Want to make some money writing erotica?
Following the huge success of E.L. James and her Fifty Shades of Grey series, there are many people who have been inspired to try their hand at writing erotica. And, who can blame them? Ms James is reported to be worth a cool $150 million as a result of her filthy fiction but is it that easy to make money in this game? The honest answer is, no and despite E.L. James’s meteoric rise to fame, writing fiction is not a guaranteed ‘get rich quick’ scheme. However, there is money to be made from naughty novels and saucy stories for those of you creative types who fancy turning your hand to writing erotica.
In this feature, we take a look at some top tips for success when it comes to making money writing erotica plus we’ll give you some advice on the best markets for selling your work.
- Ingredients for Successful Erotica
- Best Tips for Making Money Writing Erotica
- Where to Sell Your Erotic Fiction
- Writing Erotica: Inspiration
Ingredients for Successful Erotica
Writing fiction isn’t easy yet so many people think they can do it. With erotica, there is an even finer line between what is sexy and what isn’t. Getting this wrong can mean the difference between producing something that makes people hot under the collar or turning out something that leaves them cold.
Even some of the best writers in the world can’t produce sexy content. The Literary Review, a trade magazine for writers, has run an annual ‘Bad Sex in Fiction Award’ since 1993 which acknowledges poorly written prose depicting porn and dire descriptive passages that are meant to be sexy. Among the winners over the last 26 years, you can find authors such as Tom Wolfe, Ben Okri and even Morrisey who took the 2015 award with this head-scratching paragraph:
Eliza and Ezra rolled together into the one giggling snowball of full-figured copulation, screaming and shouting as they playfully bit and pulled at each other in a dangerous and clamorous rollercoaster coil of sexually violent rotation with Eliza’s breasts barrel-rolled across Ezra’s howling mouth and the pained frenzy of his bulbous salutation extenuating his excitement as it whacked and smacked its way into every muscle of Eliza’s body except for the otherwise central zone.
Maybe it was Morrisey’s use of the phrase ‘central zone’ which put readers in mind of riding an underground train in London or perhaps not everyone enjoyed his ‘bulbous salutation’?
So, what makes erotic fiction great or, more importantly, what makes it terrible?
Go Easy on the Metaphors
Another classic entry to the Bad Sex in Fiction Awards saw this entry from Saskia Goldschmidt (author of The Hormone Factory):
I unbuttoned my pants, pushing them down past my hips, and my beast, finally released from its cage, sprang up wildly. I started inching my way back up, continuing to stimulate her manually, until the beast found its way in. She opened her eyes and said softly, ‘I’m still a virgin, please be careful.’
Widely mocked by her peers for the appalling use of metaphors, Goldschmidt fell foul of one of the classic traps when writing sex scenes in literature. The over-use of metaphors instead of focusing more on the physical detail.
Sex scenes needs to be vivid and/or graphic and not confusing to the reader by using complicated metaphors and jarring similes.
This passage from Ethan Canin’s A Doubter’s Almanac is a good example of using similes immoderately:
During sex she would quiet, moving suddenly on top of him like a lion over its prey … The act itself was fervent. Like a brisk tennis game or a summer track meet, something performed in daylight between competitors.
Ditch the Clichés
Though they can be used to good effect (usually in dialogue), clichés are, more often than not, just a sign of lazy writing and should be avoided. Find another way to describe that ‘throbbing manhood’ or ‘caged beast’ and get to the point. Euphemisms are all well and good but shouldn’t get in the way of what it is that you mean to say.
Don’t Overwrite The Sex Scenes
As in real-life, a successful sex scene written in literature should be arousing and not an opportunity to show off.
Also high on the list of mistakes made by authors when it comes to demonstrating bad sex in fiction, writing ‘flowery’ passages around an erotic scene can not only jar the reader’s enjoyment but can also be confusing. Check this example out from Scoundrels: The Hunt for Hansclapp by Major Victor Cornwall and Major Arthur St John Trevelyan
Empty my tanks,” I’d begged breathlessly, as once more she began drawing me deep inside her pleasure cave. Her vaginal ratchet moved in concertina-like waves, slowly chugging my organ as a boa constrictor swallows its prey. Soon I was locked in, balls deep, ready to be ground down by the enamelled pepper mill within her.
