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WLC Author PR 101—Speak Out Against Censorship!

UPDATE--PayPal Reverses Its Decision and Allows Legal Fiction to be Sold on Smashwords--March 13, 2012.  A Happy Day!

Read more information on the Smashwords blog.


I've been deeply troubled by a recent censorship movement led by PayPal (and being enforced by Smashwords, Bookstrand, AllRomance and other vendors). Why should we care? Because it's the first volley in a war against our rights of free speech by a well-funded and powerful foe against legal works of fiction.

This censorship is ridiculous and insulting. I'm an adult. I can decide, on my own, what fiction that I desire to read. I do not need nor want a credit card vendor to make my decisions for me (PayPal, I want the service, not your personal views or corporate values imposed upon me). We already have safeguards, in place, through voluntary genre/adult content labeling and a robust tradition of customer reviews.

Be aware that this censorship is actually targeting a genre known as erotic fiction that is most often written and read by women. It is blatant discrimination. We must speak out against it.

I'd like to introduce you to Heather McAlendin. Her journey as an author started as a child. "I have been writing, in some capacity, since I was very young," says Heather. "I was influenced a lot from family members, as all of us were—and still are—avid readers and creative thinkers." Poetry and short stories were also a way for her to work through the typical angst experienced in her teenage years.

Heather shared that she never set out to write erotica. Her first love remains paranormal fiction such as ghost/horror tales. "As these stories progress, however, there is generally some kind of romance or sexual involvement between characters. Erotica seems to be an extension of myself as I've grown older. I've become more comfortable with myself and my sexuality. Sexuality, in its many forms is a fact of life. As a writer, life, and how and why people live, or act they way that they do, fascinates me."

She was very surprised, when on Friday, February 24th, she received a letter from Smashwords. It asked authors to unpublish their erotic eBooks if they met certain criteria as Paypal had been threatening and, in a few cases, had froze accounts of people trying to purchase these forms of erotica. "I was stunned that in this day, and age, that any company, let alone a financial transfer company, feels that they have right to determine what readers can read and what writers are publishing."

Her first reaction, after shock, was to write to Mark Coker directly and relay her dismay regarding Paypal's attempt at censorship and at Smashwords' less than supportive stance towards authors. None of her own books were affected (in terms of the erotica that PayPal is targeting, her work is considered soft), but that wasn't the point.  "As a writer, I do not appreciate being told what to write or how to write it. I figure if someone wishes to purchase a certain type of erotica, then they should be free to do so; or not do so, whatever the case may be."

Mark Coker response was not very reassuring:

   Thanks for your note, Heather,

   It's been tough, and upsetting.  This is a bad precedent - that a
   payment processor has the power to control what writers write.  If
   there's a silver lining in any of this, it's that we now have a
   direct line of communication with the folks at PayPal.  The
   executives I've worked with there are great, but unfortunately all
   of them are bound by a greater corporate construct.

In a second letter sent to all authors, publishers, and literary agents who publish erotica on Tuesday, March 27th, Smashwords further explained its position regarding this new censorship.  Basically, Smashwords is trying to meet PayPal's demands.

I have to give PayPal credit on restricting their initial crusade to erotica that features bestiality, rape, and incest—it's a smart PR move. Even fans of Laurell K. Hamilton's wonderful books that feature were-creature sex (if not in human form, it's considered bestiality), the many bestselling romances by Rosemary Rogers and others in the 1980's (rape became a huge plot device after Luke & Laura's romance on General Hospital), and V.C. Andrew's Flowers In The Attic series, will be hesitant to stand behind this singled-out group of authors. The question that I have is what will be deemed unsuitable by PayPal, next, if they succeed at this first attempt at censorship?

As Heather states, we are on "a dangerous and slippery slope. This will eventually affect more than just the publishing industry. Paypal is the preferred online financial transfer company for many businesses and industries. What is stopping Paypal from dictating whether we can buy religious work or books/products about race or politics? Anything deemed remotely 'controversial' could be next. This is no longer a grey area... It's black and white censorship."

Heather pauses and continues, "If we as writers don't agree with Paypal's actions then, we have to continue to keep talking about these issues. If you love to write and read and enjoy the freedom to choose, then don't allow Paypal to flex its financial muscle in this manner. Speak up. Speak out and speak often."

I could not agree more with Heather! I implore all authors to write a blog against censorship; discuss the historic ramifications of book banning, book burning, and censorship and why in America we have freedom of speech; tweet and retweet to educate other authors about this threat.

Speak out against censorship!

You may visit Heather at her website,, or her blog, I sincerely thank her for putting a face on this troubling issue.

Author PR 101 Blogger: Carrie Green

Carrie provides marketing and PR services in the technology field.  Her media hits include BusinessWeek, CFO, CIO, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun Times, Computerworld, Crain's Chicago Business, Entrepreneur, Fortune Small Business, Industry Standard, USA Today and the Wall Street Journal, among many others.  Projects have ranged from PR to digital content marketing along with the promotion of traditionally published business books from McGraw-Hill, Jossey-Bass (Wiley), and Edward Elgar Publishing.  She is the bestselling author of Roses Are Red, Violets Are Blue and Sugar Is Sweet.

I love comments and I will answer any questions that are posted.  Just know that if you're not registered (it's FREE) and logged-in to the site that your message will be trapped in a moderation queue.  There is also a 2-step process to posting a comment, first hit 'PREVIEW' and then 'SAVE.'  Happy Commenting!




One of the reasons why the

March 6, 2012 by Remittancegirl, 4 years 50 weeks ago
Comment id: 8376

One of the reasons why the 'paypal is a private company that has the right to pick and choose how it does business' seems so rational is, I have discovered, partly due to the fact that what they have done is so absurd.

