For those of you who have only heard about the great debate going on over Smashwords‘ decision to comply with PayPal‘s demand that certain content not be allowed on sites who utilize their services here is the letter – word for word – that I received from Mark Coker.  I post this in full so you can make your own decisions and see for yourself what people are going on about.  My thoughts are below the break.

Smashwords Terms of Service Change/ Erotica

Image representing Smashwords as depicted in C...

Image via CrunchBase

February 24, 2012

Re: Your Smashwords account at

Dear Smashwords Authors, Publishers and Literary Agents,

This email is being sent to all authors, publishers and agents who have published erotica at Smashwords.  We will also post this message to Site Updates and the Press Room.

According to our records, you publish 0 erotica-categorized title(s) out of 0 title(s) now live in the Smashwords system.  This message may or may not pertain to you.

Today we are modifying our Terms of Service to clarify our policies regarding erotic fiction that contains bestiality, rape and incest.  If you write in any of these categories, please carefully read the instructions below and remove such content from Smashwords.  If you don’t write in these categories, you can disregard this message.

PayPal is requiring Smashwords to immediately begin removing the above-mentioned categories of books.  Please review your title(s) and proactively remove and archive such works if you are affected.

I apologize for the short notice, and I’m especially sorry for any financial or emotional hardship this may cause the authors and publishers affected by this change.

As you may have heard, in the last couple weeks PayPal began aggressively enforcing a prohibition against online retailers selling certain types of “obscene” content.  For good background on the issue, see this Selena Kitt post here – or here – or this Kindleboards thread here –,104604.0.html

On Saturday, February 18, PayPal’s enforcement division contacted Smashwords with an ultimatum.  As with the other ebook retailers affected by this enforcement, PayPal gave us only a few days to achieve compliance otherwise they threatened to deactivate our PayPal services.   I’ve had multiple conversations with PayPal over the last several days to better understand their requirements.  Their team has been helpful, forthcoming and supportive of the Smashwords mission.  I appreciate their willingness to engage in dialogue. Although they have tried their best to delineate their policies, gray areas remain.

Their hot buttons are bestiality, rape-for-titillation, incest and underage erotica.

The underage erotica is not a problem for us.  We already have some of the industry’s strictest policies prohibiting underage characters (we don’t even allow non-participating minors to appear in erotica), and our vetting team is always on the lookout for “barely legal” content where supposed adults are placed in underage situations.

The other three areas of bestiality, rape and incest were less well-defined in our Terms of Service ( before today.   I’ll tackle these one-by-one below, and I’ll provide you a summary of the changes that will go into effect immediately.

*Incest:*  Until now, we didn’t have a policy prohibiting incest between consenting adults, or its non-biological variation commonly known as “Pseudo-incest.”  Neither did our retailer partners.  We’ve noticed a surge of PI books over the last few months, and many of them have “Daddy” in the title.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the surge in “Daddy” titles prompted PayPal to pursue this purge (I don’t know).  PI usually explores sexual relations between consenting adult stepchildren with their step parents, or between step-siblings.  Effectively immediately, we no longer allow incest of any variety in erotica.

Like many writers, censorship of any form greatly concerns me.  It is with some reluctance that I have made the decision to prohibit incest-themed erotica at Smashwords.  Regardless of your opinion on incest, it’s a slippery slope when we allow others to control what we think and write.  Fiction is fantasy.  It’s not real.  It unfolds in our imagination.  I’ve always believed fiction writers and readers should have the freedom to explore diverse topics and situations in the privacy of their own mind.  From an imagination perspective, erotica is little different from a literary novel that puts us inside the mind of farm animals (1984), or a thriller novel that puts us inside the mind of a terrorist, or a horror novel that puts us inside the mind of an axe-murderer or their victim.  All fiction takes us somewhere.  We read fiction to be moved, and to feel. Sometimes we want to feel touched, moved, or disturbed.  A reader should have the right to feel moved however they desire to be moved.

Incest, however, carries thorny baggage.  The legality of incest is murky.  It creates a potential legal liability for Smashwords as our business and our books become more present in more jurisdictions around the world.   Anything that threatens Smashwords directly threatens our ability to serve the greater interests of all Smashwords authors, publishers, retailers and customers who rely upon us as the world’s leading distributor of indie ebooks.  The business considerations compel me to not fall on the sword for incest.  I realize this is an imperfect decision.  The slippery slope is dangerous, but I believe this imperfect decision is in the best interest of the community we serve.

