally purchase, because I didn't feel short-changed as a consumer by the comparative costs.

(There are authors who claim to have found ways to game the Amazon KU system and some websites that will tell you how this can be achieved (book-stuffing etc.), I am not a supporter of this approach however, mostly because it creates a bad experience for the unwary consumer).

How much effort do I want to put into marketing my book?
One of Amazon's key advantages over its competitors is the size of its customer base and the tools it has set up to market books and other products to them. Even if you do almost nothing to promote your book to a wider readership, you will probably still sell some copies if it's on Amazon, and having it available to loan to KU subscribers will probably increase that attention.

Most authors I have encountered who report success across multiple platforms are those who take their time to do a lot of marketing and promotion of their books via social media, via their own websites and so on. If you are constantly putting out word about your books, no matter where they are available, you are maximising interest; but many authors either lack the time to put this kind of work in, or just aren't interested in playing this game. For myself, I am probably in the middle ground; I would much rather spend the little free time I have writing than I would advertising, but I also enjoy social media and blogging. If you're prepared to put the work in, you might find you don't need KU, but it is a lot of work to raise awareness about alternative platforms when they struggle to find an audience themselves due to Amazon's marketplace dominance, and you often seem to end up having to market the platform almost as much as you market the book you are selling on it.

Am I writing something that may prove too controversial for Amazon?
This is especially pertinent for someone writing erotica. All e-book retailers have rules about what they consider acceptable content, and some are stricter than others. For example, Amazon say that they don't allow erotica in which the theme is incestuous relationships between family members. I don't write about those themes myself, but I know some of those who do find careful ways to get around Amazon's rules; but there is always the risk Amazon will be alerted to the content of your book or else your work will be caught up in one of their legendary purges. So if you write, say, mother-son incest, it is probably best not to put all your eggs in one basket (and really, Amazon's rules say you should avoid their platform altogether). Other platforms are more lenient, and may represent a better option.

More generally, a point I have made before is that consumers of erotica are not necessarily looking for what I call a 'forever book' - that is, something they will keep and return to again and again. They're looking for something to read for a particular experience or thrill and once they have read it they will move on to the next novel or story. In that regard, the lending function of KU is perhaps the best option for erotic works as it enables readers to get the thrill-read they desire without asking them to spend money on an individual transaction.

Do I just not like Amazon?
It sounds flippant. But much the same as many big multi-national companies, Amazon has more than its fair share of critics and people opposed to them on ethical grounds. Amazon boss Jeff Bezos has more money than God and is growing richer everyday; meanwhile there are stories of incredibly poor treatment of Amazon's warehouse workers and exploitation of loopholes to limit the amount of money Amazon pays in taxes to the countries it operates in. More generally, there is the undeniable impact online retailing has had on the book marketplace, with many physical bookstores - both independents and chains - struggling to stay afloat, unable to compete with the lower prices of the Amazon monolith.

So there is definitely a discussion to be had about whether, as an independent author who has free choice over where to sell your books, you should actually rebel against Amazon's market dominance and make your work as widely-available as possible.

Even if you're someone like me, who does not have any real ethical qualms about selling on Amazon, you should recognise that a healthy marketplace needs some competition. For instance, the percentage Amazon pays in royalties to its self-publishing authors is currently priced competitively with other platforms like Smashwords and iBooks, in order to encourage authors to use the Amazon KDP platform. If Amazon eliminated its competitors, they would have no need to offer a competitive percentage in royalties; they could throw authors a pittance and keep the rest in profit, and the authors would have no recourse because it wouldn't be as though we could take our books elsewhere. So as e-book authors it can be argued we do have a long-term advantage to multi-platforming in order to protect our income now and in the future by helping to maintain a diverse marketplace.

-

In the end, what works for one author might not be the best option for another, and every way of doing things has its advantages and disadvantages. But the beauty of being a self-published writer is having the control over how you distribute your work; if something isn't working for you, changing how you do things is easy, and entirely in your hands.

Friday, 28 September 2018

'Best Friends...' or 'Brave Nude World'?

