Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Erotica: To Write or Not To Write?


Back in the day, writers were told that if you wanted to make a lot of money, fast, then you had to write pornography. They used the word 'pornography' rather than 'erotica' because back in the day there was no erotica! Well, maybe there was, but I don't think it was called that.

As the end of the month nears and I contemplate my back-balance being plundered as my rent cheque barely squeaks through, I wonder if writing about something other than urban fantasy would be more financially lucrative (hell, almost anything would be more financially lucrative!). I've gone so far as to try to calculate the average Amazon ranking for books in each of the categories (fantasy, science fiction, erotica, and so on) to discover which kind of books sell best, but, as far as I can tell, books with erotic content don't seem to do markedly better or worse than any other kind of book.

I will confess to putting some thought into the question of whether an unknown author of erotic romance has a better chance of selling their work than an unknown author writing in another genre. Personally, I doubt they do. Here's why: I think that, all things being equal, the key to an unknown writer selling a story is how easily the writer can define and write to their market for that story.

Let me try to say that again, only in another way. (Here we are stipulating that the stories we are comparing are equally well written.) A writer who knows more about what her audience wants to read, and who writes accordingly, will have a better chance of selling their story, provided they can connect to that audience. I think this counts for a lot of the success Harlequin has. They know the demands of their audience and they give their audience what they demand.

Of course the size of the audience matters. I imagine that the market for erotic stories is enormous (suddenly it seems all my words have a double-meaning!), but so is the market for urban fantasy, or just plain old romance stories. Also, as John Locke mentioned in his excellent book, How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months, it isn't just the size of the audience that matters, it is whether you can connect with that audience, as well as how engaged that audience is with you as a writer, and with what you write (that is, how likely they are to buy your work; the more likely they are, the smaller the audience needed). Or something like that.

I'm blathering. If anyone would like to share your thoughts on this, please do, mine seem to be running around chasing their collective tails. Also, what genre do you think is the most profitable?

10 comments:

  1. Unfortunately, I've never sold anything. "Someday, I will," I keep telling myself. In the mean time, I work a very stressful job just to pay the bills.

    You're pondering how to make a living as a writer. This seems to be an elusive endeavor that few seem to make a reality. My genre of choice is SF/F, and it seems to be the best for new and aspiring writers. Yet, there are other genres too, but seem harder to break into these unless you're already a successful writer.

    You mentioned erotica, and I'm not too familiar with it. Is it popular? I can only take a guess and say, "I don't know." However, Stephen King made his initial success selling to the men's magazines of that time. Let me clarify, he didn't write erotica, but sold to magazines that catered to the "visual" aspects of erotica.

    I worry though, that you might be selling yourself short, just to make a sale. Concentrate your valuable time and resources with writing what you love to write about. Re-evaluate your marketing and submitting strategy. That might help you out, but if you do write erotica, do it because you want to...not because you feel that you have to.

    I wish you the best of luck. Nothing is impossible. Just follow your heart and the pen will follow.

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  2. Hi Jeffrey, thanks for the comment! Honestly, I'm not sure how popular erotica is compared to other genres. Also, there's a question I didn't address which is: what is erotica? It can be a difficult genre to define (that said, defining urban fantasy isn't a walk in the park either!)

    Ah, that's right! I'd forgotten that Stephen King sold to mens mags, both before and after he made it big.

    "Follow your heart and write what you want to." Great advice Jeffrey! Thanks for reminding me. :)

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  3. My 2 cents added to Jeffrey's excellent advice: the world of e-books opens up many possibilities to explore alternate genres by writers. JA Konrath has a few pen names so as to not confuse branding.

    Not sure if erotica is a bigger money-maker than urban fantasy, but if it is something you are considering, experimentation seems to be the name of the game today.

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  4. Yes, pen names are wonderful thing! (Although not according to Google+, but that's a whole other topic.)

    Ah, I just remembered! Didn't Anne Rice write erotica under a prnname? I believe she did.

    I guess, in the end, we write what we're moved to and hope it sells!

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  5. My feeling is that you should write what you love and be true to yourself, otherwise writing could end up turning into a chore. And, really, who likes chores? Personally, I'd much rather do something I love and maybe get less, than work at something I hate for more. (Of course, writing isn't my sole source of income, so that's an easier stance for me to take, I suppose.)

