employment, finances, resources

Self-Publishing Erotica 101

March 16, 2015

orphan survival guide - social media - self-publishing erotica 101

Taking four writing-intensive college courses pushing the blog and working full-time just isn’t enough responsibility and stress. This year I decided to pursue a new career that I’d actually been considering for a few years now: self-publishing ebooks.

Specifically, I’ve been self-publishing erotica ebooks.

Now, there are plenty of blogs out there that will tell you how to turn your blog posts into a pretty ebook and then put them up on Kindle and wait for them to sell–but how much money do those really make?

But there’s always money in porn.

Part of my mini-bio has always said when I was a young girl, my parents would not let me read romance novels, so now I write them out of spite.

For the last two years, I’ve joked with my bestie (and now writing partner) that I should quit my jobs and just write dinosaur porn. I figured it would be easy to do, because most of the books we saw were of questionable quality and I spent most of my adult life reading nothing but fanfic and romance novels. I should have this stuff locked down, right?

Every so often we’d challenge each other to finish a story by a specific date–the first week of classes, our birthdays, the end of NaNoWriMo…

When the Fifty Shades movie came out, we knew we had to get started so we could capitalize on that. So we published our first stories on February 13. We made a few bucks within the week, but the rush of publishing and knowing we made Real Money inspired us to keep going.

And going.

And now we each have several stories published, and steadily climbing sales.

We made a lot of mistakes getting to our first $100, and we learned from them on our way to our first $1000. But we’re learning the realities of self-publishing erotica and I think we’re doing pretty okay. We’re no experts, but we’ve found things that work for us.


 

This is not a comprehensive walk-through but I hope that it makes a good starting point. A lot of the information translates to other markets, so if you really want to turn your blog post into a book, this post is a good foundation.

There are lots of great how-to guides and resources out there with details on how to go through each step successfully–and I link to some of them here–but with the industry constantly changing, a specific tip could become outdated in a week.

Plus, I can’t give away all the secrets!

1. Research

The very first thing you should do before ever putting pen to paper, is sign up for a Kindle Unlimited subscription.

It’s $10 a month and once you start making money you’ll definitely make that back–plus you’ll be able to write it off on your taxes–and almost all of the successful authors put their books in the KU library so it’s a good way to get acquainted with the market. [Update: Due to Amazon’s new pay structure, it’s not necessarily advantageous to put your books in Kindle Unlimited. However, lots of authors still do, so it’s a great way to get a feel for the market.]

You need to research your niche and Kindle Unlimited is the cheapest way to do so.

My writing partner chose to go the monster route and I went with the tried-and-true BDSM erotic romance, hoping to really cash in on Fifty Shades. We each spent a couple of weeks writing and polishing our stories before sacrificing them to the Kindle gods. But it didn’t take long for us to realize that not only had we been really shortsighted in our marketing but we picked supersaturated niches. We just got lost in the crowd.

We never would have made this mistake if we’d taken some time researching the market by reading popular books.

Size up your competition. Find similar books to the ones you want to write and figure out what they did right and wrong. How’s their keyword game? Is the title and cover combo working? Where did they publish outside of Amazon? How is their social media and self-promo game?

Other great places to research are self-publishing forums for erotica writers and how-to books you can find in the Kindle Unlimited library.

The eroticauthors subreddit is like an ongoing 101 class for erotica publishing, and it’s a great way to get your feet wet in the industry. But be careful: there are some successful authors in there who can point you in the right direction, but they may give you bad advice to keep you from encroaching on their territory. A lot of this job is trial and error.

There are a few solid how-to guides on successfully self-publishing erotica, which I will suggest with two caveats: one, that erotica authors sometimes deliberately publish bad advice to weed out the lazy authors who treat the genre like a get-rich-quick scheme; and two, Kindle Unlimited payout has changed dramatically, so any recommendations to use KU is very outdated.

These books are great places to learn the ins and outs of publishing, but the industry is constantly changing, from the ever-growing Kindle Unlimited market to the list of words that will get you stuck in the adult dungeon. In the three months since I first wrote this post, Amazon changed how they pay Kindle Unlimited borrows, which greatly affected the viability of this market.

However, Amazon is by far the easiest distributor to work with. Even if you aren’t going to be exclusive with Amazon, be sure to learn its rules. Know what gets your book blocked and filtered, whether it’s a too-sexy cover or a word that triggers their prudish reviewers, and know how to market with their algorithms. The same goes for every other publisher, even though Amazon is probably where the bulk of your sales will come from.

2. Experiment

Throw things at the wall and see what sticks.

Chances are, your first book–and even your first five books–won’t be breakout bestsellers. Amazon’s algorithms seem to change every day, so try out different marketing approaches and cover designs, maybe test out a few niches.