I recently noticed a trend in sales of my two books on Amazon. For the past few months, I have sold exactly twice as many copies of Best Friends With a Naked Girl as I have Brave Nude World.

That's something I find interesting, as my experience as a customer on Amazon tells me that people who read one book by any author are usually encouraged by the site's advertising and algorithms to at least be made aware of, if not actually purchase, books by the same author.

I've no complaint at the way my sales are occurring. Every sale makes me happy, and I'm glad my readers are finding something to enjoy in my work. But it does have me wondering why someone might 'prefer' (or be drawn to) Best Friends... over Brave Nude World.

Firstly, I should say my own assumptions about the two books. I had believed that, of the two, Brave Nude World would have greater appeal.

For one, it was my second novel (although I wrote the majority of it before I turned the Best Friends... short stories into the Best Friends... novel, my experiences writing Best Friends... as a novel were invaluable in the editing and rewriting process that I went through before Brave Nude World finally saw publication). As a result, I tend to feel it is the stronger of the two in many ways.

Secondly, I believe that if you want to judge a book by its cover, Brave Nude World has the better one. I love the image that Danielle, my cover artist, created for me, and by this point I was myself more experienced in putting book covers together. My working relationship with Danielle was stronger too, such that they were able to make suggestions that I could use to improve my construction of the cover. I think Brave Nude World's cover looks more like a professional book cover, compared to Best Friends... which, although brilliantly illustrated, does look more like a self-published amateur work due to some decisions I made about the design and lettering before I knew better.

Lastly I assumed that Brave Nude World would have slightly more universal appeal. Best Friends... is a small-scale story of two teenage girls, one an exhibitionist/nudist, the other very much not but also haplessly falling in love with the first. Brave Nude World has an older protagonist, a mid-twenties woman, who lives in a (deliberately nameless) city in the USA and explores the social experience of public nudity as well as having the character experiment with, and accept, an exhibitionist side. I assumed more people would want to read about the latter than the former.

But those are my assumptions, and what is interesting is to look at how my work is selling and being received, and challenge those.

Best Friends... might have been my first novel, but that might be one reason why it enjoys such popularity. People who had been following my work have read the versions of the stories that appeared on short story websites and knew me for that particular work. As such, the fanbase I have built up definitely finds the ideas in Best Friends... appealing. Brave Nude World is a slightly different work, in setting, theme and characters, and it may be that some of my fans simply prefer Best Friends... with its British setting, teenage (18+) characters and themes of romance and coming-of-age sexual exploration.

The feedback I have received for Best Friends... indicates that even if readers bought it because of the nudity/exhibitionist angle, they found the relationship between Lisa and Becky to be compelling and likeable. At their heart, I think fans of that book are romantics, wanting a happy ending for the characters, and there are perhaps more people who read my fiction for those reasons than just the titillating elements.

Brave Nude World has less focus on romance; this is deliberate, Rachel is intended to be a rather typical millenial, with a typical millenial's attitude to dating. She's not a teenager in the flushes of first love; she is an adult woman navigating metropolitan life, making immediate choices rather than looking for a long-term and permanent partner. At the end of the book she has some sort of relationship, but whether that has a future is down to the reader's imagination. I stand by the choices I make for my character, but I accept they don't give the reader a relationship to root for the way that they might for Lisa and Becky's.

Cara Delevnigne's selfie
which inspired the cover of 
Best Friends With a Naked Girl
Simple things, like the cover, may also come into play here. Brave Nude World may have a striking cover image; Rachel standing nude on the subway platform surrounded by clothed commuters, nobody batting an eye. But the cover of Best Friends..., with the clothed Lisa and the naked Becky posing for some sort of Instagram-style selfie together, has a lot of pull too. It's arguably more overt in its display of nudity than Brave Nude World. To be sold on Amazon, I felt it best to make some minor censorship of Rachel's bare bottom on the retail version of the cover, whereas the image I had decided on for Best Friends... (inspired by a photo posted on Instagram by the model Cara Delevnigne) reveals about as much of Becky's body as it is possible to get on a book cover on Amazon without being banished forever to the depths of the naughtiness dungeon. So in terms of looking interesting and sexy, I suppose Best Friends... rather trumps Brave Nude World (the cover of the former is based on a titillating picture from one of the world's sexiest women, the latter takes its inspiration from a scene in a French comedy film).

