Thursday, May 31, 2012

No one ever said it would be easy...

“Lies, damned lies, and statistics” as a great man once said.

This survey by the Taleist website has been doing the rounds of the media recently. It’s interesting to see the headlines it’s generated.

“Half of self-published authors earn less than $500”
. That’s pretty good considering half of those writers (and others like them) were probably earning $0 a decade or so ago.

“Self-Publishing: under 10% of authors earn living”. And they were before…

It’s a Writer versus writer thing. People in media tend to be Writers. They have a strong vested interest in stamping on the fingers of those ‘orrible grubby hobbyist writer-types currently clambering over the ramparts and threatening to eat their lunch. And so we get “Half of self-published writers earn less than $500” instead of “Half of self-published writers earn enough extra lolly for holidays in the south of France”, or “10% of self-published writers earn enough to give their boss the finger and live the dream, baby!”

Last year I did better than the median, but I still fall more into the ‘free-holiday-somewhere’ category rather than the ‘give-the-boss-the-finger’ category. I have a day job and I write part-time in the evenings. I expect this arrangement to continue for the foreseeable future. There is nothing new with this. Look at the bio’s of your favourite authors and you’ll see many of them continued with their day jobs even after their first couple of books were published.

You become a full-time writer when you earn enough to become a full-time writer. That’s the way it’s always been.

It’s heartening to read that one in ten self-published writers managed to pass that threshold. Congratulations. Well done. I wonder what percentage of writers submitting manuscripts to publishing houses ever reach that goal. I suspect it’s much smaller.

And for the rest of us floundering around in the long tail, it’s not actually that bad. A book is like a little mini-me you cobble together from grey matter and bits of your soul. It runs out into the world like a demented little busker, eager to entertain the masses and be showered with their pennies. Then it collects those coins in its hat and brings them all back to you. And it does this year after year after year. It takes a lot of time and effort to create that mini-me, but once created it will continue to collect those pennies on its own, leaving you free to make more and more, until you have a whole army of mini-me’s out there working for you. At that point we’re talking about a lot more than pennies.

It’s not surprising that 95% considered themselves successful. They finished a book and put it out there for the world to read, an achievement in itself. They earned some money for that achievement and will likely continue to do so in the future. Most importantly, their work is out there and ready to be discovered rather than mouldering away on a slush pile or in a desk drawer somewhere.

Statistics. Make of them whatever you want…

M.E. Hydra

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Top Ten Myths About Erotica Writers

1. We're sex experts.

I can't tell you how many emails I've received over the years asking for sexual advice from readers who were sure, since I write about sex, I must have the answers they're looking for. While I, personally, do happen to have a degree in psychology, I'm not a sexual therapist and don't profess to be one. I've made my best attempts to answer questions, always with the caveat that I am not an expert. Writing about FBI agents doesn't make thriller writers qualified to guard the president and writing about sex doesn't make me qualified to tell you how to do it.  

2. We’re nymphomaniacs.

I'm sure a few of us are, but for the most part, no. I'm not having sex on every surface in my house twice a day. I'm a sex writer, and not a sex blogger, for a reason. I write about the sex lives of imaginary people, not my own. While the two may cross on occasion, that line is blurry and indefinable. The reader doesn't know which part is mine and which part belongs to the character. Don't get me wrong--I like sex. I wouldn't be writing about it if I didn't! But I'm not a nymphomaniac or a sex addict by any stretch of the imagination.

3. We're all gorgeous.

 Right. Sure we are. And all those pictures erotic authors put on their Facebook profiles are really them. We're all busty, nineteen-year-old nubile beach bunnies who love sex and writing about it in our books, just for you. And if you believe that, I've got some unicorns for sale... The fact is, I've been to gatherings of erotic writers and we're all pretty normal people. You'd never spot one of us in Target and think, "I bet she writes erotica!"  

4. We're immoral.

This is so not true. Most of us have very solid values and beliefs. Morality is a touchy subject, but the fact is that erotica writers do have morals and we're usually very clear about what they are. I wouldn't commit adultery, for example. I happen to take my marriage vows very seriously. They're sacred to me. But I also think that marriage can take place between a man and a woman, or a woman and a woman, or a man and a man, that the only thing that makes it a marriage is that sacred commitment. I think most erotica writers are probably more liberal in our moral beliefs than non-erotica writers, but for the most part we're not immoral or even non-religious. I know many Christian erotica writers, believe it or not. And many more who are spiritual and believe in a higher power.  

