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(CW: child sexual abuse)

Long story short: Lucia Franco wrote a book series detailing the graphic child sexual abuse of a FIFTEEN year-old gymnast by her THIRTY year-old coach. Amazon pulled the book.

Yes, you read that right: A 15 y/o girl and her 30 y/o coach. See the below links for more details, and I’ll meet you on the other side:

Worse, the book series was romanticized, and cataloged as “romance.” The first book in the series came out a couple of years ago. Then, toward the beginning of December, OnFrolic wrote a blog post and included the book on a recommended list. People complained, due to the content, and then OnFrolic removed it from their blog post and mea culpaed. Meanwhile, apparently, the sudden influx of eyeballs on the book triggered something on Amazon, and they removed the book. My guess is (I do not know this for sure) people started reading, went, EW, GROSS, and returned/reported the book. That’s a HYPOTHESIS. I don’t know for sure. I do know the book WAS removed once before from Amazon, and then reinstated after the author made some edits, so this isn’t the author’s first rodeo.

Then, all fucking hell broke loose on Twitter, with a BUNCH of us demanding the be PROPERLY CATALOGED. Mind you, the book was in KU. Most of us said hey, write the book, read the book, whatever, but under no circumstances should it EVER be categorized as “romance.” Erotica, okay, sure. Gothic horror, crime, literature–but it was NOT a ROMANCE. Romance must have an HFN/HEA and the storyline revolve around the romance. Most of us were saying hey, get it OUT of romance and move it to erotica, slap an adult tag on it, and whatever. But books like that are the reason those of us who are writing romance sometimes have to fight with Amazon NOT to put our books in erotica when it’s a tame MM or FF book.

Um, sorry, but child sexual abuse is NOT a “romance.” The hero also cheats, drugs the underaged heroine, and rapes her while she’s asleep, and films it, among other charming actions. He has sex with her without a condom and feeds her “morning after” pills as birth control.

Yeeeaaah. NOT a romance. You cannot twist any of that around enough to make it a romance without making the heroine at LEAST eighteen. Even then, it’s still abusive, but at least it’s not child-rapey.

OH, and FYI, the book takes place in part in Florida–our “age of consent” is EIGHTEEN. So the people trying to use “age of consent” laws as justification? Fails in this case, too.

Even worse? Some of the author’s “fans” started attacking and one-starring and even doxxing authors who dared to speak up against the book. Apparently, because people spoke up against a book featuring a fifteen year-old girl being raped and sexually abused by a 30 year-old coach being marketed as romance, that means they are horrible people. (sarcasm font) One author is now being targeted by a campaign of abuse and threats to get her books removed from Amazon just because she spoke out. Another author was temporarily banned from Twitter because of “reports” by sock accounts from LF’s fans, but then Twitter sorted it and reinstated the author, who is also now being targeted by a fake website set up to attack her. It’s fucking crazy.

Excuse me, but people have the right to speak out and say, “Hey, while you have the right to get your rocks off over written depictions of graphic sexual abuse of a minor by a man twice her age, we also have the right to call that gross and demand the book be PUT IN THE PROPER CATEGORY.”

FYI–that’s NOT “censorship” or “book banning.” The onus is on YOU if you feel attacked over that point of view.

There is dark irony in that the fans of a problematic book, who are screaming “censorship,” are now trying to censor people speaking out against the book.

Oh, the author didn’t tell her fans, “Hey, knock it the fuck off.” Also, her husband, who’s an attorney (according to an acknowledgement in the front of one of her books) apparently started sending out C&D letters to shut people up from speaking out about the book.


Look, if you write a fucking book and publish it, especially a book featuring romanticised child rape, be prepared to have a tough skin. Yes, it sucks to have people not like your book. Is it fun? Not unless you’re some sort of emotional masochist, no, it’s not. But it happens, especially with problematic content. Just because you love something doesn’t mean you have the right to censor people who do not love something and who voice strongly dissenting opinions on it. And if you fail to market the book properly, or market it in a way that causes pushback, own that and rectify it.