I imagine it's possible that even the titles of the books have some effect on how they are being received. While both titles imply nudity, Best Friends... is rather more overt in what it suggests; the title assures the reader that whatever else they can expect in the book, there will be at least one Naked Girl. Brave Nude World, my clever/terrible play on the title of Aldous Huxley's most famous work (seriously, I can't believe I was the first person to publish a book with that title) might seem to me less clumsy, but it also tells the reader less about what the book might involve.

Ultimately I'm delighted with the recent sales of both my novels and I know I have a number of readers who have probably read and enjoyed both equally (even if for different reasons). But it's interesting (not to mention a little intimidating!) as I move into the final stages of writing the sequel to Best Friends... to try to imagine what it is that attracts people to that particular book and what they enjoy about it, to make sure that they enjoy the new one just as much.

Friday, 21 September 2018

Paperback Writer

I've published my two novels to date as e-books, available on Amazon exclusively (I like being able to offer them via Kindle Unlimited, erotica I feel does well from that, and KU requires brand exclusivity) but I recently decided to investigate one of the other options Amazon offers to self-published authors; selling paperback copies.

If you are a self-published author, getting your book into print as a physical copy can be a burdensome task, and it is for this reason that the rise in popularity of e-books has seen an accompanying rise in the number of self-published authors. It's easier now to self-publish and have access to a global marketplace for e-books; that's why I did it and that's why a lot of other people do it too. I write for a hobby, not out of a dream of being a full-time writer (I mean, it would be nice, but I'd probably have to diversify from writing about people getting naked); if it was at all difficult to actually get a book on sale, I wouldn't have done it. But Amazon and Smashwords and the like are pretty straightforward once you've gotten the hang of formatting your manuscript how they like them (they are not exactly the same!) and I found the publication side of things to be a breeze compared to writing and editing the damn things...

In the past, if I had wanted to actually get my book out in paper copies, I would have either needed to find a publisher to agree to publish it and pay me royalties out of what was left once their costs and profit had been subtracted, or found a 'vanity' publisher who I could pay to print the book and send me copies which I would then try to sell on. There are all sorts of reasons why booksellers would be reluctant to take on stock from a self-published author; my work being niche erotica would only add to those, so I'd never considered it an option.

But Amazon offers a slightly different model in several countries around the world. You upload your manuscript and book cover to them, and they offer it for sale as a paperback; but they only print as many copies as are ordered. They don't take any money from you upfront, the cost of printing the book is taken from the sale price. They take their bit of profit (seller's fee) off the top of what's left, and the rest is yours.

The difference in approach makes it a lot more appealing. Under a vanity publishing model, I might pay for 500 copies at £3 a copy. I could sell those myself for £7, making £4 per book, but I'd have to sell 375 of those 500 copies before I had made back what I'd spent on printing. And I'd have to do that through finding enough stores and individuals interested in my book to make that number of sales (more if you consider that book stores would take their own slice of that £7), all without any advertising or support from a publisher.

While I might think I have a great book, persuading enough people by myself to take a chance on that would probably only end in a financial loss and a box full of unsold books in my attic.

But with Amazon, if nobody ever buys a paperback copy of my book, I've lost nothing. I've spent £0 in printing costs, and nor have Amazon, because none have been printed. The only way a book gets printed is if someone wants to buy it, and Amazon only prints as many copies as there are customers. So there is no upfront financial cost to me, and no box of unsold books under the bed at the end of it all. And I haven't had to spend my days off lugging a suitcase full of novels around my local bookshops trying to persuade them to stock a novel with the words "Naked Girl" in the title.

(That's not to say you can't do that if you don't want to. Amazon offers authors the option to buy copies of their book at only the cost of printing, they are then free to sell these on if they wish, using the exact same model as the old vanity publishers; the difference is you don't have to do this).

It seems ideal, but it's not as revolutionary or beneficial as it might first appear.

