Part of the How They Do It Series
JH: Erotica and short fiction are two of the fastest-growing categories on Amazon these days, so it makes sense that writers of short erotica would be knocking it out of the park right now. Julie Wlyd visits the lecture hall today to share tips on how to turn steamy daydreams into sales. Note: While Julie kept this article PG, some of her book descriptions and site mentions re not, so be warned before you click a link.
Julie believes adults of every age and gender need touch and sexual fulfillment, and that expanding the individual's sexual horizons leads to a rich, fulfilling life. Nothing makes her happier than to know her stories bring readers to new heights of erotic pleasure and personal acceptance.
Julie writes urban, contemporary, and always sizzling hot erotica for women and men. Sweet or rough, humorous or mysterious, Julie combines intense sexuality with literary sensibility and living, breathing characters.
You can find all at-a-glance details of all her books at her website, where she also maintains a blog. You can also find her on Tumblr (if logged in with safe mode disabled), where she curates a growing and very naughty collection of images.
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Take it away Julie...
We’ve all thought about writing short Erotica, right? I mean how hard can it be? Hit the right niche, and it’s like winning the lottery. Money for nothing. Your only concern is whether you could spend night after night writing tentacle porn and still respect yourself in the morning.
After several years of pounding out novels, the best of which barely earned me minimum wage, I decided to have a crack at it. After all, I read romance and I believe in true love. True sex, too, and the more the better. Add in the chance to actually make a living by writing, and what’s not to like?
Before I began to write, I spent two months reading almost a hundred short Erotica stories, and I discovered this:
First, probably 75 percent of the Erotica out there is mediocre to downright awful. Above that is a good tranche, maybe 20 percent or more, that’s actually pretty good, the kind of work about which you’d be wondering whether to round your 3.5 stars down to 3 or up to 4 if you left a review. And at the top is the stratosphere, a slim band of 3 to 5 percent of highly prolific authors whose work is exceptional.
I was certain I could debut squarely in the “pretty good” group, but my target, which I believed I could hit within 2-3 years if I kept at it, was the top few percenters.
Now, I’m a pantser, and short Erotica is perfect for pantsers. When your basic storyline is boy (or girl) meets boy(s) or girl(s) or vampire/werewolf/alien/tentacle monster, chemistry takes place; and after maybe one complication they consummate before either vowing eternal love or simply parting with a kiss. That’s it. Erotica may be the most character-driven fiction there is.
Plus you’re not writing a novel. Short Erotica typically runs between 6k and 15k words, with some of the more taboo material coming in as low as 3k words. And it sells. It really, honest-to-God sells, and without much marketing, too.
So I read a couple of books on the topic of writing and selling short Erotica, took a deep breath, and began to type.
I had my first characters and setup, and had decided to begin with a series because
1. I like series works, andBecause I can’t stand shoddy work, I wanted to have living, breathing characters from the get-go. Not the best move if your sole criterion is production, but I wanted fiction that would not only keep my readers turning the pages but also resonate even after the characters, and perhaps the reader, had found their happy ending. (This last, by the way, is one of the most enjoyable things about writing Erotica. In today’s bleak literary landscape of post-apocalypses and dystopias, the Erotica genre is a bright and welcoming tavern filled with hot nights and happy endings. That makes readers happy, happy enough that if you’re any good, they’ll buy the next book you write, too.)
2. When you have a few stories within the same series you can offer them as a box set and put those up for sale as well.
My first series, Exploring Erin’s Limits, is about a hardworking young woman in tech who’s about to move in with her boyfriend, whom she’ll probably marry. And Erin’s big fear is that, like so many of her friends and co-workers, their sex life will go down the pan once commitment comes into play and they embrace the security of a long-term relationship. So Erin and her BF Jake draw up a list of dares and fantasies to enact with the goal of pushing their boundaries to keep their playtime sizzling.
This is a good point at which to make the distinction between Erotica and outright porn.
Erotica typically includes at least some character and plot development as the protagonists embark on what is an essentially sexual journey. Yes, sex is the point and the (literal) climax of the story, but it’s not only about that. With porn, once you take out the sex, there’s nothing left. Characters are paper-thin at best, and plot is often nowhere.
Now, six months and fifteen short stories (around 150k words total) into my career in the genre, I’ve come to several conclusions that may be helpful if you’re considering dipping your toes in these waters.
First, it’s hard work.
Readers of short Erotica devour the stuff. If you can’t deliver at least three stories a month, you’ll find it hard to even stay relevant. My sense is that two stories a week is probably a more realistic target if you really want to do well in this field, and that’s a brutal pace to keep up. But volume production is everything in Erotica. That means writing perhaps 3k words daily, as well as doing two rewrites and making two covers, every week. Sure, you can just toss a story out now and then, but you won’t build a big name or a fan base.
Second, you’re not going to get rich overnight.
And very probably not even in a year or two unless, like E.L. James (Fifty Shades of Grey), you have the incredible fortune to catch lightning in a bottle. The authors writing how-tos about getting rich quick in erotica are, ultimately, selling books and cheerleading. I believe you can do it if you have the drive. But you will, if your work and book description are any good, see some sales from the get-go. That may be just three or four copies, but you will sell something. And these are strangers buying your book, not friends and family, and with zero marketing. And that is hugely encouraging.
Third, Amazon is king.
Go with KDP for at least one 90-day cycle, and spend some time researching your keyword use. Your book description needs to be the most compelling it can be, and your cover, though it doesn’t need to be fully professional, should at least look half decent. Or make that half indecent, but only half: go too far or show too much skin and Amazon will put your book in the adult “dungeon”, which is the kiss of death. It’s fixable, but it’s a pain.
Fourth, the competition is ferocious.
While I can see even after just six months that it’s possible to make a living writing erotica, if you don’t really enjoy writing sex scenes and aren’t terribly interested in human sexuality, this genre isn’t for you. If you’re not having fun, your reader won’t either. And Erotica is all about having fun.
Experiment a lot. There’s a bewildering variety of sub-niches in the Erotica genre and they range all the way from vanilla to ultra-taboo. Find one which sells and you enjoy, and focus on that. Keep records of your keyword usage and see which combinations of covers and keywords yield the best results.
Sixth, get some feedback.
Some of the free erotica sites like Literotica and perhaps try uploading a story or two there for feedback. There’s some good writing on these sites that’s on par with anything on Amazon, and readers are generally intelligent and generous with their critique.
Last of all, find a good pen name and use it (some writers have several for different subgenres or kinks).
Amazon and Smashwords make this very easy to do, and apart from masking your identity from people at your local PTA and your work colleagues at the bank or wherever, it’ll keep you safe from the occasional weirdo or obsessive fan who wants to be your submissive or wear your panties under his police uniform.
And right there is a story seed for you.
Have you written, or considered writing, Erotica? What was your experience?
About Exploring Erin's Limits
Erin, worried her forthcoming engagement will kill her sex life, decides to push her sexual limits into new territory. What she doesn't realize is that she's about to open a Pandora's box of lust, kink, and ever-increasing need. And once opened, that box can't ever be shut.
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