Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Own Your Monofocus on Heterosexual Couples: Playster Media and Hallmark Publishing on Twitter

I really wanted to focus this week on prepping finally the review of the beginning of the Riley Parra series, which will be coming on Thursday, I promise. I also have a couple books I'm reading that I hope to have reviews on over the weekend. I feel like I've been soapboxing lately, but the last about two weeks in the Twitter-sphere and in some corners of publishing have also felt more like a slap to the face than usual. So, here we go, and I promise some fun squee later this week :)

Kboards is a set of forums both for Amazon Kindle customers as well as for indepdent authors. On September 1st, Elizabeth Barone posted about how her latest novel, a f/f romance Any Other Love was rejected by Playster Media for being erotica. Playster will take submissions of m/f romances, as long as they don't violate terms of service for certain acts like minors engage in sex. It doesn't take erotica. However, it definitely appears to be an outlet that doesn't draw a line at just sweet romance or fade-to-black books where there's romance but sex is kept off of the page.

Other authors who had submitted to Draft2Digital, a distributor for independent books that was serving as the gateway to get books on Playster Media, realized that books they'd submitted to Playster were being differentially treated. Writers who wrote similar heat levels in m/f and lgbt fiction noticed that while Playster Media was posting the m/f books that the lgbt books were being rejected for being "erotica" and, thus, inappropriate content.

Eventually, Draft2Digital as the intermediary was working with Playster to find out why books were rejected. Playster reported to them that some of the rejected books contained erotica that violated Terms of Service. However, that still didn't make sense to the authors who were rejected as they did not have erotica in their novels. Some literally had nothing more than kissing.

Some writers, frustrated with the seeming runaround and inconsistent at best consideration and treatment by Playster, took to Twitter to address their concerns in addition to complaining on the KBoards forums.

The initial response from Playster Media has been this:

Granted, that would be a logical defense, except for two things. First, authors like Elizabeth Barone when submitting their works to Playster never even marked their fiction with BISAC categories as "erotica" (since they weren't).

Additionally, authors have countered that narrative on Twitter as well. Author Kirby Crow had their entire Scarlet and the White Wolf series rejected for being erotica, despite it not containing teenagers or underaged indivduals in sex acts and also not being labeled as erotica by Crow when submitted to Playster. Moreover:

Yes, you read that correctly. In an almost 300,000 word series, there are five pages of regular heat levels (not erotica) sex, yet it was tagged as "erotica" and banished from the site as well.

Look, Playster Media claims that it is fixing it. It certainly has been adamant all day on Twitter repeatedly giving the same line about how all erotica was rejected axiomatically right now because of some underage sex issues that did slip in. Perhaps that's true. Perhaps they have a rogue employee who is deliberately weeding out LGBT+ stories. I honestly don't know. I'm willing to give Playster Media a chance this week now that the Labor Day holiday is over and they have all hands on deck. That said, please, Playster, don't a) try and skate by with this excuse that it was all about erotica and underaged sex slipping in when the stories rejected had neither of these issues or tags and b) as Kirby Crow pointed out, put this on the lgbt authors. If your evaluation system for material is flawed, then you need to fix that as quickly as possible.

On the other hand, if you wish to exclude LGBT+ fiction or axiomatically (and wrongly) consider all of it erotica and inappropriate for your site, then okay. That sucks for writers, but own that decision. Be open with the fact that lgbt stories are not welcome on your site, and writers and consumers will take their business elsewhere.

In other online publishers and distributors behaving with a questionable method news, I'd like to talk about Hallmark Publishing. It's a new publishing house, directly related to the Hallmark corporation and channel. It announced its opening actually in late July of 2017, during the RWA national convention and TCA week. They are basically set up to publish both novelizations of their TV movies and to also put out original, sweet romances and cozy mysteries. There is also the chance that some of the published original novels might eventually become fodder for their made-for-TV movies. Since they're new, it remains to be seen exactly how that model will work. Frankly, by focusing on romantic comedies and heartwarming holidy event films, areas that theatrical releases have tended to ignore in recent years, the Hallmark Channel has become one of the most successful networks on television.

To be fair, a lot of its narrative is the success of a business often catering to women being supported by women viewers and succeeding, which is good to hear.

That said, they have very specific guidelines for any of the romance films, heartwarming films or cozy mysteries sent to them:

Which, okay, the first restriction and most important point is that the romantic relationships in the novels must be heterosexual between a male and female (I'm going to take the wording to also indicate that transgendered love stories don't count either). I can't say I'm surprised as my mom is a huge fan of the network, and I honestly can't remember a single film with a gay character even in it as a friend or second banana. That's Hallmark's choice as a private business and in their strategy to hit their target demo, which, considering how my 67-year-old mom from originally small town North Carolina gobbles it up, I think we can pretty much guess. It sucks to have those sweet romance stories for LGBT+ individuals shut out, but that's the choice Hallmark made.

Except, did they?

They tweeted on Sunday that they are looking for "diverse" books and writers. It seemed important enough to them to use the word "diverse" twice and to use the Manuscript Wishlist (#mswl) hashtag that writers check in order to determine what editors, agents, and publishing houses are looking for and to help them perfect the targeting of their submissions. My frustration with this is that Hallmark Publishing has clearly made its choice to exclude LGBT+ stories, but they still want to present themselves as open and interested in diversity. It cannot be both. You can tweet about wanting stories from different religious, racial, ethnic, ages, and ability levels of authors and about characters that show those types of range and diversity, but you cannot and should not claim to be a diverse publishing house interested in "diverse authors" when you're excluding a substantial portion of the population.

Hallmark Publishing, please don't trick people or present an open image that doesn't reflect the publishing you're intended to do. You seem to want the credit for being pro-diversity and #weneeddiversebooks, but you're not actually living up to that projected image.

In other words, no cookie for you.


In summary, I'd like to believe that places like Playster Media and Draft2Digital have the best of intentions and are working to fix their issues as fast as they can. I do hope that it's some kind of glitch or that one or two employees are overstepping their reviewing duties and banning too much without the higher ups knowing it. I'd like to hope that, soon, Playster's actual policies and actions match exactly what it's tweeting about and telling people in forums.

As for Hallmark Publishing, they seem to have made their choice as far as which types of stories they're accepting, which is their right. However, please don't feign openess and diversity as if it were a trend, when you're excluding others. That's not fair.

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