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


  1. Well said! Thanks for this, Selena!

  2. Agreed! I actually find it offensive when non-writers tell me they're going to start writing erotica to make a few bucks, insinuating that I have no real talent or skill and anyone can do what I do. I was a writer long before I dipped my feet into erotica, and I'll be a writer long after the gold-rush is over. I suspect it's the fact that I have been a professional writer since the mid 90's that my erotica has done so well. My guess would be that most (if not all) of the writers who have done well in the genre write in other genres and have been writing for years. Just a hunch.

  3. Wow, great post, Selena. Thanks to this post, and its candid approach to the truth about the erotica genre, I'm now the newest follower to this blog. I happend upon this blog through a facebook post and now I'm hooked. I'll be lurking around, waiting for more gems of knowledge from now on.

  4. Hi, Selena,
    You made some really good points. I've been writing for over 35 years, and have only begun to see some progress since I got a laptop, the internet, and went on Amazon, so you are so right It takes time and one has to do it because he/she loves it.
    And you are right about some of the poor work out there screwing things up for the rest of us. The mis-spellings are just mind-boggling, and the poor use of grammer can go on and on....
    Thanks for the platform to rant!

  5. In addition to everything you've said, I think people need to understand that there are also widely published, well-established, well-respected erotica writers working in the genre long-term who still do not make what could be called "a living" from their earnings--even when the genre is booming. There are a lot of variables that factor in to an author's actual writing income; and I'm sure I'm not the only of us whose annual income has never been at the "I make a living from this" level. I say this at the risk of embarrassing myself among my peers--but I say it because I think it's important that people looking at careers in this genre (or already embarked on them) understand the extent to which earnings are very unpredictable, even when one might be successful by other measures.

  6. Well said, Jeremy (and, of course, Selena!). I've always thought that the "true" writers out there will do it regardless of pay, and usually in spite of it. Writers write because they must, because they love it, because they're compelled to do it--that goes for all types of writers, including erotica wordsmiths!

  7. 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. Online Bingo