At this point in my career I have been building an audience for my novels and blog, and I am so lucky and thankful that all of you bother to read my work. But one thing you’ll know if you’ve been a reader since the start is that I never pretend my passion isn’t also a business. I love to write. I love naughty bits. So I write about people’s naughty bits meeting and doing naughty things. It seemed rather sensible since I’ve written erotica from the time I understood the sex act. Erotica is a genre that can be lucrative and disappointing without any rhyme or reason. You can find hundreds of articles and books on writing ebooks in the genre with conflicting and contrasting experiences. The variables of success are endless, but for 2017(wow that feels weird) we can prepare ourselves for the best approaches to consistently publish erotica and make some money from erotica. So let me help you by discussing my observations and experiences thus far.
Most people who get into writing in any genre make it a black and white issue as to whether you’re in it for business or in it for passion. Well, why not both? Money ins’t the end all be all and passion doesn’t put food on the table. In my view a healthy about of pragmatic thinking is the difference between well known authors and authors with regular sales versus unknown authors and authors with low sales. I missed the big erotica booms of 2012 and 2013, but I will say you can make sales if you’re crafty, smart, and figure out your strength.
Now first let me cover a few things you need to know before thinking about writing erotica…
Don’t Think This Is Easy Money. It Is NOT.
One of the biggest complaints from people is that so many authors pop up and out after two months. People read these insane articles about authors who quit their jobs and made 20k and more in a few months off one or two books, so they assume it is easy work to make even a fraction of that. They hear the bare bones and decide to become an erotica author to make some cash because it doesn’t seem hard. Partially this is because they assume erotica isn’t “real writing”. But all writing is writing. I personally find article and essay writing (with research included) to be so much easier than erotica. I’ve done both for money and it is night and day with how easy article writing is in comparison to figuring out what is and is not a sexy description. This isn’t an easy or simple field to jump into anymore, if it ever really was. Free sites are your competition, name brand authors are your competition, and putting out consistent stories is what keeps you afloat financially.
Further hundreds of other people probably read those same articles at the exact same time , and got the same idea. The market is fucking flooded and it really is a shame because your books might get buried beneath a thousand stories. Buried beneath a thousand throbbing rods with not escape, so to speak. From my research and conversations, roughly 70% of users tapered off after a month and a half of low sales on the erotica forums. This is constant. A bunch of people come. A bunch of people don’t see that it is work, and they bury those that do, but then vanish. Writing erotica becomes a funny story for buzzfeed or slate, or coffee after dinner. When books don’t sell all those forums, facebook groups, and reddits end up full of inactive users. Amazon, smashwords, nook, and others end up flooded with generally sub-par stories. Meanwhile the authors have tossed up their hands because they didn’t make a thousand dollars in the first month. These are the writers who don’t enjoy the genre, but even those of us who love it can get bruised.
I nearly became one of those fly-by-night authors because I burnt myself out, got discouraged, and then sat on my stories for a few weeks. I expected to make $10 in the first two weeks. It took two months. The sales have no pattern other than they sell about the same rate. So how did I get back into it if I was selling so slowly and so little? I realized the stories you hear about are the exceptional ones, and that if I kept going I could make some nice pocket change for myself. The only people who really fail are the ones who got in over their head and assumed they could bulldoze through the erotica market. The people who stick with it, and built an audience of bother fellow writers and readers are the ones who have long term success. Whether they sell a few hundred books or several thousand they kept writing, kept improving their writing, and they acknowledge writing sexual material takes a ton of hard work. Even those who have failed have said to me “This shit is harder than I thought” once they realized they didn’t enjoy it after page one. You can’t do this half assed. You can’t do this for quick cash. Writing is one of the most difficult professions to be in because it is harder than it looks and it is hard because you can’t just write and be assured success. It ain’t easy.
However, if you reorient your approach and intent writing in this genre becomes easier. You have to approach this as a business and all business takes an extraordinary amount of work. That doesn’t mean it can’t be fun, but even someone who works in a sex shop has to take inventory, be familiar with most of the product, and be able to get people what they need when they come to the store. If you acknowledge this when you begin planning you stories, your persona, and your specialty then you will have a much easier go of it when things are rough.
You have to work at what you’re writing even if it is sex. Chuck Tingle isn’t famous on just laziness. Tingle’s works are parody built on word play, innuendo, and absurdity. Not to mention he is as famous as he is because he was shocking and caught the right attention, but even with that his writing takes work. Crafting the story, building the characters, and molding them in ways that make people turn to the next page (Especially if your book is available on Kindle Unlimited) is key.