5. We're ashamed of what we write - that's why we use pseudonyms.

We usually use pseudonyms to protect ourselves from judgment, yes, but not because we're ashamed of what we write, but because other people are. I know some erotica writers who use their real names, and good for them! Most of those don't have children, or have children who are grown. There is a stigma in our culture about sex, unfortunately, but the labels pasted on an erotica author's forehead say far more about those applying them than they do about the writer. I'm not ashamed of anything I write, but I do go out of my way to protect my family and my children from any possible fallout from religious or anti-porn zealots. I also know that because there is a myth that erotica writers are gorgeous, immoral nymphomaniacs, many people believe we want to have sex with them, and some have even sought me out to tell me so. Writing under a pseudonym doesn't insulate me completely, but it provides another layer of protection from that sort of thing.  

6. We only write erotica for the money/attention/titillation ________ (fill-in-the-blank).

This may actually be true, for some erotica writers. But for those of us who have done it a long time, who have a bit of longevity in the genre, I don't think we set out to make a million dollars, or gain fame and fortune. Like authors in any other genre, we had a story to tell, and we told it. It just happened to involve human sexuality instead of vampires or CIA Agents. (Okay, I admit, sometimes those things mix... sometimes in the same story!)  

7. We only write erotica to pay the bills so we can write our more "meaningful" books on the side.

 I don't. I think I put a great deal of "meaningful" into my erotic work, and I hope that most erotica writers do the same. I think the good ones really do. Do I have another pen name for mainstream work? Yes. Do I consider it better or superior to the writing I do as Selena Kitt? No, I really don't.  

8. We condone doing everything we write.

This is a big one. I don't condone incest, underage sex, unsafe sex, rape, nonconsent, public sex, threesomes, group sex, eating uncooked beef or fish, driving at unsafe speeds, or any of the other things I may write about. This is the stuff of fiction. It's a fantasy. So if my characters don't put on condoms, please don't send me hate mail about how I must want everyone to get herpes. If my characters are exploring sex with a sibling, and you think that's sick, remind yourself that these two people are not only not really related--they're not real! I'm not saying you should go have sex with your brother. I'm just saying that reading about a sister and brother having taboo sex can be a hot fantasy. It can also open the door to an exploration of their feelings and the issues that come up if something like that did happen. As a writer, I admit, I like edgier topics. Not everyone does. But just because Stephen King likes to write about evil clowns doesn't mean he would condone the Shrine Circus having a "kid killing" act in their show. Let's keep it real. Or, in this case, not real, but fiction!  

9. We're ruining marriages and relationship with our "mommy-porn."

I heard a great quote from Dr. Phil the other day. He was talking about the EL James Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon and someone basically asked him this question--was this mommy-porn ruining marriages? His response? If reading a book ruined your marriage, it was already over. In my experience, most of my readers write to thank me for revitalizing their sex lives. Husbands write about their wives' new reading habits. Wives usually say, "My husband doesn't know what hit him after I read one of your books!" As far as I'm concerned, I'm having a more positive effect than a negative one.  

10. We don’t care if young children see our books, we just want the money.

This is really not true. I have called for, time and again, clear and consistent boundaries from the companies who carry my books. I'm fine with an "erotica" section that is adults only. I have kids, too, and I don't want them seeing or reading things they shouldn't before they're ready. As a parent, I know that I'm ultimately responsible for that, and I can guarantee you that my children won't ever stumble across a "Selena Kitt" book by accident. But I can't police every parent's child, only my own. For now I have to rely on parents to keep their children safe, and maybe that's the way it should be. But it doesn't mean I'm not horrified at the thought of an underage person reading my work, because I am. I don't want it to happen, and I wish parents were more responsible about keeping tabs on their kids, and that businesses were more receptive to giving parents controls that allow them to do so.

Selena Kitt
Erotic Fiction You Won't Forget

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Erotica Gravy Train

My brother-in-law says he wants to write an erotic book.

What he really means is: I want to get rich. 

Everyone is talking about erotica lately. The words "mommy-porn" are on everyone's lips, from Dr. Phil to Dr. Oz to the ladies of The View. E.L. James' "Shades" series has pushed erotica and erotic romance into the mainstream spotlight. Suddenly my "smut writing" isn't such a shameful secret the family doesn't want to talk about--oh no, not anymore--now it's a lucrative career choice!

Everyone wants to ride that erotica gravy train, bay-bee!

My brother-in-law took a look at my current success in the genre and decided that he, too, could write about inserting tab A into slot B and make a million dollars.

And he's not the only one.

I get a lot of letters asking me what amounts to: "How do I get rich writing erotica?"

It's a hard question to answer, because I didn't set out to make a million dollars writing about sex. I didn't even set out to make a million dollars as a writer. All I wanted to do was find a larger audience for my year's worth of work at Literotica.

