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Great topic of discussion! It has certainly come up before, but moving it over to the Agora is a great way to let it all hang out.
For those who have followed my comments over AAR in the past, my stance on publishing controversial subject matter in romance or any other genre probably won’t come as a shock to anyone. I have often lamented what a shame it is for art, media, and literature that certain topics have become all but untouchable. So, should forced seduction romances be published in 2021? I say, that if a publisher is comfortable with greenlighting such content and a writer wants to explore that avenue, go for it. I certainly don’t believe in forcing anybody to write or publish forced seduction narratives, but if a publisher chooses to release that work, they need to stand behind it in the face of controversy rather than firing authors they approved in the first place. I am seeing way too many literary careers get ruined not so much because of online complaints but because of publishers’ craven reactions to said complaints.
As for pulling already published books- or soon to be published books- publishing houses need to honor their contracts instead of caving into online peer pressure at the slightest whiff of controversy. Instead of making their authors issue theatrical apologies, I would like to see more publishing houses issue statements to the effect that they are aware X book is controversial, but they have a commitment to letting adult readers decide for themselves whether or not that story is for them. If they don’t like it, they are perfectly free to read something else. And, by the way, we publish a variety of content to serve various tastes, etc.
If, however, the book in question is out of print, and they do not wish to rerelease it because of controversy, the publisher should return the rights to the author or estate to do with as he/she sees fit. What I don’t like is this increasing practice of pulling books that are 20+ years old so nobody can access them anymore. I’m not saying they should be forced to reprint them, but at least have the decency to not hold the copyright hostage. If they were to instead say, “We cannot in good conscience continue to publish this book, so we will be reverting all rights to the author/author’s estate,” I would be far less hostile to the practice. Then let the original author or the rightful owner decide if there is still a market for the controversial work instead of some big publishing house utterly afraid of the perpetually offended crowd.
For a specific book that couldn’t be published today, P.S. Your Cat is Dead immediately comes to mind. I consider this campy 1970s novel to be a proto-m/m romance because of its improbable but fun HEA, not to mention its surprisingly positive attitude toward bisexuality. But holy cow! No publisher today would want to run the risk of promoting a story that involves a homeowner slinging ethnic slurs and rape threats to a burglar he captured and tied to his kitchen table! And yes, the two of them end up together. It must be true love… ;-)