*Bestiality:*  Until now, we didn’t have a stated policy regarding bestiality. I like animals.  Call me old fashioned or hypocritical (I’m not a vegetarian), but I don’t want to be a party to anyone enjoying animals for sexual gratification, for the same reason we’ve never allowed pedophilia books.  I don’t want to publish it, sell it, or distribute it.  The TOS is now modified to reflect this.  Note this does not apply to shape-shifters common in paranormal romance provided the were-creature characters are getting it on in their human form.  Sorry I need to clarify it that way, but we don’t want to see bestiality erotica masquerading as paranormal romance.

*Rape:*  Although our Terms of Service prohibits books that advocate violence against others, we did not specifically identify rape.  This was an oversight on our part.  Now we have clarified the policy.  We do not want books that contain rape for the purpose of titillation.  At Smashwords, rape has no longer has a place in erotica.  It has no place anywhere else if the purpose is to titillate.  Non-consensual BDSM – or any other form of non-consensual violence against another person – is prohibited.

*NEXT STEPS:*  If you have titles at Smashwords that are now expressly forbidden, by the end of day Monday (Feb 27), please click to your Dashboard at and click UNPUBLISH then click ARCHIVE.  This will also cause our automated systems to remove the titles from retail distribution.

DO NOT try to hide or obfuscate violating content by changing book titles, book descriptions and tags.  If we discover such shenanigans, said authors/publishers will risk account deletion and forfeiture of any accrued earnings, per our Terms of Service.

We take violations of the TOS seriously, because such violations jeopardize the opportunities for your fellow authors.

We do not want to see PayPal clamp down further against erotica.  We think our authors should be allowed to publish erotica.  Erotica, despite the attacks it faces from moralists, is a category worthy of protection.  Erotica allows readers to safely explore aspects of sexuality that they might never want to explore in the real world.

The moralists forget that we humans are all sexual creatures, and the biggest sex organ is the brain.  If it were not the case, none of us would be here. Erotica authors are facing discrimination, plain and simple.  Topics that are perfectly acceptable in mainstream fiction are verboten in erotica.  That’s not fair.  Our decisions today are imperfect.  Please, act responsibly, don’t try to game the system or publish content that pushes the limits of legality.  Help us continue to help indie authors around the world to continue to publish and distribute with freedom.

*THINGS TO AVOID:*  Avoid using words such as ‘bestiality,’ ‘rape,’ ‘incest,’ ‘underage,’ or ‘barely legal’ in book titles, book descriptions or keyword tags, otherwise Smashwords may conclude you’re violating the Terms of Service, or trying to push the limits.  If you’re writing non-erotic works, and any of these words are necessary, then you’re okay.

On Tuesday (Feb 28) we will begin removing content that we deem in violation.  When we remove a title, you will receive an email notifying you of such, and that email will append this letter along with instructions on how to notify us if we made an error.   I promise you, we will make mistakes, so please work with us, take a deep breath and honor us with your patience.

If you believe we removed something in error, please click “Comments/questions,” mention the title we removed, provide the hyperlink to said title, and provide your *calm* reasoning for why we should reconsider.

Our support team is backlogged, so it may take several days for them to respond.  As we mention in the Terms of Service, we reserve the right to remove anything for any reason.  That said, we will also try to make our decisions with care and prudence.

You might wonder if Smashwords should simply switch to a different payment provider.  It’s not so easy.  PayPal is designed into the wiring of the Smashwords platform.  They run the credit card processing for our retail store, and they’re how we pay our authors and publishers.  PayPal is also an extremely popular, trusted payment option for our customers.  It is not feasible for us to simply switch to another provider, should such a suitable provider even exist, especially with so few days notice.

Please note our Terms of Service is subject to additional modifications as we work to bring Smashwords into compliance with PayPal requirements.  Let’s hope today’s actions mark the limit of the slippery slope.

Significant gray area remain.  Erotica is still permitted, though if authors try to push the limits of what’s permitted, we risk further clamping down.  Please be responsible.  Don’t go there.   If you’re going to push the limits, push the limits of great writing, not the limits of legality.

Thank you for assisting our compliance efforts on such short notice.  We know these decisions will be upsetting to some of our authors and publishers, and for that we apologize.  We do believe, however, that these decisions will place us on a stronger footing to represent the best interests all indie authors and publishers from here forward.

