So there’s this–an an app called “Clean Reader” that purports to “scrub” books of offensive terms. Joanne Harris has protested; she makes the excellent point, among others, of the insulting substitution of “witch” for “bitch.” Chuck Wendig also weighed in.
I therefore wrote to Clean Reader requesting that they do not touch my books in any way, shape, or form.
On Wed, 25 Mar at 12:36 PM , Lilith Saintcrow (contact @lilithsaintcrow.com) wrote:
I am writing to object, in the strongest possible terms, to my books’ inclusion in the Clean Reader app. I find the whole idea of Bowdlerisation of authors’ works to be distasteful and déclassé in the extreme, not to mention the proposed “cleaning” to be extremely gauche and heavy-handed in its “American evangelical crackpot” focus. If I wanted to write Tipper Gore-approved tripe, I would, and there are plenty of writers who do. I do not wish to, and I object strongly to your “app” insulting my work by presuming to substitute “cleaner” words. I chose, and continue to choose, every word in every book I write for a reason, and you are not licensed, allowed, approved, or empowered to change one jot or tittle.
Frankly, I am surprised you didn’t think to offer authors the chance to opt in or out of this mutilation of their work. In any case, I am emphatically opting out. Please make absolutely certain your “app” does not touch a single one of my books. You may find my works listed on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other sites; I write fiction under my name, Lilith Saintcrow, and YA fiction under Lili St. Crow.
Please reply with confirmation that my books are not and will not be touched by this “app.” I am uninterested in whatever justification you might offer for this censorship and mutilation of literature, no matter how well-meaning.
I received this reply.
On Mar 25, 2015, at 1:58 PM, Clean Reader (cleanreader @inktera.com) wrote:
First of all, thank you for taking the time to send us your message. Your request is being implemented right now, and should be completed within the next few hours (there is a QA process to validate de-listing titles).
In fact, it is our policy to de-list any titles as requested by the author without need for explanation.
Please understand, however, that there are a fair number of mis-representations and misinformation surrounding what the Clean Reader app does and does not do. For instance:
– The app does not remove any words from a book
– The app does not change any words in a book, or replace them with alternatives
– The app does not censor any works, or limit the user’s ability to read the book in the exact form provided by the author/publisher
– The app does not change (or understand) the meaning of any phrases or text
– The app does not substitute an edited or adjusted edition of the title
– The app does not discriminate against any person on any basis
– The app does not impose any feature upon a user, with the exception of DRM-related restrictions as presented by the author/publisher
Of course, we cannot know what you’ve been told about what Clean Reader is/does. But we can tell you that all of the above-mentioned statements are true.
I think the thing that irritated me most about it was the insult to my intelligence. The disingenuousness was perhaps merely a bonus. Offering “alternative” words to “obscenities” or “curse words” is a substitution of phrases or text. (See example in this Guardian article detailing Harris’s objections.) My reply, I’m afraid, is somewhat rude and has one regrettable typo, but in my defense, I was a little vexed.
On Wed, 25 Mar at 3:30 PM , Lilith Saintcrow (contact @lilithsaintcrow.com) wrote:
Thank you for your reply.
I told you I was uninterested in whatever justification you might offer, but you persisted in sending one. I shall, therefore, reply.
Your app substitutes one word for another books according to some “cleanliness standard.” I find it disingenuous in the extreme for you to claim otherwise, when I have gone to your website and seen how the app works in your very own words. It also does change the meaning of phrases and text, by substituting other phrases and text. This is shown on your very own website. That it is the user choosing a “cleanliness level” is beside the point, especially since your “cleanliness” levels have a specific and prevailing “Christian,” “evangelical,” and, I should add, very 1950s McCarthy rubric.
If I wanted to use different words in my works, I would. I chose and choose the words in each book carefully, and they are not to be abridged or altered without my explicit consent. Your app might conceivably fall under the rubric of a “translator” program, but if my works are translated into a foreign language I work with the translator where possible, and am (this is very important) paid for the foreign-language rights. By not contacting the authors in your database (since your “list” of titles is indeed a database) and not giving them a chance to opt out of this bowdlerization (I presume you have Google, please look that up) you have committed an extremely grave error, compounded by your incredibly tone-deaf responses in social media and even in this email thread.
If readers are so offended by my dialogue/characters/plotlines, they are welcome to find other works. There are entire genres catering to such tastes. You shall not force my own books into those genres without my consent, and you shall not facilitate the dismemberment and mutilation of my work in this fashion, period, point blank.
No doubt there is money to be made catering to the fears and petty prejudices of those who wish fiction or language deboned, dethroned, denatured, or spayed, but you shall not make one red cent off doing so to my books. I would urge you to reconsider this entire debacle, but I suspect I would be wasting breath.
Please confine further replies to confirmation of my books removed from your database. I have no further time to waste today; I have books to write.
The reply I received, sent at 2:33PM PDT:
We have confirmed that your books (now and future) are unavailable for sale or discovery within the Clean Reader App.
I am a little irked at the entire thing, especially since they did not contact authors of books at risk of being Bowdlerised before listing them “for sale or discovery.” I won’t quite label that particular decision “shady as fuck” but it’s certainly an omission of what I’d think would be a necessary act of good faith or even just good business hygiene. I’m not quite sure how this got approved at the app stores (Apple and Google Play) in question, either.
For other authors wishing to object, I wrote to firstname.lastname@example.org and CC’d email@example.com; the replies all came from firstname.lastname@example.org.
Time to go back to revision.