Let me offer you a metaphor in the guise of a dialogue.

A woman steps up to the transaction counter at her bank.

"Hello, I'd like to withdraw $50 dollars from my account." She slides her withdrawal slip across under the glass barrier.

"Good morning Mrs. Smith. $50? What denomination would you like that in?"

"Two twenties and a ten, please."

"What are you going to use this for, Mrs. Smith?"

"Excuse me?"

"It's a new policy, I'm afraid. What are you going to be using this money for?"

"Hmmm. Well... I'm going to buy some books. Okay?"

"What books?"

"None of your business!"

"Oh, but I'm afraid it is our business, Mrs. Smith."

"You've got to be joking."

"I'm afraid not. We wouldn't want you to buy anything that contravened our  corporate values."

"You're a god damn bank!"

"Look, do you want the money or not, Mrs. Smith?"

Thank you for standing up and blogging about this. As an author with a title on the banned list, I am shocked, distressed and at my wit's end. I have formed a coalition of 50 writers at to try and find a way to speak with one voice and stop this before it goes further.


Great blog Carrie, as always.

March 6, 2012 by 1WriterChick, 4 years 50 weeks ago
Comment id: 8353

Great blog Carrie, as always. I made a personal choice to remove my work from Smashwords just before PayPal make their decision. It's interesting when businesses, who should be objective and unbiased, insert their personal opinions and convictions in to commerce. This makes me wonder if PayPal extends their censorship to every single 'inappropriate' transaction that occurs from Craig's List to porn sites disguised as inoccuous url's. How about author Anne Rice, who for a time penned erotica under the name A. N. Roquelaure? Do they allow consumers to purchase her books?

It's a mammoth conviction to sustain, for certain. Regardless of personal opines about Smashwords, I wonder if they were an easy target that allowed them to make a statement for whatever agenda is motivating their decision...either way, we must resist censorship unless it causes or has potential to cause physical and psychological harm to living beings. Child pornography comes to mind - I think a better focus for companies such as PayPal.

This is a double-edged sword.

March 6, 2012 by tkguthat, 4 years 50 weeks ago
Comment id: 8326

This is a double-edged sword. If I'm a private business owner, why should I be foreced to sell things that I find objectionable? Freedom goes both ways. Writers have the freedom to write, but sellers should also have the freedom to sell what they want.

The real problem is the de facto monoply PayPal has. If there were several companies that provided the service PayPal does, we wouldn't be having this conversation. Writers would simply direct their readers to the vendor that would sell their works. So, the answer is to create a company (perhaps a collective of like-minded writers could get together) that will do what PayPal won't do. To use some economics-speak, there is a demand/market, and no company to supply that demand.

Unrealistic? True, is wouldn't be easy, but the governement cannot force PayPal to be involved is certain types of sales. And writers protesting for the right to sell whatever they write (and PayPal *will* emphasize the rape, beastiality and incest aspects of their ban) is a PR battle I think writers will lose. I'm afraid I might sound Puritanical or like a Wall  Street stooge, but sadly, he who has the gold makes the rules :( They only way I see fighting PayPal (or other defacto monoplies) is to beat them at their own game, create a company that is an alternative to PayPal.

Thank you for your feedback. 

March 6, 2012 by Carrie Green, 4 years 50 weeks ago
Comment id: 8341

Thank you for your feedback.  I just want to clarify, PayPal is not selling these books and the vendors selling these books did not have an issue with them.  PayPal is refusing to allow vendors to sell the books of their choice and for readers to buy the books of their choice.  It was speculated that it actually was the popularity of certain titles that sparked PayPal's actions.

It is censorship.

Yes, thoughtful and clever censorship to pick out topics that people will be reluctant to defend.  It is well known that porn sales now equal mainstream movie sales today, but how many people would publicly admit to being customers?  Porn, whatever your objections may be, is legal.  So are these books...  PayPal has no right to censor them.

I don't write erotic fiction, however, who is to say that PayPal won't find horror objectionable next?  Not to mention books that share a killer's viewpoint as in mainstream thrillers.  As an author and a reader, I must object to censorship, whatever the target.


Ah, I used the wrong words.

March 6, 2012 by tkguthat, 4 years 50 weeks ago
Comment id: 8348

Ah, I used the wrong words. As you say, PayPal is refusing to transfer money from buyer to seller; they aren't actually selling the books. But they are involved in the transaction.

Indeed, I did *not* I expressed myself well. Let me try again with a different example. A man asks a co-worker, "Hey can you pick me up a burger at the fast food place around the corner? Here's $10."

His co-worker responds, "Sorry, I'm a vegetarian, and against factory farming and cruelty to animals."

The guy in search of a burger replies, "Come on. I'm not asking you to commit a crime. I'm not asking you to eat a burger yourself, or even to pay for it. What's the problem?"

"Sorry, my convictions prevent me from being envolved in the transaction at all."

One might say the vegatarian is being unreasonable. But why? Does he *have* to be involved in things that violate his beliefs? No way. Not in America. The guy who wants the burger is going to have to find someone else to buy it for him, or he's going to have to go buy it himself. On the other hand, if the vegetarian physically prevented burger guy or someone else from buying the burger, or if the vegetarian burned down the burger place, he would have crossed the line and violated the rights of burger guy (and several laws).

Which brings me back to the real problem being PayPal's near monoply. Vendors simply needs to come up with other ways to accept payment from buyers. It may not be as convient, but I'm pretty sure they could find a way. If this seems unreasonable to you, well I guess we'll have to agree to disagree. But thank you for the conversation. Talking and being able to disagree is what Democracy is all about.