    Who says you can't write an erotic urban fantasy, if that sounds like something you'd enjoy writing? It seems to have worked well for Laurell K. Hamilton, so there may be a big audience there. Granted, I don't know that her books are categorized as 'erotica', but the later books in her Anita Blake series had a fair amount of steam. The lines between genres can be fuzzy sometimes.

    Interestingly, it was Hamilton's Anita Blake series that inspired me to start writing. I was disappointed when the books started to focus a little more on the who's going to sleep with who aspect with blow-by-blow descriptions and less on the magic, action, and mystery that I tend to favor. So while you may loose some fans, you'll also gain many new ones--the ones who are comfortable reading both genres. You think?

    Ultimately, you're never going to please everyone. A disappointing but true fact, and one that I have to remind myself of often. But the great thing about writing is that there are always more worlds to create and more fun to be had while doing it!

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts--so interesting to hear what other authors are doing and thinking!

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  6. Thanks Katherine, I appreciate your words. I agree, chores are horrid, the fewer the better!

    Laurell Hamilton's books were the first urban fantasy I read and I absolutely loved them! I was a great fan of her Anita Blake series right up until ... well, it's hard to pinpoint, but after the 6th book or so it started to become (in my humble opinion at least) erotica. That's not a bad thing, but I feel -- and, again, just my humble opinion -- that the characters changed. Since the characters were what kept drawing me back to the series (kicking and screaming in some cases!) after they became unrecognizable the draw was gone.

    But I digress! I agree with what you've said.

    I've had some interesting -- and enlightening! -- discussions with folks on twitter and I think that what I would like to do with my own writing is, where appropriate, to treat the physical side of relationships frankly and with respect, acknowledging that there is a fine line between something well done and something ... for lack of a more emotionally descriptive word ... icky.

    Personally, I think that Kim Harrison, with her Hollows series, has achieved just the right balance.

    Katherine, thanks for taking the time to respond to my post. Being able to talk with other writers about these issues feeds the soul. :)

    By the way, I love the trailer for your novel, Deadly Remains; it's one of the best trailers I've seen!
    http://www.katherinebayless.com/blog/?cat=6

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  7. Ooooh! Thank you, thank you! My husband made the trailer for me and, while he thinks it was an utter failure at providing any sort of meaningful advertising, I think it is totally bitchin'! (Sorry, I can't help but get all puffed up. I have an excuse, right? My hubby made it!) He will really appreciate hearing your compliment. I can't wait to tell him. :-)

    Oh, I just came across this blog post that is sort of along the lines of what we're talking about in this comment section.

    http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/?p=5231

    I thought you might find it interesting.

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  8. I love Dean Wesley Smith's blog! That blog post was great, it was as though he was speaking right to me.

    I find that many book trailers go on far too long, yours was short and to the point, visually appealing and it gave the viewer the information they needed to go buy a copy of your book. I'd give it 5 out of 5 stars.

    It's interesting, though. I find so often that artists (and here I'm talking about your talented husband) are far too critical of their own work. I'm trying to learn that lesson myself. So often I'll write something, get very critical, and put it in a drawer. I've pulled a few of these stories out recently and my readers have loved them! (And, very kindly, pointed out innumerable ways they could be improved ;))

    Come to think of it Dean Wesley Smith has a post about that too! :p

    Thanks for your feedback Katherine, it's much appreciated. :-)

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  9. I can tell you that yes, Erotica can be lucrative for the eAuthor. Remember powerhouses like Anne Rice & Dean Koontz got their starts with Erotica. And many of the old school 'pulp writers' put food on the table writing naughty stories. I'm a noobie and my first month of really putting myself out there netted me 150 sales.

    Here's a few tips, I hope they help.

    1) Write short. (3k - 10k word stories)
    2) Sell cheap (.99 - 2.99 per story)
    3) Combine short tales into collections and sell at higher price points ( $2.99 and up)
    4) Write fast.. (try to push at least 2-4 stories a month).
    5) Edit well (Erotica readers aren't picky grammarians, but a book loaded with spelling typos will turn them off).
    6) Read some good Erotica
    7) Don't just stick to Amazon (Pubit, All Romance ebooks, Bookstrand, & Smaswords can be a fantastic source of sales).
    8). Have sexy cover's with descriptive titles.
    9) Write a damn good blurb.
    10) Explore the genre sub-diviouns (BDSM, Paranormal, same-sex, & older man, younger woman can be fantastic sellers).

    Good Luck.

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  10. Hi Victoria, thanks for the reply! I appreciate your pointers. Good tips for any genre. Best of luck. :)

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