And the “well don’t read it” people are missing the point–most everyone complaining about the book is complaining the MOST about it being CATEGORIZED WRONG. Readers who don’t understand how Amazon works aren’t realizing the far deeper issue. Books like this being in the wrong category make it that much harder for other authors NOT writing problematic content, especially LGBTQA+ and BDSM books, to fight when Amazon tries to arbitrarily shove our books into adult categories when they fit the “romance” label. (Don’t tell me that’s not an issue. See the recent Hallmark assholery for removing and then reinstating a commercial featuring a FF wedding only after people stood up and howled at them for discrimination.) Don’t shit in the sandbox and NOT expect others to speak up and protest that you’re shitting in the damned sandbox! We’ve had problems with this before, with Amazon shadowbanning and removing erotica without warning or a chance to fix issues, or randomly moving books from romance into erotica even when they aren’t erotic books. So when problems like THIS crop up, it makes it even harder for all the other authors out there, meaning it can ultimately deprive readers of the books they want.

It also means that when people start denigrating the romance genre, and saying stuff like, “Well, look at that book about the gymnast and her coach. If THAT’S romance, then the romance genre is TRASH, how can you defend it?”

We CAN’T. Which is why authors have a responsibility to market their books properly and label their content warnings so readers don’t feel misled.

We’ve come a long damn way over the past decade in publishing. There is no reason NOT to properly shelve a book. The risks–pissing off unsuspecting readers who then complain to Amazon about it, and, oh yeah, PISSING OFF AMAZON–far outweigh any perceived benefits an author gets by pulling that bullshit. Because while yeah, now there’s a lot of buzz about the book, the author’s lost the most viable distributor with the largest reach.

Let’s be clear in case you missed the point–I am NOT a fan of “book banning.” I AM NOT advocating book banning. And y’all know I’m no prude.

But I draw a HARD line that if you’re going to portray a romanticized and graphically depicted sexual relationship like that, make the characters at LEAST eighteen. This would’ve been an easy fix, and just have the “hero” talk about how “young” she looks. OR, if you insist you’re going to keep the ages intact, then do NOT stick it in romance–put it in a more suitable category. Also, make sure there is a CLEARLY worded disclaimer in the book’s description. There was a bullshit “warning” about it being “taboo” but NOWHERE on the description did it clearly state the main characters’ ages. Again, that’s a HUGE #authorfail on her part. I mean, if you’re proud of your book featuring a fifteen year-old girl being raped by a thirty year-old man, then LIST IT ON THE DESCRIPTION.

You know what? There are readers out there who that is totally their jam, and they will find it BECAUSE of your warning.

But it’s STILL NOT A DAMN ROMANCE BOOK. And as a reader, damn right if I buy a book and only after I start reading it I learn that the heroine (or hero) is only fifteen fucking years old and is being sexually abused by an adult twice their age and it’s labelled as “romance,” I’m going to be fucking pissed off and return it and demand my money back and tell the retail store I bought it from WHY I want my money back.

The biggest problem is that THIS BOOK WAS INCORRECTLY CATEGORIZED. And since it was self-pubbed, that responsibility falls squarely on the author’s shoulders. If you are writing only to make money, rock on, but follow the TOS and stop doing things that screw other writers and all the readers in the process.

There was also a review for the first book in the series stating that the author ran a review promo in her readers group, exchanging reviews for entries in a giveaway. That’s against Amazon’s TOS.

Look, Amazon is a BUSINESS, and has a right to do whatever the hell they want within the law. There were some discussions that the book’s content might actually be in violation of Canada’s child pornorgraphy laws (#notanattorney), because their laws specify written content, not just visual depictions, the way US law does. IF that’s the case? Absolutely, you know Amazon’s going to yank the content in question to save their own asses.

If you are an author, abide by the damn rules. But on Amazon, if a book is listed in erotica and has the adult flag on it, you can’t do certain ad buys, you can’t make use of the “also boughts” and other visibility algorithms, etc. So this was likely (my guess) a calculated move on the author’s part to try to piggyback a non-romance book in the romance category and take her chances.

Here’s a primer on KU:

We’ve also seen this nonsense before, like in #cockygate when it FINALLY started coming out about about the book-stuffers, etc, trying to play fast and loose with Amazon’s KU rules. Those kinds of games choke out legit authors and make it difficult for authors who are writing their own books and who aren’t content mills buying ghostwritten books to make a living in KU. These are common problems many of us have known about and complained about for years, but Amazon doesn’t properly address them.