Because these are in effect bespoke printings, the cost of printing is quite substantial. Publishing houses manage to keep overheads low by printing in large quantities; the more copies you print, the less per copy it costs (up to a point). I work in my 'real' job with print and editing so I know this; but it is true for all manufacturing I think; if you're setting up a printing press or any other type of large machine, it's more viable to set up the machine and make 5000 of the same thing than make one thing once, then reset the machine to make a completely different thing, 5000 times.

But Amazon is doing things differently. I don't know enough of their business model to know if they are literally printing one copy at a time, or printing a small number in batches and storing them in their warehouses, but I suspect if it's the latter it isn't a high number (perhaps 10 copies initially, replenishing or rising according to demand). So the cost per copy for printing is much higher.

That's not a problem for Amazon because it deducts that cost from each sale; but as you as the author set the sale price of your book, it becomes your responsibility to price accordingly. Amazon adds your print cost together with their selling fee; you can't charge less than the sum of those for your book. If you want to make any money per sale, you are looking at whatever you charge on top of that; and depending on what your book is, that sum is already quite high; perhaps even more than the cost of a book you would buy in a bookshop. Which means that you risk pricing yourself out of the market for people who might actually want to read your book, the end result being your book doesn't sell as many copies because people think it's too expensive next to books from publishers who are able to keep costs lower. To keep it priced competitively, you probably have to accept that your royalties per book will be quite slender; a more expensive book will net you greater royalties, but have less chance of selling many copies.

Also, one has to ask if there is really a huge demand for paperbacks in the field of niche erotica, especially compared to e-books? Many readers of erotica are likely to prefer e-books because they sit anonymously in Kindle libraries, and can be read anywhere without inviting embarrassing judgement for being someone who likes 'dirty books'. You can hide your erotic e-books from a partner who would perhaps be upset by your enjoyment of Planet of the Nubile Teenage Nude Space Vixens or from your parents, or your children. And they don't cost a lot, so you can delete them once you've read them and not feel like you've wasted a lot of money.

Meanwhile, a paperback has to come to you via post (your family might open the packaging, or at least ask you what you'd ordered) and is then a physical object that sits on a shelf or wherever you choose to keep it, ripe for discovery by people you'd rather not find it; but you wouldn't throw it out or give it away because you paid for it. Also it's not like you can sit and read a saucy paperback on the bus without getting at least some funny looks.

Self-publishing paperbacks through Amazon isn't likely to be a path to riches and fame. So why have I done it?

I think ultimately, it was because I thought I might have a few readers who might enjoy being able to own physically a copy of my books. Those less self-conscious about having a book with the words "naked" or "nude" in the title on their bookshelf. Those who like the book covers and want to enjoy them as more than just something to be glanced at (or skipped entirely) in black and white on their Kindle.

I don't demand my readers buy my books in any format, and I certainly don't expect those who have already paid to read my work on Kindle to buy a physical copy just because one now exists. But I like that I can have the option there for those who want it.


Best Friends With a Naked Girl (Kindle and paperback) and Brave Nude World (Kindle and paperback) are available now.

Monday, 10 September 2018

Naturist

Naturism is the practice of going nude alone or socially for reasons of comfort and/or physical and mental health benefits. Naturists believe that social stigmas about nakedness as sexual when it is between men and women are unnecessary as to simply be naked is not by itself a sexual act. Most naturists also believe in the importance of self-identifying as naturist (as opposed to just enjoying nakedness namelessly without categorisation).

I’m a naturist myself and naturism (or nudism - in fiction I tend to use this term) plays a big part in my writing. Becky in Best Friends With a Naked Girl identifies as a nudist, and Brave Nude World is about an alternate version of America where public nudity becomes a protected legal behaviour - those who take advantage of this new right are called nudists. In my short stories, the protagonist of What Was Found When Lost is nude because she is visiting a nudist retreat, and Roommate’s Revenge has a nudist co-habiting with a clothed girl.

I confess that as an author who is also a naturist, the idea that fellow naturists might enjoy my stories is very appealing.  Yet, I have to also acknowledge that for many naturists, there are aspects of my work that would be problematic.