Instead, try to focus on the simplicity of your words to describe what is going on; as Thomas Jefferson once said, “The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.”
Write What You Know
This is a classic piece of advice for any aspiring author and is based on the premise that good fiction is written by people who understand the subject (and characters) they are writing about. If you have no knowledge of the BDSM world then writing a book about an S&M club will, no doubt, fall short in the believability stakes. This is not to say that you cannot use your imagination to create something new but the best fiction comes from a place of truth.
So, let’s say you want to write a kinky thriller. Well, research can fill in those gaps with what you need in terms of the sex and the settings but your erotic writing will only come to life if you can inject some of your own self. A lot of authors do this in a veiled way by placing themselves (or a composite of people they know) within their writing. Doing this means that character can be made far more believable and help you move away from stereotypes like the ‘shy virgin’, the ‘prostitute that wants to be saved’ or ‘the powerful CEO who wants to be dominated’. All good premises but without a personality behind them, a reader just doesn’t buy into their story…..or care about what happens to them. Just make sure, if you your characters are inspired by real life people that they are sufficiently disguised enough so they are not recognizable.
At the end of the day, good erotic fiction should be good fiction. Period. Just because the aim is to excite and to titivate does not mean that you can avoid writing something with a strong plot, believable characters and with realistic dialogue.
There is a saying in the writing community (sometimes attributed to Ernest Hemmingway and other times to the sportswriter, Red Smith):
Writing is easy; all you do is sit down at a typewriter, open your veins and bleed.
Macabre? Not at all. The quote illustrates that writing fiction is about putting yourself out there and writing honestly and from the heart. In order to do this successfully, you need to be able to feel freedom in your writing.
When it comes to producing erotica, it is therefore essential that you do not feel restricted in any way. We are telling you this because many authors of erotica fiction prefer to use a pen name under which to publish their work.
The erotic fiction writer, Lily Harlem, offers this advice about granting yourself the freedom to write without any inhibitions:
I don’t want to be hindered when I write, thinking that so-and-so will read this. I’m passionate about my writing, I write even while on holiday and find it quite addictive. I don’t want anything to steal that.
Constantly thinking about what your colleagues, friends or parents(!) might think of your forays into the world of erotic fiction might distract you from producing your best work. Choosing a pen name and protecting your privacy should help.
There are plenty of people who believe that they can write erotic fiction and many people could. But, whilst you can learn the craft by putting in time and effort, the best writers are the ones that have original ideas.
There is a theory that everything that has ever been written, including TV shows, films and books, can be categorized into one (or more) of just seven plots. Sounds ridiculous doesn’t it but, when you look at these archetypes, you can easily see the similarity between Jaws and Jack and the Beanstalk (overcoming the monster), Cinderella and Brewster’s Millions, (rags to riches) Goldilocks and the Three Bears and Mad Max (voyage and return).
There will always be similarities in the stories we create but what makes some more memorable is originality.
Always do your research by reading other erotica but make sure you inject something new into the stories you are writing about. This could be a novel approach to an old classic by playing with accepted conventions or mixing genres up to create an unusual backdrop to your story.
Sure, erotica is about the sex but it’s not enough to simply throw two characters together and describe what they do to each other; you need to add context, character and plot.
Let Your Characters Speak For Themselves
Or, more accurately, get the dialogue right. Most new authors struggle with writing realistic dialogue and it is over this aspect of fiction that they fail, and often fail badly.
When writing dialogue, it pays to read the words out loud to see how they sound before committing to them to paper. Good dialogue should be authentic, brisk and true to the characters and setting. There is no point writing an historical British erotic novel if your protagonists speak in colloquial New Yorkisms.
If you are struggling for inspiration, try watching a few movies to get some hints but whatever you do, unless you are aiming for parody erotica, don’t watch porn for tips on dialogue!
Best Tips for Making Money Writing Erotica
So, now we know some of the ways to write better erotica but what are the best tips about how make money out of your erotic fiction?
Research the Competition
Before you even put pen to paper, you will need to spend a bit of time researching what kind of erotic fiction sells and the best place to start is by checking out the competition.