Maybe I'm a cynic, but I have a kind of "if you build it, they will come" philosophy when it comes to this business. There is no magic wand, no secret formula for success. You have to be passionate about and love what you do, whatever it is, whether that's being a writer or being a chef or working in advertising. No one ever gets rich inserting Tab A into Slot B--or writing about it, for that matter.

If it were that simple, we'd all be doing it, right?

Writing about sex may sound simple, but it isn't. Writing itself probably looks easy-peasy from the outside. You sit at a laptop and peck away on the keyboard until you have enough words on the screen. Taa daa, you're a writer! Ask the thousands of people who fail to finish Nanowrimo every year how easy it is to write a novel, to commit to writing every single day, or even just five days a week.

I happen to love writing. I also love sex. And I have a very vivid imagination. That has served to give me a modicum of success in the erotica and erotic romance genre. I'm no E.L. James, but I'm making a very good living writing about similar topics (although I tend to push things to far edgier places!) and the market for it seems to be widening.

So if you are a writer who is looking to get on the erotica gravy-train and want to know if you can make a living doing it, my answer would be a hesitant and conditional "yes"--if you're looking for short-term gain and not long-term stability.

Right now, erotica sells, and it sells well. There are many well-known authors out there who have opted to write erotica under a pen name who are doing quite well pumping out several 2-3K shorts a week, selling them for $2.99, and in a very minimal amount of time, making enough money to quit their day jobs.

But the question is, what is erotica's future? We have to remember that self-publishing is in its infancy, and while erotica and erotic romance has absolutely and unquestionably driven the sales of Kindles and Nooks everywhere, there is no telling how stable this genre is going to be in the future. We only have to look at how often this genre has been attacked, from Amazon pulling books from their shelves, Apple removing the genre from their bestseller lists, to Paypal refusing to pay for it, to see that job-stability is an issue for erotica writers.

My feeling is that this "gold-rush" - both in self-publishing and in erotica writing - is going to end, at least as we know it. Like those who never finished Nanowrimo, there will be writers who wanted to jump on the erotica gravy train who put out a few stories, made a few sales, and gave it up because they didn't make a million in their first few months. Or, like my brother-in-law, they'll talk a lot about wanting to write it so they can get rich too...but they never will.

And yes, there will be writers who make money at it, who take advantage of the "gold-rush" and pay off their student loans, their credit card debt, maybe even their mortgages. And good for them!

But in the end, the glut of work being rushed onto Amazon's virtual shelves on a daily basis will end up settling to the bottom. Big publishing has known for a long time that the bell-curve doesn't apply to books--which is why they invest all their money into those books at the top they think will sell best. They know that most books, whether they're self-or-traditionally published, only get minimally read.

The shine is going to wear off the Kindles and the Nooks. Readers are already getting more discerning about what they're willing to download. I've seen threads on forums where readers have asked, "How do I avoid downloading ANY self-published work ever again?" because they've been burned by the unedited, poorly written stuff that people are putting out there.

The fact is that this erotica "gold-rush" thing is going to end. This genre isn't a magic bullet. And trust me when I say I'm not looking to discourage the competition. As a publisher at eXcessica, I've done more to help writers succeed in this genre, I think, than most. What I'm trying to discourage is the "get-rich-quick" mentality that breeds poorly written and edited stories and books--and the heartache and disillusionment that comes with it, when authors realize they're not making the money they wanted to.

The reality is that writing isn't easy, whether you're writing erotic or thrillers or children's books. Writers work hard (and erotica writers may even work harder... every pun intended!) and, as in any profession, the best ones make it look easy. I always know someone is following their calling when, watching them do what they love to do and are clearly very good at, I find myself wanting to do it too. So it's always a compliment to me when someone says, "Wow, you make that look easy, I want to do what you do!" But I also feel a little like Simon Cowell on American Idol - I want to keep it real. I want to encourage those who are good at it, while redirecting others toward a path that may be more suited to their talents. So the whole, "How can I get rich doing what you do?" question also rankles me because it doesn't put the focus on the writing, where it should be, but rather on the money. 

When it comes down to it, erotica is like any other genre. Writing about sex might seem titillating, but in the end, those books and stories that stand the test of time will be those written by authors who loved what they were writing about, and who conveyed that to their readers.The writing that will abide will have been written by authors who didn't worry about bottom-lines and time-investment ratios, but rather let the story lead and the characters tell their tale.

As for whether my writing will be among those?

Only time will tell!

Selena Kitt  
Erotic Fiction You Won't Forget