Best wishes, Mark Coker Founder Smashwords

P.S.  Please contact our support team for inquiries regarding this change in our Terms of Service by clicking the “comments/questions” link at the top of any page at Smashwords.  If your inquiry regards a specific title, please include the hyperlink to the book page of that specific title.

I am at a loss for words on this. Why my own morals agree (maybe) I find the concept of censorship of any sort on an author site offensive.  Under these terms of service Henry Miller would be banned from all sites using paypal, as would PURE by Rebecca Ray, Lolita, my personal hero Anais Nin and other brilliant works of art.  For many of us, literature is a way of exorcising demons, both metaphorical and literal demons.  For those who have been sexually abused or raped, the process of writing or reading about these incidents can be cathartic and therapeutic.  Are there people who write about these things for their own pornographic and deviant pleasure, sure, but who has the right to make the decision about if this is acceptable literature or not?  Mark Coker?  PayPal?

The “hot buttons” as Mark refers to them in his letter are: “bestiality, rape-for-titillation, incest and underage erotica”.  Note these are hot buttons.  That does not mean that PayPal has limited themselves to these issues, only that these are the big ticket ones.  What’s next? GBLT erotica?  April-December?

Who has the right to limit our art?  The supreme court says no one.  Larry Flint (the disgusting perv he is) made sure that no one could limit our sexuality in print.  He fought every case that passed his way with the full tenacity of a religious zealot.  I wonder what Flint would think of this decision.  I imagine he would have a number of colorful phrases for Cocker before taking Smashwords and PayPal to court.  If only I had the money.

I currently have no titles available on Smashwords, even my erotica as it’s enrolled in KDP select.  I will continue to have no titles available there until this ruling is removed.  I encourage others to do the same.  Especially non-erotica authors.  Do you support censorship?  Because that’s all this is.

Now for some examples.  For bestiality I actually have two.  Yep, I have written TWO that would qualify under Cokers generous definition of bestiality.  He states that were-erotica is ok, provided the were in question is in their human form.  Well, what if they aren’t?

Bestiality Excerpt from Walking in the Air

Twilight Fanfiction Excerpt that received awards and RAVE reviews:

I pulled myself up onto his back, my hands deep into his fur for leverage. Throwing one leg over him I put my other arm through my back pack and wiggled around to find the most comfortable seat. His fur was shorter then during the summer but still long enough that I could put my hands in it, especially at the neck where it seemed to be the thickest. I held onto his main and smiled.

‘Giddy Up!”

I called and could feel his shoulders shake with a laugh beneath me. His massive body muscular against my legs. He stood up and I could feel the power he contained just with that one small movement. It was impossible to think of this as Jake. As much as I knew it was and that they were one in the same, this body, this form was so unrestrained and feral. Anytime I was with Pup it felt like I was the safest girl alive, until he decided I wasn’t. I placed all of my faith and trust in him knowing that at any instant he could turn on me.

I thought about Pup’s volatile nature and his ability to ease my mind without saying a word as he began to move. At first he walked slowly, letting me learn how to move with his body. His frame flexed and rolled beneath me, forcing my hips to match his rhythm. I held on tightly, afraid that at any moment he might make a sudden turn or begin to…

Mid-thought I was thrown back, only my tight hold onto him keeping me astride his powerful body. I struggled to find his new rhythm forcing my hips to move quickly against him. His stride was long and fast and I screamed with fear as a tree loomed ahead of us. But he dodged it, throwing me slightly off balance keeping our fast pace constant. The trees zipped passed us and I couldn’t keep up with the visual input of everything that could hurt me, but somehow he weaved and ducked around every danger.

I lay down on his back, bringing my arms further around his thick neck and holding onto the softer fur around the front of him. I could feel his heat against me, lulling me into safety. My body was flush against him as he moved beneath me and I could feel every step, every turn, through the muscles of his back. My body warmed up from the feeling of him rubbing against me, the oil in his fur making me slide as I moved my hips and leaned with him, able to anticipate his movements now. I tightened my thighs against his flanks, holding on with every part of me.

The speed and the friction against the front of my body was intoxicating. I couldn’t help the reaction of my body to the pressure against my core and breasts. I was feeling Pup in a whole new way. He wasn’t a pet or a toy; he was powerful and deeply masculine. The smell of him surrounded me as I buried my face into his fur and sighed before changing the movement of my hips, allowing myself to move against him instead of with him, increasing the pleasure that was building inside of me.