For starters, my books and stories are unashamedly erotica. Although I think they are very much on the soft-core side of the adult market (while there are sex scenes and masturbation scenes they are fairly lightweight), they are definitely "adults only".

Many naturists would likely find little to approve of in stories which use naturism, or a version thereof, as the basis for sexual escapades. After all, real naturism isn’t particularly sexy, and for the most part it isn’t done for sexual reasons (adult swinger-type resorts aside). But we live in a world that sexualises all nudity, and so people who choose to be visibly naturist are often fighting against that perception in order to gain more social acceptability for their lifestyle. When it turns up in porn and other adult entertainment, naturism is often depicted in a very unrealistic way, with the sexual possibilities of people being uninhibitedly nude together brought to the forefront; all of which gives a very misleading impression of naturism to the wider world.

So how do I, as a naturist, justify writing books in which the practice of being naked is often sexualised, when the reality for me is that naturism is not a sexual experience?

I admit it is something I have pondered myself, and my justification comes from the fact that I believe that there remains a place for sexual nudity, and that practicing naturism is less about the complete eradication of sex and more about understanding that sexual and non-sexual nudity are both good, positive things.

To any naturists concerned about my work, I would send a message that despite the fact that my stories undoubtedly use nakedness to titillate the reader and create erotic tension, I am always careful to draw a line between sexual nudity and non-sexual naturism.

In Best Friends... Becky has a conversation with Lisa where she explains how she sees a distinction between her nudist lifestyle and the exhibitionism that she also enjoys:



In Brave Nude World, a much longer conversation takes place between main character Rachel and her friend Amber, exploring how shares nudity can be both a non-sexual experience but still naturally prompt sexual thoughts in certain situations, without the innocence of nudism being harmed:


I don’t think that naturism is sexual, but I think that while we understandably benefit from drawing a line between non-sexual naturism and sexualised nudity, it doesn’t follow that sexualised nudity is bad; and if we are to truly be able to treat nakedness as natural we need to acknowledge that both can exist simultaneously.

By that, I mean that I don’t stop finding my wife attractive and her body desirable just because we practice naturism together. Likewise, just because my characters are involved in some version of nudism does not mean they are not going to explore their own sexuality and embark upon various sexual adventures in my erotic fiction (many arising from the uninhibited moments created by that nudism).

Some naturists may find this unacceptable but for the time being I am going to continue writing about themes of nakedness in a way that interests me.

I'm no hero (!) and I'm certainly not perfect. In the past I have written stories which pander to some of the least-positive porn stereotypes about naturism (although I'm proud to say the tired old 'nudist camp orgy' scenario has never been used in any of my work), but I'm not ashamed to have explored more controversial areas in my fiction, even if it would get me exiled from the 'club' of online naturists who scream "NO PORN" at the top of their lungs on Twitter.

But I'm also interested in alternative perspectives. I've not encountered many authors who manage to marry naturism and fiction in a way that creates interesting and compelling stories without acknowledging sexuality, but I'm always open to suggestions and recommendations from fellow naturists and others who might have an idea of books that do it 'right' (and don't disappear up their own fundament of dullness).

I even have long-term plans to write my own: I've begun plotting out a non-erotic romantic comedy about naturism. For those readers who want to read about naturism but are put off by themes of exhibitionism and sex scenes in my published work to date, I hope this will be more their cup of tea.

Friday, 7 September 2018

Public Nudity on the Big Screen

Regular readers of this blog and my fiction will note that I tend to stick to a few particular themes, and probably the dominant one of these is public nudity (especially where my female characters are involved). Whether they are naked in public accidentally or on purpose, whether they are embarrassed by it or love it, it happens a lot in my stories and (suffice to say) if you aren’t a fan of this trope, you’re probably not going to like my work.

I’m certainly not the only person to make use of these sort of scenes in fiction though. There’s a lot of erotica out there which has characters indulging their exhibitionist sides, some of which I have written about before.

Away from erotica, though, the trope also turns up in more mainstream works, and is perhaps most memorable when it is used in films, as the strong visual image of a person (usually an attractive actress) naked in a public place where nudity would not be expected can be very striking. In this blog I’ll talk about a few scenes of public nudity in films that I’m familiar with, a lot of which have been an influence on my own work.

