SmutTalk: My Offense Is Rank – what I’ve learned about selling erotica

SmutTalk: My Offense Is Rank – what I’ve learned about selling erotica

There was a conversation over at the Reddit Erotica Publishing forum/subreddit/thing about what genres new authors should pursue. A newbie author (which was me, not so long ago) said that s/he’d been writing smut for fun for a while, but now wanted to see if there was money to be made, and had been advised to “Just look at what’s hot and try your hand at that” in order to make money at selling erotica.

That didn’t sit right with me — either as a writer, as a teacher, or as someone who’s currently actually doing fairly well at smut-peddling, I’m surprised to say. And so I responded as follows:

I have to say, I like the “try your hand at it” part — but it seems to me that you should start by writing stuff that you enjoy writing, or would enjoy reading. Write lots. Publish what you feel confident is polished (and sexy), but don’t feel like it has to be genius. If you’ve been writing smut for a while, see if any of those pieces feel finished to you and just… put them out there. No harm if they don’t find a market, but they’ll get your feet wet, and help you figure out just what you actually need to do.

(Also, I hate to say it, but one of the best ways to find an audience… is to produce a lot of titles. Some of them won’t ever sell, but some will, and those will lead readers to other stories, which will…)

And read. Figure out what you like. Try to write that.

I guess you can tell: I teach. I spend a lot of time trying to tell kids that it’s more important that they find their voice than that they fit someone else’s rigid model.

So write your stories. Then write some more. Honestly, I think that’s a better business plan than trying to write yet another “Billionaire” story.

P.S. Okay, so I will say: I have followed my readers a bit. I wrote a couple of two-guys-and-a-girl threesome stories and they blew up (in a good way) — so I wrote more. And those sold too. So I’ve kept writing them. But they’re stories I like writing, and that I’d enjoy reading, even if I have had to let some other stories languish a bit in order to find the time to meet the demand.

After thanking me for my input, which was nice, the OP asked me an interesting follow-up: do shorter or longer stories sell better? Again, I didn’t quite answer the question, but I’d like to think that I provided a map to the answer:

Do you mean sales-wise? It doesn’t seem to make a huge difference. My two best-selling stories are about four and ten thousand words respectively. Stories under about three thousand words I tend to give away, so I can’t tell you about that.

I will say that you can’t usually charge more than $0.99 for a single short story (in spite of what Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s otherwise excellent advice would suggest). At Amazon and B&N that means that you get a much lower percentage (35% instead of 70% on Amazon and 40% instead of 65% on B&N), and so while I sell many more copies of the stories, my biggest money makers generally are the collections, which I generally charge a bit less for than the cost of the stories — $2.99 or $3.99 for a collection of four stories, for example. For those I get the 70% royalty. So it takes about eight $0.99 stories to net the same amount as a $3.99 collection.

One other part of the calculus, however: Amazon’s all-important sales rank is based not on net revenue per title but on sales volume. The reason you want a better rank is that the lower the rank, the more likely your book is to show up in that list of “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought” or “Customers Who Viewed This Item Also Viewed” — also known as the most valuable real estate on the internet, because it leads to sales you don’t have to do anything to create. Also, a low ranking in a particular sub-genre will land you in the best-seller list for that category — which can lead more potential readers to your book. So having some high-volume/low-netting titles can be a great way to promote your whole list.

Whew. Make sense?

So those are my opinions on the subject, this May Day, 2014. What do you think? Am I being a romantic hippie, saying “write what you like” instead of encouraging the poster to write yet another Fifty Shades of Grey knock-off?

The Visitor Arrives coverPS – ANYONE WANT A FREE COPY OF The Visitor ArrivesI’m currently running a giveaway on GoodReads; the catch is that if you take a copy of the book (which includes the first four Visitor stories), I expect you to write and post an honest review — on GoodReads, on Amazon, on your blog, and/or anywhere else you generally post reviews.

If you want in on the action, you can sign up at GoodReads, you can comment here, or you can email me at kdwestwrites [at] gmail [dot] com. Be sure to tell me how to send it to you, and also whether you want an ePub file, a mobi/Kindle file, or a PDF!

This is a “while supplies last” offer — so don’t wait.

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