My Letter to Mark Coker of Smashwords

Yesterday, I wrote a post about receiving a request from Smashwords to remove CRUSHED due to concerns of a TOS violation – specifically this clause:

• if you publish erotica content, neither the book cover nor the book interior may contain graphic images of nudity (either photographic or illustrated) or persons involved in sex acts, and does not include children or underage minors engaged in sexual acts or situations, witnessing such situations, considering sexual acts, or thinking about sexual acts.  Fine art books of a non-erotic nature that contain nudity may be accepted on a case by case basis at the sole discretion of Smashwords and/or its retail partners.

Wanting more clarification, I emailed Smashwords, and this is what I received back:

Good afternoon, Dawn.

Fletch doesn’t turn 18 until Chapter 17 of the book, but there are fantasies and implications of sex happening before then; these aren’t acceptable.

In the description of the book, Fletch is described as a 17-year-old womanizer.

You also make no mention at the beginning that all characters involved in sexual acts are over the age of 18.

Best wishes,
Aaron

So, I did what any writer would do: wrote a letter to the head of Smashwords, Mark Coker.

Hi Mark,

My name is Dawn Rae Miller and I recently uploaded my new book, CRUSHED to Smashwords. CRUSHED is a upper YA book, and contains mature language and sexual situations involving a group of high school seniors.

After receiving a notice that my book violated the Smashwords TOS, I promptly removed it. At that time, I re-read the TOS and, finding it confusing, asked my attorney to look at it also. We decided the best thing to do was create a special Smashwords edition that toned down the two scenes in question, much like an alternate radio cut of a song.

However, late yesterday, I received the following email from a Smashword reviewer named Aaron:

Good afternoon, Dawn.

Fletch doesn’t turn 18 until Chapter 17 of the book, but there are fantasies and implications of sex happening before then; these aren’t acceptable.

In the description of the book, Fletch is described as a 17-year-old womanizer.

You also make no mention at the beginning that all characters involved in sexual acts are over the age of 18.

Best wishes,
Aaron

WHOA. The clause he’s referring to is broad reaching and badly defined. No where do does it define erotica content or sexual situations. Is kissing sexual? What about fade to black scenes since they imply sex? What about heavy petting? What exactly is sexual content? Granted my book does contain more intense sex scenes, but they are in no way titillating, nor are intended to cause arousal in the reader in the way erotica does.

And how in the world do you have a YA ROMANCE category and not allow underage characters to think about, engage, witness, or consider sexual acts?

I understand Smashwords is a private company and respect your right to distribute the materials you see fit. However, I think there needs to be consistency and clear definitions, rather than various individuals with possibly different views making the call.

I’m happy to provide you with a copy of CRUSHED for review.

Thank you for taking the time to hear my concerns.

All the best,

Dawn

I don’t know if I’ll ever hear back from Mr. Coker, but I think it’s important that he be aware how ambiguous this particular clause is, and how broadly it could be applied if not better defined.

What do you guys think, is the clause clear and apply to any sort of sexual contact, etc between minors; or does it apply solely to erotic content?

EDIT: I heard back from Mark Coker, CEO of Smashwords, this evening. First, I’m impressed he took the time to write me personally, and little things like that mean a lot to me. Second, he offered to have CRUSHED re-reviewed. Even if the outcome is the same, I’m happy Smashwords and Mark took my concerns seriously.

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5 thoughts on “My Letter to Mark Coker of Smashwords

  1. Ah, Aaron replied….let’s just say I’m not surprised he’s giving you trouble. He’s the one not-nice employee over there.

    • Thanks, Lynsey. I understand why they’ve taken the position they have due to their issues with PayPal. However, if you’re going to not allow something, you need to clearly define the terms and not leave it up to individuals – who may have differing opinions – define it on a case-by-case basis.

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