Over the past couple years, I had made it a personal project of mine to read through some older gay erotic literature from my local LGBT library. I thought it would be neat to see the evolution of the genre over the decades. Honestly, I thought I’d be reading fairly tame stuff that didn’t even compare to today’s modern smut.
Holy fuck was I wrong.
Hardball by T. Hitman, which remains the hottest book I’ve ever read, had non-stop sex that evolved into piss-play in the latter half of the book. Punk Chicken, which had an anonymous author, features a lead character who shits on guys’ chests after fucking them. And The Leatherman’s Handbook, by Larry Townsend, while technically not a novel, opened my eyes to new areas of the BDSM and leather culture that I didn’t even know existed. I also tried reading a couple other books from that library, but one was so full of shit play that I couldn’t finish it and another had content that just flat-out made me super uncomfortable.
Given the consistency of content from those books, as a few of them were from within the same decade or so, I can only make the assumption that gay erotic literature, in general, had that level of raunch and fetish. It was normal back then.
And then I look at today’s gay erotic literature and the tight bounds put on it by Amazon and other vendors, and I just see vanilla. Even the kinkiest thing on Amazon is still vanilla to what was in those books from a few decades ago.
With erotic literature, perhaps especially gay erotic literature, entering the mainstream market, writers had to tone it down. (In fact, in the backs of some of those books, it sounded like their primary way of making sales was by mail-order catalogue, not by local bookstores.) The general public has deemed erotic literature to be obscene, unless it fits within a vague, but very rigid, box.
Amazon has a reputation and a history of unilaterally deciding something is offensive and removing books, and sometimes an author’s entire catalogue, from their site. Other vendors, when media attention was drawn to the fact that they carry erotic ebooks, have cleaned out their website of “obscene” material. These vendors often act surprised that there is such “offensive” material on their website and decide to make a public showing of cleaning out the filth. But they knew it was there. They might not have known about the specific title or two that tends to spark these news articles, but they knew the quantity of erotica titles on their site and they knew the general themes of much of the ebooks. In order to save face, they have to act surprised when easily-offended people make a stink about the easy access to “porn.”
About a year ago, I embarked on a new writing journey. Knowing what gay erotic literature used to feature rather extreme stuff, and knowing that current day sales of rather vanilla erotica is likely fuelled by the fact that kinkier stuff simply isn’t available, I wondered what needs weren’t being met by the erotica-loving public. Just because several major vendor refuse to sell extreme fetish doesn’t mean there isn’t a market for it.
I set out a plan to bring back the level of kink found in those older books.
The first was to find a vendor that wasn’t so easily offended — which I found in Smashwords and Excitica. Both of them allow stuff that isn’t allowed elsewhere, but still have a few restrictions. I decided I wasn’t going to worry about making it into Smashwords’s distribution channels — all I wanted was to get it up on Smashwords, and didn’t care of iBooks or Kobo or Barnes and Noble decided they didn’t want to carry it because it was offensive to them.
Admittedly, I’m not comfortable writing everything I saw in those old books. However, I took what I was comfortable with and threw in a few other things. I’ve covered piss play, incest, and some BDSM that’s a little more extreme than one generally finds in the BDSM section of Amazon. (All characters are always over 18.) I put the books up and kept watch on sales stats.
Most of my books ended up being picked up by most of Smashwords’s distribution partners. These books would get my account banned on Amazon, but were acceptable on Barnes and Noble and Kobo. iBooks blocked some of my books, but took most of them.
The real mystery, though, was how sales dollars would compare. If this new pen name was going to depend almost exclusively on Smashwords, whereas Cameron D. James is on every major retailer site, would it even be worth my time and effort?
Surprisingly, this new pen name, despite not being on Amazon, the world’s biggest bookstore, immediately outsold everything I’ve written under any other pen name. With only a few titles and very limited distribution, this new pen name is fast becoming my bread and butter.
While I’ve always sort of accepted that one person’s obscene material is another person’s masturbation material, this experiment really hammered it home. I generally don’t talk about this pen name — indeed, I haven’t mentioned in this post what the pen name is — because in the few cases where I’ve talked about it, I see people cringing at the thought. But I’m not writing for those people. I’m writing for the people that are stuck reading poorly-written stuff over on Nifty. I’m writing for the people who want a piss play story by an author that can actually form a sentence. I’m writing for the people who have a secret fetish and are looking for a little masturbatory material.
I’ve always kind of snickered when someone tries to set up a new erotica bookstore website and makes loud statements about how major retailers tell you what is erotic and what is obscene. I used to think that these people were just bitter that they couldn’t play inside the little box that Amazon set out for them. Now, though, I agree with them. As long as it’s within the bounds of the law, no one should be telling a reader what’s obscene and what’s not.
Cameron D. James is a writer of gay erotica and M/M erotic romance; his latest release is Seduced by My Best Friend’s Dad (co-written with Sandra Claire). He is also the publisher and co-founder of Deep Desires Press a publisher of erotica and high-heat-level erotic romance. He lives in Canada, is always crushing on Starbucks baristas, and has two rescue cats. To learn more about Cameron, visit http://www.camerondjames.com.