As some of you may have noticed, one of my best-selling titles had to undergo a title change recently. Virgin Bliss, which collects all four installments of my first story arc with Jaz Jimínez, has recently come to be called College Bliss on Amazon. Why?
Like most of the college flirtations I write about... it's complicated. You see, once upon a time a few short weeks ago, in the UK, some idiot decided to write about all the "horrible" eBooks that UK book retailer WH Smith was making available to readers by these nasty, unethical indie writers, via their eBook portal, serviced by Kobo.
A few people at WH Smith pretended to go loco and blamed Kobo. Because, you know, traditionally published stuff that's kinky is something they never sell, right? Right, all you 50 Shades of Gray readers? Is that your final answer?
Anyway, Kobo freaked out and pulled most everything out of their UK store that was indie, most particularly the stuff distributed to them by secondary sites like Smashwords and Direct2Digital. So, in effect, Kobo blamed indies, too, and also pointed fingers at their partners. Can you handle this much classy?
So, meantime, while indie authors (whether they wrote something risque or not) are being treated like carriers of the bubonic plague in Europe, Amazon gets cold feet about indies, too, and started pulling a bunch of titles from sale.
But not everything, like Kobo did. Just stuff that didn't measure up to arbitrary rules: rules mostly about book titles rather than actual content.
Gals, you've read my books. I write some risque stuff, sure, but it's all fun among consenting college-age adults.
Some of the code-words Amazon targeted were targeted because they are used in something called pseudo-incest, as well as "barely legal" stuff and whatnot. Hey, whatever, no judgment here, but that's just not the stuff I write.
So among those words targeted in titles were words like "sister," "brother," "uncle" "stepfather" and a whole lotta words with "step-" added to them as a prefix.
And also, the word "virgin."
Thus, one of my titles got pulled until I fixed it. Not that Amazon gave me the slightest clue what needed fixing. I had to beg, borrow, and inquire before I even found a hint of what had gone wrong.
Finally, some fellow writers clued me in that it was probably the word virgin in my book title, since that was the only title of mine Amazon pulled.
Virgin as a "keyword" is completely odd.
First, it's simply a medical term that indicates someone who is inexperienced, usually sexually, though virgin can mean a different type of inexperienced, or at least I hope so every time I visit the grocery store and pick up some Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
I mean, c'mon... sex is fun, but if my olive oil is sexually active, then "extra virgin" might not be enough. I'd want the super-colossal, USDA tested and approved, one-hundred-percent-guaranteed absolute virgin olive oil, please. Yikes!
Anyway, I guess the word virgin in Amazon's new Paranoid Dictionary equals "underage." I wish they would have given me a phone call about this. I would have loved to debate them on it. I can picture the conversation now:
"Hello, yes, this is Amazon. How may I help you today?"
"Yes, this is Sarah. I understand you've pulled one of my books from sale temporarily until I fix it. And even though you haven't clued me in at all as to what's suddenly wrong with my book that's been happily selling copies for the past couple years now, I understand it's the word virgin that's bugging you. Is that so?"
"Officially, I cannot confirm or deny anything."
"You'll have to some way, or I won't know what to change."
"Well, officially I can't. Unofficially, it's the title."
"Well, my title that you pulled consists of only two words. Is it the word bliss?"
"We're fine with bliss. People can be blissful."
"I should hope so. So then it's the word virgin that's got your panties in a wad?"
"C'mon, give me something to work with, here."
"Well, if it's not bliss, by process of elimination, we think you can figure out the problem."
"So it is virgin. Well, at least I know what to change now. Thanks. However, I just have to say: really? Virgin is your big problem with my book that's been selling nicely for us both for the last couple years with no complaints? Even though virginity is among the most prized states of being among certain religious and ethical moralists?"
"We have to treat everyone equally."
"That's interesting. Did you also ban the book The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides? And don't lie, because I have it on screen in front of me at this very moment."
"Well... no, obviously not."
"Why not? His book has the word virgin in it, too."