And The Sad Truth Is You Will Most Likely Burn Out.
You will run out of words. You will run out of desire. You will want to take a break especially if you make this a full time job. I can turn out four short stories with basic editing in two weeks. If I push myself I could probably do six or eight stories, but that would require 8 hours of writing a day. Writing would not just be a career, but a job of taxing emotional and mental work. Marketing would be another eight hour job of more emotionally and mentally taxing work. I could do it, but the notion that you can easily do it without any stress, and then be guaranteed to make money is sorta flawed. I will tell you what a writer told me when I first got started, “Most authors I know don’t make consistent money until they have upwards of 30 books and stories on amazon”.
That’s a shit ton of writing for months or years on end. Some people really can turn out a dozen books in six months and a dozen short stories to boot. They are a lucky bunch. But you have to have a plan if you burn out. I took a break and focused on romantic stories instead alongside shorter more scene based works like Suffer Too Good and Dirty Honey.
Why? These stories are fun for me, but I’ll get back to this in a second.
Don’t Have Crazy Expectations.
I don’t expect to rent my first apartment with the money I make from my sales, but I do expect my sales to supplement my income enough where I do have an extra $30+ in my account. Not because I’m aiming low, but because I’m just starting out and while I have a ton of novels started I don’t have an editor and have to take time to edit myself. Further I’m just a realist. Some weeks I get sale after sale, my blog facilitates that. Some weeks that other authors say are hot look like chicken turds on my amazon report. Overall you have to realize that you may not be the next big thing, but you may have nice money to pocket regardless. I don’t know about you, but any money is good money.
So how do you get reasonable expectations?
Figure out what your books are worth. People, especially the fly by nighters, think if they just push a bunch of .99 cent stories of $2.99 stories they have guaranteed sales. Here’s the bloody truth, most people will think you’re writing is poop unless you’re doing short stories. What do you think of a book available for .99 cents without any special considerations? It isn’t a promotional event or presented like a freebie out of a larger collection of works. It just is .99 cents because it is. Most people want their money’s worth and a lot of erotica buyers are regular buyers, so while they want a good deal they want signs of quality. Look at the best sellers in your sub-genre and list the three most common prices for short stories, novellas, and novels. If you’re a new writer I’d suggest setting those common prices for a week or two then dropping price by a few cents or a dollar. That way you’re works are technically “on sale” which usually gets attention on distribute sites. I never sell anything over 5k words for below $3 because I put my heart and joy into my pieces no matter what genre they are.
You tell the world what you are worth, and you do it realistically. Don’t be arrogant and don’t try to be Walmart by underselling everyone else because then two things will happen: Other writers will get pissed off and you will have fewer allies(writers also read btw) and you will look bad to consumers. When you price accordingly you can form realistic expectations about how much you’ll make. I have several pen names for different genres of writing and I know exactly what I want to make with every book that is under every pen name.
Do you want to know what the base income I want is? $30 for every two books. Two times seven is 14. 14 books times $30 is $420 dollars. That is an extra $420 a year that I wouldn’t otherwise have. Now, I have high hopes, but let me bring back what my author friend said about authors needing 30 books to break the bank because it matters here. Chances are you have less than 10 buys per book, unless someone randomly picks it up and loves it enough to recommend. Unfortunately even if your book is good the saturated market may bury it. So your book is set at $4.30 with 70% royalty on Amazon which means you get $3.01 from every sale. You have to convince 10 people to buy your books every month. The biggest asset to getting those people is having reviews. Most people will not leave reviews on amazon. Some books do have 1k reviews, but I have searched through 89 pages of erotica and only found a handful. Of course, the more taboo you get the more likely you are to sell but the smaller your chance of reviews gets. It sounds easy but out of thousands of books it is hard. Some of your books won’t find an audience. Some won’t be to go on Amazon or may get taken down for being too “taboo”(because they arbitrarily decide what is, hence why people say the weekend team is a bunch of prudes). You have to have a game plan. A marketing strat. and a strength within that. I blog because I like it and because I realized all the BS about SEO and social media only works now if you have an audience previously. It’s true.
After all this…what makes selling erotica work?
Two things change the game for every writer and chime in via the comments if you have opinions on this:
- The authors of successful stories have the ability to, if not enjoy, appreciate the sexuality and sensuality of both their characters and what the audience likes.
- The author interacts with other authors and books.