(There are links to these scenes in my posts below, please be aware some of them link to adult sites as it was not possible to find the correct clips on Youtube).

Splash (1984) 

For me, my first encounter with the “beautiful woman nude in public” trope in film was the movie Splash, a romantic fantasy comedy starring Tom Hanks and Daryl Hannah. In the film Hannah plays a mermaid who saves a young boy from drowning during her own childhood, and forms a permanent connection with him. When he has another accident at sea as an adult, she saves him again and, recovering his wallet, realises she can find him and make good on their connection. In this particular film, if a mermaid leaves the water, her tail transforms into legs, so this means Hannah is able to come out of the ocean and walk on dry land as a human woman; which she does, coming ashore to New York in spectacular and memorable fashion. Because she’s spent her whole life living in the ocean as a mermaid, Hannah’s character has no concept of clothes or modesty, and her transformation between mermaid and human doesn’t magic up clothes from anywhere, so she simply gets out of the water and begins her search for Hanks’ character at the Statue of Liberty, walking around completely naked in front of dozens of tourists and other onlookers. As she’s also a mute who is unable to explain herself, she winds up arrested (for “indecent exposure”) and it’s this that leads her to finally meet up with Hanks’ character when the cops discover she has his wallet in her possession and hope he might be able to help identify her and explain why she was walking around Liberty Island in the altogether.

The film doesn’t rely on just clever photography and the reactions of the extras to convey Hannah’s nakedness either; although her breasts are covered by her long blonde hair in true “Lady Godiva” style, we see her (or her body double?) from the back as she climbs over a railing approaching the statue, and she is definitely 100% naked in that shot!

It’s particularly memorable because of Hannah’s clever portrayal of complete innocence; her character has no idea there is anything inappropriate about walking around in public with nothing on,. I think “characters with no nudity taboo” are something I’ve had a liking for ever since seeing this film and while I've not explored that particular archetype in my fiction yet, I'd love to someday.

Watch the scene here.

Roxanne (1987)

Poor Daryl Hannah!  Not only was she walking around naked in public in Splash, a few years later she had her clothes off outside again in this modern-day retelling of the play Cyrano de Bergerac, co-starring her with Steve Martin and his giant nose.

But while in Splash Hannah’s character was innocent in her lack of modesty, here Hannah’s Roxanne is embarrassingly locked out of her house naked when her robe gets irretrievably caught in the closing door. She’s forced to venture out to neighbours' in search of clothing and assistance, doing her best to cover and conceal herself, arriving at the house of Martin’s character C.D. (the local fire chief). It’s their first meeting and sets up the romantic relationship they will eventually have in a typically cute and funny way.

This is probably a more realistic depiction of a character finding themselves naked in public than the fantasy of Splash – Roxanne is a normal woman and she just finds the experience embarrassing and frustrating, and does her best to make sure that she doesn’t lose all her dignity along with her clothes by sneaking around, covering herself with her hands and hiding from view when Martin’s character answers his door, all the while impatient to get herself back into her house. But it’s pretty much the classic “locked outside naked” scene for me.

Watch the scene here.

Not Another Teen Movie (2001)

It’s safe to say the majority of scenes of public nudity that I remember seeing have come from comedies; after all, naked people are funny. While we find nudity sexy, when it’s removed from a sexy situation it often just seems absurd and comedic; never more so than in this spoof of movies like American Pie and She’s All That.

In NATM, a recurring character is Areola, the Foreign Exchange Student, played by Cerina Vincent, who is a spoof of the character Nadia from American Pie. In American Pie, Nadia was a sex object fantasy character for the main male leads, with her nonspecific ‘European-ness’ suggesting she was much more liberated in terms of sex and nudity than her American counterparts. In NATM, the film exaggerates this foreign liberated sex fantasy character to an extreme degree; Areola is completely naked in every scene of the film, walking around the corridors of the generic movie high school in nothing but shoes and a backpack.