"True, but it's different."
"You're right, they are different books. My characters are a pair of college girls. Consenting adults over the age of 18. In Mr. Eugenides' book, the virgins in question are as young as the age of thirteen, with the oldest being seventeen, yet he writes extensively about their sex lives and sexuality."
"Well, that's really not the point."
"I agree. Mr. Eugenidies' book ends with all five girls attempting suicide. Three of them are immediately successful and a fourth takes her life successfully on a second attempt. By comparison, the two girls in my book receive a happy ending. Kind of makes you go hmm, doesn't it?"
"I can't comment on that."
"But I thought you said Amazon was concerned with equal treatment of all writers during this purge?"
"Mr. Eugenidies' book was traditionally published."
"True, but many traditional publishers accept and publish erotic fiction. Especially the romantic kind. And again, all my characters are above the age of consent. Which is a bit silly considering it's just a story and no one actually got kissed in the making of the book."
"Mr. Eugenidies is a literary writer, not an erotic writer."
"Seems to me his books are awfully obsessed with the sexual lives of his mostly underage characters."
"So you're saying it's because I'm an indie writer. Therefore, I cannot be trusted."
"You're indie, and you write erotica--"
"Pretty vanilla lesbian erotica, mind you."
"Whatever. You're indie, you write erotica, and you used the word virgin in your title."
"So, therefore, the only possibility is, what?"
"That you're trying to be cagey about writing about underage sex."
"Both characters are college-age girls."
"And there's nothing cagey about my books. They're erotic romances, centered around lesbian or questioning characters, and they feature a happily ever after ending. What's the problem?"
"It's just not believable."
"What's not believable?"
"That you're not trying to disguise the fact that you're writing about high school girls under the guise of calling them college girls."
"Oh, really? They live in dorms, rather than with their parents. They're said to be eighteen or older in the book. The book doesn't hide the fact that it's an erotic romance. I have no interest in writing about high school girls."
"That's what you say, but you used the word virgin in the title, so..."
"So, it's just not believable."
"Now what's not believable?"
"Let me put this simply, Miss Salari. Girls aren't virgins by the time they get to college."
"Oh, really? I mean, I imagine some are not by then, but it sounds to me like you're suggesting no girls are virgins by the time they reach college."
"That would come as a surprise to several girls I met my freshman year in college."
"That was long ago, Sarah."
"Not that long ago! And you don't get to insult me like that and call me Sarah."
"Still, today's teens are far more sexually active than in decades past."
"Oh really? So you're admitting girls are sexually active before they turn eighteen, and that's why you consider the word virgin a problem? Because if someone's a virgin, they can't be any older than eighteen. Is that right?"
"I see where you're going with this, and--"
"Do you? You're admitting that girls have sex before they turn eighteen."
"But we can't write about it, can we? Unless we're Jeffrey Eugenidies, of course. He's special, He's literary. He's also a fifty-three-year-old male writing books that drool over and ponder the sex lives of teenage girls. For him, that's okay, even with the words virgin and suicide in his book title."
"That's not quite what I said."
"Close enough. So all I need to do is change the title, right?"
"To something without the word virgin in it, yes."
"Have you ever read my book?"
"No, of course not. I don't read smut."
"Erotic romance, you mean?"
"Fine. I'll change it. But, off the record? Y'all are insane."
End of scene.
Yeah, I would have loved to have that phone-call for real.
So, anyway, that's why this...:
Now looks like this:
Boy, that just changes everything, doesn't it?
The new title isn't appearing yet on Kobo, Barnes and Noble, or Smashwords and their affiliates. Eventually, I'll get the new version out to them, as well, just for the sake of consistency, though.
Anyway, I wanted all of my readers to know: don't let the title change confuse you. College Bliss is the exact same book, on the inside, as Virgin Bliss was. There's nothing new, missing, or added. It's just a title change I was forced into because, apparently, not being named Jeffrey Eugenidies means I'm the suspected pervert.