Here’s a primer on that bullshit, in case you missed it:

Here’s the other thing: if you’re an author commercializing your work, you have a responsibility to follow the rules of the sites you’re marketing your work on. There are plenty of other retail outlets out there for the author to go to sell her stuff. Including her own site. The books are available for sale in places that are not Amazon.

It is NOT “censorship” for Amazon to bounce a book/author for violating their rules. Saying you’re pissed off Amazon won’t carry a particular book, especially one that violates its TOS, is like saying you’re pissed off that a Honda car dealership refuses to sell you a brand-new Ford truck.

And it’s not “just fiction.” This kind of content marketed as a “romance” helps perpetuate rape culture and normalize abuse, especially to teenagers who might get their hands on it. This is from a victim of the Larry Nassar gymnast abuse case at Michigan State:

Monetizing and romanticizing a real-life trauma simply to make a buck is…well, GROSS. And you know what? I AM ALLOWED TO HAVE THAT OPINION. That’s not “attacking” the author. That’s not “tearing down” another author. It’s condescending to think that all authors are forced to support all other authors “just because.” I mean, seriously? I can support an author’s freedom of speech and NOT support their content or actions. I mean, there were A LOT OF US, readers and writers alike, saying, “Hey, you know, you can literally FIX all of this by making the heroine 18.” There would have pretty much been little to no controversy had the heroine been 18 to start with instead of 15.

I think that’s pretty damned helpful. It’s damned sure not “attacking” or “tearing down” the author. We were OFFERING HER AN EASY FIX TO IMPLEMENT.

I mean, it’s still problematic because of other things, but there’s no longer the child sexual abuse aspect to the plot. Oh, and apparently the author stated she considered making her TWELVE instead of fifteen because that would be more “realistic.” Okay, so which is it? Is it “just fiction,” meaning the age is arbitrary and easily changed and is irrelevant, or is it more than “just fiction,” meaning you probably should go ahead and change the age to 18.

This is TOTALLY a self-inflicted career injury. ALL the author had to do was follow Amazon’s rules. All she had to do was make the heroine 18, and the child sexual abuse aspect is GONE.

I’m NOT saying you don’t have a right to write or read whatever problematic content you want. But if you write/read problematic content, make SURE the main characters are ADULTS.

People tried to engage in whataboutism and say, “Well, what about Lolita?” That was NOT a romance. It was NEVER marketed as a romance, and if you think it was, sorry, I have a nice parting gift for you. VC Andrews’ books (Flowers In the Attic, et al) which are rapey and incesty, were sold as GOTHIC HORROR. Stephen King’s book IT was also sold as HORROR. Game of Thrones? Fantasy, NOT romance.

No, I didn’t report the books. While I support people’s rights to read/write problematic content, I also strongly remind people that responsibilities come with that. Be prepared for people NOT to agree with you. And market it PROPERLY. Include a DETAILED warning on the description so readers are aware of the content. Don’t call it a romance. Don’t try to piggyback it in romance when it’s NOT. Child sexual abuse is NOT romance. And believe me, I love me some dubcon and dark erotica–but the romantic characters MUST BE ADULTS. And the most problematic books I’ve enjoyed have been marketed as erotica, or horror, or sci-fi, or fantasy–but NOT AS ROMANCE.

For the record, I personally think it’s gross to write graphic, sexualized content for titillation about a minor being sexually abused by an adult and calling it “romance.” If you’re going to read it and get your rocks off to it, that’s your business. I support your right to do it even if I personally and viscerally disagree with you doing it.

But why is it so important, if it’s “just fiction,” that the heroine can’t be 3 years older and be 18? I have yet to have any fan of the books explain that one to me.

So read the problematic content. Write the problematic content. But follow a site’s rules or be prepared for the consequences. Also, be prepared that there will be people who don’t like the content. I’ve received pushback before from religious fundamentalists and from feminists about some of my books, especially my BDSM books. But my books feature ADULTS. Consenting ADULTS. The other irony about this situation is, literally, EVERY single real-life kinkster I’ve told about this situation has, to a person, said, “Why didn’t she just make the girl 18 to start with?” REAL-LIFE KINKSTERS are saying that.

(Comments are closed because…well, duh.)

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#childrapeisNOTromance – Why Amazon’s TOS matters when you write problematic books.