Find your niche and run with it. 

Finding your niche–the kink or trope you’re going to focus on–is the first, most important step in research and writing. Once you find the one that works for you and works for your sales, stick with it and experiment to see what all you can do with it.

What if I don’t know what to write?

Read. Read more. Read everything. Find something that inspires you.

Grab a bunch of random books from KU or look through the Top 100 lists. Check out Goodreads. Find writing prompts. Look at Pinterest.

3. Publish or Perish

New releases get priority search results, so if you don’t see good sales within the first week: move on. Something has to change, and you need to stay in the search results.

You need to have a frequent publishing schedule to see real money being made. You won’t be able to quit your job in the first six months, so don’t be discouraged if you haven’t cracked $100 after three stories.

In the beginning, I aimed to publish at least one 5000-word story per week; now I shoot for one or two longer pieces each month. I like to think I’m a pretty good writer, but I know that isn’t the most important factor in a book’s success. As long as it’s coherent, it has some banging, and the formatting is done right, you don’t need to spend a lot of time making it pretty.

Stay focused and keep going.

4. Metadata

In a lot of cases, your frontmatter (title page), backmatter (final page) and keywords are the key ingredients to your success as a self-publishing erotica author. Covers are helpful, and you want them to look good because there are people like me who will skip over a potentially great story if I can’t even read the title. But they’re not what’s most important.

Keywords

Keywords are the words that get you in the search listings. There are a lot of theories about how they work, but the consensus is: they’re pretty damn important. Amy Cooper’s Publishing Erotica (How to Make Your First $1000) is a great starting point for learning how to craft successful keywords.

Basically, research the keywords that are successful in your niche and fill up your character limit with as long a keyword string as you can. You only get 7 keywords–make them count.

Blurbs

Your blurb is what draws the reader in. It’s a quick summary and/or teaser of your story–and a larger teaser is found in the Look Inside feature of Amazon, so be sure that your first few pages are enticing.

Frontmatter and Backmatter

The front and backmatter are important for guiding readers to the rest of your catalog once you have more than one book up. Always include a link to your Author Central page in the front and back of the book, and include teasers and links to some of your books in the backmatter. This is especially important to include in books you have up on free promotions.

Covers

Your cover doesn’t have to be jaw-droppingly gorgeous or super high resolution, but it does need to fit the theme of your niche. Scantily clad ladies with titles that can be read in thumbnail size are your best bet for a good cover. If your cover looks like a hipster band’s latest album cover… take a look at other books in your niche and try to emulate them, or just pay someone from fiverr.com to make you a cover for $5.

Titles

Don’t be coy with your titles. Someone’s getting banged–that’s what people want to read about.

Romance writers can get away with song lyric titles, but for erotica? You want to stick to the formula of someone getting banged, and use as many keywords as you can. Taken by the Man of the House. Punishing His Disobedient Brat. Well-Hung Carpenter Nails My Husband While I Watch.

5. Be Realistic

This is not a get rich quick scheme.

This is a job.

One of the biggest mistakes I continue to make is that I let myself get discouraged when I have a bad sales day. Or I let an ungraded class assignment take priority over writing about dicks and go a week without publishing.

Stay focused, and keep hustling.

Set a goal, and do everything you can to reach that goal. It could be $50, it could be your 50th story, it could be the ability to quit your job. Having something concrete to work toward will help you stay focused on writing and doing well.

One of my professors this semester said that there are two keys to success in class: you have to care, and you have to try. Be invested in your success and in your industry, and don’t shy away from putting a little effort into it. The ROI will surprise you.

Stick to your publishing schedule. Keep your quality consistent. Stay relevant. Keep learning and experimenting.


If you made it this far, you deserve a reward. I lied when I said I wouldn’t give you specific advice. Here are 5 tricks to keep in mind when self-publishing erotica.

  1. Use as many organic keywords in your title and blurb as possible. Then fill up your Amazon keywords to use all 400 characters.
  2. Price your single titles at $2.99 as a general rule and cast a wide net to find the best distributors for your niche.
  3. Link to your books in your backmatter to encourage clickthrough impulse buys.
  4. Try to publish weekly. Write every day, no matter what, even if it’s terrible.
  5. Emulate the stories already published in your niche and push the boundaries by blending niches together.

You can do this. Trust me. I have three jobs and a full courseload–with a B average–and I’m doing this.

And no, I won’t tell you my pennames. A girl needs some secrets. 😉

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13 Comments

  • Reply cafebiblioart August 6, 2015 at 2:56 PM

    urgh I would have loved to read you stories and maybe even review them on my blog. From what I gathered so far I can tell you must have some good stories out there. In any case best of luck! I think you are truly amazing and brave to have made the choices you have, to have lived the life you lived. If there is anything a little blogger like me can do for you, do not hesitate to get in touch! You are an inspiration to people out there!

