Bethany Burke, And Issues With Blushing Books

I don’t know how I missed it in 2021 when no lesser publication than the New York Times ran a lengthy exposé-style story about Anne Wills (or Bethany Burke, as she is known in the spanking community) and problems at her Blushing Books BDSM-erotica publishing empire.

nyt headline about Blushing Books

I won’t try to summarize the article in detail; it’s long (more than 4,000 words) and contains a lot of factual reporting, which will be of interest to anybody who writes, buys, or enjoys BDSM erotica, especially spanking erotica. The headline is An Erotica Pioneer Goes From Hero To Villain For Dozens Of Authors and here’s a couple of paragraphs to give you the flavor:

In interviews with The New York Times, a dozen Blushing authors and seven former employees described a haphazardly run business that frequently failed to pay authors on time, and threatened them with lower royalties and defamation lawsuits if they defected. Some writers who spoke to The Times discovered they were not being paid for books that Blushing was selling through certain online vendors or in audio format. Others were locked into contracts that gave Blushing “permanent and exclusive” rights to their books and pen names, which publishing experts called onerous and outside of industry standards.

When asked by authors about the missing payments, Ms. Wills, 63, the chief executive, often called it an oversight or a glitch in the system. But several former employees said that delayed payments to authors were a result of Blushing’s routine mismanagement of finances.

The article dives deep into her turn-of-the-century criminal record (the reporting cites convictions for credit card fraud and embezzlement) and more recent allegations of shady-seeming business practices at her publishing house. Numerous grievances of erotica authors she has published are aired in the story, such as:

Maren Wilson, 48, who lives in Utah and often writes under the name Maren Smith, has published around 40 books with Blushing over the last 15 years, and developed a following for her “Masters of the Castle” series about an underground sex club catering to enthusiasts of bondage, dominance, sadism and masochism — B.D.S.M. She and Ms. Wills had been friendly, and she never worried about her royalties until a few years ago, when she started studying her payments more closely and saw that some titles were missing, including her book “Meeting Marshall,” for which she said she received no payments for five years.

In 2019, Ms. Wilson learned that Ms. Wills had registered a trademark for “Masters of the Castle” under the company’s name, with no mention of Ms. Wilson as the series creator. When Ms. Wilson confronted Ms. Wills, she said she was planning to transfer it to Ms. Wilson’s name, and later dropped the trademark.

Ms. Wilson is now trying to recover the rights to her remaining books with Blushing.

“I’m not stopping until I get my books back from her,” Ms. Wilson said. “This is my entire life. I support my family off of this.”

I can’t post this without disclosing my own limited history with Bethany and her websites. I was a sometimes visitor and forum user on a couple of her sites and story forums in the early aughts, and Bethany bought some paid advertising from me during Spanking Blog’s early years. I never had a business problem with her back then, but her pattern was to buy recurring advertising, and then (sometimes but not always) ghost me when it was time to renew (or decide not to renew) the advertising for another period. I didn’t lose any money, I just had the frustration and stress of trying to decide how long to let the unpaid banners run while waiting to hear if the banners would be renewed. Honestly, my conclusion at the time was that she was a bit of a flake, overwhelmed by too many business details and not enough administrative staffing help.

Fast forward a few years, and a slightly darker pattern seemed to develop. In those days link exchanges were a common practice, and from time to time Bethany or someone working for one of her many sites would contact me asking about a link exchange with Spanking Blog. We’d set up the links, and then later (weeks or months) I’d discover that my reciprocal/return link was not there. It was pretty common and not abnormal in those days for websites to lose links “honestly” when getting updated or facelifted, so I plugged this fact into my “I think the woman may be a flake” mental notes and didn’t think much of it. But it happened more times, and eventually I realized it had happened just about every time, and at that point I certainly did start to wonder if Bethany’s operation was actually shady rather than just operated by an overwhelmed flake. Lacking sufficient information to form a harsh opinion, I just stopped agreeing to new link exchanges, and that was the end of my association with the Bethany/HerWoodshed/Blushing business empire.

wayback machine showing blushing books redirect to

The only other thing I know is that Blushing Books now seems to have been partially rebranded as “Romance.Ink”, and the old Blushing Books domain now redirects to the Romance.Ink-branded site.

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