What to do and what not to do as an erotica writer

In one bit of news, my eBooks have started selling again today.  I’m starting to really think that “how bored do I expect to be tomorrow?” is the big seller for erotica.

I should preface the next bit with an explanation of how I see “competition” amongst my fellow authors, one which I adopted upon reading a nifty philosophical piece by the founder of a company I once worked for.  Readers don’t read one author instead of another.  They read an author in addition to other authors.  The person who buys my book doesn’t “just” like me.  Amazon claims that the readers who like me, also like Fiona Thompson, Bree Belluci, and a host of others.  So when I say that I’m researching the “competition”, it isn’t that I’m making some snarky comment about the other authors: it’s that we really aren’t in competition with each other.

So, it seems that the best-selling non-Fifty-Shades erotica book on Amazon right now is Wallbanger.  Looks like the recipe of its success is to mix erotica with humor (something I hadn’t thought of actually, beyond the title of “Merlin’s Magic Wang”).  It costs $4.99, is the #2 best seller in Erotica, and #21 best seller on Amazon’s Kindle program overall.  It’s only Alice Clayton‘s third book, and was published on Thanksgiving (Nov 25th) of this year.  It’s 314 Kindle pages, which suggests that it weighs in at around 127k words in length.  Cover design is nice and professional, and it has a short, memorable title.  The sales figures say she’s doing something right, and my job over the last few days has been to figure out what that is.  I think the lessons to learn from Clayton are these:

  • Write a long story.  Her very long, well acclaimed story costs far less per word than the lower-rated uber-short stories which are at $2.99.  Honestly, the $2.99 short story market probably wouldn’t exist if it faced more $4.99 competition of this caliber in all the appropriate fetishes.
  • Give the readers something beyond the erotica.  Apparently her thing is humor.  The thing I’m trying for is fantasy action and combat.

I also looked at some other authors.  Specifically, I looked at one of the best-selling breeding erotica authors, Bree Belluci.  I’ve looked at her “Forced Awakening” before (which is free, btw).  She seems to write a lot of short stories (31-34 pages seems to be what is shown on the ones which have lengths… this ballparks around 12.5k-13.7k words).  That length is literally 1/10th as long as Wallbanger, and she has 57 stories out there.  I’m going to guess that Bree’s revenue is still high enough that most indie authors would kill for it.  I think she safely can be said to represent the other approach to eBook success, which is a lot of smaller books.

  • Bree has a trilogy, which starts with “Forced Awakening”.  Forced Awakening is free, and I think she managed to make it free by listing it free everywhere else and letting Amazon price-match it down to $0.00.  The stats are consistently high on this book, because everyone stumbling across her other titles will check out her free one.
  • Because Bree has 57 books, they help push each other up in the ranking.  I’ve noticed this effect with my own books; the more I put out, the more people notice my other stuff.  This is kind of the strategy I’m following, but if you’re going to do this, you need to watch out for angering your readers.

Then, there was another author I was looking at last night.  Sarah Fawkes is another best-seller, with several books in the top 100 erotica.  She has a total of 6 books, but a lot of her later books have garnered some angry reviews.  The reviews of Anything He Wants #5: The Betrayal have served to teach me a few things not to do.

  • A lot of authors suggest bundling your works into an anthology once you’ve written a few.  However, be conscious when you do so, some people have been following your stories and buying them all individually.  You will outright anger them if you then put exclusive bonus content into the anthology!  From the reviews, it seems that that’s the case.
  • A story arc should have a beginning, a middle, and an end.  I’ve noticed that the longer a series of books go on, the more the readers want the story to come to an end.  After a while, they start talking about resenting the author for continuing to drag on the storyline and milk it.

So, that’s what I’ve been learning over the past week.  To sum it up, I’m going to try to adhere to the following rules I’ve boiled out of watching what seems to make readers happy or angry:

  • Do write a lot of stories.
  • Don’t write really short stories and price them at $2.99 or higher.
  • Do have something besides sex in your stories.
  • If you write a series, make the first one in it free once you’re a few books in.
  • Do create bundles / anthologies once your series is long enough, but do not put in exclusive content to get a “double dip” out of your readers.
  • Do make sure your story arcs progress.  You aren’t writing a TV sitcom.  Never let your readers feel like they just paid you for a book which didn’t advance the plot; they’ll resent it.
  • The reader will seek out the genre they want.  Even if it isn’t as well written, something which covers just the right fetish is going to sell, even if it’s up against a beautifully written best seller.
  • Post your page word count in your description.  Sometimes Amazon doesn’t manage to auto-detect it, and unlike Smashwords they don’t post the word count in the story description.

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