While this is titillating to the viewer, it’s also obviously played for laughs. Nobody finds anything much amiss in the fact that Aereola is completely nude; presumably because she is the sexy foreign student stereotype in a school full of deliberate stereotypes, so of course she’s going to be naked. She seems fully self-aware of what she represents, identifying herself (in an accent which is constantly changing) as “lust object for nerd boys who cannot get American pussy” – she gets subtitles even though she is speaking English and these subtitles conveniently leave gaps between the words so they don’t cover her nipples!

It’s all very silly but the actress (Cerina Vincent, who had never done a nude scene before and found portraying a constantly naked character to be a challenge, although she ultimately enjoyed the experience) is very beautiful and the joke works.

Of course, take away the humorous context from these scenes and you have basically every ‘nude in school’ story! I also enjoy the notion of a scenario in which a character’s nakedness (which would in real life likely prompt a lot of shocked reactions) is treated by other characters as perfectly ordinary and normal.

I tried to pay ‘tribute’ to Aereola with the character of Anna in my story Nikki’s Naked Weekend – Nikki’s vaguely Eastern European neighbour (I made her Russian in the final version but I’m told she isn’t realistic a depiction of a Russian girl at all – sorry Russian readers!) who has few qualms about stripping off when hanging out with Nikki during the titular weekend.

Watch the scene here.

The Names of Love (2010)

I’ve left this satirical French sex comedy until last purely because it contains I think probably a personal favourite scene of female public nudity for me.

It’s not a well-known film and much of the humour is apparently derived from the way it plays with the mores of French political alignments and activism in a way that might not really seem as funny to someone not well-versed in these (i.e. me). Sara Forestier plays Baya, a young far-left wing activist who believes she has the perfect weapon to convert right-wingers and conservatives to her point of view; she sleeps with them and once they have enjoyed a left-wing woman sexually, they usually find themselves agreeing with her politics too.

As this is a French sex comedy we see an awful lot of Baya but amusingly this isn’t always intentional on her part (although she does have the hippyish quasi-nudist habits a lot of films give to young European lefty characters as a shorthand for their liberated, anti-bourgeois beliefs). Baya is depicted as adorably clumsy and lacking in self-awareness, her top occasionally falling open or falling down to reveal her bare breasts at inopportune moments.

This is taken to extremes in one scene in which Baya is in the middle of towelling off after a shower when she receives an urgent phone call reminding her she needs to buy someone a birthday present. Distracted and in a hurry to get on her way, she grabs her bag spectacles and slips on her shoes and leaves her apartment, bound for the Paris Metro – apparently utterly unaware that she is stark naked. She remains sufficiently distracted by her phone conversation to make it to the Metro and on to the train, before the disapproving reaction of a Muslim couple sitting opposite her finally clue her in to the fact that she’s forgotten to get dressed; she is of course then enormously embarrassed.

(Fortunately her romantic interest - amusingly already waiting for her to return to the supermarket where she had left him buying groceries for them to have a meal together - spots her walking naked through the street to the Metro station and catches up with her as she disembarks the train, loaning her his suit jacket to cover up with and end the adventure).

I legitimately love this scene because it’s so improbable. The idea that a real woman would be so scatterbrained (Baya herself exclaims "I'm so muddle-headed!") that she would actually walk out of her apartment, into the street and even wait for and board a train, all without realising she had no clothes on, is absurd; even if you were so used to nudity that you could forget to cover up before stepping outside your front door, surely the sensation of things like a breeze on rather more of your skin than you usually would alert you before you got much further? But Baya (who is very lovely) strides confidently down the street in her birthday suit completely oblivious – she even initially mistakes the reaction of the Muslim couple to the sort of disapproval she (as a liberal) expects to receive from more conservative religious types, and it’s only after a few seconds that she glances down and realises, yep, I’m naked. At which point her facial expression is perfect.

I liked this scene so much I borrowed a still from it to show my cover artist what I wanted to have on the cover of Brave Nude World:




















Watch the scene here.

There are probably many more scenes from films I have forgotten, so perhaps I'll revisit this topic in another post. Feel free to recommend any of your own favourites too.