A quick search for ‘Erotica’ on Amazon reveals over 60,000 results for erotic fiction ranging from best-selling authors like Jilly Cooper and E.L. James to those books by unknown writers. All of these books offer a great insight into what kind of erotica is making its way to market. If its on Amazon, then its being sold and this offers valuable research insights into how you can hone your craft.
However, since Amazon changed its search algorithms a few years, it has become increasingly difficult to find self-published erotic content on their site.
BUT, there is an abundance of free erotic fiction available to read online via sites like Literotica. All amateur submissions, the material you can read here varies in terms of its appeal and its value. Certainly, as free to read, these are not authors who are making money writing erotica but purely people who are either learning their craft and seeking free advice or those who just write for enjoyment.
These sites, particularly those that offer peer-to-peer feedback, offer valuable research opportunities to see what works and what doesn’t. It can also be a great way to find inspiration; after all, there’s no such thing as a truly original idea so feel free to cherry pick the best ideas and recycle them for your own writing…..just don’t out-and-out steal anyone’s work.
However and wherever you want to research, make sure you read widely from a broad range of erotica. Soak it all up and make plenty of notes along the way.
Know Your Place in the Market
Once you have read up on some of the competition, you should have some idea about the available markets.
Erotic fiction is a genre of its own but one that has plenty of sub-genres that you can play around with before finding your own niche. Just like in regular fiction, erotica can be classified as:
- Action & Adventure
- Science Fiction
Don’t forget that there are also ways to classify your erotica beyond the genre by writing for a niche market such as the fetish community. Your historical or science fiction erotic novel could be based around smoking porn, a diaper fetish or ’looning’ for example.
Just as porn has its own niche categories, you could also focus on similar classifications like interracial, BBWs or swinging.
There’s also the specific audience you are writing for to consider. Do you imagine your readers will be male, female or a cross-section of both? Are they transgendered, gay, bisexual?
Knowing who you are writing for should help you stay on track when it comes to your content and help you create a brand with your audience (see below). After all, if you can write a successful erotic novel for the LGBTQ community then you should be able to count on support for any future books or short stories that you plan to publish.
It’s worth remembering here that, in general, women read far more than men and are more likely to be the target audience for erotica. Knowing your audience is essential if you want to engage and excite them.
Hone Your Craft
The journalist, Robert Stacy McCain sums of this next piece of advice perfectly:
Writing is a skill, not a talent, and this difference is important because a skill can be improved with practice.
In order to write erotic fiction that is good enough to sell, you need to practice and, by practicing, learn your craft. Just like with any other skill, the more time and effort you put in to studying the better you will get at it.
There is a theory that anyone can master a skill if they dedicate 10,000 hours to achieving it. Whilst this may be a little excessive, the principle is sound. In order to be a writer, you must write. As Stephen King so succinctly put it when he paraphrased the advice of Mary Heaton Vorse (“The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.”)
Writing = Ass in Chair
After all, you can’t sell your erotic fiction if you haven’t written it!
Set a daily goal of how many words you want to write and stick to it.
Create a Brand
Marketing is an essential part of being an author these days and, if you don’t already have a following on social media, many mainstream agents won’t even take the time to read your manuscripts; erotic fiction or literary.
Harsh though it may seem, the fact is that it’s not as hard as you might think to build a brand around your writing and secure yourself a following.
The benefits of doing this is that you have a captive audience to share your latest erotic with but, if you do manage to gain attention with an agent then you stand a better chance of securing a traditional publishing deal. After all, a completely unknown author is far more of a risk for a publisher than one who comes to the table with a following of tens of thousands of potential readers.
Creating a brand is all about building an online profile and gaining attention for you and your work You can do this in a number of ways including joining forums, fan fiction sites, groups and literary circles.
Most authors run their own social media accounts including Facebook pages, Twitter, Instagram and blogs. These can be separate from your ‘private and personal’ handles so that you can differentiate between posts relating to your next kinky short story and that photo of your cousin’s cute puppy. Your interactions with your audience should reflect the kind of content you are producing.
Wherever you are promoting your brand, being active is essential and you should try to engage with followers on an equal footing. By this, we mean you shouldn’t be using your platform to solely market yourself but to start conversations with others, comment on conversations already in progress and prove yourself a valuable member of a group. The best brands gain trust by building relationships so spend quality time over your social media connections and make sure you aren’t just standing on a soap box hoping people will listen……make sure you’ve earned that right first.