  • Reply lucie duck August 9, 2015 at 11:59 AM

    i cant tell you enough how helpful this is. there is such a dearth on how to market erotica on the Internet – i mean there are articles, but only when amazon does something not very nice that eats into the profit of the writers do we hear the complaints, and of course, once that comes up, someone will inevitably ask, how do you do it, and the writer has to say something obligatory. sometimes you get questions on Yahoo Answer, and you get the most general responses, which help somewhat but doesnt quell any other concerns raised by 1001 other questions. so thank you for this. really, thank you so much.

    and i hope you make it big! 🙂

  • Reply Anita Celeste January 16, 2016 at 4:45 AM

    Fantastic advice, thank you so much!!

  • Reply Cimon February 14, 2016 at 7:35 PM

    Thank you for presenting the excellent guide. I have published six stories in Xhamster (three years ago for fun) and on other sites. I could not believe when I started getting requests for more writing. I have read some on those sites but what I miss in those stories is, what you say ‘Realistic’. After reading your blog I decided to publish them on Kindle. Thank you for mentioning fiverr! It’s news to me. Now I know where to look for covers! I enjoy writing erotica and it is fun. Be Realistic. It’s important. Thank you once again. Let me wish you continuous success in your writing.

    Cimon

  • Reply Ellen March 1, 2016 at 11:19 AM

    Great advice, thanks!!

  • Reply Luke May 6, 2016 at 8:22 AM

    This is great advice, thank you for sharing. I had a question about the length of the stories that you mentioned and the pricing for them. I saw that you mentioned 5000 words, and then advised to set stories to $2.99 to cast out a wide net. Do people frequently pay $2.99 for stories that short? I’ve seen stories in the genre that I write (erotic horror) usually go for $.99 and a collection for $4.99. My stories usually cap out at around 7-8000 words but I was wondering about pricing should I decide to start trying to post them somewhere besides literotica.

  • Reply Teeshirt Traveler September 13, 2016 at 9:05 PM

    Hello All,

    Great comments!

    I’m a new erotica writer and just splashed out a 78K piece, I think it’s pretty good, thick plot that grows and lots of hard twists. How can I get someone to read it or do I just whip it out there??

    Teeshirtraveler@yahoo.com

  • Reply Sam November 1, 2016 at 10:00 AM

    Hi, This is great advice and while reading this, actually doing this for money seemed possible. Then, you write that you have three jobs, plus writing!!!! If you are that consistent, and STILL need three jobs, publishing erotica hardly seems worthwhile. Or, did I miss something ?

    • Reply Cordelia November 27, 2016 at 5:43 PM

      Hi Sam,

      Amazon’s payout schedule is 3 months after the sale (e.g., if you sell a book today you’ll get paid in February), so when I wrote this post initially, I had only received a few checks from them–hardly enough to warrant abandoning my other freelance gigs. At this point, I have just the one day job for the schedule accountability and reliable pay, and the Amazon smut for savings, paying off student loans, and super fun vacations.

      It can be a full-time income, but you have to treat it like a full-time job, which is hard to start when you’re already working full time (and in school) and the reason most people stall out really early on. I approach it as a side hustle, not a full time gig, because I know I’d personally burn out and lose the drive for other writing if I stuck with smut full time. Hope this clarifies things!

  • Reply Raydon Cooley February 19, 2017 at 1:11 PM

    Kindle and createspace guide lines say no explicit sexual descriptions when using their self-publishing platforms. And I would not want to make The Loser, available to underage children. I do have three books published through createspace that are on Amazon and Kindle, Christina’s tribulation is the one selling. I know how the self-publishing game is played, but I seem to have hit a wall when it comes to explicit sexual description books; and I mean explicit. So if you know of a place where someone can self-publish this type book, and I’m talking a 25,000 word book that will be in a series, I would defiantly be interested.
    Thank you for your time.
    Raydon Cooley

    • Reply W.M. Dawes November 12, 2017 at 11:03 AM

      i’ve recently hit that same wall. A book I published on Amazon and Kindle four years ago has now been taken down due to adult content, and my latest volume in the series has been rejected presumably for that same reason. Are there other outlets for adult content in print/eBook form that are less restrictive?

  • Reply timtak March 1, 2017 at 6:39 PM

    > I would not want to make The Loser, available to underage children.

    Is it possible to set an age restriction on Kindle books?

    • Reply Erika Rose April 14, 2017 at 6:14 PM

      Yes you can. Actually, I am almost certain if you publish your book in the ‘Erotica’ category they cannot be read unless the acct owner is at least 18+

      It will also say ‘age and grade range’ on the bottom of the first page and this too would prevent something like that from happening. Hope this helps.

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