Was it wrong to feel this way? Was it wrong that I moaned into his fur as I rubbed myself against him, building the tension in my body? This was still Jake…if it was Jake it wouldn’t be wrong…and Pup loved me, and I loved him and they were the same… Somehow some part of me felt like I was doing something dirty, but the electric connection that tied me to him told me that no, this was right, this was what my body, our connection demanded.

As I felt the tension of my desire building his movements slowed. I controlled myself, aware now that he had been aware of everything I had done, every movement I had made. He stopped at the edge of a clearing, beautiful with crocus and bluebells and lavender growing wild in the sun. Pup lay down finally, panting from the run…maybe…

“This is beautiful” I said as I slid off of his back looking out at the open space, taken by the brightness before me after having been under the canopy of trees. “Thank you for bringing me here” I smiled turning to him, seeing his dark eyes tinged yellow and his stare intense.



“Are you ok?”

He walked toward me slowly, his large body moving deliberately with each step. I felt the hair on my arms stand up from the passion in his gaze. This was the moment when the man I loved would rip me apart, the beast inside of him bursting through, but I wasn’t afraid, I was excited…

“Pup…” I breathed as he brought his head down to mine. He moved my hair back from my neck with his snout, before burying his nose into me, inhaling loudly. I shivered from the intimacy of the contact but didn’t move away.

He pulled his head back and looked at me, his eyes yellow, his teeth slightly bared before he slowly walked around me, taking me in from every angle, every vantage. Now and then he would stop and smell me, placing his face gently against my skin. When he came back to standing before me he brought his large head to mine and leaned his forehead against mine.

“I love you Baby” I said softly, bringing my hands to his muzzle, scratching and caressing him, making him vibrate with pleasure. He pushed his head against me, forcing me to step back until I reached a tree.

He leaned away before bringing his nose to my neck; he moved it slowly down my torso, inhaling deeply as he slowly took in the smell of my body. He kneeled down and brought his snout to my waist. His nose reached me center and he pushed against me, forcing my legs to part as he inhaled deeply. It was strange and wrong and erotic but as he lifted his nose to bring pressure to my core I whimpered with the pleasure.

I saw as the air shifted, reality bent as the molecules realigned themselves bringing Jacob back to me. He was kneeling before me, his hands on my hips, his face at the button of my Jeans. I had never seen him phase before but it was beautiful. Magic was something that you can’t explain until you see it and while I knew Jake and Pup were the same, just like I knew Edward was a vampire; it was not real until this very moment.

And what about other monsters?  Non-were non-humans?  Are they animals?  What about Yeti? Or in the example of my novella Consumed by Love – Wendigo? And does the prohibition against rape make the below banned content?  She consented and then it changed.  The change, in him, in their love, in their relationship is EXACTLY what this book is about.  If it titillates you fine, there actually is a deeper meaning. What the reader takes from it isn’t really my responsibility is it?

Excerpt from Consumed by Love

He lies down next to her, stretching his long limbs out past the capacity of the bed. He never sleeps on it anymore, the hard floor being more to his new bodys liking. His long, bony fingers reach out to her, and she sighs as he runs them along her flesh. The skin on his hands is calloused and rough, but they are his, and so she loves them; just as she loves his now-pale skin and his lean physique.

Nizwia…N’gadopi… he coos into her neck, running his tongue along the scar tissue that was once her ear.

She shivers and leans into him, reaching around his body with her leg, hoping to pull him to her. As she extends what remains of her calf over him, she stretches the delicately healing skin further than it can go. She does not feel a single sensation as the scab separates, leaking the scent of fresh blood into the air.

He’s overwhelmed by the sudden onslaught of passion. His erection throbs and his mouth begins to salivate, his body desperate for her in every way. He resists, pulling away, needing fresh air to clear his mind.

She arches against him, connecting her skin to him. She brings her mouth to his, kissing him, drawing him into her. She caresses his dry tongue with hers, losing herself in the memory of who they were.

My love,” he moans, before submitting to her desire. The taste of her mouth, the scent of her arousal intermingled with blood, and the feeling of her skin against his body, is more than he can bear. Quickly, he rolls on top of her and smoothly enters her. The warmth of her inner walls envelopes him, pulling him further into insanity’s bliss.

He moves against her quickly, harder then their usual love making, and she wails in joy. He is always so gentle with her, as if she were a fragile thing, but tonight he is losing himself in her; her skin, her nerves, her very being radiating with his love. As they ride the wave of their passion, building to an impossible crest, her blood seeps onto the mattress.