Writing (in any genre) is a competitive market and readers have a huge choice of which books to buy, which sites to visit and which fiction to download. If you have a fan base or have started publishing work then you need to be consistent in keeping their attention. Yes, a new novel may take you several months (or years!) to produce and readers will quickly forget about your first success unless you keep them engaged.
Run your own blog or social media accounts to stay connected to your readers and make sure you answer questions, respond to comments and update your fans with new content every chance you get.
New writers that do this well can quickly see their following increase and secure a loyal fan base in return.
Maximize the Market
To gain the most profit from your erotic writing, it is essential that you make your content work as hard as possible. This means promoting it in as many ways and across as many platforms as possible but also to access as many markets as you can.
If you choose to submit your short stories to a contest or magazine then don’t limit yourself to the domestic market. European and North American (and some Asian and Central/South American) countries publish content in English. Feasibly, you could sell the same short story to two or three different publishers depending on their rules over multiple submissions. If you are bilingual then the world is your oyster.
Where to Sell Your Erotic Fiction
Okay, so you’ve mastered the art of writing erotica and have produced some great stories that tick all the right boxes but where can you publish them to generate money?
Self-publishing has moved on from the vanity format of the 1980s and 1990s. A viable alternative to securing a publishing deal in the traditional way using an agent, publisher and distributor, authors can now take full control over every aspect of their work.
With digital books being widely and cheaply available, this has been made even easier for those writers who want to go direct to market.
There are some things that you should be aware of when it comes to self-publishing that can make the difference between achieving success and, ultimately, your work languishing in those forgotten areas of the web or on a shelf in a dusty bookstore.
Firstly, it is imperative that you have your work professionally edited and proofread. When you write for a living, it is immensely difficult to see the detail of your work and to gain enough distance from the content to be able to be subjective enough to make necessary changes. Between them, an editor and proof-reader will ensure that your work is free from grammatical and spelling errors and that it makes sense. There are lots of choices when it comes to selecting the level of edit you pay for so your budget will guide you more here but try and get the best level of critique that you can afford and work on their feedback.
Secondly, the design of your cover is an essential ingredient to whether or not people buy your work. Whilst we all like to think that we cannot be easily swayed by packaging, the truth is that readers, quite literally, judge a book by its cover. In a competitive market, particularly online when people are browsing small thumbnails, a jacket design will be the only thing that differentiates your work from that of other erotic fiction writers. Engage the skills of a good graphic artist/designer to convey the sense of your work in a single image. Don’t forget the importance of font choice, colors, layout and style in order to capture what your book is all about. Make it sexy and make it stand out.
Lastly, you need to ensure that the text inside your book is typeset correctly. This is a technical skill that most self-publishing software can do for you but does need you to be familiar with the process. Self-published books are notoriously badly typeset. If necessary, get some help in this department but don’t assume that this is not important.
Traditional Print Media
Despite what some people would have you believe, the book (as in ‘paper’) is not dead yet. There are many people who would prefer to hold a physical book than to read one on their tablet, Kindle or eBook reader.
However, the rise of digital books and devices on which to read them has meant that erotica can be enjoyed in public more discreetly. In fact, it is reckoned that Kindle devices were one of the main reasons why E.L. James enjoyed the success that she did…..people could read Fifty Shades of Grey on their commute without anyone knowing what was making them smile.
So, you could still choose to publish your erotic fiction in a traditional print format but remember that this option does limit you when self-publishing. Consider how many copies you will need to print and how you will distribute these to book shops. Buying in bulk makes individual copies cheaper but you may end up with hundreds (or thousands) of copies of your book with nowhere to sell them.
A good compromise is to use Print On Demand services like Amazon’s CreateSpace to sell individual copies of your erotic novel. Marketed and sold the same way as eBooks or traditional novels, customers order a copy from Amazon who print single copies to meet each order. This does make the cost a little more expensive which can diminish the profits you make from each sale.