Before I say another word let me preface by saying a lot of people assume erotica authors have the same kinks as their characters or experiences….Stop. That’s just not the case. Plenty of “female authors” are men or gender queer people who know female names sell more. Plenty of vanilla women write the kinkiest of bdsm erotica about things they’d never try or talk about in real life except if it is about their books.
I told you I’d get back to this eventually, didn’t I? Here is a brutal truth…you have to have a positive understanding of your writing. I spoke on this previously and have a longer post about this in the works, but here’s the shorter version: Most people don’t make money on their erotica and burn out because they don’t have any positive feeling or understanding about what the hell they’re writing. They start writing about masochism, but can’t comprehend why their character likes it. They start writing about the sensuality of demonic lovers, but find the concept laughable. They make their lead fall for a billionaire, but find the whole idea contemptuous. While you don’t have to love everything you write, you are best served by trying to grasp it. If you don’t there is a very high likelihood the sort of fun or emotional nuisance your story’s sexuality will require will be non-existent.
The second one sounds like two no brainers, right? Most authors are readers and if you read more you get better. Common sense says seek out other authors. But let me tell you that so many people write, but then admit they never read. I’m not talking about the college students who temporarily lose a taste due to having to always read or people who take a bit of a break. These are people who will say to your face that “I’m a good writer, but I hate reading”. They want to master a craft without seeing anyone else work with it. They’re swordsmen who never watch people use a sword. They think they’re excellent writers and don’t need to read, but don’t see how they are missing a valuable resource into what readers like, potential inspiration, and what sells.
Not to mention they go onto those facebook pages, post a bunch of ads, and then think they’re going to get something from people.The only people that visit those pages are other authors selling shit, so the best you can do is also buy books. If you are an author or a blogger who doesn’t interact with other authors or bloggers then you’re not using your resources to the best of your abilities. Other authors will review, beta-read, edit, and promote other authors they’ve established a relationship with. If you never interact with people then you’ve limited you resources and your audience. Seek out writing communities, make a point to be active daily, make a point to offer to help out other writers, and don’t just ask for things in return. Give a little bit and you just might be surprised.
Being involved in communities is part of marketing and writing. Most people don’t do it meaningfully unless something is wrong. I like the website scribophile(thus far) because it requires you to interact by critiquing and reading others works. It forces me to so something I may not otherwise do outside of physical workshops. It exposes me to a wider range of individuals, or writers and books. If you seek out other people you broaden the people who may become your audience. In essence you can give yourself value and learn the value of others, which is all platform building is.
Hundreds of authors will sit there and tell you a thousand seemingly detailed, but ultimately vague notions about how they make a ton of money on selling erotic ebooks and how it is the easiest low involvement job in the world. But I’d rather be brutally honest and detailed so you get solid information and experience from someone who has done the research and is doing her damnedest to sell even when she’s terrible at marketing. Everything you heard about this being easy is wrong. Every story about an author breaking banks with their cash is an anomaly.
My word of warning is that if you think you will be able to pop up with a pen name throw together a story and then forget then you are sorely mistaken. Further don’t bother. I’m sorry to be cruel, and I admit this is even a touch self-serving, but there are a thousand dedicated authors who legitimately should be making more than they are who are buried because some rando thought they ‘d make hundreds in a month without having to do anything but put words on a page and press “publish”. If you are really serious about making a profit then you have to put in the work. If you want to get out a story a month, set a word length goal and write when you can. Have your partner watch the kids, stop playing your favorite video game every day after work, make a meal that lasts a few days for easy leftovers, and make time to write. This isn’t some get rich quick scheme and it is frustrating to see people act like my pursuit isn’t “real writing”, to see awesome authors vanish beneath a tidal wave of one time authors because a bunch of people read Suzy B. Buttholes account of making 30k at the end of 2016.
BUT you can bring in a relatively stable auxiliary income that can be the difference in the long term. If you write with an open mind to kinks you may not share, write with an open mind to the genre at large, recognize that all writing is hard, recognize that it will be difficult, and accept that it will demand a lot of you creativity then you are ready to start making extra income. It will take months or possibly even years, but it can happen.
Do this because you want to do it and your willing to figure out how this works. Don’t expect everyone to just go and buy it because you post ads. Don’t expect it to be easy. Don’t expect to make more than a few bucks a month until you have a catalog. Be sincere. Be honest. Be smart. Be friendly. Make money. The trick to making your erotica sell is knowing your strengths and playing to them alongside being willing to connect with people as more than a sales person. If you keep all this in mind as you pursue this weird world of words and sex then you’ll not only do fine, but you’ll do excellent. Just give it time.