The maddening smell speaks to him, mocks him, pulls at his soul. He is hungry; he is starving. Inside of her, he can feel her heart pulsing to the rhythm of their bodies, and he finds his breath is in sync with hers. When she closes her eyes and rolls her head back, the scar on her shoulder gleams in the dim light. His humanity crumbles leaving only his need.

With a final, brutal thrust, he releases himself into her. Her scream of ecstasy soon becomes a shriek as he sinks his teeth deeply into her shoulder. The old wound welcomes him like a lover lost at sea finally come home. She writhes beneath him, trying to pull away, but his strength and his instincts easily restrain her.

And what about rape that doesn’t titillate?  What about the horrible reality that every 45 seconds a woman is raped in the US.  That statistic is from 1994 by the way.  So it’s outdated and probably disgustingly low.  Do we no longer have the right to talk about what is happening to us?  Do we no longer have the right to outline our experiences in literature?  Should it titillate someone is NOT my responsibility.  What if I write something for the express purpose of titillating you in order to make you question your own pre-disposed notions of rape and rapists? What if I’m just a pervert?  What if it’s a fantasy?  Who are you, Mark Coker/Paypal to judge?  Where is the line in the sand after the wave crashes down?  This is a slippery slope.

Did you know that on Amazon there is an entire category listed as Gang Rape? Do I want to read it?  No.  Do I want my daughters to read it? No.  Do I want the men my daughters may date to read it? No.  Do I want it published? YES.

As for the underage erotica prohibition did you know that 44% of victims of rape are under age 18?  Yeah, well, I did.  Wanna guess how? Please see above for all the reasons it DOESN’T MATTER when it comes to publishing.

Now under-age erotica is a tricky subject.  There are laws against paedophilia certainly but take Rebecca Ray’s PURE again as an example.  This is one of the best books I’ve ever read and it breaks all of the rules of the Smashwords attack on freedom of speech.  Yep, I said it, I’ll say it again – attack on freedom of speech.  PURE is everything a book should be.  Engaging, thought provoking, and entertaining in it’s own twisted way.  PURE is listed under Literature/Fiction.  It could easily be listed under erotica.  Who makes the decision? The publisher.  And yet Smashwords is making it for you.

PURE by Rebecca Ray first page

Rebecca Ray wrote PURE when she was 16.  It’s not autobiographical but it’s written so well and so, um, purely, it might as well be:

I was about thirteen when I started letting the boys feel me up.  There was a whole bunch of the, four or five, and at lunchtime we’d all meet up smoking a spliff out on the pitch if it was sunny, round their table in the library if it wasn’t.  We’d all be sitting around, eating our lunches, and Joel or Craig or some other boy I didn’t really like would start putting his hand up my shirt.  Or my skirt, I had a really short skirt and fucking awful legs but I’d roll the waistband up on it to make it shorter anyway.

It was never some big major thing, they just did it while they were talking.  I guess my tits weren’t as interesting as talking about what makes the best roach material, but they kind of filled the gap between Rizla packets and tape covers.

I didn’t talk much, just listened to them.  Well everyone listened really, you didn’t have much of a choice.  I guess they hadn’t seen the sign on the wall that said SILENCE IS GOLDEN AND THIS LIBRARY IS FOR READING.  But then, they didn’t really have to pay attention to things like that because they were popular.

Mark goes on and on about trying not to game the system.  Don’t just change the category, don’t just change your tags, we will find you.  His email is full of implicit threats and justifications.  He’s apologetic on one hand that they have to stay with PayPal but in no way apologetic for his belief that their rules are right. He speaks poorly of “moralists” and then moralises.  I’m so unimpressed there aren’t even words.

So here’s what I’m going to do.  I’m calling on you to join me in a reading challenge.  For the rest of 2012, once a month I will post a book as a challenge for you to read.  This book will be against the terms of service of Smashwords.  This challenge will have two parts and two ways of winning points:

  1. post a review of the book chosen by me = 2 points
  2. post a review of another book that would be against the TOS and link to the Challenge post = 1 point.

I will randomly choose a winner each month and gift them a copy of the next month’s book. Here’s the link to the rules, I’ve also made a reading challenge and goodreads group


Other posts on this topic:

If you’ve posted about this or know anyone who has let me know and I’ll add them to the list.