Alternatively, companies like Book Venture offer a halfway house with all of the support available from an agent but providing a simple route to self-publishing.
eBooks are a convenient way for people to read on the move and, as mentioned already, are very popular for fans of erotic fiction to maintain privacy. Let’s face it, not everyone would feel comfortable holding a copy of 120 Days of Sodom whilst on a busy commuter train.
Digital books are easy to bring to market and offer unknown authors the ability to publish their work and reach wider audiences.
All of these sites offer publishing software as well as frontline stores through which you can promote and sell your content.
Via Your Own Website
Whether you have self-published using one of the methods detailed above or have secured yourself a traditional publishing deal, it should go without saying that every author needs a website through which to market their work.
For most of us, the internet is the primary way that we find information about the things we want to buy so it makes sense to have a presence of your own in order to promote yourself. Your website should include the links of where to buy your work and to any reviews you have had that are worth sharing. The more links you can build to reputable sites the better the chance you have at gaining a wider reach through search engines like Google.
As mentioned above, you should be regular and consistent with adding new content to your website and use it as a way to market your brand. If you aren’t familiar with how to set up a website or blog, it would certainly be worth your while getting in some outside help. WordPress is a very simple and easy to use content management system which can be set up very quickly and cheaply.
Your website could have free downloads and extracts from your work to try and entice people to buy the whole book.
Alternatively, you could always offer entirely free content but monetize your site by promoting affiliate products that are relevant to the kind of erotica you are writing. If your website receives enough traffic, you could earn a reasonable but passive income from these advertisers.
Specialist Websites and Magazines
Depending on the kind of erotic fiction you are writing, you could try selling your work to a specialist website or magazine. Neither will make you a millionaire overnight but both could help increase your profile and help with sales of your content through other channels.
It depends on the sub-genre of what you are writing as to where you can sell your work but do a little research to find those websites that are linked to the kind of content you are producing.
Some mainstream magazines also have regular fiction features and pay writers for their submissions. Again, it is worth doing a little digging around and finding out from their websites about their submission policy and, importantly, the extent of how explicit your erotica can be.
A word of advice here. Always read the submission procedure very carefully and make sure that you follow the guidelines to the letter. If the editor wants your work in 12pt Arial, double spaced and sent with an accompanying email with the word ‘Pineapple’ in the subject header, then make sure you do it. It may all sound a bit prescriptive but it is important.
Most magazines pay around $20-$50 per short story but think about the long game here and building your brand exposure. If you are lucky enough to be featured in a popular print magazine then this will help you promote your work elsewhere.
Remember that maximizing the market means you can often resell your stories to other magazines and websites (always check the terms of your contract). Likewise, you don’t have to stick to the USA markets if you are based in North America. When it comes to writing, the whole world is your oyster.
Award winning author, Christopher Fielden has a list of magazine outlets that pay for fiction so maybe start here for your research.
As for specialist websites, if you write erotica based around a smoking fetish then you could approach relevant sites to see if they would pay for your work. Be bold and knock on a few doors; the worst that can happen is being ignored or told ‘No’. The fact is that many specialist and niche websites struggle for new content so are more likely to say ‘Yes’ than you’d think. They may not be able to pay you very much (if at all) but, again, exposure and gaining an audience through their platform may pay off long term.
Competitions and Contests
Sometimes a lucrative way to make money from writing erotica is via competitions and contests. There are some pretty big prize pools out there including some that offer five figure prizes. Okay, so these may be rarer than those that offer $100 but winning several of these each year soon adds up and, like we keep saying, can all help raise your brand profile.
Erotica is a genre that not all contests will receive submissions for but many do so check out the details before you send off your work. There are plenty of writers’ forums and sites that provide listings of writing competitions including Dystopian Stories, Neon Books, Freewrite and Reedsy.
Writing Erotica: Inspiration
And finally, if you decide you want to turn your hand at making money from writing then we’ll leave you with some last pieces of advice from the professionals who have made it their living to do so:
“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”
“Imagination is like a muscle. I found out that the more I wrote, the bigger it got.”
Philip José Farmer
“Write the kind of story you would like to read. People will give you all sorts of advice about writing, but if you are not writing something you like, no one else will like it either.”
” If you want to be a writer-stop talking about it and sit down and write!”
Featured image via Pixabay.